february 2014

Most. Boring. Super Bowl. Ever.

I mean, the team I wanted to win won, and a longtime nemesis of my team, the Ravens, got the pants beaten off of him. And all those Seattle defensive plays were pretty exciting, at least early on. But from 12 seconds into the second half, when Seattle opened the third quarter by returning the kickoff for a touchdown and opened up their lead to 29-0, that game was over.

Say what you will about whether Baltimore was the team that deserved to win the big game last year, but that contest was a nailbiter down to the last second—I guarantee you no advertisers were smacking themselves in the head about gambling on buying ridiculously overpriced ad spots in the second half of that game.

Will has seen a few movies on television, mostly Pixar fare like WALL-E, Toy Story, and Monsters, Inc., but we've never taken him to see a movie in a real theater. We've kind of been waiting for the right film to come along, and after hearing great reviews from both the critics and fellow parents, we decided to take him to see Frozen last weekend (since he's such a big music fan, we figured all the singing would help hold his interest as well).

The theater we chose was in an upscale mall that we'd never been to before, and when I went to purchase tickets at the kiosk, I was confused because it was asking me to choose seats from a very limited selection (there weren't three seats in a row remaining). I thought this was some sort of upsell for a section of the theater, since I couldn't believe that the theater only had that many seats, so I didn't select any seats and just asked it to print out my tickets.

It turns out that the theater was in fact that small, and that every seat was a huge leather recliner with cupholders etc. Luckily, even though we didn't have three seats together, we did have two seats next to each other that, when we lifted up the arm in between them, was just the right size for the three of us to sit togeher with Will sitting in the middle. Still, if we come here again, we'll know next time to buy our tickets online in advance and only go to a show where we can get three seats together. I'm still not quite sure how this place makes money—again, the seating capacity is very small compared to most theaters, but the ticket prices were comparable—I even think the matinee tickets that we go were cheaper than some normal theaters I've been to in Atlanta.

As a special treat, we let Will get popcorn, Sno-Caps candy (his choice), and chocolate milk, hoping that these might keep him in his seat if the movie itself didn't hold his attention. And while this strategy worked for a little while, he was pretty squirmy most of the movie, and by the last half hour we had to take three trips to the potty—not because he needed to use the bathroom, but because he was bored of sitting in the theater and he thought the high-speed hand driers in the restrooms were pretty cool.

He did enjoy the movie, but I think it might have been a little too girly for him. His favorite part—the one he perked up for the most—was the snow monster part, and even though he loves music, the songs didn't seem to make much of an impression on him. However, the two girls sitting next to us, both of whom were close to Will's age, were rapt in attention the entire time, and most of the people who recommended the movie to us have girls as well, so it might just be that it was more tuned for that audience.

As for what we thought of the movie: it wasn't bad, but I didn't think it was the BEST KIDS MOVIE EVER or anything, which is what a lot of people seem to think about it. This actually concerns me a bit: even though we have a 3 1/2 year old, we've haven't yet had to deal with taking him out to see the latest animated kids movie every three or four weeks, and if parents who have already entered that treadmill think this movie is that fantastic, I'm thinking this is because the rest of these movies are so terrible that this one seems great by comparison. So now I'm hoping maybe we'll get lucky and he won't really be that into movies. But if he is, we'll do our duty and take him like we should.

Last Saturday Will went to the birthday party of a classmate at the same place where we had his class birthday party last summer, and we were about half an hour into the party when the mother of the birthday boy announced to the rest of the parents, "He was throwing up all last night, but he seemed to feel better this morning and I just couldn't stand the thought of canceling his party."

You know how this ends, right? I got a call from Will's school yesterday afternoon telling me that he had thrown up during naptime, and then he threw up again on the car ride home and another time while he was sleeping on the couch. He seemed to be feeling a little better this morning, but school rules state that kids who throw up twice or more in a 24 hour period have to stay home for at least one day, so Julie and I are alternating working and homee and going into the office today.

And now I'm starting to feel like I'm coming down with something as well. So thanks, classmate's mom! Hopefully mine won't be as severe as Will's, and hopefully Julie can avoid catching it altogether.

After I finished Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, I was intrigued enough that I wanted to try a more mature work of his, so following the general advice on the internet about what order to read his books in, I bought Cryptonomicon.

