june 2019

Will didn't have a camp the week of Memorial Day, so Julie and I traded off working from home so we wouldn't have to worry about a babysitter. On Wednesday he had a special day out of the house though: we won Vet for the Day at his school auction earlier this year, where a kid gets to spend the day shadowing a veterinarian at our vet's office, and last Wednesday was the day got to do that.

He had a ball—our main vet was the one who spent the most time with him, and he got to help with exams, look in the microscope, and feed a rescue chipmunk named Chippie who lives in the office. He also had his first swim meet, went to a movie with Julie, and hung out with grandma. And on Friday after I got home from work, he got a bee in his bonnet about going bowling, so we went on the spur of the moment late in the afternoon, which was pretty fun.

The big weekend activity was a trip to see Atlanta United on Saturday night. One of my season ticket buddies who has two tickets was out of town on vacation with his family, so he gave me both his tickets for Julie and Will. We got there early and waited for the team to arrive; Will was right at the front of the rope thanks to a nice gentleman who let Will stand in front of him, and Will got high fives from most of the team, including Guzan and Josef Martinez.

We had our standard chicken sandwiches from Kevin Gillespie's Gamechanger (they're like Chick-fil-A sliders, and they are winkingly named Closed On Sunday sandwiches), and this time I also tried one of the alcoholic slushies with lemon juice and white whiskey (which I think is just moonshine?). That was pretty fantastic, and very dangerous because it was so tart that you hardly noticed the alcohol.

They ended up winning 2-0, and it was the best they've looked in a home match this season, and it gave them their first number one divisional standing this season They get a break from league play for the next few weeks, but hopefully they don't lose the momentum they've gathered the last few games and they can go into the second half of the season on an upswing.

We have now entered summer camp season, and Will's calendar is as full as it always is. He starts with circus camp this week (which he's done twice before, although he usually does it later in the summer), then school camp (which is basically day care, but it's cheap), a week with the grandparents where he'll go to sailing camp for half a day the entire week, cooking camp, drumming camp(!), two weeks of theater camp (where they'll finish by putting on a performance of Mary Poppins), and art camp.

The week before school will be "mommy camp", where Julie takes the week off and does fun stuff with him every day. I'll also take a day off one of those days so we can take him to Six Flags, a trip that we missed last year because we were going to Disney in October, but one that we've done all the other years leading up to a new school year.

And on top of all of this, he has swim team (multiple practices a week and one meet per week until late June), piano lessons, and weekly evening music sessions where he gets to learn about different instruments. I don't know how he does it, but this is actually just about the right amount of activity to keep pace with his energy level.

I don't have turnover on my team very often—I think my office is a pretty good place to work, and I take my time with the hiring process until I find the right person—but last year someone who worked for me for five years announced he was moving on and I began the search for his replacement.

I don't know if I've ever hired anyone for a high-skill position (in this case, a data analyst/data scientist) in less than three months unless I already had a candidate in mind that I'd already worked with, but when we got about five months into this posting, I hadn't interviewed any strong candidates and only had a couple of dozens resumes to look at.

Part of that is because of the industry I'm in—higher ed functions in a non-profit space where salaries are typically lower than equivalent positions in the corporate market. The tradeoff is that there's usually a much better work/life balance and sometimes better benefits. This often means we get folks in the back half of their careers (which is usually a plus—they're more experienced and typically more mature about workplace behavior and expectations), because money isn't their primary driver anymore and we pay them enough to maintain their current lifestyle.

A few years ago, the salary gap was not significant enough to make the corporate jobs the clear winners among job seekers. But in the past couple of years, as Atlanta has continued to grow and technology positions that required advanced programming and statistical skills have become even more coveted by the corporate world, the resumes that I've seen for positions requiring those skillsets have gotten progressively worse. Our salary ranges are no longer remotely competitive with the local corporate jobs, and even if people want a more balanced, flexible position, the lure of big dollars is difficult for many to resist.

But then I got lucky: an analyst for another department in the university who we've worked with frequently over the past couple of years was looking for a change of pace in terms of the work he was doing and the office culture, and he reached out to me to talk about the possibility of coming to work for us. I loved him and was very excited when he threw his hat in the ring, but there were still issues to work out (salary and maintaining our relationship with the office he worked for at the time).

