january 2014

The Ravens finished 8-8 after getting blown out by New England in week 16 and being taken down by the Bengals in Cincinnati in week 17, but they still came very close to making the playoffs. It was pretty frustrating to see them lose the opportunity to make the playoffs in that final week - if they had won, the Dolphins loss would have given them the final wild card slot no matter what the other teams in the hunt did in their final games - especially since the team that took that slot, the San Diego Chargers, also finished with an 8-8 record. But I have to given them credit for being accountable for this mediocre season: when asked about falling short of the playoffs, quarterback Joe Flacco said simply: "We're an 8-8 football team - we don't deserve to be [in the playoffs]".

They had more than their fair share of challenges after winning the Super Bowl last year, losing an unprecedented number of starters, but that's the way this league works. Yes, it would have been great to make the playoffs again, but even as a fan, I can be realistic about their chances had they made the cut: they were not going to win the Super Bowl again this year, not with that running game, not with that offensive line, and not with the struggles to get touchdowns in the red zone.

The only good thing about the way this season ended was that the Steelers, who also finished 8-8, were also locked out of the playoffs in heartbreaking fashion (for Steelers fans, anyway; I was ecstatic) when the Chiefs missed a field goal at the end of regulation against the Chargers, who then came back to win in overtime (the icing on the cake: the NFL admitted the next day that the Chargers were in an illegal formation, which, if it had been called by the refs, would have moved the ball five yards closer to the end zone and allowed a retry on the missed field goal). Here's a video of a Steelers fan's premature celebration about his team getting into the playoffs that makes me smile (and yes, I realize this probably makes me a bad person):

The Ravens have a lot of work to do to make sure the team bounces back next year, starting with getting the offensive line rebuilt, which should simultaneously strengthen the run game and protect Flacco better (which will also hopefully cut down on his interceptions, which were a big problem this season). To that end, we likely not only need new players, but a new offensive coordinator and the replacement or elimination of the new running game coordinator, who was clearly a major bust.

The big question for me now in regards to the NFL is: who do I root for in the playoffs? The Ravens have gotten to the postseason for the last five seasons, and the first of those seasons was coincidentally the first season I started watching them seriously, so I've never had to figure out who to root for in the playoffs because my team has always been there.

On the AFC side, we've got Kansas City, Indianapolis, San Diego, Cincinnati, Denver, and New England. Cincinnati is a division rival whose win over the Ravens in the final game kept Baltimore out of the playoffs, so they're out. New England is a hated foe who might as well be a division rival, Indianapolis stole the original Colts from Baltimore, and Denver has Peyton Manning, a longtime foe who was the leader at Indy for many years before moving to Denver, so all those teams are out, leaving only San Diego and Kansas City. And San Diego sucks (they have the same 8-8 record as the Ravens and they nearly lost a game against Kansas City where the Chiefs were sitting half their starters), leaving only KC as a possibility from our home conference.

On the NFC side we have New Orleans, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Green Bay, Carolina, and Seattle. Philadelphia is out because even though they don't play Baltimore that often, they are close enough geographically that there is a rivalry between the two cities. San Francisco was our foe in last year's Super Bowl, so I can't root for them, and I can't get excited about seeing Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in the postseason again, so New Orleans and Green Bay are both out. I'm from North Carolina and as a default I'd like to root for them, but Cam Newton is an arrogant tool and I can't root for them. Which leaves us with Seattle, who are tied with Denver for the best record in the NFL this year and who certainly deserved to go farther in last year's postseason. I also have friends who live in Seattle, and although they don't give a fig about football as far as I know, it still gives me a reason to feel som affinity for the city.

So Kansas City and Seatle are the two teams I'd like to see in the Super Bowl this year, and between those two, I probably favor Seattle to win it, partly because of the friends connection and partly because of Chief's coach Andy Reid, who I dislike immensely from his time in Philadelphia. This is not necessarily who I think will be in the championship, but this matchup isn't out of the question, and it's the one that would give me the least amount of heartache about the Ravens not being there.

