august 2012

One of the things I like a lot about my new office is that we do a lot more group activities together that are not strictly work-related, and on Monday night we did my favorite one so far: an outing to a Braves game. We had to pay for our tickets ourselves, but, since we got the group rate and just bought general admission tickets, they were only $4 each, a price that everyone who has any interest in going should be able to easily afford.

At first I was just going to go solo, because it was a 7:00 game and that's kind of pushing it for Will, especially if he's not in a good mood. But he loves big public events like that, so after thinking about it over the weekend, we decided that we were all going to go (and since the tickets were general admission, we could just buy two more of those at the stadium box office and not have to worry about the seats not being together). We thought it was pretty likely that we wouldn't make it past the first inning because Will would get bored and/or tired, but we thought it would still be a worthwhile experience.

Will LOVED it—we ended up staying through the sixth inning, and I think he could have actually stayed longer even though he was clearly very tired. He loved the noise and the crowds and the lights and music, and by the time we left he was doing an abbreviated version of the Tomahawk Chop along with the rest of the crowd whenever the Braves had men on base (and when they didn't, every couple of minutes he would ask "Chop chop music?").

Every day since then, he's asked us "Chop chop?" and "Baseball game?", so I know it won't be long before we return. We'd like to try for a late afternoon game on a Saturday, because he'd likely be well-rested from his nap and the game would end early enough that we could stay for the whole thing. In the meantime, I think I'm going to take him to the Ravens preseason game against the Falcons—it's at 7:00 at night as well, but he did so well with the Braves that I'm sure he could make it through the first half, and since it's the first week of the preseason, all the starters will be out of the game by that point anyway.

It was actually kind of an emotional experience taking Will to the Braves game. They have long been my favorite team, but a year ago I would have never thought that Will's first trip to a major league game would be in Atlanta. I assumed that at some point we would take him to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles, and if I was lucky maybe it would be against the Braves (if I was feeling really desperate for a Braves game as his first experience, I could have taken him down to DC to see them play the Nationals, who the Braves play in DC a couple of times a year, but that somehow wouldn't have felt as genuine as taking him to see the Orioles).

I adopted the Orioles in Baltimore because they were the hometown team and because they were in a different league and only occasionally encountered the Braves, but I would't really say I'm an Orioles fan (although it would be nice for their true fans in Baltimore if they would actually finish this season with a winning record for the first time since the mid-90s). With the Braves, however, I have a longstanding connection—aside from Carolina basketball, they are my oldest fan relationship with sports team.

I also feel a special connection to Chipper Jones, the Braves' first round pick from 1990 (and the top pick overall from that draft) who has always been a Brave and will always be a Brave after he retires from the sport this year. I lived in Charlottesville the summer of 1993, the year he played for the Triple A Richmond Braves, and my roommate (the guy who got me into the Braves and baseball in the first place) and I would make the hour and a half drive to Richmond to watch them on a regular basis (that team also included Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Tony Tarasco, Jose Oliva, and Melvin Nieves, all of whom would go on to play at least a couple of seasons with the big league club, with Javy and Klesko becoming legitimate stars alongside Chipper).

The following year I met Chipper at spring training in what was supposed to be his rookie year, but a couple of days later he tore his ACL and missed the entire season. However, he played a full campaign in 1995, and his incredible rookie year helped drive the Braves to their only World Series championship in the 20 years that I've been following them; he remains the only player on the club from that 1995 team. And even though he's having an outstanding season 17 years later at age 40, he announced earlier this year his intention to retire at the end of the 2012 season, so this is Will's only chance to see him play. And even though he won't remember it, it means a lot to me that he got to see three at-bats from my favorite Braves player of all time, who will also go down in history as one of the most beloved Braves since the team moved to Atlanta (alongside Hank Aaron and Dale Murphy), and one of the best third basemen in the history of baseball (although I still think of him as a shortstop, his original position).

But it wasn't just the Braves connections that had me a little misty-eyed at the game; as we were walking to our seats, the performance of the national anthem started. Now, in Baltimore, it's traditional that, even though almost no one sings the rest of the song, when you get to the "O" in the penultimate "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave" line, the entire crowd yells "O!" at the top of their lungs (the O's is a nickname for the Orioles). I've seen so many games in Camden Yards in the past 15 years that it's become second-nature; the song doesn't seem right without it. And so when it got to that part and the crowd remained silent, it hit me hard; yet another reminder that Baltimore is no longer my home and—it was yet another reminder that Will will never know many of the quirky traditions of the place where he was born, the place I thought he'd grow up.

