march 2014

Some longtime friends of ours have a son who is a few years older than Will, and on Sunday it was his birthday. The party was at a gymnastics center, and because most of the birthday boy's friends are close to his age (he was turning 8), Will was the youngest kid there.

Sometimes Will can be a little shy about new physical activities, especially if he's getting overrun by kids twice his size, but he really loved this place and hung in there with the big kids. They spent the first 30-45 minutes runnning in a circuit that involved going up and down ramps made of mats, climbing on more mats that formed a long road toward the foam pit, and then springing off a small trampoline into the foam pit. He would usually get lapped by about half the group of each circuit, and he got knocked into a lot, but he was fearless about all the climbing and jumping. And later, when they switched to a long trampoline that fed into another foam pit, Will was so enthusiastic that he actually started jumping the line ahead of the big kids and getting more than his fair share of turns.

We could tell he had really used up a lot of energy when it came time for pizza and cake. He's usually kind of lukewarm about pizza, but he ate a piece and a half pretty quickly, only pausing to drink his juice, and then ate a piece of ice cream cake to boot. He was in a pretty good mood the whole time, too, even though the party was during his nap/quiet time (he's transitioning away from naps now, but if he doesn't have one he's still a little sluggish and/or moody) and he spent that time running around like crazy instead of resting. The only small difficulty came when the birthday boy opened his presents from Will—Will was so excited about them that he had a hard time absorbing that the birthday boy was taking them home instead of Will.

I finally finished Neal Stephenson's The Cryptonomicon, and just as with Snow Crash, the ending left a lot to be desired. I also had this odd sensation of reading the last few chapters: once I finally decrypted how the disparate parts and people fit together and figured out the most likely ending, there wasn't a lot left to surprise me, plot-wise. It was like when you're solving a coded message and you've got enough of it that you can guess at the last few words, but you have to keep on going through the formal decoding exercise anyway—it just turns into busywork instead of something you can engage with intellectually.

But that doesn't matter at all—I still love this book and love Stephenson as a writer. If the worst criticism I have of him is that he doesn't know how to end things well, I'm okay with that. This book is still a masterpiece and a triumph, and I'm definitely going to read more of his books in the future.

After I wrapped up The Cryptonomicon, I thought about purchasing Quicksilver, the first book in the Baroque Cycle that is in some ways a prequel to The Cryptonomicon, but I decided to take a breather from Stephenson for a couple of weeks and tackle Morrissey's autobiography instead.

That lasted for about an hour before I admitted to myself that I just wasn't in the mood for that kind of writing. It is a dense, difficult, knotty work, although it's totally beautiful. It's like reading an extremely longform prose poem—practically every sentence is crafted with a jeweler's eye for precision, detail, and beauty, but because of that, it's hard just to read those sentences and absorb the information. It takes so much mental energy to process the construction that you feel the need to linger over each sentence, each turn of phrase, and re-read it until you've fully understood its essence. And that makes for pretty slow going, which I'm apparently not in the mood for right now.

So I borrowed another Vonnegut book from the Kindle Lending Library, this time Cat's Cradle, which probably competes with Slaughterhouse-5 as his best known work. This is much more what I'm looking for right now—Vonnegut's sketches and spare but incisive details make a nice palate cleanser after the more florid prose of Stephenson (and Morrissey is to Stephenson what Stephenson is to Vonnegut, style- and complexity-wise, and I needed an decrease in complexity, so Vonnegut was definitely the better choice for me at this point).

Today the weather was like a February day in Baltimore where it wasn't quite cold enough to snow. It was cold and grey and wet and miserable, and I've become so accustomed to southern weather patterns already that I could barely stand to be outside in it for two minutes. I don't care if this place is turning me into a weather wimp—I am so ready for spring right now.

Fridays might mean more if there wasn't so much to get done over the weekend...

Will had another birthday party for a classmate over the weekend, and the weather ended up being just beautiful. It was outdoors at a park, and it seemed like half the city was there—everyone's been waiting for the first spring-like day for months, and so when it hit no one stayed indoors.

Will spent most of the time running around like crazy with his classmates, pausing momentarily to let the entertainment (a woman dressed as a pirate who did face painting and balloon animals) put a butterfly on his face (he had a hard time choosing between that, a rainbow, or a robot). The pirate made balloon swords and shields for everyone, and there was this funny sequence where in the space of five or six minutes, one after the other all the swords started popping. This would immediately lead to weeping and lamentations from the wielder of the now exploded weapon, so there was a point at the end of this sequence where several kids were bawling at once, and the only way to calm them down was to bring out the brownie cake.

