april 2014

The Walking Dead season 4 finale was so intenst that I'm almost willing to forgive the achingly slow pace of much of the second half of the season, especially because it's clear that the opening episodes of season 5 are going to be very fast-paced. Virtually every minute of this episode was filled with tension and hard decisions that reminded us in a very visceral way just what kind of world these people are living in, and just what kind of people they're going to have to become in order to live in it.

There's every chance that, before the first half of the next season is over, they're going to have turned into exactly the kind of people that Shane insisted you'd need to be in order to make it, although it's also clear that part of what's going to allow them to survive is their bonds with each other, which was a major theme of the second half of season 4.

As for Terminus, we all knew that was going to end badly—with a loaded name like Terminus, how could it not?—but we still don't know the exact nature of the place and the people who live there. My best guess right now is that they are cannibals—both times when we've seen groups arrive, there has been a barbecue with fresh meat that was served to the new guests, and in one of the chase scenes with Rick's group they seemed to be running past what looked like a slaughtering pit filled with human bones (not zombie corpses, but the remnants of humans who didn't turn).

This would also solve the riddle of how a colony could accept so many newcomers and keep from growing too large to control or be sustainable—there's a small core group, and all the recent arrivals are just food for them. And of course, that's why they would invest in putting up signs everywhere telling people how to get there.

That's not the only theory that you could make work, but that's the one that makes the most sense to me, and I think the writers have given enough hints that this is what's going on. But now we have to wait until October to know for sure...

I'm excited about baseball season being here again, but not as excited as I would have been 10 or 15 years ago. Before I lived in Baltimore, where it would have been a real hassle/expense to show up for Opening Day at the closest MLB stadium, I always took at least half a day off work to watch the Braves opener on TBS. Then, after we moved to Baltimore, I saw almost every O's home opener in person, and there were several years when we purchased a 13 game partial season ticket plan and went to most of those games (and sometimes a few others, like if they were playing the Braves in interleague games).

But since moving to Atlanta, the home of the team I've rooted for for as long as I've been a baseball fan, I haven't even tried to go to an Opening Day, and although we've been to a few regular season games, we usually only go to two or three. Part of that is the location of the stadium—like everything in Atlanta, it takes forever to get to when there are several thousand other people trying to get there at the same time—but part of it is that I'm just not that passionate about the sport or the team either.

For some reason they are opening the season this year in Milwaukee and then DC (it seems like they would try to schedule the southernmost teams for home games early in April), but there are still tickets available for when they play their first game in Atlanta against the Mets next Tuesday. But just like last year, I don't think I'll be there. My tastes have shifted so much to the NFL in recent years that I get more excited reading about offseason moves by the Ravens than I do about a Braves win.

My parents are coming to town this afternoon to spend a long weekend with us. It happens to coincide with my birthday, which will be nice—normally I don't have any family (besides Julie and Will, of course) around for my birthday celebrations, and this will also give us convenient babysitters if Julie decides to take me out for a nice meal one night.

They haven't seen Will since November—they were here for Thanksgiving—and I think that they'll be shocked at how much he's changed since then. It hasn't been that long, but he's doing way more stuff independently now, he's a chatterbox, and in more and more ways he just looks like a little boy instead of a toddler. He LOVES it when any of the grandparents come to visit, and he's usually pretty wired by the time the visit is over. I expect Monday dropoff at school will be difficult, but it will be worth all the fun he'll have with them over the weekend.


My birthday was last Friday, and since my parents were in town and available for babysitting duty, Julie took me out to a surprise dinner on Saturday night at an Atlanta steakhouse called Bone's. I hadn't heard of it before, but when Julie was trying to figure out where to take me, she found that not only was it frequently named as the best steakhouse in Atlanta, but one of the best in the entire country.

Since we rarely go out to a nice dinner (it's not worth it to go out to one with Will, and we haven't tried out a babysitter yet, so we really only do this when we have grandparents visiting), we decided to splurge a bit and get an appetizer and salads in addition to our main course. For the appetizer we got the seared tuna, which was high quality and well executed but had nothing really special about it other than the dried capers that they served as a garnish. Julie tried a house salad, the ingredients for which I can't remember but which she enjoyed very much, while I went with a traditional Caesar, which I was pleased to discovered also included the very traditional anchovies which even many old school restaurants don't include these days. As with the tuna, the salads were very good but unremarkable.

