october 2013

Work is almost not even worth speaking about at this point. Suffice to say we had four major projects we were trying to implement by no later than the end of September (and they were actually supposed to have staggered deadlines starting in mid-August—the goal wasn't actually to try to complete all of them at the same time), and none of them are even close to complete yet.

And it's nothing that my team has done—all of the delays have either been the result of the vendors we've been working with or with internal teams that didn't give us their deliverables anywhere close to on time (or, as of the current writing, at all). And of course our deadlines in regards to our external customers (applicants) don't move even when forces beyond our control cause us to miss our projected timelines, so there's nothing for us to do but take it on the chin and put in lots of extra hours to try to catch up.

The pressure on my team hasn't let up for over a year now, and I don't think the next six months are going to be any easier or better than the last six have been. I just hope none of them quits on me.

The entire week I've been thinking that I'm one day farther along than I actually am—that is, Monday felt like Tuesday, Tuesday felt like Wednesday, and today felt like Thursday. It's a bit disheartening to steel yourself for one more difficult day at the office only to realize that you actually have to get through to. And let's not even talk about the high likelihood that I'm going to spend most of this weekend on work-related tasks...

My relationship with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia is as follows: a long period of barely being aware of the existence of the show and not liking the little I'd seen of it, followed by a sudden obsessive fascination that led me to watch all the existing episodes multiple times in a three month period.

This all happened just before season 8 aired on FX, and so I eagerly TiVo'd the new episodes as they were released, only to be disappointed that the latest episodes seemed to lack creativity and laughs compared to their predecessors. This was in large part because nearly the whole season seemed to revisit storylines from earlier seasons in a way that felt lazy and overly self-referential.

Still, I was looking forward to season 9 to see if they could rebound, only to see that this season would be aired on a new sister channel to FX (the almost impossible to pronounce FXX) which my cable company didn't seem to get. Luckily, I have a coworker who also likes the show and who uses the same cable service I do, and he pointed out to me that, even though they hadn't updated the channel name on the cable lineup, FXX actually was on our channel list, taking the place of another Fox channel that mostly aired international soccer matches.

So I started picking up the episodes I'd missed and scheduling records for the new airings, and although I've only seen three of season 9 episodes so far, I've got to say that it's far, far better than season 8. These mostly feel like classic Sunny episodes, and even though the episode titles explicitly reference storylines from two episodes from seasons 1 and 6, I'm hoping that they won't have the same DOA lack of effort that many of season 8's episodes did.

The Ravens loss last week at Buffalo and the Cleveland win last night against the same team have more or less made Sunday's game against Miami a must-win game for Baltimore. Sure, there's still plenty of time left in the season, and even if the Bengals beat the Patriots and move into a tie with Cleveland, it's not like anyone has run away with the AFC North this early in the season. But the Ravens need to break out of their road game funk, and Baltimore's defense should keep the game very controlled and give Flacco and the offense a chance to get their act together and score some points.

Speaking of must-win games, that's what the Braves are facing tonight after getting clobbered by the Dodgers last night. The first series of the playoffs is only five games (something I have always hated—that's just not long enought for teams of this caliber to determine who is truly better), and they can't go into Los Angeles for two games having already lost the first two of the series. They've also got to cut way back on their strikeouts—last night they had 15 of them, more than half their outs, and the opposing pitcher wasn't even having that great a night (although he pitched a solid game). They live and die by the homerun that scores 2 or 3 runs, which is a less than effective strategy in the playoffs, but it especially doesn't work when every single player is swinging for the fences every single at-bat.

The Ravens barely won on Sunday, but in this league, a win is a win, and you take every one of them no matter how ugly. They're still in a three way tie for first in the AFC North with both Cleveland and Cincinnati winning (I loved seeing New England take a loss, I just wish it hadn't been to another AFC North squad).

There were finally some signs of life in the run game, although it was still pretty lackluster, but at least it will make defensive coordinators take it a little more seriously for the next couple of games. And there was a tacit acknowledgement from management that this offensive line isn't going to get us to the playoffs by way of the signing of a new left tackle from Jacksonville during the week. He didn't play against Miami since he'd only had two practices with Baltimore, but there's little doubt that he will start next week and hopefully make us stronger on both run blocking and preventing the pass rush.

