october 2019

I've been out of town the past couple of days on a work trip (the first of several over the next couple of weeks), and as fun as the Friday trip to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Will was, I was pretty bummed about the Ravens game on Sunday.

They were returning from a close road loss to the only team so far Lamar Jackson has lost to in the regular season (the Chiefs, widely regarded as one of the best teams in the league, who were also playing in their home opener) to start a stretch of division games that would see them play the Browns in Baltimore, the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and then the Bengals back in Baltimore. Coming back home and beating the Browns (a team they've only lost to three times in the past decade, although one of those times was last year) would be a good start to getting a lock on the division early in the season.

It was a close game for the first half (they were tied 10-10 very early in the third quarter), but a quick touchdown from the Browns combined with a fumble from Ingram on the following drive (which the Browns also converted to a touchdown) put them up 24-10. The Ravens were still fighting, though, and they came back with a touchdown and a 2 point conversion, putting them within 6.

But when the Ravens had a chance to stop the Browns on the next driveand get the ball back to take the lead, the defense instead let Nick Chubb break into the second level and run 88 yards for a touchdown that put the game at 30-18. And then Jackson, who hadn't thrown an interception yet in the season (and who usually performs very well under pressure when he's behind) threw interceptions on back to back drives, which eventually led to the final score of 40-25. It was a demoralizing and humiliating loss on their home field, and it puts their record at 2-2, the same as the Browns (who are now technically in first place as they hold the tiebreaker by beating the Ravens).

This makes the next two division games must-wins, even at this early part of the season, and it's never easy to play Pittsburgh at home (no matter how depleted they might be in terms of quality starters), and even though the Bengals look absolutely terrible this season, they always find a way to give us fits.

The Braves are in the playoffs though, and we've got tickets to see them play in Atlanta on Friday night. They have a really fun, young team this year, and I'm really hoping they can find a way to escape the divisional round for the first time in well over a decade, especially because they have home field advantage and will get an extra home game if the series goes to five games.

After The Rescue Artist, I still wasn't quite ready to go back to fiction, so I read Len Fisher's Scientific Discovery from the Brilliant to the Bizarre: The Doctor Who Weighed the Soul, and Other True Tales. It's a charming, if somewhat arbitrary and rambling, excursion through now-esoteric corners of scientific history. These include things like attempts to precisely weigh the soul by weighing a person immediately before and immediately after their death; early experiments with lightning rods; the pursuit of the Philosopher's Stone by alchemists; and attempts to reanimate corpses using electricity.

What this really is, though, is a quirky history of scientific history, told through the stories of some of the scientists and inventors who moved us forward in our understanding of the world. These stories include some of their personal/political struggles (the most famous of which is Galileo's dispute with the Catholic Church about whether we live in a heliocentric solar system), as well as detailed descriptions of their experiments (both successful and unsuccessful), many of which still illustrate and help us understand the modern scientific principals that grew out of these initial glimpses into how the universe works.

The overarching theme (if there is one) is to be found in the final chapter, "Necessary Mysteries". It makes the general point that scientists have to start with observing the world around them, and that often the behavior of that they observe is beyond our intuitive understanding of our senses. This requires the titular necessary mysteries: in order to move our understanding of the world forward, scientists must often accept the proof of their observations over their sense-based intuition and work on the how and the why of the universe's workings after they have proved the what through experimentation and observation.

The book reminds me very much of a class I took as part of my master's program with a Johns Hopkins physics professor named Richard Henry. It was a physics class, but it was meant for people more focused on the humanities and social sciences, so while it took us through the history of physics using math equations, we didn't have to actually do any of that math ourselves. Intertwining Dr. Henry's lectures on how certain key equations came to be developed and proven accurate were snippets of Dr. Henry's own history and personal beliefs, along with the same sort of personal histories of the scientists, philosophers, and mathematicians who originally devised the equations that underlie all of modern physics, and how those beliefs and personal struggles shaped their discoveries.

As a result of this similarity to that class, I quite liked this book, although it's likely better for if you're already into science and have a decent grounding in basic principles of chemistry, biology, and physics. It's part scientific history, part biography (and autobiography), and part a cataloging of the weird.

The Braves game on Friday night was awesome—after the bullpen blew it in game 1, the pitching staff gave us a shutout, including seven brilliant innings from Mike Foltynewicz. The offense got a single run in the first inning, which would turn out to be enough, but they added two more in the seventh for good measure. This was my first in-person Braves playoff game after nearly three decades of fandom, and it was great that I also got to experience this with Will.