After I finally finished the fifth Game of Thrones book, I picked up The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football. I didn't expect it to actually reveal too much behind-the-scenes info on scandals, even ones that have been very public, but I was surprised at how much detail there was, especially because most the stories were identified as happening at a specific program and sometimes even identifying specific coaches and players.

The other part of the books was following the careers of coaches and athletes as they moved into new programs, and those chapters were pretty good, too. The writing style reminded me of Michael Lewis in his sports-oriented books like Moneyball and The Blind Side. They also went into detail about the rise of ESPN and how the sports network's fate was intricately tied to big-time college athletics.

The only real complaint I have with the book is that, after being pretty frank about all the problems with overprivileged athletes who are nonetheless paid nothing and highly paid coaches who sometimes end up costing universities more revenue than they generate, they tried to end on a sappy, upbeat note by practically putting a halo on Alabama coach Nick Saban and holding his program up as the gold standard in college football. And while it is the gold standard, it's also a perfect example of all the negative things about major college football programs: pampered athletes, expensive facilities, and overpaid coaches, none of which do anything to add to the educational mission of the school they are nominally a part of.

If you have any interest in college football, this is a pretty good read. It likely won't tell you anything you don't already know, but it puts a more human face on some of the scandals and issues, especially when it comes to the criminal behavior (especially sexual assaults) that are so prevalent among athletes in this top tier programs.

After The System, I read I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution. This turned out to be an oral history, pulled together from dozens of interviews with the corporate management, on-air talent, directors, and music artists who helped turn Music Television into a global brand in the 80s.

Another pretty good book, but I would have liked a little more in the way of an unbiased history to supplement the quotes and anecdotes. Each chapter led off with a short intro from the authors, but these were not usually more than a page or two before they started with the storytelling from the primary sources.

And while the anecdotes were often entertaining and gave you a real sense of the personalities behind the major players, I would have appreciated a little more structure from the authors, and a little more placing the growth of MTV into the context of the larger culture, tying it into other major political and sociological movements that were happening at the same time. That book probably exists elsewhere, but I don't think I need to read more than one book about the birth of MTV, so I'm not likely to read it even if it were present itself to me.

I did find it interesting that this book stopped in 1992, which barely covers the first third of MTV's existence, but which is not coincidentally the year that the first season of the Real World premiered and ushered in not only MTV's shift to almost all reality programming but also became the basis for the reality craze that has taken over much of television over the past two decades. It was fitting, because this book really wanted to focus on the music part of Music Television, and that show was the beginning of the end of video programming on the network, but it does leave out a significant part of the network's history.

Since I've been writing about books the last couple of days, let me talk about a new service from Amazon for Kindle owners: Kindle MatchBook. One of my biggest issues with moving to a Kindle is that, as much as I like reading on a Kindle, I have an extensive library of books that I would love to have available to re-read on my Kindle. Currently, there is no system like Apple's iTunes Match where you can have your library of music uploaded to the cloud and then play it on or download it to any device. Because there is no equivalent way to rip a book to a digital version like you can with CDs, print content hasn't been able to transition to new contemporary devices for reading text the same way that music has been able to move to MP3 players.

Kindle Matchbook is a service that I hoped would at least begin to rectify this situation, becuase what it does is searches your history of physical book purchases from Amazon from as far back as 1995 and then allows you to download a Kindle edition of that book for free or for a reduced price (anywhere from 99 cents to $2.99). This certainly wouldn't cover anything like my entire library, but I have purchased a decent number of books from Amazon, especially in the last ten years, and I'm sad to say there are still a few of them I've never read. So getting them on my Kindle, even if I had to pay a small fee, would be a plus, because I'm not going to pay full price for something I already own, but I would pay a smaller fee for a digital copy knowing that I'm highly likely to read the digital copy given my experience with the Kindle over the last year.

So I was excited when I logged onto the Kindle MatchBook page and waited for Amazon to tell me when books I owned physical copies of that I could now own digitally. Bur the result was very underwhelming: out of the dozens (hundreds?) of books I've bought from Amazon over the past two decades, I had exactly three matches: one was a book Julie purchased about how to grow orchids, one was a book I bought for a grad school class about ten years ago that I never intend to read again, and one was Scott Miller's (of Game Theory and Loud Family) book about the history of pop music since the dawn of the rock era. This last one is the only one I might consider buying a digital copy of, and then only if the digital copy includes additional chapters that Miller wrote and made available for free download from his web site.

