april 2019

For Will's spring break this year (and our main vacation), we found a really good deal on a cruise (Will's fare was free) that left out of Port Canaveral. And because that's not far from Orlando, Will also got a bonus day at Disney after I was able to find a cheap room for a couple of nights at one of the Disney properties.

We drove down on Saturday and got there late enough that all we had time to do was unpack, find dinner (on the property), and get to sleep so we could get up early. We debated quite a bit about which park to go to (we visited all four parks during Will's first visit last fall, and we all had a different favorite), but we ended up settling on Animal Kingdom because it had the widest variety of activities—cool rides (like the Avatar one and the Everest roller coaster), lots of shows, decent food, and the live animal safari.

Even though we made the decision after the 60 day window for Fast Pass selection opened up, we still got passes to all the rides we wanted to prioritize because the day we bought our tickets, they decided to extend the park hours from 7:00 to 10:00. That meant we were able to get fast passes for Avatar (end of day) and the safari (near sundown). We also went straight to the Avatar ride when the gates opened and were able to start the day with that one after a relatively short wait.

We stayed until pretty late, and I was completely exhausted. We were able to sleep in a little bit, but we still got on the road by 10 so we could be at the port and boarding our ship at noon.

Check in was pretty easy, and we were underway by 2:00 in the afternoon. Will was fascinated by a Disney cruise ship that was leaving from the port at around the same time, which also must have been going to the same port for their first stop, because Will kept on spotting it on the horizon through the next day.

Our first full day on the boat was a day at sea, so we explored the ship. We got very, very luck with our table placement this cruise - Julie and I have always ended up on the interior, far from a sea view, in our previous cruises, but the three of us got seated at a four person table right next to a window that had a great view of the sunset every night. Our waitress also LOVED Will—he would always order two soups and a pasta for his dinner, but she would bring him extra appetizers and entrees to try, and always brought him at least two desserts.

The big thing we did on the day at sea was take a galley tour, where they walk you through the various food prep stations and tell you about the operational side of preparing so many meals each day. Will thought that was pretty cool, and was especially interested in the baking area and the dessert station. When we encountered the head chef and got to shake his hand later in the cruise, Will acted like he was meeting a rock star.

Our first stop was in Nassau, where a ton of other cruise ships were docked. We were on a relatively old ship (20+ years) that was in the bottom quarter in terms of Royal Caribbean ship sizes, so we were dwarfed on either side by two much newer ships (one from Royal Caribbean and one from Norwegian).

There was also a massive yacht parked in the non-commercial part of the docks, and when we looked it up online, it turned out to belong to Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys. That's my sister's favorite team, so we took a picture for her (we did the best we could, but the damn thing was so big that it wouldn't fit fully in the frame).

Nassau itself wasn't so great—it was dirty, crowded, noisy, and didn't feel completely safe, especially if you ventured beyond the obviously touristy area. We didn't have to find stuff to do in the port for very long, though—we had booked a shore excursion to take a boat ride out to a reef and go snorkeling. It was Will's first time, but he got the hang of it pretty quickly, and we had a great time swimming for a couple of hours before we had to head back.

On the way back, the driver recited a litany of famous owners of the houses we were passing on the shore, including Tiger Woods, Johnny Depp, J.K. Rowling, and many, many others. Once we got back to the docks, there wasn't much time before the ship would be departing, so we went straight back aboard and had a quick nap before dinner.

After dinner, we noticed a sign for a magician performing that evening, so we went early and got seats near the front. This turned out to be one of Will's favorite parts of the trip even though he didn't get called up on stage (he desperately wanted to). The magician was British, and he did a lot of sleight of hand with cards, but he also had a pretty cool trick where he made a signed card appear in a sealed wine bottle full of wine and another where he solved Rubik's cubes by appearing to just wave them around with one hand.

The second (and final) port of call was Royal Caribbean's private island, CocoCay. It also happened to be my birthday, so Julie had arranged for a private cabana on the beach that also included a generous spread of grilled food, sides, and desserts for lunch.

The weather was pretty cold (for the Caribbean) and also very windy, so it wasn't until after noon that they okayed snorkeling. The water was relatively cold, but when we were cleared, we went snorkeling for an hour or so. I spent the rest of the time reading and napping in the cabana, while Julie and Will went and explored the island a little bit. They were in the midst of major construction project, so there was a lot of stuff that was inaccessible, but Will still had a great time.

