march 2021

I typically watched The Great British Baking Show during my lunch break during the workweek, so after I watched the final episode of the most recent season, I was searching around for something similar to watch—a reality competition shows that I can watch in segments (it usually took me three days to watch a single episode of The Great British Baking Show watching one phase of each week's competition per day). After searching around the Netflix and Amazon Prime Video menus for a bit, I stumbled on my current show: Million Pound Menu.

The show is hosted by Fred Sirieix, a French restaurant general manager who has worked at Michelin-starred kitchens, and the concept is that two restaurant concepts are competing for the chance at an investment from an array of half a dozen restauranteurs. There are only two six-episode seasons, and the format changes slightly for the second season (which I've just started), but the basic concept remains in place.

I liked the format of the first season better: in that season, two restaurant concepts were chosen beforehand, each getting the chance to open a pop-up location while the potential investors decide whether they'd like to visit (and possibly invest in) one, the other, both, or neither. There's then a preview day where the teams cook for the investors who have expressed interest, then a meeting to discuss what an offer might look like. On the final day, the teams do a full lunch or dinner service for paying customers, and then have a final meeting with any investors who are still interested to discuss the terms of a deal.

The format is a cross between a kitchen rescue show and Shark Tank, and reminds me of an NBC show from a few years ago called Restaurant Startup, and the second season moves even closer to the format of that show. In the second season, only one team is given the chance to open a pop-up, and the investors vote on which one to give the opportunity after tasting their food. They also seem to be doing themes (again like Restaurant Startup) where each restaurant has a similar concept: a food truck that wants to open a brick and mortar location, a high end concept, a quick serve fast casual concept, etc.

I'm enjoying it pretty well, but due to the lack of episodes, I'll likely be done with this one pretty soon. However, it looks like all three seasons of Restaurant Startup are available on Peacock (which we get for free because Comcast is our cable provider), so I might have to revisit that one—I watched the first season or two back when it aired earlier last decade, but I have a feeling I've forgotten any details from whichever episodes I might have watched, so it will all feel like a new show to me.

On Saturday night we had a special surprise for Will: a streaming virtual magic show featuring one of his favorite magicians, Michael Carbonaro. He has a tv show where he does tricks and stunts on unsuspecting people on hidden camera, and the first few seasons were filmed here in Atlanta, so Will really enjoys seeing places he has visited (like our favorite hot dog place or a museum in our neighborhood) featured as locations for the tricks. We also took Will to see him live at the Tabernacle (GET DATE), one of our last family outings before Covid hit.

The show was about an hour long, but it went by much faster than that, and we also paid for a slightly more expensive ticket so we could participate in a Q+A with Michael after the main show was finished. I thought they were going to limit attendance to that one so that everyone who bought a ticket would be able to ask him a question, but when it became clear that this wouldn't be the case, we all started waving frantically every time he finished another question hoping that we would stand out in the Zoom crowd and get to talk to him.

It worked just in the nick of time—we were the second-to-last question he took, and Will loved being able to talk to him directly. He got to mention his magic teacher, Ken Scott, who knew Carbonaro when he was filming in Atlanta (he became too recognizable here and he moved to Chicago to film the show a couple of years ago). We can't wait until we can get back to doing things like this in person, but for now, this was a great experience that was in some ways more intimate than a show in a theater and also cost far less.

Now that the main part of the file review season is over, I'll spend the next couple of weeks catching up on all the non-emergency-but-still-high-priority work that I had to backburner over the past few weeks. So even though the long hours of reading every day are over, I'll have a couple of weeks of equally long hours taking care of everything else that needs to be done before we release decisions later this month.

I will get a break after that, though—we release decisions on a Wednesday, so I'm taking the Thursday and Friday after that off, and then the first week of April we're going to take another trip to the mountains from Wednesday through Sunday when Will has his spring break. I'm really going to do my best to completely turn off work during those vacation days—I'm feeling seriously burnt out (as I suspect most people are), and if I'm going to have the focus I need to finish off this enrollment cycle and get to the slightly less intense summer months, I'll need a serious recharge.

Atlanta United unveiled their new home kit, and...well, I like that it's black, but I don't like the narrow red stripes, and I really, really don't like those stripes on the lower third of the authentic kit.