The Braves split the St. Louis portion of the series over the weekend, leaving the series tied up 2-2 heading into tonight's final game. Foltynewicz is the starter again, and if we can get another strong performance from him, I like our chances of making it to the next round.

Atlanta United played their final regular season game of the season, beating New England 3-1 and earning the second seed in their conference heading into the playoffs. This guarantees them at least two home playoff matches (assuming they advance, of course), the first one of which will be against the New England team they just beat, who ended up with the seventh seed.

This doesn't feel like the team of destiny that last year's squad did, but they've definitely come on strong in the second half of the season, and anything can happen in the playoffs, especially if they can get lucky and get further home matches past the second round.

Ugh. Not a great outcome for the Braves last night. I'm still excited about what the core of young players can do in the next few years, especially with some of the talent coming up through the minors, but that was a brutal end to an otherwise exciting year for the team. I expect to see them back in the playoffs again regularly, so hopefully this will be one of those learning experiences that will help them progress deeper into the postseason in the future.

After the Braves game on Friday, we spent Saturday visiting my mom, which also turned into a visit to my sister's. I texted her once I knew when we were going to be at my mom's to see if she wanted to have lunch, but she said she was hosting a big UGA party at her house and couldn't get away. So we decided to pick up my mom and hang out at my sister's for lunch.

We left the party before the game was over, and when I left UGA was barely ahead at 20-14 in a game that I had predicted Georgia needed to win by around 30 in order to maintain their #3 rank for the football playoffs. I watched the rest of the game when I got home and it ended up fine—Tennessee would not score again, and UGA kept padding their lead to end up with a final score of 43-14, one point off from my 30 point prediction.

Next week they face South Carolina, who are unranked this year but who habitually give us problems. It's a home game, which will definitely help, but with Florida and Auburn waiting for us later in the season, wins against all of the unranked teams are vital in order to make sure we're still in the playoff hunt.

The Ravens, meanwhile, faced off against arch rivals the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Even though that team is missing some of its key weapons—Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season, Antonio Brown has played for two other teams this season and is currently banned from the NFL, and Le'Veon Bell signed with the Jets in the offseason—they are always a dangerous team, and no side ever comes away with an easy victory.

That was absolutely true of this game, and even though the Ravens ended up with a crucial win (if they had lost, it would have been their third in a row, included their second division game in a row, and would have given them a losing record), it was a hard fought competition. Lamar Jackson not only threw his first interception of the season, he threw three of them, and at the end of the fourth quarter, the two teams were tied at 23.

Pittsburgh won the coin toss, and although teams typically opt to receive the ball first in overtime, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had more faith in his defense than his special teams unit, so he opted to kick instead. Initially it appeared that his gambit had worked: Pittsburgh stopped the Ravens offense and forced a punt, putting their offense on their own 34 yard line.

It looked like they were going to march down field and get in field goal range to win the game when instead, Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey punched the ball out of JuJu Smith-Schuster's arms, giving possession back to Baltimore. This time the Ravens were able to get in Justin Tucker's field goal range, and he hit from the 28 yard line to win the game.

Next week they play the winless Bengals in Baltimore, which is a must-win game because 1) you don't want to lose at home 2) to a winless team 3) in your division 4) before you have an away game against the Seahawks and a home game against the Patriots, two of the best teams in the league.

Last Thursday was a very busy day—I drove down to Columbus in the morning, spent three hours at a college fair, then drove back to Atlanta, arriving back home around 2 in the afternoon. Within an hour we were on the road again, headed up 85 to Durham, the site of our 30th(!!!) high school reunion at NCSSM.

Even if I wasn't already exhausted from my morning down in Columbus and all the driving that entailed, that drive still would have been miserable—85 was incredibly crowded, and it seemed like almost all of it between Atlanta and Charlotte was under construction and had at least one lane closed. Things got better once we got past Charlotte, but it probably also helped that we were well past rush hour at that point.

We didn't do anything on Thursday night—we ate dinner at a Bojangles in Gastonia (one of our worst experiences with that chain, which normally has really good service), and then pretty much went right to bed once we got to the hotel. We didn't have any reunion activities until Friday evening, however, so we spent most of the day over in Raleigh at the North Carolina Museum of Art after breakfast at Monuts on 9th street (which was good but very, very crowded and noisy).

