february 2022

February is technically the shortest month. But with the amount of work I have in front of me that has to be done by March 1, it's going to be a very long month indeed.

I've spent some time with Pinegrove's recently released fourth album 11:11, and like most of their albums, it seems like it's going to be a bit of a slow grower for me. That's the way it's been with most of their releases: there are two or three songs that immediately grip me, but then more and more of the album clicks into place the more I listen to it.

After my first few listens, "Alaska", "Let", and "Cyclone" are the tracks that resonate with me the most, but it seems like a pretty consistent album that will start to come together as a unified whole if I give it a chance to gel a bit. I'm disappointed that they had to postpone their Atlanta date in support of this record, but hopefully we'll get news about a rescheduled date soon, and that will just give me more time to get familiar with the new material before seeing them perform it live.

Yesterday was our ED2 decision release, and all in all, it went pretty well given that we are still essentially down two key roles in that process. In prior years this was mostly handled by our operations manager and our director of communications, but the two people who had been in those roles for the past several years both left last summer, and although we've recently (finally) hired their replacements, neither of those staff members is up-to-speed yet to the point where we can hand the process back over to them.

There were a couple of issues with forms this morning, but no major gaffes and no issues with our core systems on the night of decision release. It's our second decision release of the cycle, and although it's a major milestone, our biggest challenge still looms: our regular decision release at the end of March, where we will release approximately 29,000 admission decisions (compared to ~2000 and ~1700 for our two ED decision releases).

I've decided that I just have too much to do to spend any time in meetings this month, so I've cleared the decks of anything that's not absolutely vital and directly connected to either the reading or the decision release process. Even still, my calendar still typically has an average of two meetings per day, and that's not even counting the four or five times a week when I'm spending half a day in joint file review with another reader.

So even with a meeting purge, I'm still really only spending about 25% of my week doing work related to my primary role IT/systems/data, and that's just not enough. Someday these weeks/months of constant overtime in the evenings and the weekends will come to an end, but after suffering through them since late last summer and having at least two more months ahead of me, it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now.

One of my favorite new groups of the past few years is an English band called Me Rex whose main method of releasing music is via EPs named after prehistoric animals. So far we have Wooly Mammoth, Brontosaurus, Wooly Rhino, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and now the just-released Pterodactyl. I've only listened to it a couple of times since it came out a few days ago, but so far I'm liking it as much as their earlier stuff.

They also have one full-length called Megabear, but that one was a bit of a disappointment. It was a gimmick album where all of the songs were only 30 seconds long and recorded in the same key and limited to certain opening and closing chords so you could play the digital version on endless shuffle and experience a different sequence every time. It was a cute idea, but it didn't really produce a lot of great songs, and even when there was an idea that I responded to, it was over before they could really explore it fully.

I did a decent job last year of getting back into running shape prior to the Peachtree 10K in July and then keeping up with running at least three miles at least twice a week through December. But as the holidays approached, I got overwhelmed with work and holiday stuff and didn't really run much in December or January. Plus I don't really like running in the cold, and running on the indoor track at my workplace is not as convenient since we now live a 15 minute drive from it instead of a five minute drive.

Still, I'd like to get back on track and be able to run the Peachtree again this year, so I started training again with a short two mile run on the indoor track a couple of days ago. But even though I'd like to continue this, I'm not sure if I'll be able to—I'm just so overwhelmed with work, the house/insurance process, and Will's struggles this year in his first year at middle school. We'll see how it plays out, but I won't be surprised if I won't really be able to properly devote myself to the process until the weather warms up and we get past the crunch part of our work cycle in April or so.

I haven't been to a record store in a few weeks, but back in mid-January, I did visit a couple of record stores outside the Perimeter for the first time. I was prompted to make the trip when I ordered some stuff online from Comeback Vinyl before realizing that they were actually located in Alpharetta, about a 40 minute drive from our rental house. When one of the items was incorrect, it was an easy decision to return it in person instead of mailing it back, and of course, while I was there, I spent some time digging through their bins. I came away with 11 records, 3 used and 8 new, including wantlist records from the Smiths, the Replacements, the Golden Palominos, Purple Mountains, and Jeff Rosenstock.

