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11.30.17
Normally we go see the holiday lights at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens with my parents when they visit for Thanksgiving, so I had already bought tickets for everyone for Friday night before we knew that my stepmother would be in the hospital and my dad would be by her side there (and the tickets are non-refundable and non-transferrable). Luckily, Mike and Missi (who joined us for Thanksgiving) were able to use the tickets meant for my dad and stepmother, and there were still child tickets available for their daughter.

We got there pretty early, and I immediately started in with my favorite discovery from last year: hot chocolate spiked with Bailey's (I think I ended up having 3? I'm honestly not quite sure, but I know I had at least that many). Will loved having a buddy to run around with, and everyone had a pretty good time (my sister and brother-in-law have come with us for the past few years, but this was Mike and Missi's first time). The big new attraction this year was an area surrounding the serpentine bridge where they had hung hundreds of strands of lights from some netting in the trees and then synced up light patterns among all the strands and set them to music. It was as beautiful and endlessly watchable as the fountains at the Bellagio—we wathed it through two complete cycles, and we returned for a few more minutes at the end of the evening.

Saturday was my sister's wedding anniversary, and I had made reservations at a Japanese steakhouse for the celebration. My dad was actually intended to go with us, but at the last minue my stepmoth had a little setback and so he stayed with her, so it was just the five of us (my sister, her husband, Julie, Will, and me). The two spots at the table where my parents would have sat were given to a gay couple who I had a good time chatting with. Will of course had a ball, and he continued his recent infatuation with sushi, eating the equivalent of an 8 piece roll by himself (he ate most of the roll he picked out and then had a couple of pieces from the one Julie and I shared).

It was a nice night, but again we felt very keenly the absence of my stepmother and dad.


11.29.17
We obviously weren't able to run the Thanksgiving 5K (there was no one to watch Will for us), but otherwise Thanksgiving itself was pretty normal. I put the turkey in the brine around midnight and then prepped it and got it in the oven when my sister left her house. It was ready right around the time she arrived with her friends Missi and Mike and their daughter (who had all come to the fair and the corn maze with us earlier this fall), and we spent the next 45 minutes or so warming up all the side dishes while the turkey rested.

It was pretty standard fare for us: my sister brought mashed potatoes, her own stuffing (she's very picky), a broccoli casserole, and several grocery store pies for dessert; we contributed sweet potato casserole, collards, stuffing, King's Hawaiian rolls (Will's new favorite source of carbs), a squash casserole (although not the one I usually cook—this one didn't have a cream of mushroom soup as a binder and instead had layers of mozarella with a panko and parmesan crust), gravy, and of course, the turkey, which turned out pretty well this year.

It was strange not to have dad and Rachel there, especially because my dad usually carves the turkey, but he was able to stop by and have a plate of food with us about an hour after we started eating. Then we all settled in to watch the Cowboys (my sister's team) lose yet again in what's turning into a disaster of a season for a team that was expected to make the postseason again before everyone said goodbye and headed back to their homes.


11.28.17
My dad and stepmother arrived in town the day before Thanksgiving, two days after we got back from Myrtle Beach. I had already prepped and cooked all of my side dishes, and I had my turkey brine ready to go, so we were expecting to go out to eat with them once they arrived and then all turn in early (they are usually tired from the drive, and Julie and I were planning to get up early to run in the Thanksgiving Day 5K that we've run the past couple of years).

But my stepmother wasn't feeling well when she arrived, and it was so severe that after a few hours my dad decided to take her to the ER to get her checked out. Luckily the Emory Hospital is only about five minutes from our house, so it didn't take long to get her there and get her seen. They kept her overnight while they ran bloodwork and a CT scan, and by the next morning they had admitted her to the hospital.

The hope was that they could use a fairly conservative treatment that wouldn't require surgery and that would clear up the issue so she could come home after a couple of days. However, she hadn't made any real progress after five days, so after further tests and scans, the doctors recommended surgery, and she had the procedure this morning.

