january 2013

The Ravens lost their final game against Cincinnati, but they were playing the scrubs for most of the game to give the starters a rest after clinching the AFC North and at least the fourth seed in the playoffs (and at least one home game) by beating the Giants handily the week before.

The game against New York was great—the defense was solid, the offense was clicking, and the Ravens seemed in control for most of the game. It would have been nice to get a win like this four weeks ago and to have beaten the Broncos so we could contend for one of the top two seeds (and the bye week that comes with them), and you certainly don't like to see a team lose four out of five heading into the playoffs. But they are in the playoffs for the fifth year in a row, and if they can play the way they did in week 16 (again, week 17 was essentially a preseason game for them because they rested so many starters, and they still nearly won), they might be getting hot/healthy at the right time.

This team doesn't really feel like an improvement over last year—Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are each a year older, and Lewis has been sidelined by an injury for the past several weeks; Suggs missed a ton of games and has played through a different injury for the past few games; the offense, especially Flacco and Torrey Smith, hasn't been at all consistent and hasn't shown any real signs of growth from the promise of last season; and up and coming defensive players like Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb missed most of the season. But anything can happen in the playoffs once you get there, so if Baltimore is capable of putting together a run this season, now is the time.

While it was good to have some time off around Christmas, and especically good not to have to travel on Christmas for once, I wouldn't say that we did a lot of relaxing over the break. We did, however, make a lot of progress on unpacking the rest of our boxes, or at least putting them into storage in the attic or the basement storage area instead of having them sitting in hallways.

We put up shelves, got Julie set up in the downstairs office, got our new couch and kitchen table delivered and set up, moved the old couch downstairs and set up the second den, got a new tv stand and entry table, moved the guest bed into the guest bedroom, and generally got the house, especially the living room and dining room, clear of moving boxes. The only things left, really, are our books and a lot of miscellaneous stuff that I need to go through and consolidate before putting it into long-term storage.

It was just about a year ago at this time that moving to Atlanta became a possibility for us, although we wouldn't make a decision about it for another three months. It still feels weird to be here sometimes—I'll wake up and have to take a few seconds to reorient myself to our new home and my new job and our new life here. But those moments are become less frequent, and there are more and more moments when things feel like they're the way they should be.

Ray Lewis has officially announced that he is retiring after this season (i.e., whenever the Ravens end their playoff run), so this Sunday will likely be his last home game ever. He's the heart of the franchise, the only player who has been here since the first season in 1996 and also the only one remaining from the Super Bowl season in 2000. Yes, he's lost a step the past few years, but he's still a leader on the field, and even when he is hurt, he's still coaching and cheering from the sidelines.

The team won't be the same without him, but his work ethic and his approach will be a legacy that hopefully be part of this team for a very long time to come. And we still get to watch him for at least one more game, as he has also confirmed that he will return from a triceps injury that has kept him benched for the past couple of months. But let's hope we've got four games left with him, and that he can cap his unparalleled career with another NFL championship.

A good, solid win from the Ravens yesterday, marking the fifth year in a row that they have won at least one playoff game. It was a great way to close out Ray Lewis' M&T Bank Stadium career—fans got to enjoy a great game with a comfortable enough lead towards the end that everyone could soak in the ending of an era for this franchise.

Next week it's on to Denver, where they will face a quarterback they haven't beaten in more than a decade (Peyton Manning) and a team that beat them pretty solidly just a few short weeks ago in Baltimore. Most oddsmakers don't see the Ravens advancing past this round, but if they play the way they played yesterday, they're going to be a tough opponent and have every chance to advance to the AFC championship game.

I caught something from Will at the end of last week, and for a minute there I thought it would just be a 48 hour thing and I'd be over it before the workweek started. But Sunday night was pretty miserable—stopped up, not able to breathe, not able to sleep for more than a couple of hours straight—and last night was even worse.

I was so exhausted that I fell asleep right after dinner, which I never do, but I woke up around midnight and couldn't go back to sleep. I was just about to get back to sleep around 2 when Will woke up crying. I did the standard routine for him when he wakes up in the middle of the night (which doesn't happen that often)—I let him watch a Shaun the Sheep on Netflix and have a small snack of cereal.

