january 2021

We didn't do any traveling for Christmas or New Year's, so we tried to do other Christmas-y stuff that didn't involve visiting people. We put Will on Zoom with the grandparents when he opened each of their gifts, and we saw the local grandparents (Julie's mom and my mom) and my sister within a few days after Christmas, but on Christmas eve and Christmas day, we just stayed home, watched Christmas movies, and ate at home.

One of the things we did prior to Christmas was surprise Will with a trip to World of Illumination, a drive-thru light show that they set up in the parking lot of Six Flags White Water, a water park owned by Six Flags that's nowhere near the main Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park. It was candy-themed, and as you drove through slowly the light patterns moved in sync with songs on a radio station you could tune in to while you were on the property. It was very crowded, and it took a while for us to snake through the line to get to the actual attraction, but once we did it was pretty cool.

We also took Will to see another movie at Phipps Plaza where we rented out the entire theater for $99. It was a little less pleasant this time—they didn't have our preordered food ready this time, and there was a big crowd of people (family and friends) who were there to see a movie together, and several of them weren't wearing masks. But once we got into our private theater, everything was fine. This time we saw Arthur Christmas, which none of us remembered having watched before but which had some parts that seemed very familiar. It wasn't too bad—it will definitely go into our rotation of watchable Christmas movies.

We usually go out to my sister's house for dinner on Christmas day, but since we couldn't do that, we instead ordered a Chinese Christmas dinner from our favorite locally-owned Chines place. It came with spicy eggplant, sticky rice, string beans, spicy fried potatoes, kimchi, dumplings, and sichuan spiced rack of lamb. It was all really good, but the lamb was so, so good, with a sauce that used whole sichuan peppercorns that numbed your tongue when you encountered one. We'll hopefully be back to our normal Christmas traditions next year, but this might become our new Christmas eve meal going forward.

Another big election day. I think the best case outcome is that the very likable Warnock beats the deeply unlikable Loeffler, but  it's hard for me to see to Perdue, who reads as a benign country uncle to many people and who has family ties to popular former governor Sonny Perdue, losing to Ossoff, who is less charismatic and is very young (and also reads as very young). Unfortunately, there are still a lot of voters who still make their decisions based on these criteria, which will help the Dems in one race but likely hurt them in the other.

I'm going to the polls to vote of Warnock and Ossoff, but with the Senate at stake, the GOP has switched its messaging in the last couple of weeks to focus on retaining at least one seat to have a counter for the Dems' control of the White House and the House of Representatives, there will be enough split ballots with Warnock and Perdue for Dems to just miss taking back control of the Senate.

I don't think Trump's undermining of the election and in particular our governor and secretary of state (both diehard Republicans, by the way) is going to keep Republicans from showing up at the polls, and as encouraging as Biden's win is for the future of national races in Georgia and as good a job as the Dems have done with voter registration (both before the general election and since then), it still feels like Perdue will be able to eke out a win even if Warnock wins his race. But it would be a nice way to start 2021 to be wrong about that.

This should be a day of celebration: both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, a black preacher and a very young Jewish man, have been declared the winners over multimillionaire Trump bootlickers David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, giving control of the Senate to the Democrats for at least two years and cementing Georgia's newly blue status after the state also voted for Biden in the presidential race.

But instead we are watching a literally assault on our democracy, once that has interrupted Congress while they were in the midst of the final bureaucratic step to making Biden the official president-elect, one that appears to have also caused extensive property damage and likely has led to many serious injuries and maybe worse. And as of this writing, we don't know when it will be over and if this group of seditious rioters will succeed in (temporarily) preventing the Electoral College votes from being certified by Congress today.

Make no mistake: this is 100% Trump's doing. And not just because he riled this crowd up this morning and told them to march on the Capitol and stop the certification process, but because of the months of lies he's pushed about the illegitimacy of the election. His inability to accept that he lost a second term, a loss that has been affirmed time and time again by the state boards of elections, state and federal courts, and Trump's own Department of Justice, has led him to spread misinformation that is taken as gospel truth by his diehard base and set the stage for them to feel emboldened to try to steal the election from the voters with violence and destruction.