They've made a ton of positive changes to the museum since we were teenagers, including a new exhibit building for the permanent collection, an amphitheater for outdoor performances, and several walking paths that take you to large outdoor art installations. I'd seen most of this when I visited a couple of years ago with my friend Tom, but it was all new to Julie, who hadn't been back since we were in high school or college.

I revisited some of my favorite pieces from my last visit, including one of Yayoi Kusama's Infinity Mirrors boxes and a bonkers impressionist painting by Frederick Carl Frieseke featuring a ridiculous parasol that I'm just as obsessed with as the painter himself clearly was (called, unsurprisingly, "The Garden Parasol"). My beloved Georgia O'Keeffe painting "Cebolla Church" was also back on display—I've loved that painting since the first time I ever saw it, even before I really knew who O'Keeffe was or fell in love with any of her other works, and it was with the conservators and not on display the last time I visited.

We spent a lot of time outdoors as well, walking the paths and looking at the installations. Will especially like the house that was half-buried in a hillside where you could run around on the roof and climb inside via the attic windows. We also walked over to a pedestrian bridge that allows you to walk over an interstate, which Will thought was pretty cool.

After the museum, we went over to Morgan Street Food Hall to have a late lunch. I still think of Raleigh as a sleepy town for older people, but it's picking up a lot of the hipster vibes that have taken over Durham, and this food hall was definitely part of that scene. There were a lot of good choices, but Will settled on a personal woodfired pizza and Julie and I both got sandwiches from a place that served katsu chicken on a bun with asian-style slaws and condiments.

That evening Will and Julie hung out at the hotel and had a movie night while I walked to the bar where our class was having a happy hour. Our hotel was at the end of 9th Street, so a lot of my walk was through Duke's East Campus, but I didn't know the area between that campus and the bar, so part of what I was doing was scouting it out to see if I would feel safe walking back later in the evening or whether I should get a cab or rideshare.

It was again remarkable how much the area has gentrified. Even compared to 10 years ago when we came back for our 20th reunion, there were lots of new mixed use retail/residential developments, and it was all very walkable and safe-feeling. I would have never imagined wanting to live in Durham based on the city I knew when I was in high school, but it seems like it would be a pretty decent place to live now.

One of my classmates had posted that he was doing a pre-happy hour dinner close to the bar, so I decided to go to that even though I didn't know him or any of the other people who had posted they were coming that well. It's been my experience from previous reunions that it doesn't really matter whether you knew the person well 30 years ago; there's something about that shared experience that bonds us for life and makes it easy to strike up a meaningful conversation and feel a rapport with anyone who went through that with us.

That was also the case this evening—there was one person I know decently well (we trade messages on Facebook once a month or so, although he's someone I got to know better long after we graduated), and the rest were people who I knew but hadn't kept in touch with and didn't know that well in school. But it was a great conversation, and I feel a real bond with those folks now—I don't live close to any of them, but they are people I will now proactively reach out to if I'm visiting their town on business travel.

After an hour or so with this dinner group, we walked over to the bar to join the rest of our classmates. Again, those were wonderful interactions, even though they were a bit more limited due to the crowd and the noise. I stayed there for about an hour and a half before walking one of my very close friends back to her Airbnb (she was staying close to East Campus, so it was on my way and made us both feel a little safer on the walk, in addition to giving us some one on one time).

It was a really great day on every front, one of those days I'll remember for the rest of my life. And the reunion hadn't even really started yet.

Saturday was the big day of reunion events. We started the day meeting my friend Regan at Elmo's Diner, which I believe is in the same space that 9th Street Bakery occupied when we were in high school (oddly enough, 9th Street Bakery still seems to exist...but it's no longer located anywhere on 9th Street). We then walked up to campus and did all the reunion activities—watched our class slide show, walked around all the buildings, bought t-shirts at the school store, took our reunion class picture (Will worked his way into that one—he's never met a camera lens he doesn't like), and had lunch on the lawn.

We got separated from Regan and some of our other close friends, but had good conversations with other people we didn't know as well in school but feel that instant connection with now. The big evening event was being held at a steakhouse on 9th street, and even though we had tickets, we opted for a smaller gather with Regan and another close friend, Rebecca, along with our friend Lydia (who was one year behind us) and her husband Dave, who live in Durham.

