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4.18.14
I forget how many people still take Good Friday off in the south. Complete ghost town at work today.


4.17.14
We decided to take Will out to dinner just for fun last night, and we ended up going to Pallookaville, which we visited most recently (and for the first time) for Julie's birthday. Will has been in kind of a corn dog mood recently, and since that's one of their staples, it was perfect.

Last time I made the poor decision to try the Reuben, which was such a sorry excuse for a Reuben that they shouldn't even be allowed to call it that (and they should really just take it off the menu—no matter what you call it, it's not a good sandwich). So this time I stuck to a standard corndog, while Julie tried one made with kielbasa. We split a basket of poutined tater tots (the restaurant concept is hipsterized fair food in case you hadn't already guessed). Julie and Will also split an Easter-only special, a Robin's Egg candy shake, for dessert.

The corndog was a much better experience than the Reuben, and I could see this becoming one of our new favorite places to eat. I really, really wanted to like this place last time, but that Reuben was truly terrible. It's nice to see that this seems to be an anomaly and not a real represenation of the quality of their food.


4.16.14
The second Blizzard game I ever played was Diablo II, which I (and surprisingly, Julie) got pretty obsessed with—I remember leaving work in the middle of the day to go pick up two copies of the expansion (although at the time I was working for a web-focused design company where it was more cool to ditch work to play a video game than it would have been to stay and put in a full day).

(Blizzard has always been especially conscious of the Mac gaming community—even with the recent growth in the Mac market, they're still the only developer who consistently releases their games simultaneously for Mac and PC—and we've always been Mac users, so that was another plus for them in addition to the quality of their games.)

After Diablo II had run its course, we played World of Warcraft for a long time, and Blizzard seemed to focus most of its efforts on that game—follow-ups to Diablo and Starcraft, it's other big franchise, were always rumored to be in development but there was no working preview and no announced release date. So as interest in World of Warcraft started to fade—the expansions were less and less tied to the Warcraft lore that many fans were familiar wth, and people had less time to invest in the significant content experiences that came with each expansion—I was excited to see that both Starcraft and Diablo would be getting sequels that were not MMOs like WoW (the universe of which was created as part of an RTS title from the 90s) but which remained faithful to the original games.

The Starcraft sequel was fine, but it had unit bloat where it was very difficult to play the game through and really come up with a coherent strategy because there were so many choices of vehicles and soldiers. I played the game through once just to see the story unfold, but beyond that I had no interest in replaying the campaigns.

Diablo III was released two years later in 2012, and I had high hopes for it—I was ready for another game that really focused on the soloing experience (as an MMO, much of the content of World of Warcraft is meant to be experienced in a group setting), and I had been much more obsessed with the constant action of Diablo II than I had been with the frantic gathering and building of Starcraft.

But I was hugely disappointed. The game was way too hard even on normal mode, much harder than I remembered D2 being even when you were just starting a character. Items that were upgrades for your character never seemed to drop, gold was hard to come by, and you died all the time—it was a brutal slog working through even the base level of the campaign, and by the time you finished, your character didn't have enough good items to be able to move on to a higher level of content, so you were stuck repeating the same camapaign over and hoping for better drops.

Plus the storyline wasn't as engaging, and it destroyed some crucial links between D3 and the two earlier games in the series (imagine if they started off the next Star Wars by senselessly killing off R2-D2 and C-3PO—the level of fan outrage would be comparable to what most of us who had played D2 felt about the early storyline in D3).

I had started off playing a character type that I don't usually play, and so I though maybe that was the problem and I'd enjoy the game more if I played a class I was more comfortable with. But halfway through my first campaign with that character, I just quit. I still wasn't having any fun, and I realized as I was suffering through yet another brutal beating from a pack of mobs that I had no desire to play the game ever again. Even though Blizzard issued some updates to the game that were supposed to appease the complaints of fans like me, it didn't matter: I was done, and I didn't fire up the game again for about a year and a half.