I have one Atlanta United jersey—the inaugural home kit from 2017 that is still easily the best jersey they have produced with the classic five stripes that became the club's nickname—but I've been dying to give them more of my money years, and I just haven't loved any of the other kits (we get a new one each year—one year it's a new away kit and the next year it's a new home kit).

The three away kits are fine, but they are lighter in color and I prefer darker colors. The away kits they have release so far are red on light grey (nicknamed strawberry and concrete), peach on white (King Peach), and the current one, gold on white (the King's Kit, which was meant to honor their MLS Cup victory in 2018–they couldn't update it in 2019 because that was the year when a new home kit was revealed). And the previous home kit, nicknamed Stars and Stripes because it was the first kit that included a star above the logo to commemorate their first MLS Cup, is a poor imitation of the original Five Stripes kit—if you already had a Five Stripes, there was little reason to buy a Stars and Stripes jersey.

They've also had a couple of third alternate kits (if a team sells a certain amount of merchandise, Adidas will release a third kit that's a one-off for that year only; so far Atlanta United are the only MLS club to meet that threshold), but they also each had their own problems. The 2018 black jersey was great, but it was made in partnership with an upcycling company that made the jerseys from reclaimed and repurposed ocean plastics, and it was available in such limited quantities that it was near-impossible to get one. And the 2019 was unappealing: sea foam with black lettering that was neither distinctive nor flattering.

Adidas has announced that Atlanta United has once again sold enough gear to qualify for a third kit in 2021, but that won't be revealed until sometime this summer, and based on past offerings, I can't count on either liking it or being able to find one. So I'm back to the new home kit if I want a new jersey this year. And I'm still strongly considering it—it is mostly black, after all, and that's been the jersey color I've really wanted for a while, plus the weird stripes on the butt aren't there on the cheaper replica jersey—but those stripes down the front look like you got mauled by a tiger (although at least there are five of them, unlike the Stars and Stripes kit).

If we're able to attend games this season (god I hope we can do that safely), I might wait to see how they look in person on other fans before I make my final decision. It's so frustrating though—I desperately want to give them more of my money, but they just aren't giving me a product that's compelling.

The Invisible Man movie starring Elisabeth Moss has been airing on HBO recently, so I sat down to watch it a few days ago out of a combination of boredom and mild curiosity. I don't generally like her as an actor (although I did appreciate what she brought to Mad Men as Peggy Olsen)—she's a little too tightly wound and emotionally detached in her roles that's similar to Westworld's Evan Rachel Wood: good for playing a non-human playacting at being human, but not necessarily for creating a relatable human character. But her acting style/persona worked pretty well for this movie.

The basic premise is that she is in an emotionally abusive and extremely controlling relationship with a tech mogul (whose specialty is advanced optics) who keeps her locked up in a highly secure, remote home where he tells her what to wear and what to eat and controls her behavior with drugs. She manages to escape and is hiding out at the home of a friend when she gets the news that he has committed suicide and left her a large sum of money despite their estrangement.

This is when the movie reaches its peak enjoyment: a series of strange things start to happen around the house, which at first only she sees. Some of the most tense scenes in the film are just 30 second straight Moss frozen in fear as she stares at an empty corner, as both she and we in the audience question whether she's going insane and hallucinating or whether there is a ghost or some other malevolent spirit in the room with her. Of course, given the title of the movie, we know what's really going on, which makes those moments even more impressive.

It's not really revealing a twist (again, given the title of the movie) that we eventually find out that her ex is still alive and is using an advanced bodysuit that makes him invisible. There's an escalating series of encounters that throw in some other twists as the story advances, culminating in one final twist that they set up a little too obviously, but which is still reasonably satisfying as a conclusion.

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, although I don't strictly know if I would recommend it and I don't know if I'll ever watch it again. Overall it's a techno thriller that borrows from a well-established pop culture reference, and in that framework it's as much about the invisible eyes of big data watching and controlling us in the modern world as it is about the relationship between Moss' character and her boyfriend. From that perspective, I find something like Ex Machina much more satisfying, but again, this was more worthwhile than I expected.