That usually gets him settled down enough to get back to sleep, and it looked like it was going to work last night, too, but then half an hour later he was crying again and yelling for us. This pattern repeated for another two hours, and when he was quiet enough that I thought I still might be able to get a few hours of sleep before work, he was up again, and it took another 45 minutes before he really went to sleep.

At that point I was wound up again even though I was completely exhausted, and I didn't really get to sleep until 5:30 or so, and I had to get up at 7:30 for work. A terrible, terrible night. Hopefully he and I can both get back on track and have a normal night tonight, because I can't imagine getting through another workday with the amount of sleep I've been able to get before the last two.

All day office retreat today. I used to find these kinds of things a little irritating and a lot useless at my previous job, but here I actually look forward to the experience and I usually learn something, too.

With Will's sleeping issues this week (which turn into even worse sleeping issues for me), I'm feeling a little behind on my work, but even though I could really use a day in the office to get caught up, it will also be nice to take a break from normal office tasks and spend a day thinking about things from a different perspective, and thinking about things I don't normally get to invest a lot of work hours considering.

Tomorrow is a bit more of the same—I'm heading out to the Oxford campus and won't be at my desk to catch up on my regular work. It's been a long time since I've had whatever might constitute a typical workweek around here with the holidays, Will being sick, and these day-long meetings out of the office, but it also helps give me a bit of a change of pace. That will probably continue through reading season—starting next week, I'll likely be at home two days a week to read files until early March.

Hate-watching a tv show was a concept that I understood, but had never felt compelled to engage in. That is, until I saw an episode of Girls...

Big game for the Ravens tomorrow, and I'm doing the closest thing I can to celebrating Purple Friday in a city and workplace that wouldn't really get it if I wore a jersey to the office: wearing a purple tie. Pretty much everyone in the country outside of Baltimore (except expats like me) think the Broncos are going to win handily, but this Ravens team is full of surprises, and if they play like they played in the first round of the playoffs, this is not going to be a cakewalk for Denver despite the solid win over Baltimore a few short weeks ago.

The Ravens might not win, but they're sure as hell not going to lose by two touchdowns or more like a lot of the oddsmakers think. I have to believe that Ray Lewis' potential final game is going to be a fight to the bitter end, and win or lose, he's going to walk off that field feeling like his team gave it all for him. But I'd really prefer a win.

There are really no words for the Ravens win on Saturday in Denver. It was just as thrilling as their win in San Diego when Ray Rice ran for every inch of the 29 yards they needed to convert a 4th-and-29 to keep them alive, but there was so much more on the line this time, and so much more against them.

They were playing a quarterback they hadn't beaten since 2001. They were playing an away game on a short week in a thin atmosphere that they other team practices and plays in every week. It was bitter cold, and there were virtually no fans supporting them in the stadium. This is easily the most electrifying game I've ever seen the Ravens play, and the football pundits are saying it was the best game in the NFL this year and the best game in franchise history.

They meet the Patriots in Foxborough next Sunday for a rematch of last year's AFC championship, and after the performance the Ravens put on in Denver, I don't know anyone who thinks they don't have a solid chance to win even though I'm sure the oddsmakers will favor New England. Just as in Denver, I expect it to be a close one, and I expect Baltimore will hold its destiny in its own hands.

But as much as I want Baltimore to win next week and earn a trip to the Super Bowl, and as much as I'd like to see Ray Lewis cap off his career win another NFL championship, after the Denver game I can honestly say that I'm going to walk away a happy fan after this season no matter how it turns out. These players have given their all, have battled through a mountain of injuries, and have played their hearts out this year, and it's a miracle that they've even gotten this far given the obstacles they've had to overcome.

I know there has been a lot of football talk on this blog recently, and I promise not to write anything else about it until next week after the Ravens-Patriots game, but I did want to note for the record that I won both of my fantasy football leagues this year.