She's doing well, and so far there's every indication that this has fixed the issue, but her recovery could last another 5-7 days in the hospital, after which they'll probably want her to spend a couple of days in our home recuperating further before undertaking the long drive back home. We've been able to visit her almost every day so far (except when she wasn't feeling up to it), and we'll continue to do that as long as she's here. Will loves hanging out with all his grandparents, no matter what the context, and I think it really lifts her spirits to see him and experience his sunny energy.


11.27.17
The Saturday before Thanksgiving, we drove to Myrtle Beach to visit my mom. That day was her 70th birthday, and since she is still recovering from the hip injury she suffered earlier this fall, she isn't able to drive and visit anyone.

We got there later in the afternoon and hung out with her for a while before we headed over to her brother's house for dinner. We didn't eat until around 8, which is late for us (with a seven year old), but he usually eats around 10, so that was a big compromise for him. I had a couple of Moscow Mules while he was fixing dinner, which was pretty amazing: large seasoned steamed shrimp, corn on the cob, and boiled potatoes. We had gone to the grocery store earlier in the day and gotten a cake, so everyone had a slice of that after dinner.

Sunday was the only full day we had with her, and after a lazy morning, we took my mom out to a brunch place that she'd never been to before that had good reviews called Tupelo Honey. It was pretty good overall, and it was nice enough weather that we were able to eat outside.

After that we took her out for a trip to the local aquarium, which was surprisingly good. One especially cool thing was that their current special exhibit focused on jellyfish, which Will loves, and not only did we get to see a lot of different species in different glowing tanks, they actually had a touch tank with moon jellyfish that don't have very many stingers and which only have a very mild sting if you happen to touch them. Will thought that was the best thing in the world, although he also enjoyed the manta ray feeding pool and the horseshoe crab touch tank.

On Monday morning, we ran a few more errands for my mom and took care of some final household chores before having lunch with her and hitting the road. She usually splits Christmas between our house and my sister's (who lives about 45 minutes away), and I don't think she'll be able to drive by then, so we'll have to figure something out. But it was nice to spend some time with her and be there on her birthday.


11.17.17
The next week is going to be pretty hectic—we're leaving tomorrow to visit my mom (who can't travel because she's still recovering from when she injured her hip back in September), and then we'll be back on Monday just in time for my dad and stepmother to come into town for a few days for Thanksgiving. So no updates for a while, but I can assure you that we'll be very busy.


11.16.17
I finished reading the three books in the Alchemy Wars series by Ian Tregillis: The Mechanical, The Rising, and The Liberation. The premise behind this series is that noted Dutch mathematician and clockmaker Christian Huygens invented a secret process in the 1600s that allowed him to create autonomous robots (called clackers) with immense strength, incredible reflexes, and complex thought patterns who could be controlled by imprinting sigils in their brains that would force them to ignore their inherent free will and follow the commands of humans. To counter the swift global rise to power of the Dutch after these mechanicals were produced at scale, the French developed expertise in chemistry that allowed them to effectively fight mechicals with quick-setting epoxys that could paralyze them on the battlefield.

The books pick up the story in that world's version of 1926, where the French have been completely pushed out of France and forced to set up a new capital in Canada, and almost all labor in the Dutch kingdoms are performed by mechnicals, and the primary protagonist is a mechnical named Jax who suffers damage during a storm at sea while he is on his way from Europe to New York (still known as New Amsterdam in this world) that frees him from his compulsion to serve humans (called geas) and restores his free will.

It's an interesting premise, and with decent writing and a fast paced plot, it was a quick read too. But there were problems that made me like the series less and less as it went on. The good: Tregillis does a pretty good job of world building and creating an alternate history, and he is able to quickly draw memorable characters.

