june 2013

Will's school was out last week, but today they went back and he joined his new classroom. He's moving up to the preschool level, which means more kids in the class, but we're hoping it will be a relatively smooth transition—he's still at the same campus, seven of his classmates from last year will be with him in this classroom (along with most of the class that was across the hall from them last year), and we've spent a lot of time over the last month talking to him about the change and taking him down to see his new classroom and meet his new teachers.

Julie did the dropoff this morning, and she said he started crying when she left, but when I picked him up this afternoon he was having a ball on the new preschool play area and his teachers said that as soon as Julie left he stopped crying and had a great day. This is like last year when he first started going to this school and he would cry when Julie left, but the teachers said that shortly after her departure he would settle down and have a normal day. Hopefully this time he'll acclimate faster and mommy won't have to leave him crying for two or three weeks, but even if that happens, all signs point to him making this transition with relatively few issues.

One year ago today I started my new job. I wonder how long it will be before I refer to it simply as "my job" instead of "my new job"?

I'm reading a book on my Kindle now called The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music: From Adele to Ziggy, the Real A to Z of Rock and Pop, which is clearly not meant to be comprehensive or even really guarantee meaningful biographical content on each referenced artist. Instead, it's a collection of thoughts on a very personal selection of artists ranging from one-sentence blow-offs of rock and roll hall of famers to pages and pages on relatively obscure artists with interesting life stories.

It's arranged in alphabetical order because, well, that's just as good as any other way to present this essentially random assortment on content, but its presentation on the Kindle could do with some specialized treatment. If you had this book as a physical object, you would likely not read it in order—instead, you would flip through until you saw an entry that caught your eye, and then flip around to find another random one once you'd finished the first one.

Given that, it would be great if, in the Kindle version, there was a link at the end of every entry that was something like "Random Entry" that would give you the option to go to a completely random new entry instead of being forced to read the text in alphabetical order. True, you can do some of that by scanning the list of chapter titles and hopping around that way, but it's just not the same as being able to flip through a book. Also, the author is constantly referencing other artists as points of comparison to whoever he's writing about at the moment, and it would be nice if, when those artists have their own entry in the text, you'd be able to hop to that and then hop back to the entry you were originally reading.

Other than links to footnotes, I've seen very little in Kindle texts that take advantage of the format to present content in ways that aren't possible in traditional physical books. I'm sure at some point that some of the more cutting edge publishing houses will have Kindle translation specialists on staff who will think of unique ways to use the format for texts with more interesting structures, but given how slow the industry was to embrace digital content, I'm guessing that will take a while.

20th college reunion this weekend. I actually made a lot more friends in high school that I kept in touch with over the years than I did in college, although my college years were transformative ones that I wouldn't change for the world—I think my experience there is one of the reasons I'm so passionate about higher ed administration as a career.

Most of the people I'd be really interested in seeing again don't seem to be on the attendance list, but there are a few people that I'm really looking forward to seeing. And if my high school reunions are any guide (I haven't been to any of my college reunions until this one), everyone there will be an instant friend by dint of our shared experiences during those years. Plus I haven't been back to the campus in over a decade, and it will be fun to explore and see what has changed.

Our reunion weekend was pretty good. There weren't a lot of the people that I'd stayed in touch with or was eager to see again who attended, but there were a few, including my friends Sarah and Geoff, who I hadn't seen since we graduated. And there were plenty more who I got to know a little better even though we hadn't been close in college (that's often the case with these kinds of events in my experience).

The mayor of Charlotte and Obama's nominee for Transportation Secretary was also there—he was a member of our class and was the student body president, only the second African-American (at the time) to hold that office in the history of the school. I was a little dismayed when I found out that our class dinner, which I thought was just going to be dinner and socializing, was prefaced by about 45 mintues worth of speeches and awards, but it turned out okay (other than the squirming two year old we had to contend with)—I got to know a little more about some of my classmates, and it made me feel closer to them all.

Having Will there was a blessing and a curse—it was fun to hang out with him and show him around the campus, which we hadn't been back to in over a decade (this was our first reunion, but we took my youngest sister for a visit when she was doing her college search), but there were also times, especially in the evenings, when we had to skip out on some events because we had to get him back to the hotel for sleep.

The night of the class dinner, however, we stayed pretty late—they had a live band that used to play the frat parties back in the day who reunited for our reunion, and Will, as is typical for him with live music, was glued to the front of the stage. At first he just stared at the band (a little creepily), but as he got more comfortable, he started dancing, including flailing his arms, jumping up and down, and trying to clap in time with the music. It was pretty adorable, and even moreso because he was totally unaware that everyone was watching him—he was so focused on the music that he was unaware of anything else going on around him. The band even started talking to him from the stage, extolling the rest of the crowd to get up and dance like him, and he had to give them high-fives when we finally dragged him away around 10.

