may 2018

I don't know when the next time will be that I either 1) won't be traveling for at least half the week or 2) won't have an average of at least 5 meetings a day. But it won't be this week. Or next week, or the week after that, or the week after that. Maybe I'll get lucky in June.

Like most fans of the first season of HBO's Westworld, I've been dying for the show to return after a long layoff (the season finale aired in early December 2016, almost 18 months ago). But we're two episodes in and it all feels kind of...meh. Maeve has nowhere near the enthalling power she had all of last season, even before she became self-aware that she was a mechanical construct, and Dolores, who always seemed the most human and empathetic of the hosts, now seems wooden and robotic. They were the two most important hosts, and now they seem like flat, replaceable cogs with no clear sense of mission or vision.

One of the ways showrunners Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy kept us engaged last season was with constant tantalizing hints about the park's past—how it came to be, who controls it, and what its ultimate purpose is—without giving too much away at once. Both of these first two episodes feel like they are all backstory, releasing gushers of information that we the audience had already assumed or guessed at. And while it is nice to have some of this information confirmed, it all feels very prequel-y—it doesn't move us forward with this season and gives little insight into the characters, especially the hosts.

I trust that the creators are setting the stage for some major reveals and big episodes later in the season, but right now, it's all a bit anticlimactic, especially in terms of watching what the hosts have decided to do with their newfound freedom: either killing the guests for sport/revenge, or following their own (boring) quests that seem more like remnants of their narrative programming than actual self-given goals.

Silicon Valley has also returned, although it has six episodes in the books now compared to Westworld's two. It's the fifth season for this show, and while I once considered it to be one of the most brilliant comedies on televsion, the quality has definitely gone downhill.

It's the same old characters (minus the charmingly obnoxious T.J. Miller, who left the show after last season, saying it was creatively spent) going through essentially the same old situations and conflicts with the same old adversaries. I still root for Richard Hendrix and his crew, but it's increasingly feeling like we're just being strung along and not really getting anywhere in terms of character or story development.

I had just about given up on the show, but this week's episode showed the first signs lof life for this season. The Fiona AI subplot was one of the most embarrassing in the history of the series, but that has hopefully been put to bed permanently, and the number of players who could end up on top are more than the standard Gavin/Richard dichotomy. Although it's a little late for the first interesting episode (there are only two episodes left), it would be great to have the show finish strong.

Here's the thing though: even Mike Judge can reclaim some of their former glory with the final few episodes, it's pretty clear that it's time for this show to end. I'm still overall a big fan, I hope everyone involved is already outlining season six as the conclusion to the series, which might be able to rescue it from the ignominious fate being entirely forgotten because it's final years erased the legacy of the brilliant first three seasons.

Earlier this year my office gave everyone passes to the main student cafeteria, a temporary dining hall erected while a new student center is built on the location of the old student center. The old building was known as the DUC (for Dobbs University Center), so the new cafeteria has been affectionately named the DUCling, and Will has always wanted to go. I had actually forgotten about the passes, but when our office admin reminded everyone that the passes expired in mid-May, we decided to go for a family meal.

I forget how fancy student dining halls have gotten—the array of choices for salads, entrees, sides, desserts, and drinks was a little overwhelming. So I sampled quite a bit before settling on a spicy asian-inspired tofu from the vegan station as my main dish. There wasn't a great protein selection—I think if you wanted that, you were expected to go get hot dogs and hamburgers from that fast food station—but other than that, it was a pretty good meal. I have a feeling if I ate here regularly, it would mostly be the salad bar and the veggie side dishes.

Will thought the whole thing was great—he loved the building, he loved sitting at tables surrounded by the students (we even ran into a couple of his friends from the women's basketball team), and he loved the dessert bar. We have a couple of passes left, so we'll try to make one more visit before they expire (and hopefully get a discount on Will's meal if I can't scrounge a third pass from a coworker).

I took it a little bit easy this weekend—work has been a little overwhelming recently, and I have a lot of travel coming up in the next couple of months, so I need to take advantage of downtime while I can—but Julie and Will had a typically busy weekend.