Amazon is supposedly updating the Kindle MatchBook library regularly so that more and more titles are added, but I've been checking my eligible purchases every couple of weeks since the service launched last October, and every time it's just these three books. So I'll keep hoping and keep checking, but so far this service seems like kind of a dud.

Coming back to work for the first full week after the holidays wasn't that different than coming back to the short week last week, when lots of people were still taking time off and it was only slightly more busy (for most people) than that dead period between Christmans and New Year's. Because we are heavy into reading season now, there were usually no more than 3-4 counselors (out of about 15) in the office on any given day, and there were also a decent number of people on the other teams who were either working from home or out sick.

It has not been that quiet a week for me, though—with the return of the executives to campus, my meetings have also returned. But for once, I feel like I'm reasonably caught up with my actual work and so I have time to attend the meetings without feeling like there's something higher priority that I should be doing.

It was a real struggle to get our systems up and running this year, but we kept one step ahead of the rest of the office, and by the time we reached the decision release for the ED1 applicants right before the holidays, we had everything online that we'll need for the rest of the cycle. So while there is still plenty of work to do, I feel like we're at a point now where we're making adjustments and tweaks, and not trying to bring core functionality online. And tweaks and adjustments are a lot less stressful than worrying about your foundation pieces are going to be functional.

Last year I didn't start reading files until very late in the game, and as a result I only read about 50 files (instead of the 200 or more that I had planned on). In order to make sure that that didn't happen again this year, I arranged my schedule so that starting this week I would work two days a week from home in order to use those two days to focus as much as possible on reading instead of my other tasks.

Today is one of those days, but a big monkey wrench got thrown in my plans courtesy of my inclusion on a tech committee for one of our biggest vendors. The committee is composed of representatives not only from the vendor but also from 15 different member organizations, and our task is to review all product suggestions over the past year to decide 1) whether or not they are good ideas, 2) whether or not they are doable given the resources of the vendor and 3) what priority should the good, doable ideas be put in for the developers.

We got those suggestions earlier this week, and there are 300 of them. And our next meeting is on Monday, and we only have that meeting and one more later next week to complete this initial task so we can make recommendations to the board of directors when they meet the week after next. So for today (and likely some time this weekend), that's what I'll be doing instead of reading files. I'm glad to be included in the process and make sure that my institution is part of the conversation about the future of the product, but the time commitment over the next few weeks is going to be significant.

After I finished the book about the early days of MTV, I bought Morrissey's autobiography, but instead of starting that one, I impulsively checked out Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos from the Kindle Lending Library and read that instead.

(In order to fully understand how impulsive this was, you should know that the Smiths are my favorite band of all time and Morrissey was my idol for many years, and I've recently gotten back into them after reading a pretty good history of the band, A Light that Never Goes Out. Granted, Kurt Vonnegut was my favorite writer during that same period in my life, but I haven't read any of his stuff in years, while I've always kept listening to the Smiths, and I had also been looking forward to reading Morrissey's autobiography since the US just got it after it was initially released in the UK early last fall.)

Anyway. I originally read Galapagos relatively soon after it was published—it was published in 1985 and I checked it out of my school library in the fall of 1986 or the spring of 1987. I remembered a few sketchy details about the plot, but mostly I remembered that critics and other Vonnegut fans didn't seem to like this book even though I did. (I liked it so much, in fact, that I didn't turn it back into the library until I graduated.)

I still like it after re-reading it—I had forgotten how funny Vonnegut's writing is—but it's way more cynical about human beings than I remember. I mean, I know that Vonnegut is often seen as cynical (although sometimes also very hopeful) about our species, because that was a big part of his appeal to me as a depressed teenager, but I think it was easier to focus on the humor instead of the bitterness without having 25 years of adult life to make reality that much more real and a little less funny. At the end of the day, unless you really hate people, there is very little to like about this book—the narrator is kind of a jerk, and most of the people he's telling you about are at best pathetic and at worst sociopaths, and by the end of the story they end up being the representatives of all mankind.