The bad: the series feels like it should have been one long book—there was no real gap in time between the three books, so both of the first two books ends with a cliffhanger (which would have been really annoying had I read them when they were published, because I would have had to wait several months to have the cliffhanger resolved). The two most prominent female characters, the head spymaster for the French side (Berenice) and the Dutch head of the clockmakers guild, who build and program the mechanicals (Anastasia Bell), are often hard to tell apart—they are both cold-hearted and cunning but also share some of the same weaknesses. There were times when I'd be reading from one of their points of view and forget which character I was seeing the world through.

The other thing that didn't get even a perfunctory explanation: how the clackers were imbued with free will, and how Huygens invented them in the first place. There are eventually descriptions of some of their inner workings, changes we can see when they are damaged in a certain way, and some insight given into how humans go about imprinting geasa onto a mechanical mind, but basically it's all equivalent to saying "A wizard did it!"

Finally, the author could sometimes be VERY repetitive with his language. I don't know how many times he described a bead of sweat trickling down a woman's neck in betwen her breasts, and there was one section where he labeled a particular character a wretch almost constantly, including twice in the same sentence. You could also tell that "susurration" and "tintinnabulation" are two of his favorite words—he found reasons to use them each at least twice in each of the three books.

Overall I enjoyed the series, but the more I think about the unexplained parts of the universe (how clackers actually worked and how it was even remotely possible that they hadn't completely wiped out the enemies of the Dutch over the course of several hundred years), the constant employment of plot Macguffins, and other inconsistencies with the world Tregillis created, and the lack of development of many of the major characters, the harder it becomes for me to recommend this series to others. In other words: it's fun if you don't think about it to much, but it's also begging you to think deeply about things like the nature of free will, the dehumanizing effects of slavery of any sort, and how an imbalance in technology can quickly and radically shift the. All weighty, worthy themes to ruminate on in our day and age, but ones that aren't given a rich enough context to be meaningful or useful contributions to that dialogue in these books.


11.15.17
UGA was the only game I cared about watching this weekend—the Ravens were on their bye week—and it was unfortunately their first loss of the season. It was an away game against Auburn, and it was not pretty. The offensive line couldn't keep the pash rushers away from Fromm, nor could they create any running lanes for the quartet of talented running backs on the UGA roster, and the defense couldn't do anything right either. The final score was 40-17, and it was a brutal, humiliating loss for a team that had been ranked number one in the country the previous two weeks.

Their postseason hopes are still very much alive, however—they have already clinched the SEC East, so they will play in the SEC championship game in December, and whoever wins that game will be a lock for one of the four spots in the national championship playoffs. They will either play Auburn again or Alabama, and either way it's going to be a tough game. But if they can win out the rest of the regular season and take that game, there will be no doubt about their status as one of the best teams in college football this year.

However, the UGA game was not the only one I watched this weekend: on Sunday I went with my sister to see her beloved Cowboys play the Falcons at Mercedes Benz. We had been talking about it on and off, but we never seriously looked at tickets, etc. But on Friday I asked her about it, and we started scouring sites like Seatgeek and StubHub to see what kind of deals we could get.

We ended up with pretty good seats about four rows back on the 20 yardline on the Cowbosy side of the field. It's a shame for my sister that her team did not do well at all—aside from an early drive where Dak ran in for a touchdown, they were pretty terrible on both sides of the ball (the o-line was especially bad, allowing a single Falcons defender to get six solo sacks, setting a new Falcons record for sacks in a single game). But it was fun to go to the game with her, and to see something besides soccer being played at what is one of the best sports facilities in the country.


11.14.17
Julie and Will had a busy weekend. Saturday morning was raking leaves with his Cub Scout Den (this is how they raise money instead of selling popcorn like most packs do), which Julie and I both participated in (the parents do most of the work, but Will was definitely able to pitch in more than he did last year). In the afternoon Julie took him to a friend's party at a laser tag place, the first time he'd ever visited one (he had a great time even though he's not normally into shooting games—he once told us that most boys are "pew pew" boys but he is a "love love" boy). It also had an arcade, and they got to play the games there for a while after the laser tab matches were over.

