march 2012

Here we are already in March. Even with the extra day, February went by in a flash.

It's the final push this weekend: all files have to be read by Monday, and I've got about 80 left. With some time this afternoon and evening, Saturday afternoon and evening, and all day on Sunday, I should be able to make it fairly easily. I'm grateful to have been part of the evaluation staff these past few years, but if my workload keeps up like it has the past couple of years, I honestly don't know if I'm going to be able to read files again next year.

My 10th anniversary with Hopkins was yesterday. It's not the same place as it was when I started there, but I've definitely grown professionally during my time here, and even though there's a lot of uncertainty in my little corner of the university, there are also a lot of potentially positive things happening. Whatever happens, though, positive or negative, the next ten years of my career are definitely going to be different than the last ten.

You don't really get over a heartbreaking loss like Carolina had to Duke a few weeks ago, leading the entire second half in the Dean Dome only to have the game snatched away by a three point shot that went in after the buzzer (although it was in the air and legal) to give Duke a one point victory. But completely dominating Duke on their home court on senior night (the final game of the season) to clinch the ACC regular season title sure takes some of the sting away.

I was just about at the point were I felt like I was almost caught up at work, and then I got sick for two days and barely had time to check email. So that means that even if I'm able to return to work tomorrow, I'm back in the hole and will likely have to spend some time this weekend catching up so I don't have anything lingering on my plate next week, when I'm planning to be out of town for two or three days. It's been forever since I haven't been completely swamped at work, but now I can't even remember a time when I had a break; it just seems like it's been ten years of nonstop pressure.

Last Saturday we took Will to the birthday party for the six year old son of Will's godparents at Chuck E. Cheese's. It was the first time he'd ever been to one of these, and the first time I'd been to one in at least 20 years (I was actually surprised that they still existed).

As it turns out, not as many of them exist as used to—there was only one still left in Baltimore proper, and even though it isn't really close to where the birthday boy lives, it's still the closest one by a long shot. And I don't know how much longer this one will survive—it was in a decent-sized strip mall that looked completely deserted and decrepit at first glance, because EVERY OTHER STORE that had once occupied a space there was gone. The Chuck E. Cheese's was the only store left in the entire complex.

Inside there was this terrible smell of feet and urine and sweat and industrial cleaners that took a few minutes to adjust to, but I think it was only the adults who noticed it, and places like that aren't really built to keep the adults happy. Will LOVED it, running around and pressing buttons on all the video game machines, watching the other kids, watching the super-creepy animatronic band, and just generally getting so hyperstimulated that he was out of his head for the whole time we were there. And even though he was one of the younger party-goers, it seemed to have the same effect on the older kids—nobody was really out of control, but they were definitely jazzed up.

The highlight of the party was when a guy in a Chuck E. Cheese costume came out and "sang" (read: moved his costumed mouse head in time with a prerecorded track) to the birthday boy, and then posed for pictures with all the kids. Will has always been a little nervous meeting Santa, so I didn't know how he'd respond to a person-sized costumed character, but he took it in stride. Chuck E. Cheese's appearance was followed by the cake, which in Will's case meant eating all the chocolate frosting off a cupcake.

I wouldn't necessarily choose a place like that for Will's birthday (especially not that particular one), but I also know that it's not really up to me, and that when the time comes, if that's where Will wanted to have his birthday party, that's where we'd have it. Like I said, all of the kids were having a great time, and that's really the whole point of having a birthday party for your kid.

As of yesterday morning, today was going to be my first day in weeks (maybe months) where I didn't have any meetings schedule. Of course, by the afternoon, I had two formal and two informal meetings scheudled, and now once again I'm trying to find time in between meetings to do my actual work. I have long since accepted that meetings are going to take up more and more of my time, but it would be nice to have a break from them every now and then so I can at least keep up with the significant parts of my job that don't involve sitting in a room and talking with other people.