It took about three months from the first time he approached me until his formal start date, but we eventually were able to figure out all the complexities and make him a competitive offer. He's a great hire not just because he's incredibly skilled or because we know him and we know that his demeanor and personality will be a good fit for our office culture, but also because my other data person is relatively young and wasn't well-mentored by the person who left last year. He'll be a great person to guide her in her career growth in addition to expanding her skills.

I'm pretty happy to have that whole process behind me, and I'm looking forward to what I hope are a few years more of stability from that part of my team.

I recently finished reading Children of Ruin by Adrian Tchaikovsky, a sort-of sequel to his previous book, Children of Time. It's a sort-of sequel because, while it builds on the ant/human/spider society that was in its nascent stages at the close of the previous book, he also goes back in time to another planet where an Earth-based species (in this case, squids) whose intelligence was artificially accelerated by a genetically engineered virus.

Tchaikovsky does as good a job of describing the squids' development and the unique characteristics of their intelligence and the resulting society—his writing is rich and descriptive without being overwhelmingly flowery. He also introduces a new, entire alien species of single-called organisms that function as a parasitic collective that contains the entire history and memories of every member of the species.

By the end of the book, we've gotten inside the head of at least five different intelligences: multiple instances of an AI/human hybrid that runs on ant-based computers; humans; spiders; squids, and the alien colony organism. It sounds complicated, and I guess it is, but Tchaikovsky does a great job of building on the work of the first novel by introducing the two new species (squid and alien) before bringing them together with the species from the previous book (ant-based AI, spider, and human).

This might be the better of the two books, but the first is very, very good, and it would be inadvisable to start this one without knowing the events of the first. Technically the stories stand apart, but knowing the human/spider history helps put those characters into context a lot faster than if you were reading this book cold.

Hopefully Tchaikovsky (who before these books was primarily a fantasy writer) stays in the sci fi genre going forward. I'd love to see a return to this series, but I'd also love to see him do another world-building book in a new universe.

Will had circus camp this week (his third year doing this one), and as usual it culminated with a performance by all the kids. Last year he went with his friend Zach and they did the triple trapeze together with another kid; this year he did the same thing, but this time he did it with two other friends who were attending with him, Abigail and Erica.

My sister brought my mom to the show, so he had a big cheering section: us, two grandmothers (Julie's mom came too), and an aunt and uncle. He was really excited to see everyone, and even more excited because after that he was going to go back home with Gabby and spend the weekend at her house. It's our anniversary tomorrow, so that works out well to allow us to go out to a nice dinner and have a kid-free weekend.

Will was off to my mom's house for the weekend so we could celebrate our anniversary on Saturday without worrying about a babysitter, etc. We went out on Saturday morning to go shopping for Julie—she almost never buys new casual clothes for herself, and she was in desperate need of new shorts and shirts that were both in fashion and not so worn and faded. She was resistant, but she's been wearing some of her purchases for the last couple of days, and I think she recognizes that it was time for an update.

On Saturday night we went to dinner at The Farmhouse at Serenbe, which was the first restaurant in the Atlanta area to embrace the farm-to-table concept. Serenbe is a planned community that emphasizes community and the arts that began in the early 2000s, and in addition to the Farmhouse it also features an outdoor theater stage the hosts productions for much of the summer. The food was about as good as I remember having in Atlanta, and we had a great table for two by a window.

It was a nice weekend together, and it was a little bit of a preview of our trip next week—we're going to drop Will off at my parents' house in NC and the fly up to Chicago to have a mini-vacation (combined with a conference I have in the city). It's weird to think about not having our entire social/activities calendar centered around Will (and that won't happen for a long time still), but it's nice to be reminded now and then of what our life together was like before him and what it will be again after he goes off to college.

We picked Will up on Sunday afternoon with plans to go out to dinner with my mom and my sister, but when we arrived, all the doors and windows to my mom's house were open and there was smoke lingering in the air. It turned out that my mom had let Will and a little girl who lives across the street light a fire in her fireplace, despite the fact that Will has no real experience around fire (especially inside a house) and she hasn't had the chimney cleaned since she moved in despite the fact that the previous tenants used it heavily and there's obviously a lot of soot buildup.

The main reason for the smoke, however, is because no one thought to open the flue (the kids probably weren't aware and my mom just didn't think of it). And despite the excessive amount of smoke, my mom allowed them to re-light the fire a second time when the first one went out.

