november 2012

Here are our pumpkins for this year. The raven on the left was mine, of course.

For our trick or treating, we split it up between our old neighborhood and our new one, visiting our neighbors/landlords at our rental place before heading over to our new neighborhood to meet a some friends with a six year old who have also just moved to Atlanta.

We've dressed Will up and carried him around to some houses the past two years, but this was the first year he was really able to get into it and walk around a lot himself (and say "trick or treat" and "thank you"). Will went as a dinosaur and our friends' son went as a dragon, so they paired nicely, and Will had a great time copying EVERYTHING the older boy did. We walked around for about an hour, and although Will rode on my shoulders on the way back to the car, he soldiered through all the walking (and carrying of his increasingly heavy candy bucket) pretty well.

When we got back to our rental place, we were just going to turn off the lights to avoid the packs of uncostumed teenagers who were by then the majority of the kids still out, but we decided to order in a pizza for dinner and had to leave the porch light on until that came. We did get one pack of trick or treaters during that time, and luckily it was a 10-12 person group of real trick or treaters, so they all got generous helpings from the bag of assorted candy bars we'd gotten just in case we had any Halloween visitors.

The contractors didn't make as much progress this week as we'd hoped—much of the week was spent waiting on the HVAC specialist, who was unusually busy due to the recent cold snap here—but we've decided to commit to next Saturday as our move date.

The basement renovations won't be quite done, but the upstairs will be finished, and that's the primary living space and also where most of the stuff in the rental house belongs (the items that don't go upstairs, like the freezer and the treadmill, will be stored on the screen porch until the basement is ready for them). We'll then have the stuff that's been in a POD in storage since we left Maryland delivered a week or so later when all of the work is finished, and we'll finally be able to really start unpacking and getting settled into our life in Atlanta.

The Ravens won again yesterday, bringing their record to 6-2, but as has been the case for most of their recent wins, it was an ugly win that was unnecessarily close. The final 25-15 score doesn't tell the real story of this game: after getting off to a hot start, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter, they offense stalled, enduring six straight three-and-outs across the second and third quarters. The defense also let the Browns slowly creep back into it, preventing them from scoring touchdowns but allowing them to score field goals on five posessions, putting the score in favor of Cleveland 15-14.

The Ravens were saved, really, by two penalty calls: one the took back a touchdown for the Browns which ended up only being a field goal, and another that extended a Ravens drive in the fourth quarter that resulted in a touchdown and a two point conversion, making the score 22-15 in favor of the Ravens. The Browns also made a poor decision to go for it on fourth and two with nearly four minutes and two timeouts left in the game (plus the two minute warning), and made the even poorer decision to try a passing play which gave the Ravens the ball back with good field position.

Next week's home game against the Raiders is going to be one of the easiest on their schedule for a while, and it's likely not going to be as easy as it looks on paper. After that, they see Pittsburgh twice, San Diego on the road, the Redskins, the Giants, and the Broncos. They will at least get to face the Manning brothers in back to back weeks at home, but against those two teams and Pittsburgh, they're not going to be able to be as sloppy on defense as they were this week and go into those sustained funks on offense and have any chance at a win.

I'm going to vote today, but I have officially lost my enthusiasm for voting, especially because, as usual, I'm voting in a state where my vote for president means nothing thanks to the Electoral College (Maryland was always a lock for Democrats, and Georgia is a lock for Republicans). I did have some enthusiam for Obama during the 2008 election after 8 years of Bush/Cheney/Rove, but he has hardly lived up to expectations on issues that I care about, like regulating the financial industry, rolling back the constitutionally unconscionable parts of the Patriot Act, and ceasing the concentration of power in the executive branch.

I still think he's loads better than Romney this time around, because I actually don't know anything about what Romney might or might not do once in office. At least Obama is the devil I know—his first four years are likely a decent blueprint for his final four years (although there's a chance he could actually return to his progressive roots with no elections left to win), and what I know about his first four years leads me to believe that four more years of Obama will be more tolerable than whatever Romney will do at the beck and call of corporations (yes, all politicians at the national level owe debts to corporate entities, but some moreso than others) and the Tea Party fringe that will have a large say in his policies based on his running mate selection.