For dinner, we decided to get one of the specials—a bone-in ribeye for two served sliced, and their grit fritters and brussels sprouts with caramelized onions and bacon. The steak was a perfect medium rare with a nice flavorful crust—they definitely did not fall short in the steak department, and although I'm sure I've had a least a few other steaks in my life as good as that one, this definitely belongs up there among the top four or five for me. The brussels sprouts were okay, but they weren't as good as the ones that I roast at home—these were pan-fried and could have used a bit more cooking, and I didn't really taste the bacon. The grit fritters were the most unique item we had, and they were very good—those I would definitely reorder on a return visit.

We didn't get a look at their dessert menu because for my birthday they brought out a complimentary slice of homemade ice cream cake that was so enormous that it easily could have fed three or four people, but Julie and I managed to finish it together. As good as that was, I'm guessing that a place like this probably has cheesecake as one of its standard desserts, and I'd really like to give that a try, since on the rare occasions that I get dessert, that tends to be the one I want.

The atmosphere was very traditional steakhouse with a very traditional steakhouse clientele (mostly businessmen, emphasizing the "men" part), but we did see a few other couples out on dates. And the service was generally as high-quality as you would expect from such a place—they called us by name and got me a perfect gin and tonic with Hendrick's and extra lime—with two small exceptions. When we were first seated, someone came to attend to us immediately and get our drink orders, which they returned with shortly, but then we probably went another 15 or 20 minutes without anyone talking to us again, despite sitting with our menus closed for at least 10 minutes of that time. We finally flagged down someone who looked to be a head waiter and he took our orders for us, and while my memories of the meal will be positive, there was a point where I was considering getting up and walking out because it was getting a little insulting seeing an endless parade of waiters walk past us without so much as glancing in our direction (and I'm not generally the kind of guy who does that—in fact I don't think I've ever done that, but then again, I don't think I've ever felt neglected at such an upscale place, either).

The seond minor incident was a repeat of the first—someone brought out the dessert, but didn't pause long enough to ask if we wanted coffee or anything, and no one else stopped to ask, either. I ended up catching the eye of the same head waiter guy who had finally taken our order and he got me a coffee, so it worked out fine, but again, when you set such high expectations for service, you expect perfection.

Overall, though, it was a great meal, a great experience, and a nice surprise for my birthday. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, and I'm sure we'll be repeat customers.

I finished Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle a few weeks ago, and I enjoyed revisiting this one just as much as I did Galapagos and Sirens of Titan. I didn't do a lot of critical analysis and comparison of themes when I was first obsessed with Vonnegut as a team, but it's shocking how consistently the same messages come through in his works: most people are stupid and/or mean, but it's not really their fault because the universe is bewildering and/or pointless.

The religion piece is always present but alwasy indecipherable, which probably reflects Vonnegut's own issues with belief in a higher power: there always seems to be a god in his works—Galapagos explicitly states that there is a divine being and an afterlife—but that god really doesn't care that much about what's happening on Earth. But there are also always characters who are using religion and the belief in god to manipulate the people of Earth without the actual backing of the god they claim to represent, and even though it seems like this would be a cynical criticism of religions as a social control mechanism, those religious leaders actually do seem to have access to some sort of higher plan, even if that plan ultimately turns out to be meaningless.

It's a very confusing construct, and while I can see how it appealed to me as an agnostic teen who desperately wanted to believe (I focused more on there being a plan of some sort rather than on the fact that the plan had no real purpose), it makes a lot less sense to me know that I'm older and a little clearer on what I belive or don't believe.

But as usual, the book was funny as hell, especially if you have a cynical/pessimistic view of your fellow humans and their motivations. It was definitely the funniest of the three books of his that I've re-read recently, and I can see why, with its focus on the dangers of scientific experimentation that has no thought to the long-term consequences of new discoveries, it struck a chord with the audience of the 60s. It's a theme that has been explored countless times since then, and one that has been especially prominent since the advances in computing that we've seen over the past 20 years, but Vonnegut's novel is still a unique and compelling entry in the genre, and well worth re-visiting (or visiting if you've never read it).

After Vonnegut, I briefly considered a return to Neal Stephenson, but instead decided to buy the Kindle version of James Gleick's biography of physicist Richard Feynman called Genius. This is a book that I actually own in its physical form, but I never got past the introduction before I put it down (and not because of the quality of the writing—I first encountered Gleick as a teenager when I read his popular work on chaos theory).