Our school district recently announced that they are going back to optional in-person school, so we've had to think a lot about the best solution for Will. He would definitely do better in-person—he would love being around people, and I think he'd be able to better focus on his work than he does at home (both the peer pressure of seeing other kids focusing on their work and his innate desire to please his teacher would kick in in ways that they don't on Zoom), but our biggest focus during the pandemic was making sure none of us get Covid, but especially Will.

The model they're using is non-optimal for everyone involved. Their starting premise is that all students should stay with the teacher they've had all year, which means that the teacher will be teaching both the in-class students and the online student simultaneously. Because of this, much of the instruction will be using online tools, so the in-class students will be sitting at their desks using online platforms. Combine that with the fact that they will be confined to their desks and be wearing masks all day (both good safety precautions), and there's not a ton of upside to us sending Will back at this point, especially when combined with the increased risk.

We have to make our initial selection about online versus in-person, but if things go well, they will open up another selection window in a few weeks for the last month or so of school. We'll see how the experiment is going then, and how the case counts are looking in our area, and maybe consider letting Will go to class then if that's what he wants to do. This year was no good for any student academically, but it's an especial bummer for Will—he's really struggled with online learning, and next year he'll start middle school, where things will be a lot more complex and he'll be expected to be a lot more responsible for his time while at school.

I'm hoping all the middle school teachers will realize this and adjust accordingly, knowing that in many ways this crop of students are not nearly as prepared for that significant transition as their students in the past have been. But we're planning on him being back at school in the fall, and we're going to watch his performance closely so we can jump in with extra support if there are areas he seems to be struggling with.

After The Last Human, I stayed in the semi-sci-fi world and read Hench, the debut novel from Natalie Zina Walschots. The book is set in a world where supervillains and superheroes are a fact of life, and many people are employed by one side or the other as everything from researchers to combat support to data entry drones and other low level office workers. The story follows the experiences of one such woman who is severely injured while working for one supervillain and is able to exact her revenge against the hero who hurt her when she starts climbing through the ranks at the organization of another supervillain.

This is far from the first time a premise like this has been explored. The current and most obvious parallel is Amazon's The Boys (which is based on a comic book from the late 2000s), but it's easy to find examples going back to the 80s, most famously with The Watchmen graphic novel and with things like an unfortunate reboot of Marvel's X-Force. This book doesn't do anything we haven't seen in some other guise before, but it does take the somewhat original approach by focusing on one of the nameless side-characters who often end up as cannon fodder or collateral damage from the epic battles that the heroes and villains engage in.

I was interested in reading the book mostly for that reason, but overall it was a disappointment. One of the big problems is the writing itself—not only is it clear that this is a debut novel, there are also some weird artifacts that speak to the book not having an editor (or not having a very good one, anyway). The best example of this is having a character choke on coffee in surprise/laughter/etc., a weird little detail that occurs maybe four times in the novel's first 30 pages.

But the other major, and more significant, problem is the sheer improbability of the story, even if you do your proper suspension of disbelief and buy into the fundamental premise of the world. This is because the main character (it's hard to call her a protagonist as it becomes clear that she's comfortable engaging in work that results in the death and injury of innocent people as long as she gets a nice paycheck out of it) just isn't that special, but the whole book tries to convince us that she is.

Without giving away too much of the plot, she's basically a low-level office drone who can enter data into a spreadsheet and monitor social media feeds to compile a sense of public opinion about various heroes and villains. The author tries (and fails, at least for me) to convince us that these are somehow magical skills that allow her to quickly ascend through the ranks of her villain's organization, eventually ending up as his number two and his main strategist. She's supposed to be this great compiler and modeler of data, yet the only tools she apparently uses in this regard are Excel spreadsheets, and not even the basic tools (like pivot tables) that are available within that program. Any data analyst/data scientist worth the name is going to immediately pull multiple data sources into packages like SPSS, SAS, or R, and they're going to have serious training in statistical analysis and applied mathematics to pull off the kind of modeling that the author wants us to believe this character is capable of.

