july 2021

This has not been a very relaxing summer so far. Normally work is pretty chill in the summer—we have a lot of stuff to do, but we generally aren't engaged with too many new or time-sensitive mission-critical projects, and the break in our recruiting and file review process that lasts from May to August gives us ample time to get everything ready for the next cycle.

But this year, my operations manager (who's been with us since 2015) decided to go back to grad school at the end of May to pursue a different career path, and thanks to both the just-lifted hiring freeze and the weirdness of the labor market right now, we still don't have a replacement (nor is one on the immediate horizon).

So in additional to all my normal responsibilities, I've also had to take over day-to-day management of his five-person team AND do all the things he would normally do in the summer. Only it takes me much longer than it would take him, because most of the tasks are extremely tedious and precise and involve working in an outdated student information system that I rarely log into. He left behind great documentation, but it still takes me half an hour to work through the many steps across multiple screens that he did so often that it would only take him five minutes.

I expect this to continue through at least August when the new students show up on campus and become more of the responsibility of the college and the Registrar, and at that point I should have a little bit of a breather (meaning I'll just be responsible for my own job instead of mine and someone else's). I'm also hoping that we might have a hire in the role by then so they'll have enough time to get acclimated before the daily tasks the next file review season starts.

After what I think is the longest content drought in the history of World of Warcraft, Blizzard finally released patch 9.1, which brings with it a new zone and, more importantly for how I generally spend my time, a new raid.

I really, really hated the last raid tier—my primary guild, which has beaten the final boss on heroic difficulty before the next tier was released for the past several years, got stuck on the final boss of that raid and didn't beat it until a couple of weeks before the end of that tier's patch.

We're a pretty casual guild when it comes to progression, but we do come prepared and we do expect to make progress every week. But for several weeks (months), we just couldn't get past that final fight, and since we had beaten everything else in the raid many times over, there wasn't really much more we could do gear-wise to help our progression.

I'm hoping this next patch will return us to a more normal experience—it will take us a while to get through everything, but we'll still beat it on heroic well before the next patch (and hopefully that next patch also won't take so long to arrive). I really love hanging out with the friends I've made in that game—I've known some of them for over 15 years now, and I've met several of them in real life outside the game—but that last raid tier was the closest I've come to taking an extended break from the game in years.

We had a busy but fun July 4th weekend. Julie and I ran the Peachtree 10K again this year (it didn't happen last year, but we ran the 50th anniversary race in 2019), and I did much better than I did two years ago. To reduce crowd size, they limited registrations AND split into two races across Saturday and Sunday, and we ran the Saturday race on July 3.

That left us free to relax on July 4, and although our original plan was to do our traditional Independence Day and walk to Decatur to watch the fireworks downtown, we got invited to our friends Connie and Jeff's house (which we hadn't been to yet despite them moving into that house in March 2020). That was tons of fun—I drank too much of a cocktail that Connie made up by the pitcherful, we played lawn darts in the backyard, and when it got dark, we walked down the street to where a bunch of neighbors gathered to set off fireworks in the street that they had all collectively put into a big pile.

That was one of my best July 4 fireworks experiences ever. Some of those fireworks were way too big to be launched in that setting, and I was just laughing and laughing every time another massive firework was lit (almost all of them were launched out of mini mortar tubes). And there were people a couple of streets over in several directions doing the same thing, so in the gaps while the pyrotechnicians in our group set up for the next launch, we experienced a kind of call and response from the other nearby groups.

Since July 4 was on a Sunday, we had Monday off, and we took that afternoon to go visit my mom. It was a pretty slow day otherwise, and it gave us a chance to regroup from the long weekend and get ready for the shortened workweek.

After finishing C. Robert Cargill's Day Zero and Sea of Rust, I stayed in the sci-fi realm with a book called Rabbits. It has shown up on a lot of recommendation lists, and it's apparently based on a popular podcast (which I've never heard of, which isn't surprising because I don't really listen to podcasts). The premise of the book is that there is a secret game called Rabbits where you find clues hidden throughout the world, and which, if you can win, you are given some kind of massive wealthy and/or power along with all previous winners.

The protagonist is called K (who I read as a female the entire time, but since there are no pronouns have been read as both a male and a female by other readers), and she is trying to play in the most recent iteration of the game after having been obsessed with earlier versions to the point where her mental health deteriorated. But now current and former players are disappearing and/or dying, and she starts to discover that the game has significance far beyond what most people imagine: it's not just about winning the game, but the things you have to do to uncover the rules of the game and win it actually help maintain the balance of our world.

