february 2015

The only thing I'm going to say about the Super Bowl last night was the same thing anyone who knows anyting about football is saying: what the hell was Pete Carroll thinking calling a passing play instead of giving the ball to Lynch?

I'm already starting to see some apologists coming out of the woodwork saying that Pete Carroll made the right call. Which is total crap; it's just so that the pundits and contrarians can keep talking about this, because it doesn't matter whether the other team expected them to run; we know that the whole planet was expecting a run play from Seattle. But that's because, despite the opposing defense was going to prep for it, it was still a high percentage play at that distance and with that back, and it becomes an even higher percentage play if you have three plays to get it right. If your offensive coordinator can't figure out some blocking scheme that will allow Marshawn Lynch to get a half yard with the Super Bowl on the line, you don't deserve to be world champions anyway. And you sure don't deserve it if you try to get too tricky/crafty by throwing an extremely risky pass into traffic instead.

Football can be one of the most complex of modern team sports, but sometimes football also doesn't get any simpler than taking your strength and attacking the other team's weakness. And that's what should have happened here: you've got one of the brawniest, toughest, most difficult to stop running backs in the league sitting on the half yard line with a championship on the line, and a team that has proven inept at stopping the short run game. There's no real need to think about it: you give it to the big guy and just let him ram it down their throats. Game over, Super Bowl champions, good night.

Instead, the rest of the football world has to suffer through yet another round of gloating from the most obnoxious fan base on the planet, all while the spectre of a cheating scandal during the AFC championship game remains unresolved but which will undoubtedly continue to fester for many months. Any finding of guilt will cast a pall over this Super Bowl, especially given the outcome, and further tarnish a sport that is becoming increasingly difficult to love.

I started feeling a little under the weather last Thursday night, and when I woke up on Friday I felt completely miserable. I spent the next three days with a high fever, and used most of my semi-lucid waking hours developing advanced temperature control strategies to try to smooth out the rapid and frequent oscillations between feeling like I was in a meat locker to feeling like I was in a furnace.

I started to feel a little better by Monday, and so today I'm going to go into work, at least for a little while. But I'm still very tired and not all that interested in eating, so even though the worst is over, I have a feeling the aftereffects from this one are going to continue until at least this weekend. I'm not sure if this was the flu or not, but it was something equally nasty even if it wasn't specifically the flu, and I think it's going to take several more days before I feel normal again.

During one of the many times over the weekend when I couldn't sleep but I couldn't do much of anything else either, I watched a late night showing of Thelma & Louise, which I probably haven't watched since it was originally released over 20 years ago.

I didn't expect this one to hold up very well—it was so iconic that it has been parodied to death, and I didn't remember liking it enough for its other qualities to overcome its status as a pop culture punch line—but I was surprised that, in most respects, it's still a pretty watchable, entertaining film that still has some relevant questions to ask about gender roles in America.

The one thing that really, really rubbed me the wrong way in that regard, however, was the big plot element where the duo shift from being on the run after a self-defense shooting and straight up turn into criminals. In this sequence, Louise collects some hidden savings from an ex and spends the night with him, while Thelma spends the night with a young hitchhiker (Brad Pitt in his first significant role). The next day, while celebrating her newfound sexual freedom, Thelma leaves her paramour in the hotel room by himself, and he promptly makes off with all of their cash, forcing the pair into a death spiral of armed robbery, kidnapping, shootings, etc.

As I was rewatching this, it felt all too familiar to the typical teen horror movie trope of a woman being punished for having sex. In so many slasher movies, a woman ends up at the wrong end of a machete/chainsaw/hook after sneaking away from the group with a boy and engaging in forbidden (in the fairy tale-influenced rules of horror movies) sexual contact.

In the same way, the virginal Thelma (who has been married for many years, but to the same man that she has been dating since she was 14—she has no other sexual partners in her history) invites an outlaw into her bed, and although she achieves sexual bliss and satisfaction for the first time ever, she is promptly punished by having this man abandon her and leave her and Louise penniless and forced into armed robbery in order to continue their pursuit from the law. Without that precipitating theft, it's possible Thelma and Louise would have eventually decided to turn themselves in or been apprehended peacefully and been able to use a self defense theory to avoid convictions for the original shooting, but instead they go over the cliff (literally) and become full blown criminals.