Next week's matchup with Green Bay is not going to be easy, even at home. The defense is playing pretty well, but Aaron Rodgers is going to put some points on the board, and I still don't know if Baltimore's offense is going to be able to really kick into gear and keep up. Their only truly impressive performance so far this season was at home against Houston; otherwise they've been at best anemic for the first half and been somehow able to keep up and occasionally win in the second half (well, except against Denver, but that game is increasingly looking not so much like an anomaly for the Ravens but simply what the Broncos are doing to everyone this season).

They've been luckly enough to hang in the division lead so far with all of the AFC North having less than stellar seasons, but at some point the logjam is going to break up and someone is going to pull away. I just hope the Ravens have it in them to be that team.

Another early, disappointing end to the postseason for the Braves. It's hard to figure out exactly why they're so bad at this, although drawing the hottest team in baseball for a 5 game series, home field advantage or not, was some bad luck—but bad luck they could have avoided had they won just one more game and claimed the best record for the season and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The number of strikeouts they have this season isn't a great predictor for success in the postseason, but that's not a constant issue. They've been to the postseason seven times since 2002 and have not made it past the first round any of those times; since they remade themselves as one of the sport's premiere teams in 1991, they've been to the playoffs an incredible 17 times, and yet have only one World Series victory to show for it, which seems to be more than just bad luck.

I think the issue might be that they are a team that is consistently built to be better than average throughout the long regular season, meaning they're going to get more than their fair share of wins against the average team, especially the 3-5 starters who tend towards the mediocre side on most staffs, but when you come up consistently against the best pitchers a team has to offer in the postseason (and typically the best offenses in the league), they just aren't quite good enough. They've got a team full of very good players, especially positional players who are the ones who have to create the runs on offense, but it's been a while since they've had a legitimate superstar in his prime, much less two or three of them working in tandem to cause major problems for opposing pitchers.

I'm not saying the solution is to go out and spend a bunch of money on top flight free agents if we can't develop those stars in the farm system (and I'm pretty sure the coporate owners wouldn't do that anyway—they're probably satisfied with the profit margin from the current approach even though it leaves the fans ultimately frustrated with the lack of a championship), and it's no small feat simply to get to the postseason in the first place. But after so many years of virtually no progress in the playoffs despite so many opportunities, it's hard not to be a bit defeatist about the team's chances even after a season in which they were solidly in control of the division from May forward.

My wife has decided that she wants to watch Agents of SHIELD, so viewings of new episodes are on hold until she watches the first one and catches up to me. You might not think this is a big deal, but we generally watch at most one hour of television together per evening and we already can't keep up with the shows that we've agreed to watch together. And my wife doesn't really watch tv unless we watch it together, so I'm left wondering when this first episode is ever going to get watched so we can start watching the new ones together.

As a result, I've given a deadline: if we get to episode 4 and she still hasn't watched episode 1, I'm going to go ahead and start watching them on my own again. I'll leave the episodes on the DVR after I've watched them so if she ever does want to see them, she can watch them as she pleases, but at this point I'm somewhat doubtful that she's ever going to watch any of them, much less that we'll be watching them together at some point.

At least she's not a Walking Dead fan—the new season is starting up soon, and that's the highlight of my Sunday evening. It would be brutal to have to wait to watch those until we could catch up on them together.

I went to the doctor for a physical last week and decided to get my flu shot while I was there. 24 hours later, I came down with some very severe flu-like symptoms, including a 102+ degree fever and terrible muscle aches. I didn't have anything to eat until Saturday afternoon, and even though I did little else but sleep (or lie awake wishing I could sleep) from Thursday afternoon until Sunday, I still barely have the energy to show up for work today.

That's a lot of lost time at a time when I can ill afford to be out of commission, and I have a feeling it will still be a couple of days until I feel anywhere close to normal again. I'm not sure what the point of getting a flu shot is if it ends up giving me the flu anyway, but after what I've been through, it damn well better work and keep me flu-free for the rest of the season.

