july 2011

Will turned 1 on Sunday, and because our day care provider happened to be on vacation the week before, we decided to take a vacation ourselves and head down to my father's house for a week and a half. Not only do he and my stepmother have the most room of any of the grandparents, he's also more or less in the middle of my mom and Julie's mom, making it easier for everyone to get together for his birthday party.

It was a nice break, but it was good to get home after being away so long (it might be the longest we've been away from home since moving into this house over a decade ago). We actually got back on Monday, but I took yesterday off as well to help Will reacclimate before he has to go back to day care.

We got to my father's house in Wilmington, NC, on July 1, and Will was pretty amazing in the car. We left around 6:30 in the morning trying to avoid traffic, and we were able to go five hours before we needed to stop and get him a meal (the trip takes about seven hours if you don't stop). After lunch, he went to sleep right away and stayed asleep until we were on the outskirts of town.

A lot of our family planned to come see Will for his birthday, but for that first week, it was just going to be us, my parents, and my sister (who is currently living with my parents). Once I knew when we were going to head down, I mentioned our schedule to my friend Regan, who lives in Georgia but who I haven't had a proper visit with in four or five years, and she worked things out so she could stay at my father's house for a couple of days before heading off to visit her parents for July 4. We got there early in the afternoon on Friday, and she arrived a couple of hours later.

For those first couple of days, I spent a lot of time with Regan, catching up and just hanging out. I went on a distillery tour 10 or 12 years ago and bought her a bottle of whiskey from the distillery, but I never had a chance to give it to her before now because it was too inconvenient to transport during our other visits, so we drank a little of that together on Friday night (I still actually have it, though—she left early on Sunday morning and forgot to retrieve it from the liquor cabinet before she left). We went out to visit the house that my sister is trying to restore, had lunch at a sushi place, and sat on the dock, but mostly we just talked and enjoyed some one on one time.

The early part of the week after Regan left was pretty alright. On Sunday, we went over to the house of some of my parents' friends for an early Independence Day celebration. It's a little community of townhouses that has a green space and a small marina at the center, and the entire neighborhood pitches in to buy fireworks that they set off in the marina parking lot. There was a cookout on the back porch, and some drinking, and then it got dark and they set off the fireworks, which were amazing—they had to have spent at least $1000 (and maybe as much as $2000). The boxes were all arranged in neat rows, and a guy just went along lighting one after the other, so it was about 20 minutes of continuous fireworks going off right over our heads. We were concerned about how Will would deal with them, and although he freaked out a little at first, he settled down after a few minutes and seemed to really enjoy them.

Monday I think we mostly just hung around the house, but I do remember sitting out on the porch after it got dark and watching all the fireworks going off up and down the coast. At any given moment, there were at least three people setting off pretty big displays, and this went on from various locations around us for the better part of an hour. It was pretty cool, and just about as entertaining as the neighborhood celebrations that we've seen in our town over the past few years.

Tuesday I played golf with my dad, and either Tuesday or Wednesday we took Will for his first boat ride. He seemed to enjoy that, too, although he was a little tense. I held onto him tight, and he had his infant life vest on, but the entire time we were on the boat he was just staring straight ahead and humming loudly to himself. On the way back home from dinner (we went to a restaurant with a dock), we saw some dolphins in the channel, and then saw another group of them around our pier as we were getting out of the boat.

That part of the week was the closest thing to a vacation that we got—we didn't really have a schedule, and we got to do some pretty fun things. But then on Friday the rest of the family started to arrive...

My sister and her husband showed up first, and we were still a small enough group to go to lunch together (barely), so we went to our favorite hot dog place, Salt Works (which Julie and I had taken Will to once already earlier in the week). By the time we got back from running some errands after lunch (including ordering balloons for Will's party on Sunday), my brother had arrived with his girlfriend and her two teenage daughters. This meant that we now had a total of 10 people staying in my father's house, along with my sister and her boyfriend, who were frequently around during the day.

The sleeping arrangements were all worked out by then, but not without some serious negotiation. Originally I thought the plan was that we would stay upstairs in my brother's old room, which is linked via a bathroom to my old room so we could keep Will in there when it was time for him to sleep. This is what we had done at Christmas, and it worked really well—those rooms are upstairs in the corner, as far as you can get from noise and people walking around, and he had slept pretty well even when there was a lot going on downstairs. Then my sister and her husband would stay in the guest bedroom downstairs, and my brother and his group would stay in a nearby hotel—that way they could stay as late as they wanted to socialize, but they had a place to retreat to where they had some private space.

But my stepmother really, really wanted everyone to stay in the house, so her plan was to have us move down to the guest bedroom, my sister and her husband stay on a pullout couch in the playroom, my brother's girlfriend stay in his old room and her daughters stay in my old room, and my brother stay on a couch in the kitchen area, which made things less than ideal for pretty much everyone except for my brother's girlfriend and her daughters. We were especially concerned about sleeping in the guest bedroom with Will; not only would we risk waking him up when we came to bed because he would actually be sleeping in the room with us, but because the guest bedroom was located right next to the living room (where everyone tends to gather to talk and/or watch movies) and on a hallway that has lots of traffic, all of which would be likely to wake him up after he'd gone to bed. And he is not a happy baby when his nighttime sleep gets interrupted.