One was the traditional head-to-head matchup style where the playoff contenders were decided by wins and losses, not by points and where the season ended a week before the real season did in order to minimize the effect of playoff teams resting their stars. I was one of four teams out of ten to make the playoffs, and I won both my matchups.

The other league was strictly points scored—no head-to-head weekly matchups, no playoffs, and no nixing the last week. Whoever had the most points at the end of the season won, plain and simple. I came on strong in the second half, moving to first place with about five weeks left and then moving between first and third for the remainder of the time. I had a slim lead going into the last week, and although I didn't score more points than that team that week, I that team didn't score enough over me to make up the difference.

Unfortunately, neither of these was a pay league, so all I get out of winning them is bragging rights. I've usually done pretty well when I've played fantasy football for money, no matter what the format, but the folks that I played in pay leagues with before were all back in Baltimore, and my invitations didn't follow me to Atlanta.

There are days when I really miss having a production job where you actually made something—wrote an article, edited a book, made a web site, etc.—instead of attending meetings all day.

Since we went back to work after the holidays, there hasn't been a day when at least one member of the family hasn't been sick or at least in recovery, and today, just as Julie is hopefully getting near the end of the terrible cough that Will and I had last week, I started feeling bad again and Will felt hot and was complaining about his stomach hurting. And then he actually threw up after dinner, so I don't know if either of us is going to make it to work or school tomorrow.

Also: it's been raining like crazy here for the last month or so, and although we need the rain, it's starting to drive me a little crazy. Will even asked if he could see the sun today because he hasn't seen it in so long. I really hope we can use this holiday weekend to get past the grey weather and grey health and get back to some sort of normal routines again.

Even though we just had a decent amount of time off for the Christmas and New Year's holidays, I'm really looking forward to this upcoming long weekend. Not sure we have any specific plans for it yet, but it will be nice to have a little breather before I dive headlong into application reading season for the next six weeks.

Lots of people have doubted the Ravens this year. I certainly did at some of the low points of their season, when injuries and inconsistent play seemed likely to doom them to an early exit from the playoffs, which they had all but guaranteed themselves a spot in before their woes started.

But this team has real heart, they're getting hot at the right time on both offense and defense, and it's time for the doubters and naysayers among the professional commenators to admit that they were wrong. Baltimore has beat three teams who were equally hot, and all of whom have given them trouble in the past, including that amazing game in Denver against a quarterback they hadn't beaten in over a decade while dealing with the physical effects of a low-oxygen atmosphere and Sunday's solid win over the Patriots in Foxborough.

Sidenote: for those Patriots fans who are mystified at why everyone else in the league hates your team and thinks Brady and Belichick are overrated, poor sports, arrogant, and sore losers to boot, let me give you a few examples from last weekend's game alone: Brady purposely kicking his leg in the air and trying to injure a Ravens defender on a play that fell apart; the fake attempt to convert a fourth and short on the first series of the game that forced the Ravens to call a timeout for no reason; the multiple incidents of pushing and shoving after the play was dead (none of which got called thanks to the mysterious blindness that seems to strike all officiating teams when they visit Foxborough); and Belichick's childish refusal to speak to the media after the loss. I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones the leap immediately to mind, and those ought to be enough.

Flacco is looking more and more like the elite quarterback that all Ravens fans have been hoping he'd turn into, and the new offensive coordinator, who took over with only weeks left in the regular season, has played no small part in that transformation—he's obviously more comfortable than Cam Cameron in changing up the offensive plan when things aren't working, and he's also more willing to hand the game over to Flacco and let him be more involved in the playcalling.

After watching Baltimore beat Denver when Denver was favored to win by nearly 10 points, I was shocked that the spread was virtually identical against New England, especially given that the Ravens had beaten New England in three of their past four meetings, including a game in Foxborough earlier this season. I expected the Patriots to be favored, but not by almost 10 points; half that would have been more appropriate. I knew the game was going to be close, and I certainly wouldn't have guaranteed that the Ravens would have been the winners, but there was no way that, with the way Baltimore has attacked during this postseason, they were going to have Ray Lewis' last game be a lopsided loss.

