october 2011

I finally followed through and bought some of the books that Benn Ray discussed in his talk on the history of the graphic novel a couple of months ago (I bought them all from Benn's store, Atomic Books, of course): Dan Clowes' Wilson, Chester Brown's Paying For It, and the first volume of Neil Gaiman's Sandman. And since I liked World War Z so much, I also picked up Max Brooks' The Zombie Survival Guide and the Recorded Attacks sequel.

I've already read Paying For It and Wilson, and while I enjoyed them, they didn't do anything to dispell one of my biggest gripes about graphic novels that want to be taken seriously as literature: they cost as much as a normal book (over $20 each), but they only take as long to read as a long magazine article or a short story, even if you spend more time than necessary examining the images (and there's nothing groundbreaking about the art for either one of these books).

I was especially disappointed with the Chester Brown—I mean, the subject matter was interesting (it's his personal history of visiting prostitutes and the moral and pragmatic concerns about this habit), but the page size the book was printed on was so small that I felt like I spent most of the time squinting to read the text or see any detail in the drawings. Wilson, at least, was a proper size, six panels that filled a page that was at least 8x10, although again, I finished it way too quickly. Even if I revisit these books at some point, I don't think I'm going to feel like I got my money's worth with them.

My other big criticism of Paying For It is that, for an autobiographical book, the author hides an awful lot. In his intro, he speaks directly to this, saying there was so much more he wanted to write about but that if he did, he feared giving away the identity of the girls he visited. It's still a pretty interesting and compelling story, but before you even start reading it you get the feeling that you're just seeing the tip of the iceberg, and that the book would have much better chance competing with Serious Literature if the author had had the guts to tell the whole truth about his experiences.

Sick today. Not sure where I could have caught something, but this isn't a particularly good time of year to miss work. We start reading Early Decision files before the end of the month, and there's soooo much to do between now and then. It will get done, as it always does, but it would be nice to not have to work a ton of nights and weekends to get us there.

I keep an enormous number of tabs open in my browser at one time—way, way too many—and it got to the point where, even with FlashBlock turned on and using the latest version of Firefox, which is supposed to be faster with lots of tabs open and take up less memory, it was still eating too much memory over time and taking forever to launch when I would restart it to reset the memory usage. So I decided to give Google Chrome a try.

So far, so good. It uses about half as much memory as Firefox when opening the same number of windows and tabs, it doesn't seem to progressively eat memory like Firefox did, and it's much, much faster when closing and reopening. It also has a built-in version of FlashBlock, which was my main concern about switching to it (if you've never used an add-on like this, you would be shocked about how much stuff on your average high-profile web site is powered by Flash).

I'm not giving up on Firefox entirely—it's still the main browser I use on my PC at work—but until it opens and closes as quickly as Chrome and has the same memory footprint for my tabs and windows, I don't know that I'll be able to switch back. I'll probably take each new version of Firefox out for a spin (and at the rate they've been releasing versions recently, that probably means every few months), but although in spirit it remains my favorite browser, it's got some serious catching up to do, at least on the Mac client.

South Park has had a pretty amazing run, but I was very disappointed with the last season—there wasn't a great episode among the bunch, and there were several that were flat-out a drag to watch, including the season finale. So I was curious to see how they would rebound in the new season.

The premiere episode started off poorly, with a weak running joke about Asperger's equaling burgers coming out of your ass, and with Stan still in the world-hating funk that he was in for the final episode of the prior season. It got a little better as it ended, but it still wasn't great, and I'm hoping that whatever little crisis of purpose they were clearly undergoing last season is behind them and they can give us a few great episodes in the coming weeks. But honestly, at this point I'm more excited about the making of South Park special that's airing next week than I am about the new episodes of the show.

Despite being tempted by Pan Am, The Playboy Club, and Person of Interest, I'm not really watching any new shows this season except Fox's Terra Nova, which is produced by Steven Spielberg. It has a decent premise (groups of people sent back in time to a parallel Earth because humanity has all but destroyed the world ecosystem by 2149), and the first two episodes have been okay, but given the delays, the hype, and the production costs, it's a little underwhelming so far.

Still, it's got potential, a 13 episode committment from Fox (although their record in supporting sci-fi is very spotty—they stuck Firefly, Harsh Realm, and Dollhouse in difficult Friday night timeslots and killed them before they could pick up an audience), and none of the primary actors annoy me, so I'm going to give it at least this first season.

I wish there was something more I was looking forward to, though—I still watch The Office, Parks and Rec, and Community, plus my normal smattering of reality shows like Survivor, Top Chef, Project Runway, etc., but there were a lot of new shows that seemed interesting (some of which haven't debuted yet), and I just haven't been able to get into any of them.