I've now voted in four different states—North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Georgia—and the others don't hold a candle to Georgia in terms of the ridiculous process to get to the voting booth that is imposed on voters by the state government. In all the other elections I've voted in, I had to speak to an election official and tell them my name and address. Once they found me on the rolls and checked me off, they either gave me my ballot or gave me a coded card to take to an electronic voting machine, and that was that.

In Georgia, on the other hand, I had to fill out a paper form (with a carbon copy underneath, believe it or not) with a bunch of personal information, all of which was on my driver's license—which I had to present in order to get the paper form. Once I had gone through this silliness (I have no idea what the purpose of this could be other than to be able to throw out my vote if I misspelled the name of the county where I reside or something like that), I had to then present both the paper and my license to yet another official, who checked them both against one another. After that it was off to another official who did the EXACT SAME THING, only this time I actually got my coded card that let me go to the booth and vote. Going through that process took five times longer than actually filling out my ballot, and again, I have no idea why all those checks were necessary or why I had to handwrite information that was already on my license, which I was required to present.

At least there was no wait at my polling station—there were reports of four hour waits at some Atlanta locations. Maybe if people didn't have to go through all those pointless paperwork and crosschecking the lines would move a little faster...

I went to see Cloud Atlas, sure that I would either love it or hate it, but strangely, I found myself undecided afterwards. There are undoubtedly some beautiful sequences, and most of the storylines were worth the emotional investment (the ones set in the future resonated most strongly with me), but it didn't quite come together as well as I'd hoped (although from a technical perspective, it's almost certain to be nominated for an Academy Award for editing, and I'm not going to be shocked if it wins).

Tom Hanks, in all his various guises, gives his most winning performances in years, and although I've never been a fan of Halle Berry, my dislike of her didn't automatically poison the characters that she played (for those of you who don't know much about the movie, it's actually six mini-movies that stretch across centuries of time, and the primary actors play different roles in several of the sequences, even if it's sometimes a cameo appearance that involves only a few seconds of screen time and heavy makeup). All of the other main actors give great performances, and there's enough humor, action, and plot progression that you really don't feel the three hour runtime (or at least I didn't), but although each separate story had merit and was engaging in and of itself, somehow the movie didn't transcend the individual stories and become something greater than the sum of its parts.

I couldn't stomach Speed Racer, but I'm a fan of the Wachowski siblings' (Larry has undergone gender reassignment and now goes by Lana) other works, and I had high hopes that this one would end up in the same league as the first Matrix movie and V for Vendetta (one of the most underrated films of the past decade, featuring an amazing performance from a Guy Fawkes-masked Hugo Weaving, who also has several roles in Cloud Atlas). I liked it enough to see it again before passing final judgment (although maybe not in the theater), but I didn't have that immediate, visceral reaction to it that I did to the Matrix and V for Vendetta. Tom Hanks was pretty amazing, though, and if he doesn't end up with some sort of acting nomination for one or more of his performances, then that's proof enough that not enough people in the nominating wing of the Academy saw this film.

Moving to our new house tomorrow. There actually isn't much to pack—half our stuff has been in storage since May, and at least half of the stuff we brought with us to the rental house is still sealed in boxes. We've been living pretty bare bones, which is fun for a little while, but it will be nice to stop living in-between and actually get settled into a home where we hope we'll be for a long, long time.

The Ravens unleashed all their frustrations a with their struggles on the always unpredictable (but usually awful) Raiders at home in Baltimore yesterday, and although no fan is going to walk away from a 55-20 beatdown of another team thinking their team could have done better, what they showed yesterday still doesn't give me a lot of confidence that they've solved their offensive and defensive woes.

Next week they'll face the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the first matchup between these bitter foes this season, and the only thing that gives me any hope for a win there is that the Steelers are pretty banged up as well, and they also play tonight, meaning they'll have a short week to prepare. If the Ravens can win Sunday night's game, a road game against their fiercest rivals, then I'll have some hope that the team has a chance in the postseason (which they're almost guaranteed to make given their current 7-2 record and the overall weakness of the AFC this year).