I spent a lot of time talking to the father of one of Will's best friends in the class who happens to do web development at another office at my institution. I think I talk too much about work in social situations, but he seemed pretty excited to talk about his work, so it worked out fine this time.

I have completely and utterly failed in my goal to read files this year. Last year I managed to at least read 50, but this year it was a big fat zero—I had days scheduled for reading at home, but there were always more pressing issues to tackle, and even the evenings and weekends got taken up by other high priority work tasks.

Next year I'm going to set a goal for myself of prereading at least 100 files prior to January 15, which is when we really start to focus on RD applications—if I can't manage to do that, then that's telling me that I don't have enough room on my schedule for reading and I won't even ask to be a reader for RD.

I'm hoping I can make this work, though—reading actual applications gives me better insight into what issues the counselors are encountering with our process, and it also makes me feel more connected to our student population and the primary activity of our office.

It's supposed to get cold again today after reaching 70 on Monday and 78 yesterday. I know those temperatures are far above normal even for the south, but I was just getting used to being able to hang out on the screen porch again...

So, we're three days into free agency, and for once the Ravens have the ability to be active in the market. In addition to re-signing TE Dennis Pitta prior to the start of free agency, they have also re-signed LT Eugene Monroe and WR/returner Jacoby Jones, but they lost DE Arthur Jones and CB Corey Graham. Let's take a look at each of these free agents and see how the Ravens have done so far.

Dennis Pitta
Signed with the Ravens for 5 years, $32 million ($6.4 million average per year). Pitta is best friends with franchise QB Joe Flacco, and is often referred to as his security blanket on third down. The pundits have praised this signing, and while I'm hoping it pans out, in reality Pitta only has one above average season under his belt (2012) and he spent most of 2013 inactive after being hurt in training camp. Still, tight ends play a big role in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's schemes, so even though Pitta was paid near the top end of the TE market, this may look like a bargain in a couple of years if he returns to his 2012 form and is working in an offense that will rely on him even more heavily.

Eugene Monroe
Signed with the Ravens for 5 years, $37.5 million ($7.5 million average per year). Baltimore has had a revolving door at the critical left tackle position since hall-of-famer Jonathan Ogden retired in 2007, and although he's not a superstar, Monroe is above average, reliable, and young, and his attitude and work ethic not only give him the potential for him to continue to get better but also to become a leader in the locker room. Plus we gave up fourth and fifth round picks to trade for him early in the season last year, and that would have felt like a waste if we hadn't been able to keep him long-term. If Monroe lives up to expectations, this is a bargain price and great signing by Ozzie Newsome, who was helped out by the fact that other teams interested in Monroe locked up other LT free agents just after the market opened on Tuesday, leaving fewer suitors competing for Monroe's services.

Jacoby Jones
Signed with the Ravens for 4 years, $12 million ($3 million average per year). I'm kind of surprised we got Jones, who is a major playmaker, especially for kickoff and punt returns, and who was set to have a bigger role as a wide receiver before a teammate bumped into him early in the season and cost him a few games to the resulting injury. $3 million is a little high (although Jones has suggested in the press that he had a higher offer on the table), but not excessively so, especially if Kubiak has bigger plans for Jones in his new playbook (Kubiak was Jones' coach in Houston before Jones joined the Ravens a few years ago). A decent signing, but not a bargain even though I'm very happy as a fan to have Jones' explosiveness (and, quite frankly, his personality) still in the mix.

Arthur Jones
Signed with the Colts for 5 years, $33 million ($6.6 million average per year). Jones is a product of the Ravens system, and as frequently happens with our homegrown players who hit their stride just as they reach unrestricted free agency, another team was willing to overpay for him. It would have been great to keep him after the year he had last year, but I will have to trust Baltimore's longstanding ability to reload from younger players who are ready to step into the spotlight.

Corey Graham
Signed with the Bills for 4 years, $16 million ($4 million average per year). I like Graham a lot, but after losing his starting spot to former first round pick Jimmy Smith last year, he was never going to be a starter again barring an injury to Smith or Webb. It was great to have such a talented player as our backup at CB, but he deserves to be a starter in this league, and he deserves to get paid more like a starter, neither of which he was going to get from the Ravens. I hate to lose him, but it was probably the right thing for both the player and the team.

Pi day! I wish I was a little more of a numbers nerd so I could geek out about this more, but I'm betting that next year is going to be like the new millenium New Year's for the math crowd (3.1415...).