I still can't believe what happened yesterday, and it's something that we will and should be processing as a nation for a long time to come. There are many different ways that Trump and his regime reminded us just how fragile our democracy is, and how much each generation, each voting cycle, is going to have to work to protect it, but yesterday is the closest we've come to seeing our union unravel since the Civil War. And it's all due to one demagogue who took advantage of decades of misinformation, propaganda, and the cultivation of anger, ignorance, and fear of non-white people over the last few decades.

Many in the GOP will disavow Trump and his actions (although I suspect it will be many fewer than should) and claim that Trump is not the GOP, but Trump represents everything the GOP wanted from a candidate to force a minority rule that will become more and more untenable in the face of our nation's changing demographics. And even the ones who walk back from him now—despite tolerating and even supporting him for the entirety of the last four years and who, at best, did not contradict his lies about the election that were the impetus for the Capitol riot—will only do so for as long as it appears he is no longer useful to them or vital to their desperate attempts to cling onto power.

They have created a monster that they cannot control or really even understand, and that monster is now supported by tens of millions of people. Worse still, even if Trump himself vanishes from the political scene, he has left a roadmap for another like him to follow in his footsteps. In the months ahead, many of those who participated in the violence at the Capitol, violence that was intended to overthrow our government, will be identified and brought to justice, some on very serious charges. But even when that process is complete, this fight is far from over; continuing this bold democratic experiment will require us to remain vigilant and active in the political process, particularly around voting rights and voting access.

Because what's clear now, and what will likely become clearer in the coming weeks and months, is that the curretn incarnation of the GOP would rather sacrifice our constitutional values than give up power, and without substantial change in their party's identity, goals, and policies, their power will quickly vanish, especially in any national election. Without a substantial purging and reformation of the current party, both in the leadership and in the rank and file supporters, there is no future for the GOP unless they toss aside our system of government and create a despotic state with a would-be king/dictator, a role that Trump desperately tried to make reality.

I've been reading Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton over the past couple of months, which has been incredibly illuminating and relevant to these turbulent times. It's as much a story of the founding of our nation, both the personalities that shaped our founding documents and ideas and of the founders themselves, as it is of Hamilton specifically. It's incredible how, from the very beginning, before we had even become a nation with the world's first democracy, the men who fought for our freedom from Britain and the thinkers who used their expertise in philosophy, politics, government, and finance (and there was remarkable overlap between many of the fighters and the thinkers) were concerned about what would happened to our fragile and novel experiment if someone like Trump were to appear and claim the presidency.

Many of the checks and balances that were developed in the constitution and the subsequent federal laws based on that revolutionary document were put in place specifically so that, if a populist demagogue who was more concerned with his personal enrichment and the accumulation of power with an eye towards creating a hereditary American monarchy (sound familiar?), there would be very clear mechanisms for the curtailing of his power and even his removal from office.

On the surface, those checks and balances are more than adequate to achieve those goals, but the fatal flaw of the founders, as we have discovered over the past four years, is that they did not anticipate that a substantial portion of the other two branches of government would be complicit in the unchecked greed and centralization of power in the executive branch—like all of us, they assumed that if the president was in violation of the constitution, both to preserve the union and (selfishly) to preserve the power of their own branch, they would act to take away that power before our democracy was replaced with a family-based autocracy.

Anyway. The book itself was as brilliant as you would expect, and if anything, it makes Hamilton's story (which most of us probably learned the details of through Lin Manuel Miranda's musical, which was in turn based on this book) even more amazing and his personality and talents even more rarefied and superhuman. There are many remarkable men from that period in our history, but none who had more influence on the shape of our current government than him. He was a prolific publisher of papers and giver of speeches on not only what our initial documents should look like but also how the tenets of those documents should be translated into a functioning government, and he almost singlehandedly developed our banking and other financial institutions (for good and for ill). When you add in his decidedly humble beginnings, especially compared to the landed aristocracy that most of his peers grew up in, and his relatively short lifespan, and his achievements are even more incredible.

It took me a long time to read this book, and in a roundabout way, that's also due to Hamilton's brilliance. He mind was so far ahead of his peers that, by the time he was in his mid-20s, most of the core philosophies and ideas that would shape everything else he did for the rest of his life were already fully developed. So once we get past the point of understanding how his upbringing shaped those ideas and his initial enunciation of those philosophies in his writings and speeches, the rest of the book becomes a series of recurring arguments in favor of those ideas, often arguing with the same people he would be in conflict with up until his death.

