Monthly Archives: February 2016

Week in Review, 2016-W08.

(February 22, 2016 — February 28, 2016)

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Teaching: Barely keeping up, but I’ll catch up over Spring Break, I guess?
  • Graduating that Ph.D. student: Still plugging on that dissertation, though.
  • Administrative Reporting: Going to have to finally do that report next week, so yay?
  • Research Funding: Nope.
  • Met with a couple of visiting companies.
  • Enough about that… Entering a period of the year that is historically difficult for me.

Reading and Watching

  • Continued on Infinite Jest, including catching up to schedule. Enjoyed one particular passage so much that I almost wrote a blog post, but then the Infinite Winter project did it for me.
  • Realized that we had finished season 1 of Madame Secretary. Don’t seem to have free access to Season 2 at the moment. So, we’ve put it aside for now.
  • So, we started season 2 of Mozart in the Jungle. We watched season 1 a while back. Entertaining.

Family and Friends

  • Took M and N to Travis Whaley’s Graduate School Recital on Saturday. I enjoyed it very much. I think M liked it, too. N complained a lot, but behaved very well, so I’m not complaining. We’re going to miss Travis when he leaves Blacksburg this summer. (C was sick on Saturday.)
  • Took C, who was feeling better, to swim with the Cub Scouts on Sunday afternoon.

Home Improvement

  • No progress.

Health and Fitness

  • Ran three times, on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. Still working on pace, mostly.
  • Weight: 192.0.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Baseball

I grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, which means that I grew up as a fan of the Tennessee Volunteers, which means that I grew up as a fan of college football. Though I dabbled with other sports fandoms as a kid, college football was where it was at.1 But after going to college (at Vanderbilt, perpetually in the basement of the SEC, at least in football) and graduate school (at Cornell, where football is not the religion that it is in the Bible belt), I mostly grew out of it.

After that, I went through a long period where I basically gave up on following sports, adopting that obnoxious SportsBall! attitude and feeling largely superior to those who root for teams. Over time, though, I started looking, if peripherally, for a team to follow again.

I couldn’t go back to football. It is too clear what terrible damage that sport does to the brains of those who play it. I don’t eschew the sport completely—I’m back in a football town, after all—but I can’t enjoy it the way that I once could.

And, while enjoying some college sports has been an entertaining part of the last year for me, largely courtesy of the Hokie Kids Club, it’s a little too easy to be a Hokie fan in this town. Plus, I have long-running concerns about the impact of big-money athletics on universities, and, while not as immediate as my concerns about football, these impact my ability to be a full-throated fan of college sports.2

Stir all of this with some close friends that are fans of the Washington Nationals, and, in 2015, I decided to give MLB a try, with the Washington Nationals as my team.3 I bought a GameDay audio subscription and, from early in the season, started listening to as many games as I could manage. I hooked in to a few written media sources, too, including the then-indispensable and now-defunct Nats Insider 4. I wound up attending three games in person, too: Two by luck, finding myself in Washington on business trips during home stands, and one planned outing with kids.

And it was fun. I came to enjoy baseball in a way that I hadn’t previously, and got to know and love my team. I like that everything in baseball is skill-based and yet can only be analyzed stochastically.5 I like the multi-layered farm system and the fact that even the best prospects often have to work their way up.6 I like the stories that emerge about players and teams, stories of triumph over adversity and of heartbreaking defeat. I like the grind of the long season, playing nearly every day from April through September, unlike most anything else in sports. I like that the winningest team in baseball in 2015 still won fewer than 62% of their regular season games.

So, with pitchers and catchers reporting last week, position players reporting this week, spring training games starting next week, and opening day a mere six weeks away, I say: Play Ball!


  1. The NFL was never of interest to me, really. I joined an NFL fantasy football league at the behest of a friend, but even then I couldn’t bring myself to care. 

  2. I first became exposed to these issues by reading Beer and Circus, which continues to shape my thinking. More recently, I’ve been following the unfolding scandal which is the NCAA, reasonably summarized in this 2011 article from The Atlantic, though things have evolved somewhat since then. 

  3. I made vague rumblings of trying in 2014, but didn’t really follow through. 

  4. I was going to offer a link here which, as of a week ago, would have taken you to the old Nats Insider page, including the farewell post. But, as of today, it just redirects to the CSN Mid-Atlantic Nationals page, so, what’s the point? 

  5. My field of study is (wireless) computer networks, which also yield only to stochastic analysis. 

  6. If this is true in other professional sports, then it is well-hidden, compared to baseball. 

Week in Review, 2016-W07.

