september 2012

We had a good holiday weekend, but not a very relaxing one. On Saturday morning we went over to Decatur for the annual Decatur Book Festival, the highlights of which were seeing a friend who works for the UGA press and chatting with the caretakers of Andalusia, Flannery O'Connor's home for the last half of her life. Will also enjoyed the free balloons and the reading by a children's book author, but the heat tired him out pretty quickly, so we went back home for naptime shortly after lunch.

That night we went over to the house of a high school friend of ours for a cookout with several families from their neighborhood, most of whom had kids. Will had a ball—even though most of the kids were older than him, he still liked tearing around the backyard with thema and playing on the swings and slides. I also got to hang out with my friend from UGA (who also went to high school with Julie and I), and I met someone from Emory who I likely would have encountered at some point since he works in an office that interacts a lot with my office. I'm not usually big on parties, especially ones where I don't know very many people, but I had a good time; hopefully we'll get invited back next time they host a neighborhood party.

On Sunday we met up with Julie's college roommates Leila and Mary Jo (and Leila's daughter), who were in the area visiting Leila's family. We started off with lunch at Farm Burger, and then went to the Georgia Aquarium. I was on Will duty (at Will's request—he's recently started showing a preference for one or the other of us for certain activities), and he was so tired from the day before and so overstimulated from the crowds and activity that we spent most of the time running from exhibit to exhibit on the edge of a total meltdown.

He was temporarily soothed by a cup of Dippin Dots and a dancing session with Leila's daughter, but he soon gave out completely, so we had to head home. We had hoped to see the final dolphin show of the day, but it was still two hours away by the time we left and there was no way he was going to make it that long. He asked about it constantly, so next time we go we'll have to make sure we get there early enough to get a show close to our entry time.

We took Will home for a nap and then met Leila and Mary Jo for dinner at a tacqueria in Emory Village that has become a favorite spot for me to have lunch with coworkers. Will was still a little wired, especially because he really took to Leila's daughter, so he didn't stay in his seat or eat very much, but he had a great time running around table and going on walks with Leila's daughter (and whichever adult felt like leaving the table for a few minutes).

Monday morning I had breakfast with my UGA friend before she headed back to Athens, and it was my intention to do nothing else with the day but nap and goof off, but instead I ended up mowing the lawn and pulling up a thicket of weeds that had grown up around the part of the fence that divides the driveway from the backyard. Although I had a fun weekend overall, I think I might regret not finding more time to relax—there's a lot going on in the next few weeks, and I can tell that this week is going to be one of my most intense so far in the new job even though it's only going to be four days.

Two big things happened in this week: first, Julie started her new job. And second, we closed on a house.

Our house in Maryland closed in late June, and we started looking around seriously for a house here in mid-July. We really wanted a four bedroom (which is what we had in Maryland), but those were hard to come by in our price range and in the neighborhoods we wanted that were a) close to campus and b) in good school districts. But it's really important to Julie to have a guest bedroom, and it's really important to me to have an office (and they can't be the same room, because even though I probably spend 2-3 hours in my home office each day, I especially need it as a retreat when we have visitors who stay multiple days), so the fourth bedroom wasn't really a negotiable point.

There was one house that was in a neighborhood we loved, looked good from the street, and seemed to have a great interior, but it didn't have that fourth bedroom. Still, our realtor convinced us to take a look at it, and although we liked it even more after we went inside, it was still missing that fourth bedroom, and we already knew that was going to be a dealbreaker. But then we discovered the unfinished basement: not only did it have reasonably high ceilings (just over 7 feet), it also had three big windows that looked out onto the backyard and let in lots of natural light.

We still had concerns, though: for it to be an office that I would feel comfortable spending a few hours a day in, it would need to be finished, and we had no idea how much that might cost and if we could get the house for a price that would allow us to do that work and still stay within our budget. And it was more than just a matter of painting and putting up some drywall—there was a lot of ductwork that made the space feel really cramped, and in the space where my office would be, we wanted to reroute it and/or replace it with smaller ducts so that it wouldn't be so intrusive.