After we got back to the ship, I was relaxing on the balcony before dinner when I overheard the person in the cabin next to us talking on his cell phone on his own balcony. I wasn't really paying attention, but then I realized that he had a British accent and was talking about how his performances had gone. It turned out to be the magician from the night before, so I called Will out so he could hear for himself. He spent the rest of the cruise (less than one day, granted) plotting ways to have an excuse to knock on his door or hoping to bump into him in the hallway, but that was as close as we got.

On Friday we got back to port in the morning and were back in our car on the way home by 10. We didn't get back too late—traffic was decent—but we were exhausted and ready for a couple of days of downtime before we had to get back to the real world of work and school. Will can't wait to go again, though—he even told us he'd pick another cruise over a week at Disney!

My most recent read was a near-future sci fi book called Infinite Detail. It's mostly centered on a Bristol (UK) neighborhood that made a stand against the internet, turning off the outside world of connected devices and living in a pre-network society. This turns out to be a major advantage when the global network crashes, throwing societies across the globe into chaos. Since this is near-future, automation/AI and device interconnectedness have become so embedded in systems from food distribution to transportation that most places revert to a early industrial level of technology.

The writing was pretty good, with some evocative imagery and descriptions, but my main complaint with the book is that the big reveal wasn't all that exciting—it's one of those things that's easily guessed at, and even if it's actually a surprise to you when you finally learn the truth, it's deflating in its mundanity. There was a better way to tell this story and serve these characters, and it's a shame that we only get hints of that book in this one.

It was a great study in the dangers of our current societal/technological trends, however—everything was very plausible, and it wouldn't surprise me if the pre-crash world is the one we're living in 20 years from now. There's actually a manifesto from a technological terrorist that we get the full text of about halfway through the book, and I'm actually surprised that document hasn't gotten more press and been distributed more widely in discussion groups, because it also is a prophetic document that we could be referencing years from now.

It makes several points about our current engagement with technology (and our engagement with each other through that technology) that are well-informed, insightful, and which, if we were to heed its lessons, could become a blueprint to head off the future world in which these characters live. That portion alone is one that I have read more than once, and one that I will return to whenever I want to ruminate on all the flaws in our current version of the internet, which has strayed so far from the original vision when it was dreamt up (and built) by scientists, researchers, and other academics.

Overall I would recommend this book, even though I was disappointed that it set itself up as a mystery and the solve just wasn't that compelling. It gives the author some expanded time to build his character profiles, because the real-time timeframe for the book is a pretty small window, but I still feel like a different structure could have served the story better. But if you're at all interested in the impacts of our current technological trends on our current and future society, it's full of thought-provoking ideas that should make you question just how much you let technology into your life given the current lack of accountability and the near-total ownership by powerful multinational corporate entities.

Last Thursday night Julie discovered that Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker frontman David Lowery was playing a solo show at Eddie's Attic on Friday night, so we bought a table near the stage that seated four. To round out me, Julie, and Will, we invited one of our neighbors whose been with us to concerts before.

Lowery is now a professor in the business school at UGA who lectures about the music industry, and his current main gig had a surprising influence on this show: before each song, in addition to telling a little story about when/where/how it was recorded and what it was about, he also had Powerpoint slides to illustrate some of the places he was talking about. They were just on a laptop that he had sitting next to him on stage, but it's a pretty intimate venue, so most people could see a bit of it even though it wasn't projected onto a screen.

He didn't play much from the part of his catalog that I know well, but it was still a great little show and a perfect way to unwind after the workweek with a beer. Will had a blast too—he went up to talk to Lowery after the show while he was breaking down his gear, and Lowery was pretty receptive to his chattiness. Since he lives in Athens, he apparently does these shows a couple of times a year, and we'll definitely be in attendance for the next one.

The first episode of the final season of Game of Thrones premiered on Sunday night, and given the high expectations fans have after years of buildup, I found it...a little lacking. I know there are a ton of threads to pull together in just six episodes, and the show moved several pieces into place (getting characters to Winterfell for a presumed climactic battle with the Night King and his army), but I didn't feel like there was a lot of real movement in terms of both character development and plot advancement.

I've been rewatching the show with my wife (who has not seen the show or read the books), and there were some nice callbacks that I probably wouldn't have noticed if I wasn't currently watching the early seasons. I also recognize that many of the early seasons also started off slowly to let the characters (and viewers) get their sea legs back. But the other seasons also had a lot more episodes to work with, and in that respect it felt like we could have moved forward more in this episode.

