june 2018

We had a pretty good trip to the beach this year. The weather wasn't perfect, but we got down to the ocean to swim most mornings. In the afternoons and evenings, we did a lot of the things we've done in past years, including trips to favorite restaurants, mini golf, a trip to a lighthouse that's about an hour away, lunch at the Salty Dog, and a visit to the local fake lighthouse that was built as the centerpiece for a golf course.

I still enjoy Hilton Head, but I feel like we've exhausted all the activities there and I don't have that sense of exploration or newness that I had when we first started going five years ago. I know I'll get serious pushback from Will for this suggestion, but I'd like to consider going to a different beach next year, possibly down on the Gulf Coast instead of the Atlantic.

I'm sure with a year or two off, I'd appreciate a return to Hilton Head, but right now it feels a lot more rote than fun, and a new venue might get me excited about our annual beach trip again.

We got back from the beach on Saturday, and that night we all went to see Altanta United play Philadelphia Union. It was the first time we've been to a game as a family (one of the guys I share a block of season tickets with was out of town, so he gave me his two tickets for Will and Julie), and as usual, Will had a ball.

We got there early so we could have dinner before the game, and we tried Kevin Gillespie's Gamechanger kiosk at the far end of the second level. I got the smoked cheese steak sandwich, while Julie and Will both tried the C.osed on Sunday chicken sandwich (which is a version of the Chick-fil-A signature sandwich made with smoked chicken), and we all split an order of the sour cream and onion crinkle cut fries. It was all really good, and even though it's one of the most expensive places in Mercedes Benz, it was still pretty affordable.

The game itself was great—Philly got two red cards within the first 20 minutes, and Atlanta cruised to a 3-1 victory (although if they had had better luck, they could have easily had twice that goal total, because they were constantly getting shots on goal).

This is a month of crazy travel for me, and even though we just got back from a week at the beach, we're headed out again tomorrow for a trip up to NC for our 25th(!) college reunion. Until we get to July, I won't be in the office for more than three days any given week, and this is the last leisure trip for me—the rest are for business (and this is coming on the heels of two business trips in May).

I still don't travel nearly as much as the counseling staff members—this year will likely be my biggest year for travel yet, and I'll still only be away about four weeks compared to the eight or so that is typical for them—but this many trips packed this close together is a little unusual for me.

Our reunion didn't officially start until Friday, but we got into town on Thursday night so we could walk around the campus and the surrounding small town before the hordes descended. Will is really great to travel with—he loves exploring new things, and he doesn't mind at all walking around with us while we reminisce about the old days with people he's never met. Maybe he'll feel differently when he's a preteen the next time we have a reunion, but he had a great time on this trip (especially the radio station tour).

I know some people who have never gone to their high school or oollege reunions, but it's a really special experience, even for someone like me who was a pretty big introvert those years and didn't have a whole lot of friends. My best friend from college has never attended (I haven't seen him in over 20 years now even though we lived together for a year after we graduated), and only one of my roommates from my time there has ever come (and he happens to live less than two miles away from me in Atlanta, so I see him regularly anyway).

I spent a lot of time this one talking to people I barely knew when we were students together, or catching up with people I barely knew before our last reunion but have since stayed in touch with, and it's so amazing how the experience we shared together, even if we didn't explictly share it at the time, really creates a bond. For me, that's because it changed us all in the same way—there are very strong cultural values on our campus, and we all carried them forward with us in our personal and professional lives.

It's fascinating to hear all the stories from people about how that place and the people there—our professors and our classmates—influenced so strongly who we became, and the choices we made about how to live our lives. It's such a beautiful thing, and I'm so grateful to have ended up there.

The day we got back from our reunion (Sunday), we had another big event: we took Will to see his first live rock concert. We've been looking for the right combination of artist/venue/timing for a year or so, and we finally found it when I was able to get reserved seats at the Tabernacle to see Belle and Sebastian.

We've seen this band several times before, including a couple of times at that venue since we moved to Atlanta, and we knew it would be a good fit for Will's first concert—upbeat folk rock that's not too loud with a band that has good audience interaction. We let Will listen to a playlist of their songs on the way to and from the reunion, and he picked out a few favorites, notably "I'm A Cuckoo" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses".

Our seats were at the far left balcony, just above the stage, which was perfect: Will had a great view to look right down on all the musicians, but we were slightly behind the main speakers, so it wasn't too loud (we had Will wear some headphones anyway just to be sure). He was so excited, and he loved every minute of it: looking around the venue, seeing all the gear on stage, the music and the performance itself, the lights and videos. He was just so happy the entire time we were there.