The second half of the second season of The Walking Dead is turning out to be okay—there's a lot more action and tense moments, and a little less talking—but I'm still not sure how I feel about the direction the series is going. It still takes several episodes to resolve plot and character conflicts, and sometimes it seems like when the writers are at an impasse, they're quick to abandon longstanding character traits that have been the source of the conflict that they're trying to resolve, which is a pretty lazy way to go about that resolution.

I do appreciate that the Rick/Shane situation finally came to a head, and the season finale is looking like a doozy that may finally force them off the farm for season 3, but honestly, after an additional full season's worth of episodes (13? 14?), I had expected the story to be a little farther along.

Julie and I are taking a business trip the rest of this week (we leave tomorrow afternoon), and instead of dragging Will along for the flight, etc., he's instead going to stay home and be taken care of by Julie's mom and my mom.

While we've each had to travel without him individually before, this is the first time that both of us will be away at the same time since he was born, and we're pretty nervous about it. Not that our mothers won't take good care of him—they have different styles that should balance pretty well, and he's proven to be pretty adaptable—but at this point, I don't really trust anyone to take care of him for such a long time excpet for Julie or me.

We'll hopefully be able to Skype with him, and once we make it past the first couple of days I think we'll start to relax, but there's a part of me that just wants to cancel the trip or buy an extra ticket and bring him with us. It's completely irrational, but it makes complete sense to me as a parent.

It was tough for both of us to leave Will at the same time, but after the first 24 hours away with no problems, we started to relax a little bit. There was one panicked phone call on Friday morning about a bump on his neck (it's one of his lymph nodes that sometimes pops to the surface when he turns his neck a certain way; the doctor says it's fairly common for a kid his age), and I think he was staying up later than we usually let him, but he was also going to the park twice a day and seemed to be in good spirits when we talked to him on Skype.

Still, it was great to get back on Saturday night and get a chance to spend a few minutes with him before bedtime. He got to spend quality time with two of his grandmothers, we got to widen our comfort zone a bit, and he's no worse for the wear. Still, I hope we don't have to leave him again anytime soon.

The Walking Dead season 2 finale was pretty decent—enough to make me want to continue watching the show for season 3—but I'm still not really sure how I feel about how the series is evolving. I'm glad that it looks like they are permanently off the farm, but with that final shot of the prison, I have a feeling that they're just going to relocate to a new semipermanent home and season 3 will be Oz/Prison Break meets Walking Dead.

The hooded figure that Andrea encounters is intriguing, and I like that one member of the group is going to have to make her own way (at least for a little while), but I wish it could have been someone other than Andrea. I don't really like the way her character has evolved—there's very little likable about her now. Even when Shane was at his worst, I could still empathize with the harsh worldview that dominated his vision, but Andrea just feels like a mean poser.

I was happy when I saw that this season of Survivor didn't include former players for the first time in a few seasons, but man, is this cast boring. I think back to some of the strong early seasons where players weren't so aware of how the long game would play out and they were more willing to take chances and break alliances and I know that a player like Colton would have been voted out no later than week 2.

Now, as in the past couple of seasons where the dominant tribe has been controlled for most of the game by a veteran player, players sit back and await a decision on their fate by the king of the group. Even when they don't like him or are afraid that they are his next target, they refuse to take action because they're afraid of being perceived as disloyal to the group—even if that group is preparing to throw them out of the game.

The prime example of this is when the male tribe won immunity, but for the first time in the history of the game, decided to give that up and go to Tribal Council and vote out one of their own, mostly because Colton was in a snit and wanted a certain player out of camp. This should have weakened the men significantly—instead of having a 8-6 advantage over the women, they were tied at 7 players each.

And it really should have hurt them the following week when the tribes were reorganized with a 3/4 split between the genders on each new tribe. But then the women stupidly fell for Colton's dominance just like the men—even though he was on the tribe where the men were outnumbered by women, he still got the women to agree to vote out one of their own.

With that one stupid move, the women have sealed their fates—it is inevitable that when the tribes get to a merge, the men will outnumber the women and they will pick off the women one by one until they run out of female targets and have to start eating their own. The only thing that might save the women is a repeat of Colton's stupid decision to vote out a personal irritant rather than think about the health of his group. But given how well his stupid decisions have turned out for him so far, there's every chance that the group, men and women alike, could ignore a golden opportunity to oust him and blindly follow his lead once again.