You may have noticed that I've been updating my Flickr account more frequently, and I've also expanded the images that I'm showing in my sidebar from 3 to 5. This is because I'm now sending one picture a day to a friend of mine, and copying that to my Flickr account after I text it to her.

This is because she was diagnosed with cancer last fall, and I've been terrible about keeping in touch even though I think about her every day (along with another friend of mine who was also diagnosed with cancer last year)—no phone calls, and only two emails in the months since she let me know about her illness.

So instead of beating myself up about the fact that I'm always meaning to write her and I never do, I decided instead that I'm going to send her a picture every day just to remind her that I'm thinking about her. The pictures don't have any context or message related to her illness—they're the same kind of pictures that I've always taken, though now with a phone instead of a real camera—but it's something that I'm hoping that I'll be able to keep up with, and it's the kind of thing where she can see a tangible reminder every day that my thoughts are with her as she goes through this fight, but it won't ever obligate her to send a response.

She also happens to be a huge Celtics fan, giving this entry some small relevance to St. Patrick's Day.

We're a fully week into free agency now, and the Ravens continue to be very active. Let's go over all the moves that have happened since my first recap last week:

Daryl Smith
Signed with the Ravens for 4 years, $16.1 million ($4 million average per year). Smith is not widely known outside of Jacksonville (where he spend the first ten years of his career) and Baltimore, but he's an above-average veteran who did a great job solidifying the interior of the defensive line and providing leadership on the field. The Ravens only gave him a one year deal last year because he was coming off a season where an injury limited him to only two games, but he proved his worth last year and deserves a multiyear deal from us. We probably gave him more years (which is almost completely meaningless in the non-guaranteed world of NFL contracts) and more dollars—a 2-3 year deal for $3 million a year were probably more what the Ravens orginally wanted—but when the free agency market started drying up quickly for players of Smith's caliber, it was a necessity to sign him as long as the contract wasn't too exorbitant. A good signing that's probably slightly better for Smith, but I'm happy he's going to be around next year.

Steve Smith
Signed with the Ravens for 3 years, $11 million ($3.67 million average per year). Smith is the franchise wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, but the team cut him rather than pay the $7 million he was owed on his contract (interestingly, they'll still have to pay him $5 million after cutting him) despite his long tenure with Carolina and his popularity with the fans. Smith orginally said he was going to allow himself to be wined and dined by several teams before deciding where to play, but he went to visit Baltimore the same day that Carolina released him and ended up signing his contract that same night without talking to any other teams. This is a good addition and a good price for the Ravens—they'll get a proven veteran who will be another reliable target for Flacco (something we were painfully short on last year), especially because Smith is coming into Baltimore acknowledging that he is no longer a number one receiver and that one of his roles will be to provide a distraction on short underneath routes, freeing up the speedy Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to get down the field for the long passes.

Michael Oher
Signed with the Titans for 4 years, $20 million ($5 million average per year). Oher is famous in the rest of the country for being the subject of Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side and the blockbuster movie of the same name, but in Baltimore he was famous for false starts, which he claimed throughout his career with the Ravens were the result of him being so much faster than other tackles that the refs were repeatedly and mistakenly calling him for a foul because they just weren't accustomed to his speed and timing. Whatever. Oher was a first round draft pick who was expected to be our franchise left tackle for a decade, but he couldn't handle the blind side in the NFL, and he was also pretty average at the less challenging right tackle position. He was a reliable player—he never missed a start—and a nice guy who the Ravens might have kept for the right price, but the Titans quite frankly overpaid for him, and the Ravens were right not to get into a bidding war with other interested teams. Oher could probably do with a change of scenery, and he's definitely getting more money than he would have from the Ravens, so this move probably worked out for both sides.

I'm already writing off this half-season of the Walking Dead—it's all just leading up to a cliffhanger that we won't begin to see the resolution of until the next season begins in October. There have been some good scenes, and a little bit of worthwhile character development, but the truly thrilling moments and the plot threads that I want them to follow are few and far between.

I guess after two solid seasons of riveting, action-packed storytelling, starting with the second half of season 2 and going through the first half of season 4, the writers felt like the audience needed to have the reset button hit and for things to slow down a little. And granted, this week's episode in particular had some gripping moments, but overall I wish we were moving at a faster pace. So I'm eager to watch the last two episodes, but I already know that they story I really want won't happen until season 5.