Another ugly, stupid loss for the Ravens this week, this time to Green Bay. The offense is just terrible, and Joe Flacco is one of the few people on the offensive side of the ball who is not to blame. I don't know how many times this game they ran the ball twice for no gain or negative yardage, leaving him with a third and long situation that you just can't consistently convert in a league as competitive as the NFL. If this team is ever going to score points, they're going to have to figure out how to run the ball.

The run game is especially disappointing because this year the Ravens hired a coach specifically to run this part of the offense and it's the worst I've ever seen it. More disappointing: the coach is a friend of head coach John Harbaugh, meaning it's unlikely that he will be fired. They keep saying it's not the new guy's fault because they haven't really changed anything about the run game that was reasonably successful last year, but tell me this: if they haven't changed anything, then why did you hire him? And if you hired him to be able to better make adjustments and fixed problems like this, then why isn't he being held accountable after six games of absolutely terrible results?

It was a close game because the defense was generally stellar, but they did let a couple of big plays get past them, which is honestly not surprising when they're on the field that long and they're playing against a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers. This should not have been anywhere close to a winnable game for the Ravens the way the offense played, but they had two opportunities that could have made a 3 point different in their total, and since they only lost by 2, those points could have been the difference between a win and a loss.

The first of these was when the Ravens had a first and goal on the 1 yard line. Three times they tried to punch it in, and three times they failed. Then on the fourth, they tried again instead of taking the safe 3 points with a field goal (which would have been their first 3 points of the game), they went for it on fourth down and were again denied by the Packers defense. Harbaugh later defended this decision by saying it was a high-percentage play in the NFL, meaning that going for it in these situations more often than not leads to a touchdown. Even if this is true (and I'm not convinced that it is), that doesn't mean it was the right play here. In addition to the three previous goal line stops on that set of down, Harbaugh also had ample evidence from all the other drives that day that his run game wasn't working—they couldn't get a single yard on many, many run plays in the middle of the field, and they hadn't gotten a single yard on three plays in a row, so what made Harbaugh believe that his team on that day was capable of getting that one yard on fourth down?

The second situation is even more frustrating: Baltimore got the ball back on their own 34 yard line with 25 seconds left in the first half. All they had to do was take a knee, end the half, and go into the locker room to regroup knowing that they would be getting the ball back to start the second half. And in far better situations—say, having the ball at midfield with nearly a minute left—I've seen the Ravens do just that. Under Harbaugh, they are historically very conservative about running plays with only a little time left in the first half if they are not down by a significant amount (they were only down 3 points at the time).

But this time they let Flacco heave the ball downfield, where it fell incomplete leaving just 12 seconds on the clock. I figured for sure that they would take a knee this time, since there wasn't enough time to throw the ball into field goal range and stop the clock with enough time to kick a field goal, and a touchdown was very low probability from that range. Instead, Flacco pulls back to throw another pass downfield, only the left tackle got beat by a defender and hit Flacco's arm as he was throwing, leading to an interception. The opposing player was downed with 2 seconds left, just enough time for Green Bay to hit an easy field goal for another 3 points.

Despite how awful the offense was, the Ravens would have won if the coaches hadn't made either one of those mistakes. If they don't wake up and start making decisions based on the team they have now (instead of the team that won the Super Bowl last year), this won't be the last time they lose a game because of a bad coaching decision, and with a record that now stands at .500, they can't afford to lose any more games because of stupidity.

Next week doesn't get any easier—they travel to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers. Yes, the Steelers have been awful this year, but they won their first game last week and the games between these two teams are always good no matter how bad one or both of them might be playing in a given year. We're now approaching the midpoint of the season, and it's not an exaggeration at all to say that this has become a must-win game if Baltimore wants to have a decent chance to make it to the playoffs again this year.

Julie is leaving tomorrow to give a talk with one of her coauthors, and she won't be back until late Saturday night. I hope Will gets a bath tonight, because it's going to be Sunday before he gets another one.

Thirteen years...

