Friday, December 19, 2014

83.3 miles

In some ways, my bicycling ability has plateaued. I've already done a 100K (three, actually), and it's not that I CAN'T do anything longer than that; it's just that doing anything longer than that would just take a really long time, and I'd rather not spend an entire Saturday away from my family. But if I have an extra vacation day to use, I COULD take the day off from work, and ride my bike for 7 hours or so. That's what I did yesterday: drove east of Raleigh, then got on my bike and rode from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Total distance: 83.3 miles.


(This isn't why I took this picture, but yes, I did use that toilet.)

Most bike rides are fun for the first 40 miles or so. Then, muscles and things start to hurt, and it becomes not fun. Between that and the time factor, I keep most my rides at 40 miles or less. But, sometimes it's fun to push my limits.

...although if I really wanted to push my limits, I would have driven west to (somewhat) mountainous Stokes County and ridden this 45-mile route that I plotted a while back, but have never gotten around to doing, because despite the shorter distance, it's still a huge time commitment: 1.5 hours of driving each way on top of ~4 hours of bicycling. But rather than go to the mountains, I decided I'd rather just post a large mileage number. ("I rode my bike 83 miles" sounds more impressive than "I rode my bike 45 miles in the mountains", right?) So I drove east of Raleigh, parked the car, and then headed for the relatively flat terrain of Nash County.

So...do I think I could do 100 miles? Probably, but it wouldn't be fun. Simple math, really: if the first 40 miles of a bike ride are fun, then the last 60 miles of a 100-miler would not be fun. Plus, completing a 100 miler would take me even longer than this ride did. I think I'd have to do it in Spring or Summer when we have more daylight. But then, it'll also be warmer, which in some ways is worse for long bike rides because it means I have to pack more water. (Water is heavy.) I could do a supported 100-miler, but the kind of people who do supported 100-milers are much faster than I am. Or, I could plan a route such that there's a water fountain at the halfway point or something, but what if I get there and find that the water fountain is broken? (Water fountains, or "bubblers" as they call them in Wisconsin, aren't the most reliable things out there.) If I couldn't refill my water halfway through, then to complete a 100-miler in mild-to-warm weather, I'd have to bring at least a gallon of water with me. (That's not an exaggeration: I consumed about 3 quarts of fluids during the 83 miler, and I still felt dehydrated afterwards. On a warmer day, surely I would have needed to drink even more.) Suffice to say there are some logistical challenges to doing a century, and so I don't know if I'll try one next year or not. Maybe it'll depend on how much vacation time I have to spare.

Bicycling Trip in Asia update: I haven't added yesterday's distance yet, but my fictional bicycle ride across Asia, which started in Singapore 19 months ago, is now only a few weeks away from New Delhi. The last 7 months have been spent in India, and the last 2 months have been spent in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. At 462 miles, Uttar Pradesh is the longest state (or province or region or whatever) on the entire 10,064-mile Singapore-to-Gibraltar route. Also, at a population of ~200 million, it's also more populous than any other country (excluding India of course) on the Singapore-to-Gibraltar route. I wonder how bicycling-friendly the roads of Uttar Pradesh are?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nap Time

Before Bruce came along, the weekend routine was set: be home between 1 and 3 PM for Marla's nap. Well, about the time Bruce was born was also when Marla decided to not really nap anymore. I think it's been a few weeks since we had an actual, on schedule, in bed, afternoon nap. Usually Marla just plays and talks until 2:30, at which point we give up and say "we'll just put her to bed early" (which often doesn't happen either). Pretty much the only way we can get an afternoon nap to happen is if one of us stays in her room and naps with her, or we're in the car and Marla falls asleep on her own.

A no-nap Marla is much less cooperative before bedtime than a nap Marla, but still, she's much less dependent on naps than she used to be. Used to be, she had to nap, or else the afternoon would be completely awful. Now afternoons are fine, and evenings are just slightly more difficult.

If your kids still take regular afternoon naps...lucky you!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Parkwood Christmas Parade

Our neighborhood, Parkwood, has its own Christmas parade. We never really much bothered to go before we had children who might enjoy it.


People generally laugh when I talk about our neighborhood Christmas parade, as in, "Aww, it's really cute that your neighborhood has a parade." Yeah, well, our parade is kind of a big deal - it's the largest holiday parade in Durham! So there.