It's a very worthwhile effort, however, because again, his brilliance and influence are hard to overstate once you've read a full accounting of his life. But it is a history book written for a semi-populist audience by a serious academic who, despite his skill in writing, is only able to step so far away from his academic roots. But if you're at all interested in the founding of our nation, and you want to see those events through the eyes of someone who was in the room for many of our most important moments and had significant influence over many of them, this book would be a great place to start.

New Year's is usually a really fun time for us—we typically spend at least part of the evening at a neighbor's house who hosts a big neighborhood get together, and then the next day we go over to a friend's house where we join four or five other families for a potluck chili dinner.

We weren't able to do either of those things this year, of course, so we stayed at home on New Year's Eve and enjoyed sushi and later watched Anderson Cooper leading up to the ball drop in Times Square. I still greatly miss Kathy Griffin as his sidekick—she was canceled in the first year of Trump's presidency after she posted a satirical photo to social media showing her hold Trump's severed head, back when the media was still hoping he might turn into a somewhat normal president and were still denying that he was a monster who was an existential threat to our democracy (there was plenty of evidence for this even then, but it has absolutely gotten more clear and more acute with time).

The way the holidays fell this year meant we were really only away from work (whatever that means these days) for two weeks, when normally it's more like 17 or 18 days, and in this year with very few breaks where it's hard to know the difference between the weekends and the workweek, I really could have used a longer break. But it was still nice to back off work for a bit, especially given that the next two months are the busiest of our entire year at work.

The last time I wrote about the Ravens was right after their thrilling last-minute win over Cleveland on Monday Night Football in early December. Since then, they've had quite a nice few weeks, winning all three of their final regular season games to finish the season 11-5, earning a wild card bid in the playoffs, and beating the Tennessee Titans (who are quickly becoming their primary nemesis outside of their home AFC North division) in a low-scoring playoff game that allowed them to exact revenge for Tennessee pushing them out of the playoffs in the wild card round last year.

Next up is the Buffalo Bills, a solid team who will have the home field advantage. I'm actually not that worried about their offense—I think our defense can adapt to keep the score relatively low. But what's really concerning is our offense in the playoffs under Lamar Jackson. He's consistently amazing in the regular season, regularly scoring over 20 and even over 30 points a game, but in his three playoff games to date, his teams have scored 17, 12, and, in their win this year, 20 points. With an offense that, when it's clicking, can score a lot more than that even on good teams, those scores are pretty disappointing, and it's not surprising that, even as good as our defense can be, they couldn't hold opposing teams to lower scores in two of those contests.

If the offense can build on the win over Tennessee (Jackson's first playoff victory), they have every chance to beat the Bills and head to the AFC championship game. The last time they made it there was after the 2012 season—which was also the last time they won the Super Bowl. They would still have to likely get through the Chiefs in that case, the only team Lamar has played at least once and hasn't beaten in his two and a half years in the league, but they can worry about that if they can manage to get past Buffalo. \

To wrap up another football season: I played fantasy football this year for the first time in a few years, and despite a slow start, I ended up finishing pretty well. I usually try not to do this, but I went heavy on the Ravens, so when they started to swoon midseason, my fantasy team swooned with them, and I was at the bottom of the league only a few weeks before the playoffs began (9th of 10 teams).

But then when they started to bounce back in early December, my team bounced back with them, and I made it to 7th place just in time for the playoffs to start (the top 8 teams go into the playoffs). And since in fantasy, the playoffs are typically played during weeks 15, 16, and 17 of the regular season in the real world, which is exactly when the Ravens started to peak offensively, I went on quite a run, making it all the way to the championship game and only losing by a few points. Given where I was just a few weeks earlier, I was pretty happy with that ending, although I definitely relearned the hard lesson of being a homer during the draft and having too many key pieces all bound together in one offense.

One of the many ways that 2020 was a weird year was with our recruiting process and applicant pool. We weren't able to travel in-person for high school visits/college fairs in the spring, summer, or fall, and although we did lots of virtual events, those aren't nearly as impactful. So we expected a drop in numbers because of that on top of the drop we were expecting anyway due to sheer demographics—the number of students graduating high school, and especially the ones interested in pursuing a four year degree, has been dropping since the mid-teens and won't bottom out until 2026.