Even though I had already blown my budget for the day at Comeback (and that was after returning several other records to the bins), I still wanted to stop in and check out Mojo Vinyl, which was only about a 10 minute drive away in nearby Roswell. I came away with another big haul—9 records total, and only 2 new (Lou Reed's Magic and Loss and the Robyn Hitchcock/Andy Partridge collaboration Planet England).

I spent way more than I intended to, even with my Christmas money supplementing my normal budget, but those were both great stores that I will definitely be returning too. Just not anytime real soon—I've got plenty of new stuff to listen to now, and my wallet needs a little break from vinyl spending.

There are no meetings on my calendar tomorrow for the first time so far this month and for the foreseeable future. I'd really like to take the time to focus on some tasks that have gotten backburnered for far too long, but I also have a ton of solo files left to read, and that's probably how I'm actually going to spend tomorrow.

We still aren't eating indoors, especially with Omicron continuing its rampage, but we got lucky with some unseasonably warm weather for Julie's birthday yesterday and were able to eat at the outdoor deck at Scout, a restaurant just around the corner from our rental house in Oakhurst.

We've been there a few times before, and while it's always good, they don't refresh the menu very often, and their core dishes are all solid but not especially noteworthy (I usually get steak frites; Julie usually gets the airline chicken). We would definitely go more often if it was either cheaper or if the menu were more compelling, but it was definitely a treat to get to eat out somewhere in February to celebrate Julie's birthday.

One of the first albums I bought this year was from a relatively new band called Yard Act. They released an EP called Dark Days back in April 2021, and then their debut full-length, The Overload, in January. I wasn't sure if I was going to like them or not—they are one of a number of contemporary UK-based bands featuring a singer who talk-sings, none of which have really resonated with me—but it only took me a couple of listens to absolutely fall in love with the entire record. There's almost no way it won't end up on my top 10 this year, even with a pretty impressive slate of records that have already been released or announced for 2022.

Because I wasn't sold on them yet, I didn't preorder a vinyl copy of the record, and now I'm kicking myself for that decision. I was still able to get a translucent green copy of the album, but one of my favorite songs on the record is called "Tall Poppies", and there's a color variation of the record that shares that name that features a circle of black vinyl inset into red vinyl (mimicking a poppy's colors). I remember seeing that variation in stock on several sites weeks before the record came out, but of course they are out of stock at every online retail outlet now, and they're going for triple their retail price on the resale sites.

We usually don't do anything big for Valentine's Day because it's so close to Julie's birthday (when we typically do go out for a nice dinner) and we don't like fighting the crowds, etc., even in pre-Covid times. So we did what we often do and got some sushi and enjoyed it at home.

Will went with me to the grocery store to look for a dessert for the evening, and while we were there he spotted a GIGANTIC Valentine's balloon that we just had to get for Julie. It was so big that we could barely get it into the RAV-4, and it's big enough to block a doorway in the house. She was pretty surprised when she saw it, and Will loves having it hanging around the house.

Ever since Will was 4, we've attended virtually every home game played by the women's basketball team at my school, getting to know the coach, the players, and even some of the other hardcore fans in the process. But then the season was canceled in 2021, and the house fire happened, and Delta and Omicron hit, and we haven't been to a game yet this season because even though they're allowing the teams to travel and play, they haven't been allowing spectators at the games.

But their final three home games are coming up in the next week or so, and they are finally allowing fans back (although you have to be masked regardless of your vaccination status, but we would be doing that anyway). I don't know if we'll make it to one of those games—Will was never a big fan of the game itself, instead preferring to run around the bleachers playing imaginary games—but I really miss being able to do that, and having that be something special that Will and I did together.

We had another minor decision release yesterday for a merit scholarship population, and that went pretty well. It has now become our easiest decision release, but that wasn't always the case. In prior years we were also responsible for creating and updating the registration site for the students who were admitted and invited to come to campus for finalist interviews, which included several forms, an upload portal, and a few other features, all of which had to tie into an admin side for the faculty and staff who are part of the program.