Snow Crash was interesing, but I can't say that it was good. It was stuffed full of interesting futurist ideas (futurist for 1992), and the characters eventually grew on me some, but still, they were pretty flat—they never really felt like real people to me. The plot generally zipped along pretty well once he established the basics of the world he was writing about, but in the end, it didn't really go anywhere—the book felt like it just stopped for no reason. I feel like this was a draft of a book that, in the hands of a defter, more seasoned author, could have been turned into something really great, but instead it ended not really having the characters, the story, or the big idea at the heart of the book unify in the way that it probably did in the writer's head.

Cryptonomicon so far (I'm about 20% of the way through) seems like it was written by that author—it's worlds better than Snow Crash in terms of the strength, beauty, and originality of the writing. Every page (or screen, or location, or whatever we're supposed to call the block of text we can see in front of us these days) has an insight, an analogy, or a description that would be memorable in a less well-crafted book—if you could criticize anything, it's that Stephenson stuffs his prose so full of these that individually they lose their impact, because two minutes later you're reading something else brilliant and the previous one doesn't have time to get set in your permanent memory.

There are still some long digressions like the occasional Librarian passages in Snow Crash, but these, too, feel less like essays crammed into an artificial expositor and more like highly technical min-stories tucked into the main narrative. And the characters are much more finely wrought—they feel more like real people and not like the sketches that inhabited Snow Crash.

As for the plot...I can't really find one yet. There are three main characters set in two different timeframes (WWII and sometime contemporary to the book's 1998 publication date). Two of the characters are in the WWII setting (but they haven't met yet as far as the story has told us), and one of the WWII characters seems to be the grandfather of the more contemporary character (although again, the narrative does not acknowledge this in any overt way and the older character has not made an appearance in the younger's storyline yet).

So it's hard to tell where this might be heading, but I'm having fun along the way, and I like this book so much already that if the plot doesn't end up being worth the lengthy time investment, I'm probably still going to be glad that I gave the book a chance. How this one turns out, however, will probably have a strong influence on whether or not I move on to the Baroque Cycle (a trilogy that was later republished as 8 novels), which is in some ways a prequel to the Cryptonomicon (some ancestors of the main characters in Cryptonomicon are major characters in that series).

And now Julie's sick, and I still haven't gone to work since Tuesday because I've been feeling rotten this whole time. I know that it probably costs some money and emotional distress on the child's part to reschedule a birthday party, but as a result of this parent not telling us that their child was sick before we came, this illness has cost us a combined week of working in the office and a lot of misery. And we're still not quite sure when it's going to be done with us, because I woke up this morning feeling as bad as I have all week, and Julie was up half the night and doesn't have any energy at all today.

The family is mostly better now, although Julie and I just started to feel human again yesterday. Which is lucky, because today is Julie's birthday, and I was hoping to get in a minor workweek celebration by going out to dinner with her and Will.

My university closed today along with everyone else in Atlanta even though the worst of the weather isn't extpected until tomorrow. I think this is partially due to wanting to be overly cautious after not being nearly cautious enough before the storm two weeks ago, but if nothing ends up happening with this event I still expect the government to get criticized for it (even though everyone is applauding it now).

We were supposed to do a pretty major decision release on Thursday, but we convened yesterday before everyone went home and decided that if we were back in the office by Thursday, we'd push it to Friday, and otherwise we'd have to wait until Monday. And at this point, if the ice is even half of when and how much they expect it to be, I'm betting that we're going to be closed through Thursday.

There were plenty of bad snows up in Baltimore that caused us to miss several consecutive days of work during the cycle, but I never remember having to move a decision release because of it. Of course, that's partly because we only had two major decision releases at my former institution—we have several more here, and one of them just happens to fall in the middle of February.

As part of Julie's birthday celebration, we went out to dinner at a nearby family-friendly restaurant that she's been wanting to try for a while now: Palookaville. The best way to describe it is kitschy, state fair inspired food with some serious hipster overtones: corndogs are prominently featured, as are alchololic shakes with adult flavors like sriracha, molasses, and candied ginger mixed with coffee ice cream.