But we're happy to be in Atlanta, and I'm very happy that Will not only had a home Braves game (which they won) as his first major league game, but that he had such a great time and wants to go back. When I met Chipper all those years ago in spring training when he was only 8 games into what would turn out to be a 19 year major league career, he autographed the bill of my Braves hat, and although it's a little unlikely, it would be a nice bookend to my story with him if I could somehow manage to get him to autograph a hat for Will in the final season of his career.

I finally finished watching the most recent season of Mad Men, and although it wasn't too bad, it seemed less Don-focused than any other season. The show has always centered on his evolution, sometimes to its detriment, but by suddenly changing the audience's expectations and expanding the frame, it's almost as if we were watching a different show, like the makers of the Sopranos decided to do a season that wasn't so much about Tony. Even when Don was in scenes, it seemed like it was more about watching how other characters reacted to him or handled him than it was about him, especially the many, many scenes with new wife Megan.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, and it's likely a result of the fact that they have an outstanding ensemble cast, and the writers gave them all strong storylines to give the actors each a chance to shine. And I mostly liked the character development—it was great for Peggy to finally have the confidence to break away from her mentor, for Sterling to get re-energized, and for Pete, who is in some ways more repulsive than ever, to get some humanizing qualties. I've never liked either the actor who plays Pete or the character of Pete, but this season the actor was given a lot of difficult scenes, and he handled them far adeptly than I believed possible.

But even though it was good to see someone consistently challenging Don, there was too. much. Megan. I like both the character and the actor who portrays her, but it was overload. It was the Season of Megan, and I think our understanding of Don and his progress as a person suffered as a result. I also didn't care for most of Joan's stories, especially her actions that helped the firm secure a contract with an important client—it was just beneath her, and I still have no idea what message the writing staff was trying to impart. And even though I missed the penultimate episode where Lane's story came to a head, I'm still disappointed about the way it was resolved. Similar to Joan's behavior the episode before, it seemed like a cheap stunt meant to create a Big Moment at the end of the season.

I never thought when I moved to Atlanta from Maryland that I'd be escaping to a cooler summer climate, but so far Baltimore has had a blistering summer. Not that it's been cool here, but it hasn't been unusual for us to be ten or so degrees cooler than my friends up north.

Noticed that the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit was available on Netflix streaming, so I took an evening to watch it. I watched the original when the Coen Brothers' remake was hitting the theaters, and now that I've finally seen them both, I'm not sure that we've gained anything by the Coen Brothers putting their stamp on it.

I'm a pretty big fan of theirs, and Jeff Bridges' performance was more nuanced than John Wayne's, but honestly, Wayne was much more entertaining. And while Hailee Stanfield's performance was solid, it wasn't any better than Kim Darby's in the 1969 version. Matt Damon was pretty amusing as the overly earnest Texas Ranger LaBouef, but his was the only role that I felt gained something in the remake. Overall a bit disappointing.

I know better than to write about work too much in this space on the off chance that a coworker stumbles on this site and figures out it's me, but the more I hear about what's been happening at my former institution since I left, the more I'm glad we made the decision to come down to Atlanta.

After seeing how much Will enjoyed watching the Braves game last week despite how late we stayed, I decided to get us tickets to tonight's preseason Ravens game in Atlanta, because it's almost certainly going to be the only time I see them in-person this season. Plus, since it's the first preseason game, the starters will only be in for the first quarter or so (if they're in at all), which means we'll be able to take off before it gets too late.

I'm pretty psyched about seeing the team play tonight, but I have a feeling that football season is going to be the time that I miss Baltimore the most.

Fridays feel a lot more like they're supposed to at this new job—I feel like I can really look forward to a couple of days where I'm not constantly thinking about (and doing) work. At my previous institution, I felt like I had to check email up until 11 o'clock at night during the workweek, and I had to check it at least every few hours on the weekend, and more often than not those emails would lead to tasks that had to be performed immediately. Saturday and Sunday just became times when I would expect to spend some time doing work, so they were lighter workdays, but workdays all the same. Work became an everpresent task, with no real downtime where I felt comfortable being out of touch for even a day.

At my new place of employment, the workload is just as heavy, and the volume of emails during normal business hours is the same or higher, but once 5 o'clock comes, the emails stop, almost like someone turned off the tap. The same goes for weekends: if I add up all the work-related emails I've gotten on weekends during my first ten weeks here, I don't think it would add up to my average volume for a single weekend at my old job. One of the reasons I took this job was because it seemed like this place had a much better sense of a work-life balance (although there were many, many factors that affected this decision), and it's nice to see that, so far at least, what they said during the recruitment process matches what I'm seeing now that I'm actually on the job.