This is probably the worst stretch of their season: a road game against Pittsburgh, a road game in San Diego, and then another game against the Steelers in Baltimore. If they come out of this with a 9-3 record, especially if they can have some really decisive wins, I'll start to believe that they've turned things around, but until they start kicking ass away the same way the can at home, I'm not going to get too optimistic about them getting deep into the playoffs.

The move went reasonably well—the movers started packing up our rental place around 9:15 and they were done unloading it at the new place just after noon, and the Comcast guy showed up early and did a great job rewiring everything to get us outlets where we needed them (although it did take a few phone calls to get the internet working again—we have our own modem, and their self-activation process just wasn't working for me).

There are boxes everywhere that I don't feel like unpacking (Julie is making steady progress with hers, though), and it will be another week or two before the work in the basement is done and we have our stuff delivered from storage (including the bulk of my art toy collection, which I've missed terribly these past several months—I haven't seen it since late April), but it's already starting to feel like home.

We had a semi-annual town hall meeting for our division yesterday, the first one that's been held since I joined the institution. I didn't really know what to expect, but at worst I thought I'd find a spot at a table in the back, have a cup of coffee, and have to sit through an hour-long talk by an administrator or faculty member.

I got caught up talking to someone before the event started, so I ended up sitting at a table right in front of the lectern. Okay, I thought, so I'm going to have to pretend to be alert and awake even if this is boring. And then the head of our division introduced the morning's speakers: two comedy improv teachers who had adapted their improv lessons for use in business. Interactive lessons. At 9 a.m.

Uh oh.

It actually wasn't that bad, and there were a few exercises that were reasonably fun and let me learn a little bit more about the people I work with. There wasn't a lot of calling people up to the front and making them perform in front of everyone—instead, they would break you up into small groups of 2 or 3 or 6 and have you work on very targeted communications exercises together. More often than not there was someone in my group who I already knew, so I had a little bit of a comfort factor there.

It was a little strange how they released zero details about the agenda before the meeting, but after I learned of the topic, I understood why—if you had told that group they were going to be doing comedy improv for an hour and a half first thing in the morning, half of them would have called in sick or found a way to put another meeting on their calendar during that time (including me).

This institution tends to do a lot more social gatherings and team building stuff than my previous university did, but so far every single one I've been a part of has been a pretty pleasant experience, which I attribute to a difference in the cultures of the two places. There were plenty of great people at my last school, but there was definitely more cynicism and an overriding sense of hopelessness and being closed off to new things. Here, everyone is a lot more open to things, and they deal with challenges with far more grace and humor than I'm used to in the workplace.

Another enrollment services party today, but this one's just a potluck lunch (I'm bringing canned collard greens that I doctored up with bacon, onions, and brown sugar) with some sort of western theme. As in, you are encouraged to dress up in cowboy attire. Luckily, I have none, so it will be the standard oxford shirt and khaki pants for me.

My parents are coming for a brief visit this weekend, which might be the closest thing we get to holiday visitors this year. We're also not planning to travel much—a long weekend before Christmas in Raleigh so Will can see his namesake, my grandfather, and where we'll hopefully see other family members who will also be in town for the holiday.

We'll likely keep it pretty low key for Thanksgiving—we've got some friends who just moved to town who we might do something with, and we have an invite for a larger celebration from a friend of Julie's from Baltimore, but it's also entirely possible that we'll just fix a miniature Thanksgiving dinner at home and have a quiet day as a prelude to the four day weekend.

This will be the first Christmas that Julie and I will spend in our own home. We've always traveled in the past, hitting at least two and sometimes three different branches of the family in a weeklong odyssey on the road, but Will is getting old enough now that he's going to start to form long-term memories, and we want his Christmas memories to be the same ones we had: just his parents in his own house opening his presents from Santa under the tree he helped decorate.

We may do more travel in future years the week after Christmas—we've already had our fair share with moving from Baltimore to a rental in Atlanta and then from our rental to our permanent home in the space of six months—but keeping his Christmas mornings in our home will be something that I'm going to hold firm on.