I try not to be too much of a helicopter/lawnmower parent, but Will's the type of kid who often looks before he leaps and whenever he's doing something remotely risky, we try to make sure he understands the dangers and how to deal with things if something goes wrong. And even in a fireplace, lighting a fire in a house definitely has dangers that he needs to be prepared for. As I said to my mom (who is still mostly wheelchair-bound), if the fire was to get out of control, she can't save him and he can't save her. If the house burns down, there's a real possibility that at least one of them dies.

I was already pretty angry about this, especially after Will told me that at one point when they were "playing" (his words) with the fire, my mom went back to her bedroom to lie down and they were completely unsupervised. But what really set me off is that when I confronted my mom about her poor decision-making, she defiantly argued back that nothing bad happened, so there was no reason for me to be upset.

See, the whole point of this weekend was for my mom to demonstrate that we could trust her to watch out for Will on her own. This weekend was supposed to be my mom on her best behavior, and yet we drive up to a house that's pouring smoke from every opening. We know that she cares about Will and we know he loves spending time with her, but with her health issues, she's simply not physically capable of picking him up and carrying outside, and can barely get herself out the door. So we wanted this weekend to a demonstration that she knew her limits and would avoid anything that had a serious risk of harm to her or to Will.

It's too bad it had to end that way, because otherwise he had a really great time. She had thought of a lot of fun things to do with him (like letting him plant a jalapeño plant in one of the garden beds on the side of the house), and I know they both want to do it again. But's going to take a while for us to be able to trust my mom solo again, and we're going to have to have some very explicit ground rules before we're going to be comfortable leaving her as the only adult in the room for a whole weekend.

I've been regularly meeting a small group of friends at various pubs in Decatur for a couple of hours of drinks and conversation for the past few years, and one of our favorite places is Thinking Man in Decatur. We used to meet on Thursdays, but one time last year Tuesday worked better, and when we arrived at our typical time of 8:30, a trivia night was in full swing.

We weren't interested in playing for real that night, but we couldn't help but pay attention: the questions were spaced out so that there was at least five minutes between each one (leaving plenty of time for conversation), and we knew a lot of the answers. I suggested that we come and play for real sometime, which most people were interested in, but then we went on a long hiatus leading into the holidays and the new year.

It took a while, but last night I finally pulled a group together that could get there early enough to be there for the start of the contest: my neighbor Clint; my former college roommate Jonathan; a colleague a my institution, John, another colleague, Justin; and a friend I met because our kids were in preschool together, David. There was no entry fee, and the prizes were a $50 gift certificate to the bar for first, $25 for second, and $15 for third. There were also prizes for funniest wrong answer (a selection of candy) and best team name (a bottle of wine).

We actually did pretty well, winning third place and a $15 gift certificate that we'll use to pay for apps for the table next time. And I'm really, really hoping there will be a next time, and soon: not only did the trivia get my competitive juices flowing, it was also great conversation with my friends, some of which was sparked by the debates over the question. It was a terrific night, and it was just a bonus that we won something.

Tomorrow we drive to North Carolina, where we will spend the weekend at my parents' house before heading to the Raleigh airport on Monday morning to fly to Chicago. I have a conference there, but I was able to pay for a plane ticket for Julie with my frequent flier miles and pay for the non-conference nights we'll be there with hotel points.

We'll spend five days there while Will stays with my parents; he'll do stuff with them in the morning (and probably with my sister and his young cousin) and go to sailing camp in the afternoon. This will be the first time he's done an extended stay away from home without us, and this will be the first time Julie's been able to come with me to a conference since before Will was born.

I think everyone's going to have a fun week—I love Chicago, and even though Will is a little apprehensive about staying solo away from home, I think he's more excited than anxious.

We got back from our trip to NC/Chicago on Saturday, and as much as I enjoyed spending some time in my hometown and in Chicago, I'm glad to be back home.

The Friday before last we drove up to Wilmington, where my parents and my sister still live, arriving in time for dinner. We went to a local diner-type place that specializes in seafood, and then afterward we went to the yacht club where Will was going to take sailing lessons to walk on the beach for a few minutes and look at the sailboats. Saturday we chilled at the house, aside from a trip to Salt Works, which has the best hot dogs in the world and which we must visit every time we're in Wilmington. Saturday night was dinner with my sister and her family—we went to a korean restaurant where we went for my birthday last year.

