february 2013

Missing Baltimore today. I've tried to keep my own personal Purple Friday down here in Atlanta since we moved by wearing a purple tie to work, and today I bought a new one with the Ravens logo especially for Super Bowl weekend, but that city is going to be something else this weekend, and I wish more than anything I could be there to be a part of it. Go Ravens!

I would have had a whole lot to say about that game if the Ravens had lost. But they won, and that's all that matters.

It has been nearly three years since the last time I posted photos, but I finally got inspired, so this month I'll be featuring a new series.

It's not very exciting—just different sources of light, or reflections, or shadows, around our new house at different times of day—but it's the first time I've been even remotely inspired to take photos in a long time, so I'm trying to be optimistic that it's the beginning of renewed interest in this hobby for me. It's been a long, long fallow period, and I haven't really found anything creative to take its place.

I finally finished the third Game of Thrones book. I think I know why the transition between books 2 and 3 seemed to be a continuation more than two volumes with distinct endings and beginnings: because originally the stories told in these two volumes were supposed to be told in one, but George R. R. Martin wrote way too much for one book, so he just split the volume into two.

Before I knew this, I feared that the tranistion between 3 and 4 would be the same as 2 and 3, and I wouldn't see any real resolutions or conclusions to the major characters' stories until volume 7 (or 8, or wherever he eventually decides to stop). But as I approached the end of volume 3, people started to die, plot arcs came to a close, and it felt like the proper end to a book in a way that volume 2 never did.

I'm going to take a break from the series before I start on books 4 and 5—the sheer number of pages I've read and the pages I have left to read, and the number of characters to keep track of (still enormous even after many of them died) is a little overwhelming, and I'd like to spend some time somewhere else besides this world.

So this month I've borrowed Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential from the Kindle Lending Library, and I'm going to try to read one or two other works of fiction before I get back to Game of Thrones. I'll still have some exposure to that world in the meantime—I want to finish season 2 of the HBO show in time to watch season 3 when it premieres in March—I'm just going to leave behind the prose for a few weeks.

I've been reluctant to fully make the switch from physical media to digital, partly out of concern that when I was locked into the digital-only world, the content providers would jack up the digital prices for no other reason than that they could and I'd end up paying as much or more for digital versions to which I have no guarantee of long-term ownership as I would for the physical versions would give me some ownership and transfer rights that don't currently exist for digital files.

Well, now that I've committed to reading on a Kindle and I'm becoming more open to digital purchases for music (I listen to everything digitally, I just typically buy the CD and then rip it once I have it in hand), I'm seeing evidence of this. Thee times in the past week I've searched for a book (twice) or a CD (once), intending to purchase them digitally, only to find that the Kindle/MP3 versions were more expensive than the physical copies. For CDs, this makes little difference, because I still prefer to buy music this way (and I have yet to find a music title for which Amazon's new AutoRip service is actually enabled even though MP3 versions of the albums exist), but now that I've grown fond of reading on a Kindle, it's especially irritating.

The problem, I think, is that the price of the original Kindle edition is set when the book comes out in hardback, where prices of $12 or $13 are still cheap compared to the physical edition, but the Kindle edition price is not lowered to a more appropriate amount when the paperback edition is released. And with Amazon's deep discounts and the free shipping that comes with my Prime membership, this means that the $9 or $10 paperback price ends up being cheaper than the Kindle version.

In general I'm very pleased with the Kindle experience and prices, but if situtations like this become more and more common, it could sour me on the platform very quickly. This almost feels like an oversight on Amazon's part—like they just forgot that they need to make the Kindle edition cheaper in lockstep with the release of cheaper physical versions of a text (for example, they could run a check to make sure that the Kindle version of a book is always at least $1 less than the cheapest new physical version).

Except they're too smart to have overlooked something like this, and it just feels like a money grab aimed at customers like me who have ceased buying physical copies.

Goodbye, R.

It was Julie's birthday yesterday, and as is typical for us these days, it was a pretty low key celebration. She spent the morning doing fun stuff with Will, I made her an omelet for lunch, and we had cupcakes from Endulge (their cupcakes are much better than their web site, I swear)—salted caramel, chocolate peanut butter, red velvet, and carrot cake, to be eaten over the next several days—paired with a pint of dulce de leche from the neighboring Morelli's location (also to be eaten over several days in very small servings).

