october 2012

I've been watching a lot of SEC football, and I think I'm settling on UGA as my team of choice. Alabama is still on my radar, but I just don't get excited when I watch their games, probably because they don't make too many mistakes. Even when Georgia is ahead, they still feel very loose and wild, like things are either going to go spectacularly well for them or the wheels are going to fall off at any moment. That kind of living-on-the-edge performance can be heartbreaking when it goes wrong, but there are few things more exhilarating than when it all magically goes right, and either way you end up more emotionally invested.

They're on quite a tear so far this year, but all of their wins, even the ones with massive point differentials, have been closer than they seemed, and this week's win over Tennessee was especially close. Next week's game against South Carolina is their toughest on-paper opponent yet this season; how they perform could determine whether they have a shot at the national title this year or not.

For the record: the new online layout for USA Today is the worst redesign for a heavily trafficked news site EVER. I don't spend a lot of time on that site—I mostly use it as a source for one of my daily links—but now I actively avoid it.

Very poor planning for my work travel that I'm leaving for tomorrow I have a concert to go to that I bought tickets for long before I knew that I'd have to be in Denver the next day, then up at 5 a.m. to head to the airport for the trip out west. And I'll be gone through Sunday afternoon, which means that I won't be able to go to the wildcard playoff game on Friday night against St. Louis, which could be the last game Chipper Jones ever plays, and I'll also be in flight when the Ravens play on Sunday afternoon, so that will be the first Ravens game I haven't watched in a couple of years.

So I hope it's a good conference. And I really hope the Braves can win that game so I have a chance to watch Chipper make a run for the championsip in his final year.

A mixed bag for my various sports fandoms this weekend. Chipper's last game, the one-game wildcard playoff in Atlanta on Friday night, ended in disgrace as a blown call that left two men on base with two outs instead of the bases loaded with one out led to a significant game delay when fans threw garbage onto the field. The Braves couldn't mount a comeback, and so that game will definitely not go down as a storybook ending to his illustrious career.

The O's fared better, winning the wildcard game in Texas, although they did lose the first game against the Yankees in Baltimore. There would be a nice synergy if Baltimore were to win this series—the last time they were in the playoffs 15 years ago, it was the Orioles who won the division title and were subsequently knocked out of the playoffs by the wildcard-winning Yanks.

In football, the Ravens eeked out a win in Kansas City to go 4-1, but since I was in the air en route back from Denver, I didn't get to see any of the game, the first time I missed a Ravens game in I don't know how long. I did get to see UGA play South Carolina on Saturday night before I had dinner, but it wasn't pretty—a 35-7 demolishing that was all but over after the first ten minutes.

My conference was good but exhausting. I've typically attended more IT or marketing-focused conferences in the past, but this was one focused more generally on higher education and the admission process, which is likely the kind of conference that I'm going to be attending more often in my new role. I got to see a lot of former colleagues, and got to know my new colleagues a little better, but it was hard being away from home, and there's a social component to events like this that I've gotten much better at but which still takes a lot out of me.

If I had to do it again, I probably would have come home on Saturday afternoon instead of Sunday morning—nothing much happened after the final session of the morning except for the Saturday night social, and I was all social-ed out by then.

I was completely unprepared for travel and I forgot to pack reading material, so I ended up scouring one of the airport newstands for something to read while I was away. And after ten minutes looking dejectly at rows of books I never want to read, I stumbled on a little jackpot: Ready Player One, a book that has been recommended to me by friends and which I've had in my save-for-later list on Amazon for a while now.

It was one of those books that I fell in love with instantly, and which I dreaded reaching the ending of—I didn't want to leave that world, and as I entered the third act I became acutely aware that every turned page brought me closer to the end. I won't spoil the plot too much, but it's a story meant to appeal to nerds/gamers who grew up in the 80s, telling the story of a man who created an immersive gaming universe and who, upon his death, left his $200+ billion fortune up for grabs for the first person who could solve a series of clues and challenges he had left behind in the game.

It's somewhat ironic that this may be the last work of fiction I ever read on paper; I have a new Kindle that's due to be delivered later this month, and I can't foresee a situation that would compel me to buy a physical book ever again once I have that device.

10, 11, 12. One of those weird date sequences that you only see in the early part of a century.