Given the extreme focus on by the writers on using these characters to transcend typical gender roles in films, this choice felt a little shortsighted and out of tune with the overall narrative. I get that they needed some sort of MacGuffin to move them from innocent girls on the run to outlaws breaking the law by choice, but using this embarrassingly dated punishment-for-sex device seems a particularly poor choice.

I'm finally catching up with the last couple of episodes of the half season of The Walking Dead that ended in November in preparation for the new half season that starts on Sunday, and as shocked as I am to be thinking this, I'm starting to wonder if I'm getting a little bored with this show.

It's been a favorite of mine for the last few years—I started watching on Netflix when the show as about halfway through the second season, and I've been recording and watching the shows within a week or two of when they've aired since then.

I'm not sure what has changed, but maybe that's the problem. Sure, there are new characters, new locations, etc., but the dangers feel pretty much the same, especially since they're pretty good about telegraphing when someone (or some group) is trustworthy or up to no good. And while it's satisfying to see the bad guys get what's coming to them eventually, as seems to invariably happen on this show, it does wear on you a little bit that they seem to kill off a well-liked character in about a 20-1 ratio of bad guys getting offed, meaning that every time you get amped up about bad guys going down, you're also bracing yourself for the inevitable death of someone you like—and that's something that you rarely see coming (I mean, you know a death is coming, but it is pretty random and shocking as to who specificially the writers choose to get rid of).

I liked the possibility of Eugene and the DC quest, even though I knew it was all a lie from the very first time we encountered that character, but I think they really need to have some sort of larger goal that the group can pursue. At some point, this show has to be about more than just running, fighting, barely surviving, and eventually getting picked off. Whether it's something like the DC mission, or finding a non-evil community that's somewhat stable, or having some sort of change to the virus that gives them hope that if they can just survive for another year or whatever, the zombies will die off naturally and the survivors can get back to rebuilding the world, the show needs something more than what we've gotten the last couple of seasons.

Because while they've been thrilling, this pattern—1) traumatic event that separates our main group into subgroups; 2) some members of the main group end up with a new group that seems stable at first; 3) new group turns out to be filled with terrible people who must be killed; 4) remainder of the main group stages rescue which results in many deaths; 5) settle down in new location until another traumatic event starts the whole pattern over again—is getting a little predictable. The only real questions are how many of and who from the main group are we going to lose before the violence is over.

I'm still going to watch the new episodes, and I hope they can find a way to keep me excited about the future of the show, but for the first time in years, I'm not planning to watch the premiere episode the first night it airs.

Long week. Glad this one is over. Let's just hope next week will be a little more normal.

One of our neighbors is a patron of the Center for Puppetry Arts, and every now and then she'll give us a pass for a patrons-only showing that includes puppet making, snacks and drinks, and a special performance. She gave us one a few months ago for their version of the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer stop-motion animation special from the 60s, and a couple of weeks ago she gave us another one for their new show about animals in the rain forest.

The show was Friday night, and Will had a blast just like he did last time. First we went upstairs to make a puppet (in this case, an electric eel that glows under blacklight), then came downstairs to look at the children's puppet area and have a few snacks before getting our seats. It wasn't nearly as crowded as last time, but there was still a pretty good crowd, and as usual there were tons of other kids there.

Will liked the show pretty well—he loves animals, and there were no humans that were part of this show. There were some funny little skits with a howler monkey that Will thought were hilarious—he was laughing out loud about his interactions with a stinky flower. Afterwards we went down and he chatted with a couple of the performers for a few minutes, and then it was time to head home. He always has a such a great time there that if our neighbor stops giving us her passes, we're probably going to have to consider joining ourselves.

It's been a week since my fever dropped below 100 and I started feeling a little better (and I returned to work), but whatever this flu-like thing was that took me out completely for four days is still with me. I feel tired all the time, and I haven't been able to make it through a full workday since coming back into the office. I also don't have any energy at night, so I can't do my usual work from home in the evenings that I typically need to do in order to keep up with the chaos at work this time of year.