(This was one of those books that I had really hoped would show up in my Kindle MatchBook list, but it's clear to me after six months that this service is not going to end up giving me access to the electronic versions of the physical books I've purchased from Amazon—it's still the same three books since the service launched, with none of the dozens of other, more popular works showing up despite Amazon's claims that it is adding more books to the service all the time.)

It was serendipitous reading this right after Cat's Cradle, because Feynman was in many ways exactly one of those scientists who developed highly dangerous, highly world-altering technologies with no thought to the impact they would have on the planet. I'm referring specifically to Feynman's work on the first atomic bomb, which he seemed to view mostly as a fun lark in the desert where he got to play the boy wonder among much more eminent and established scientists. Even during the first test, when the rest of his comrades seemed to be reeling with the implications of what they had wrought, he was still mostly just enjoying the show.

(In case you don't know the plot of Cat's Cradle, it concerns the development of a new crystal structure for water called ice-nine that causes water to freeze at a temperature of 114 degrees Fahrenheit. A particuarly vivid passage describes the scientist who developed it playing around with it in his kitchen with no thought to what might happen if it got into the water supply, which emphasizes one of the main messages of the book: we have now become so powerful that we have created the engines of our own mass destruction, but with no more thought to the consequences than if we were building a fence or a road.)

I like science writing, and I like biographies, so I enjoyed this book, but there was a lot more science writing than biography in some sections, and after Feynman's time at Los Alamos, the narrative tended to jump around in time to match Feynman's work with larger developments in the field of physics. There was gradual forward progress, but there was a lot of shooting forward in time, then moving back to a period that was in the past compared to what where we had started with that chapter, so much so that I don't have a clear sense of where he was and what he was doing at any given point in time post WWII (and no, I don't think this was a subtle but intentional commentary on the physicists' notion that time flows equally well forwards or backwards in many of the pioneering quantum mechanical equations that Feynman developed—I just think the book wanted to use Feynman as a reference point to talk about many of the crucial developments in phsyics during his lifetime, and he was involved in so many theories at once that Gleick often had to resort to backtracking or jumping ahead in terms of Feynman's life to cover a particular theoretical framework).

Anyway. Good book if you want to know a bit about a remarkable mind and a lot about the second wave of quantum mechanical theorists. And I'm finally ready to return to Stehpenson, so I've started in on Quicksilver, the first volume in the Baroque Cycle, and I'm guessing that I won't come up for air from that saga for at least a couple more months.

I'm loving being able to see the Braves games on tv every night again. That's the way it used to be when Ted Turner owned both the team and TBS—every game that wasn't part of a major network broadcast was still nationally aired on TBS—but TBS gradually decreased the number of Braves games it showed, stopping altogether in 2007. So at that point, anyone living outside of Georgia only got to see the Braves play when they were part of a national broadcast.

But now that I'm here in Atlanta, my cable package includes the regional sports networks that together broadcast every game that isn't part of the package sold to ESPN or the major networks, so I could conceivable watch every game of the season if I wanted to.

I don't often get the chance to watch a game the whole way through, but I usually can catch the first couple of innings while fixing dinner or getting Will ready for bed, and I can catch the last couple after we eat and get the kitchen cleaned up. It makes me feel much more connected to the team than I have in a long time, and also gives me something sports-related to enjoy during the agonizingly long NFL offseason.

Haven't been to a movie by myself in a while. Might be time to give that a try again with the new Wes Anderson, which I am sure Julie has no interest in seeing and which I'd desperately like to see in the theaters.

Our habit after church on Sundays is to stop at Farm Burger in Decatur and pick up lunch to take home. Generally this is a great experience—they have great burgers and interesting sides, and also have daily specials, and Farm Burger was one of the first places we ate as a family after moving to Atlanta, so there's some nostalgia for us too.

We did our normal stop this past Sunday again, but this time, instead of getting what we ordered (a pork burger that's one of their set menu items, and a veggie burger that was the special for the day), we got two regular hamburgers, both of which were dreadfully undercooked (I don't know who fared worse with this exchange—the two of us, who don't mind normal beef hamburgers but couldn't eat these because they were too rare, or the people who got our pork and veggie burgers who wanted red meat).