Look, I'm never going to complain about a win over the Steelers playing in Pittsburgh, but even against one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Ravens offense wasn't as good as it needed to be. The defense held up great, and in classic Ravens style, it was DST that won the game for them, but who knows how different the game might have been if Roethlisberger hadn't had to leave the game because of an injury.

The games against the Steelers are almost always low-scoring, punishing, win-by-less-than-a-touchdown affairs, and while this fit that pattern, there were still too many missing pieces on the offensive side of the ball for me to feel good about heading into the playoffs against the best teams in the league.

Next week it's on to San Diego, and then another game against Pittsburgh, but this time in Baltimore. I said if they came out of this stretch with at least two wins, they're almost guaranteed to make the playoffs again, and it would be nice to head back to M&T Bank Stadium maintaining a two game lead over Pittsburgh with a 9-2 record.

I've been very happy with the Walking Dead so far this season, and there's no doubt in my mind that if they keep anywhere near this pace, it's going to be their best season yet. But Sunday's episode was the closest thing they've had to a filler episode so far, really getting us almost nowhere plot-wise. Thankfully it looks like Rick's breakdown got all wrapped up in a single episode, and that the worlds of the prison and Woodbury are going to collide imminently. If this was a chip shot to set up the two best episodes yet to end the first half of the season, it will be forgivable.

I've finished my first book on the Kindle, and although I'm enjoying the e-reader experience, I only wish my first time could have been with a better written book. My first book was the non-fiction Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Forger, and it got great reviews, so I had high expectations. There is a great story in here somewhere, but unfortunately the forger decided to write it himself, and he assumed that just because he's very intelligent, charming in person, and has an interesting story to tell that he's capable of writing that story himself. And that's the main reason I didn't like the book: he's not a good writer.

I guarantee if he had worked with a professional writer and let that person create a biography of the forger and a history of his crimes, this book would have a much longer shelf life than just as a novelty story about an unusual life (although I'm sure it will still be ridiculously profitable for its author). Instead, the storytelling is weak, with characters drifting in and out with no real purpose (he'll spend pages and pages talking about how important someone was to his professional forging career, and then parenthetically mention 50 pages later that they died somewhere along the way), and with lots of red herrings in the plot. And his writing style really leaves a lot to be desired: "And then this incredible thing happened! And then this! And then I'm rich and own multiple homes!"

Plus the author never really lets you into his head—you never really know what drives him and what was going on with him personally while he was crafting this amazing career as a forger of paintings. And while he does share some of the technical secrets that allowed him to fool experts for so long, you never really gain any insight into his talents, either his forging techniques or his raw painting skills. He makes it seem like any idiot who had taken the time to figure out how to create the supporting evidence for fake paintings would have been able to slap some paint on the false canvas and sell it for thousands of dollars. You'd think a mind this devious and cunning about controlling appearances and impressions would have been better able to edit his own work to tell us a more compelling tale, but there's no sense of structure or purpose to many episodes in the story.

I'd love to see this book rewritten by a real writer who has full, honest access to the forger's toughts. But that's not going to happen, because it's clear that the forger is both a practiced liar who would never be able to be truly honest in interviews with his biographer and has too much of an ego to let someone else tell his story.

Wow. That was a doozy in San Diego. An incredible game to watch, and with the eventual desired outcome for the Ravens, but man, they sure took the hard way to get there. That's been their hallmark this season: they win ugly, but they win. And even though I'm very excited about being 9-2, I know that the questions that are dogging me are running through the minds of every Ravens fan: is this going to be enough to make a run deep into the playoffs?

They're almost certain to get there now no matter what, but they've got to find some way to put all the flashes of brilliance they show almost every game into something more than just enough to win that day's game (Ray Rice's 4th and 29 run to extend the Ravens' final drive of the fourth quarter is the most obvious example of this in last night's game).

Last year I think teams were afraid to face the Ravens; it felt like they were going to win every time they stepped on the field. This year opponents are more wary of us than scared of us, and at some point either we have to get better or our luck is going to run out and all of these close games are going to start falling the other way for us.

Thanksgiving was a little weird this year. We saw three turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, but we didn't eat a single bite of any of them.