I've heard some other people who've had this (or something similar) that it took them up to a month to feel completely better. I sure hope that's not the case with me, but I don't think I'm going to wake up tomorrow and have all the aftereffects completely vanish, either.

Yesterday was Julie's birthday, and for the first time that she can remember, she actually took the day off work and had some me time. She started with a spa treatment and massage in the morning, then I took her to lunch at the amazing Sobban Korean Southern Diner, and then she spent the afternoon shopping. In the evening, we went to dinner with Will to Flip Burger, an upscale burger place owned by Top Chef contestant Richard Blaise, and then came home for presents and cupcakes.

Will is hilarious about being able to keep secrets—he tries so hard but he just can't do it. For instance, I showed him the cupcakes I got for Julie's birthday before we went out to dinner, and he couldn't resist telling her that we were going to have a special surprise dessert and that he knew what it was. Then when Julie started playing a guessing game with him, he eventually said, "No mommy, we're going to have cup-", and then stopped short and clapped both of hands over his mouth. He was mortified, and tried to play it off by saying he was talking about Cup o' Soup and not dessert (which he continued to say about every five minutes all through dinner).

It's cute, but that's exactly why I didn't tell him about the present I got for Julie: a deluxe Decemberists vinyl box set that includes limited edition artwork and an album signed by the whole band. We've also got tickets to see them on both nights they play in Atlanta in April, which kind of rounds out the Decemberists experience.

So I think it was a pretty good birthday for her overall. And as soon as it was over, Will started asking when the next birthday was...

Since moving to Atlanta, we've taken an annual beach vacation to Hilton Head at the very end of August, the week before Labor Day. This year, however, Will will be entering public school kindergarten, and so he'll be in school starting in August.

As a result, we've decided to shift our vacation to early June, before the rates start to hit their peak. We're still going to go to Hilton Head and stay in the same complex we've been in for the past two years (and this time staying in the same unit that we stayed in last year), but I imagine the feel will be very different.

At the end of the summer, there's a sleepy, last-call kind of vibe - nothing is very crowded, and the locals seem much more tolerant of the tourists now that the town is on the verge of returning to their exclusive use (growing up in a beach town, I understand the ebb and flow of a fluctuating temporary population; it's not unlike working at a university where you share the campus for 3/4 of the year with a fluid student population and have the summers turn quiet and empty while just the staff are there).

But this year we'll be going only a week after the first major holiday of the summer tourist season (Memorial Day), and while I'm guessing the tourist population will still not be at its peak, I do expect everything to be more crowded. I've enjoyed our time at Hilton Head (aside from the serious jellyfish outbreak last year), but if June is going to be our likely window for a summer vacation going forward, just how crowded it gets will have an influence on whether or not we return this year or seek a quieter locale in the future.

I've been looking at my work schedule for the rest of the year, and I think I might end up doing more travel than I've ever done before.

Part of this is because of my dual role—I end up attending a few IT-focused higher ed conferences (which tend to take place late spring and early summer), and then some of the broader higher ed/leadership conferences (which tend to take place in the fall), and for various reasons, I'm going to want to attend four different conferences this year, two from each category.

At least they will be spread out a bit—one in early May that's only a short flight, one in mid-June that's a medium flight, one in early October that's a long flight to the west coast, and the final one in early November that's another short flight.

Two of them will be in the DC/Baltimore area, so I'll get to visit some old friends from when we lived there, and there's an outside chance that for one of them the Ravens will have a home game that I could stay over the weekend to see. Since moving to Atlanta, I've only seen them play a preseason game against the Falcons—even though they played both Atlanta and Carolina this year, they played them in Baltimore.

This still isn't a lot of travel compared to what our recruiting staff does—they're typically on the road for a week or two in the spring and summer, and then for a couple of months in the fall—but it's more travel than I've ever done in my career.

It was Valentine's Day this weekend, but on the heels of Julie's birthday, when we went out to celebrate, and given the crowded nature of restaurants on that day, especially when it falls on a Saturday (not to mention our continued lack of a babysitting option), we decided to have a quiet day at home, and then Will and I fixed dinner for Julie: NY strip steak, roasted brussels sprouts with sweet chili sauce, mushrooms sauteed with Worchestershire, and brown and wild rice with mushrooms.