Before the show, I tweeted to the band that we were taking our son to his first concert, and told them his two favorite songs. Stuart Murdoch, the main songwriter and singer, liked the tweet, so I was hopeful we'd get to hear at least one of them, but they actually played both! Not only that, during one of the last songs of the main set, Stuart actually came up to the balcony to our row and sang only a few feet away from us. And on his way back down to the stage, he walked over to Will and gave him a high five! It was amazing, and Will couldn't have been more thrilled (although we now need to temper his expectations of what to expect at a concert—he had his once-in-a-lifetime experience at his first show when he was seven).

I definitely want to to this again with him sometime, and I already have tickets for Rufus Wainwright performing in the symphony hall in December if we don't see another show before then. There aren't a lot of things that seven year old Will and seven year old me have in common (he doesn't like Legos or Star Wars, two things that were the center of my universe at that age), and only a few more things the he and I have in common currently. But he really loves music, and I have a feeling that this will be the first in a lifetime of concerts for him. Hopefully we'll get to share more than a few of those together.

I had another conference that took me out of town at the end of last week, but I got back on Friday evening in time for Father's Day weekend activities. We started off with another treat for Will, though—a surprise viewing of the Incredibles 2 on its opening weekend.

I got the tickets for this several weeks ago, but after I got them, my boss asked me to attend this conference in his place, so the timing ended up being pretty tight. My flight landed around 3:30, and the tickets were for 6, so I barely had time to get home (through building rush hour traffic), change clothes, and get to the theater (through the heaviest rush hour traffic). Will's been wanting to see this movie for months, though, and Julie had convinced him that we couldn't get tickets opening weekend because I wasn't going to be home in time. So it was a great surprise for him, and he really loved the movie (and so did we).

I had a work event that took up most of my Saturday afternoon, but on Sunday for Father's Day we went back to Sweetwater Creek State Park to go geocaching. We hadn't been to that park or gone geocaching in a while, and we must have all mentally been on the same page, because Will lobbied hard to get me a new handheld GPS unit for Father's Day (we had one from back in the late 90s, but it wasn't nearly as useful as the newer ones).

Will ended up using the unit more than I did—I was copiloting with him using the geocaching app on my phone—but that worked out pretty well. We hiked for a few hours and found three or four geocaches, and generally had a pretty good day. We ended by walking to our favorite japanese restaurant in Emory Village for dinner.

My conference last week was pretty good but a little overwhelming. Pretty much everyone else there was a dean or a VP, but I think I did a pretty good job representing my institution, and I made some great networking connections as well.

The conference itself was at a fairly posh resort on Amelia Island, about an hour from Jacksonville, and aside from the first day (where I got on an airplane around 7:30 and didn't really have a break until after 9:00 that night), there was a lot of time built in for free time. On Thursday afternoon after the morning sessions, I rested for a little bit, caught up on email, and then went for a run before joining the rest of the group for pre-dinner cocktails by the pool. We had dinner (and drinks) together as a group both nights, and although I was one of the first people to call it a night both evenings, I didn't get back to my room until 8 or 10.

What I liked about this conference compared to some of the other ones I've been to recently is that it wasn't just people from the college side of admission—the vast majority of the time we also spent with high school counselors to get a better understanding of their world and to give them a peek into ours. Everyone was really great, and I came away with some good insights and a lot of new professional acquaintances.

Only two more work trips to go before July, the next one next Tuesday. Almost through this crazy month of travel.

It's been a while since I've written about movies and books, so I'm going to get caught up on those the next couple of days. If my timing had worked out right, I would be writing about Yoon Ha Lee's Machineries of Empire trilogy (composed of the novels Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun), but the final book in the series wasn't published until June 12, and I finished the first two books much faster than I anticipated.

So while I waited for Revenant Gun to be published, I read a standalone novel called The Punch Escrow, the debut from Tal M. Klein, and another trilogy called The Themis Files by Sylvain Neuvel. I started with Punch Escrow because I was hoping that would be enough to bridge the gap while I waited for Revenant Gun's publication date, but it was a very quick read, so I moved on to the Themis Files to make sure by the time I finished that trilogy, Revenant Gun would be available.

The basic premise of Punch Escrow is that the world of transportation centers around the new technology of teleportation, which is now the primary way people and cargo move around the world. But there's a dark secret behind the tech, which is revealed as our protagonist (who is married to one of the top researchers at the highly secretive company that is the sole provider of teleporters) is caught in an act of industrial sabotage.

It's a very readable novel, and it's no surprise to me that the film rights have been purchased and a movie is currenlty in development, but it sufferes from a lot of common issues you see from contemporary sci fi writers early in their career. Sometimes the writing is just bad, the characters aren't well developed (especially the female ones), and once the big reveal happens, the book devolves into a series of action set pieces that wouldn't be out of place in any generic spy thriller. I guess I would recommend this—I don't regret reading it—but it's not a great book.