Honestly, as a fan, I'm happy with this season no matter what the outcome of the Super Bowl. This team has really showed what they are made of when it's all on the line, and while it would be fantastic to see them win a championship to close out Ray Lewis' career, it's really icing on the cake after everything they've overcome to get to this point. They've beat all the big dogs in the AFC this year except Houston (who may have peaked when they destroyed the Ravens at mid-season): Indianapolis, Denver, and New England will all be sitting at home watching the big game on tv thanks to the Ravens, and Pittsburgh, our arch-enemies, didn't even make it to the playoffs this year. It's been a great season, and I can't really ask for any more from this team. But I'm sure hoping they'll give us one more win to wrap it up.

So far my decision to switch to reading exclusively on a Kindle is a success, especially if the measure is how many books I've read. Since getting a Kindle just over three months ago, I've read more than I've probably read in any given year in the past decade. The titles so far: Bob Mould's autobiography, See A Little Light; a book about the history of Olive Oil, Extra Virginity; an autobiography of a forger of paintings, Caveat Emptor; the first two books of Game of Thrones and a good part of the third; and the Hunger Games trilogy (as a bonus, I read those for free because I borrowed them using the Kindle Lending Library, one each month, something I intend to use to download a new book for free every month).

One thing I wish this device had was a feature similar to Apple's Match service, where I could somehow tell Amazon which books I physically own and then get access to the Kindle versions of those books for free. I love being able to have my entire music library on my computer and have access to my entire library from my phone; My Kindle would become instantly more valuable to me if it truly contained my book library the same way iTunes is able to replicate my CD collection.

I don't really know how you would do this in a way that would prevent scammers from going to a bookstore and scanning in the ISBN code for every book in the place, but I know that I'm not going to re-buy all the books I've ever owned for my Kindle, and that it's a less compelling to device to me if I can't access books that I've owned for decades without paying a hefty fee.

I've made another shift to digital content recently as well: I finally ditched my Netflix DVD subscription and have instead replaced it with a cheaper monthly subscription to HBO, which includes HBO Go for free. HBO Go is a service that lets you stream this month's movies to different devices (for me, my iPad and Xbox), along with giving you streaming access to their entire back library of HBO-produced content—shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire, the Sopranos, the Wire, etc.

Almost all of the DVDs I was renting from Netflix were relatively recent movies (which I will now see on HBO) and HBO series, which I will now have access to as they are televised without having to wait a year or more for the DVDs to become available on Netflix, and I'll also have access to all past seasons to watch and rewatch without having to reorder them through Netflix. The only thing I won't have access to is Dexter, which is a Showtime product and which Netflix doesn't have a streaming license for. (Because we are keeping the Netflix streaming service—there are tons of shows for Will on there, and every now and then they'll get access to a movie or tv show that I want to watch.)

I honestly don't know why I didn't do this sooner, HBO Go or not—I've haven't watched a Netflix DVD in several months and I'm really not even sure which three discs I have right now. Part of this was due to the process of packing and moving that we've been embroiled in for the past year (I didn't even hook up the DVD player at the rental house we lived in for six months), but even before that disrupted my routines, I was still going through Netflix DVDs very slowly.

So: I'm saving money, I've gained access to a vast library of older HBO shows, and I have immediate access to new shows and relatively new movies. It's going to take me months to catch up on all the content that's available to me, and if I ever feel like it's not worth it anymore because I'm not watching it enought to justify the monthly cost, it's very easy to turn it off and then reactivate it immediately if there's compelling content again.

I'm about two and a half books into the five Game of Thrones books from George R.R. Martin that have been released so far, and while it's an enjoyable read (I've always had a weak spot for this kind of stuff, I just haven't indulged that often), I'm getting a little overwhelmed with the number of characters you have to follow. Martin also has an annoying habit of ending chapters with cliffhangers, which is fine when you're reading a story from the point of view of a single narrator but incredibly irritating when you don't know if you're going to pick up that storyline again in two chapters or ten.