Will also gave us a Valentine's card he made in school—another surprise that he wasn't so good at keeping secret.

On Friday night, the night before Valentine's Day, we all went to see the Emory women's basketball team play. This is something we did a lot last season, and we also caught a lot of their games before the new year, but then there was a long stretch of road games, and the home games all seemed to be at the same time as other scheduled activities (we had a few things on Friday nights, and on Sunday afternoon Will has drama class).

This was their breast cancer awareness game, so the team was wearing pink uniforms, and they were also selling goodie bags for $20 that went to breast cancer research, so we bought one, not knowing that it also contained a Swoop (the Emory eagle mascot) golf club sock that Will now uses as a puppet. The girls got beat pretty soundly—it's a younger team that's still gaining its confidence after losing several star seniors after last year—but Will cheered them up by going over to the bench after the game and giving them all bags of Valentine M&Ms and telling them "Happy Valentine's Day!"

After the game we went out to a local pizza place, where Will got his favorite—pepperoni. He still sticks to pretty basic food most of the time—hotdogs, mac and cheese, chicken, and pizza—but he's pretty good about eating his fruit and vegetables, and he has shown more willingness to try new kinds of foods. He still hasn't really wanted to give asian food a try, but I think that's my next food project with him—find some that we can cook at home and then maybe take him out to a real restaurant.

I had a big proposal on Monday afternoon, and it went suprisingly well. I'm not surprised by the quality of the proposal itself (I've been working on it for a while), or with my performance during the Q+A phase (I know this project and its impacts inside and out), but during my short time at this institution, I've seen more than one good idea get held back by one of the many, many goverance committees that get to review these things for reasons that can be hard to fathom other than from a political or territorial perspective.

But the initial review committee unanimously approved the business case, and now it only has to go to one more level of approval next week before we can officially move ahead with it. I'm really excited about this—if we get to do this, it's going to dramatically change the way we do work in our office, and especially the way that my team works together and how much time we'll have to spend on new projects instead of maintenance work.

I'm just starting on the second half of the first season of Gotham, and I'm still really liking it. My only concern is that they might be building the Penguin storyline to a crescendo too soon, and taking focus away from the other characters and forces that will eventually shape the Batman universe, but Robin Lord Taylor is terrific in this role, especially in his scenes with Jada Pinkett Smith, and I understand the temptation to keep him on screen as much as possible.

I still wish there were some other dramas that I enjoyed—I've tried with Agents of SHIELD, and I'm now recording (but have not yet watched) Better Call Saul even though I also have not yet watched Breaking Bad (my understanding is that Saul is a prequel that doesn't require immersion in the Breaking Bad universe to understand), but if I'm in the mood to watch a drama these days, I'm more likely to want to rewatch one of the Bobby Goren episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent than I am to want to watch a newer show.

Game of Thrones is coming back soon, and that will provide a temporary distraction, and I've also tried House of Cards and enjoyed that a bit. But despite many people calling this the golden age for drama on tv—not just limited to pay cable, but even on basic cable and the major networks—I'm not finding a whole lot that interests me, and when I watch tv, I tend to prefer reality shows like Deadliest Catch, Bering Sea Gold, and Prospectors.

Sad day today, and we're now going to be traveling this weekend. More next week when I've had some time to process this...

My grandfather died on Friday. He was 94 years old (he would have been 95 in April), and he was one of the most incredible people I've ever known.

His parents, who immigrated from Poland, were staunch Catholics, and as the oldest son, he was expected to go into the priesthood. Instead, as soon as he was of age (he turned 18 in 1938), he enlisted in the US Army; he saw the war coming, and he knew that he could either enlist and have more of a hand in choosing his fate, or he could wait to be drafted. One of his early postings was to Hawaii, and he was there when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. By the time America joined the fight in Europe, he was an artillery officer whose unit ended up being part of the 9th Infantry Division, which wound its way through Europe after D-Day after spending a year or so preparing for the invasion in Europe.