I was anxious about this all week, but after many, many discussions and my sister who lives with my parents agreeing to give up her room and stay with her boyfriend for the weekend, we hit on the following solution: we would stay upstairs with Will, my sister and her husband would stay in the guest bedroom as originally planned, my brother and his girlfriend would stay on the pullout couch in the playroom, and her daughter's would share my sister's room.

It was still a little too crowded for my taste—my father and I both need our space and time away from other people or we get cranky, and we got cranky enough with one another by Saturday that I stormed out of the house like a 17 year old and drove around for several hours before I came back home (and I was still right pissed until I woke up the next morning, even skipping dinner to fume in the courtyard by myself for another couple of hours). But that was definitely a better solution than the original one that my stepmother had in mind (if we had gone with that option, I seriously might have gone to a hotel myself those two nights).

On Sunday, the house full of relatives were joined by my mom and Julie's mom for Will's birthday party, which went pretty well. We all sat in a big circle of chairs in the living room, with Will sitting in the small high chair my parents had bought for the visit. We had lunch and then cake; his cake was made by a coworker of mine and was a big carrot cake, but Will actually had a cupcake with his name written in icing that was also carrot cake but without any nuts (the doctor tells us that nuts, shellfish, and raw eggs are off limits for him at his age).

After cake was present opening time, which took a long, long time. He got a lot of really great presents—everyone was paying attention when we told them that he liked toys with lots of buttons that played music, and miraculously no one bought the same thing for him. After that we finished up with a pinata that, instead of hitting with a stick, you pulled ribbons that hung from the bottom, and one of those ribbons tore out the bottom and released all the prizes. There were also lots and lots of balloons, which he loves; he gets really excited when we go to the grocery store and he gets to look at all the ones floating above the checkout lanes.

We left very early the next morning so we could beat traffic (we were mainly concerned about getting home before the 5:00 rush hour around DC), and he was again an angel in the car. We kind of did the vacation in the wrong order—all the relaxing stuff was at the beginning, and all the hectic, stressful stuff was at the end—but it was a good trip overall.

I finally got an invite to Google+, and it's pretty much exactly what I predicted a competitor would come up with almost exactly two years ago if Facebook didn't add the ability to easily compartmentalize your friends and send statuses to only certain groups. I'm glad to see it, and since I've recently transitioned all my mail to Gmail (I still use my bluecricket.com addresses as my primaries, but they all feed automatically into my Gmail account, and the replies still go through the bluecricket.com server; I also moved all my archives from my desktop email program, which were kept only on my hard drive, into mirror folders in Gmail, so I've got everything I've ever received or written available to me in the cloud), I'm more open to using Google's services for everything.

It might take awhile for them to build up the user base that Facebook has, especially since signing up still requires an invite from someone who is already on the service (if you know me, feel free to hit me up for one), and it's likely that Facebook is busy working on making their own versions of these features now that the company they should be most scared of has implemented them (although Google's track record with social networking sites/projects if pretty poor at this point—they've tried half a dozen times before Google+), but this is the first serious challenge to Facebook's dominance that I've seen.

What I really need now? A web app or service that will let me push my Twitter updates to both Facebook and Google+, so I only have to update once to have my status published on all the services I use.

Also: I have yet to see someone else writing about Google+ refer to it as G+. So I'm doing that now, and I'll be happy to take credit for what will inevitably become the shorthand for the service on teh interwebs. And no, I'm not going to Google this so I can see how many dozens of other people used this abbreviation within hours of the service launching.

I'm going to the doctor today for a checkup for the first time since...well, in a long, long time. Since it's my first visit to this office, I have to fill out some paperwork in the form of a very poorly constructed and lengthy questionnaire about my medical history. Here are some actual questions (there are over 100 total):

Is your skin more sensitive than average?
Did a doctor ever say you had a goiter?
Do strange people or places make you feel afraid?
Does criticism upset you?
Have you ever had jaundice?
Do people often annoy and irritate you?

Also, there's a long string of questions at the end that ask for a specific answer (weight, dates of immunizations, etc.), but the only options you are given for answering are Yes or No.

I'm really anxious about this because I'm always nervous about going to the doctor—when I was a little kid, I had three surgeries by the time I was five to correct ptosis in my left eye, and I'm sure that made quite the terrifying sensory impression on my reptile brain—but hopefully everything will check out fine and I'll get out of there quickly.

Following dad's long overdue checkup yesterday, Will has his one-year appointment with the pediatrician today. We're not concerned about anything—we know he's healthy and developing well mentally and physically—but it will be interesting to see where he's falling compared to previous visits and other children his age. He doesn't seem especially skinny to us, but he always seems to be much higher in the length percentile than he is in weight, which, if those ratios have to be disparate, is certainly better than the other way round.