It also seems like there's not a lot of action that we're getting to see directly—major advancements in the plot are often relayed by other characters to the current narrator, or relayed by the current narrator in retrospect, with the events having occurred between the end of the last chapter from that character and the beginning of the new chapter. This seems a bit lazy to me, and is also highly abusive of the multiple narrator technique he's using to tell this story.

I also wish some of these storylines would just wrap up already. He wasn't shy about killing off major characters, including at least one of his narrators, in the first book, but now everyone seems to be immortal. Sure, they get hacked up and bloodied and taken prisoner, etc., etc., but there's no conclusion to their storyline, or to any storyline, really—there was really no true dividing line between the end of the second book and the beginning of the third, and I'm getting a bad feeling that it's going to be like that for the rest of the series.

Still, it's obviously engaging enough for me to have read a couple of thousand pages already, and I know I'm going to finish it at some point. I'm not really expecting a payoff until the series is finished (it's currently planned for seven books, and while he's writing book 6 now, book 5 was only published in 2011 and was five years removed from book 4), but I hope he makes it all worthwhile in the end.

Weird, kinda bad weekend. Found out one longtime friend has cancer and hosted another for what will likely be her last visit before she moves to Seattle (she currently lives about an hour away, and we've spent more time together since I moved to Atlanta than we had in the previous five years). I'm not really processing either of these things very well right now.

It hit 72 degrees in the afternoon today, and similar weather is on tap for tomorrow. Granted, that's unseasonably warm even for Atlanta, but it's going to take me a long, long time to get used to this after living in Baltimore for so long.

I finally got my toy collection unpacked and displayed last weekend, the first time I've had everything I owned on display the way I want it in probably two years. For a while I was stockpiling new items because I didn't have enough room to display them all and the display cases I used, Ikea's Detolfs, were having some sort of manufacturing issue and were out of stock for more than a year. And then, of course, a year ago we were on the verge of deciding to move to Atlanta, so I started packing everything up to get it in storage in preparation for selling the house.

But now we're our new house in Atlanta, the office space downstairs is finished, and Ikea even has Detolfs back in stock, so I've spend a few hours every week since mid-December working on getting it all unpacked and organized in the cases. There were many items that I had only seen when I got them in the mail, and that was only to open them up and take a quick look before putting them back in their boxes.

I don't buy as many art toys as I used to—there just aren't as many pieces coming out as there used to be, and I've narrowed my focus to five or six artists, but it's nice to have everything back on display and know that I have room to grow (there is still space for several more Detolfs in my office area). Now I just have to unpack my books and my office stuff and we'll be fully done with the moving and unpacking process.

The venue has changed, but my procrastination issues remain the same: I still haven't started reading my files yet, and I should be at least two weeks into the process at this point.

It's not like I'm not busy—if anything, I'm busier and have more on my plate with my new job than I did at my old job—but it's still critical for me to continue to read files to get a sense of what our process is and what kinds of students are choosing to apply to our institution, because both of these data points give me direction on many of my projects.

But every day that I try to block out on the calendar to read at home, I end up getting embroiled in some pressing process issue and I don't even open our file review program. I haven't even done a single preread yet (this is where we fill out basic information from the documentation that we can't get via a data import, recalculate the GPA, etc.), and those should take less than five minutes apiece once I get the hang of them.

Tomorrow was supposed to be a reading day, but in the course of a week, these things ended up on my calendar: a conference call at 8:30, a meeting with the communications teams at 10, a high-level IT committee at 1, and a baby shower from 3-5. I can't afford to miss any of those, and so the reading day gets sacrificed.

I know I'm going to read some files, and I'm going to have to start picking them up in the evenings or on the weekends if I can't find time during the day, but I think this year I'm going to end up reading significantly less than the 300-400 that I averaged each year at my former institution. Honestly, I'm going to be pretty pleased if I can break the 200 barrier given that we only have four weeks left to read and I haven't completed a single file yet.

december 2013
november 2013
october 2013
september 2013
august 2013
july 2013
june 2013
may 2013
april 2013
march 2013
february 2013
january 2013

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