We ended up visiting the house four times, the last two with a contractor and an architect to get some sense of whether what we wanted to do with the downstairs space was doable and how much it would cost us. We got good answers to both those questions, and after thinking about it for a couple more days, we put in a bid in early August. There was a little bit of negotiation with the seller—our desired max price was lower than their desired minimum price, so we agreed to split the difference—but within a week we both signed the contract and we moved on to the home inspection, appraisal, etc.

There were little things to take care of, but in general that process went pretty smoothly. We were actually surprised at how well things were going given that we only had a month to get everything done in order to meet the closing date stated in the contract, but then our mortgage broker went on a two week vacation, and it was pretty clear that while he was away his assistant had missed some crucial details that quickly reached emergency status because we only had a week left until closing.

So that last week was a little tense, but everything worked out in the end and we signed the final papers yesterday afternoon. It was a little anticlimactic because we want to do all the basement work before we move in, so we likely won't be in the house for another six weeks or so, but it's still nice to have that piece of the puzzle in place and to know that by the time the big holidays start up in November, we'll have a place we can really call home.

Even though I spent the first half of my life with no strong sports allegiance except Carolina basketball (and even that I wasn't as passionate about as I am now), I've slowly accumulated fandom in Major League Baseball (the Braves, courtesy of a college roommate who grew up in Fitzgerald, GA) and the NFL (the Ravens, who you can't help but get into if you come into Baltimore without a preexisting attachment to an NFL team).

I intend to pass all of these along to Will, but is has become clear to me in my short time in Georgia that the dominant sport here is college football, specifically the SEC. You're more likely to find someone who lives in the Triangle in North Carolina who doesn't have a strong opinion about ACC basketball than you are to find an Atlanta resident who doesn't follow an SEC team with some level of devotion. So I feel like I owe it to him, if he's going to grow up here, to figure out which kind of SEC family we're going to be before he gets old enough to know the difference.

The two most popular teams in Atlanta are Georgia Tech and University of Georgia, but Georgia Tech isn't in the SEC, so they're out (it also wouldn't feel right to root for another ACC team, even if it was in a sport that up until recently hasn't been taken very seriously at UNC). Alabama is another popular choice (although not nearly as popular in Atlanta as UGA), and there's a nice Ravens connection there (general manager Ozzie Newsome was a star player there in his college days), so I think those are going to be the two SEC teams I focus on.

My plan is to watch every game by both teams this season and see which one's personality is a better fit. I watched the openers last week, and although it's a small sample size, I definitely get the feeling that Alabama is they hyperorganized machine that makes very few mistakes, while UGA tends to screw up a little more often and then uses their raw talent advantage over many teams to make up for their blunders.

In terms of players, the ones that I've gotten attached to after only one game are running back Todd Gurley and linebacker Jarvis Jones from Georgia and wide receiver Kevin Norwood from Alabama. I know you can't get too attached to specific players at the college level, but I'm hoping the types of players who become stars for each organization will tell me something about the kinds of players they generally draft, which might reveal more of their institutional personality.

It took years to naturally grow into my fandom in MLB and the NFL, and it does feel a little weird to be choosing to be part of a fanbase in such a preplanned way. But the main determiner is going to be my reaction to each team based on watching them play—which team do I look forward to watching more? Which one do I really want to watch in real time rather than DVRing to watch later? Things like that are going to tell me which team I have more natural affinity with.

Part of what made me love the Ravens was that I was learning to love Baltimore, and that city is crazy for the Ravens. My fandom for that team simultaneously made me love the city more and made me feel more a part of the fabric of the city, like I belonged there. I already feel very at home in Atlanta, and I hope to be here for a very long time, so even though I'm artificially speeding up the process, I'm hoping that having an SEC team to root for will have the same effect on my growing relationship with this city.

I'm psyched for the Ravens opener tonight, but I've already had one football high. Outside of a Ravens win, there are few things sweeter when watching the NFL than seeing Ben Roethlisberger give up an interception that's returned for a touchdown on a possible game-winning scoring drive with under three minutes left to play. I'd say that he looked angrily dumbfounded, but he kinda always looks like that.


I've watched four episodes of MTV's American version of the British show The Inbetweeners, and although I really want to like the show, I'm less than impressed. I fell in love with the British version minutes into the first episode I saw, and I'm so deathly afraid of having it vanish forever that I've Tivo'd all 18 episodes and had them living on my DVR for well over a year now.