I didn't see either of the two professors I was closest to who are still with the college, but I did sit and have a nice long chat with a professor emeritus from my department who I never had any classes with but who I certainly knew of because even 20 years ago he was an institution at the school.

All in all it was a fun weekend, and we'll definitely be coming back if they do a 25th. And hopefully I'll be able to build on some of the reconnections and stay in better touch with the folks I was close to but who drifted out of my life in grad school and the life that came after school.

In addition to being the main day for our college reunion. last Saturday was also our 17th wedding anniversary, and the 25th anniversary of our very first date. When we saw that our reunion fell on that weekend, we briefly considered not going because we usually try to do something special for our anniversary, but I'm glad we decided to go to the reunion and do our celebration later—we got to hang out together all day anyway, and do something fun away from the routine of our everyday lives, plus we got to relive some memories from the years just before we were married and where our relationship really solidified into what it is today.

We got a nice takeout dinner on Sunday when we got back, but we will properly celebrate next time a grandparent comes to stay and we can leave Will with someone for the evening while we go out to a nice restaurant. It's still important to do something special for the occasion, because it's all too easy to skip it one year and then have that become a habit, but I don't think either of us has any regrets about putting off our private celebration to be a part of the reunion festivities.

I finally tried Taqueria del Sol, the wildly popular taco place in Decatur, and while it was good, it actually wasn't as amazing as I expected. There are tons and tons of taquerias around Atlanta, and all the ones I've been to are pretty good, but there's one near campus, Bad Dog Taqueria, that I go to for lunch every couple of weeks that has set the standard for me.

And after visiting Taqueria del Sol—which again, was pretty good—Bad Dog is still my standard. Its menu is much more inventive than Taqueria del Sol—there are probably 20 choices for tacos, every one of which I've tried (probably about half of them by now, since I tend to order the same thing over and over when I find something I like) is amazing, while the Taqueria del Sol menu only has five or six choices. And again, their tacos are pretty good, but they feel a little ordinary compared to the equivalent tacos on the Bad Dog menu, and Bad Dog has four times as many options in case you really want to stretch your taste buds.

I'm certainly not going to turn down a visit to Taqueria del Sol if the opportunity presents itself, but I'm now on a mission to get Taqueria del Sol afficionados to try Bad Dog if they haven't already, especially because Taqueria del Sol always has a long wait and Bad Dog is only a couple of miles away.

After visiting Taqueria del Sol with my friend and one-time college roommate who has lived in Decatur pretty much since graduation, we headed to a movie theater to catch a showing of the new Star Trek movie, Into Darkness.

I like the revamp that J.J. Abrams did to this franchise a few years ago, but I wish that the first movie had been a springboard into a television series that would relaunch the franchise on that platform as well—I just don't think fans are going to have the connection to these characters if they're only going to encounter them once every 3-4 years. However, he found a very clever way of relaunching these characters so that fans of the original series could still identify with the characters they knew but future films wouldn't be bound to the canon of that universe, freeing up the writers to create entirely new histories for the crew.

Into Darkness is a bit more of the same, and by the end, it began to feel a little worn. Without giving too much away, they reference seminal events in the alternate, already-established timeline of these characters and play with them a bit, but once you figure out the reference, the plot quickly becomes evident and you're just waiting for it to play out rather than genuinely wrapped up in the drama. I understood why they wanted to return to those events—it is incredibly important that Spock and Kirk have the same bond in this universe that they did in the original one—but it felt more forced than I expected, and I think that's partly because they had to cram the growth of their relationship into two feature films instead of letting it grow across the course of dozens of television episodes.

If they really want to put their imprint on the franchise, they're really going to have to tell their own stories from now on, without so much referencing of the previous canon. What they have done so far amounts to a slick, clever, makeover for the franchise that constantly winks at the original series. It's a highly entertaining makeover that has helped reintroduce these characters to new generations of audiences, but it's one that lacks the emotional ties to these characters that older generations of fans have.

This is a fun film if you like summer action films, and it's worth seeing if you come from the Star Trek old guard and liked the first Abrams take on Star Trek. But don't be surprised if you find yourself exiting the film simultaneously entertained but questioning the future of the franchise.

Most of the office is in semi-slacker mode because our boss is on vacation for two weeks, but not me—this has been one of my busiest weeks here yet, with meetings, reports, site visits, and communications projects taking up all of my days and a decent amount of my nights.