On the plus side, it's a decent plot that moves quickly and has some interesting narrative frames, and there are some dead funny observations in it. But I can see how Vonnegut's writing could grate, especially if you don't like the storytelling devices that the narrator employs heavily throughout the book.

There are more Vonnegut books in the Kindle Lending Library, so I'm probably going to be checking one out every month until I've re-read all the free ones and then see if I'm still curious enough to revisit the others to pay for them.

Vonnegut really was my favorite writer for a few years between ages 16 and 19, and although I didn't read any of the books he published after that time or really re-read any of the ones up until that point (although I had read virtually everything that he had published until about 1990, including the books of essays and the plays, and I owned copies of almost all of it), he always had a special place in my heart.

One example of this: I discovered Paul Auster in the spring of 1987, and he was to be my literary obsession for about the next decade, but when I interviewed Auster as part of my thesis for my undergraduate program, I actually used Vonnegut's idea of chronosynclasit infundibulum to illustrate my personal experience with reading and re-reading Auster's work. I'm quite sure Auster had no idea what I was talking about it, but he was a good sport and did his best to grasp the concept and convey it in a statement that was a bit more grounded and accessible.

I spent my last two years of high school in Durham, NC, and so when I found out that Vonnegut was coming to speak at NC State in neighboring Raleigh, I found a way to get there with my friend Regan. His talk was funny and sardonic and sad, remarkably like reading one of his books, and although I had a strong desire to find a way to meet him, shake his hand, babble incoherently at him, and get him to sign a book or two, I had no plan as to how I would make this happen, so at the end of the talk I just watched him walk offstage like everyone else. And then I went home.

One of the things that stands out in my mind from that talk was his demonstration of the work he submitted for his Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago (a degree he would never earn because they rejected his thesis out of hand). The central idea of his work was to take works of literature and graph them, and then find similarities in the graphs of different, unrelated works, or find similarities in the works of a single author (this would absolutely be a valid way to get a Ph.D. in comparative literature in today's climate; in fact, I would be shocked if dozens of Ph.D.s haven't already been awarded over the past couple of decades for that concept or a very similar one).

Most of his examples used fairy tales since they were stories that most people are very familiar with and therefore ones where he could focus on that concept and not explaining the plot. He drew several graphs on a whiteboard to illustrate the idea, showing at what state the character started (postive, neutral (the zero line), or negative), and then tracing the ups and downs based on key plot points. The last one he demonstrated wasn't a fairy tale, and he said that this was one he actually used in his thesis. It was Kafka's The Metamorphasis, and after he drew a starting dot at the lowest point on the negative scale, he explained (I'm paraphrasing from memory):

So there's a man who hates his job, hates his boss and his coworkers, hates that he has to live with and support his family, and hates that he does not have a wife and family of his own. His life couldn't get any worse. One morning he wakes up to find that he has overslept, is late for work, and his manager is in his house yelling at him through his bedroom door. And then he discovers that he has turned into a giant bug.

After saying these last words, Vonnegut then drew a sharp curve down from his initial dot, taking the path of the line far below the bottom of the scale, and wrote an infinity sign next to the end point of the line. And that was how he ended his presentation on his unawarded Ph.D. thesis.

I never properly mourned him after his death in 2007—I was going to write a post that likely would have been pretty similar to this one, but his sudden death was very emotional for me and I never found a way to organize it, and after a few weeks it became easier not to think about it anymore than it was to struggle with something that I wasn't making any progress with.

But I do miss that he's in the world, even if his voice doesn't speak to me as much as it once did. He was still a big part of my developing years, and despite his cynicism, his message to the rest of us is worth remembering: this world is tough enough as it is, so let's just all try to be a little bit nicer to one another.

By the time I finished Galapagos, January had come, meaning I could now check out another book from the Kindle Lending Library, so I selected another Vonnegut title, Sirens of Titan. I picked this one without remembering too much about it except that it was another of his books that I liked immensely that other Vonnegut fans didn't seem that fond of, but it turned out to have a lot of similarities with Galapagos.