We don't have any specific plans for this weekend, but my mom is coming to visit for a few days, so I imagine we'll end up doing something outside of the house with Will. I've come down with something the last couple of days (probably got it from Will—he had to come home from school early on Wednesday and I stayed home with him because he was still running a bit of a fever yesterday even though he was acting fine), and after just getting back from a few days of business travel last week, I could really use a quiet weekend at home, but there's pretty low odds of that happening.

My big concern is figuring out how to watch the Ravens on Sunday—I was on a plane when they played Kansas City last Sunday, the first Ravens game I've missed in at least a couple of years, and I don't intend to miss another one.

So at the end of the day, the Ravens are 5-1, tied for the best record in the AFC, and they have now won 14 regular season games in a row at home. But how they got there hasn't been pretty, with just-scraping-by wins in the last three weeks, and a defense that seems to be falling apart. They made every mistake you could make in the last four minutes of the Dallas game, adn the only reason it didn't end up a loss for Baltimore is because the Cowboys apparently have a terrible kicker. The Ravens' run defense has been particularly awful, with back-to-back games where opponents have run for more than 200 yards, the first time that has happened in the 17 year history of the franchise.

And it just gets worse from here: of the next five games, four of them are away, including games at Houston and Pittsburgh, and then the game after that sequence is another game in Baltimore against Pittsburgh. There's a real chance that we've lost our best cornerback, Lardarius Webb, for the rest of the season, and hall-of-famer Ray Lewis could also miss significant playing time due to an injury suffered yesterday. Plus a lot of the guys who can still get on the field are banged up, I think mainly because they are simply spending too many minutes on the field—in only one game so far this season have the Ravens won the time-of-possession battle, and yesterday was the worst of all, with our defense spending 40 minutes on the field compared to 20 minutes for the offense.

Even when the offense is scoring enough points to let us win games, they still have to get better at time management and giving the defense some time to breath. We clearly play better under the no-huddle offense, but the drawback is that we're not as effective at chewing up clock, and if we keep getting beat in time-of-possession (our defense is spending somewhere around seven minutes longer on the field on average than our offense is), the injury and fatigue issue is only going to get worse.

Luckily the next seven weeks do include a bye week, although it's only two weeks from now. Hopefully that will allow everyone to heal up a little bit, and we can also hope that the injuries to Webb and Lewis aren't as bad as they seem to be right now. Plus there's a chance that somewhere in there we'll get Terrell Suggs back, although whether he'll be able to play at 100% is the real question.

But there's every chance that this 5-1 record could easily end up being 7-5 (or worse) six games from now, and the last four games of the season are no cakewalk either. The Ravens have been scrappy and lucky and have found ways to win so far, but history tells us that luck runs out eventually, and the chances of that luck going away certainly increase when you lose key players from a defense that's already ranking much lower than anyone would have expected from this team at the start of the season.

Watched the Walking Dead season 3 premiere on Sunday, and so far it's off to a good start. Not nearly as much talking as usual—instead the actors are allowed to, you know, ACT—leaving a lot more time for action. I was intrigued by the first season and mostly disappointed by the second season until we got to the last few episodes, but I'm hopeful that maybe all the fan feedback has finally sunk in. Ask me again in six weeks when we reach the end of the first half of the third season, but there's every reason to hope that this could be the strongest season so far.

Twelth anniversary of this site today. Nothing to see here, move along...

My Kindle arrived today (a day later than it was supposed to due to Amazon using some cut-rate shipper I've never heard of), and I'm ready to give ebooks a good try. I've been saving up some titles for the arrival of the device, so I've already purchased the Kindle versions of Bob Mould's autobiography (with an assist from Michael Azzerad), See A Little Light; Caveat Emptor, a story about a real-life art forger; How Music Works by David Byrne; and Extra Virginity, about the history of olive oil.

I'm really hoping that the Kindle can be a catalyst to reengage me with reading. I've read less and less over the years, and although I still enjoy it on the rare occasions when I sit down to work my way through a book (usually on vacation), I haven't been able to work it into my daily routine. The portability and constant availability of a number of books should help me sneak in half and hour here and there, and make sitting down to read less of something that I have to make time for on my schedule and more of something I can do for a few minutes here and there.