I'm hoping I can clear the decks on all the really pressing stuff and take a day or two off next week, but I'm going to have to push really hard the first half of the week if I want that to happen. Looking forward to what will hopefully be a relaxing weekend before I jump back into it—I may have to review a new batch of resumes for a position we're hiring for, but other than that, I'm hoping to avoid work until Monday.

Father's Day weekend was pretty low key. The main activity was a baseball game on Saturday night, but that wasn't even planned as part of Father's Day—we went as part of an event for alums of our college who live in Atlanta.

Will was pretty good at the game—it was a hot, muggy day, and our seats were in the upper deck in the sun, and he still lasted over two hours (although I'm sure the ice cream and frozen lemonade helped). Usually we know when he's had enough because he flips out over something minor, and we have to do a quick evacuation to prevent a full-blown meltdown in public, but this time, about halfway through the sixth inning, he turned to me and said, "I tired. I ready to go."

And he was—even though we were able to get out of the stadium before he lost it, he had a couple of relatively minor incidents on the way to the car, and I know that if we had stayed even 15 minutes longer he would have lost in at the stadium. I was disappointed not to see the end of the game, but I think that's just the way it's going to be if we take him to a game for the next few years, and it's pretty amazing that he can stay focused and engaged for as long as he does.

But because we left early, there was no traffic, so we were back home in about 15 minutes and we were able to watch the end of the game on tv. It would have been a great game to see the end of in person—the Braves came back in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game—but I wouldn't have wanted to do that with a screaming, exhausted toddler who would then have to sit in traffic for an hour or more.

On Father's Day itself, Will gave me a handmade card and a desktop pen/pencil holder with his picture on it. We went out for lunch and got ice cream afterwards, but otherwise it was a pretty low key day. Which is exactly what I wanted.

It's one of those weeks where I think I'm a day farther into it than I actually am. I'm actually hoping to take Friday off, so if I get to do that, in some ways this perception will be true since I'm starting my weekend a day early, but I've got a long way to go and a lot of work to do before I can realistically think about not being in the office for the full week.

I have refrained from commenting on this whole NSA/PRISM/spying on Americans thing so far not because I don't think it's an important topic. I think it's wrong, illegal, and it leads us further down the path of an overbearing, overly-intrusive, opaque government apparatus that, in the wrong hands (and I generally think anyone who holds an elected national office is "the wrong hands"), could quickly get us to the point of being a fascist state where we have at best the illusion of constitutional civil rights (some would say we're already there—I'm looking pointedly in your direction, Tea Partiers and Libertarians—but I don't think we've gone over the cliff just yet).

No, I haven't commented on it because, frankly, it's nothing new. Programs of this sort have been going on since World War II, starting with ECHELON, which initially monitored all phone and telegraph transmissions and was eventually expanded to anything (including faxes and most internet traffic until recently) that traveled over phone lines or through communications satellites. And yes, it's an NSA program.

This isn't a conspiracy theory, but it was treated as such for a long, long time. It's easy to find summary information on it though—the Federation of American Scientists page on ECHELON is a good starting place, but it's not like you have to search obscure sources to get your information—it even has a Wikipedia entry for god's sake. But not only is it well documented in the communities that pay attention to such things, it was addressed in very public ways (including being discussed and acknowledged in the European Parliament as recently as 2001), and there's no doubt that this system exists and is still in use.

So when news of PRISM broke at the mainstream media level, it was obvious to anyone who was aware of ECHELON and other programs like this that PRISM was merely a new iteration that monitored more data sources and had more complex sorting algorithms to help sift through all the data and identify individual targets for more in-depth monitoring and data collection. The only way you could not be aware of the existence of programs like this if you didn't actually care that they existed, so while it was refreshing to see the media vigorously attack the story, it was also a bit disingenuous, given that the major media outlets have steadfastly refused to make these kinds of programs, which have become even more powerful over the past decade, front page news for years.

Don't believe the government when they say they can't and/or won't target American citizens by reading their emails, listening to their phone calls, or monitoring other communications. Yes, it starts with a mass sifting of data by computers, but when they find someone of interest to them, they are absolutely going to start digging for more details and watching communications from that person closely in addition to collecting whatever records might exist at ISPs and other holders of data. Believe everything that Edward Snowden says about what he saw when he was a contractor for the NSA. They can get access to whatever they want whenever they want with the flimsiest of pretenses, or none at all.

And don't think this is something new, something that originated with Obama or even with Bush post-9.11. Sure, the Patriot Act made it easier to engage in these activities and to keep them more hidden from public view, and both of those presidents greatly expanded the resources dedicated to these kinds of enterprises. But our government has been monitoring our electronic communications for almost as long as electronic communications have existed on a mass scale. PRISM is just the latest name for it—or the latest one that has been publicly exposed anyway.