After dinner, I walked Regan back to her Airbnb on the other side of Duke campus and then walked back to our hotel on 9th Street. We thought about going to an informal breakfast at another classmate's house on Sunday morning, but it was the opposite direction of where we needed to drive and after the brutal drive on Thursday, we wanted to make sure we got back in plenty of time to relax a bit before the workweek started.

It was a really great weekend—I just wish these meetups could last longer, happen more frequently, and were easier for everyone to get to. There were a lot of folks from the northeast and out west who weren't able to make it, and there were often so many people you wanted to talk to that you only got to spend a few minutes with each one. It's hard to believe it's been 30 years since we graduate—that time in my life still seems so bright and clear to me.

UGA suffered a devastating, humiliating loss at home to an unranked conference opponent, losing to South Carolina 20-17 in a double overtime game. It was a very uncharacteristic game for the Bulldogs: not only was it their lowest-scoring game by far, they also saw quarterback Jake Fromm fumble the ball and throw three interceptions (he hadn't thrown any this season before this game) for four turnovers and the normally reliable kicker Rodrigo Blankenship miss two field goals, including one at the end of double overtime that cost them the game.

Every team has a bad game every now and then, but in the hypercompetitive world of college football playoff aspirants, it's better to lose to another ranked team than to an unranked one, and either way it's best when it's a shootout, not a series of blunders and errors that result in a low score. Georgia's season is not over, but they have zero margin for error now and they still have games against two ranked opponents (Florida and Auburn) that they absolutely must win if they want to make it to the SEC championship game and still be in the playoff hunt.

The Ravens had a solid but not mindblowing win in Baltimore against Cincinnati, winning 23-17. The game started badly, with the Bengals returning the kickoff for a touchdown (which hasn't happened to the Ravens since 2011), but they bounced back quickly, scoring their own touchdown on a 6 play, 75 yard drive to even the score. This was followed by another touchdown and a field goal on their next two drives, putting them up 17-7 heading into the half.

They would never trail again, at one point leading 23-10, and the final score made the game seem closer than it was—Cincinnati scored a late touchdown in a two minute drill, but there was so little time remaining when the Ravens got the ball back that all Lamar Jackson had to do was kneel down for the final three plays of the game to run out the clock.

Next week is a road game against Seattle, which will be their first real test since a close loss to the Chiefs in week 3. The result here could set the tone for the season: beat the Seahawks at home and they become legitimate contenders, even with a tough second half that includes the Patriots, the Texans, the Rams, the 49ers, and the Bills, along with three more division games (only one of which will be at home). Going at least 3-2 in those games, winning 2 of 3 in the division matches, and beating the hapless Jets would give them 10 wins, which should be enough to win the division this year.

19. Nearly two decades. Kind of hard to believe.

After Scientific Discovery from the Brilliant to the Bizarre, I stayed in the pop science genre with Simon Winchester's most recent book, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World. The book is pretty much what the title says: a history of how our ability the create greater and greater precision had led to technological and engineering advances that undergird almost every aspect of the modern 21st century world.

Winchester divides the book into era defined by the degree of precision they are able to attain, starting with the 18th century and a tolerance of .1 inches, and ending with the modern day and a tolerance of .00000000000000000000000000000000001 inches. Along the way, he takes us through the inventions that were made possible by increasing precision, from steam engines to clocks to cars to airplane engines to computers, also giving us a history of the cultural impact of these technologies.

It was a great read, and much more accessible to a lay scientific audience than Scientific Discovery from the Brilliant to the Bizarre (although I have deep affection for that book). This is one of those books you can safely recommend to curious people, regardless of their scientific acumen—even if you're not well versed in modern principles of science and engineering, Winchester will give you the basics in the context of the people who originally made the discoveries and/or built the mechanisms that employed new principles in a practical way.

Winchester has written two of my other favorite nonfiction books, The Map that Changed the World (about geologist William Smith, whose would have ramifications far beyond the field of geology—it was his conclusions about the formation that led to the concept of deep time, which in turn became the fertile soil in which the Theory of Evolution was nurtured) and The Meaning of Everything (about the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary). These were two very different books, but what they and the Perfectionists have in common is cataloging the stories of people whose obsessions gave birth to significant projects that changed the course of human history.