Marla's favorite thing about the parade? The free candy, probably. Or maybe the marching bands, I don't know...I just assume that candy always wins. (The parade had three high school marching bands and one middle school band. Pretty good turnout, although I've learned that the bands are paid by the neighborhood to appear. Is it typical among holiday parades for marching bands to get appearance fees?)

Personally, I liked that Smokey the Bear made an appearance.


Also, I like that we can walk to a Christmas parade. Parking is always an issue with parades, not this one! (Parking isn't really a problem even for people who drive; there's plenty of close proximity street parking.) And it's kind of neat that the moment we walked out the front door, we heard the bands in the distance. Inconvenient if you live here and have somewhere to be, perhaps.

It took 30-45 minutes, for all of the parade participates to march by, which certainly makes this smaller than, say, the Raleigh parade. Maybe it's on par with a typical small town holiday parade, which it turns out, is just our style. The parade might be the best thing about Parkwood, other than being 3 miles from my work, of course.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Karting

Now that I've (mostly) caught up on sleep, I can blog about our trip to the karting facility while visiting Jacksonville last weekend.

Your local children's arcades have always had go kart tracks, but the cars go slow, and all you have to do is mash the gas and never use the brake. Not quite a true test of driving skill. But recently, a few go-kart-specific establishments have opened up, marketing themselves as "go karts for adults", or just "karting". (Karting is a real thing with major world championships and everything, and is where many top NASCAR and Formula One drivers got their start.) Here, the cars go much faster, and you'll never actually reach the kart's top speed. And more importantly, you actually have to use the brakes, such that putting in a top lap takes significantly more skill. (And, it's also much more expensive than the go-karts at Frankie's Fun Park or Adventure Landing, but more on that later.)

We have one local karting facility called Rush Hour Karting. I've never been there, but while visiting Jacksonville for Thanksgiving, we went to a similar place called Autobahn Indoor Speedway, located in an old warehouse in an office park. All you have to do is show up, sign the waiver, pay up, wait 30-60 minutes (depending on how crowded it is), and then you get a 14-lap race, At ~23 seconds per lap, one race takes 5-6 minutes to complete. Wee! A few of my friends joined me, plus one guy named "Quagmire". (More on him later.)


Surely, given all my experience playing racing video games over the years, I would be able to do pretty well at this even though I have no prior karting experience right? Well, sure...I was able to beat all of my friends (also first-timers), both on track and in terms of fastest lap. (They returned the favor in Mario Kart afterwards.) Quagmire, on the other hand...he brought his own helmet, so I'm guessing he comes here a lot. He turned the fastest lap of the entire week during our race. (He also screwed us out of an extra lap, because the race ends as soon as the leader completes 14 laps, even though he was at least a full lap ahead of the rest of us. Why don't they do timed races instead?)


The hardest part for me was controlling the car under braking, applying just the right amount of brake without scrubbing too much speed off, yet enough speed to still make the corner, all while keeping the car on the optimal racing line. Steering is hard too - my arms were pretty tired after just 14 13 laps. I would love to do this more often and see if I could ever get as good as, say, Quagmire. (For the record, I think I could.)

Problem is...this is a pretty expensive hobby. Not counting the one-time $6 "license" fee, a single 5-6 minute race costs $20. Sure, you can get discounts the more times you race, but still, doing this often can get rather pricey. A lot of people think curling is expensive, but with curling, $20 gives you two hours of activity, not just 5-6 minutes. If you ask me, curling is a much better value than karting. Actually, auto racing in general is one of the more expensive hobbies one can have, to the point where if Marla ever tells me she wants to be the next Danica Patrick or whatever, my response will be, "Sorry, but auto racing is too expensive. Wouldn't you rather be the next Jennifer Jones or Debbie McCormick instead?"

That said, I would like to go to Rush Hour Karting sometime. Who wants to join me?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Arena Curling: A Tribute

Big day in the history of the Triangle Curling Club yesterday: our last ever game on rented arena ice. The club has been around in some form for 19 years, and every single game the club has ever played (at least at home) has involved renting 2-hour blocks of ice time from a local arena. For at least the last 8 of those years, we've curled at the Polar Ice House in Wake Forest.