It's a different set of people, but it's the same game we've seen for the past few seasons: the weak willed and weak minded survive by banding together to vote out the stronger, more action-oriented players. It might make for a good strategy (at least if your strategy is to get to the final four but not to win), but it makes for horrible television.

A few weeks ago I went to the local GameStop with the intention of buying a used copy of Mass Effect 2 to see if it was worth investing in the new Mass Effect 3. While I was making my purchase, the guy behind the counter recommended that I also buy a copy of the original Mass Effect, as the choices made in the first game would carry over into the second and third. I thought that was a pretty good idea, and as I was getting a copy off the shelf, I saw that there was a new version of SSX, a snowboard racing game that I loved on the GameCube years and years ago, so I added that to my pile.

Then I noticed a used copy of Bioshock, which was one of my main motivators for buying a new console after reading the chapter devoted to it in All Your Base Are Belong to Us, so I had to pick that up, and because I had then had two used games in my stack, I had to find yet another used game because they were having a buy two get one free sale for their previously owned games. So all told, I went in intending to buy one game and came out with five.

I've only played Mass Effect and SSX so far, and I like both of them pretty well. SSX is a bit more complicated than what I was expecting, and they invest a little too much in the backstory for the snowboarders, but it's still triggering the same pleasure points that my GameCube version did. I haven't played a game like Mass Effect on a console before—there's way more talking than I expected—but once I got the hang of the combat system, I was able to move through the missions pretty quickly. I'm still a long way from being done, and then I have to get through all of Mass Effect 2 before I play the final game in the trilogy, but from what I've seen so far, it's going to be an experience worth completing.

Lots of changes at work this week. And this is just the beginning...

Bah. What a sad loss for Carolina. This season felt meant to be after last year with the talent they had, but Barnes' unsteady play recently and the injury to Marshall earlier in the tournament was just enough to keep them from the Final Four.

There's almost no chance that this same squad will be back next year even though Zeller is the only senior starter, so hopefully they've got a good freshman class on tap. I really wish players weren't eligible for the NBA draft until after their junior year, but I also wouldn't want that for the players unless they could get paid and also have their scholarships guaranteed if they got hurt.

As pissed off as I was about how last week's Survivor played out (and how this season has been playing out in general), I was pretty happy about Colton's sudden exit from the game. I don't really believe that karma comes around for people who behave like him, and I don't often wish pain on people, but it's hard not to see some sort of cosmic retribution at play here.

There ain't a whole lot of fun days at work recently, and this week is chock full of the not-fun ones.

Today is the day our decision letters go out, i.e., the most stressful day of the year for me because I have to send out all the decision emails after the physical letters are out the door. This used to be pretty simply (but still scary): Admit, Waitlist, Deny. But now it has mushroomed into an unwieldly mess where we split the Admits into two groups, domestic and international; we do an additional four mailings for two of our special programs; a communication to our Early Decision students about our April events; and an email from the athletic director that includes a discount on our school apparel. And this doesn't count all the other emails that will go out in the next week to further communicate with our admitted students as we attempt to get them to commit to us by May 1.

Every year some school screws this up and admits their waitlist kids or denies their admits or some other PR nightmare, and every year I spend hours prepping and testing so that it's not us. Hopefully everything goes smoothly again this year just like it has the past eight.

I still haven't watched the first episode of season 5 of Mad Men. I was really eager for its return, but I like to watch the episodes all in one sitting, and I haven't had two hours straight recently where I was going to be awake, alert, and undisturbed. I may have to bite the bullet and do this one in two segments, because I don't think my time is going to get any more tranquil or uncluttered over the next couple of months.

december 2012
november 2012
october 2012
september 2012
august 2012
july 2012
june 2012
may 2012
april 2012
march 2012
february 2012
january 2012

daily links
cd collection