The Ravens game last Thursday night was great, even though we only made it through the first quarter. I mean, the team didn't play great—the starters got beat up by the Falcons on offense and defense—but Will had a fantastic time, and it was fun to do something that was just me and him. We both had on our purple Ravens jerseys, and he thought that was the best thing ever. He had ice cream for dinner and got to yell at the top of his lungs and see big jets of flames when the Falcons came out of their tunnel. He was in heaven.

There were more emotional moments for me, just like at the Braves game. I had gotten tickets about 8 rows behind the Ravens bench, and the area was thick with Baltimore fans in their jerseys. And when they sang the national anthem, the Ravens fans all yelled out the "O!" that I had missed at the Braves game, and it brought a tear to my eye because these weren't just Ravens fans from afar—they were clearly Baltimore ex-pats just like me.

I never in a million years would have thought that Will's first baseball game would be a home Braves game and that his first football game would be a Ravens away game—six months ago if someone had told me that I would have insisted that they had it backwards. I love Atlanta and I'm quickly growing to think of it as home, but I put in my time with Baltimore, and she's always going to be a part of me.

Today is going to be weird. I can honestly say that I've never been through what I'm going to go through today and that I'll remember this day for the rest of my life—and not in a good way.

Yesterday was the toughest day at work that I've ever had by a long shot. My department had to lay off five people, and they all happened to be from one of my teams. Because I'm so new, I didn't have the personal connections to those staff members that almost everyone else in the office does, but it was still a grueling and emotional day.

I don't think I can write much else about it—the aftereffects of this process are going to be something that the office will have to work through for many weeks to come, and I expect that after the initial disbelief and shock we're going to be dealing with guilt and possibly anger from the other members of that team who remain. I know we will eventually get through it, and I believe that this was the best decision to get us where we need to be two years from now, but it's going to take a long time to rebuild the trust and morale of the staff in the wake of this.

I never got around to watching the full suite of solo Avengers films before the Avengers came out, but now Captain America and Thor are both available on Netflix streaming, so I'm getting caught up.

First up: Captain America. It was a little better than I thought it would be, but I had prett low expectations, so that's me damning with faint praise. He was never one of my favorite characters, and while I did like the fact that this was set in WWII (instead of relaunching the character's origin story in the present day like they typically do with superhero movies), but it was way too rah-rah and goodie-goodie, even for Captain America.

Another fun day at work today. I'm not going to go into details here, but if you know where I work, you likely know EXACTLY what I'm talking about. I've only been here for two and a half months, but I'm guessing that I could work here for 20 more years and never have a week as hard as this one.

I don't think ANYONE reads this blog, but there's so much stuff I can't write about on the off chance that the wrong person will stumble on it somehow. So here's the purposely vague version of the weekend: we had visitors, it was a good visit, and we hope we get to see them again soon.

I'm trying to find time at work to meet with the person who is currently the only member of my IT team (I've got two new open positions that I'll be filling in the next month), but the days just disappear in a sea of meetings. I never thought I'd have more meetings on my calendar here than I did at my previous job, especially not this early in my tenure, but I'm pretty sure I'm easily exceeding my average number of meetings per week compared to my last job.

Today is actually going to be a welcome break—we're doing an all day retreat with everyone on our staff and everyone on another team at a different campus, and aside from some remarks from various deans, it's meant as a decompression/fun day, and hopefully it will allow us to step away from the stress of last week a little bit. But still, it's a day completely away from the office, and so it's a lost day in terms of being able to work through some discussion topics with my IT staff member.

The office retreat yesterday was pretty good. They seem to do a lot more events like this at this office compared to my old one, but even though I traditionally have a low tolerance for team building exercises, etc., I have actually enjoyed all of the events with my new coworkers. There's definitely a different attitude and a different corporate culture down here, and it makes all the difference in terms of my enjoyment of office-based "fun" activities.

I need a haircut. I thought Atlanta would be thick with barbershops, but so far it's been difficult to track one down. I know to outside observers my hair still seems reasonably short, but it's been three months since my last haircut and I'm starting to feel like "flowing locks" would not be an inappropriate description of my hair.

Performance reviews next week! I'm not going to get one myself, having not been in my new job long enough to be given one, but I will have to participated in all the reviews for everyone on my teams even though they will primarily be written by the person who has been their supervisor for most of this year. Still not really looking forward to it, though—I think the process can occasionally have some value, but you're doing it wrong if the performance reviews have anything in them that's a surprise to either party. This August might turn out to be my least favorite month in the history of my professional life.

The Ravens have made a bold decision to release veteran kicker Billy Cundiff, who they just signed to a five year deal at the beginning of last season, and instead go with undrafted rookie Justin Tucker.