The news couldn't be much worse for the Ravens—both Ray Lewis, their heart-of-the-defense veteran, and Lardarius Webb, their up-and-coming star corner, are out for the rest of the season, further decimating a defense that hasn't had defensive player of the year Terrell Suggs since he hurt himself in the offseason and which has given up a staggering number of yards, especially on the ground.

Suggs might be back soon, but whether he'll be playing at full-strength is another thing entirely. This weekend, their last before their bye week, they travel to Texas to face Houston, the only other team in the 16 team AFC with a winning record at this point in the season. And the Texans, who are also 5-1, are out for blood: the last time these two teams faced each other, the Ravens knocked Houston out of the playoffs in a hard-fought game in Baltimore.

The Ravens have soldiered through big injuries before, but never to this many top-shelf players. Yes, the offense this year seems more capable of keeping the team in the game even if the defense falters, but despite the great start, Sunday is more likely than not to be their second loss, and it could be the first of many that they will have to endure the rest of the season. Given the weakness of their conference, they may still be able to squeak into the playoffs even if they go .500 the rest of the way, but how they play this game today will tell us a lot about how the rest of their season might play out.

The good news from yesterday's Ravens game: Terrell Suggs is back. The bad news: pretty much everything else.

There's no other way to put it: the Ravens got their asses kicked yesterday, losing 43-13, the largest point differential loss in the history of John Harbaugh's tenure as head coach. Of course the time-of-possession was extremely lopsided again, with the Ravens in control of the ball for just under 22 minutes out of 60, but that doesn't begin to tell the story of how bad they looked.

It was actually okay for the first quarter—Baltimore scored first on a relatively controlled drive that resulted in a field goal, but then they were embarrassed when a terrible starting field position led to a safety, putting the score at 3-2. The Ravens almost escaped the first quarter with that score until a touchdown in the final minute, followed by an interception returned for a touchdown in the first minute of the second quarter. In the space of less than a minute of game time, the score went from 3-2 in Baltimore's favor to 3-16 in Houston's favor, and the Ravens never got that close again.

Given the absence of Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, and the fact that Suggs is probably back a bit earlier than he should be, the defense did a tolerable job for much of the afternoon, but they could never really stop the Texans' passing game when they needed to, and second year cornerback Jimmy Smith, who is starting in place of Webb, got beat badly more than once, which doesn't bode well for our ability to contain strong quarterbacks the rest of this season. The Houston defense was the real difference-maker—Flacco never seemed to have anyone to throw to, and there were always tons of guys on top of him. He was sacked four times, but it actually could have been much worse.

The week off will be welcome, as will a trip to Cleveland for their next game, a team who the Ravens beat in their first meeting this season and who currently have the worst record in football at 1-6. That's certainly no guarantee of a win, especially given how uncoordinated the Ravens have looked in their last two or three games, but a bye week with an away game against a weak opponent is far from the worst case scenario for this team right now.

Lots of fun activities for Will this past weekend. On Saturday, we drove about 45 minutes outside of town to go to a pumpkin patch our neighbors told us about, with hayrides, a petting zoo, and various other activities for kids. It was a little less thrilling than expected—the petting zoo was not really a petting zoo, but rather a watching-sleepy-farm-animals-in-their-pens zoo, and many of the animals pictures on the signs for the pens didn't seem to be present anywhere on the farm, much less in the pens that the signs told us held them—but Will had a great time anyway. And we did get a couple of good pumpkins for a decent price.

Also, we learned again not to trust the Maps application in iOS 6—first it directed us to a location on the wrong highway when we typed in the name of the farm, and then when we entered the actual address of the farm pulled from the farm's web site, it directed us to an address in the opposite direction about three miles down the road from the actual farm. We eventually found it by looking on the web version of Google Maps, and I mentally raised the price I'd be willing to pay for a standalone Google Maps app on iOS 6 by a dollar or two more (a couple more days like this one, and I'll be into the double digits).

Will goes to a music class every Saturday morning where the kids get to sing songs and play instruments for an hour, and on Sunday the woman who leads the class was giving a concert with her cowboy-themed band Cowboy Envy at a fall festival in Avondale Estates, a neighborhood that's pretty close to us. It was right on the edge of his normal naptime, but we figured he'd be pretty into it and wouldn't mind starting his nap late, so we went around 12:30 so we'd have time to get lunch and look around before the 2:00 concert.