Sunday they visited a cat cafe, where you can get a cup of coffee and sit in a room with a bunch of kittens who are up for adoption. Will LOVED that, and it's lucky that we're already at our limit of three cats or else I think he would have come home with another. Then he had his Cub Scout den meeting to practice presenting the colors for the big pack meeting later this week, and finally he and Julie fixed a Hello Fresh box for dinner.

I was feeling a little under the weather, so I didn't participate in much, instead staying home, getting some rest, and catching up on some work. We're about to go full steam into the holiday season, which is also one of our most intense periods at work, and I need to be as healthy and well rested as possible to make it through.


11.13.17
A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that our fridge was not keeping things as cool as normal and that the items in the freezer were starting to get soft. When we had someone come out to look at it, they gave us the bad news: the compressor needed to be replaced. On top of that, it would take him a couple of days to get the part, and it would cost close to $900.

This appliance came with the house, but it was only six years old (we've owned the house for five), and the compressor on it has already failed once. The first time it happened, it was still under warranty, so the parts and labor on the replacement were free, but after this compressor also failed, we figured that there was a design flaw with this model and that we'd likely be paying another $900+ for yet another compressor in the next few years. So we decided to get a new fridge.

We immediately moved all the frozen food to the big freezer downstairs in the basement and started a rotation of ice containers using several of our mixing bowls and cooking pots and pans in order to keep the refigerator within acceptable tolerances for a few days (when the ice in the fridge would start to thaw, we would swap it with the ones we had put in the downstairs freezer, which would then resolidify by the time the ones upstairs would start to melt).

We did as much research as we could to find a similar model in our price range, settled on two or three acceptable models, and then looked online to see which applicance vendor could deliver one of them in the shortest amount of time. No one could bring us one that weekend (we made the decision to buy a new one on a Thursday), but Sears said they could have one for us on Monday, with a TBD delivery window. So we made the purchase and waited to see when it would show up.

First they gave us a window of 2-4, so I made sure I was home from work before that. But by the time I got home, it had changed from 4-6, and the online tracking link they helpfully provided showed how many deliveries were left ahead of ours. I started keeping track of how often they were completing deliveries at that point, so it was no surprise to me when our window soon moved to 6-8 and then to "by 8", which technically is the same thing as 6-8 but which clearly indicated some other status internally.

It was taking about an hour and fifteen minutes per delivery (which includes installation and water line hookup), and when we got to 7 p.m., there were still four deliveries left before they got to us. I thought that might have prompted them to contact me to reschedule for first thing the next morning, but they didn't call by 7:30, so I reached out to them.

This was one of the most frustrating and infuriating customer services calls in my life. The calls were clearly being outsourced to an Indian call center, and they clearly had a script that they did not deviate from (including the managers). Their basic spiel was to apologize for the inconvenience, attempt to sympathize with my frustration, and then continue to insist that my appliance would be arriving within the next 45 minutes, despite the tracker (which both of us could see) saying that there were still multiple deliveries left ahead of mine.

So I called back every 45 minutes to say that the delivery still had not happened so I could try to reschedule for the next morning, but the only things they would do is 1) promise (lie) that the applicance would be there in the next 30-45 minutes and 2) offer me a re-delivery date three days later. Which is completely ridiculous and unacceptable.

I was really at the end of my rope around 10 p.m. when I got a call directly from the manager at the local company that was actually responsible for the deliveries (the name and contact information for which the call center had refused to provide to me even though they claimed to be in contact with them). This guy admitted that the deliery truck would not make it to our house until after midnight (which he agreed was completely unacceptable), and offered me a new delivery window of 8-10 the next morning, which I gladly accepted.