Both books tell the story of how humankind got from the state that we knew them from at the end of the 20th century to a higher, more evolved form (although in one of these books they maintain their essentially humanity, they just became more unified and more spiritual, whereas in the other they turn into a race of unthinking seals). They also involve, in very different ways, the manipulation of people to achieve these ends, and both plots emphasize how much dumb luck plays into the outcomes of all our lives, both good and bad.

Galapagos is more readable, but it's also a lot more cynical and it gives you a bit less to think about after you're done. The narrator has a very clear opinion about our species, and although he tells his tale more engagingly and with more humor, he never waivers from that point of view. Sirens of Titan has a more neutral narrator who isn't also a character in the story, and although there's definitely editorializing going on, it's less pointed than the statements from the Galapagos narrator. Although to be fair, even though humankind is brought to what it believes is a higher state of being, we also discover that our entire history has a species has been manipulated by aliens on a distant planet for what turns out to be a very insignificant purpose indeed. So maybe not quite so cynical about humans in particular in Sirens of Titan, but still pretty cynical about the nature of the universe and our place in it.

Another weird coincidence between these two books is that both prominently feature a dog with essentially the same name: Kazak in Sirens of Titan and Kazakh in Galapagos. I don't remember making that connection when I originally read these books, and I don't know if it's a name that gets used elsewhere in Vonnegut's works, but you have to wonder if he didn't have a dog with that name at some point in his life (I know he loved dogs—I remember a passage from one of his essays where he talks about being happiest when he's rolling around on the floor roughhousing with dogs).

I'll likely check out another Vonnegut novel at the beginning of February when the Kindle Lending Library resets I've enjoyed revisiting him for these two books, and although I didn't expect to love him as much as I did when I was a teenager (there was a reason I stopped reading his old and new work by the time I turned 20), it does shock me a bit how bitter his work seems compared to the personality I created for him in my mind.

I still believe he is the man I want him to be—gentle, kind, and empathetic, though generally confused by this universe—but that the pointlessness of our existence and the seeming futility in trying to figure anything out in our short time here simply overwhelms him, and this is the source of the bitterness and cynicism that comes out in his writing. It's not dissimilar from the point of view that I've ended up with at this point in my life, and although I never would have attributed any of this to Vonnegut had you asked me two months ago, it's hard not to see the parallels now that I've become reacquainted with two of my favorite Vonnegut novels.

I'm trying to convince myself not to watch the newest season of Girls, because if I do it will just be to hate watch it. I'm betting this is the season when the critics will turn on this show (this is not based on knowing anything about this season or having read any reviews as of yet, it just seems like it's time for the near-unanimous adulation to turn into at least partial loathing, because media critics can't stand to hold the same opinion forever and they certainly can't stand to agree with each other all the time), so maybe reading negative reviews will suffice.

I'm not going to complain about a three day weekend, but the timing of this particular day off isn't great—it's not even three weeks after the long holiday break, and then there's not another one until the end of May. That's a long stretch to go without any holidays, especially given that this time also happens to be the most stressful part of our cycle.

When I was in high school and college, the spring break period fit in their nicely, usually coming sometime between March 15 and April 15. It would be nice if that particular part of the faculty/student calendar carried over to the rest of the staff, but as it is, we're either preparing to send out our largest volume of decision letters for the whole year or we're gearing up for yield events on campus in April.

After finishing the Vonnegut books, I decided to put off the Morrissey autobiography once more to see if I could find a contemporary sci-fi writer that I could get into. I read a lot of sci-fi when I was young (Vonnegut got his start as a sci-fi writer, and most of his work still retains some hallmarks of the genre, but I didn't encounter him until after my heavy sci-fi period), but it hasn't really been my thing recently. But that's the genre that seems the most packed with ideas about how people and society are going to change as a result of technological advances, which is still an area of high interest for me, so I want to get back into it.

After doing some research, I settled on Neal Stephenson—he generally gets good reviews from the tech nerd crowd, and I started reading the first book of the Baroque Cycle a few years ago and liked it (even though I never finished it, which was more a problem with my reading habits than it was with the book itself). After reading up a little more on recommendations on where to start, I downloaded Snow Crash, his third novel but his first real breakthrough, and I'm about a third of the way through it now.