Will has been fairly advanced in some developmental categories—he's tall, he has lots of teeth (he got his first two at four months, and he's had three molars for several weeks now), and his language and fine motor skills are ahead of the curve—but he's always been slow on the movement skills like crawling and now walking.

He's always had good balance—he's been able to stand while leaning against something for months—but there's been somewhat of a fear factor for standing unassisted and walking. He finally got the former down a couple of weeks ago, and he'll stand for a good long while without holding onto anything while clapping and cheering for himself. But once you tried to get him to move, he would immediately sit down and start crawling.

Around the same time that he got over his fear of standing by himself, though, he also started walking while only holding onto my finger with one hand. For months we've had a ritual on bath nights where I would take both of his hands and walk behind him while he walked from the nursery to the bathtub, but recently we've started walking side by side, and he's started wanting to do that more during the day when it's not bath time.

And yesterday it finally happened: he took his first steps, lurching from the windowsill in the den to the coffee table. It was a short two or three staggering steps, but they counted, especially because he was able to do it a few more times before he tired of it. He realized what he'd done, too, hesitating before he took his first steps without holding onto anything and clapping for himself once he reached the table.

I'm still not sure he'll really be walking by Halloween, but he'll be pretty close if he continues to practice, and at any rate, he'll be able to do the walking while holding one hand thing (and I'm sure we'll still carry him, even though we're only going to visit a few of the houses closest to ours). It's weird how quickly these stages pass: it seems like forever since he's needed to be bottle-fed, and I'm sure in a few months it will be hard to remember when he could only crawl. I'm happy to see him growing and turning more and more into a real person every day, but I'm already missing the boy he is now.

It just doesn't feel like football season during the Ravens' bye week.

I used to hate Tuesdays because 80% of my weekly meetings were stacked up on this day one after the other. But now my meetings are more evenly distributed—so I hate every day at work pretty much equally.

My mom is visiting us this weekend, starting tomorrow. Originally she was going to come up and stay with a friend for a day or so before coming to see us, but she's been delayed in Raleigh trying to help my grandfather (her father). He's been in and out of the hospital over the past couple of weeks, and in a physical therapy rehab center when he hasn't been in the hospital, and his wife has been having troubles too. So neither of them has been living at their shared home (her family has carted her off to her son's home), and their children have been trying to figure out some solution to get them back together, whether in their home or in an assisted living facility together.

So hopefully my mom will reach some sort of solution on that and still be able to come—she hasn't seen will since his birthday in July, and she hasn't had a one-on-one visit with him since May (and she probably won't see him for Thanksgiving, although we're still trying to work out exactly how the holidays are going to work this year).

Will's 15 month checkup is today. Hopefully he'll be able to demonstrate a little walking to the doctor, and some of his expanding vocabulary. He's gotten shots all but one time he's been to the doctor's office, but he still doesn't seem to get scared when we go, even when he's in the waiting room. I was unmanageable as a child about shots; despite having a doctor for a father and a nurse for a mother, going to the pediatrician terrified me. I've been told it took five nurses to give me a shot: four to hold down one limb each, and the fifth to give me the shot.

To be fair, I did have several surgeries as a child, young enough that they don't exist in my conscious memory, so I'm sure I developed some serious aversions to the sights and sounds and smells of medical settings. Thus far Will has been about as healthy as you could hope—he almost never gets sick—so hopefully my reaction to the doctor's office is one thing he won't inherit from me.

11th anniversary of the site today. That's a lot longer than I thought I'd be doing this...

My mom came to visit this weekend, and Will had a good time getting to know her again. We tried to go to a pumpkin patch that had hay rides and a petting zoo on Saturday, but by the time we got there early in the afternoon, it was so packed that there was no place to park, so we drove to get ice cream instead. Will didn't mind the ice cream, but he was really obsessed with walking around, navigating the two or three steps between the tables without holding onto anything (it was outdoor seating and there was no one else there, so he could move around without getting in anyone's way).

We returned to the pumpkin patch early on Sunday morning, and it was still pretty crowded, but we were able to easily find parking this time. We took the hay ride to the pumpkin patch, and although we had originally planned to get our pumpkins there, the logistics of wrangling Will, riding back with the pumpkins on the hay ride, and then trucking them back up the hill to where we had parked proved to be a little too daunting. So we just walked around the pumpkins for a while and let Will play on the big hay castle they had set up (although we did let him pick out a little pumpkin to take home).