So the debt ceiling has been raised (temporarily) and the government is back in operation (temporarily). If you are a Democrat, your party would have you believe that this is a moment for celebration. If you are a Republican, your party would have you believe this is a moment for outrage. These are both idiotic stances, and if you are either happy or upset about an outcome that was inevitable from the moment this artificial crisis started, then you need to learn to look beyond the posturing and grandstanding and understand that all that happened here was a ton of federal workers got a two week paid vacation and the loudest mouths in each party got to be on television slightly more often during this period.

I find it amusing (in a gallows-humor kind of way) that the people who are at the root of this problem—the uncompromising, petulant, short-sighted, selfish members of the Tea Party—are the first ones to whip out their pocket edition of the Constitution every chance they get, but what they were doing—threatening to default on the nation's debts if they didn't get compromises to a law that was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, and certified by a Republican-controlled Supreme Court as constitutional—is actually unconstitutional. We simply aren't allowed not pay the debts that we incur according to the 14th Amendment. It's also frustrating that a significant portion of the country thinks the debt and spending are Obama's fault, when it's actually Congress that approves all spending—they are the ones incurring all the debts that require us to borrow money in order to meet our financial obligations.

To the extent that Obama has any blame in this nonsense, it's because his decision to hold his ground in this case is directly opposite of the way he handled these kinds of standoffs during his first four years in office. Every time the Republicans wanted something, he would give it to them, and when they realized how quick he was to bend to their demands, they would move the goalposts after an agreement had been reached and demand even more (this actually happened in this particularly confrontation as well—Boehner had reached an agreement with Reid over the summer to avoid this standoff and potential shutdown and default, and then Boehner went back on his word after the deal had been agreed to).

Good for Obama for finally standing up to the bullies in the Tea Party (something even their Republican colleagues are too cowed to do) who want to run the country even though they are a minority wing of a minority party, but they wouldn't be acting like bullies if Obama hadn't already coughed up his lunch money without a fight so many times. When the next confrontation happens sometime in the first half of 2014, they're still going to be looking at Obama's stand here as an aberration, and they're going to push us to the brink of disaster once again because they think, based on his entire time as president, that he's much more likely to cave than he is to stand up to them.

I have grown so tired of the poor theater that our political system has been for at least the last 20 years, and it's more frustrating than ever to be a member of the audience because the clowns who are on stage these days are actually dangerous—it's clear they have no interest in the national or global financial system and are completely willing (and maybe even desirous) of destroying it by destroying the American economy, which is still at the heart of the global financial engine. They aren't interested in fair compromises, and they aren't interested in governing—they just want everything they want RIGHT NOW. We have put angry toddlers in charge of our nation—willful, stubborn, and stupid—and even though they don't have the numbers, they are in control of the Republican party simply because they threaten primary challenges against incumbents.

The quickest way out of this mess would be for Rebuplicans to explicitly disown the Tea Party—don't let them exist as part of the Republican Party, make them actually stand on their own as a third party. Let's see how many of them can get elected without the name recognition, automatic ballot placement, and financial resources of the Republican Party. Even if they maintain their current numbers (or even grow them slightly, which I don't think would happen), they will instantly lose much of their power and clout.

Not that the Republicans haven't brought them on themselves by encouraging and fostering the far right extremists for the past couple of decades—I'm more than happy to see them reap what they have sown—but they seem intent on destroying the foundations of our government and our society with their death throes. A zero tolerance/no compromise approach is rarely appropriate or useful, but that's all we get from the Tea Party (and by extension, because of their unwillingness to keep the Tea Partiers in their place, the entire Republican Party). My way or the highway is no way to run this country, and if they can't learn to behave more responsibly with the authority the voters have granted, it's time for those voters to wake up and show them the door.

Alright, as a completely biased Ravens fan, I'll admit it: this team is in trouble. They had a chance to close the door on the Steelers season and instead put the Steelers in a position where, if they win while the Ravens are on their bye next week, they'll be tied with Baltimore and back in the hunt for the AFC North. No matter how much each time might be struggling (or succeeding), winning a matchup between these two teams is never easy, but the troubling part of the loss for the Ravens this time was that they lost for the same reasons they've lost all their games this season: the offense could never get going, and even though the defense generally played well, they had a hard time stopping teams on third downs.