I don't know why I haven't read more of his books—he's pretty reliably released a book every couple of years for the past couple of decades—but The Perfectionists is a reminder that not only is he a great writer, but that he also picks fascinating subjects to write about. I definitely need to put a couple of his other works in the queue for the next time I'm on a nonfiction kick.

A couple of days after we got back from our trip to North Carolina, Julie had to leave for a conference in Baltimore, so it was just me and Will for a few days. There was nothing too out of the ordinary besides school and work until Friday night: Wilco was playing in Atlanta, and although I didn't have tickets, it wasn't sold out, so I had been thinking about taking Will to see them. I was hesitating because 1) it was at a venue (Chastain Amphitheatre) that I'd never been to before, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to deal with the parking/traffic (it's located in a residential area with limited on-site official parking) and 2) I didn't know how tired Will and I would be and how much time we'd have to get there after he finished his piano lesson on Friday afternoon.

We were still undecided about two hours before the start of the concert, but when I looked on Stubhub, I noticed that a pair of front row seats had fallen to just $20 above face value, and then shortly thereafter they fell to actual face value. That sealed it for me: I've only ever had front row seats one other time in my life, and I figured Will would really enjoy that unique experience. So I bought the tickets and we headed over to the venue.

Parking wasn't hard at all, probably because we got there relatively early, and we were going to just go in and take a look around the venue except that they wouldn't allow us to exit and leave again. Given that there wasn't that much to do inside, I decided it would be wise to take a walk around the venue, which had a pond and nature trails behind it. When we got to a sitting area for the lake, there was a man sitting on a swing bench and writing in a journal, but I didn't think much of it. Will and I were at the nature station about 30 yards away looking at the nature guide and talking about the odd name of the pond (Hamburger Pond).

We were about to move on with our nature walk when the man got up, and I recognized him as the drummer for Wilco, Glenn Kotche. He was going to walk right past us, and as he did, I asked him if he was with the band (I knew who he was, but I wanted to give him an out in case he didn't feel like chatting). He confirmed that he was, and he was gracious enough to chat with us for a few minutes and take a picture with Will. He told us he also had a nine year old son (my favorite moment from our conversation: he noticed Will holding his balled up coat in his hands instead of wearing it even though it was in the 50s and cooling down, and he said "I live in Chicago and I can't get my son to wear his coat either), and I mentioned how much his drumming style seemed to influence lead singer Jeff Tweedy's son, Spencer, who is developing into a musician songwriter in his own right (Kotche's comment on that: "I'm not sure he had much choice.").

We continued to walk around the park, circling the venue two or three times before we finally went inside. I got Will a personal pan pizza for dinner, and then we went to find our seats just as the opening band, Soccer Mommy, was starting their set. It was a short set, and they played most of the songs I like from their debut album, Clean. It was kind of a quiet crowd, but they did their best to engage.

Wilco came on and played a pretty typical set for them, meaning it was a lot longer than most other bands. They played nearly 30 songs across two and a half hours, mixing most of the tracks from their latest record (which held up really well in the live setting with the rest of their catalog) alongside greatest hits from across their entire career (they played both of my favorite songs of theirs, "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" and "Misunderstood"). Here's the full setlist:

    1. Bright Leaves
    2. Before Us
    3. I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
    4. War on War
    5. One and a Half Stars
    6. Handshake Drugs
    7. At Least That's What You Said
    8. Hummingbird
    9. White Wooden Cross
    10. Via Chicago
    11. Laminated Cat (Loose Fur song)
    12. Random Name Generator
    13. Reservations
    14. We Were Lucky
    15. Love Is Everywhere (Beware)
    16. Impossible Germany
    17. California Stars
    18. Box Full of Letters
    19. Everyone Hides
    20. I'm Always in Love
    21. Theologians
    22. I'm the Man Who Loves You
    23. Hold Me Anyway
    24. Misunderstood


    25. Jesus, Etc.
    26. Red-Eyed and Blue
    27. I Got You (At the End of the Century)
    28. Outtasite (Outta Mind)
    29. I'm a Wheel

We were seated right in front of the bassist, John Stirrat, and the third guitarist/multi-instrumentalist, Pat Sansone. It was interesting how the sound changed when we were hearing more from the personal onstage monitors of the band members rather than the big mix coming out of the main speakers—Pat Sansone's many different instruments and parts were great to hear up close and high in the mix due to our proximity to his monitor (he had a killer banjo solo on "California Stars").