Sunday was Father's Day, and it's probably the first time I've been with my father on that day since I was a teenager. We went to church in the morning at a little chapel in a garden not too far from the house (it's an offshoot of our main church downtown that only operates in the warmer months), and then to lunch at the club. Julie and Will and I spent the afternoon exploring the newly hipsterized riverwalk downtown (which was fun but it was very hot with no clouds in the sky) before returning home for a cookout with my sister's family.

It was a nice weekend, and good way to transition Will to being without us—he was already used to be around my parents and the routines of their house, and he was feeling a lot better about us leaving.

On the Monday of our NC/Chicago trip, Julie and I left my parents' house in the morning to catch our flight out of Raleigh around noon, arriving in Chicago early afternoon. I normally don't mind taking the El when I'm in Chicago, but it's a long ride from O'Hare down to McCormick place, and we wanted to have time to check in, have a little downtime, and change clothes before dinner.

For dinner we met our friends Brad and Sarah, who we met playing an MMO about 15 years ago (they are married now, and both of them have lived in Chicago their whole lives, but they actually became friends and then a couple in real life after getting to know each other in the game). Sarah was actually attending a separate conference at McCormick Place, so we met her after the final session of the day (a concert by Yo Yo Ma) and took the El to meet Brad.

They took us to Roister, a slightly more casual take on fine dining that's part of Grant Achatz's Alinea restaurant group. Brad and Sarah took me there a couple of years ago when I was in town, and it was pretty amazing. This time we were seated upstairs, but the food was just as good as I remember it, especially the signature Chicken and Chamomile, where the chicken is braised, poached, and then fried. It's some of the most amazing and distinctive fried chicken I've ever had.

Afterwards we went around the corner to the Aviary bar (part of the same restaurant group), but this time, instead of staying upstairs for the ridiculously complicated craft cocktails, Brad had gotten a spot at the Office, a semi-secret speakeasy-type bar downstairs that is behind an unlabeled and locked door downstairs near the restrooms. We had classic cocktails and shareable desserts, and closed with an exquisite one-bite pasta dish called the Black Truffle Explosion that I also had during my last visit to the Aviary).

Tuesday was our first full day in Chicago, and our only one without some conference activities, so we made the most of it. We walked along the lakefront from McCormick Place (near Soldier Field) to the Art Institute, and we spent several hours visiting the multitude of highlights in the permanent collection along with the special Manet exhibit. I can never get enough of that place, but that was my longest visit in well over a decade, and I left pretty satisfied.

For lunch we walked over to a food hall a few blocks from the Art Institute, where I got a bowl of spicy ramen that was excellent. We went back to the museum after lunch before walking down to the riverfront around 5 for our next activity, an architecture river cruise.

I'd been hearing good things about these cruises for years, but I'd never had the time to take one, and Julie was definitely interested. We did ours with the official architecture society of Chicago, and it was pretty amazing. It lasted about an hour and a half, and it was not only a history of different styles of architecture in Chicago, but also really a history of the city. It helped that it was nice weather too—it was the only day we saw the sun during our trip.

We capped off the evening with dinner at Star of Siam, a thai restaurant which was the first place I ever tried thai food. I try to go back there every time I'm in Chicago, and I try to taste something new each time. This time it was the fried tofu (which was easily the best fried tofu I've ever had) and a green curry dish with beef and eggplant. The curry dish had great flavors, but the eggplant was woefully undercooked (it was almost raw), and that diminished the greatness of what could have ended up one of my favorite meals there if it had been executed properly.

On our third day in Chicago, I made a pilgrimage of sorts. For many years now, I've been collecting vinyl art toys produced by companies like Kidrobot. The peak for this collecting community came around 2008, and when the economy collapsed, many storefronts and manufacturers couldn't make it through the lean times, and the hobby never really recovered. It still has a passionate community, but it's very much a niche space right now (whereas in 2008 it was on the verge of going mainstream—Urban Outfitters was a major retail partner). Since the hobby contracted, there have only been two brick and mortar storefronts that have been able to stay open: myplasticheart in NYC and Rotofugi in Chicago.

I've always wanted to visit—the owner not only sells pop culture items, but also hosts art showings on a regular basis, and he's always been very friendly over email—but it's farther north away from where I typically stay when I'm in town for a conference. But we found some time and decided to make the trip.