But, like virtually every school that still required standardized test scores as part of the admission process, we went test-optional, which we expected would boost our numbers, but we didn't know if that would be enough to offset the lack of recruiting travel, especially in big non-regional states like California and Texas.

And then we were also following trends in surveys that indicated that 1) families and students were looking more regionally during the pandemic and were less likely to apply to/enroll at schools more than a few hours drive from home and 2) due to economic uncertainty, families were also less likely to consider high-priced private universities like the one where I work.

So in short, we had no idea what would happen when the application season started in the fall. A tracking report that I run every week showed signs of real growth starting in early October, and that was validated by a record pool for our Early Decision I round and later our scholarship round (which serves as a semi-Early Action round). Still, the vast majority of our applicants submit their applicants in the 48 hours around our Jan 1 deadline, and last year we were predicting a larger pool than what we ended up with.

But this year the trends in the early numbers held, and we ended up with a record pool, 3,000 applications more than our previous largest pool (from the 2018-2019 cycle two years ago) and 5,000 more than we received last year. This is good news in one way: we have a new president who seems focused on more traditional metrics like the size of the applicant pool, so generating a record pool his first year in office is not a bad thing to happen. However, we're also down three staff members due to the Covid hiring freeze, and the prospect of reading 5,000 more applications with three fewer readers (each reader is typically responsible for about 800-1000 applications) is pretty daunting.

I started watching the Ridley Scott-produced, Alien-adjacent HBO Max series Raised by Wolves a couple of months ago, and I finished it up over the winter break. I'm not sure how I feel about it, quite honestly—the set design/art direction/cinematography is pretty compelling, but there are also significant problems with the show.

First, it suffers from the same problem that plagues Prometheus/Covenant: we know it's supposed to be earlier in the timeline of the same universe where the Alien films take place, but we aren't given enough information to know exactly where it sits in that timeline and exactly how the events in the series relate to the Ripley's encounters with the alien species.

Second, there aren't really any truly likable characters: between the preternaturally mature children, the enigmatic androids who are raising them, and the religious zealots who crash land on the planet where the androids had set up shop with their human progeny years earlier, there aren't many characters for the viewers to identify with or root for.

And finally, and probably most importantly: after 10 hour long episodes, I'm still not sure what exactly the point of the first season was, and I have no clue where the second season might be heading. I'm almost certainly not going to rewatch the first season anytime soon (or likely ever)—there's just not enough content or coherence to make it worth my while—and I'm going to need to read some good reviews of season 2 before I invest any further time in this show.

We've gone to visit the holiday lights display at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens every year since we moved to Atlanta, but with the pandemic raging and us being pretty careful about things, especially in the post-holiday surge of cases, we weren't sure if we'd make it this year. But we read through their safety guidelines (masks required, social distancing, and limited capacity) and decided to take a chance on a weeknight in January at the end of the event, especially after Will and Julie went to the gardens in the fall and had a pretty good experience.

It was still relatively crowded, but much less so than a typical year. They had also set things up so everything was one way, meaning you weren't moving past people going in the opposite direction on narrow paths and tunnels. We didn't stop to get our normal hot chocolate and smores treats, nor did we go inside the greenhouse space, but we did everything else we normally do, and we walk to the path around the light tunnel/mermaid pond/hanging lights set to music section twice.

In a year when we've lost so many of our traditions for the sake of protecting ourselves and the people around us, it was really nice to keep something on the holiday calendar that has always defined the holiday season for us here in Atlanta, and which has always been part of Will's holiday memories (we moved here just before he turned 2, so he doesn't really have any memories of his brief time in Maryland). Hopefully we'll be in a much different place by this time next year and can fully enjoy the experience again, but it's nice to know that we can find a way to make this one work even if we haven't completely defeated Covid by then.

The Ravens played their second playoff game over the weekend, and it was another disappointing end to a solid regular season. And it was all on the back of the poor play off the offense, particularly the offensive line, which failed to protect Lamar Jackson and failed to create running lanes. There were also snapping problems from the center position, a problem that has plagued the team for most of the season. But there were mistakes all around: Justin Tucker, the NFL's all-time most accurate kicker, missed TWO consecutive field goals from less than 50 yards out in the swirling winds.