We didn't have an official confirmation of this time, and the online tracking system actually listed our applicance as having been delivered, but the truck showed up around 10, and within half an hour they had removed the old fridge and installed the new one. It was a very frustrating week trying to get this situation resolved, especially the final 24 hours, but the new refrigerator seems to be working well. Hopefully we've picked one with better reliablility than our previous one, but it's got a better warranty just in case.


11.10.17
Last weekend the big Will news that he ran his first 5K. He has come with us to 5K races before, but we've always registered him in the one mile run, which Julie would usually run with him instead of the 5K. And although he hasn't really warmed to the idea of running with either of us for recreation, when we asked him about this race, he wanted to give the full 5K a try.

He did pretty good, too, finishing in about 45 minutes. He still has problems with pacing—he tends to run really fast until he's exhausted and needs to walk, and then repeats that cycle instead of finding a steady pace he can maintain—but that's more or less to be expected at his age, especially he's not running that distance regularly. I'm encouraged that he not only finished in the time he did, but was still excited about it and so proud of himself— he's already asked if he can run another one.

The other thing that happened during the week this week was that they announced the winners of the creativity contest at school. Will submitted entries in writing (which he's done since he was in kindergarten) and photography (which he also did last year), and he won first place for writing and second place for photography. I wasn't able to attend the ceremony because I was at a conference, but Julie was able to go and cheer him on.

Next his materials will go on to the district level, where he's done pretty well—he has been in the top five for the district both of the past two years for his writing. I'm just happy he's engaging with creative endeavors, so any recognition is just icing on the cake, but he gets so excited about winning—he even taped his two certificates to his wall to show them off.


11.9.17
UGA improved to 9-0 after a win over South Carolina, a team that doesn't have the talent it did a few years ago but which has always given Georgia trouble. In the process, they maintained their number one national ranking and clinched the SEC East and a spot in the SEC championship game in December. If both UGA and Alabama can remain undefeated, there should be real consideration to both teams being in the playoffs no matter who wins the SEC championship game.

The Ravens fell below .500 in a stupid loss to Tennessee, one that could have been a win if our mostly great defense didn't suffer from the same fourth quarter focus problems that have plagued our approach for the past several seasons. While they are still mathematically in the playoffs (thanks in part to much of the AFC being mediocre to terrible this year), they sure don't feel like a playoff team right now.

With a win here and a win against a very beatable Chicago team a few weeks ago, this team could easily be 6-3 instead of 4-5, but when you watch them play, the mostly feel like a below average team. There have been a few brilliant games, like the shutouts over Cincinnati and Miami, but most of our losses haven't been close, and a couple of our wins feel like a combination of incompetence from the other team and our strong defense being able to protect a precious few points produced by our offense.

But so far we've lost every game to a team that is currently playoff-bound, and our wins have come against teams with losing records. The schedule the rest of the way will help us—after next week's bye week, the back half of the season is heavy with home games and/or weak opponents—but if they can't fix the problems on offense, even if they can magically make it into the playoffs via a wild card slot, they're going to get knocked out in the first round by a team that can get it done on both sides of the ball.


11.8.17
After much deliberation over which new iPhone and Apple Watch models to upgrade to, I finally made my choices and have my new devices: an iPhone X that I received on launch day (I logged onto the AT&T site 15 minutes before preorders were supposed to start and had completed my transaction 10 minutes later) and the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE.

I love having the bigger screen size on the iPhone without having to have the phone itself be too much bigger than the iPhone 6 I've been using for the past three years, but it definitely feels much heavier in my hands, likely due to the glass back, which is going to add more weight than aluminum. It's also very noticeable how much faster the processor is in the new phone—the interface feels very responsive compared to my iPhone 6.

I haven't had any issues with the new FaceID technology—it occasionally fails, but no more often than my thumbprint unlock would fail on my first try, and just like TouchID, FaceID typically works fine on the second attempt if for some reason it fails on the first. Usually by the time I've got my finger positioned to swipe up to open the home screen, FaceID has already verified me and I don't have to think about doing anything special to unlock my phone.