The experience was similar to watching the American version of The Office after seeing the British version, except the American version of The Inbetweeners isn't nearly as good as the first few seasons of the American version of The Office. With The Office, it was clear that the American version was going to have a different kind of vibe even as it stole plotlines from the British version, but that it had a chance to be just as good once it found its footing.

With The Inbetweeners, however, there's just not that chemistry, and even though it is also actively stealing (sometimes scene for scene) from the British version, I'm not sure it will ever gel into its own thing. And as with The Office, the British version is much more willing to put its characters in awkward moments so cringeworthy that you sometimes literally find yourself putting your face in your hands, while the American versions of the same scenes are toned down enough that they just seem forced and silly. Also: there's a disturbing lack of raunchy British slang, which adds far more texture to the dialogue than you might think.

Tivo should continue picking these up for me, so I might watch a couple more episodes to see if the American version ever finds its own voice and storylines, but I'm not optimistic at this point.

Last weekend I watched both the Alabama game against Western Kentucky and the Georgia game against Missouri, and they were both very similar to the previous week's games. Both teams won and both teams blew out their opponents, but Alabama's blowout was bigger and more convincing.

You might think that this would turn the tide (pun intended) in their favor in terms of which team I'm leaning towards making my SEC team, but that team has been so dominating that the games just aren't that much fun to watch. There's very little drama and very little mystery about who's going to win, whereas with Georgia, even though they eventually get their rhythm and take control of the game, there's a lot more excitement and there's a longer period where the game is in doubt. I paid more attention to the Georgia games, and I could feel myself getting caught up in the action in the same way that I get into Ravens games.

There's still a lot of football left to play, but at this point I think Georgia has the edge in the competition for my (and more importantly, my son's) allegiance.

The Ravens opening game was pretty amazing. The offense was incredible, with very few mistakes and none that went for turnovers, and if Joe Flacco can play like this the whole season, it's hard to see how he's not going to put himself in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. The team has been experimenting with more no-huddle offensive schemes this preseason, and I've always wondered why they didn't do that earlier and more often in previous seasons, because Flacco has always seemed to be more comfortable, more productive, and far less prone to mistakes when playing no huddle and/or shotgun. He proved that on Monday night, and hopefully we'll see more of this the rest of the season.

One of my big dilemmas since moving to Atlanta is how to watch Ravens games legally. The opening game wasn't a problem, because it was nationally televised for Monday Night Football on ESPN, and weeks three and four are similarly available on Sunday Night Football on NBC and Thursday Night Football on the NFL Network (which we do get here in Atlanta). But week was going to be a problem, so I started investigating various NFL Sunday Ticket options through DirecTV, who currently have an exclusive contract to broadcast out of market NFL games.

I didn't actually want to get a dish, so I focused on two options: the NFL Sunday Ticket Online option, which would let me stream games to my computer or iPad, and the PS3 option that lets you stream games through the PS3 to your television.

I obviously want to be able to watch on my tv if at all possible, but I don't own a PS3, so the investment there would be $300 for the NFL Sunday Ticket PS3 option and $250 for the actual PS3 hardware (although I might be able to reduce that by finding a used PS3 at a local GameStop), so a maximum of $550 for the season (presumably reduced to $300 for future seasons because I wouldn't have to buy the PS3 hardware; DirecTV unfortunately owns exclusive broadcasting rights through the end of the 2014 football season).

If I wanted to watch on my tv for the computer/tablet version, I'd have to shell out $250 for the NFL Sunday Ticket itself (why the cost for this is different than the PS3 version I have no idea, since it's giving you the same kind of streaming access to the same content) and then another $100 for an AppleTV, since that would be the mechanism that would let me take a stream from my iPad and have it appear on my tv. But I wasn't entirely convinved that this was even possible, because built into the Airplay/mirroring protocol that allows you to do this is the option for content owners to block an iPad stream from being shared with an Apple TV, and I couldn't get confirmation from either DirecTV or from various message boards about whether or not this was allowed. I finally did find confirmation that even if the Airplay option didn't work, I could always buy a $40 HDMI-out cable for the iPad and hook it up directly to my tv. And even with that, the total comes to $390 for this year and $250 for subsequent years.