For dinner, we got thai takeout, which, until we can convince ourselves to leave Will with a sitter, is as close to a fancy adult dinner as we can come. But we've never been much for dinners out anyway, so there's not a strong motivation to brave the babysitting waters.

The Walking Dead is back for the second half of the third season, and because of how good the first half of this season was, my expectations are high. The first episode wasn't as good as I had hoped, but it was about as good as the average episode of the first half of the season, so it's not like it was a bomb—I just expect something explosive from a debut episode from this show, and they have definitely set things up so that there are two debut episodes per season because of the two and a half month break in the middle.

Next week they will need to step it up, though, if they want to keep the momentum going, and there were a few signs that we might be hitting a slow period if there's going to be one this season. Rick is apparently going crazy, there's a new group to integrate into the main group, a key member has gotten separated from the group—we've seen variations of these storylines before, and I don't want to waste three or four episodes waiting around for them to resolve in predictable ways.

I finished up Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential, which I borrowed for free on my Kindle, and while it was a worthwhile read, it also felt like three different books—one about his experiences coming up through the ranks to become a chef, one about how the restaurant industry works, and one a series of essays about some of the best chefs he's worked with over the years.

It's almost as if when he turned in the original version of the manuscript, the personal biography, it was too short, so the publisher said, "Beef it up, give me more insider stuff about the trade." And then when he turned that in, it still wasn't meaty enough, so they said, "What else you got?". He just kept writing until the page count was high enough, and the result is a bit scattershot and disorganized, despite his efforts to put a meal-like frame on it (Appetizer, First Course, Second Course, etc.).

It was a pretty good read overall, although I have to guess that now, after a decade plus of other experiences with storytelling (writing more books and hosting food-oriented travel shows), I'm guessing that he looks back on some of the writing in this book the same way that his 43 year old self would look back at his cocky 25 year old self and bemoan the lack of skills and discipline. There are some great passages in here, but there are some that, however entertaining, are positively cringe-inducing from a literary perspective.

I thought I'd return to book 4 of the Game of Thones series after reading the Anthony Bourdain title, but I got a little overwhelmed reading books 2 and 3 in a row, and I'm still not ready to head back into that universe. Thinking about reading a musicial biography of some sort—either the Smiths or New Order (or both).

We didn't do much for Valentine's Day this year. We had planned to get a nice dinner out after Will went to bed, but we were both so exhausted and preoccupied with work that, when we called the sushi restaurant at 9:15 and they didn't answer the phone after a dozen rings, we just decided to pack it in and save a proper celebration until the weekend, when everyone else in the city wouldn't be out trying to have a nice dinner and we didn't have to face the prospect of another long day at work in the morning.

We've never been big on Valentine's, but we usually do more than this. I think both of us were so exhausted from the past couple of weeks we've had at work that neither of us had the energy and foresight to make any real backup plans—it would have been a simple thing to cook a nice meal at home if I had had any forethought about buying ingredients, for example. Julie definitely made more of an effort than I did, but this holiday just doesn't mean that much to either of us, especially becomes only a few short days after Julie's birthday.

More evidence of wacky pricing on Amazon for physical versus digital content that points to less value for our dollars as we increasingly shift to the digital world: last Friday, after hearing the Cars a couple of times on XM's First Wave station, I got it into my head that I wanted to buy one or two of their albums. I poked around the Amazon MP3 store and found a few for $5.99, and I was getting ready to purchase a couple when I decided to check out the prices on the physical copies.

To my irritation, all the $5.99 MP3 albums were priced at $4.99 for the CDs, and not only that, all of them were also included in Amazon's new AutoRip service, meaning that when you buy a physical copy, you also get immediate access to a downloadable MP3 copy of that album. So even though I would have been happy with a digital copy that entails no manpower, packaging, or shipping to deliver to me, it was actually more economical for me to buy the physical copies, and because of the AutoRip service, I also got the immediate gratification of having the songs delivered to me as soon as I purchased the physical copies.