I think there's still a good chance I'm going to like this book, but a lot of the time early on is spent describing the virtual and physical worlds that these characters spend their time in. And back in 1992, when this was published, a lot of the concepts here would have been familiar only to tech-oriented futurists—this was pre-web, pre-MMORPGs, pre-movies like The Matrix that explore similar concepts. But now, a lot of the stuff is not only conceivable to the point where anyone with more than a passing interest in technology would be familiar with the concepts, but a lot of it has already been realized to the point where your average 65 year old is not only aware of it but has likely used it at some point.

That shouldn't take away from the brilliance of the bookd in its historical setting, but in today's world, it just makes you take a harder look at the characters, the plot, and the quality of the writing, and those are places where this books isn't at its best. I guess that's the problem with being a near-term futurist—wait a couple of decades and your works turn into semi-historical fictions instead.

Going into the championship round of the NFL playoffs, three of the four teams I didn't want to have a chance at making the Super Bowl were still in it: San Francisco, Denver, and New England. Seattle was still the team I was rooting for, so I was happy when they knocked San Francisco out, and between Denver/Manning and New England/Brady, I'd much rather see Denver move forward, so that was a good outcome as well.

I still don't relly want to see Denver win, even though I think a lot of people want that to happen because of all the feel-good stuff with Manning and his comeback, but unless Peyton freezes up (as he has done sometimes in the past, although honestly not since he's been with the Broncos), I don't see how Seattle is going to win the big game, no matter how well their defense plays.

But really, between those two teams, I don't have the kind of hatred that I do for Brady or Kaepernick, nor do I have any real love for them, so I'm mostly going to be watching the game as an interested observer with no real emotional investment in the outcome.

Came down with something yesterday and it's still dogging me today. I don't have the energy to go into work, but I can sit at my computer for a few hours, and luckily most of what I'm working on now can be done remotely. Still, this is not a good time of year to go down for two days—we're crazy busy from now until April, and every lost day hurts.

For a short week, this sure has been a long week.

This month hasn't been too bad for meetings so far, but this one is going to be a doozy. I've spent about 10 hours on Friday and Saturday working on a report with my data analyst that's due today (including a phone call that went past midnight last night), and now I've got meetings from 9:30 straight through til 4:30 (at least—4:30 is when my last meeting is scheduled to end).

I've got a few more meetings tomorrow, but then the rest of the week is relatively clear, so hopefully I'll get a couple of days at home to work on reading some files.

Let's see how this snow thing pans out. Based on my experiences with Baltimore weather forecasters and the echoes of their over-the-top excitement about even a hint of snow that I see in their counterparts in Atlanta, I'm guessing that we might see a few flakes from passing flurries, but nothing that really sticks or causes any problems. In Baltimore, a prediction of an inch or less meant either nothing or six inches; it was never what they predicted. And I just don't think six inches is a real possibility here.

Despite the blame game going on in the local and national media with the craziness of the traffic jams on the Atlanta interstates, I'm not acutally sure that this could have been prevented by anything other than calling off work and school the night before. And the night before, the forecasts were saying that we would get half an inch or an inch of snow at most, and the impact on traffic would have been minimal.

Given that there was no real way to predict the final outcome (2.5-3 inches of snow covering a thin layer of ice) until after people were already at work and school, the real problem became not the lack of pretreating on the roads (although I'm sure that would have helped some), but instead the simultaneous release of virtually everyone who works and goes to school in the city. This exacerbated the city's legendary rush hour traffic problems, and when combined with the panic from the snow and a few key accidents (typically involving tractor trailers), most of the main roads got snarled in an unending mess, which was made worse when, after hours and hours of sitting and not moving, people began to abandon their cars in the middle of the highway.

I saw a microcosm of this on campus: at 12:40, the president's office announced that the university was closing at 1:00. So of course everyone immediately headed for their cars, including me. By the time I pulled out of my space and got in line to get out, I was a level and a half below the exit and I had about 250 yards to drive before I could leave the garage. 15 minutes later, I had moved up about five car lengths, and the man in front of me was already ready to give up; he pulled his car off to the side (parking behind three cars parked in spaces, blocking them in and making it impossible for them to get out if their drivers showed up wanting to leave).