Even if you can overlook all this (which clearly I cannot), the story's just not that good or involved. It ends up focusing on the superheroes/supervillains in the end anyway, and it reads more like fan fiction or a rejected story proposal that wouldn't have even gotten a second look at DC or Marvel. It's too bad, because there was some promise in the setup, but virtually every part of the execution was a failure for me, and I wasn't even 20 pages in before I was just waiting for it to be over, hoping that the narrative would somehow turn itself around and redeem itself, but continuing to be disappointed until the very end.

A couple of weeks ago, our oldest cat, Junie, was looking really listless and low-energy, and after a couple of days of her not bouncing back, we decided to take her to the vet to get her checked out. The news on the bloodwork came back recently, and it's not good: she has aggressive lymphoma, and there's not really much we can do for her.

We don't know how long she has—it could be days, weeks, or months—but we're doing our best to keep her comfortable and happy. She's not eating much, although the vet had us give her steroids which seemed to help a bit, and she sleeps a lot and has a bit of trouble walking. But she still moves around the house to her favorite sleeping spots and to the food bowls, and she doesn't seem to be in pain, so we're just going to enjoy our remaining time with her, however long that might be.

I bought a lot of concert tickets in early 2020 before Covid shut everything down. Some of those shows were canceled outright, but most have been rescheduled for the back half of 2021 (although no acts have definitively confirmed that those rescheduled shows will still take place). I'm hopeful that we might get back to a place where 1) real, live, in-person concerts and sporting events are taking place by the end of this year and 2) I will feel like things are safe enough to actually attend those events, but despite the rapidly increasing availability of vaccines in the US, we've got a long way to go before that seems more probable than not.

But for the first time since around this time last year, I saw a band announce a brand new tour and start selling tickets to it: venerable indie rock act Dinosaur Jr., who have a new album coming out in April, will tour Canada and the US starting in September and ending in November. One of their stops will be at the Masquerade in Atlanta, and even though I still have my doubts about whether those types of indoor performances will be allowed and/or safe, I decided to be optimistic and buy tickets.

It felt so good doing that—it was one of those rare moments (which I hope we'll have many more of in the coming months) when I could imagine a return to a somewhat normal post-Covid world, where all the things I loved to do on a regular basis but which I haven't done at all isn't he past year plus (going to bars with friends, seeing live shows, going to Atlanta United matches and Braves games), are things that I can do again anytime I want to.

Again, we still have a long way to go to get there. And while I'm realistic about the potential setbacks we could face (variants that are simultaneously more transmissible and more resistant to the vaccines, a certain percentage of the population that refuses to either get a vaccine or take basic public health safety measures like wearing a mask in public), we can get there, and we might even be able to get there in spite of the ~30% of the population that wants to pretend like there is no pandemic.

The weather has been so great this week—temperatures in the high 60s and 70s with lots of sunshine. This is a little bit of an anomaly—it usually doesn't start to reach these temperatures until closer to the end of this month—and I'm sure we'll drop back to normal temperatures in the 50s and 60s before we fully turn the corner into the 70s and 80s in April. But I'm really enjoying this preview of spring, and very much looking forward to warm weather and all the outdoor activities that will bring with it.

My mom has accumulated quite the collection of cats since moving to Georgia a couple of years ago. It started with Jingle, a female stray who started coming inside her house and spending the night, becoming her de facto pet but one who still had regular access to the outside. Before we could get jingle spayed, she got pregnant and gave birth to four male kittens, two of whom my mom kept (Tiggerbell and Theodore) and two of whom we adopted after our cat Oliver died last year (Wolfie and Jasper, who I'm sure my mom would have kept if we hadn't taken them in).

The likely father(s) of these four cats are two tomcats who hang around my mom's yard regular: JD (a tuxedo cat who looks exactly like a grown up version of Jasper, hence his initialed name: Jasper's Dad) and Deuteronomy, and older cat who looks a lot like Tigger. The exact parentage is unclear: JD could be Deuteronomy's dad or vice versa, or they could both be unrelated and in the same generation who each contributed to the litter of kittens (this is apparently something that can happen with cats).

A few months ago, Deuteronomy showed up with a big wound on the side of his face with a strip of skin hanging off. We tried to catch him so we could take him to the vet, including leaving out a cat trap when we weren't there, but he never seemed to come around during our visits and he steadfastly refused to enter the cat trap (although he stood by as three other strays were caught). His wound started to heal, and the strip of skin eventually fell off, but then just as he was getting over that issue, he got into another fight and had another pretty serious head wound.