It was a really great show—one of the best I've seen from Wilco, and a great one to have as Will's first experience with the band. Sitting in the front row and meeting Glenn Kotche made it extra special, but this would have been a good experience even if those things hadn't happened, so I was really glad we made the effort to get to this show.

Will stood at the foot of the stage for most of the concert (we make him wear headphones to concerts to preserve his hearing), and as the band was leaving the stage for the last time, Will made a big effort to wave to Glenn. He caught the drummer's eye and Glenn waved back, which Will was thrilled about.

I was trying to get the attention of a roadie to see if I could get a setlist as a final souvenir for Will (I'd already gotten him a t-shirt and poster) when another roadie came up to the edge of the stage and not only handed Will Glenn's copy of the setlist, but also his concert-used pair of drumsticks (which looked like they'd been used for way more than this one show).

That was absolutely mindblowing, and Will was beaming and chattering with excitement all the way to the car. That was a great, unexpected end to an amazing show, and it turned it into a night that neither Will nor I will ever forget. I feel really blessed to be able to experience special moments like these with Will, and I hope they won't stop when he officially hits his teenage years.

I was supposed to go to Atlanta United's playoff game on Saturday afternoon, but I wasn't feeling well (I might have caught something at work, but sitting outside in the relative cold for the Wilco show probably didn't help), so I ended up just watching it on television. Luckily they won, so I'll get to see at least one more home playoff game later this week.

UGA won against Kentucky, which they absolutely needed to and were expected to do, but it was only 21-0, and it should have been much bigger against an unranked foe. They will not only need to win out to have a shot at the playoffs this year, but they may also need to win convincingly against weak opponents. They obviously weren't in danger of posting this game, but neither did they run away with it like they should have.

The Ravens also won, and in a much more convincing fashion than UGA against a much tougher foe. They were battling the playoff-contending Seahawks in Seattle, and most of the pundits picked Seattle to win, both because it was a west coast trip for Baltimore and because they are for whatever reason still not sold on the talents of this offense, particularly quarterback Lamar Jackson.

The teams were tied at 13 each at the end of the first half, but the Ravens offense had only managed two field goals (the other 7 points came from an interception that was returned for a touchdown). The pivotal moment in the game came on the Ravens next scoring opportunity early in the second quarter: they were 3 and 15, and Jackson scrambled for 13 yards to put them firmly in the red zone but 2 short yards away from the first down that would give them a scoring opportunity.

John Harbaugh initially brought the field goal unit out, but called a timeout to discuss it with Jackson. The young QB convinced the coach to go for it on fourth down, and not only did Jackson convert the first down himself, he ran it all the way into the end zone for a touchdown. This put them up 20-13 over the home team, and they would never look back, scoring another 10 points before allowing a garbage time field goal that put the final score at 30-16.

The Ravens have their bye week next week, and it couldn't come at a better time: when they return in two weeks, they will face their biggest test of the season, playing the as-yet unbeaten New England Patriots in Baltimore during prime time. A lot of the goodwill they earned from the commentariat will evaporate if they don't put up a good fight against this team, but a win here would solidify them as an undeniably contender in the AFC. I'm genuinely excited for this game—after seeing what they were able to do to the Seahawks on the road, I'm hoping a homecoming after a week off will give them the edge they need to take down the defending Super Bowl champs.

There is too much good stuff to keep up with on tv. I'm a full season behind The Walking Dead at this point, I've only watched half of the excellent Daredevil series on Netflix, and I haven't started the most recent season of Amazon's The Man in the High Castle, or HBO's Westworld, or finished Amazon's Good Omens. I still haven't started acclaimed series like Stranger Things, The Marvelous Mrs. Masie, Sense8, or any number of other highly recommended shows on streaming services and cable networks.

Now HBO's The Watchmen series has started, with the His Dark Materials series to follow soon after. And then there's Disney+, which will launch early next month with the first live action Star Wars series made so far, The Mandalorian, to be followed in the coming years but other original series set in the Marvel and Star Wars universes.

As cool as it is to have so much good content available and more on the way (did I mention that I've never watched Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black at all?), it's just so overwhelming at this point. I feel like I don't watch an excessive amount of television, but even if I ditch the older series I never had time to get into, I'm still going to struggle to keep up with many of these shows that I genuinely want to see.

As usually happens when I've been out for a bit, this week was stacked up with meetings to the point that a lot of the other work I needed to get done this week was neglected because of all the time I spend in the conference room and on the phone. I had four meetings on Monday, three on Tuesday, four on Wednesday, and a whopping five today.