But just as I was about to head down to the Apple Store to purchase the required hardware for this solution, I decided to check my local listings on the off chance that the Atlanta CBS affiliate would choose this week's Baltimore/Philadelphia game as their 1:00 game, and to my surprise, they did. So because I don't have to worry about how I'll watch the games for the first four games of the season, I'm going to hold off for now and see if I can either find a cheaper solution or if, with a quarter of the season completed, DirecTV will drop the price of the package for the remainder of the season. I have a feeling that come week 5 I'm going to be spending $390 so I can watch the Ravens for the remainder of this season, but that's a small price to pay to be able to maintain my connection to the team.

I don't think I've ever seen a team have so many turnovers and play so sloppily and still come away with a win as the Eagles did against the Ravens yesterday, and I'm pretty sure I've never seen them do it twice in a row (they won by a single point over Cleveland last week after turning over the ball five times). The defense did a great job with the turnovers, with two interceptions, one forced fumble that was recovered by the Ravens, and another unforced fumble recovery. But they blew passing coverage way more than they should have.

Of course, the reason the Ravens didn't win was the same reason for almost all of their losses the past few seasons: an anemic offense, especially in the second half. Despite Flacco losing the ball on a fumble at the Ravens 20 yard line on the second offensive play of the game, the offense played pretty well, taking a 17-10 lead into halftime despite being beaten on total yards and time of possession. But they didn't run the no-huddle offense that was so successful last year, and they all but abandoned the run game, mistakes that continued through the second half. And as the Eagles figured out that the gameplan wasn't going to change, they started to take advantage, shutting the Ravens down on multiple three-and-outs.

Aside from not taking advantage of an up-tempo, no-huddle passing game, they also just stopped running the ball, instead electing to throw the ball on several 3-and-1 and 3-and-2 situations. Did the entire coaching staff suddenly forget that we have one of the best running backs in the game in Ray Rice and one of the best fullbacks who is perfectly capable of running for some yards himself in Vonta Leach (case in point: his touchdown run in the first quarter, the first Ravens score of the game)? 3-and-2 should be a near-gimme for those guys, even when the entire defense knows that the Ravens are going to run the ball. But over and over and over again, they elected for far riskier passing plays which failed time after time after time.

The Eagles certainly didn't deserve to win that game, but I don't think the Ravens did, either, so hopefully the one point loss in the final two minutes will sting enough to make them not make these same stupid mistakes in the offensive play calling again (although I'm not confident of this—as I said, almost every game they've lost in the past two seasons has been a result of stubbornly sticking to this losing gameplan on offense).

The only bright spot in the game was the continued impressiveness of rookie kicker Justin Tucker, who was again perfect and who hit two field goals over 50 yards (including a 56 yarder that looked like it would have been good from over 60). It will be interesting to see how he rebounds mentally from his first miss as a pro (because he will miss at some point), but for now, I'm cautiously optimistic that this undrafted rookie is going to be our solution at kicker for many years to come.

It's so disappointing to see this outcome after last week's stellar game against the Bengals, who have traditionally given the Ravens fits even when they are terrible. There's no room for mistakes next week against a New England team that has always given Baltimore problems that will also be coming into the matchup 1-1 and wanting to make sure they don't have a losing record three weeks into the season. It will be in Baltimore, where the Ravens are especially tough to beat, but it's games like yesterday's that have kept the Ravens from having that home field advantage in the playoffs for the last four years.

Everyone on the planet can see that the no-huddle, fast-paced offense wins games for the Ravens, especially now that their offensive weapons have a couple of years together; it's a complete mystery why offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can't recognize this, and why head coach John Harbaugh lets him continue calling a bad offensive game. I've never been a huge fan of Joe Flacco's, but I'm ready for them to turn the game over to him and let him make more of the playcalls on offense. That's what they did at Cincinnati last week, and I don't think I've seen a better, more efficient victory from the Ravens in years.