The Ravens released their schedule for the 2019 season, and although there are a couple of annoying bits, it's actually surprising balanced, especially compared to some recent years. Although we start the season off on the road, it's in Miami, who we've usually played pretty well against (out of the 8 matchups in the last decade, the Ravens have won 7 of them, and the last two have been blowout wins where they were ahead by more the 30 points). And for the entire season, we alternate a home game with an away game, meaning that we never have an extended period where we're away from the home field and training facilities.

We're still playing in what's expected to be one of the most competitive divisions in football, the AFC North, which means we'll play the always-in-contention Steelers and the rising Browns twice, and we also have games against probably playoff teams Kansas City, Seattle, New England, and the LA Chargers (who knocked us out of the playoffs last year). But all in all its about as decent a schedule as we could hope for. In addition to the perfectly balanced home/away split, we also have our bye week in the middle of the season during week 8 (which also happens to be the week before we host the Patriots in Baltimore).

Every year my alma mater, Davidson College, promotes a week of service among all their alumni chapters, and this year it happened to fall the week after we got back from our cruise (in fact, the first event was Saturday morning after we had arrived back home just the night before). I'm one of three coordinators for the Atlanta area, and we each took on an event to make sure we had a full slate of activities/opportunities for alums in the area.

Saturday morning was a cleanup project at the historic Oakland Cemetery, and all three of us attended. Julie and I focused on cleaning up weeds on three or four neglected plots (including one that, interestingly enough, belongs to the family of a local radio personality who has a show about gardening) while Will hung out with the other kids and presumably contributed somehow.

Wednesday night Will and I went to a local men's shelter where we had a project a few years ago (one of our alums is on the governance board there). Most people were doing yard work, but they saved the washing of the van for Will and another boy. I supervised (and did most of the real work), but they enjoyed spraying off the suds once I'd scrubbed it down.

I was supposed to go to another event on last Saturday with HouseProud (another group we've worked with in the past), but I wasn't feeling well. The event was still well-attended though, so we're considering the week a big success.

I recently finished reading The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders, who used to be an editor at geek pop culture site io9. I read her first book, All the Birds in the Sky, and despite an interesting premise (a near-future mashup of technology and magic), I was disappointed with the execution—the characters weren't as memorable or well-drawn as I had hoped, and the plot was a bit pedestrian.

City in the Middle of the Night is set in the far future on a colony planet with an orbit around its sun that is similar to our moon's around us: the same side always faces the sun, meaning half of the planet is boiling hot and the other side is freezing cold. Humans exist in a narrow band of perpetual twilight in the shadow of two mountains that help moderate the sunlight.

In addition to the humans, there are native species that are assumed by humans to be non-sentient animals, but when one of our protagonists is exiled, she is saved by one and slowly grows to understand their language and society. These were the parts of the book I enjoyed the most: the slow reveal of this alien culture combined with their unique perspective and ways of interacting with the world due to their non-human anatomy (they're essentially giant bugs).

The parts I didn't like: the multiple, overwrought internal monologues from the main protagonist as she laments her unsteady relationship with her best friend, and the quick acceleration of the climax towards the end after a long, slow build up. I would have preferred that the pacing was a little more even, and we got to spend more time savoring the climax before the end. And while the book hasn't officially been announced as the first book in a series, it sure felt like it was setting up a sequel.

But overall I enjoyed this book—it was a real step forward for the author in terms of the plot construction and the writing itself, and I think her career has a real chance to live up to the early hype if she continues her upward trajectory.

On Saturday night Julie and I went to see the Church (who most people in the US remember from their late 80s hit song "Under the Milky Way") at Terminal West. This marks the third time I've seen them in the last ten years, and as usual it was a pretty good show. They were technically touring to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Starfish (the album that includes "Under the Milky Way"), and they played that record in full. (Interestingly, one of the other times I saw them they also played that record in full, so I've now seen that record played in its entirety twice.)

Our Saturday night outing to see the Church was only one small part of a very busy weekend. On Friday night we took Will to the Tabernacle to see a magician named Michael Carbonaro, who has a show called The Carbonaro Effect on TruTV that filmed its first two seasons in Atlanta. Will watches the show religiously, so we surprised him with tickets a couple of months ago, included a special hologram pass for his personal ticket that he wore around proudly on a lanyard all night.

It was a good peformance, and it was an experience that tied in nicely with a book I've been reading about contemporary magic called Magic Is Dead (although Carbonaro himself is not mentioned in the book, it gives an overview of the history of magic and some of the more popular magic tricks as well, and it was fun to see some of those show up as part of his show). We bought Will a t-shirt and a signed deck of a deck of cards designed by Carbonaro (something my book told me that all well known magicians do these days—release decks of cards they have designed as an extra source of revenue).