I gave the game another try when Blizzard announced an expansion for it, and as a way to encourage people to get back into the game in advance of the new content, offered a free month of bonus experience so that you could quickly level your characters to max level. I logged back in one day, mostly out of boredom and expecting to still be disappointed, selected the character I had abandoned a year or so earlier, and picked up that character's campaign where I had left off.

Almost instantly I could see this was a different game: it was still hard, but not overwhelmingly so, and gold and item drops were relatively plentiful (I upgraded every piece of gear for my character in the first two or three hours of playing). But really the main difference was that it was just fun again, in the same way that D2 was fun: the game had become the sequel that everyone was hoping for.

Blizzard has always been good at hitting that highly addictive sweet spot between being hard enough to be challenging but not too hard to be frustrating, and of doling out constant small rewards and upgrades to keep replayability high. I don't know how they missed the mark so badly with the initial release of D3, but they have definitely corrected those problems, and I find myself logging in for 20-30 minutes a day to get in some quick sessions (another thing they've gotten good at: setting up their games so they can be played in bite-sized chunks that make it much easier for casual gamers like me to stay engaged without needing to set aside hours of focused time to make progress). And many of my onlline friends from WoW have clearly had the same reaction: I see them all logged in much more frequently now, and I've started to group with them regularly (the game is designed around the solo experience, but you can make a group with up to four people for bigger challenges and rewards).

So Blizzard has restored my faith, and once again I find myself spending most of my limited gaming time with one of their products. It's been over a month since I stared playing again, and I bought the expansion the day it came out.


4.15.14
I know we're not going to get any snow like what they're predicting for the northeast, but still a freeze warning in Atlanta this time of year is pretty extreme. I really cannot wait for this winter to finally be over.


4.14.14
Our habit after church on Sundays is to stop at Farm Burger in Decatur and pick up lunch to take home. Generally this is a great experience—they have great burgers and interesting sides, and also have daily specials, and Farm Burger was one of the first places we ate as a family after moving to Atlanta, so there's some nostalgia for us too.

We did our normal stop this past Sunday again, but this time, instead of getting what we ordered (a pork burger that's one of their set menu items, and a veggie burger that was the special for the day), we got two regular hamburgers, both of which were dreadfully undercooked (I don't know who fared worse with this exchange—the two of us, who don't mind normal beef hamburgers but couldn't eat these because they were too rare, or the people who got our pork and veggie burgers who wanted red meat).

If this was just one mistake, we might not have been so irritated, but this comes on the heels of our last visit when my parents were in town when they forgot everyone's sides. So Julie called them up, and they handled it exactly as they should have—they fully comped the meal for us (which did include the correct sides and Will's grilled cheese) and also gave us $20 worth of credit for our next visit.

It's still going to be a while before I trust them enough to not check the order before leaving (which I hate doing, because it sends out a message to the employee you're dealing with that you think they're incompetent), but I'm glad they responded the way they did—we've been fans and customers for a long time, and our Sunday visits have become a little tradition for our family.


4.11.14
Haven't been to a movie by myself in a while. Might be time to give that a try again with the new Wes Anderson, which I am sure Julie has no interest in seeing and which I'd desperately like to see in the theaters.


4.10.14
I'm loving being able to see the Braves games on tv every night again. That's the way it used to be when Ted Turner owned both the team and TBS—every game that wasn't part of a major network broadcast was still nationally aired on TBS—but TBS gradually decreased the number of Braves games it showed, stopping altogether in 2007. So at that point, anyone living outside of Georgia only got to see the Braves play when they were part of a national broadcast.

But now that I'm here in Atlanta, my cable package includes the regional sports networks that together broadcast every game that isn't part of the package sold to ESPN or the major networks, so I could conceivable watch every game of the season if I wanted to.