It's been more than two years since my last iPhone upgrade, so I decided to pick up an iPhone 5. I learned a lot of lessons from my experience buying an iPhone 4 on launch day, most notably to NEVER stand in line for one of these phones if you want one on launch day. Instead, I decided to preorder it online to have it delivered the same day of release: no lines, no hassles, and I can set it up at home myself whenever it's convenient for me.

For the past couple of years, Apple's preorders have taken a day or so to sell out, but knowing that if you don't get a phone on launch day, you're probably not going to get one for weeks, I didn't want to take any chances. The phones were going on sale at midnight Pacific time on September 14 (Thursday night/Friday morning), which meant I would need to get up at 3 a.m. my time. So I dutifully set my alarm for 2:45, and by 2:55 I was at my computer refreshing the Apple Store web site and also trying to get in through the Apple Store app on my iPhone.

The web site never did change from it's "We'll Be Back Soon" message, once the clocked ticked over to 3, I was able to access preorders on the app. I got through the checkout process in about five minutes, only to discover at the end that my carrier would not ship the phone anywhere except the address on my account, which was still my Maryland address (we pay that bill online, so we've been lazy about updating it since having the wrong address doesn't actually affect us). But despite the heavy traffic on my carrier's site as people were trying to preorder the iPhone 5 there, I was able to access my account and update my address. It wouldn't update the phone I had in my cart, so I had to empty it and go through the process again, but even with all that I was still back in bed by 3:25.

The next morning when I read that the preorders had sold out in just an hour despite the volume set aside for preorders being twice what it was for the iPhone 4S (2 million versus 1 million), I was so glad that I hadn't taken any chances. I had my confirmation email from Apple, and my order status changed over the next 24 hours from Received to Processing to Preparing to Ship with a confirmed delivery date of September 21, the day the device goes on sale to the public.

The Braves played their final 4:00 weekend afternoon game of the season last Saturday, and as a treat we decided to take Will. Since it was more or less a last-minute decision, I decided to buy our tickets online so we could have a better sense of where we'd be sitting, and after comparing sections and prices between Ticketmaster and the ticket reselling sites, I ended up buying three tickets four rows back in the upper deck section directly behind home plate.

We tried to get Will down for his nap early that day so he would wake up in plenty of time for us to get to the game, but he was still sleeping at 3:00 so we had to wake him up if we wanted to have a prayer of getting to the game by opening pitch. We were all ready to go; the only thing we were missing was cash, but we figured that, except for the parking, we could pay for everything on our card if we didn't see a bank on the way. And we had $10, just enough for parking.

Or so we thought. When we arrived, we found all of the lots charging $20, likely because it was a Saturday afternoon game in a critical series (the game was against the Nationals, who are the number one team this year in the Braves' NL East division). If we had stopped somewhere to get money, we would have been ten minutes later and likely would have missed the first few pitches of the game, but because we had to extract ourselves from the tangle of traffic and seek out an ATM, we ended up not getting to our seats until nearly an hour and a half after the game had started. It was kind of a nightmare.

But once we got settled in, Will had a great time, and we ended up seeing the best part of the game: the Braves coming back to take the lead and holding on to win 5-4. The difference maker was a terrible, terrible call at first base that went against the Nationals—as sometimes happens with a bad call, the pitcher got rattled and gave up a home run to the next batter, and it was those two runs that gave Atlanta the edge at the end of the game. We also got to see both of Chipper Jones' at-bats—he didn't start the game, but they brought him in to pinch hit and play third base about halfway through.

And even though it was very frustrating, coming in for the second half might have been the best thing anyway—Will was engaged with the game for a while, but for the last 25 minutes Julie and I took turns letting him run around the upper deck promenade because he wouldn't stay in his seat. If we had been there from the start, he would have gotten bored by the fifth inning and we would have missed the best parts of the game. Still, that hour and a half is a time that I wouldn't voluntarily go through again.

I know this isn't news to anyone who has upgraded to iOS 6 and played around with the new maps application (the first time Apple has done this app in-house instead of partnering with Google), but it sucks pretty bad. I like the use of vector images, but the database that goes along with the images is really lacking, and the traffic information is just terrible. I know it will get better over time, but while we wait a few years for that to happen, I really hope Google gets us a standalone maps app for iOS so I don't have to suffer through being a beta tester for a clearly inferior app that whose functionality I've come to rely on.

iPhone 5 arrived promptly at 10:00 a.m. this morning, no lines, no hassles, no trouble activating. Smoothest experience I've ever had buying one of these devices. Whether or not I get one on launch day in the future, I can't imagine a situation where I'll ever go to the Apple Store to buy one again—even with no lines, it's still much easier to do the activation from my home computer.