I'm also happy with the speed of my new Apple Watch compared to my old one (I had one of the original ones without GPS, etc.), and it will be nice having GPS baked in so I can get more accurate distances on my runs. I'm also hoping to get a pair of the wireless AirPods sometime soon, which will allow me to stream music from my Watch directly. That means I will be able to ditch my old iPod Shuffle and wired EarPods and go on runs with only my Watch and the AirPods.

I didn't activate the LTE component because I'm hoping the cellular providers will eventually make this free just like they did with tethering, but it was worth it to pay the LTE premium for the doubled storage capacity compared to the non-LTE version and in order to get the band I wanted. The LTE version was $70 more, but for an extra 8 gigs of memory, not having to pay a separate $50 for my preferred band, and for having the option to activate the cellular functionality if I want to, it was well worth it.


11.3.17
I was intrigued by the idea of The Orville, the new Star Trek-inspired series from Family Guy creator Seth Macfarlane, but it didn't do much for me after watching the first couple of episodes. But I stuck with it, and now I'm really warming up to it.

If Galaxy Quest was a parody of ST:TOS with Kirk and his crew, then The Orville is parodying The Next Generation. The sets, the music, the visual effects, and the overall mood are definitely inspired by that show. But while there are comedic elements that lampoon elements of that show, there's also a clear reverence for it, and the wrap-up-a-mystery-in-a-single-episode nature of the show is definitely a callback to that age of sci fi storytelling (compared to the extended story arcs of more recent shows like the revamped Battlestar Galactica and The Expanse).

It's going to take a while for the writers and the cast to really find their footing, but Fox has already renewed it for a second season. Which is good—season 1 looks like its only slated to have 12 episodes, and that may not be quite enough time for it to gain the necessary traction with a fanbase that could sustain it for many years.


11.2.17
The Ravens didn't play Sunday because they played last Thursday instead, and it was a dominating game in what has become a Jekyll and Hyde season where they either destroy the opponent (in this case scoring 40 points and allowing none to a Miami team that some thought would be playoff contenders this year) or being utterly destroyed themselves.

They are still technically in the playoff picture thanks to a terrible AFC this year, but they sure don't feel like a playoff team at this point, even with a win like the one they had on Thursday night. The offense is going to have to get much, much better—because there will be games when they have to win it instead of the defense keeping them from losing it—and I'm not sure this unit has the coaching staff, the talent, or frankly the drive to compete with the very best.

UGA, on the other hand, has their best chance in years to make it to the college football playoffs and compete for a championship. Over the weekend they destoyed Florida 42-7 (and that score makes it look closer than it actually was), a team they haven't beaten since 2013. They are now the number one team in the country, and it's not at all inconceivable that they could have an undefeated season.

They're almost certainly going to the SEC championship as the winner of the SEC East, where they will almost certainly face Alabama. They might be able to make it into the playoffs even without winning the SEC championship given how good they've been in so many games, but certainly if they win that one, there will be no way to deny them entry into the championship playoffs.


11.1.17
Here were our pumpkins for this year:

Will picked out both designs—he loves kitties and he loves happy faces, so the Inception-like smiling jack-o-latern with eyes and teeth that were also smiling jack-o-laterns was irresistible to him.

He had a pretty good night trick or treating—my sister and brother-in-law came over like they have the past few years, and they were joined by their friends who have the seven year old daughter who went to the fair and the corn maze with us recently, so Will had a buddy to trick or treat with. They both came back with massive hauls of candy.

I wasn't feeling well, so I stayed home to give out candy, but that consisted of three groups of kids for a total of 8 individual trick or treaters. It's weird—our neighborhood is full of kids in elementary school (we're right around the corner from one of the best elementary schools in the county), and that population seems to go up every year (there are at least seven kids I know of on our part of the street alone), but everyone seems to trick or treat in other parts of the neighborhood.


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