One week til decision release. I don't get nearly as stressed out about this as I used to, probably because at my previous institution I was actually the person who sent out all the emails and here we just open up our system so students can view them online—no accidentally sending the admit email to the waitlisted students or anything like that (which never happened to me, but it happens to at least one or two schools every year).

Still, there's a lot to do between now and then, and pretty much the minute we're done my team is already preparing for next year. I'm hoping to give them a little time to breathe for a week or two in April, but with the amount of stuff we have to get done before it all kicks off again in August, we really can't pause for long.

Duke losing in the first round of the NCAA tournament never gets old. NEVER.

So...that's it for my bracket. I did my traditional homer bracket where I picked UNC to win it all even though I didn't really believe that they would, and after Duke got knocked out in the first round I was at least hoping that my bracket would beat the homer bracket by the Duke fan in my office, but I think there's a pretty good chance I could come in dead last. I only have seven teams left in the Sweet 16, and of those I only have two making it to the Elite 8 and one to the Final Four (and I didn't pick that team for the finals). Meanwhile, the Duke homer has a few more teams still alive, and her best potential score is about 10 points higher than mine.

This office is very low key about the tournament—only one bracket per person, with no fees and no monetary prize for winning. I liked my old office, where it was $5 per entry and you could do as many brackets as you wanted—that way I could do my homer bracket and then do at least one where I was trying to be more objective. And having the possibility of winning a few bucks upped the intensity/interest factor as well.

Despite the great production values and the high-quality acting of Hannibal's first season, I found many of the episodes hard to get through. Not because of the gore or anything like that—but because the protagonist, Will Graham, was so overwrought and intense that he was actually kind of hard to root for. And I know that part of Hannibal's (the character's) appeal has been that there are some things about him that you want to root for even though he's a monster, but there was never any doubt in previous iterations of Hannibal's story that Graham or Clarice Starling were really the ones you were supposed to identify with, and as a viewer I never had a problem doing just that.

I didn't even watch the final two episodes, although I did save them on my TiVo, so I didn't get that excited when I saw new episodes from the second season start to show up. But I decided to give the show another chance, and something about it has just clicked for me now. Maybe it's that the final two episodes eliminated the illness that was causing hallucinations and out-of-body experiences for Graham that made the actor's performance so tortured, or maybe it's that we finally began to see a path between this storyline and the Red Dragon/Silence of the Lambs stories that we know are coming, but I'm really engaged with the show now.

Mads Mikkelsen was always a brilliant choice for Hannibal—he owns the character so well now that I'm almost beginning to think of Anthony Hopkins' portrayal as slightly cartoonish—and now the other characters and the structure of the show are beginning to live up to their potential as well.

Living in Atlanta has made me such a baby about the weather. It used to be that I didn't expect any really warm weather until at least the middle of April, but around here they're used to spring coming mid-March, even before the first official day of spring. But this year has been cold and grey and rainy, and the little hints of spring we've had (a day or two here and there where the weather gets into the high 60s or low 70s) just make the colder days that much more miserable.

The turn is supposed to happen next week—highs in the 70s all week long with a chance of showers only at the end of the week—and I couldn't be happier. I know the northeast and mid-Atlantic have had it much worse that we have this year, and they they might not warm up for another month, but on the Atlanta scale this has been a pretty bad winter, and I'm ready for it to be over.

It's decision release day for my office today, and everyone's pretty calm. This is really the climax of our work calendar, the day that we work all year for, and it's not that it's not still exciting in some way, it's just that a lot of things that used to be stressful about it for me have either gone away or we've gotten so good at controlling that I don't get that stressed anymore.

The work doesn't really stop for my team—we've been planning for the next cycle for a couple of months now, and we'll start that work in earnest before the end of April (even though the rest of the office won't be using most of the systems we support until September or so), but I am hoping we can have a couple of weeks to pause and reflect before starting the work starts up again.

There is no obvious path from the parking garage I've been assigned to at work and my building, so it took a couple of weeks of experimenting after I started working here to figure out the most efficient way to get to my office. Since I determined the best route, I have walked the same way to and from my office every day (and I'm pretty surprised that few of my coworkers seemed to have figured this out—whenever I leave and see one of my coworkers ahead of or behind me, also on their way to the garage, almost none of them use the route I have settled on, although I have tried their routes and am convinced that mine is faster).