Holy cow, that was a crazy game last night— I swear to god that final field goal almost gave me a heart attack. Of course I'm glad the Ravens ended up on the good side of a one-point difference in the game this time, but this ref situation is getting out of control—it's not even worth trying to recount all the bad calls. It would take a couple of pages just to describe the ones that went against the Ravens, but both teams took their fair share of terrible calls (or non-calls). It's like the game we're watching is as much about who can get away with what as it is about who can actually beat who with better playcalling and execution.

The Ravens have a brutal opening month, with a Monday night win at home followed by an emotional, close away loss against a more or less local rival, then another emotional, close win at home, followed by a Thursday night game at home against a division rival. After last night's win over New England, they're guaranteed to come out of that stretch at least 2-2 and they have a pretty good chance of being 3-1, but that's three primetime games, another that was chosen as the 1:00 game of the week by CBS, and two short weeks to open the season. The only good thing is that three of the four games are at home, where the Ravens have now won 12 in a row.

The rest of the season doesn't necessarily get any easier, but at least they don't have any more Monday or Thursday games (after this week) to shorten their weeks, and their bye week falls at the reasonable 8 week mark. There is that three week period where we see the Steelers TWICE, which is the dumbest way to schedule what is arguably the best rivalry in the NFL right now (I'll give the edge to Chicago-Green Bay if pressed, due to the ancient nature of that animosity, but for intensity, I still think Pittsburgh-Baltimore is unmatched). One thing's for sure: aside from the fourth quarter of the first game of the season, this season hasn't been boring at all, and it's not likely to be any less exciting going forward.

So I've had the iPhone 5 for a few days now, and here's the quick review: even though it has a bigger screen, it's much thinner and lighter than the previous two models (and it's really not that much taller than them, either—it's still fits comfortably in my pocket), the processor is fast as hell, and, because I happen to live in one of the metro markets that AT&T has a solid LTE presence in, the non-wifi downloads are ridiculously fast, too.

The biggest improvement, however, is not exclusive to the iPhone 5: Apple's new earpods. I always had trouble with their earbuds—they didn't fit in my ears very well, and so I ended up buying third party earphones that didn't sound as good but which would stay in no matter what I was doing, even working out or yardwork. I haven't tested the new ones in those contexts yet, but from my initial head-shaking tests, these fit much more securely and they sound a lot better, too.

I've got some sort of nasty sinus thing that started to make itself known over the weekend and which has gotten worse with each day. I took my first sick day at the new job yesterday, and although I'm working today after sleeping for most of the day yesterday, I'm going to be working from home to conserve energy. Hopefully I can put this behind me soon—I've got to be on a plane for six hours next week and I really don't want any lingering sinus issues before I have to make that flight.

Real refs back tonight, thank god. The games with the fakes were exciting, but football shouldn't be exciting because people who control the game have no clue what they're doing. The Patriots/Ravens game on Sunday was terrible, but I don't know if that would have been enough to push the league to settle with the real refs if not for the explanation point of the Green Bay/Seattle game. Whatever it took, I'm glad this nonsense is over and we can hopefully get back to some better officiated contests.

The Ravens game last night was much more controlled and flowed much more smoothly, no doubt because of the return of the real refs. They're not infallible, and there are certainly going to be calls that fans and players disagree with, along with calls that they just plain get wrong, but the game last night was the best officiated contest of this whole season so far, and that alone speaks for the difference between professional refs and real estate agents who have refereed a few low-level college games.

The Ravens let the Browns stay in it too long, but to play four games in eighteen days and come away 3-1 (all home wins, but still) is quite a feat. Now they'll have a mini-bye to recover and prep for their next game, which will hopefully allow them to absorb some of the emotions of this turbulent season so far (the death of the longtime owner who brought them to Baltimore as the season was starting, followed by the death of a star player's younger brother a week ago).

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