Julie got really determined to capture him then, especially after a chance conversation at a (virtual) church coffee hour led her to someone who was willing to take him in and adopt him if we could catch him and get him treated. So one day when he was hanging around my mom's yard, Julie drove out and was able to help lure him inside, where she was then able to pick him up and get him into a kitty carrier for transport back to our house. We took him to the vet to get him neutered and get his injuries cleaned up, and we'll keep him in our guest bathroom for a week so he can start to get used to being an indoor cat and recover from his vet visit before going to his new home.

I've bought a few more albums this year, but it's definitely slower than normal. A lot of the bands I like tend to release their new records in the January-March window—after the blockbuster holiday season but before the summer festivals and tours start up—but since tours, if they happen, won't happen until much later this year, I'm guessing a lot of records that are ready to be released are being held back until the live concert picture clears up a little more.

The two most recent are very different: one is a sophomore release from a band I've never listened to before, and the other is the latest album from a band that's been around since the 90s and whose catalog I own most of. The former is from a band called Nervous Dater, and the record is called Call in the Mess. It's hard to pin down this sound exactly, but if you lived through the 90s when Nirvana's surprise success brought a lot of college guitar bands to the forefront of music, this will feel familiar. They have a female lead singer (mostly—a male singer leads on a couple of tracks and he's a decidedly poorer option), and while there's not a specific female band from that time period I can point to as an analog, you could have played this for me and told me it was a little-heard gem from that time period and I would have completely believed you. It's a solid listen but doesn't have many standout tracks—it's more about how consistently they recall that time period and trigger the nostalgia synapses.

The second record is a new release from of Montreal, a double album that continues Kevin Barnes' recent shift back to writing, playing, and recording his albums all by himself. The first time he returned to this mode in over a decade was on 2018's White Is Relic/Irrealis Mood, and after several releases that I didn't really connect with, I absolutely loved that one—for me it's on par with the releases in the first decade of this century that established their critical and popular following. This was succeeded by UR FUN, which was meant to be a throwback to 80s electropop, but wasn't nearly as engaging as White Is Relic. And now this year, after a year where he wasn't out on tour and was apparently able to focus exclusively on writing, we have the double album I Feel Safe With You, Trash.

It's a looser, more textural album than the pop singles oriented UR FUN, and some of its best moments recall aspects of what I loved about White Is Relic. But sprawling, with both the positive and pejorative connotations associated with that word, is a good descriptor—sometimes the record takes you places you wouldn't have expected and you're happy to find yourself there, and other times you feel like you've gotten lost and aren't sure how to find your way back. It seems like there are intentionally no singles, and nothing really stands out as a song that would be highlighted on a setlist five years from now, but it's an engaging record in its own way—an extended tone poem where the sudden shifts sometimes happen within a single track or where what feels like a single track is actually three tracks that bleed together.

It doesn't live up to the standard of White Is Relic, but I'd rather have more records like this than the ones from the mid-10s like Lousy with Sylvanbriar, Aureate Gloom, and Innocence Reaches, all of which I tried my best to love but about which I remember very little.

After Hench, I stayed with sci-fi despite two disappointments in a row and read The Price of Time by Tim Tigner. The premise of this one was also intriguing, but similar to Hench, it fell flat for me and ended up not fulfilling its promise.

The setup of the book is that a group of scientists who are funded by a tech billionaire has created a drug that stops the aging process, but instead of mass marketing it (because to do so would cause untold resource problems as people lived much longer lifespans (only dying to accidents, etc.) but continue to populate the Earth with their children), they decide to restrict the knowledge of and use of the drug to the scientists who made the discovery and their angel investor—about 10 people total. They also allow another megawealthy individual who is trusted by the group to buy in—by equally splitting the material resources of the two wealthy members of the group, they each given themselves enough seed money to live a life of luxury, which will be entirely sustainable due to their unprecedented ability to take advantage of long-term investments.