I was on my way to pick up Will, but given how slowly things were moving, I called Julie and asked her to do it. Her campus doesn't have the same parking issues (all surface lots with no garages, and the exit from the campus leads directly out to a main road). It took another half hour before I was able to exit the garage, and then another 15 minutes after that to work my way through the campus roads to get out to a real road. All told, it took just about an hour for me to go about a quarter of a mile. It took Julie about the same amount of time to go pick up Will and get back home, a trip that's probably about 5 or 6 miles (and that includes the time spent inside the school getting will out of his classroom).

Not a great day for Atlanta's city managers, but again, I think the real problem, aside from deciding not to close on Sunday night, was the simultaneous release—even in a normal rush hour in Atlants (which is awful), things are staggered over a three to four hour period; on Tuesday afternoon, virtually everyone in the city decided to head home between 1-2 p.m., which is also when the snow was hitting its peak and the highways were starting to ice over. Yes, this could have been avoided, but it's hard to see how without the benefit of hindsight given how critical people can be when schools decide to close and then nothing happens (which is really what we were all expecting—maybe a few flurries, but little to no accumulation).

Another day off today (although honestly, since so much of the work my office does can be done online, I think I worked as much yesterday from 9-5 as I would have in a normal workday in the office), which I'm glad to have but which I didn't expect. Emory has the same reputation here that Hopkins did in Baltimore: it's always the last school to close, and sometimes it doesn't close at all.

I wonder if what made the powers that be decide to close for a second day was the governor's press conference yesterday, in which he announced that the state government would remain closed today and encouraged private business to follow that lead. I live close to campus, and even though the roads are still icy, I could have either driven very slowly to work in my car or simply walked, but it's nice not to have to take any risks on streets and sidewalks that have half an inch to an inch of ice on them.

Back to work! The prevailing nickname for the debacle of the past couple of days seems to be Snowjam, but I much prefer one that I've only heard used twice: Gridlockalypse. Because really, the problem wasn't so much the snow as our ongoing traffice problems, and the fact that the entire city—anyone who worked at any job or went to any kind of school in Atlanta—was ordered head home between 1-2 p.m., just when the snow was starting to accumulate and create dangerous slicks of black ice on the highways.

There's already been a lot of fingerpointing and monday morning quarterbacking about how the various governmental agencies handled this, and most people seem to think if they had been better prepared (more stuff to put on the roads and more people and equipment to put it there), this could have been avoided.

I don't think that's really the answer though. I mean, Atlanta gets an accumulating snowfall on average once every five years or so, and in the years when they don't get any (the norm), all that equipment, personal, material, and training would go to waste. We're a southern city; we're never going to be as effective at dealing with frozen precipitation as a northern city, nor should we be. Instead, we should just accept who we are, and if there's a severe winter weather warning in the forecast, let's just all stay home until it passes. Our government shouldn't judge itself agains the yardstick of what the people who run cities like Baltimore, Philly, or Boston would do; it's a meaningless comparison.

Even if businesses hadn't decided to close in advance of this storm, if the city had at least closed the schools, that would have drastically reduced the number of people who needed to be on the highways once the snow started, and again, it wasn't the lack of treatment of the roads that was a problem, it was the sheer number of people on the roads all at once.

If the schools had been closed, it's likely that everything would have been back to normal by Thursday, and it's possible that even Wednesday would have been a go for certain businesses (although there was ice everywhere and it never got above freezing on Wednesday, so even if the highways had been free of abandoned cars so that they could be treated by road crews, there's no way they would have gotten to all the neighborhoods).

Anyway, it's all behind us now, and it's likely we won't have to deal with something like this again for a few years. But the lesson learned should not be "We need more salt trucks and plows", it should be, "Let's just close everythingn if snow is on the way". That's going to make for a much less expensive and much more workable solution for the long term.

december 2014
november 2014
october 2014
september 2014
august 2014
july 2014
june 2014
may 2014
april 2014
march 2014
february 2014
january 2014

daily links
cd collection