Next week should be more normal, and I'll need it to be given that I'm at a conference the last four days of the following week and the one day I'm in Atlanta, the entire office will be offsite for our annual reading training retreat (at which I have to give two presentations). That early November trip will be my last work trip until next year, and I'm looking forward to being off the road for a while after how much I've been away this fall.

Atlanta United played its second home playoff game against the Philadelphia Union, and they had a solid 2-0 win to advance to the next round. Even better: Toronto beat top Eastern Division seed NYFC, meaning Atlanta will host the Division Championship match next week.

If they're able to move on from that one, they'll likely have to play LAFC in Los Angeles, which will be a hard game to win (we've already lost to them in Los Angeles this season, and they dominated the league point total this year). But they've got a real chance to make it back to the finals, and if they're able to make it to that game, anything can happen.

Another busy weekend. Friday was the culmination of a couple of weeks of work from Will—out of nowhere he decided to run for his elementary school's version of student council, which you can only run for when you reach fourth grade. Fourth graders can only run for junior officer or secretary, and he chose to run for junior officer, where he was running against eight other students from across the fourth grade classes. He had to make a poster and write a speech, and he did a great job with those.

Friday was election day, and all the students running had to give their speeches in front of the whole school immediately before voting (only third through fifth graders are allowed to vote). At the end of the day, they announced the winners over the intercom, and he won! He was so excited, and he can't wait for the first official meeting in a couple of weeks.

Our original plan on Saturday was to take Will and one of his friends, Erica, to a corn maze, but it was rainy and miserable outside, so we made a last-minute change and took them to the Center for Puppetry Arts instead to see a show called The Headless Horseman or Sleepy Silly Hollow, a humorous take on the Washington Irving story.

They enjoyed that well enough, but what they really liked was our lunch afterward: a sushi place in Doraville called Kula, where the sushi comes by on a conveyor belt and you grab what you want as it goes by. You pay a flat rate per plate, and when you're done with a plate, you put it in a slot and a computer keeps track of how many your table has taken. Every time you put in five plates, you get a special short cartoon on the screen; after 15 plates, a toy rolls down from a vending machine with a little Japanese toy.

The kids loved the cartoons and the toys, of course (they were nice enough to give us an extra toy so they each got one; even though the plates were very small, typically 2-4 pieces of a sushi roll, there was no way the four of us were going to go through 30 plates), and the sushi itself wasn't bad. The thing that killed me was that Will and Erica were selecting a lot of rice-heavy or otherwise cheap dishes (cucumber roll, rice dumpling, edamame), so we were paying $2.25 per plate even though the ingredients for those dishes probably cost a couple of cents.

We dropped Erica off late in the afternoon and then drove out to my mom's house to take her to dinner. She's definitely improving in her walking, but she's a long way from being able to drive or really take care of herself, and she's got to have at least two more surgeries in the next six months. We took her out to a local barbecue place, and even though none of us ate much after the sushi lunch, it was good to get her out of the house and give her some leftovers for the rest of the weekend.

Sunday was pretty quiet, but it feels like we packed a whole week's worth of activities into Saturday, so it was nice to have a day without many responsibilities or activities.

I saw Joker last night, the first time in a long time that I've gone out on a weeknight to see a movie late in the evening by myself. I had to stop doing that about a year ago when my vision was poor enough that I decided not to drive at night anymore; it took another six months after that to get diagnosed with early onset cataracts and then to schedule and have separate surgery dates on each of my eyes.

I have no love for Todd Phillips' oeuvre (and I feel like using the word oeuvre elevates his collection of directorial efforts to a higher level than they deserve), but Joaquin Phoenix is one of my favorite actors—with the exception of M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, his performances can make mediocre movies more watchable and make good movies great. His performance in The Master, where he often shares the screen with Philip Seymour Hoffman, is mesmerizing—even though he engages in over-the-top method acting techniques that can sometimes be more distracting than helpful to the character, he wields them to great effect, and his dedication to his craft is obvious.

I still don't know how I feel about this movie, but seeing it by myself late at night in a mostly empty theater was the right way to have this experience. I will give credit to Phillips and his art direction team—every detail in the movie serves to bring you deeper into this alternate universe that feels like its set sometime in the immediate aftermath of Taxi Driver in a harsh, gritty NYC (Google tells me it is set in 1981, so that scans). It's a world that is as much a character in the film as Joker himself, and as much a driver of Arthur Fleck's descent into madness and violence as are his family history and mental illness.