(February 15, 2016 — February 21, 2016)

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Teaching: Mostly caught up with course notes. Still behind on grading.
  • Graduating that Ph.D. student: Defense passed, so yay! Still working on that dissertation, though.
  • Administrative Reporting: No progress.
  • Research Funding: Got a tiny start on that white paper, but not much to report.
  • Publication Pipeline: Still thoroughly disorganized.
  • Also: Reviewed 7 conference papers, which is a little insane.

Reading and Watching

  • Pushed to the end of Snow Crash on Monday, which was great. Really enjoyed it, beginning to end.
  • Continued Infinite Jest along with the Infinite Winter project. I’m currently about two days behind, though.
  • Went to see a movie in the the theatre with Becky. We saw Hail, Ceasar!, the new Coen Brothers movie, and I was entertained.

Family and Friends

  • Kids had two more snow days on Monday and Tuesday. University closed on Monday, too, so I worked from home.
  • All three kids started work on pinewood derby cars, shaping their cars on Saturday and doing a bit of sanding on Sunday.

Home Improvement

  • No progress.

Health and Fitness

  • Ran twice, on Wednesday and Saturday. It was supposed to be a Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday week. But I shoveled snow intensively on Tuesday afternoon, so pushed that run to Wednesday, and then wound up at the eye doctor about twice as long as I expected on Friday.
  • Weight: 191.4.

Week in Review, 2016-W06.

(February 8, 2016 — February 14, 2016)

[Well. This is depressing. I don’t feel like I accomplished nothing this week, but I don’t have much to show for it.]

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Teaching: Class still going fairly well, still behind on all paperwork, though.
  • Graduating that Ph.D. student: Slow progress.
  • Administrative Reporting: No progress.
  • Research Funding: No progress.
  • Publication Pipeline: Still thoroughly disorganized.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Tuesday was a snow day for the kids, but I had class and the roads weren’t too bad, so I went in.
  • Took the kids to a women’s basketball game on Sunday. Based on the intersection of our schedule and the home basketball schedule, probably our last of the year. But: Baseball soon!

Home Improvement

  • No progress.

Health and Fitness

  • Ran four times, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. Sticking with the plan, working on pace, still not a great routine, but getting there.
  • Weight: 191.8. Just to state for the record, I’m not explicitly trying to lose weight, at the moment, but I wouldn’t like to gain any, either.

Week in Review, 2016-W05.

(February 1, 2016 — February 7, 2016)

Writing on the blog beyond the weekly review is a goal of mine, but for now I’m going to remain focused on getting the weekly review up. We’ll see what happens next.

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Teaching: Class still going fairly well, but I am behind on both grading and preparation of typed course notes. I will push to get caught up on the typed notes next week, but the grading may have to wait a bit longer.
  • Graduating that Ph.D. student: Started a big push on this dissertation; will get through it somehow.
  • Administrative Reporting: Finished and submitted the first of three funding-agency reports last week. Next up is probably my institutional annual report, before I get back to the other two funding-agency reports. (The first funding-agency report was overdue and was about to make trouble. The other two are “due” but don’t become overdue until the end of April.)
  • Research Funding: Didn’t get that white paper drafted, but will do so next week. The long-awaited research solicitation dropped and it was … different than expected.
  • Publication Pipeline: Still thoroughly disorganized.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Spent the night at the Science Museum of Western Virginia on Friday night with C, an annual Cub Scout event.1 It was a lot of fun, although I’m not sure that he learned as much as he did last year (2015) because the program was organized differently. However, the museum’s current temporary exhibit is a giant room full of old arcade games (with some educational material about the history of the video game and the operation of the games) which my son adored. He is constantly asking me questions about old video games, and this was his first hands-on opportunity with the arcade games of my youth. We’re members of the museum, and we’ll be back before this exhibit closes, with other siblings in tow.

Home Improvement

  • Built the main panel for the headboard. It came out okay, I think, but the boards were not very flat or straight. Trying to decide if I need to make any adjustments before moving on to the next step.
  • Assembled my beer tote. Used nails that were too long, because they were already in the nailer and I didn’t think much about it, and now there are some minor oopsies that need to be dealt with before sanding and finishing.2

Health and Fitness

  • Ran three times, Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday. Still struggling with routine a bit, but finding some new things that may work. Decided that I should work on pace, so that’s what I’ll be doing for the next few weeks, until I get back outside and can start building my distance back up.
  • Weight: 189.0.

  1. Not sure how much I want to say about this on the blog, but Cub Scouts is emblematic of a type of organization that fascinates me. The Boy Scouts of America holds some organizational values that are, shall we say, more conservative than mine, but they also offer a lot of excellent, structured activities for boys with an emphasis on outdoor activities. So, we choose to participate, at least as long as the boys are interested.3 

  2. Why is this home improvement? I don’t know. But I put it on the list last week, so now it counts. 

  3. My daughter is in Girl Scouts, and the Boy Scouts could learn a lot from that organization. 

Week in Review, 2016-W04.