I'm seeing more evidence of this with books as well, especially for those that have recently-released paperback versions where the new paperback edition will be priced $2-$3 lower than the Kindle edition, which still retains the original pricing from when it was competing with the hardback edition. If there was a service similar to AutoRip for books, I would have already purchased 3-4 titles that fit this pattern, but as it is, I've held off on purchasing either the digital or physical editions while I wait to see if Amazon will eventually relent and reprice the Kindle edition so that it's cheaper than the paperback.

I've started reading Tony Fletcher's history of the Smiths, A Light That Never Goes Out, and so far it's pretty good. Most of the reviews were very positive, but there was consistent criticism that the author spends way too much of the early part of the book recounting the history of Manchester, where all of the band members grew up.

It's definitely heavy on these details, but I feel like he does a pretty good job showing how this history had a direct influence on the lives of the band members, especially Morrissey and Marr—he doesn't tell the history just to tell it, he integrates it with stories of the individual band members and shows how that background influenced their music and their aesthetic choices as a band.

Even the people who hated that part raved about the rest of the book, so I'm really looking forward to getting past it just because I expect the remainder of the book to get better and better as the focus is more and more the story of the band during its active recording and touring period (which was painfully brief for the fans).

The Walking Dead's second episode of the second half of season three seemed to kick back into a pretty good gear and give me hope that the conclusion of this season will live up to the promise of the first half.

I'm starting to wish for a resolution to the Andrea situation in the same way that I got desperate for a resolution to the Shane situation (and I wouldn't be terribly sad if it resolved in the same way), but I have a feeling the Merle subplot is going to be another timewaster because, just like with Shane, we all know how this one has to end—it's just a matter of how much talking the writers are going to make us sit through to get there.

Two more failed attempts at reading days this week. I had planned to work at home yesterday and today to concentrate on reading applications, but both days got quickly filled up with conference calls and emails. I was still able to work from home, but I only opened our online reading system twice and I never got far enough along in a file to get to the final decision stage.

Time is running out for me, and I'm certainly not going to read the volume this cycle that I've managed the past few years (usually 300 or more), even with an extended deadline for completing first reads. At this point, however, I'll be happy if I can read at least 50 given how frequently the other work demands on my time have prevented me from diving into the files I already have assigned to me.

Watched The Adjustment Bureau, mostly because I want to get as much value out of my newly minted HBO subscription as possible and because it stars Matt Damon. Short review: not as bad or bad-weird as I had feared, but not as good or good-weird as I had hoped.

Tuned in for most of the Oscars last night, and I don't have any really strong opinions about the show. I watched it with enough of a delay to skip the commercials, the montages, and the musical numbers (those of you who actually care about the Oscars are probably why I watched it at all). Seth McFarlane's jokes were edgier than I expected them to be but pretty tame compared to his normal lambasting of Hollywood figures on his multiple animated shows.

The only movie I saw this year that was up for any awards was Skyfall, and although the cinematography on it was pretty brilliant, especially for a Bond flick, I knew it wouldn't win that category over Life of Pi (which I haven't seen, but which I know enough about to know which categories it would win).

There were so many close races this year (I think due to the lack of truly standout performances) that my ballot for the office Oscar pool was shot pretty early in the evening, so I sort of had it in the background until the Argo Best Picture win, which I was pretty sure would happen. I still hate Ben Affleck, but by all accounts Argo was a well put together film that should have earned him a nomination for Best Director, and I figured since the Academy had made an enormous blunder by not nominating him, the film would be a lock for Best Picture as a way of acknowledging the work in some way.

I was happier with this week's episode of The Walking Dead, but the second half of the season seems to be building towards a major confrontation between Rick's group and Woodbury...which is exactly what happened at the end of the first half of the season. I'm not sure what else I expected to happen the rest of the season, but it sure wasn't a replay of the first half with some minor variations.

And I hate Andrea now more than ever. Hopefully someone will off her soon, and hopefully that someone will be Merle and he'll be simultaneously killed by her.

Trying to distract Will when he was upset about something:

Me: Will, did you know your friend Noah is having a birthday party this weekend?
Will: I eat it all!
Me: You mean Noah's birthday cake? You're going to eat all of it?
Will: Yeah. I eat it all. Noah sad.

Busy weekend coming up. Basketball game on Friday, charity auction on Saturday, and a birthday party on Sunday. I think I'm going to feel like I need a day off after it's all over, and I have a feeling that weekends like this will increasingly become the norm as Will gets older.

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