All three of their recent losses were by 3 points or fewer, and as with the Green Bay game, it's hard not to point to a boneheaded decision by the coaching staff that led to those same 3 points that ended up being the difference in the game. This time it was a botched onside kick with over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and Baltimore down by only 4 points, which gave the Steelers the ball at the Ravens 38 yard line. The defense did a good job of keeping this from turning into a touchdown, but a field goal was almost inevitable with that field position.

Of course, there were way too many penalties as well, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. When the offense did it, it tended to turn third and manageable into third and long; when the defense did it, it tended to happen on third down and give Pittsburgh enough yardage to get a first down and extend a drive that might otherwise have been dead. But whether you blame the coaches or the players, the Ravens have no one but themselves for losing this game. The Steelers weren't at the top of their game, and their pass rush rarely got to Flacco. Hell, even the running game for Baltimore was decent (although let's not kid ourselves, it still wasn't good), and they still couldn't figure out a way to score points.

An optimistic person might look at where the Ravens are now and say that those three losses could have easily been three wins with one additional turnover; that the team is still in the hunt in the AFC North despite Cincinnati being up two games on them after yesterday; and that their bye week followed by two divisional matchups against the Browns and the Bengals gives them a chance to get right back in the thick of the playoff hunt, and technically, that optimistic person wouldn't be wrong. But when you watch this team play, they're just missing that spark that separates a winning team from a losing team.

Even when they lost last year, and especially in their close games, whether they ended up being wins or losses, there was real emotion and a sense of team that seems to be lacking this season. No one seems to get that upset when the team plays badly (case in point: last week Ray Rice, who is having the worst season of his career by far, made a comment to the media that he was "a little frustrated", which is what he should have been after two weeks of a broken running game; by the sixth week he should be more than minorly bothered by the way things are going), and even though you don't want a team to be emotional to the point where they make stupid mistakes, you do want them to care a little bit more about losing than the Ravens as a team seem to care right now.

By Thanksgiving, this team will either be completely out of the running for the playoffs this year or they will be fighting desperately for a wild card spot, and I really do believe it's all up to them to choose their own fate. The defense is going to play well enough to keep them in the game, and they have enough talent on offense to score enough points to win, especially if they can build on the run game performance in Pittsburgh and continue to improve the ground game. But they've got to have the will to become a winning team, and I haven't seen the same hunger and desire from this squad that I've seen in the last two or three years.

As a Braves fan and a general hater of all New England sports teams, a St. Louis/Boston World Series is kind of a Sophie's choice (or an anti-Sophie's choice, I guess, because I don't really want either team to win). In this case, however, I think my extreme dislike of Boston fans is going to win out, and while I won't be so much rooting for the Cardinals, I will be very happy if the Red Sox end up losing.

And while we're on another run of entries on sports: one thing that I'm growing to hate about college football compared to the other sports I follow (college basketball, Major League Baseball, and the NFL) is that you have two or three close losses and your season, in terms of being able to compete for a national championship, is pretty much over. In all the other sports, especially the pro sports, as long as you keep up with your division or your conference, you can still make it to the postseason, and once you're in the playoffs, your regular season record ceases to matter (and since the ACC is the basketball conference I follow and they get an automatic bid for the winner of the ACC tournament no matter what the regular season record of the tournament winner, there's a parallel in that sport as well).

But UGA suffered their third loss of the season over the weekend (this one to an unranked team), and now they are unranked and very unlikely to have any chance at being able to compete for a national title. Their offense has been depleted by injuries to many of their starters, and in the NFL if you could find a way to stay competitive within your division while you got your team back to full strength, you could still make a run at the end of the season and get into the playoffs. But here, not only would Georgia have to win all the other games on their schedule, there are lots of other teams that would have to lose one or two more games.