It's a little bit Ready Player One, a little bit Lost, where a global scavenger hunt that embeds clues in pop culture also upends the world in ways that distort reality so that neither the reader nor the protagonist are sure what is real or true. It was an engaging read, but similar to Lost, at the end I wasn't sure what the point was. I like the characters, and some of the tangential semi-philosophical discussions were fun, but if there is a sequel, I don't know that I'll be compelled to pick it up, because it will inevitably be just more of the same.

Will has been asking for his own Apple Watch for a few months, and we were strongly considering it for a couple of reasons of our own. Mostly it's that we aren't ready for him to have his own full-fledged smartphone, but if we get a current Apple Watch SE with cellular and add it to our family plan, we can use it as a GPS tracker, and he can use it to text us and call us without being distracted by being able to play games and watch videos on it like he would with a phone.

But Will can sometimes be really excited about something for a short period of time and then tire of taking care of it or remembering to wear it/bring it with him, and we didn't want to make a big investment in an Apple Watch only to have it sitting uncharged in a drawer six weeks later. So we devised an experiment: we set up Julie's previous Apple Watch for him to use (including getting him a band that was to his liking), and we've had him wear that for the past few months to see how well he does with taking care of it, remembering to charge it, remembering to wear it every day, etc.

And I'm surprised but pleased to say that he's taken it really seriously, so much so that it was a no-brainer to get him a brand new one as his main gift for his birthday (which is coming up this weekend). It won't be a surprise—we wanted him to pick out the band, etc., when we purchased it—but he's really excited to have one of his own, especially because this one will be able to use the latest version of the software that gives him several new features compared to Julie's old one.

Will turns 11 tomorrow, and I had big plans for his birthday weekend, especially since we're all vaccinated now and we've were so careful about Covid stuff over the past year that we really didn't do much stuff in settings with other people. My original plan was to surprise Will with a private VIP tour of the World of Coca-Cola museum before it opened (a new experience they've just started offering this summer), head over to the adjacent Georgia Aquarium for a behind-the-scenes animal encounter, and finish off with a ride in the lone VIP car in the Atlanta SkyView ferris wheel.

But when I went online to sign up for these experiences, they weren't all available on his birthday, so I had to pick other dates—the aquarium experience didn't have three spaces until this Sunday, and the World of Coca-Cola didn't have availability until later in the month. So we'll save those as further surprises over the next couple of weeks. And while the SkyView had the VIP available tomorrow, we thought it would be fun to let him bring one of his best friends, Ignacio, along for the ride, and Ignacio was only available this afternoon.

So we signed up for a slot in mid-afternoon, drove downtown to a nearby parking deck, and started walking to the SkyView, arriving about 15 minutes before our scheduled time. However, the sky was starting to darken, and when we went up to the ticket booth, the attendants told us that they were shutting down due to threat of lightning. We looked at the forecast and saw that it wouldn't clear for a few more hours, so unfortunately we had to get a rain check and we'll have to come back to do this activity some other time.

On Will's actual birthday on Saturday, we went out to my mom's house to celebrate with our local family, including my sister and brother-in-law (who live about 10 minutes from my mom). It's still so nice to be able to do normal stuff like this again—all of the adults have been vaccinated since early this year, but Will was only fully vaccinated a couple of weeks ago, so even though we've seen them, it's been mostly outdoors still and limiting close contact. But following the guidance, as we have always tried to do, we were able to have a nice indoors get together.

On Sunday we surprised Will with the first of the three experiences we have planned: a trip to the Georgia Aquarium for a behind-the-scenes animal encounter with a couple of their aquarium's sea lions. We got to walk through the staff-only tunnels back to their training area, where they brought out a couple of them, showed us some of the tricks they knew how to do, and then showed us how to give them a couple of commands and reward them by throwing fish into their mouths. They also posed for pictures with us, doing goofy things like giving us a kiss on the cheek, resting their head on top of ours, and sitting between us while putting their flippers around us.

It was very, very cool, and we got a ton of pictures with them. We also spent some time wandering around the aquarium looking at the normal exhibits, which is always fun, especially after more than a year since our last visit. I could spend forever at the giant glass window that peers into the main tank, but I have to admit, it was a little weird to be amongst so many people in an indoor environment, even though we're all vaccinated and most people were wearing their masks. But again, it's nice to feel like we might be able to soon get back to a world that feels a lot closer to the one we lived in in 2019 instead of the one we've been living in since 2020.

I recently finished watching the second season of Cobra Kai after enjoying the first season immensely, and the soap-operatic tendencies that present in the first season, especially when the scenes were focused on the interactions of the younger generation, have fully taken over. This is not a good thing.