Jackson had his share of mistakes as well, and the backbreaker was his interception in the end zone (which should have been a game-tying touchdown for Baltimore) by the Bills which was then run back for a touchdown, putting the score at 17-3 instead of 10-10 late in the third quarter. The game was essentially decided two plays later when Jackson was sacked for a loss after another bad snap got away from him and he was forced to leave the game with a concussion. The defense, for their part, only allowed 10 points on a single touchdown and field goal; if the offense hadn't allowed the pick 6 and had scored anywhere near the 20+ they usually put on the board, it would have been a solid (if hard-fought) win for the Ravens.

The good news is that they have won their first playoff game with Jackson at the helm, and it's just a matter of taking the next step to advance further in the playoffs. But the narrative that Jackson can't win in the postseason is gone; now we just need to do something about the conservative playcalling and poor offensive execution to take the next step to the AFC championship game and then the Super Bowl.

I took a break from my guitar lessons over the holidays, and came back with a new plan on how to attack the process after feeling like I had stalled this fall. My instructor personally prefers a finger-picking style on a smaller acoustic guitar, but I'm really interested in learning to play using the dominant styles/techniques of rock music on an electric guitar. That means playing with a pick (and learning how to play with that device and an up-and-down motion, especially for eighth notes and sixteenth notes where you need to play quick runs) rather than learning how to play with a thumb and 2-3 fingers across multiple strings.

So I started off my first lesson with him this year by setting some new ground rules: I was going to play with a pick only on an electric guitar only (I've been practicing with an acoustic for the last year, but I have a cheap China-made Fender Squier Strat), and I also wanted to incorporate more chord sequences that are commonly used in rock and pop music into our lessons and practice plans.

It's been painful making this transition, but I think it will be worth it. Even though I've had to relearn my approach to the instrument, I have plenty of songs I already have memorized that I can now redo to help with my transition to playing with a pick using the up-and-down motion (not to mention practicing my scales using that method), and I've also been more aggressive about looking up songs I like that use the 20 or so chords that I already know to practice the transitions between them.

Look, I know I'll never really consider myself to be a musician even if I keep this up for another 20 years, but I would really like to get to the point where I could play at least the rhythm parts to songs I like, and we made very little progress towards that goal over the past year. My instructor was open to this new plan, so I'm willing to give him another chance to help me get to my goal and not force me down a path he's more familiar with. But there is another instructor at this music school who specializes in electric guitar and rock music, and I won't hesitate to switch to him if I feel like I'm not making the progress I want despite my reinvestment in practice time around the things I really want to learn.

Some of the vaccine administration sites in Georgia have started to allow caregivers for people over 65 to sign up for vaccinations, so Julie, after confirming that we both qualified, was able to get me an appointment a nearby Publix to get the Moderna vaccine (Julie, who works in healthcare, was able to get the Pfizer vaccine from her employer back in December, with her second dose coming in February).

That was yesterday, and my immune system is definitely reacting: my left arm, where they gave me the shot, hurts like hell (I can barely lift it), and I have developed flu-like symptoms: headache, fever/chills, severe body aches, and fatigue. These supposedly won't last more than 48 hours, and even though I'm miserable right now, it's much better than getting Covid, and it gets our family closer to the time when we can all safely gather again.

Until Will is vaccinated, we're going to continue to be very cautious, since the current research tells us that even once you are fully vaccinated you can still potentially catch Covid and generate enough viral load to transmit it to others even if the vaccine will prevent you from experiencing severe symptoms. But every positive step on this long and arduous journey gets us that much closer to the world returning to normal, and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to take this one.

I know Chinese writer Ken Liu primarily from his translating work for two of the three books in Cixin Liu's Remembrance of Earth's Past trilogy, notably the first novel, The Three-Body Problem, which was one of my favorite hard sci-fi series so far this century. But while looking around for something that would be quicker and far less weightier than the Hamilton biography I'd spent so much time finishing, I decided to read an original work by Liu, specifically his first collection of short stories called The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories.

There are some solid stories in here, and I do like the very human element that Liu brings to even the most sci fi-oriented of his tales. But when I picked this book, I was hoping for a collection of stories that were solidly in the sci fi camp, and while many have a tech element that serves as the fulcrum for the plot, overall the book is much closer to historical fiction, focusing on various elements of China's story over the past century or so, including stories set in a frontier town of the American West, post-revolution China, and in a human experimentation camp in World War II. All of these expanded my understanding of Chinese history and folklore, and again, they all had a consistently human point of view. But historical fiction wasn't what I was looking for, especially after just reading a very detailed history/biography; I was actually looking for a palette cleanser from the history/biography genre.