The Themis Files, which is composed of the individual books Sleeping Giants, Waking Gods, and Only Human, starts off strong, but runs out of steam by the third book (another common problem in contemporary sci fi and fantasy, where any book with even a hint of success seems to always be stretched out into a trilogy even if it wasn't orginally intended to be one). The titular Themis refers to a giant robot/mech weapon that was left on Earth by aliens thousands of years ago, and the series is about the ramifications of that discovery for our culture and global geopolitical structure.

I love the format of the books, which is told in a documentary/epistolary style where we're reading through transcripts of video and audio clips, interviews with some of the principle players (which in the first two novels are primarily conducted by a secretive government operative), and personal journal entries. The first novel, Sleeping Giants, deals mainly with the discovery of the robot and the trial and error process to learn how it functions, and it's my favorite of the bunch (but then, world building and origin stories are always the easiest part of an extended narrative like this one).

The second, Waking Gods, is almost as good and is mostly concerned with the first contact events with the aliens who left Themis behind thousands of years ago. Unfortunately, this book also kills off a few of the lynchpin characters, and through a combination of that and having much of the third book, Only Human, take place on an alien planet, we lose a lot of the magic that makes the first two books work so well.

It's still presented in an epistolary format through the experiences of several different characters, but it reads a lot more like a traditional novel, because there's A LOT of exposition. There's not as many formal interviews, but a lot more diary entries that feel like they are for the benefit of the reader and not truly what a character would put into a journal entry for themselves. And the convesations tend to drift into long musings about the nature of humanity, etc., and although some of this is insightful commentary that's very appropriate for our current political situation in the US, it doesn't really move the plot forward or give us any real insight into the characters.

It was still a pretty good trilogy (and it's no surprise that this one is also in development at a movie studio), I just wish it had stopped after two or the third one had felt more vital to the overall narrative.

I haven't been able to see many movies recently—I haven't been out to the theater because of my travel schedule, and I just haven't had much time to catch up on recorded or streaming movies when I've been at home. I still need to see both Deadpool 2 and Solo, but I did manage to catch Avengers: Infinity War in the theater (I went to see a late night showing while I was at a conference in DC) and watch War for the Planet of the Apes at home.

I did not have high hopes for Avengers: Infinity War, because it was being directed by the brothers who made Captain America: Civil War. Because it needed to include not only include all the Avengers who were featured in Civil War (including relatively recent additions to that world like Scarlet Witch, Ant Man, Black Panther, and Vision) and Spider-Man, but also everyone else in the MCU (including the whole Guardians of the Galaxy gang, Dr. Strange, several occasional adversaries, and related characters from some of the standalone films), it had the potential to compound the problems from Civil War: not enough character development, and too many threads to keep track of to form a coherent, watchable narrative.

But despite my lowered expectations, it was surprisingly good. There was a lot of shifting around between the different groups, but since they were all fighting the same bad guy instead of one another, I didn't have as much trouble remembering who was on which side, and the filmmakers did a pretty good job of pacing the film so that it was always building towards the climax but it rarely felt rushed or confusing. I'm actually looking forward to Avengers 4 now, and I'm somewhat optimistic that this incredible experient that they've conducted using the MCU to bridge together dozens of characters across over 20 films to create a single overarching story will end up with a satisfying conclusion.

I was less invested in the conclusion to Matt Reeves Planet of the Apes trilogy, but I did want to see how it ended up despite being less than thrilled with the second installment. And it was okay, but in an era where we've had lots of post-apocalyptic content (like Walking Dead) that preaches to us about how humanity's greatest enemy/threat is humanity itself, this didn't really have anything new to say.

Here's a good test for any Planet of the Apes film: could you have told that particular story with humans instead of apes, meaning that it's just another story of tribal conflict and war? And if you could, would it have been a good movie, or were the use of apes a novelty meant to distract you from a weak narrative? For the first movie in this trilogy, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, I think the answer to the first question would have been a no, meaning the fact that Caesar was an ape was integral to that story. But for Dawn and War, the answer is a yes, and the follow up answer to second question, these movies would not have gotten made if all the characters were humans.

Julie is taking Will on a trip out of town, and I'm going to take a few days to get recentered at home before I finish my month of travel with my last two trips next week. So no posts for a bit.

Julie and Will got back yesterday, and I accomplished approximatley nothing during their absence, other than keeping the cats and the fish alive. I took a couple of days off work while they were away and enjoyed a long weekend of having no schedule, no responsibilities, and nothing I had to do. I intended to go out and see a couple of movies, but I didn't even end up mustering the focus for those tasks. And I'm very okay with that.

I leave tomorrow for the first of two trips this week, this one a one day trip to NYC where I will fly in in the morning, have a meeting in the afternoon, and fly back at night. Then the next morning I'm back at the airport for a three day trip to Chicago for a conference. I'll get back on Friday evening, and I don't have another trip scheduled until August, so I fully intend to enjoy my month of being home in July.

december 2018
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october 2018
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august 2018
july 2018
june 2018
may 2018
april 2018
march 2018
february 2018
january 2018

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