If this was just one mistake, we might not have been so irritated, but this comes on the heels of our last visit when my parents were in town when they forgot everyone's sides. So Julie called them up, and they handled it exactly as they should have—they fully comped the meal for us (which did include the correct sides and Will's grilled cheese) and also gave us $20 worth of credit for our next visit.

It's still going to be a while before I trust them enough to not check the order before leaving (which I hate doing, because it sends out a message to the employee you're dealing with that you think they're incompetent), but I'm glad they responded the way they did—we've been fans and customers for a long time, and our Sunday visits have become a little tradition for our family.

I know we're not going to get any snow like what they're predicting for the northeast, but still a freeze warning in Atlanta this time of year is pretty extreme. I really cannot wait for this winter to finally be over.

The second Blizzard game I ever played was Diablo II, which I (and surprisingly, Julie) got pretty obsessed with—I remember leaving work in the middle of the day to go pick up two copies of the expansion (although at the time I was working for a web-focused design company where it was more cool to ditch work to play a video game than it would have been to stay and put in a full day).

(Blizzard has always been especially conscious of the Mac gaming community—even with the recent growth in the Mac market, they're still the only developer who consistently releases their games simultaneously for Mac and PC—and we've always been Mac users, so that was another plus for them in addition to the quality of their games.)

After Diablo II had run its course, we played World of Warcraft for a long time, and Blizzard seemed to focus most of its efforts on that game—follow-ups to Diablo and Starcraft, it's other big franchise, were always rumored to be in development but there was no working preview and no announced release date. So as interest in World of Warcraft started to fade—the expansions were less and less tied to the Warcraft lore that many fans were familiar wth, and people had less time to invest in the significant content experiences that came with each expansion—I was excited to see that both Starcraft and Diablo would be getting sequels that were not MMOs like WoW (the universe of which was created as part of an RTS title from the 90s) but which remained faithful to the original games.

The Starcraft sequel was fine, but it had unit bloat where it was very difficult to play the game through and really come up with a coherent strategy because there were so many choices of vehicles and soldiers. I played the game through once just to see the story unfold, but beyond that I had no interest in replaying the campaigns.

Diablo III was released two years later in 2012, and I had high hopes for it—I was ready for another game that really focused on the soloing experience (as an MMO, much of the content of World of Warcraft is meant to be experienced in a group setting), and I had been much more obsessed with the constant action of Diablo II than I had been with the frantic gathering and building of Starcraft.

But I was hugely disappointed. The game was way too hard even on normal mode, much harder than I remembered D2 being even when you were just starting a character. Items that were upgrades for your character never seemed to drop, gold was hard to come by, and you died all the time—it was a brutal slog working through even the base level of the campaign, and by the time you finished, your character didn't have enough good items to be able to move on to a higher level of content, so you were stuck repeating the same camapaign over and hoping for better drops.

Plus the storyline wasn't as engaging, and it destroyed some crucial links between D3 and the two earlier games in the series (imagine if they started off the next Star Wars by senselessly killing off R2-D2 and C-3PO—the level of fan outrage would be comparable to what most of us who had played D2 felt about the early storyline in D3).

I had started off playing a character type that I don't usually play, and so I though maybe that was the problem and I'd enjoy the game more if I played a class I was more comfortable with. But halfway through my first campaign with that character, I just quit. I still wasn't having any fun, and I realized as I was suffering through yet another brutal beating from a pack of mobs that I had no desire to play the game ever again. Even though Blizzard issued some updates to the game that were supposed to appease the complaints of fans like me, it didn't matter: I was done, and I didn't fire up the game again for about a year and a half.

I gave the game another try when Blizzard announced an expansion for it, and as a way to encourage people to get back into the game in advance of the new content, offered a free month of bonus experience so that you could quickly level your characters to max level. I logged back in one day, mostly out of boredom and expecting to still be disappointed, selected the character I had abandoned a year or so earlier, and picked up that character's campaign where I had left off.

Almost instantly I could see this was a different game: it was still hard, but not overwhelmingly so, and gold and item drops were relatively plentiful (I upgraded every piece of gear for my character in the first two or three hours of playing). But really the main difference was that it was just fun again, in the same way that D2 was fun: the game had become the sequel that everyone was hoping for.