We've started experimenting with an allowance for Will, and as part of that, we're opening his own savings account, so they went and did that in the morning. The afternoon was spent at an annual event where the City of Decatur brings out a lot of its municipal vehicles and lets kids sit in them, climb on them, etc. He's a little older than the average demographic now, but he still loves it.

Saturday was also a trip to the pet store to get a replacement for Go-Go the snail, who lived a short but seemingly happy life in Will's aquarium. The person at the store told Julie that Go-Go's species isn't very hard and doesn't live long no matter how well you take care of them, so rather than go through this trauma every couple of months, Julie picked a hardier (but less pretty) snail as Go-Go's successor. Will has named him Uniforn (no typos in that name—it's not Unicorn or Unihorn or Uniform, it's Uniforn) for reasons that remain unclear to us, and we call him Uni for short.

Sunday was church, Boy Scouts, and a walk to dinner, so pretty typical for a pre-summer Sunday.

I leave on the first of many personal and business trips that I will make over the next two months tomorrow, this one to DC for an annual conference for one of our vendors. I don't expect it to be all that great a conference—this vendor doesn't do a lot of significant annual updates to their platform, and we've been using it for years—but hopefully I'll get to see a little bit of DC and catch up with some of my friends and colleagues from other institutions.

The conference I went to DC was in and of itself pretty average, but I did get to connect with a lot of colleagues in the industry I haven't seen in a while (I pretty much skipped all the conferences last year, so it's been at least two years since I've seen many of them).

But I did get to enjoy a couple of non-Conference DC activities. My first night there, the night before the conference started, there was nothing scheduled and I didn't have any plans, so I took the Metro a few stops up to a movie theater and finally saw Infinity War (more detailed review to come, but it was much better than I expected it to be).

The next night I got picked up at my hotel by a very old friend—we first worked together back in 1997—and we met another friend from that same era for dinner at a trendy prix fixe steakhouse called Medium Rare. The steak was pretty good, but I enjoyed seeing those guys so much—we worked togehter for a couple of years, but we always stayed in touch, and this is the first time I've seen both of them at the same time since I moved to Atlanta.

I got back from DC on Friday night, and while I took it pretty easy on Saturday, Julie and Will spent the afternoon at the end-of-year Scouts picnic. Sunday was Mother's Day, so we started out with our traditional breakfast at Rise-n-Dine in Emory Village before heading over to the Chastain Park Arts Festival.

Instead of searching for parking near the festival itself, we parked at Ponce City Market and then walked on the BeltLine to get down to the neighborhood. It was hot out, but it was a pretty good festival, and we ended up buying a few small pieces. We also enjoyed King of Pops to help cool off (no Pickle Rick though).

We finished off the day with a walk to Farm Burger (Julie's choice, of course), where we sat outside at the same table where we sat the first time we ate there nearly six years ago. It was a nice weekend, especially coming back from travel.

Two more episodes of Westworld have aired since the last time I wrote about the show, and I'm feeling much better about this season now. Both episodes introcuded new ideas, characters, and plotlines, but episode four (the most recent episode) may be one of the best in the history of the series, and it gives us the first glimpse into the real purpose behind the technology of the park (and no, it's not to covertly collect personal data for marketing and/or blackmail purposes).

The revelations in this episode change the entire narrative arc of the show, and leave open some tantalizing possibilities in regards to Bernard and Ford, which will almost certainly be explored in the back half of the season. I continue to be disappointed in the development of Delores and Maeve, who were so consistently strong in the first season, but now that the showrunners have the luxury of plotting beyond the current season, this may partially be a strategy to develop other strong characters who will join Maeve and Delores (and Bernard and the Man in Black/William) as the drivers of the conflict and resolution at the end of the series.

Silicon Valley also aired its final two episodes of this season, and although I still believe season six should be the end of the road for this show, I have hope that they can wrap up Richard Hendrix's and Pied Piper's stories in a satisfying way. The final two episodes don't compare to the best episodes of the series, but they did make it feel like all our rooting for Richard might have been worth it, as bumbling and inept as he could still be this season.