Unfortunately, soon after setting up this world with so many intriguing possibilities, the book quickly regresses into a standard spy/thriller/action novel, and not even one that fits into the cyber/techothriller category. If you lopped off the first couple of chapters of the book where the reader is clued in to everlasting life being the secret that this group is trying to hide, you could have easily made this into a mystery where that piece of evidence isn't revealed until the end. And even then it wouldn't be that impactful—it could have just as easily have been that they all ran the global drug trade, or they were all actually extraterrestrials, or they were from a secret society under the Earth's crust. Whatever. It wouldn't have mattered, so unessential was the specific thing they were trying to hide was to the story.

They have one attempt to make their secret germane: after a couple of decades of not aging, they decide to find doppelgangers with no attachments to family or friends, kill them, and assume their identities so that other people don't start to catch on that they have access to a fountain of youth. But even this is a pretty flimsy connection to the immortality serum—there are lots of reasons why an ultrarich individual might want a new identity, and I'm sure those reasons have been explored in similar thriller/mystery novels. Plus, their desire to stay anonymous and change identities every few decades is completely undercut by what several of them want to do with their new identities: two want to go into politics and one wants to become a famous actress. It would have been better if they hadn't explored the identity aspect at all given how poorly thought out it was, but of course the attempt to procure new identities is what brings our protagonists into the story.

This was a quick, fast-paced read that was entertaining for what it was, but I'm not a big fan of the thriller genre and that's not what It thought I was getting when I bought this one. Done well, this could have been something like Neal Stephenson's Reamde or any of Daniel Suarez's books (a much better potential analog than Stephenson), but as it is, it's just an average thriller with a plot driver that should have been central to the book but instead is merely tangential.

We're finished shaping this year's admit pool, and will now go through a more mechanical process of auditing the decisions and preparing for their release next week, and I'm completely exhausted. I'm taking off a couple of days next week after decision release just to start to recover, and we're also taking a family trip in early April where we'll actually get out of town for a few days.

Things should be relatively quiet for the next couple of months—we can't travel and we're also not hosting any on-campus events—so I expect that we'll have an easier spring and early summer than usual before we start to ramp up for next year's recruiting and selection cycle. But I'm so glad that we don't have another couple of weeks left before we can take our foot off the gas—I had just enough to get over the finish line this year, and if there were still two or three weeks of intense work to go, I really don't know if I would have had it in me.

Deuteronomy, the outdoor cat who hung around my mom's house who we captured and took to the vet about a week ago, has been doing okay with his new life. He still hides from us sometimes when we come into the guest bathroom to check on him, but there are also some times when we cries out very quietly and wants some attention and companionship. I've even been able to coax him to purr a few times, and even when he's scared, he's very gentle and sweet, which bodes well for his ability to transition from feral outdoor cat to house pet.

On Saturday, Julie took him to his new home, a woman from church who likes to take in rescues and who had her oldest cat pass away recently. Even though she has a couple of other cats, she has a house where she can keep him separated from them and give him room to stake out his own territory (permanently if need be). She seems very excited to have him, and we're so happy that we serendipitously got to know her just as we were figuring out how we could help Deuteronomy without taking him in ourselves.

We were originally planning to get him fixed up and then return him to his semi-feral state at my mom's house, and that's still an option if he doesn't take to indoor living. But for now he's safe and comfortable with a person who loves him, and we're hoping he can settle in and enjoy a nice, quiet retirement in his old age.

After The Price of Time, and despite a couple of relative disappointments with the sci-fi genre, I stuck with it and read View of a Remote Country, a book of short stories from early in the career of writer Karen Traviss. She's done a lot of work writing novels for existing, big name IP universes—Star Wars, Gears of War, Halo, G.I. Joe, etc.—although she does have a series of novels set in a universe of her own creation. I've never read her before, but picked this up based on a blog recommendation.

There are some good ideas here, and some generally very solid writing, but you can tell this is work from a writer who is still figuring out her voice/style. She usually gives a quick preface before each story telling when and how she wrote it, and where and when it was first published, and a large number of the stories here were written as exercises in various creative writing workshops. That shows as well—there are some where you can see how a story grew up around a premise that was part of the assignment. Sometimes this framing leads to interesting results, such as the alternate timeline Aztec police procedural set in a society where chocolate is used as a currency where one of her fellow writers told her to base a story around chocolate.