There were a lot of cool artisans there, and I ended up buying a woodblock print of a crow on handmade paper and a piece carved in clay before being painted and sealed, also of a crow. There was a pretty good crowd, and the printmaker told me that the fee for the two-day festival was only $95, so I might have to consider going next year if I'm ready to start selling my photos again (although it would help if I could start producing some new material—it's been about 18 months since I've shot anything).

We got seats in the second row for the show, but we could have been sitting anywhere as far as Will was concerned, because as soon as the band started playing, he ran and stood right at the foot of the stage, where he remained for the next 45 minutes (except for a couple of excursions to the side of the stage in an attempt to actually get onstage with the band, which had mommy and daddy bolting from their seats to stop). At one point a friend of his music teacher, who happened to be sitting next to us, went up and danced with him for a couple of songs, and although initially he was a little hesitant, he really got into it by the second song.

I could really use a weekend with some serious downtime, but Will is so engaged and has such a great time doing stuff outside of the house that it's hard to keep him cooped up for even a day.

We've finally started renovations on our new house, and we're anticipating moving in (finally) in about two weeks. It's very excited to see all the plans we've been making start to become actual things, and even more exciting to think about leaving our rental house and getting all of our stuff unpacked and really feeling like we have a home again.

I know you can't always count on contractors' time estimates, but we're moving by November 17 no matter what, even if we have to overlap with them for a few days while they put the finishing touches on things, and if things go well, we could even get moved a week before that. Now to start thinking about furniture and light fixtures and appliances and all the other things we'll need to have once we get moved in...

Lots of time working but out of the office this week. I think this will be the first day in about a week and a half that my boss and I will both be in the office at the same time, and I'm hoping that the lack of other staff members (a ton of folks are finishing up their fall travel) will give me some quality time with him.

My thoughts are with my Baltimore friends today. After so many dire weather warnings that didn't turn out to be anything at all for so many years while we were living there, I wasn't too concerned about this frankenstorm thing at first, but when Johns Hopkins announces that it is going to be closed night before the event (like every other college in town normally does) instead of at 8:15 the morning of like they usually do, I know it's a serious situation.

On Saturday Will's school had a little Halloween carnival for the kids where they could dress up in their costumes, eat lots of sugary things, and jump in a bouncy house. He's going as a dinosaur again this year (triceratops last year, t. rex this year), and although the costume comes with a really cool headpiece, he got tired of that after about two minutes and spent most of the morning running around as an otherwise undefined lizard/crocodile/dragon/dinosaur.

I didn't see to many of the kids from his class, but the ones that showed up were some of the kids I think he's closest to (they are the ones whose names he mentions outside of school). We tried to hang out with a couple of them, but even though they recognized each other, the costumes and the fact that they were doing all of these new and interesting things at school but not at school seemed to throw them off, and they didn't really interact that much.

He loved the bouncey house, which he was probably a little young for—we had to go back three times. They had a five minute time limit when it was crowded, and although he was good about coming out when we told him to the second two times, the first time Julie had to practically crawl in herself to get him (it wasn't a huge bouncey house that was made for adults—it was definitely made for kids only).

There was also a kids entertainer who sang and played guitar for a while, and Will had a great time hopping up and down and dancing with all the other kids. She wasn't singing any songs he'd heard before, but he's a great little mimic and he picked up on the moves pretty quickly by watching what the other kids were doing.

The house is coming along both more quickly and more slowly than we had hoped (there are some things that took a lot less time than we thought, but we've been in kind of a holding pattern most of this week as they wait for some of the specialists to finish their work), but we've decided to move in on November 10. We'll at least have the upstairs part done, so even if the basement work isn't finished, they'll be able to come and go without needing to get into our living space (the basement has its own entrance) and they'll limit themselves to a normal workweek.

It will probably be a month or two after we move before we're really settled—there's all the stuff in storage that we have to get moved and unpacked, there's lots of furniture to buy, and there will be lots else going on in our lives to distract us from getting the unpacking done promptly—but it will still be nice to get moved in and finally feel like we've taken the last big step in our transition to Atlanta.

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