As all Ravens fans (and Patriots fans, and probably Steelers fans) remember, it was Cundiff who missed a chip shot 32 yard field goal at the end of the fourth quarter in last year's AFC championship game that would have tied the game and sent Baltimore into overtime with New England with a good chance of winning and advancing to the Super Bowl. But instead we watched in horror as the kick went wide and we saw what was otherwise an amazing season end in one of the most painful, banal ways imaginable. A 32 yard field goal isn't an automatic score, but it's as close as you're going to get in football; it's like a hockey player missing a shot on an open net or a basketball player missing an undefended layup.

Cundiff had a great year in 2010, but it was clear that he had lost something in 2011, missing more than his fair share of field goals from longer than 50 yards and not producing nearly as many touchbacks as 2010 even though a rule change gave him five extra yards in 2011 compared to the previous year. Still, if he hadn't missed that field goal, there's no way that the Ravens would have had a kicker competition in training camp; the job would have been Cundiff's without question. But even if he hit every field goal attempt going forward, I don't think I'd ever be able to see him line up for a kick without getting that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach remembering the botched AFC championship kick that iced our season. The only thing that could have somewhat made me forget would have been for the Ravens to win the Super Bowl with him as the kicker this season, but even that wouldn't make me completely comfortable with him.

Still, it's a pretty big risk to go with Tucker, who is unproven at in the NFL. The last time the Ravens did this, releasing veteran (and huge fan favorite) Matt Stover in favor of second year kicker Steve Hauschka in 2009, they ended up cutting the rookie midseason and bringing in a veteran. That veteran: Billy Cundiff. But I'm willing to chance this being a big mistake, because at this point I don't have any bad feelings about Tucker and I really feel like we need a fresh start at this position. And I'm sure Cundiff will find work with another team given the strength of his training camp—I just hope we don't have to play him at some point in the future and have his points be the difference-makers in a game that we end up losing, which is exactly what happened with Hauschka and his new team, the Seahawks, when the Ravens got beat by them in 2011.

I went to see The Dark Knight Rises for the second time on Sunday afternoon. I had a somewhat lackluster response to the movie the first time, especially given how much I liked the first two films in Nolan's trilogy, but the second time was a much richer experience. There were scenes that I couldn't really get into before (most notably the early interactions between Bale's Bruce Wayne and Michael Caine's Alfred) that worked for me this time around, possibly because there were three children under the age of 10 sitting behind me, kicking my chair, and whining to their parents (and rightly so—the first time I saw Dark Knight Rises was at a showing that started at 11:15 at night).

The Bane character had a lot more depth this time around, and since he's such a centerpiece that also strengthened the film. And I don't think I'll ever like Anne Hathaway, but her Catwoman (who is officially NOT Catwoman but a cat burglar even though she wears a mask and likes to wear skintight black leather and she has these goggles that totally turn into cat ears when she props them up on her head) was more bearable the second viewing.

It's still the weakest film of the trilogy for me, but after experiencing it a second time, I at least think it has earned a place alongside the other two. And although I'm not going to put up much of a fight if someone tries to convince me that another sci fi/superhero trilogy is the best trilogy from those genres, I think The Dark Knight trilogy will still be my opening shot in the argument.

Most universities seem to use a fiscal year that starts July 1, which makes sense in the context of their business, which is mostly seasonal and which is typically at its least active point in the middle of summer. My new institution, however, uses September 1, which roughly syncs with the start of the academic year. I guess in someone's mind that made sense long ago, but there's so much other activity that offices are involved in that time of year that it makes doing the final housekeeping to close out the budget year becomes infinitely more complicated than it would be if it happened in July.

I made an appointment earlier this week with the barbershop where I was turned away as a walk-in last weekend, and I think I may have found my regular place in Atlanta. It was a little more salon-y than I'm used to, but it was still pretty stripped down and basic, and had a nice minimalist decor that employed things like rolling garage tool chests for each barber to store their equipment and a cheap $40 turkey warmer to heat the wet towels they use after a shave.

It's a bit more expensive than I'm used to, but still, $25 every couple of months (including a generous tip) isn't bad, and they have an online appointment system so I can know exactly which barber I'm getting and exactly when I can get my hair cut ahead of time. In theory I'm a fan of the traditional barbershop where everyone walks in and goes in the order they arrived with their barber selected at random, but secretly I've always had anxiety about that process in reality, and I like being able to make an appointment with a specific barber online.

Busy weekend ahead, with a couple of sets of friends coming in from out of town, the Decatur Book Festival on Saturday, a barbecue on Saturday night, and some sort of activity on Sunday. Plus next Tuesday is Julie's first day of work at her new job, so I'm sure she'll be a little anxious about that. Hopefully we'll get to work in some downtime somewhere in there.

december 2012
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