After finishing the book about Saturday Night Live, I started reading Walter Isaacson's biography of Leonardo da Vinci (Isaacson is most famous for his biography of Steve Jobs, someone who he constantly references as a modern-day sort-of-peer to Leonardo). But when I was about a third of the way through that book and feeling a little bored with it, a novel that I had preordered a while back showed up in my queue, so I switched to that one instead.

That book was Martha Wells' Artificial Condition, the second book in her Murderbot Diaries series (the first was surprise hit All Systems Red). The story in this one picks up where All Systems Red left off with our protagonist, a machine-human hybrid with a wicked sense of humor and conflicting desires to be left alone and to unravel the mysteries of his origins.

The novel was good in that it repeated everything I loved about the first one, which was mostly well-drawn action setpieces and the unflinchingly honest and funny point of view of the protagonist, but it didn't really shed that much new light on the world. I did love one of the new characters, an intelligent ship who teams up with our hero who he names ART (Asshole Research Transport), but even though the scenes between the two of them were great, it wasn't enough to overcome the lack of overall development of either the world or the protagonist.

There are two more books in the series due out later this year, so this book is clearly setting the stage for those. And in regards to steering the burgeoning franchise away from the setting of the first novel and onto a bigger stage, the book does an admirable job—I just wish it was more than a transitional work that's attempting to pivot a surprise hit novella into a series.

That's the other thing: I only paid a four bucks for the first one, and that felt about right because of the length. But this book and the two planned sequels, are all priced at $10, so I expected them to be much longer than All Systems Red. But Artificial Condiation isn't, and I'm getting a sinking feeling that all the books in this series will be about the same length. If that's the case, they could all be packaged into one bundle and sold for $12, and they would still be shorter by half than a standalone Neal Stephenson book.

Raising the price to $5 I could have understood, but more than doubling the price for the sequels without adding signficant value in terms of increased quality or quantity feels like I'm being taken advantage of.

I'm leaving on Monday for yet another conference (my second this month), this one to glorious South Bend, Indiana and the campus of Notre Dame University. I'm looking forward to the conference itself, but I don't feel completely recovered from the DC trip, and I've got a lot of travel (both personal and professional coming up between now and July).

I guess I should at least be thankful that Delta having its home base in Atlanta means that there are multiple nonstop flights between here and South Bend, so no chance of missed connections.

Last Saturday I had a work event at the governor's mansion that took up most of the day (I was there from 9-3). I did one shift at this event last year, but even though I was there longer this year (I worked both the Saturday shifts), it was a lot more fun—we got free Chick-fil-A for lunch and I got to pose for a picture with the governor and first lady.

My conference lasted from Monday to Wednesday, and overall it was pretty good. The best parts were the social activities after the formal conference sessions, including a catered dinner in one of the VIP suites overlooking the Notre Dame football field.

For dinner the first night, I ended up doing the second-most Irish thing I've ever done in my life (for the record, the MOST Irish thing I've ever done was see the Pogues play on St. Patrick's Day). I ended up going out with one of the Notre Dame staff members, who is of Irish descent and graduated from and has always worked at Notre Dame, to his favorite Irish pub in South Bend. There was a band playing traditional Irish music, pennywhistle and all, and I had a Guinness and shepherd's pie for dinner. As an extra bonus, the woman sitting to my left was also of Irish descent, from Boston, and actually plays the pennywhistle in an Irish band.

The sessions were pretty good, but I'm going to remember those two evenings and the conversations I had there far longer than I'm going to remember a particular Powerpoint presentation.

Well, second grade is a wrap for my son. Yesterday was the last day of school, and to celebrate, we continued our annual tradition of dinner at the Downwind restaurant at the private Peachtree-DeKalb Airport, where we sat out on the deck and watched the planes land and take off during dinner.

Tomorrow we leave for our annual beach trip to Hilton Head, so no posts for a while. Posts are going to be very sporadic over the next month—in addition to this vacation, we are traveling to our college reunion early in June, and then I have at least one other work trip that will take me out of town for a few days.

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