One feature of the path I take is a long flight of steps that runs up to a plaza between the chemistry and psychology buildings. These steps are made of concrete, and they have grooves cut towards the front of them for better traction when it's wet out. A couple of months after I started walking this route, I noticed a stainless steel earring back was caught in one of the grooves. I noticed it again the next day, and the next, until soon I had developed a small compulsion to look for it every day as part of my morning routine.

That was more than a year and a half ago, and the earring back became a regular feature of the universe for me. I sort of assumed at some point that it would get knocked out, or that some other person like me would take note of it and remove it for some reason, or that it would get removed during cleaning, but after a while I became convinced that it would be there forever. It had become a permanent part of the landscape, and internally I began to take ownership of it because it seemed like no one else had noticed it. It was mine even though it was just lying on the ground for anyone to take, and I began to develop a sense of anticipation and then relief as I approached its resting place each day and confirmed that it was still there.

That is, until a few weeks ago, when I was doing my by now almost unconscious confirmation of its presence on my daily walk to the office and I didn't see it. I was in a hurry and didn't linger to do an extensive search, but I was surprised at how much it rattled me not having it there, especially as I had already begun composing the early part of this entry. I wondered what had finally done it: Had another compulsive person like me finally decided to pick it up and take it home? There is construction work going on in the area, and every now and then there are screws and nails that end up on those stairs, which linger for a couple of days and then disappear—was the earring back intentionally removed as part of the cleanup of the construction remnants? Did someone see it for the first time and immediately pick it up? I just couldn't imagine what force would have dislodged the earring back after it had become so embedded in the architecture.

For the next few days, I found myself still compulsively searching for it every day when I came in, and on the mornings when I wasn't in the midst of others, I would pause for a few seconds to make sure I had the right step and to look a little more closely to make sure it was really gone. I began to realize that, even if I worked here for another 20 years, as long as I was walking that path from the garage to my office, I would look for that earring back every day even though I knew it wasn't going to be there.

And then, strangely, as I was writing the part of this entry that mused on the now-vanished earring back, it reappeared one more, which also threw me for a loop. I had come to terms with it not being there and with the knowledge that it had become so ingrained in my morning routine that it would now be part of that routine whether it actually existed anymore or not, so having it suddenly pop back into existence was as much of a surprise as the first day I noticed it missing.

The next day it was still there, in the same spot it had always been, so I stopped to look at it to see if I could figure out why it had appeared to be missing for a couple of weeks (I know that many of you who have made it this far in this entry already probably think I'm a little bit crazy, but I'm not crazy enough to think that someone removed it for a couple of weeks and then replaced it just to mess with me). I noticed that there were a lot more little pieces of debris from the nearby construction site, and my best guess is that dust and dirt from the construction covered the earring back and made it appear the same color as the concrete—the first day it reappeared was after a weekend of rain that would have washed all that away.

The OCD side of me, having lost this artifact once, was nearly compelled to remove it and retain it so I couldn't lost it again. I talked myself out of it, but this thought crossed my mind on the walk in every day, and it became part of an internal philosophical conversation I would have with myself until I reached my office. Because even though I'm a collector by nature, and I find joy in owning things that I find beautiful, there's also a big part of me that knows that all material things are fleeting, and even though you should enjoy them when you have the chance, it's a mistake to get too attached to things—they will all leave you (or you will leave them) eventually, and getting inappropriately focused on keeping things or making them stay the same will just end in heartbreak. Picking up the earring back wouldn't mean that I would be able to prevent its eventual loss in another way, but it would mean that the part of me that thinks I can control things had won over the part of me that knows that control is illusory. And it's the second kind of person that I'd rather try to be.

So I haven't picked up the earring back yet, although I still look for it every day, and every day, so far, it's still there. I'm now given to wondering if there was anyone else out there like me, who had noticed it for a year or more on their way into work, then noted its absence, and then its reappearance. I kind of doubt it—I don't believe these are typical thought patterns and observations that people have while walking from a parking garage to their office. The fact that I deem this subject worthy of reflection to the point where I externalize that reflection by writing about it probably tells you more about me than I would want to reveal to you—but that's who I am, and I don't really have any issues with that. But I'm glad the me I am now has decided to let this object go after becoming so surprisingly attached to it—I consider this a real victory for myself. It's a very small victory by any measure, but a victory nonetheless.

It's finally feeling like spring, and it's supposed to be this way all week. The mornings will still start out in the 50s, but it's supposed to be in the mid to high 70s in the afternoon all week, and I hope that we've finally reached the end of this long, cold winter. Also: it's Opening Day, although the Braves are starting out the season in Milwaukee for some reason.

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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