Blizzard has always been good at hitting that highly addictive sweet spot between being hard enough to be challenging but not too hard to be frustrating, and of doling out constant small rewards and upgrades to keep replayability high. I don't know how they missed the mark so badly with the initial release of D3, but they have definitely corrected those problems, and I find myself logging in for 20-30 minutes a day to get in some quick sessions (another thing they've gotten good at: setting up their games so they can be played in bite-sized chunks that make it much easier for casual gamers like me to stay engaged without needing to set aside hours of focused time to make progress). And many of my onlline friends from WoW have clearly had the same reaction: I see them all logged in much more frequently now, and I've started to group with them regularly (the game is designed around the solo experience, but you can make a group with up to four people for bigger challenges and rewards).

So Blizzard has restored my faith, and once again I find myself spending most of my limited gaming time with one of their products. It's been over a month since I stared playing again, and I bought the expansion the day it came out.

We decided to take Will out to dinner just for fun last night, and we ended up going to Pallookaville, which we visited most recently (and for the first time) for Julie's birthday. Will has been in kind of a corn dog mood recently, and since that's one of their staples, it was perfect.

Last time I made the poor decision to try the Reuben, which was such a sorry excuse for a Reuben that they shouldn't even be allowed to call it that (and they should really just take it off the menu—no matter what you call it, it's not a good sandwich). So this time I stuck to a standard corndog, while Julie tried one made with kielbasa. We split a basket of poutined tater tots (the restaurant concept is hipsterized fair food in case you hadn't already guessed). Julie and Will also split an Easter-only special, a Robin's Egg candy shake, for dessert.

The corndog was a much better experience than the Reuben, and I could see this becoming one of our new favorite places to eat. I really, really wanted to like this place last time, but that Reuben was truly terrible. It's nice to see that this seems to be an anomaly and not a real represenation of the quality of their food.

I forget how many people still take Good Friday off in the south. Complete ghost town at work today.

Easter was a busy day this year. First we got up around 5:30 to make the 6:45 sunrise service on the square in downtown Decatur, which we also went to last year (and which was our first time attending a service at the church that we regularly attend now). It's a great service for kids—Will could run around the square if he got restless, and there was lots of singing and guitar music.

After that, we headed over to Rise N Dine in Emory Village for breakfast. This place is usually crazy crowded on the weekends, but we got there about 20 minutes before they opened and were able to get a booth right at 8. Breakfast was mostly uneventful except for a brief moment when Will lost it (getting up that early will do it to anyone) over something silly and I had to take him outside to have a chat with him, but he returned to his normal (if tired) self pretty quickly.

When we got home, Will and Julie hunted for eggs indoors while I hid some additional ones outside, and then we went and found all those. The plan after that was for everyone to take a nap, and have a lazy Sunday afternoon, but Will was still wired and wouldn't go to sleep or even play quietly in his room, so Julie took him to a nearby park that I took him to a week or so ago. When they got back, we had a call from friends inviting us over for Easter dinner, so we convinced Will to take a nap in the afternoon and then headed over to their house around 5.

It was just us and the other family (they also have a male only child), so it was appropriately low key. We ate on their screen porch and had ham, asparagus and mashed potatoes with ice cream for dessert. It was a lovely evening, and a nice ending to a busy day.

I ended up going by myself to see a 9:45 showing of Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel, timing my arrival time perfectly—the opening credits were just fading up from black when I found my seat. There were only three other people in the theater—a couple and another loner like me—and it was just about as close to having a theater to myself as I've ever been.

I don't really think there's much point in describing the plot, the characters, what I liked, what I didn't, etc. At this point you're either a Wes Anderson fan or you are most decidely not, and if for some reason you've never seen one of his films then this one isn't the place to start anyway. Going to see a Wes Anderson film is the closest thing we have in filmed pop culture to going to see a play, and while I quite enjoy the experience, I totally get why other people don't care for his style.

No, this was not as funny or surprising as his best works—I'd put the tone somewhere between 2012's Moonrise Kingdom and 2007's The Darjeeling Limited, and I'd rank it better than the former but not quite as good as the latter (which I admittedly have a soft spot for that not all Wes Anderson fans share).

Very happy I got to see this one in the theater though—the minutiae are a big part of Wes Anderson's films, and a lot of those tiny details get lost when translated to a smaller screen.