He stayed in the Army after WWII ended, serving in the Korean War (where he turned down a Purple Heart; he was injured behind enemy lines, but it wasn't during combat, so he didn't think he deserved an awared for his injury) and eventually requesting a posting to Alaska towards the end of his career. He loved the wildness and the immediate connection to the outdoors; he told me stories about how, on his days off, he would have a helicopter pilot friend drop him in the middle of nowhere next to a river with his fishing gear, and he would fish by himself all day until the pilot would come back to pick him up several hours later.

He was 94 and has been in decline over the past few years, but he lived a long, happy, and very active life. He was married to my grandmother for 40 years until she passed from cancer in 1986, and then remarried his current wife a few years later; their marriage has lasted more than 20 years. He played golf twice a week into his 80s, and it was really only in the last few years that he started to look anywhere close to his age (when he was in his 70s, he could have passed for someone at least a decade younger).

He was my mother's father, and she happened to be staying with us when she got news of his passing, which I think made it easier for her, especially since she got to spend the next few days with my son, who is named for my grandfather. The phone call from the retirement community came on Friday morning; he had died in his sleep with no drama and no attempts at resucitation, which is exactly what he would have wanted.

All of his grandchildren happen to live in Georgia now, even though his funeral was the first time we've all gotten together (to be fair, only two of us live in Atlanta, and it's only been since last August that everyone has been back in the state). I think seeing each other and remembering how important our grandfather was to us and how much he influenced all of our lives has increased our desire to spend more time together; perhaps we can make something work the weekend when he would have celebrated his 95th birthday.

We drove up to Raleigh on Sunday and attended the visitation at the funeral home that afternoon. He has outlived most of his friends and his generation of the family, but there were still a lot of people who showed up, including some friends of the family who we hadn't seen in decades.

At the interment on Monday afternoon, the minister asked if anyone wanted to say anything (his only son, my uncle, spoke for our family), which I guess I should have been prepared for but I wasn't. Even if I had taken some time beforehand to put something together, I don't know if I would have been able to get through it through the tears; the last time I did a reading at a funeral (for my paternal grandmother), I only got through it because I had essentially memorized the passage the night before - I was crying too much to actually see the text in front of me.

But if I had written something out and been able to write it, it would have been something like this:

I'll keep this short because that's what granddad would have wanted. I have been lucky enough to know some amazing people during my life, and many of those people are here today. But I think we would all agree that we've never met anyone like Bill in our lives, and that we'll never see his like again.

He was a soldier who was very proud of his military career, and you could see that in his dedication to the principles of honor, discipline, and service. But he was also one of the most kindhearted, most insightful, and most thoughtful people I've ever met; he loved everyone and everyone loved him. We will all miss him, but he will live on through the lives that we live, lives that have all been profoundly influenced by his character, his values, and his kindness.

Snow day yesterday, and a late opening today, all for what ended up being some rain in the metro area. I'm not complaining, though—even though I used yesterday to get caught up on email, it was nice to have to not go into the office after our hectic weekend trip to Raleigh for my grandfather's funeral.

It's my friend Lydia's birthday today, a day that sticks in my mind even more than it once did after I wrote about her on her birthday many years ago on this blog. We had fallen out of touch at that point, and without things like Facebook to make it easy to have some kind of vague knowledge of old friends' whereabouts, activities, and family life, she might as well have been on another planet—I didn't know where she was living, I didn't have an email address, and I had no idea what she was up to.

But of course Facebook came along in the intervening years, and I connected with many of my old friends from high school, including Lydia, who at that point was living in Atlanta (where I live now, but we did not overlap) and had two kids with her husband, who I had met twice—once when they had just started dating in college, and once again several years later when I was in Richmond for a family event and met up with them for coffee.

She is a semi-frequent Facebook poster—not every day, but usually at least 2-3 times a week—so I feel like I have some sense of her daily life. And I do get to see her every now and then, most recently when I was in Durham for my 25th high school reunion and she stopped by to say hi at one of the evening events (she is a year younger than me and so wasn't officially part of the reunion, but she now lives in the Triangle area).

Anyway. I'm very glad for whatever kind of relationship I have with her—I'm just glad there's now something that can be called a relationship. She has turned out to be every bit the amazing adult that I knew she'd be when I knew her in high school. So happy birthday, Lydia—I'm so happy that I know something about the wonderful person you've become.

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