Still hard to believe he's been here a year. In some ways it feels like he just got here; in others, like he's been here forever. It's hard to imagine life without him.

As is my habit when I go on vacation, I read a lot when we were in Wilmington for Will's birthday. Here's what I was able to get through in the week-plus that we were gone: Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind Sports Are Played and Won; Kristin Hersh's memoir, Rat Girl; Superfreakonomics, the sequel to Freakonomics; and The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime. I also knocked out a few more chapters of The Disappearing Spoon, which I've been taking small bites out of for months.

Scorecasting was the first one I read, and it was only okay. It was billed as the all-sports version of Freakonomics, and while it was thoroughly researched, it was a bit data heavy and it tended to return to the same themes to explain a wide variety of behaviors in sports. Anyone who has kept up with the rise of Bill James-type analysis in sports, particularly baseball, over the past ten years will probably find fewer new bits of information in this book, but they did tackle some original questions as well.

This might be a great book for a sports nut who's also a stats geek who has somehow missed all the great discussion already happening in stats analysis over the last few years, but I'm betting there aren't many of those, and for the two types of readers who might consider this book—those who love sports but not data analysis or those who love data analysis and are curious about its application in sports—there's going to be some sort of disconnect.

It was sort of a worthwhile read, although it was boring at times—it would have been better if I could have borrowed this from someone instead of buying it myself.

After I was done with Scorecasting, I traded it to my dad for his copy of Superfreakonomics. I really enjoyed the original Freakonomics, but I never picked up the sequel because I wasn't quite sure if they would really be able to do a better job than they did in the first one.

But boy, was I wrong. Even though I was a bit stats-fatigued after reading Scorecasting, I enjoyed the hell out of Superfreakonomics. I think it's even better than Freakonomics, not only for the breadth of topics they cover and the way they ask the questions they're examining, but for the insight in their analysis. I highly, highly recommend this book if you liked the original, and if you haven't read either but you're interested in how economic theories can be applied to non-financial questions, I might even start with Superfreakonomics over the original.

The Baseball Codes: Beanballs, Sign Stealing, and Bench-Clearing Brawls: The Unwritten Rules of America's Pastime might sound like another Freakonomics-inspired sports book like Scorecasting, but in fact it's not about an analysis of the sport's statistics. Instead, it's an explanation of the unwritten rules that govern on and off the field behavior by the players and coaches, supplemented with anecdotes from many former pros.

If you're a baseball fan with any knowledge of the history of the game, this book will probably be of interest to you, but it's probably not going to make a non-fan more interested in the game. It's basically an oral history of baseball put to paper, and hearing some of the secret history of baseball from people who there to make it or witness it is pretty cool (I was actually surprised at how candid some of the stories were). This was a nice diversion after two fairly weighty books that dealt more with analysis and statistics; a nice summer read.

I watched the final episode of the BBC series The Inbetweeners (there were three seasons—or series, in British terminology—of six episodes each, meaning the total run of the show featured fewer episodes than a single season of an American show). The first two seasons were some of the best things I'd seen in the half hour comedy format in years, and although season three was pretty good, it seemed like they were running out of ideas a bit and were becoming more reliant on gross-out humor than they were in previous seasons.

I will miss this show, but I've got them all saved on TiVo, and I hope at some point they'll show up on Netflix streaming. MTV is supposedly going to make an American version, but I don't know how well the show will translate from the peculiarly British point of view that is so critical to its characters and its stories. I'm sure I'll watch it just to see, but I expect to be disappointed.

I also recently watched the series finale of Friday Night Lights, which I've been watching religiously since season one, and I have to say that, as television dramas go, this is one of the best acted and best written shows of all time. I care about these characters in a way that I don't on any other show, and it was tough to say goodbye to them.

The creators did an admirable job, though—sure, like any finale, there were some unsatisfying elements, but they gave us a relatively happy ending that wasn't too sappy, and they left our favorite characters positioned to make good things happen in their lives.

The first four seasons are available for streaming on Netflix, and if you have some time, I'd highly recommend you give this show a shot. Saying that it's about high school football is like saying The Office is about selling paper, or Lost is about a plane crash; football is merely a backdrop that works to tie characters together because in a small Texas town, it's the common thread that ties everyone together.

Aside from some weird missteps at the beginning of the second season, this show is consistenly enjoyable and compulsively watchable (I have no doubt that once you get hooked, you'll find yourself binging on four or five episodes at a time). The only real shame with this show is that it wasn't seen by more people; even though NBC, with its subsidiary DirecTV, kept it on the air for five years, it never really caught on with the mainstream television audience.

december 2011
november 2011
october 2011
september 2011
august 2011
july 2011
june 2011
may 2011
april 2011
march 2011
february 2011
january 2011

daily links
cd collection