After the show was over, Will saw the downtown ferris wheel from one of the upstairs exit doors and asked if we could go on a ride. We told him only if the line was short, assuming that it wouldn't be, but when we got down there, there was no line. So we bought our tickets and we were on the ferris wheel within 10 minutes. And I'm glad he got us to do that—we hadn't done that in a while, and we'd never done it at night, and it was a cool way to end the evening.

Sunday was Easter, and in addition to our normal church attendance, we also spent the afternoon having Easter dinner with a man and his partner that Julie has gotten to know over the past several months through church activities. He is a former chef, so the meal was excellent, but it was also fun to get to know some new folks, and also to see how two older, fairly taciturn men dealt with having an exuberant 8 year old running around their house and yard.

The second episode of the final season of Game of Thrones aired on Sunday, and it was more of the same from the first episode: gathering characters together at Winterfell in preparation for a massive battle with the Night King. I liked this one better than the first one, though—there were a lot of nice moments between the characters, including the knighting of Brienne which gives the episode its title.

The only real false note in an otherwise well-written and well-paced episode was the encounter between Arya and Gentry. Not only did it seem forced and unnecessary, it was just creepy—despite the character's age or the real-life age of Masie Williams, I (and most fans) still think of her as being in her mid-teens, especially because she hasn't physically changed that much in the past few years despite the actress actually being in her early 20s.

It doesn't seem like they can delay the epic battle any longer: all the necessary characters are in place, and the Night King's army has arrived at the gates. What will be interesting to see is how many more of the very few episodes that remain (4) will be consumed by this battle, and how long they'll be able to spend on the aftermath.

Surgery tomorrow, so I'll be out of commission for a few days. Hopefully I'll have positive things to report next week.

So...last Wednesday I had my first cataract surgery on left (and weaker) eye. I was a nervous wreck for weeks leading up to the procedure (I haven't had surgery since I was very young, and as a result of those procedures, I have this visceral, lizard-brain fear of everything medical—even the smell of a medical office sends bolts of fear running through my nervous system).

It went about as well as I could have hoped. Even though I had to wait for about an hour after going back to the prep area before I actually had my surgery, they gave me a sedative that made the time go faster. And the procedure itself was near-perfect: I remember being wheeled back to the laser room and my doctor telling me that I would see a bright light for about 3-4 minutes, I remember it feeling like that lasted about five seconds, and then I don't really remember anything else until being back home and sitting on the couch. I don't know what they gave me, but I'm going to tell the anesthesiologist next time to do whatever this guy did.

I was able to get the bandage off my eye the next morning, and I'm in a very weird place right now: my stronger eye (the one that I primarily rely on because I have monocular vision and my eyes don't work well together) still has a cataract, but my weaker eye sees things so much more clearly. I actually need to wear a patch on my right eye (the one that has not had surgery yet) to block out any signal so my brain is forced to use the eye that has been fixed, and I ordered a pirate-themed one from Amazon for just that purpose.

My second surgery is two weeks after the first one, and although I'm still nervous about it, I at least know that one of my eyes will be usable post-surgery, which was a huge stressor for me—if I lose my vision, I lose my job, my favorite hobbies, and my independence. And if the operation experience is similar to last time, I will be much calmer in the hours leading up to my appointment.

All right, so the third episode of Game of Thrones season 8. You have undoubtedly encountered all the comments on the internet complaining about the darkness, and they aren't wrong. There were times (many times stretching for many minutes) that the show was unwatchable and you couldn't really tell what was going on. I know they were trying to make it chaotic and dark to mimic how people in a battle would experience it, but it was chaotic to the point where you didn't know if they were just bad at writing/cinematography or whether they were making intentional artistic decisions.

Lyanna, Arya, and Theon all had their big moments (along with Jorah, Beric, and Melisandre), but Lyanna was by far the most badass. She one of the few characters at this point in the series that hasn't done anything irredeemable stupid/weak/wrongheaded, and I wish we had gotten to see more of her in the series, because every time she's been onscreen she has stolen the show.

It looks like they've wrapped up the confrontation with the Night King's army now, which feels a little anticlimactic given 1) how long we've been building to this and 2) how little we actually know about the Night King's goals/philosophy/origins. He's a big bad without a real backstory, and it's harder to get invested in his motivations without knowing more about what's in his head. But at least this still gives us half the season to head back to King's Landing and resolve the central question of the show: who will sit on the Iron Throne?

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