We're still on track to open the new building in January (it'll be here before you know it!), and Sunday marked the last game of the Fall League, our last league on arena ice. I wasn't there, but Amber tells me there was a full ceremony prior to the last game, not unlike what you'd see before the last draw of a bonspiel, except that the bagpipe music was piped in (no pun intended) over the loudspeaker instead of via an actual bagpiper.

Curling on dedicated ice is better than curling on arena ice in almost every way. (Why else would we be going through all this trouble?) But, there are some things I'll miss about curling on arena ice:

- Reading the ice conditions. This is a game in and of itself. Where are the "zamboni lines"? Where are the grooves in the ice which will dictate where the rocks will go? Can you actually throw both turns and get the rock in the house? It's different every week! Kind of frustrating at times, sure, but reading the ice was the #1 challenge for a Skip, and I think I was actually pretty good at it. On arena ice, I can beat a much better Skip head-to-head, if I'm better at reading the ice. I've had a lot of success on arena ice in the seven years I've been with the club. On dedicated ice, not so much. I've always had a harder time calling strategy on dedicated ice, because there are many, many more shots available to you - and to your opponent. If you ask me, "real" curling is a much more complex game than what we play on arena ice.

- Totally dominating dedicated ice clubs at arena ice bonspiels. This kind of follows from the first point. If you've never curled on arena ice before, then you have no idea how to read arena ice. So, when teams who are quite excellent on dedicated ice come down to an arena ice bonspiel and have to play a "home team", they usually struggle. That was always fun. Of course, I'm kind of joking here...I'm more than happy to trade a slight (and perhaps unfair) competitive advantage at arena ice bonspiels for the opportunity to curl on dedicated ice every single week. And as much as dedicated ice teams struggle on arena ice, we've always struggled even more when we go up to compete on dedicated ice. Maybe now when we travel up north to compete, we'll actually stand a chance!

- Friday night curling. As long as we've been with the club, we've always curled on Friday night. (Except for this last season.) Friday night curling was something to look forward to during the week. Hey, it's Friday, and that means CURLING! In the new building, we won't have a Friday night league, so I'll be curling on Monday and Tuesday instead. People generally have other things to do on weekends, so weeknight leagues are more practical, but I'll miss the old Friday night league. Maybe once our club grows and we can sustain more than just a few leagues, we can bring back a Friday night league of some sort.

- Curling in August. Our new building is not going to be open year-round. Maybe 8 months at the most. So, that means no more curling in the summer. Our traditional August "Carolina Classic" bonspiel? Not in August anymore. Now if we want to curl in the summer, we'll have to travel to places like Wilmington and Knoxville. (Although we've already been doing that anyway, because summer bonspiels are fun. Also, see my second point.)

- The GNCC Arena Club Championships. That bulldog trophy? I'll never see it again.

Except for the occasional away bonspiel, my career curling on arena ice is now over. I played 209 games at the Polar Ice House in Wake Forest, winning 126. Here's the box score from my last game:

Career game #254: 2014 Fall League - November 9, 2014
(my team: Wright)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Zwiefel........ 00502011 | 09
Wright......... 24020200 | 10

Should I start my career game count over at #1 in the new building? Because in a way, it's like I'm starting my curling career over. Sure, I do have some experience on dedicated ice, but only 28 games' worth, and none since February 2013. ... On second thought, nah. My first game in the new building will count as game #255. But I will track my stats on dedicated ice separately.

Can't wait!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snow Day Forecasts

It was cold this week. The Raleigh-Durham airport (RDU) recorded a record loW of 19°F Wednesday morning. That's plenty cold for mid-November, but cold enough to cause the local schools to delay opening? ... Nope, not even close. If last winter is any indication, it takes, at minimum, a "Wind Chill Advisory" - issued for wind chills below 0°F - for schools to delay simply because it's "too cold", and even then, not every Wind Chill Advisory results in a delay.