Spoilers ahead: Aside from Phoenix's riveting performance, the element that gives this movie real depth is the realization (which different people will reach at different times) that much of what we're seeing is a mental illness-induced hallucination from Arthur Fleck's brain, and that he only occasionally realized himself (in hindsight) that a memory he experienced as a real event was just a fantasy.

He is completely unable to distinguish between things that actually happened and things he imagined, and since the story takes place from his point of view, then neither are we as the audience. There's nothing in this film that definitively happens, and any attempt to sort out the "real" scenes from the hallucinations is going in end up with almost every event being potentially part of either category, depending on your view of Fleck.

I will want to watch this film again at some point, but I want to let it marinate for a while. Even though there are no big action set pieces in this one—it's a very intimate, almost claustrophobic character-driven story—I think seeing it on the small screen will diminish some of its power, so I will try to see it before it leaves theaters and heads for streaming services.

But if you can put aside Phillips' history as a director and experience it with no external baggage clouding your interpretation, it's a film that's well worth seeing. It doesn't necessary make Fleck and the Joker character into a sympathetic character—if you believe that anything in the movie goes beyond interior hallucination, he's still a violent, dangerous sociopath—but it does speak to the altered world that people with mental disabilities, even those not as severe and untreated as Fleck's, live in, and how their perceptions make navigating the world exponentially more difficult.

Last night we had another trivia night at Thinking Man in Decatur, and it was our best night so far on a number of measures: we not only won first place again (another $50!), but we also broke 100 points for the first time and obviously had our highest point total ever. Out of a possible 124 total points, we got 116, missing only three 1-point questions and declining to answer one 5-point bonus question (a calculated risk to ensure that we fell no lower than second place going into the final bonus round).

One thing I love about the trivia host at this bar is that during the five minute window you have to submit your team's answer, he tends to play songs that have an twisted, esoteric connection to the right answer, one that doesn't give it away but one that can confirm that you are correct if you can make the connection between the song and the answer. A typical one from last night: he played Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising" when the answer was the movie An American Werewolf in London. My favorite from last night, however, was far more obscure: Love and Rocket's "So Alive" when the answer was Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Telltale Heart".

I've got so many friends who have joined us for a session or two that I'm now having to get away from a mass group invite and be a little more selective—if I automatically invited everyone who had participated at least once, there would be some nights when we'd be too big for the biggest table. Plus once you get above five or six people, you don't get a chance to talk to everyone, and that's really the true motivator for getting together.

But it's cool that this has turned into a semi-regular thing, especially now that we've won a couple of times. For me, that completely takes the pressure off—I'm still competitive, but I don't feel the need to win every time knowing that we've done it before.

Atlanta United has played their last game of the season, and they will not repeat as champions. It was a heartbreaking loss, especially given how the game started and given that, had they won, they would have once again hosted the championship game in Atlanta after Seattle knocked off LAFC, the only team in the west with a better regular season point total than Atlanta.

Atlanta could have won this game, and should have won this game. They were playing at home, and they scored their first goal four minutes into the match. They came tantalizingly close to going up 2-0 a few minutes later when they were awarded a penalty kick, but star Josef Martinez uncharacteristically did not convert, and Toronto tied up the game with their first goal a few minutes later.

Toronto's second and game-winning goal didn't come until near the end of regular time, and it's a goal that should not have happened. The Toronto player made a great shot, but there were three United players in the vicinity that all seemed to give up on defense simultaneously, creating the tiny window in which to make the shot. Atlanta also dominated time of possession, another factor that typically leads to a positive outcome.

All in all it was a great season though, especially given the loss of both star Miguel Almiron and our head coach Tata Martinez and the rough start the team got off to with their replacements, Pity Martinez and Frank de Boer. But they really seemed to gel in the second half of the season, and it seemed like their path to the cup was unstoppable, especially with other teams taking out their two biggest threats, LAFC and NYFC.

There will inevitably be changes in the offseason, but the coach should stay, and hopefully our offensive core will remain intact as well. There's no reason this team shouldn't be competitive for years to come, especially if we can keep attracting and developing stars and crowds at Mercedes Benz continue to give us a serious home field advantage.

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