There are very few stories that are executed as well as they could have been, but there are some memorable premises: a society where convicted murderers are put in suits and basically enslaved to people who have had loved ones murdered; the anti-Christ moving into an ordinary English village and living in a council flat; a man who teaches himself remote viewing. The through-line of all these stories is how adept Traviss is at immersing us in the everyday mundanity of these strange worlds—her gift is being able to drop us into these foreign territories, quickly acclimate us to their weirdness, and tell very human stories with the characters who inhabit them.

I'm curious to read more from her, but I've never been a fan of novelizations of movies and video games, and that's been the bulk of her career (oddly, it doesn't look like she's published much since 2014 despite being very prolific for a decade prior to that). Maybe the next time I'm in the mood for military sci-fi, I'll give her Wess'har series a try.

Junebug, our oldest cat who was diagnosed several weeks ago with lymphoma, had been getting more and more listless. She stopped eating, she had real trouble moving around, and she even stopped drinking, necessitating a few sessions a day of giving her slow drips of water manually using a needleless syringe each day. She didn't seem to be in pain despite all this, so we pampered her as much as we could and hoped that she would pass away peacefully in her sleep, but the time finally came yesterday when we decided it was time to take her to the vet for euthanasia before her condition deteriorated further.

It was so, so hard. This is the first time we've had to take one of our cats in to be euthanized in the 30 years that Julie and I have been together—all the others have passed away at home naturally. And Will has been alive long enough to be cognizant of the passing of a couple of beloved pets, but this was obviously also his first time taking one to vet and choosing when it happened.

We all went together as a family, and Will and I said our last goodbyes in the car while Julie went into the vet's office to be with Junie until the end. It's never easy to say goodbye to a pet who has been part of your family for over a decade (she's the only cat we have left who is older than Will), but as hard as it was, it was the right thing to do—her quality of life was quickly diminishing, and the last thing we wanted for her was for her to spend her last hours on Earth in pain. We loved her so much, and she will be greatly missed.

We released our final round of first year decisions today, notifying over 30,000 applicants of their admission status. It's been a tough and heartbreaking year: we had a nearly 20% increase in applications compared to last year while simultaneously being down three staff members due to the hiring freeze that was put in place at the start of the pandemic, which put extreme pressure on the the daily and weekly workload for those of us involved in the selection process.

Plus, we had fewer seats than ever available to the RD round (the students we released decisions for today)—like many schools, we went a bit heavier on binding Early Decision this year, and, also like many schools, we had an order of magnitude more students from last year who elected to defer due to the virtual schooling nature of education during the pandemic, meaning they ended up taking spots that would have otherwise gone to students applying this year.

We adapted our yield prediction models as best we could for this very odd year, but there are so many unprecedented factors that it's hard to know how accurate they'll be. We could be right on the money and have the class sewed up by the May 1 deposit deadline, or we could be facing a situation like last year where we had to go to the waitlist multiple times deep into the summer. And it's not just the quality of our models that determine our success: if peer institutions underperform on their yield model and they go to the waitlist, that can have a domino effect where they pull some from us so we have to go to the waitlist, and we pull some from other schools, and so on and so on.

But for now we can take a break and breathe for a few weeks, especially because we're not immediately leaping into hosting dozens of on-campus events in April. I'm taking the rest of the week off, and I don't have any plans besides sleeping late and catching up on some movies in my queue.

I took a couple of days off after decision release to have a long weekend with solid plans to avoid doing anything, but there were still a few notable highlights. The biggest one was that I had a friend over and had lunch across the table from him, the first time I've done that in probably 18 months. He was about a week removed from his first shot, so we sat outside and sat across a table 5-6 feet from each other, but we didn't wear masks and we shared a meal. And it was great.

I also tried to drive my car for the first time in...a month? two months?...and discovered that the battery had died. Now, you'd think that it would be very hard for an electric car (I have a Nissan Leaf that's about five years old) to have a dead battery, since the main battery pack should theoretically be able to do things like power the door locks and start up the system for months (if not years) if it is not otherwise being drained. But it turns out these vehicles use a regular car battery for those functions just like gas powered cars, and as with traditional combustion engine vehicles, if you don't drive the car around every so often to let the engine recharge that battery, it can go dead and lead your vehicle inoperable.