If I were in a different place with my reading, I might have loved this collection, and I would recommend it as something that's more on the historical fiction side of the kinds of stories that Ted Chiang writes if that sounds appealing to you. And there were definitely stories I really enjoyed here, but they tended to be the shorter ones that had a clearer focus on a science/technology hook.

He has another collection that was published last year that I will likely pick up eventually, but I'll do so when I'm in the mood for something like what he published in this initial collection. I don't know that I'll revisit this collection again—some of the stories were too long for what I expect from a short story, and they sometimes felt more like a history lesson from a textbook than a compelling narrative—but I did like enough of it to give him another chance in the future.

This weekend we were scheduled to make our third family trip to Phipps Plaza for a private showing of an old movie, but a couple of hours before we were supposed to head over to the theater, we got a call from Julie's mom: she had fallen from a stepladder trying to reach a box of batteries on the top shelf of the closet and hurt her arm.

Julie obviously needed to head over and get her mom to medical care, but she told us to go ahead without her if she didn't get back in time (you prepay for the movie and snacks, so if you don't show up, it's just lost money), and she was still with her mom when it was time to leave, so that's what we ended up doing. We later found out that her mom had actually broken her arm, but it wasn't a bad break. Still painful and inconvenient, but she should only have to have it immobilized for a few weeks.

The movie theater lets you rent out a whole theater for just $99 and has a selection of classic popular movies to choose from, and this time we picked Back to the Future. Will has seen all three movies and likes them pretty well, but we hadn't seen that one in a while and of course he's never seen it on the big screen. We had a pretty good time, and the staff was doing a better job of enforcing mask wearing by other patrons (not in our theater, of course, because we were the only ones in there, but out in the lobby area).

I imagine we'll make this a monthly outing as long as they are still offering it as an option—we're not going to be comfortable going to a theater (or spending any prolonged time indoors with strangers, even with masks and some distance) until all three of us are vaccinated.

It took me about five days to get over the side effects from my first dose of the Moderna vaccine: two days of absolute hell with chills/fever, headaches, fatigue, a little nausea, and severe body aches (so painful that even though I was exhausted I couldn't really sleep), followed by another three days of feeling very rundown and low energy.

I'm grateful to have had the shot, and I'm heartened by the fact that it clearly prompted a response by my immune system, but I'm not looking forward to the second dose: most people say your reaction to that one is worse, and I'm going to have to find a way to work through it when I get it. February is our busiest month at work, and I can't afford to lose two workdays no matter how bad I'm feeling.

Warner released Wonder Woman 1984 to HBO Max on Christmas Day, and although I intended to watch it, I wasn't in any rush—I figured it would be on the platform forever since Warner owns that streaming service. But last week I saw an article that said Warner was only keeping the initial release of the movie on the services for month, after which it would presumably go to other streaming services as a pay-to-watch feature. So with only a couple of days left until it vanished, I watched it over the weekend.

I liked the first Wonder Woman movie, at least in a relative context: it's easily the best movie from the DC Universe since Zack Snyder tried to copy Marvel's MCU strategy, and Gal Gadot is compulsively watchable. If this was in the MCU, it would be a solid film, but not one of the best in that universe, somewhere in the range of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 or Thor: Ragnarok. But despite a lot of negative reviews, I was still willing to give it a chance and hoping that they would find a way to add a little levity to the story (the DC Universe overall is just way too dark and takes itself far too seriously) while staying true to the core character.

But man oh man, this thing was a fucking mess. It might be the worst DC film so far, and I absolutely HATED Batman vs. Superman. There's really nothing I have to say about the movie that's positive, and my list of criticisms is long indeed. The plot is terrible. The slavish adherence to the worst parts of 80s art direction/costume design (imagine if they made a longform episode of the 70s version of the Wonder Woman television show but it all took place in a mall using leftover outfits from Saved by the Bell). The otherwise beloved Pedro Pascal is wasted as a nonsensical villain who is both a satire of Trump and someone who would actually make Trump look like a stable genius. Kristen Wiig is deeply unlikeable, both in her normal human form and as a nemesis to Gadot's Wonder Woman. The way they bring back Chris Pine's WWI aviator character is both stupid and incredibly morally compromised. The explanation for how the invisible jet works is just fucking stupid. And on and on and on.