(January 25, 2016 — January 31, 2016)

My friend John has started posting weekly updates. He claims that he stole the idea from me, but I’m going to steal some ideas right back. First of all, he actually had the sense to post some goals for the year, which he is using to organize his weekly posts. I certainly intended to do something similar—that should have been the tie-in with the so-called “now page” movement. But I still haven’t done it, and right now I feel a bit too scattered to do it properly.

One of the things that I don’t like about how this page is developing, though, is the “Professional” section. Much of what is interesting about my job is either esoteric or confidential, at some level, and so doesn’t make for great update fodder. But if I told you some goals and then told you, in the weekly update, about my progress toward them, then that might give the section some direction.

This year, our university is switching to evaluating faculty on a calendar-year, rather than an academic-year, basis. I’m not sure that this makes any sense, given that faculty are hired on an academic-year basis, but it is happening, for esoteric reasons.1 As a result, I will be preparing my annual report, including some goals for 2016, in the next two months. I won’t print those goals verbatim here, but once I’ve prepared them I will summarize them (or a subset of them) here and track them.

In the meantime, a few shorter-term professional goals, which I will track over the next few weeks:

  • Teach my class well, including the preparation of course notes, which I will publish online at the end of the semester.
  • Graduate a Ph.D. student who is nearing completion. This task currently entails editing his Ph.D. dissertation which is, as always, more work than it should be.
  • Submit three administrative reports currently owed to my primary funding agency and submit my aforementioned faculty activity report.
  • Submit a white paper to a potential corporate sponsor, a task which landed on my plate today, after a phone conversation that I expected to be a waste of time turned out to be exciting and promising. And prepare a proposal for a new solicitation that should be issued soon.2
  • Keep my publication pipeline moving, a goal that shall remain vague until I take the time to catalog various in-progress work.

So, starting next week, I’ll track those things. One thing that I won’t be copying is John’s assignment of grades, because that would likely be pretty depressing.3

The other thing that I will copy, though, is better tracking of home improvement projects. I’ve mentioned a few of them here earlier, but then I haven’t mentioned them again because I have made literally no progress on them. So, I’ll give them their own category; a little more accountability will do me good. I still don’t have any grand annual visions here, but here are a few projects that I hope to address in the next couple of months:

  • Build a headboard.
  • Build some additional shelving in the kitchen.
  • Get the basement shower fixed.
  • Get a broken lockset fixed.
  • Build a beer tote.

Travel

  • Nope.
  • Upcoming: Nope.

Professional

  • Nothing exciting to report. Next week I’ll start tracking those aforementioned goals.

Reading and Watching

Family and Friends

  • Becky was gone for nearly the entire week, returning late Saturday night. While we missed her terribly, solo parenting went more smoothly than I had any right to expect. The kids were fantastic, and I enjoyed getting to spend more time with them. And only one snow day this week (Monday).
  • In slightly related news, we got the kids a Wii U, although I didn’t unveil it until late in the third day of solo parenting. It was, of course, a big hit.

Home Improvement

  • Nothing of substance to report.

Health and Fitness

  • Only ran twice, on Tuesday and Friday. Struggling to find a new routine. Tired of running at 5:00a, but can’t figure out another regular time to run.
  • Weight: 191.2. Setback at the end of the week, after some progress earlier.

  1. The short reason is that the change is to better align with the issuance of raises, which are tied to the state budget cycle. But my experience is that the state legislature changes the timing of these raises, which are few and far between, nearly every time one is issued.5 

  2. I can’t do much concrete with this until the solicitation drops, but that’s expected soon, with a due date that will follow about 90 days later. So it seems worth tracking. 

  3. So far, John has given himself a GPA of 1.31. He’s a hard grader, but I’d probably be even harder on myself. And I’m a college professor, so I can’t live like that. 

  4. There’s a great RSS feed from this website that tells you, each week, which iTunes movies are on sale to be rented for 99 cents. I subscribed to it ages ago, but I almost never actually rent anything. But this week, The End of the Tour came up, and I decided to rent it. On Friday, watching the movie, which is about a three-day interview of David Foster Wallace by David Lipsky for Rolling Stone, an interview which occurred at the end of Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest, reminded me that I wanted to re-read Infinite Jest. My first, most sensible, thought was to plan to re-read it this summer. But on Saturday, partly while thinking about a summer re-read, I stumbled upon the Infinite Winter project, which was starting the very next day. And I found it impossible to resist the lure of this terrible idea. 

  5. I’m not complaining, in large part because my institution has found ways to execute some raises in addition to those passed down by our benefactors in the legislature, who fund an ever-decreasing portion of our budget.