Speaking of which...last winter was cold, too, and there were plenty of school delays and closings. Wake County schools had 9 snow days last year, delayed opening twice, and closed early twice more. (None of those were in November or December, by the way.) Schools farther north in Virginia had even more snow days than we did. And in the lead-up to each winter weather event, of all the meteorologists I follow on Twitter and read on the internet, this question generally went unanswered: "Given the forecast, how likely is it that schools will be closed or delayed?" The excellent Capital Weather Gang communicates the likelihood of school closings on a scale of 0 apples to 4 apples, but that's the closest thing I've seen, and I'd prefer something more percentage-based anyway. (And, of course, something local to the Triangle.)

I actually thought about doing this myself. I could start up a Twitter feed and/or blog and/or something that specializes in "snow day forecasts". I wouldn't be forecasting the weather itself, because I know I couldn't do any better than NWS Raleigh or the local TV meteorologists. Instead, I'd read all of the forecasts and technical discussions, compare that to past events - I chronicled each potential event last winter in order to determine the thresholds for school delays and closures - and combined with the uncertainty in the weather forecast itself, come up with something like, "Durham County Schools are 40% likely to be closed for the day on Thursday, 60% likely to have at least a delay". I think I could make snow day forecasts as well as anyone. Maybe even better than the school systems themselves!

Forecasting snow days might even be harder than forecasting the weather itself because of the element of human behavior, on top of the already uncertain weather, so I expect this to be a bit challenging. Maybe that's why nobody does it!

So, what's stopping me from starting now? Well, first off, given that we just had our second child a few months ago, now is probably not the best time to start a new project. But also, I think I need one winter to "practice". So, maybe I'll tweet out some "beta" snow day predictions this winter on my personal Twitter. We'll see how it goes, and if it goes well, maybe I'll start something a little more formal the following winter. Hopefully I'll get plenty of opportunities this season! But not too many.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#sports: 11/11/14

Having a two-month old baby at home actually means I've been watching more sports - more time at home, much of which needs to be spent with somebody holding and/or feeding a baby, which a lot of the time can be done in the room that has the television in it. But, this will swing wildly in the other direction once Bruce starts walking, 6-12 months from now.

College football

Due to a combination of on-field success and off-field news, everybody hates Florida State now, right? Other FSU fans encourage that we "embrace" the villain role. That would be perfectly fine - fun, even - if the hate were strictly football-related. But, hey, we've gone several Friday afternoons in a row now without any new New York Times anti-FSU hit pieces! Instead, the most recent anti-FSU stories have had absolutely zero substance. (By the way, any journalist/columnist who runs with a story like that, you should probably not trust them in general.)

So...the football: I really thought Florida State would lose to Louisville, but for some reason I'm more confident about the Miami game, even though FSU is favored by (slightly) fewer points against Miami than they were against Louisville. Eventually, this win streak will come to an end - most likely this season - and that would be okay. (Just as long as the streak doesn't end against Florida. That would be awful.) Especially considering the Clemson and Notre Dame games, the Seminoles are very fortunate to have won this many games in a row. Whether or not a 12-1 ACC Champion Florida State would make the 4-team playoff probably depends on what happens in other conferences. I think it's better than 50/50, but not guaranteed: if Mississippi State/Alabama/Oregon/TCU all finish with one loss, then do they all finish ahead of a 12-1 FSU? Do one or more 2-loss SEC teams end up ranked ahead of a 12-1 FSU? Thing is, though, at this point in the season, we just kind of assume teams like Oregon and TCU will win out when making bowl projections, but then they end up losing a game or two.

Might Penn State actually be better off if the bowl ban were still in effect? It appears their best hope at this point is one of those crappy bowls that pits two 6-6 teams against each other. And given how awful Penn State games have been to watch lately, does anyone really want an additional Penn State game on the calendar? (Seriously, though, the bowl ban being rescinded is good for the program.)

NFL

In hindsight, maybe it was unrealistic to expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to have success this season. Sure, last year was rebuilding, but this year is really re-rebuilding, with rookie quarterback and other fresh young players. It's hard to predict when teams that are as far off as the Jaguars will "turn the corner", or whether it will happen at all without getting rid of the GM/coach/QB all over again. We're still at least 2½ seasons from the point where the team should consider any front office firings, I think; hopefully by then, Blake Bortles will quit throwing so many interceptions. Without the interceptions - 14 on the year, by far the most in the league, even though Bortles hasn't played every game - I think he's actually playing pretty well, but turnovers are killer in the NFL. The Robinsons (Denard at RB, Allen at WR) look good, and the defense is improving...or, I thought it was, prior to the Dallas game. Pretty much any attempt to find positives with the Jaguars is a reach until they start winning more games. 1-9.