We're also back to a much more black and white version of good guys and bad guys, and although they've allowed Johnny's character to stay in that middle ground (although he's showing strong tendencies toward his better instincts), we're back to Kreese being undeemably bad and Daniel being good (annoying sometimes, and flawed certainly, but you're never allowed to doubt his inherent goodness).

I'm going to continue watching, because I usually watch it while I'm exercising on the treadmill and it's entertaining enough for that activity, but it's kind of astonishing how quickly it's gone downhill, both in terms of allowing more depth from the characters and focusing on the interactions between Johnny and Daniel as adults, which is where the real brilliance of the show came from in the first season.

They currently have 3 seasons of the show, and a fourth is in production, and I honestly don't know how much more you can milk out of this series without reducing the quality so much that you tarnish how great the first season was. We'll see, I guess, but after the way-over-the-top final battle from series 2, I don't have a lot of hope that the writers and showrunners won't take us further down the path to a full-blown teen soap opera.

I don't listen to a lot of hip-hop and rap, but there are a few artists who are in my regular rotation and whose work I always pick up. Vince Staples is one of those, but since his relatively prolific burst of release to start his career (he released two stellar EPs and two brilliant full-lengths between 2014-2017), his output has slowed considerably.

He put out a short album called FM! in 2018 (22 minutes total, and a couple of those minutes are taken up with interludes and skits) that was billed as a tangential supplement to another album that was supposed to be his true follow-up to 2017's Big Fish Theory, but that second album never materialized, and it has now been three years since FM! appeared.

He recently released new music in the form of another 22 minute album, this one self-titled. It's got very sparse production and is minimalist and low-key, which is fine—but he's still framing this as kind of diversion to his next proper album, now tentatively titled Ramona Park Broke My Heart. While I love all his work and I'm glad we have the self-titled album and FM!, they are barely above EP length and they both focus on very specific, very narrow concepts.

Despite their quality in that context, they hardly live up to the expectations he set with his first two albums, especially his stunning debut, the double album Summertime '06, which is nearly three times as long as either of these two records, and every second of which is worth hearing. Even Big Fish Theory, a typical 12 track album, is almost as long as Vince Staples and FM! put together. It's never a good sign when an artist continually talks about a record that never materializes while releasing less-than-brilliant material in the meantime as a diversion, especially this early in their career.

I hope this masterwork does eventually appear and that it's as good as all his fans hope it will be, but the reality is that he's released less music in the past four years than he did in either of the two years that preceded this dry spell, and the recent work is just not as good as the earlier stuff. Don't get me wrong—it's still great compared to what a lot of other rap artists are doing, but it's just below the standard he set. I'll take whatever he can give us, but I hope the long-promised Ramona Park Broke My Heart appears sometime in the next few months.

We're leaving on a trip to North Carolina today to visit our families there, and we'll be gone for about 10 days. I'm looking forward to getting away—this is the first out of state trip we've taken since the start of the pandemic, and the first time we'll be seeing my dad's part of the family since Christmas 2019.

We had a good visit in Wilmington, but on our drive back home on Saturday, my sister kept trying to call me. I didn't answer because I don't talk on the phone when I'm driving, and usually when she calls persistently like that, it's because she's decided that she's ready to talk about something and she doesn't care if you want to talk about it. She didn't text me or Julie about anything, she just kept calling, and since my mom had warned me earlier that week that she and Carrie were having a disagreement about her future care that they both wanted me to take their side one, I figured it was that.

But no: when we finally arrived home and I gave my sister a call, she told me that mom was going into semi-emergency surgery that night (if she had simply texted me that, we would have pulled over so I could call, but whatever). Mom hadn't fallen or anything but she'd been having increasing pain for a couple of weeks, and when they finally went to a doctor to get it checked out, he discovered a problem in her neck that could potentially get worse quickly and cause paralysis.

The good thing is that the surgery went well, and she'll hopefully be back home in a couple of weeks after some time in the rehab ward of the hospital. She's been through so many surgeries the past couple of years, I just don't know how much more her body can take, but she's strong and tough and stubborn, so hopefully she can weather this one as well.

We didn't go directly to my parents' house in Wilmington—instead, we made a slight detour to Fayetteville, NC, where I lived from ages 3 to 15, so basically where I grew up. My father lived in Wilmington most of that time—he and my mom got divorced shortly after moving to North Carolina, and we stayed with my mom in Fayetteville while he moved to Wilmington to start his medical practice.

We stayed in a little Airbnb not too far from the last house we lived in before leaving Fayetteville, which was a nice little place. I didn't have any specific plans, but I just kind of wanted to drive around and see all the places I grew up, and have Will have a chance to see them to. So we visited my elementary school, the private school where I spend middle school and part of high school, the church downtown where I was confirmed, the first house we lived in, and the last house we lived in.