But a couple of years ago, we finally negotiated with the team at the college who actually own the program and got them to agree to be responsible for their own registration site, so now all we have to do is admit them in our system and make sure that data is available to the college in the student information system. It's still a little bit of a pain—there's a lot of the process that lives in emails and spreadsheets instead of being part of a formal workflow that we can easily track—but it's nothing compared to how chaotic it used to be.

Big Thief are a pretty prolific band (they released albums in 2016 and 2017, two albums in 2019, and now a 20-song double album in 2022) who have always received critical adulation coupled with a passionate and growing fanbase. They've been on my radar for a while, but the songs I heard never grabbed me, so I've mostly watched their ascent from afar, aware of their impact on the indie world but not immersed in their music.

That has all changed with their most recent record, the just-released double album with the awkward name Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You. It's an instant masterpiece, and it's sure to win them many more new fans like me. With something that big, there are usually at least a few filler songs that could have been left off the record, but the quality on this batch of 20 tracks ranges from really, really good to mind-blowingly great.

I'm already completely in love with it after only two or three listens, and I predict my affection will only grow deeper as I listen to it many more times over the course of the year. Along with Yard Act's The Overload, there's almost no way this one won't make my top 10—it's so good that if they had broken it up into two separate albums, each one of them would likely deserve a spot on my year-end best-of list.

Julie and I finally finished watching both seasons of The Boys. I watched it first on my own, but I got her to try the first episode, and even though the extreme gore isn't usually her thing, she was intrigued enough by the premise and the characters to keep watching until we finally made our way through all of the existing episodes.

Season 3 is due later this year, so I'm hoping we can continue to watch together. It seems like a lot of these streaming shows hit a wall in their third season, so hopefully the writers will find a way to keep things fresh. But based on the first two seasons, there's almost no way I won't be watching the third one.

I've written about new albums a lot over the past few weeks because there have just been so many releases that are too damn good to go unmentioned, and now we've got another one: Spoon's tenth album, Lucifer on the Sofa.

I wasn't sure how I'd feel about this—I haven't been enthralled with a Spoon album since 2005's Gimme Fiction, and I didn't care for their last two records, 2017's Hot Thoughts and 2014's Transference. I also didn't really like the first single from this one, "The Hardest Cut", and so I didn't preorder any of the various colored vinyl versions.

But after streaming the full album, I instantly changed my mind about the physical release and got the orange and black quad vinyl from their Bandcamp site, which also came with an immediate digital download. This might be my favorite album since Kill the Moonlight, and since Kill the Moonlight remains my favorite release from the band, that also means this is one of their top three albums for me. The tracks "Wild" and "My Babe" are some of the best songs frontman Britt Daniel has ever written, and overall there's not a weak moment on the album (even "The Hardest Cut" has grown on me).

After rewatching the Larry Sanders Show on HBO Max a couple of months ago, I've started rewatching Curb Your Enthusiasm, which has a couple of seasons I haven't seen before and which I haven't watched since my first encounter with the show via Netflix DVDs back in the 2000s.

Larry David's intentional cringe around topics like sexism and racism have become more not-in-a-funny-way-cringey in the wake of the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, not to mention the recent allegations against co-star Jeff Garlin. On balance, I still found it funny enough in a broader way to be watchable, but it definitely wasn't as engaging as it was when I first watched it, and there were a lot more moments where the show's intention to make us uncomfortable became uncomfortable in a troubling way rather than the humorous way it was originally intended.

The most recent seasons were okay—they veered away from some of the topics that have become harder for a privileged white man to address in the 2020s than they were in the 2000s—but there was nothing really revelatory or compelling there either. All in all, this show's peak might have been 2009's season 7, which revolved around a fictional Seinfeld reunion show and brought back all the principle cast members from the hit show.

As is becoming my habit because I can't take real time off, I am again taking a couple of vacation days in the last week of this month so I don't stop accruing vacation time. And as usual, I will have to work at least part of those days just to keep up with my workload, and I'll likely end up working some over the weekend, so it will really be a wash. I'm looking forward to a time when I have a chance to plan a real vacation and not actually end up doing work tasks on my supposed days off.

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