I DVR'd Tim Burton's Dark Shadows a week or two ago, and finally got around to watching it this week. I know it was panned by critics and didn't make a ton of money when it was released last year, but I've always been a Tim Burton fan and enjoyed some of his less mainstream stuff, so the idea of he and Depp teaming to update a camp classic television show from the late 60s had some appeal for me (if it tells you anything about my taste, I think Mars Attacks is one of Burton's...well, I won't say "best" so perhaps "most entertaining" movies, and it's one that I never pass up a chance to watch again).

But Dark Shadows was just bad. Bad in every way. The plot was nonsensical, the characters poorly developed, the dialogue was terrible, and, despite a relatively strong cast (and Depp's typically deep immersion in his character notwithstanding), the acting was bad. There was just nothing to redeem this film, not even a single scene or a single line ever worth seeing or hearing again. And I don't know if I've ever thought that about any other Tim Burton film.

Another very bad film: Zack Snyder's relaunch of the Superman franchise, Man of Steel. I loved what Snyder did with the Watchmen, and although 300 was a bit over the top, I appreciated the visual storytelling, so I had high hopes for this one, especially once it became clear the story was going to incorporate General Zod and his crew from Superman II.

But despite as good an attempt at a Superman movie that we're likely to get, it was just dead boring. Part of it is the shift towards all comic book franchise movies being increasingly overtaken by outsize action sequences filled with city-level destruction (compare Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man film to his last one, or Iron Man to the Avengers or Iron Man 3)—that in itself gets very boring, especially when you feel like you've seen it all before—but the main problem is with Superman himself: he's not allowed to do anything bad and he's indestructible. How do you tell a compelling story with someone like that as your centerpiece?

A sequel has already been approved, and now that they've gotten the origin story out of the way, they will doubtless find some way to make Superman turn temporarily evil (a la Superman III), and there's almost no doubt that this will involve Lex Luthor (who was absent from this film but whose presence was hinted at with the occasional Lexcorp logo). But having guessed how they will set up the story, I can already tell you how it ends as well, because it's the way that all Superman stories have to end, forever and always. So what's the point in watching the predictable setup to get there?

Will was home sick today—he had a slight fever last night and was very cranky—but he didn't sleep as much as I'd hoped, so I was only able to get a few hours of work in during the day. I was supposed to take last Friday off, but ended up working six or seven hours total from home (plus some time on the weekend), so I'm not concerned about the number of hours from an HR perspective—I just have a lot to do and I was expecting to be farther along by the end of the day today than I am.

He seems to be feeling better and the fever hasn't returned all day today, so he'll likely head back to school tomorrow. But this week is almost shot already—tomorrow is a full day of meetings, and Wednesday and Thursday are both staff retreats of one sort or another, so Friday (on which I had also hoped to use a comp half day of time that our division gave us) is the only day I really have this week to get any work done.

Trying to figure out if I can cram in all the existing seasons of Breaking Bad before the debut of the final season of if I should just wait another year and watch the entire series at once...

Today is the start of two back-to-back retreat days, the first one for the leadership teams at the two offices that I work with, and the second for the admission counseling teams from each office to get trained on some new travel planning analytics software and talk about changes to the file reading process for next year.

I have actually enjoyed these sessions at my new institution—the conversations are fairly thoughtful and productive—but they do take a lot out of me, even though they tend to be scheduled for six hours at most (meaning it's a relatively short day). But having two on consecutive days is a bit much—I'd really like at least a week to process and assimilate the ideas and tasks from one before engaging in another.

No. More. Meetings. I haven't been looking forward to a day in the office (because I'm going to actually be in my office for most the day) this much in a long time.

There's a guy in my office who has never had falafel, chicken shawarma, or sushi in his life, so I'm bound and determined to get him to Falafel King to try all three.

This is going to take some time. My strategy is to get him to try the shawarma sandwich first, since that's likely the easiest sell once I get him past the name. Then I go for the mixed sandwich, which has chicken shawarma on top and two or three falafel patties on the bottom.

It won't be easy to even get him this far (and honestly, chicken shawarma and falafel really aren't that outside the mainstream in this country at this point), but the tough one is going to be sushi, since there's no natural bridge to it from shawarma or falafel.

If I can get him to trust me a bit after being right about shawarma and falafel (assuming he will eventually try and like both), I might be able to push him towards some of the tamer, cooked maki rolls like the California roll or the shrimp tepura roll, and then move on to some of the uncooked stuff if I can get him to appreciate the basic concept of nori, rice, and filling with soy sauce and wasabi on the side.

december 2013
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daily links
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