First we stopped by a coworker's house after he invited everyone in the office to drop in for a few minutes, even if they coudn't stay for dinner, and that's what we did—visited and had snacks for a half hour or so, and then left just as the turkey was finished resting and they were about to sit down for the big meal. We did this because we had already planned to have dinner with some friends who have just recently moved to Atlanta themselves, and who have a six year old son who Will adores.

We got to their house just before 5:30, which is when they intended to servce dinner. The turkey was still roasting, but that was fine—we hadn't seen their new house at all, and we hadn't really gotten to see them since their relocation, so having an hour or so to socialize before the meal was fine by us. But then the evening started to wear on, and Will was getting closer and closer to the end of his rope, and the temperature of the turkey just wasn't rising as fast as expected (I'm guessing that it may have been something with the oven not being able to hold its temperature well, which they wouldn't have had the experience to know in advance given that they had just moved into their new place). By 7:30 it was clear that we were still likely an hour from the meal being ready, so we decided to head home and get Will to bed.

The third turkey was the turkey breast that I had cooked earlier that day. Not knowing how our day would shape up, and whether Will would be in the mood to out for dinner, we made up our entire Thanksgiving meal in the morning, slicing the turkey and putting casseroles in the fridge so we could heat everything up in less than an hour if we ended up eating at home. But by the time we got home that night, we were so tired that we didn't want to wait that long (and Will couldn't wait that long), so we ended up eating soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and saving our Thanksgiving dinner for Friday (and Saturday, and Sunday).

On the Friday after Thanksgiving we took as close to a real day off as we've had in a while, eating the food we had prepared the day before and not running any errands. On Saturday we went to look at furniture because one of the places we want to buy from was having a 25% off sale that only lasted until Sunday. We were dreading fighting the crowds, but to our surprise, this shopping complex (it's one of those weird faux main street deals) was almost deserted.

We've been there a couple of times before, and it's always crowded, so we were expecting Black Friday type numbers of people. We asked the salespeople in the furniture store about it, and they said it was the exact same last year—ridiculously crowded on Friday and Sunday, but very, very quiet on Saturday. Something for us to keep in mind for the future for sure.

After we did our furniture errand, we took Will on a train ride around the shopping center (we did that last time we were there, too, and as soon as Will realized where he was, all he could talk about was riding the train again) and let him give the conductor a $20 tip for Christmas. Then we went to see Santa, who was also very accessible because of the lack of crowds. Will hasn't exactly been scared of Santa before, but he's always been a little nervous and his Santa pictures generally don't feature a smile. This time he was a bit scared, and we eventually ended up sitting with him for his picture (Santa was on a bench, so I think parents end up in a lot of the photos at this place).

Sunday was a trip to Ikea to pick up some stuff for the house and a trip to the old rental house to do laundry. We don't have a washer and dryer in the new house yet, and because of the work in the basement they won't be delivered until next week, so we're using our last few days of access to the rental place to make sure we have enough clean clothes to get by until we can do laundry in the new house.

Just found out that my new place of employment does a White Elephant thing for the holiday party, which got so ugly at my last office that it made me not want to participate in the holiday party at all. It was better the last couple of years when the real focus was the bowling competition and the White Elephant exchange/deathmatch was an optional side thing that was a barely noticeable part of the afternoon's events (as opposed to the main event), but I still never wanted to participate again after those first few years.

The folks at this office seem like they will be a lot more lighthearted about it, and so it might actually be fun instead of mean (although I'm still not going to participate). Me, I think I'd prefer either a party with no gift exchange or a simple Secret Santa thing where everyone gets something that they want and no one spends more than twenty bucks.

The house renovations are still not completely finished, but we're getting very close, and we still have the movers scheduled to come and empty out the POD we've had in storage for the past six months on Sunday. We've also finally picked out a new couch and dining room set, and those will start arriving in the next few days, along with a new washer and dryer.

I'm excited about having full use of our house and also being able to finally unpack everything and get back to feeling like we're living in a home. It would have been nice if this had all happened a few weeks ago as we had originally hoped, but I'm just glad that we do seem to be almost finished with our transition from Baltimore.

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