Will got a basic hot dog, Julie tried a corndog, and I went with what I thought would be a pretty basic choice: a Reuben. We also got an order of poutined tater tots to share (poutine is where you serve fries with cheese curds and gravy, and it got its start in Montreal). Will's hot dog was fine, and Julie liked her corndog, but I was pretty disappointed in my Reuben.

Even though they clearly have a grill (they serve porkburgers), they Reuben was not grilled. They toasted the bread, but the sandwich was not really served hot, and the cheese wasn't even melted. Aside from the fatal flaw of not being grilled, the corned beef was terrible—it was cut too thick, it had a nice edge of fat on it that was inedible, and there wasn't enough meat for even an average Reuben you could get at a chain restaurant (they claim that it has 1/2 pound of meat on it; I don't even think mine had half that).

The one thing I really liked, though, was there custom salt mix, which they call graveyard dirt. In addition to salt and pepper, this also had cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, and most importantly, curry powder, and it was amazing. The poutined tater tots were already plenty flavorful, but a little sprinkle of this took it to another level, and without it, Julie's plain fries, although cut fresh in-house, would have been average at best.

Will loved the atmosphere, and all of the staff were very friendly, so we'll probably return sometime soon. I'm hoping I can find another entree that doesn't disappoint like the Reuben did (although I have serious philosophical problems with a restaurant that can't produce a decent Reuben), and the poutine and graveyard dirt are enough to entice me back for at least one more visit.

So, we've been closed since Tuesday, and we're closed again today, but we'll be open for business tomorrow. The precipitation stopped for good this morning, but there's enough ice accumulated on the roads that it's still not safe to drive, although the temperatures this afternoon are above freezing and the sun is out, so I expect that the ice threat will go away before the day is over.

When they first starting talking about these two weather events, they were saying that it would produce a half inch to an inch of ice in metro Atlanta, and that this would down power lines everywhere and leave much of the city without power, possibly for days. And while we did get some ice, it was probably more on the order of one tenth to one quarter of an inch—much of what they expected to be freezing rain that would have led to more accumulation instead fell as sleet, which doesn't cling to power lines and tree branches the way freezing rain does.

That was our biggest fear—having a line go down in our neighborhood that would leave us without power for days, and without heat for the duration of the storm. But the we didn't really lose power at all—it blinked off twice during the day on Wednesday, the worst weather day, but otherwise we were fine. We just got three days to hang out with Will and relax a little bit.

I still did a pretty significant amount of work—most of what my office does this time of year can be done remotely, and even though the university was officially closed, in my office it was pretty much business as usual, we just didn't happen to be in the same building while we were doing our work.

So that makes five days that we've missed this winter due to weather. I know this isn't normal, and we probably won't see another winter like this in Atlanta for many more years, but it's been kind of weird to move this far south and have more time off for snow and ice than I did when I lived in Baltimore, where winter weather happened pretty regularly but not regularly enough that it didn't shut the city down when it happened.

After the whole city has been cooped up all week, and it being a Friday, and it being Valentine's Day, I have a feeling that those without reservations to any kind of restaurant are in a for a very long wait for dinner tonight. And since we still don't have a babysitter and can't really do the waiting thing with a three year old, I don't think we'll be venturing out for dinner tonight.

I did, however, manage to get out this afternoon and pick up a nice piece of jewelry for Julie, so I'm covered on the gift front (although I think every guy in the city was competing with the typical last-minute shoppers today because of the weather shutting everything down—when I arrived at Tiffany's, I had to put my name on a waiting list and didn't get seen by a customer service agent until about 25 minutes later).

We'll see how the weekend plays out, but I suspect that with the timing of the day, this will really be a Valentine's weekend and restaurants will be crowded every night. So maybe we'll save a nice dinner for next week or the next time grandparents come to visit and can take on babysittting duties for the evening.

Hoping for a somewhat normal week this week. After being out for three days last week because of the weather, and out for a few days the week before that due to illness, I feel like I've been out of the office more than I've been in it (although I've still carried a pretty heavy workload, even on the days the university was officially closed).

There are a lot of people out of the office this time of year because the counseling staff are mainly doing their file reads and they can do those from home, but my team is typically in the office because we tend to work on projects that require two or three of us collaborating. So that's what I feel like I've missed the most: my group being able to have our in-person meetings and daily conversations that you really can't reproduce using email.