Speaking of Wes Anderson: as I'm working my way slowly through Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver, I'm coming to the conclusion that Stephenson is somehow the literary echo of Wes Anderson. They both have small but rabid followings who have great tolerance for their sometimes off-putting stylistic quirks, they are known among the critics of their respective fields but put into a weird box where their works are mostly judged against each other and not to other writers or filmmakers, and they're both working in their mediums in ways that none of their peers really are.

They don't share a similar style in the way they tell stories—you couldn't imagine a Wes Anderson movie as a Neal Stephenson story or vice versa (it's hard to really imagine a filmed version of Stephenson's works at all)—but there's something similar about the experience of being a fan of each of them.

So happy to have Deadliest Catch back. I don't know what it is about this show—90% of it is exactly the same year after year, and the educational portion (where you learned exactly how a crabbing season and a crab boat worked) is long since over, and the producers now assume a familiarity with the industry that must be a little confusing for new viewers—but I can't get enough. This is one of those shows that I save to watch when I can really focus on it, even though any plot to speak of doesn't really require a lot of brain power to follow. But it's one of those shows that I savor watching, like The Walking Dead or Hannibal, and I don't want to waste a single episode.

Thursdays are often a work-at-home day for me that I use to catch up on everything before the end of the weekend and prepare for my weekly two hour call as a member of the tech advisory board of the application consoritium that my institution belongs to, but yesterday I went to a conference for our imaging system instead.

I wasn't really sure what to expect—it was a regional conference for higher ed users, of which there aren't that many for the product we use (it has a strong presence in higher ed, but for some reason not that strong in this part of the country). But since we were the hosts and the conference was in our conference center (which is no more of a drive for me than going to my office), I figured it was worth attending.

I had to leave early to get to my standing conference call anyway, but I left a bit earlier than I actually needed to. The only morning presentation that I found worthwhile was the presentation of upcoming features and changes for the version of the software that's going to be released later this summer (which although interesting is somewhat irrelevant for us, since our institution likely won't upgrade to this version until June 2015). Other than that, it was presentations about how the software was implemented on different campuses and in different offices on those campuses, including one by the person at my institution who did the implementation for my office before I arrived.

There may have been some people in the audience who had interest in these topics, but I've been a user of the software for going on seven years now, and at my previous institution I not only implemented it for my office but I was also the project manager for the product on our campus and I did the implementations for more than a dozen other offices. Hopefully those presentations were good for some of the folks in the audience, especially those who traveled a long way to attend, and maybe some of them got a chance to do some networking as well, but for me, the conference didn't have a lot to offer. I'm glad I went just to see what it was about, but if they do it again next year, I doubt that I'll attend, especially if it's not being held on my campus.

Very busy weekend. It started on Saturday with an afternoon spent at the Inman Park Festival, one of innumerable annual neighborhood festivals that take place in Atlanta once the weather starts to warm up. We went mostly because Will's music class teacher, who he loves and who loves him, was playing with her band, Cowboy Envy, later in the afternoon.

Will was excited by this prospect, but perhaps more exciting to him was the ride on the Atlanta Metro ("the train" in Will's parlance). We only had a short ride—three stops or so from the Decatur metro where we got on—but Will was fascinated, and enjoyed walking through the stations almost as much as riding on the train.

It was very, very crowded—when we talked to Will's teacher after her show, she told me it was the most crowded she'd ever seen it (and her band has played it every year since 1994). We walked very slowly down one row of vendor booths, but escaped to the park as soon as we could, and spent 30-45 minutes letting Will run around and play on the playground equipment before we started making our way to the stage where Cowboy Envy was playing.

After another long, slow walk through two streets of vendors, we got to the stage about 10 minutes before they were supposed to start playing, and even though it was crowded, we were still able to find a block of seats in the second row. And a couple of songs into their set, some seats in the first row emptied, so Julie went up there with Will so he could get up and dance if he wanted to.

But he did not dance—he was so tired that he actually fell asleep during the show, and stayed that way until their final song when Julie woke him up and told him it was the last song. Then he bolted upright and said "I want to dance!" We chatted with his teacher for a few minutes after the show and then started to head back to the metro.

The crowds had started to clear out by then, so we were able to actually stop and look in a few vendor booths (although Will was still tired and wanting to get back to the train, so we couldn't linger long). I saw a few artists who I would have liked to spend more time looking at, and I've sadly forgotten most of their names now, but I've already got a ton of art that I don't have space to hang, so that's probably for the best.