And that's pretty boring to me. As frustrating as it is to see the Braves, who are built to win the regular decision, consistently get into the playoffs only to flame out in the first round to a team with a worse record that got hot at the right time, that ability to go on a run at the right time is exactly what allowed a good but not great Ravens team to eek their way into the playoffs last year and go on a strong run that culminated in a Super Bowl win. Everything in college football seems almost preordained by the middle of the season in terms of the national championship game (if you thought the asskicking that Alabama gave to Notre Dame last year was any fun to watch, then you're an Alabama fan—and conversely, if you thought that game was going to be anything other than an asskicking, then you must be a Notre Dame fan).

Being knocked out of contention so early, combined with my lack of appreciation for the college style of play compared to the NFL, is making it hard for me to really get into this sport. Of course, the turning point for me with some other sports was seeing a game in person, so maybe I just need to get over to Athens to see the Bulldogs play in person.

We've decided that we're not going to travel for the holidays again this year (we may host Thanksgiving here if anyone wants to come, and we'll spend some time in North Carolina before Christmas), so we're offering to host the grandparents for their own long weekends between now and the end of the year if they don't want to travel for the holidays either.

We'll see my mom in NC in December, but she decided to come visit us this weekend, so she'll get to do some Halloween stuff this weekend. Will hasn't seen any grandparents since July, so he's very excited that she's coming to visit for a few days. We'll probably keep it pretty low key in terms of activities, because it's been a hectic few weeks at work for Julie and I and Will is getting over an ear infection, but at a minimum he'll go to music class and his school's Halloween carnival on Saturday and a Halloween music concert on Sunday.

Will got an ear infection last week, and had been on antibiotics to clear it up for several days when he started to develop a rash. This was apparently due to an allergic reaction to the antibiotic called serum sickness, and in addition the rash, it was also causing severe swelling in his joints and even bruising on his skin (by the time we took him to the doctor, about 24 hours after the rash started to appear, he looked for all the world like an abused child).

Even when we stopped the antibiotic, the swelling wasn't going down despite child's benadryl and ibuprofren, so the doctor prescribed a three day course of steroids to quickly bring down the swelling. And bring down the swelling it did, but at the expense of his sanity—he has been absolutely bonkers since he started the steroids, to the point where we're going to call the doctor to see if we can take him off early (especially because the symptoms the steroids were meant to address have pretty much disappeared).

It was a lucky coincidence that my mom came to visit this weekend—having Gabby here helps spread the energy around, and the time he spends with her gives Julie and I a bit of time to recharge so we can absorb his hyperactive energy better. The good thing is that he's not angry/grumpy—he's a live wire and very chatty, but generally in a good mood and happy.

Will still isn't feeling great—he's recovered from his allergic reaction to an antibiotic and isn't taking the steroids for that anymore—but he picked up some little bug that's given him a fever, so my mom is staying an extra day to take care of him so we can go to work.

Will couldn't be happier about this development—all weekend we've gotten lots of "Go away mommy!" and "Go away daddy!" so he can have one-on-one time with her, and this morning when I left he was happily curled up next to her in bed watching Curious George on PBS.

There are so many times recently when I look at my calender and think, "Only three meetings today, I might actually be able to get some work done." And then at the end of the day I end up missing lunch and spending six hours straight in scheduled meetings that run long or unscheduled meetings. I'm trying to convince myself that once we're up and running with the application reading cycle, this won't happen as much, but I don't really believe that.

We have not gotten our pumpkin as yet, and I'm getting concerned that nowhere near us has them anymore. Going hunting after work tonight, but I'm afraid that I might have to make a trip out to a nursery or garden center outside the city tomorrow if we come up empty.

It's Halloween today, and although we're planning to go trick or treating in our neighborhood, I feel like Will has already gotten extensive a lot of use out of his costume. In addition to just wearing it around the house (which doesn't usually last for more than 15 minutes because the arms keep him from eating or playing with toys easily), he wore it to a Halloween carnival at his school on Saturday, a concert given by his music class teacher on Sunday, and today he'll wear it at school for their Halloween parade.

Luckily it's pretty sturdy, and he's gotten pretty adept at walking around in it, so hopefully it will stay on for the duration of our trick or treating tonight. Just in case, though, we're putting on a glow in the dark skeleton shirt underneath it so he can still look Halloween-y eve if he gets tired of wearing his costume.

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