I stopped watching Dexter after season 5, because that's the final season that was available on DVD before I canceled the DVD part of my Netflix subscription. But recently Netflix made seasons 6-8 available on their streaming service, so I've been making my way through the new-to-me episodes two or three times a week.

I've had a couple of Dexter fans warn me away from all the seasons after Trinity (season 4), but I liked season 5 alright, so I didn't have any reservation about starting seasons 6-8 and seeing how the series ended. I will say, however, that as these seasons go on (I'm about halfway through season 7), the show is becoming even harder and harder to buy as set in any kind of reality that you or I might be familiar with.

(SPOILERS AHEAD, which I don't feel bad about at all because I have a hard time believing anyone who watches the show is farther behind than I am.)

Imported detective Mike Anderson from Chicago seemed like the next in a long line of cops who would grow to suspect Dexter as a killer to point where he would have to get rid of them—he recognizes how much better Dexter is than the rest of the department and tellingly asks something like "Why do you work with this bunch of clowns?", the obvious answer being that they can't even manage to catch a killer they spend every day with who is now responsible for dozens upon dozens of murders, mostly of people who were already under investigation by the police.

And I really don't buy Debra accepting in any way Dexter's secret life as a serial killer—as much as she loves him (and boy was that awkward introducing a faux-incest storyline just to remind us how much she loves him), she ALWAYS does the right thing, even when it's not what she wants to do, and although I might have considered her not turning him in for the one killing she caught him in the midst of, there's no way she wouldn't haul him into the station herself once she found out the true extent of his murderous past or realized that he was still actively looking for new victims.

Anyway. I'll finish watching it just to see how they try to wrap all of this up, but I do thinnk that if I rewatch this at some point in the future, it probably won't be a terrible idea to stop after season 5.

I'm about halfway through Cryptonomicon, and it's still a pretty big mystery where this is all headed. At least I've started to see some of the threads connecting some of the characters from the different time periods, and I've seen enough hints that I can begin to construct some possible ways that all these events might end up influencing one another and what it all means (and although I'm betting that these initial theories will end up being very, very wrong, there's at least enough going on that seems to be related that I can start guessing at a structure, which I couldn't a few days ago).

Stephenson really blew it on the ending for Snow Crash, and this book is already so complex and full of details, many of which by necessity will have to turn out to be red herrings or digressions with no real relation to the essential story (whatever that turns out to be), that there's almost no way that it will be brought to a satisfying conclusion. But I'm already okay with that, and I think I'm going to end up still loving this book even if the ending doesn't have a good payoff. It's like Lost or Battlestar Galactica or a heavily myth-laden story like those: they never gave you a concrete goal for the story or characters, so it was hard to be upset when the endings left something to be desired (although Battlestar Galactica did a better job wrapping things up, I think).

I also think it's going to be a book that, even though I'm head over heels in love with it, won't likely be one that I recommend to someone else unless I have a really good handle on their literary tastes, because I can see how even a dedicated reader with a bent in the sci-fi/tech direction could get fed up with this book long before they ever got close to finishing it. It's going to be a book for me like of Montreal's Skeletal Lamping album: it's my absolute favorite in their catalogue, and I think it's one of the best albums made in the past 15 years, but I don't expect other people—even other of Montreal fans—to share my ardor.

A week ago we were in day 3 of an ice storm that shut down the city. Today it's 71 degrees out and I'm wearing short sleeves. Please, Atlanta, pick a season and stick to it.

FitBit recalled its Force fitness tracker this week, saying that some small percentage of people are having allergic reactions to the materials or that it's causing skin irritation. I've had one of these since late December, and I wear it every day and haven't had a single problem.

But I'm not allergic to nickel (one of the materials that has been specifically identified as causing a reaction for some), and I also take it off when I shower or sleep (you're supposed to be able to wear it when you sleep, but not when you shower, although I think a lot of customers who are used to the Flex probably wear the Force in the shower because that's what they've become accustomed to with the Flex, which is specifically allowed to be worn in the shower). So I wonder how many of the reported problems are due people just wearing it too much instead of a genuine issue with the materials in the device.

I'm trying to figure out what the solution is for the company going foward, because not only is this a recall, but they've also stopped sales of the device. I'm assuming that if people return the device, they will just get a refund, but assuming that they want to start sales of the device again at some point, what does the company do with existing stock, and how do they create new stock for future sales?