We also went to the mall where I spent a lot of time hanging out with friends (still in operation, although like many malls in smaller cities, not really the same kind of shopping experience that it was when I was younger), and we tried to go to dinner at a barbecue restaurant, Peaden's, where my dad usually took my sister and I when he picked us up for our weekend visits after the divorce, but it was closed for the week (although it looked like it was still going strong—both the restaurant and the parking lot had expanded since I was a kid.

We visited a few things that didn't exist when I was a kid too. The downtown is in the process of gentrifying, so we went and ate on a patio at a restaurant down there, and also visited a restaurant near the Airbnb that didn't exist when I was a kid either. We went to the botanical gardens, which were built after I left Fayetteville, and which were pretty nice, with a good kid's area and a decent trail that led to overlooks of the Cape Fear. We also went to a river trail that had been built near my old neighborhood, one that ran next to a set of train tracks that I used to walk on as a kid—the trail even had a cool bridge that went underneath the railroad bridge that my friends and I had to hurry across because it was just long enough that you didn't want to be caught in the middle if a train came around the bend while you were on it.

Overall it was a good if weird visit, and Will really enjoyed it, but I don't know that I'll ever need to go back there again. I haven't known anyone who lives there in a very, very long time, and now that I've seen what it looks like today, it just reinforces that it's not a place that holds a lot of value for me now. I'm glad we went, and I'm glad Will got to see some of the places I grew up, but I think I've gotten it out of my system now.

The Wilmington trip was really good as well. This was the first time in a long time that we've been able to stay with my dad and stepmother when the house wasn't crammed to the gills with siblings and cousins and nieces and nephews, and where we weren't constantly trying to organize mass events that no more than half the participants wanted to go to. We set our own pace, did whatever we wanted, and it was so much more relaxing that the huge holiday get-togethers.

We spent most of our days with my nephew Harvey, who is about three now and who we haven't seen since December 2019. We would go on adventures with him every day, with my dad or my dad and stepmother joining us as well. We took him to the battleship, the train museum (one of his favorites—he and my dad apparently go there once a week), and Airlie Gardens, and we'd usually have lunch with him during those trips too. We got to eat at two of our favorite places in Wilmington, Salt Works (hot dogs) and Flaming Amy's (burritos), and we had a nice cookout for dinner where we got to hang out with my cousin Erin and her dad Ed (my uncle, the brother of my stepmother), neither of whom I had seen in probably 20 years.

It was exactly what I needed from a vacation and a family visit. It was chill and relaxing and so good to see so many people I care about and hadn't seen in far too long.

After seeing uncle Ed and my cousin Erin at the cookout, I decided to spend a little more time with them the next day at Ed's house. I had really good conversations with each of them, and it was pure chance that Erin was in town—she lives in California and was visiting to help her dad recover from neck surgery he'd had a few weeks earlier.

Ed also happens to be a pretty decent musician, and guitar is his primary instrument, so we sat in his living room for a while and he taught me the chord changes for a couple of his songs. We spent an hour or two playing together, and he showed me some other tips for strengthening my fingers for barre chords and some basic fingerpicking patterns.

I loved that so much—as much as I've learned picking up the basics of guitar playing over the past couple of years, I've really longed to play music with other people, something I haven't really had a chance to do yet. There was something really special about playing even with just one other person, playing the same song over and over and starting to understand the quirks of the other person's performance while they adjusted to your playing.

I don't know how to go about recreating that experience here—none of my close friends in Atlanta play music of any sort, and my second level friends who play are pretty talented and experience and already have their circles of music friends who the jam with. So I'll keep learning on my own and looking for opportunities, but man, I wish this was something I had access to on a regular basis.

As you would expect after taking a week off, my first week back at work has been pretty hectic. Because in the modern American workplace, when you leave, it's not like someone else does your work: it just sits there and piles up waiting for you to come back, so if you take a week off, that just means you have to do two weeks' worth of tasks when you return.

The big project this week was getting our primary admission application ready for launch—all changes need to be finalized by July 29 in order to launch on August 1 along with most other colleges. This is honestly something that we could (and should) be done with by mid-June, but everyone in my office seems to think that launching on August 1 means that they don't have to start thinking about changes until July 15, at which point most of peers have finalized everything.

So I usually get a ton of last minute change requests (I start asking for these in April and give a deadline of June 30 to no avail each year), and the difficulty in executing those this year was compounded by my vacation the week before everything had to be finalized. But it got done (barely), and we should be good for launch this weekend.

december 2021
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october 2021
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august 2021
july 2021
june 2021
may 2021
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march 2021
february 2021
january 2021

daily links
cd collection