After we arrived back at the main area, we walked down to the petting zoo, which was pretty worn looking but which had a surprising selection of animals (not all of which you could pet). They had a couple of pigs, a peacock, chickens, llamas, goats sheep, a donkey, and turkeys, and the younger llamas, the goats, the sheep, and the donkey were all just running loose inside the fenced area, so you could get up close to them and pet them. Will really loves animals, and he hadn't see many of these in person before, so it was a lot of fun for him. He tried to imitate the oinking sound of the pigs, and when he saw the sheep he said "Baa!" (Moo Baa La, which features cows and sheep and the noises they make prominently, is one of his favorite books, which is where he learned the baa from. He's also started doing this adorable thing where he'll hear a dog bark and go "Ruff! Ruff!")

Monday is my day at home with Will, so we went out to lunch with my mom before she left, and he had a great time. We tried a new place that we hadn't been to before that was sort of a sports bar. Will loved having all the tvs ringing the walls with sports on them, and I even got him to color on his placemat a bit in spite of his normal habit of trying to eat the crayons. I got him macaroni and cheese for lunch, and I was also able to trick him into eating a little broccoli by slathering it with ketchup.

It was a pretty good visit. Will was generally very energetic and happy, and the visit length was just about right—long enough for my mom to spend some quality time with him, but not so long that I started to get crankly about having a houseguest.

Man, Will's walking has taken a major leap forward since he first took a few steps without holding onto anything. His confidence is growing by leaps and bounds, and today he walked all the way from his nursery to the den, about a 25 foot walk down the hallway, without falling over or really even stopping once.

He's also getting a lot more insistent about walking on his own when we're outside, which is okay if we're not in a hurry, but I can see this becoming a point of contention if we have a long way to go and not much time. Even though he's been crawling around inside for a long time, he's never wanted to be anything but carried outside (I think he doesn't like his hands getting dirty on the ground). But now he's seems to have realized that when he walks upright, his hands don't have to get dirty, so when he's in a mood to walk, he kicks and squirms and cries if you try to pick him up and carry him.

We've already picked out his costume for Halloween, but if we had known he would be at this stage of walking, we could have dressed him up like Frankenstein, because his lurching walk with his arms outstretched would be perfect for that character.

I finally finished reading the Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks, the book he published before World War Z, which I liked a lot. This one, not so much—there were A LOT of lists of stuff, and explanations of how to kill zombies, how to find them, etc., and not so much about the history of the outbreaks that led up to the events recounted in World War Z.

Until the very end, that is—the last section of the book was called Recorded Attacks, and that was written in a style similar to World War Z (and pretty obviously served as the impetus to write that book). I was a little worried because I also bought a slim volume called Recorded Attacks as a separate book, and I thought for a minute that maybe that separate publication had been folded into a later edition of Zombie Survival Guide so I had bought it for nothing, but the separate book turns out to be a mini graphic novel based on some of the recorded attacks recounted at the end of the Survival Guide.

So I'm not really into this whole zombie phenomenon—really, I'm not—but I also started watching the Walking Dead on Netflix streaming and recorded the episodes for the second season as they're airing on AMC. I've only seen the first two from the first season so far, but it's pretty engaging, and it looks to be a good mix of typical zombie stuff and a character driven drama based around a group of survivors.

I think that, rather than World War Z pushing me into futher zombie-oriented works, it made it easier for me to consider them, because it had a compelling narrative aside from the zombie aspect. I was worried that by focusing too much on zombies and their habits and how to kill them, that the novelty would wear off fast, but instead both World War Z and the Walking Dead use the pretext of a zombie pandemic to engage in a study of human behavior under stress.

And no, I don't think I'm going to be onto Pride and Prejudice and Zombies next. Although that Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks kinda interesting...

For the past two or three years, there's been a neighborhood cat who has hung out on our back porch during the warmer months. We would see him in the backyard occasionally, and at some point we got friendly enough with him that we started putting food out on the back porch when we would see him.

I assumed he had a home and was just someone's outdoor cat even though he didn't have a collar because every winter he would completely disappear and then start visiting again after the weather turned. I still think that must be true, but this year we saw him more and more, to the point that by the end of the summer we were leaving out food and water for him twice a day, and even though I would occasionally see him wandering in our neighbors' yards (including the ones across the street), he was nearly always somewhere on our property, either in the front flower bed, the grass in the backyard, or our deck.

Since the weather is starting to get cold again, and we've seen him on more than one rainy day (which never used to happen), we wondered whether his owners had abandoned him or whether he just got comfortable enough with us that we became his home base (although we were sure he'd been someone's cat at some point).