I don't often get the chance to watch a game the whole way through, but I usually can catch the first couple of innings while fixing dinner or getting Will ready for bed, and I can catch the last couple after we eat and get the kitchen cleaned up. It makes me feel much more connected to the team than I have in a long time, and also gives me something sports-related to enjoy during the agonizingly long NFL offseason.


4.9.14
After Vonnegut, I briefly considered a return to Neal Stephenson, but instead decided to buy the Kindle version of James Gleick's biography of physicist Richard Feynman called Genius. This is a book that I actually own in its physical form, but I never got past the introduction before I put it down (and not because of the quality of the writing—I first encountered Gleick as a teenager when I read his popular work on chaos theory).

(This was one of those books that I had really hoped would show up in my Kindle MatchBook list, but it's clear to me after six months that this service is not going to end up giving me access to the electronic versions of the physical books I've purchased from Amazon—it's still the same three books since the service launched, with none of the dozens of other, more popular works showing up despite Amazon's claims that it is adding more books to the service all the time.)

It was serendipitous reading this right after Cat's Cradle, because Feynman was in many ways exactly one of those scientists who developed highly dangerous, highly world-altering technologies with no thought to the impact they would have on the planet. I'm referring specifically to Feynman's work on the first atomic bomb, which he seemed to view mostly as a fun lark in the desert where he got to play the boy wonder among much more eminent and established scientists. Even during the first test, when the rest of his comrades seemed to be reeling with the implications of what they had wrought, he was still mostly just enjoying the show.

(In case you don't know the plot of Cat's Cradle, it concerns the development of a new crystal structure for water called ice-nine that causes water to freeze at a temperature of 114 degrees Fahrenheit. A particuarly vivid passage describes the scientist who developed it playing around with it in his kitchen with no thought to what might happen if it got into the water supply, which emphasizes one of the main messages of the book: we have now become so powerful that we have created the engines of our own mass destruction, but with no more thought to the consequences than if we were building a fence or a road.)

I like science writing, and I like biographies, so I enjoyed this book, but there was a lot more science writing than biography in some sections, and after Feynman's time at Los Alamos, the narrative tended to jump around in time to match Feynman's work with larger developments in the field of physics. There was gradual forward progress, but there was a lot of shooting forward in time, then moving back to a period that was in the past compared to what where we had started with that chapter, so much so that I don't have a clear sense of where he was and what he was doing at any given point in time post WWII (and no, I don't think this was a subtle but intentional commentary on the physicists' notion that time flows equally well forwards or backwards in many of the pioneering quantum mechanical equations that Feynman developed—I just think the book wanted to use Feynman as a reference point to talk about many of the crucial developments in phsyics during his lifetime, and he was involved in so many theories at once that Gleick often had to resort to backtracking or jumping ahead in terms of Feynman's life to cover a particular theoretical framework).

Anyway. Good book if you want to know a bit about a remarkable mind and a lot about the second wave of quantum mechanical theorists. And I'm finally ready to return to Stehpenson, so I've started in on Quicksilver, the first volume in the Baroque Cycle, and I'm guessing that I won't come up for air from that saga for at least a couple more months.


4.8.14
I finished Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle a few weeks ago, and I enjoyed revisiting this one just as much as I did Galapagos and Sirens of Titan. I didn't do a lot of critical analysis and comparison of themes when I was first obsessed with Vonnegut as a team, but it's shocking how consistently the same messages come through in his works: most people are stupid and/or mean, but it's not really their fault because the universe is bewildering and/or pointless.

The religion piece is always present but alwasy indecipherable, which probably reflects Vonnegut's own issues with belief in a higher power: there always seems to be a god in his works—Galapagos explicitly states that there is a divine being and an afterlife—but that god really doesn't care that much about what's happening on Earth. But there are also always characters who are using religion and the belief in god to manipulate the people of Earth without the actual backing of the god they claim to represent, and even though it seems like this would be a cynical criticism of religions as a social control mechanism, those religious leaders actually do seem to have access to some sort of higher plan, even if that plan ultimately turns out to be meaningless.