(So, right after I wrote this...Allen Robinson: out for the season with a foot injury. Ugh.)

NASCAR

I can't lie: this NASCAR "Chase" elimination-style format has been pretty entertaining. I'd still prefer a 36-race "no chase" championship format, if nothing else to make the first 26 races of the season more meaningful, and because I like the idea of the best driver over the course of a 36-race season being the champion. But once this elimination format gains credibility, I think the fans who don't like it will stop complaining about it.

Here's why I say that. Out of the major sports, Major League Baseball has the most random and/or arbitrary post-season: after a 162-game season, you play a wild-card elimination game, then everybody must win a best-of-5 series to advance. Baseball is pretty random to begin with - even the best teams only win 60% of the time - so the outcome of a 5-game series against two good teams is pretty random, even if one team is slightly better over the course of a 162-game season. And yet, the reaction when the Washington Nationals lost, was, "they just didn't get it done in the playoffs", without acknowledging the inherent randomness of MLB's playoff format. Yet, in NASCAR, when two of the best drivers get eliminated while two others who have had much less successful seasons advance, then it's just because the format is broken?

There are many difference between baseball and NASCAR, but the reason the fans react the way they do is this: MLB has had 5-game divisional series for the last 20 years. The format has been around for a while, and so fans have accepted it (perhaps begrudgingly). So when the Giants win the World Series despite being the 5th-best National League team over the course of the season...oh, that's not luck, that's CLUTCH! This is year 1 for the NASCAR format. By year 20, people will talk about how "clutch" Ryan Newman was in the Chase despite not winning a race all year. (Except that Newman hasn't really been that "clutch"; he's just avoided bad finishes. That's REALLY what this Chase is about: avoiding bad finishes. Or, win races, but only one guy can win each week.) For a somewhat arbitrary playoff format to gain acceptance and credibility, it just takes time. Hopefully Brian France realizes that, and that his best move at this point is to not tinker with it anymore and keep it the same for the next 20 years or longer. Or...if there are 10 laps to go and it looks like winless Ryan Newman is going to win the championship, throw a debris caution! (Seriously, watch for that, because it is in NASCAR's best interest for Harvick or Logano to win.)

NHL

Due to injuries to some of its best players, and the fact that they didn't really improve the roster in the offseason, I had zero hope for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. And, they responded by losing their first 8 games. Season over? Time to start positioning for a top draft pick? Apparently, there are two "can't miss" prospects in the upcoming draft, so if you're going to tank for draft position / lottery odds, this is the season to do it.

Well, the Hurricanes won 5 of their next 6, so it appears they are, in fact, too good to get a top draft pick next season...but still not good enough to make the playoffs, probably. In other words, this season is shaping up to be just like every other damn season! ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm finding it hard to truly celebrate the team's recent success. Maybe if their Sports Club Stats playoff odds ever get back over 50%, then I can start really cheering the wins in earnest again. Still reading this streak as false hope for the time being.

NBA

The Charlotte Bobcats are now the Charlotte Hornets. I tried to coax myself into being a "Bobcats fan" multiple times in the past, but it never stuck, mostly because the team has been terrible. But, the Hornets name and colors have plenty of positive equity - not just in Charlotte, but in the whole state of North Carolina. And, unlike the Hurricanes, the Bobcats/Hornets have turned it around and are coming off a playoff year, and actually have a shot at going back this year too. So, count me in!

I've always thought the key to NBA success was one of the following:
- Be the type of "glamour" franchise that is attractive to superstar free agents (not the Hornets)
- Suck for several years in a row and get a bunch of top draft picks, or if you're really lucky, an MVP-caliber player

The Bobcats have done plenty of sucking, and so they have some decent talent on the roster...I would assume. Actually, their best player - Al Jefferson - was signed as a free agent. So, I don't really know what I'm talking about here. I've never really followed the NBA that closely. But, safe to assume that the Hornets will stink again in a few years' time (maybe sooner?), so if I'm ever going to follow the Hornets, now is the time.