It's a pretty all-in-one device—there doesn't seem to be any easy way to separate the technology part from the strap, or the metal part where you charge the device from the rest of the technology module, so unless they have a way to extract these components for reuse, I'm assuming existing stock will have to be destroyed. And I'm guessing that they could replace the substances that have been causing the irritation issues with hypoallergenic materials, but who knows how long that will take to get into their manufacturing process.

It seems to me that they could continue to sell the device as-is and spend more time educating consumers so that those who have issues can return theirs for a refund and people like me (apparently more than 98% of existing Force owners) can continue to purchase and use the device. Maybe there's some additional liability that their legal team is concerned about, but I don't see what the problem would be with this plan since, in order to get the refund, you have to return the device, so there's no chance of people requesting a refund and then being able to sell the device on eBay for more cash (or just keeping the device, having essentially gotten it for free).

Okay, I need for Walking Dead to hit some kind of stride soon. I know that we're in the midst of a major transition, but the writers have made it clear that everyone is going to reconverge at one point or another on this Sanctuary thing, and I'm starting to wonder if it's going to take the rest of the season for us to get there, while in the meantime we jump back and forth between two or three of the various scattered groups of prison survivors.

Last night's episode was particularly disappointing—with the introduction of the subplot of the military man trying to get a scientist to DC, the series could have had, for the first time since season 1 (at least the part of season 1 before Rick reunited with his family), parallel storylines that wouldn't necessarily have to be connected to one another, where the characters wouldn't end up in the same place at some point. But instead, the group turns around and follows Glenn back towards the prison where they found him, and I've got a pretty strong feeling that they're never going to even think about going north again.

I still like this show pretty well, and I understand that abrupt shifts that scatter the cast like shrapnel after a bomb goes off are necessary (and even desired) to remind viewers of just how unstable existence in the zombie universe is, but I wish the writers wouldn't telegraph their pitches so obviously. They surprise us with things like Carol's shockingly sudden exile, but then they predictably have her show up a few episodes later, none the worse for the wear and ready to join up with the group again. (And while I do like it when they revisit characters who suddenly vanish from the stories, I much prefer how they did it last year, reintroducing a couple of characters from season 1 that we hadn't seen or heard from in a long, long time).

The success of season 4 for me hinges on how quickly they get us to the Sanctuary and whether whatever that situation ends up being is demonstrably different than the group dynamics they've encountered on the farm, the prison, and in Woodbury.

Also, regarding other Sunday night programming: thank god the Olympics are finally over. A lot of the winter events are just plain boring, the judging/scoring rules are inconsistent and/or stupid and/or completely incomprehesible to the average viewer. I'm finding a potential upside in global warming in that it might actually make the winter Olympics impossible in another century or so (although I will personally miss being able to go skiing myself).

Another crazy up and down week weather-wise. Last weekend we got into the 60s, and tomorrow and Friday we're forecast to start each day in the 20s. And this weekend offers more of the same, with high 60s projected for Saturday and low 70s for Sunday.

Up in Baltimore, I didn't even start to think about spring until mid-April, but I can tell that everyone in Atlanta is annoyed that we still have days where the high is only in the 40s, and I have a feeling they're going to be even more irritable if we get to March and aren't really experiencing springtime weather on a daily basis. I take it as a good sign vis a vis my integration into this city's culture that I'm now grumbling with the rest of them at the prediction that we're going to be below freezing for a couple of days next week.

This is still one of my favorite posts that I've ever written for this site. I actually have reconnected with Lydia in recent years, although in that very limited way that we reconnect with old friends on Facebook and such, but she posts frequently enough that I feel like I have some insight into her daily life, and it reinforces my belief in who she was and what kind of person she was going to become. I don't know that she's ever seen this post—I would bet not—but I hope that if she ever does find it, it will make her as happy to read it as it does for me when I think about her being out there in the world, just being the amazing person that she is.

I know February is the shortest month, but this one still went by incredibly fast. I can't believe we're about to start our third month of 2014.

december 2014
november 2014
october 2014
september 2014
august 2014
july 2014
june 2014
may 2014
april 2014
march 2014
february 2014
january 2014

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