We have a jumpstarter/air compressor that we keep for just such situations with our other car, but we've had it so long that it has now apparently gone through its lifetime of recharge cycles and wasn't capable of jumping a battery any longer. But a quick trip to Home Depot got me a new unit, which got the battery going enough for me to drive the car around for 20 minutes and get everything back on track.

Will also had his (virtual) audition for his music school's honors recital, something he's been practicing for for months. He usually does well when it comes to performance (versus just practicing), and he did pretty well with two complex pieces—they told us that same day that he was getting an invite to the recital and that the judge (they bring in people who are not instructors at the school) had given him the highest grade possible. The recital is in April, and it will be in-person, but outdoors with limited attendance, socially distanced and masked, etc. But it's still exciting to the see world start to slowly open back up as the pace of vaccines continues.

Normally for Palm Sunday, members of our church gather about half a mile from the church and walk through downtown Decatur, singing and holding palm leaves as we make our way to our building for the formal service. They were planning to try a version of that this year, but then the weather was predicting storms for the morning, so they canceled it at the last minute.

For the virtual service, however, they asked people to gather greenery front their yards to substitute for the palms, which Julie assigned to Will. He went out and dutifully gathered some stems that looked very similar to palms and brought them onto the screen porch for the service. A couple of minutes later, Julie caught one of our young male cats, Wolfie, nibbling on one of them, and then had the horrible realization that it was a stem from a day lily, which are incredibly poisonous to cats (as are all members of the lily family, including onions).

She did some quick research online and realized that this particular species was one of the worst for cats, and even ingesting a tiny pieces could lead to lifelong disabilities or death, so she rushed him immediately to the emergency vet clinic, where they gave him medicine to make him throw up, put him on fluids to flush his system out, and also gave him activated charcoal. He threw up a little piece of the plant (likely all of it), but they still kept him and treated him for the next two days per protocol.

His blood and urine tests have all come back clean, so he was able to come back home today, and it looks like we dodged a bullet with this one. He's a little weirded out after being at the vet for a couple of days—he and his brother have never been separated since they were born before this incident—but he seems otherwise happy and healthy.

I often have The Office on in the background when I'm working or taking an afternoon nap, and I end up watching it from several different sources. Comedy Central has a few days a week where it runs late in the afternoon through the evening; Cozi runs it on Saturday and Sunday; and, if it's not on one of those and there's nothing else I want in the background, I'll stream episodes from Peacock (which we get for free for being Comcast customers).

It's no exaggeration to say that I've actively watched every episode of this show 10 times over the years, and have likely at least doubled that count for background listening/viewing. So I'm pretty familiar with the dialogue, jokes, and scenes of most episodes. But these three different sources are throwing me for a loop a bit, because they each air different versions, and I find myself not only missing snippets of dialogues or even entire scenes that have been removed in order to fit more ads in for the syndicated episodes, but now, with Peacock, seeing new bonus material and second-guessing my memory as to whether I somehow missed something on previous viewings or this is extra material they've added in as an incentive to watch the episodes on Peacock.

I'm pretty sure Cozi airs its episodes in pretty close to the original format, but it's also the place that airs the episodes least frequently, so I watch it the least. I end up with Comedy Central on in the background a lot, and they are using very pared down versions of the episodes these days—between removing certain pieces of dialogues or scenes (some of which are very much missed) and slightly speeding up the playback, I bet they create at least two extra minutes of advertising per half hour. The Peacock episodes are the ones that really throw me off, though, because they not only restore the stuff the Comedy Central episodes have cut (some of which I probably haven't seen in at least a couple of years), they also add in extra material that was cut in the original airings.

Most of the time this extra material was cut for a good reason—at best it's throwaway stuff with mediocre laughs, and at worst it slows down the pacing of the episode and dilutes the funniest stuff in a way that lowers the overall quality of the episode. Still, between the two extremes of cutting a minute or two of a great episode or adding in an extra minute or two that's not really needed, I'll choose the latter.

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