Gadot is the only thing worth watching, but even though this is a vehicle for her and the character she has created from the DC mythology, she can't carry the weight of such a bad movie. I literally can't think of a single sequence, or even a single scene, that I can isolate as worthwhile or even just not bad. I can't ever imagine a circumstance under which I would watch this movie again, unless it was something dumb like a contest to watch as many of the worst movies in history in a row.

Anyway. I did not like it, and given that it was previously the model which future DC films should attempt to emulate, this does not bode well for DC films as a whole. I'm sure they're now banking on the next Batman film to provide a starting point for a reboot of the entire universe, but even though a Wonder Woman 3 has been announced, I can't imagine them convincing Gal Gadot to come back for another nightmare of stupidity like this film.

I started reading the novels in The Expanse series in early 2015, and finished through book 4 (Cibola Burn) before the first series of the television show aired on Syfy. Book 5 had been published by then, but I decided to take a break from the book series for a while, hoping that I could watch a few seasons of the show while waiting for the series to be finished (it's planned for nine books total, and the final one is supposed to be published this year, but that wasn't the schedule back in 2015).

But as much as I loved the books—good world-building, very fast-paced plot, and compelling core characters)—the series really didn't work for me. Part of the issue was that I had such a clear picture in my head of what these characters looked like that their tv incarnations were a constant irritant—only Amos was cast by an actor who looked pretty much like I envisioned him, with Alex, Miller, and Fred Johnson as decent matches, while two of the most central characters—Holden and Naomi— didn't look anything like how I imagined them from the novels. It made it hard for me to buy into the series, and I eventually stopped watching it before I even finished the first season.

They made three more seasons on Syfy before Amazon picked it up after it was caheeled there, and Amazon has so far made two more seasons (season 5 just aired, and one more season is planned before they end the show). When I was looking around for something new to watch while exercising on the treadmill, this popped up in my suggestions, and I decided to start over from the beginning and give it another try.

I've only watched about half of the first season, but now that I have some distance from the books, both in terms of visualizing the characters and remember the details of the plot, I'm able to enjoy the show for what it is without constantly comparing it to the books. And I'm really liking it in that context, and I'm hopeful that the whole series will be worth watching—from what I remember of the books, the first one was the most difficult to get into, but after that the writers really found their rhythm with the characters and the overarching story, and it just got better and better.

If I'm lucky, the quality will continue and I can watch the entirety of the series (hopefully the final season will be released by this time next year) before I revisit the books, since the final volume should be published by the time the show has aired its final episode. I'm really enjoying getting to know this world and these characters again, and I'm glad I gave myself a chance to rediscover it.

I ordered a new chair for myself in December, a Secretlab Titan, to replace a 25 year old office chair that probably cost $50 back in the mid 90s, but since I ordered it in the thick of the holiday shopping season, they told me it wouldn't be delivered until sometime in late January.

Well, it finally showed up earlier this week and I've had a couple of days to get used to it. It's definitely better (a $400 chair made in 2020 almost has to be an upgrade over a generic low-end office chair from the end of the last century), but I'm still figuring out exactly how to make it work for me—what height to have it at, how the armrests should be positioned, etc.

The seat is made from memory foam, but it's quite a bit harder than I expected. I tried using a Purple seat cushion (which I used on my previous chair) to try to address that, but that made me sit a little higher than I wanted even with the chair at the lowest height setting, so I got rid of it. I've read that the seat gets softer after you break it in a bit, and I also think I'm noticing the hardness more simply because the chair is so different than my old one—I've been sitting in an awkward, unsupported position for so long in my old chair that sitting in a chair that encourages good posture and has good lumbar support is leading to an adjustment period for my back and leg muscles.

Like most people, I typically have a little buyer's remorse when I make a big purchase after doing tons of research because there are lots of viable options, but like most people, cognitive dissonance kicks in pretty quickly and I'm soon happy with my choice and couldn't imagine going with another option. Once I break in the chair a bit more and my body gets acclimated to it, I think I'll get to that point; it's just such a big change that, even though its absolutely better than what I was using before, it's still going to take some getting used to.

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