On Sunday we met a few of Will's school friends at the zoo for the afternoon, which with three or more kids is more like a containtment operation where you set up a perimeter and don't let anyone out of the zone than it is a nice walk to look at animals. We started off with four kids (three families, but one girl from Will's class brought her little brother), and that grew to four families and five kids by the end of the day.

I was the only dad who came, so we had one adult for each child, which I think is the right ratio for this age—the kids were prone to splitting off into two groups and running around in slightly overlapping orbits, and I'm pretty sure they would have achieved escape velocity a couple of times if we had had fewer parents.

I also had my first experience taking a little girl to the men's room—when three of the moms were inside getting lunch from the concession area, Will announced that he needed to go potty, and then his friend Abigail said she needed to go too. It was no big deal for her—I'm sure her dad takes her all the time. Her only concern was that the stall she chose didn't have a lock on it, so I had to hold the door completely shut for her.

We saved the carousel and the train for last, which was probably the right decision—otherwise I don't know if we would have seen anything of the zoo except the play area which features almost no animals except for the petting zoo with goats. It was a fun but tiring day (and weekend), but Will had a great time, and that's what it's all about these days.

Atlanta went into a weather panic on Monday night, with the forecasters predicting 36 hours of brutal thunderstorms and tornados, but all that happened was that on Monday night into Tuesday morning when the city was asleep, we had some strong winds and rain that blew branches off of trees. At some point we lost power overnight, and so when I went downstairs in the morning to check my email, etc., I had to restart my computer.

When it started up, there was a loading bar that isn't usually there that I figured was just the system doing an extra check because of the sudden shutdown. But after a few minutes, when the bar was nearly complete, the screen went black and the machine did not appear to have power. So I started it up again, and the same thing happened.

Now I started to get worried. I started up in safe mode and watched the progress. It stopped for a long time on the disk catalog rebuild, and before it signalled that this process was complete, the same thing happened—the screen went black and the power was off. So then I started up in recovery mode, ran the disk utilities, and it confirmed that the hard drive needed to be wiped and the system reinstalled.

I wasn't really worried about the loss of data—I have everything backed up, and my backup drive didn't seem to have been affected by the power loss (which I confirmed by running disk utilities on that drive before trying to wipe my hard drive)—I just knew I was in a for a long process of restoring everything. But when I tried to wipe the main disk from recovery mode, it said the disk could not be unmounted and erased.

Sigh. I then used Julie's computer to download a copy of the OS and load it onto a spare USB drive, which I also made into a bootable drive. I then plugged that in to my machine and booted from that drive, and that let me successfully erase my main drive and begin the restore process.

That ran overnight, so this morning all that should have been left to do to restore my machine was to copy back the file containing my virtual machine that isn't part of my regular backup routine (it looks like a single file, but it's actually thousands of flies bundled to look like a signle file, so every time anything changes on the virtual machine, the backup routine wants to backup the entire several gig bundled file, which takes a lot of time and also eats up a lot of space on my backup drive).

I usually copy this over manually to my backup drive every month or so, so I knew I would lose some data, but nothing critical—all the important work I do on that virtual machine (which I only use for work purposes) I copy back to my network drives at the office. However, when I looked on my backup drive for the virtual machine file, it wasn't there—the last time I did a complete wipe of my backup drive, I must not have copied over a current version of that file.

And of course I had lost the install disks for the OS and office software that I used in the virtual machine, and once I had created new install disks from my files on my work machine, I had discovered that I also needed the serial numbers (I had luckily stored these in Evernote, but it took a while to find them).

But now everything is back in working order—my Mac system and files have been restored with no issues, the hard disk itself seems healthy, and my virtual machine OS and programs have been set up again. A full backup of everything has been restored to the backup drive, and now all that's left to do is let my email download to my virtual machine email client and then do one final backup of the virtual machine file.

In the end, I didn't lose anything but some time and frustration solving all these issues, but I'm now better prepared to deal with something like this if it happens again—the USB drive will remain a dedicated bootable drive for troubleshooting purposes, something I should have created a long time ago anyway (I haven't had many issues with my computers in recent years, so I haven't had to be as vigilant about these things as I once was). I'm also going to be more diligent about repairing the disk catalog more often, since I think that's what caused the problem—something in the catalog got corrupted during the power loss that was impossible to repair and which affected the ability of the drive to boot up.

december 2014
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