It's a very confusing construct, and while I can see how it appealed to me as an agnostic teen who desperately wanted to believe (I focused more on there being a plan of some sort rather than on the fact that the plan had no real purpose), it makes a lot less sense to me know that I'm older and a little clearer on what I belive or don't believe.

But as usual, the book was funny as hell, especially if you have a cynical/pessimistic view of your fellow humans and their motivations. It was definitely the funniest of the three books of his that I've re-read recently, and I can see why, with its focus on the dangers of scientific experimentation that has no thought to the long-term consequences of new discoveries, it struck a chord with the audience of the 60s. It's a theme that has been explored countless times since then, and one that has been especially prominent since the advances in computing that we've seen over the past 20 years, but Vonnegut's novel is still a unique and compelling entry in the genre, and well worth re-visiting (or visiting if you've never read it).


4.7.14
My birthday was last Friday, and since my parents were in town and available for babysitting duty, Julie took me out to a surprise dinner on Saturday night at an Atlanta steakhouse called Bone's. I hadn't heard of it before, but when Julie was trying to figure out where to take me, she found that not only was it frequently named as the best steakhouse in Atlanta, but one of the best in the entire country.

Since we rarely go out to a nice dinner (it's not worth it to go out to one with Will, and we haven't tried out a babysitter yet, so we really only do this when we have grandparents visiting), we decided to splurge a bit and get an appetizer and salads in addition to our main course. For the appetizer we got the seared tuna, which was high quality and well executed but had nothing really special about it other than the dried capers that they served as a garnish. Julie tried a house salad, the ingredients for which I can't remember but which she enjoyed very much, while I went with a traditional Caesar, which I was pleased to discovered also included the very traditional anchovies which even many old school restaurants don't include these days. As with the tuna, the salads were very good but unremarkable.

For dinner, we decided to get one of the specials—a bone-in ribeye for two served sliced, and their grit fritters and brussels sprouts with caramelized onions and bacon. The steak was a perfect medium rare with a nice flavorful crust—they definitely did not fall short in the steak department, and although I'm sure I've had a least a few other steaks in my life as good as that one, this definitely belongs up there among the top four or five for me. The brussels sprouts were okay, but they weren't as good as the ones that I roast at home—these were pan-fried and could have used a bit more cooking, and I didn't really taste the bacon. The grit fritters were the most unique item we had, and they were very good—those I would definitely reorder on a return visit.

We didn't get a look at their dessert menu because for my birthday they brought out a complimentary slice of homemade ice cream cake that was so enormous that it easily could have fed three or four people, but Julie and I managed to finish it together. As good as that was, I'm guessing that a place like this probably has cheesecake as one of its standard desserts, and I'd really like to give that a try, since on the rare occasions that I get dessert, that tends to be the one I want.

The atmosphere was very traditional steakhouse with a very traditional steakhouse clientele (mostly businessmen, emphasizing the "men" part), but we did see a few other couples out on dates. And the service was generally as high-quality as you would expect from such a place—they called us by name and got me a perfect gin and tonic with Hendrick's and extra lime—with two small exceptions. When we were first seated, someone came to attend to us immediately and get our drink orders, which they returned with shortly, but then we probably went another 15 or 20 minutes without anyone talking to us again, despite sitting with our menus closed for at least 10 minutes of that time. We finally flagged down someone who looked to be a head waiter and he took our orders for us, and while my memories of the meal will be positive, there was a point where I was considering getting up and walking out because it was getting a little insulting seeing an endless parade of waiters walk past us without so much as glancing in our direction (and I'm not generally the kind of guy who does that—in fact I don't think I've ever done that, but then again, I don't think I've ever felt neglected at such an upscale place, either).