We wanted to take him to the vet and look at the possibility of bringing him inside, but of course we didn't want to do this if he actually did belong to someone, so Julie had a good idea: get a cat tag, put a special message on it, and put a collar on him. If he did have owners, surely they would notice that someone had put a collar on their cat, and in the course of investigating would see the tag, read the message, and give us a call (the message said "Do I Belong to You? If so, call [phone number]").

The tag came about 10 days ago, so we put it on a collar (breakaway so he wouldn't get caught on it and hurt himself) gave it a week (we also attached a little note providing further clarity about the purpose of the tag and collar, but the note fell off after a couple of days). When we heard nothing, we took him to the vet for a checkup and quarantined him in the downstairs bathroom with his own food supply and litter box.

We got the blood work back today, and so far so good: no feline AIDS or leukemia, all of his internal organs seem to be in good shape, and he has no other diseases. We have to wait for the stool sample results to come back, and do a thorough check for ticks (I've found and removed two already), but as long as he doesn't have any parasites, etc., we should be ready to integrate him slowly into the household in the next couple of days.

What surprises me most about this is how well he's dealing with a pretty significant change. He hasn't been out of the small guest bathroom downstairs once in over three days, but he doesn't cry or scratch at the door and he's always purring when we go to visit him (which we try to do as often as we can). He's eating well, using his litter, and sleeping in the cat bed that Bear used to love but which our current kitties are completely indifferent to. He was even well-behaved at the vet, not fighting or even flinching when he got his shots and his blood drawn.

No name for him yet. There's one that we're considering, but I want to try it out with him for a couple more days before we commit.

The Ravens seem to have two modes this year: totally unstoppable no matter who they're playing, and the worst team in the NFL. And last night was clearly one of the latter nights, although the blame lies entirely with the offense. I'll go further and blame offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who didn't seem to change up his play calls significantly until they did a two minute drill towards the end of the game, which resulted in the only points for Baltimore in the whole game. Yes, the Jacksonville defense played very well, but Baltimore has been stymied a couple of other times this season, and except for a similarly dreadful loss at Tennessee, they've always been able to change things up and get some kind of offense going.

The Ravens defense played spectacularly, especially during two goal line stands that had the Jaguars within a couple of yards of a touchdown with a full set of downs and having to settle for a field goal one on drive and a turnover on the other. And honestly, if not for the unbelievable leg of Jacksonville's kicker, Josh Scobee, the Ravens still could have won this game, as little as they might have deserved it. All of the Jaguars' points came from field goals, including two 54 yarders and one 51 yarder. Miss two of those long field goals and the Ravens' single touchdown would have been enough to take the game.

Also: the officiating was just terrible. But even though that might have prevented a few of the points from the Jaguars, a lot of the blown calls were overturned by challenges, so they didn't end up affecting the score (although a free pass for the Jaguars on what should have been a play clock penalty on the final kickoff was the crushing blow that all but sealed Baltimore's fate). And no matter how bad the referees were, the Ravens simply didn't deserve to win this game.

I keep thinking it's September...

I think we've got a name for the new cat: Sergeant—but we'll generally call him Sarge. He's got a nice, strong, chin and a weatherbeaten, haggard look. We're still trying it out on him, but I think it's going to work.

He's doing very well—for the first few days, he would occasionally stand next to a door and yowl to go back outside (although he's clearly lived indoors before), but that's pretty much passed now, and he seems very content to be fed twice a day and sleep on a cofy kitty bed most of the day.

My weekend is already totally shot. Tomorrow I have to work one of our open house events, which means I'll leave around 7 a.m. and likely won't be back until 3 p.m. or so, and then Monday I have to give up my day at home with Will to help with training the readers for the upcoming admissions cycle. And somewhere in there on Sunday we have to get candy and our pumpkins. At least there's a Ravens home game to look forward to...

I wasn't sure if I'd be able to mow the lawn one more time before Halloween, but I never would have guessed that snow would be the thing that prevented me from doing so. I've been living in Maryland for about 15 years now, and as of Saturday I've seen snow in April and snow in October.

That game might have been a little too exciting yesterday, but it's the first time this season that a Ravens game has gone down to the wire—up until now, they've totally dominated their opponents, or stalled on offense so badly that they might as well not have taken the field.

In yesterday afternoon's game, however, they looked awful in the first half and pretty amazing in the second half, and it's hard to believe that it was for any other reason than that they abandoned the huddle and went to the shotgun. I don't know if that's viable as their long-term offensive strategy, but moving to that offensive style is the only time they seemed alive at all during last week's defeat in Jacksonville, and hopefully Cam Cameron will be quick to break it out again if his standard offensive approach isn't working.

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