The weather wasn't great—we ended up having to purchase two umbrellas that day since we hadn't thought to pack any—but the store was only a few blocks from a train stop and we found it pretty easily. Unfortunately the owner, Kirby, wasn't in that day—apparently he and his wife moved to Iowa when she got cancer, and he has stayed there after her passing and only comes in a day or two each week. It was still cool to see the store in person, and I bought a few souvenir items for myself and Will.

For lunch we return to the food hall near the Art Institute, and also spent some time wandering around Millennium Park that afternoon. We eventually walked across the bridget to the Miracle Mile to visit the Lego store and get a gift for Will, but on the way we stumbled upon the Nutella Cafe, a thing that I did not know existed prior to walking past it. It was getting chilly and windy, so we stopped in for a few minutes to split a banana and Nutella crepe and a hot chocolate.

For dinner that night, we went to Giordano's, a local Chicago franchise that serves the city's signature deep dish pizza. There was a bit of a wait (they don't take reservations), so we wandered into a nearby corporate building and hung out in the lobby to escape the weather while we waited. It takes at least half an hour to make the pizza, so they actually took our order when we were put on the wait list, so it was only a few minutes between when we were seated and when our food arrived. It was a good pizza, but we split a small and we still had leftovers to take back to the hotel.

Thursday was mostly conference stuff (Julie went and did an architecture walking tour since she had enjoyed the river cruise tour so much), but that evening we met up with Brad and Sarah again to see a Cubs game. Sarah has season tickets (and once-in-a-lifetime gift to herself), so we bought seats on a resale site to join them. We met at a bar down the street from Wrigley for drinks beforehand, and then walked to the park just before the game started.

It had been over 20 years since my last trip to Wrigley, and for such an old park, it was surprisingly updated and efficient. We also had great seats, about 15 rows back from the field between home plate and the Cubs dugout. I'm not nearly as big a fan of baseball as I was in the 90s (the last time I saw a game at Wrigley), but it was a fun night out, and it was good to end our last night in Chicago hanging out with Brad and Sarah.

On Friday afternoon we flew back to North Carolina (after several delays at O'Hare) and then drove back to Wilmington that night. We didn't get home in time for dinner with the family, but we did get to see Will before he fell asleep, and he caught us up quickly on the fun week he had with my parents—in addition to sailing camp every afternoon, they also took him to a local garden, arranged for him to spend the morning with his uncle in a woodworking shop, and took him to see Toy Story 4.

We left on Saturday morning after my dad fixed his signature waffles for breakfast (he uses club soda when mixing the batter to make them extra fluffy) and spent pretty much all of that day driving. Sunday was spent just getting used to being home and getting ready for the return to real life—jobs for us, and camp (cooking camp in this case) for Will. It was a really fun week, both in Chicago and NC, but I was really happy to get home, and especially happy to know that I don't have any other travel planning until later this fall.

While we were traveling, I started reading a book that I randomly stumbled across online called The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR by Brian Tuohy. It detailed the influence of gambling on the major American sports, and even went into speculation about how some of the biggest events in each sport may have been fixed not only as part of a moneymaking enterprise with illicit gambling operations, but also to drive up ratings and fandom.

It had a lot of solid facts, but there was also A LOT of speculation that veered into conspiracy theory territory—easy to believe if you want to believe it, but harder to believe if you start to think about the number of people who would need to keep their mouths shut in order for the secret to stay a secret. More compelling were stories about corruption among referees/umpires and point-shaving scandals where the better team still won, but didn't win by enough to cover the spread. There was better data for this speculation, and since it could be limited to a small number of corrupt individuals (not whole teams or leagues), it was much more believable.

The book was published about a decade ago, so examples only went through 2009. I found it entertaining enough that I also decided to read the recently published sequel, The Fix Is Still In: Corruption and Conspiracies the Pro Sports Leagues Don't Want You To Know About. This book wasn't as good as the first for two main reasons: first, it rebased A LOT from the first book (there were times when I was certain I was reading the same passages or blocks of pages from the first book, especially when he was talking about the NFL), and second, because the new stuff focused on sports I'm not that interested in (boxing) or sports that are too young for us to really know what the culture is and how likely stories of corruption might be (esports).

If I knew then what I know now, I'd still recommend one of these books, but I'd only read one of them. It should probably be the second one—it covers a greater variety of sports, it has more recent incidents, and most of the good stuff from the first book is at the very least recapped (if not thoroughly rehashed) in the second book.

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