The seond minor incident was a repeat of the first—someone brought out the dessert, but didn't pause long enough to ask if we wanted coffee or anything, and no one else stopped to ask, either. I ended up catching the eye of the same head waiter guy who had finally taken our order and he got me a coffee, so it worked out fine, but again, when you set such high expectations for service, you expect perfection.

Overall, though, it was a great meal, a great experience, and a nice surprise for my birthday. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it, and I'm sure we'll be repeat customers.


4.4.14
43.


4.3.14
My parents are coming to town this afternoon to spend a long weekend with us. It happens to coincide with my birthday, which will be nice—normally I don't have any family (besides Julie and Will, of course) around for my birthday celebrations, and this will also give us convenient babysitters if Julie decides to take me out for a nice meal one night.

They haven't seen Will since November—they were here for Thanksgiving—and I think that they'll be shocked at how much he's changed since then. It hasn't been that long, but he's doing way more stuff independently now, he's a chatterbox, and in more and more ways he just looks like a little boy instead of a toddler. He LOVES it when any of the grandparents come to visit, and he's usually pretty wired by the time the visit is over. I expect Monday dropoff at school will be difficult, but it will be worth all the fun he'll have with them over the weekend.


4.2.14
I'm excited about baseball season being here again, but not as excited as I would have been 10 or 15 years ago. Before I lived in Baltimore, where it would have been a real hassle/expense to show up for Opening Day at the closest MLB stadium, I always took at least half a day off work to watch the Braves opener on TBS. Then, after we moved to Baltimore, I saw almost every O's home opener in person, and there were several years when we purchased a 13 game partial season ticket plan and went to most of those games (and sometimes a few others, like if they were playing the Braves in interleague games).

But since moving to Atlanta, the home of the team I've rooted for for as long as I've been a baseball fan, I haven't even tried to go to an Opening Day, and although we've been to a few regular season games, we usually only go to two or three. Part of that is the location of the stadium—like everything in Atlanta, it takes forever to get to when there are several thousand other people trying to get there at the same time—but part of it is that I'm just not that passionate about the sport or the team either.

For some reason they are opening the season this year in Milwaukee and then DC (it seems like they would try to schedule the southernmost teams for home games early in April), but there are still tickets available for when they play their first game in Atlanta against the Mets next Tuesday. But just like last year, I don't think I'll be there. My tastes have shifted so much to the NFL in recent years that I get more excited reading about offseason moves by the Ravens than I do about a Braves win.


4.1.14
The Walking Dead season 4 finale was so intenst that I'm almost willing to forgive the achingly slow pace of much of the second half of the season, especially because it's clear that the opening episodes of season 5 are going to be very fast-paced. Virtually every minute of this episode was filled with tension and hard decisions that reminded us in a very visceral way just what kind of world these people are living in, and just what kind of people they're going to have to become in order to live in it.

There's every chance that, before the first half of the next season is over, they're going to have turned into exactly the kind of people that Shane insisted you'd need to be in order to make it, although it's also clear that part of what's going to allow them to survive is their bonds with each other, which was a major theme of the second half of season 4.

As for Terminus, we all knew that was going to end badly—with a loaded name like Terminus, how could it not?—but we still don't know the exact nature of the place and the people who live there. My best guess right now is that they are cannibals—both times when we've seen groups arrive, there has been a barbecue with fresh meat that was served to the new guests, and in one of the chase scenes with Rick's group they seemed to be running past what looked like a slaughtering pit filled with human bones (not zombie corpses, but the remnants of humans who didn't turn).

This would also solve the riddle of how a colony could accept so many newcomers and keep from growing too large to control or be sustainable—there's a small core group, and all the recent arrivals are just food for them. And of course, that's why they would invest in putting up signs everywhere telling people how to get there.

That's not the only theory that you could make work, but that's the one that makes the most sense to me, and I think the writers have given enough hints that this is what's going on. But now we have to wait until October to know for sure...


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