Thursday, April 23, 2015

Housewarming Bonspiel

The brand new Triangle Curling Center is open, and our first big tournament/bonspiel starts today! I'm not even playing in it and I'm still really excited!

The new curling center actually opened provisionally last week. By "provisionally", I mean:
- At first, we didn't have parking lot lights installed, so we could only be open during daylight hours. (That's been taken care of since then, so now we can stay open all night, I think...although we can't serve beer and wine all night, of course.)
- There are still a lot of touch-up type things to do - landscaping and whatnot - in the next month or so, otherwise the City of Durham won't extend our Certificate of Occupancy beyond 30 days. Nothing we have to "worry" about, other than just making sure we do what needs to be done.

And by "we", I don't mean, me, specifically. Being with the kids has taken priority, and what free time Amber and I have on weekends we often set aside for our respective exercise routines, so we haven't been able to help much at all with the building work and whatnot. Mostly, we've been limited to helping out with things we can do from the comfort of our own home (for example, putting together the draw for this weekend's bonspiel). So, a huge thank you to all of the club's volunteers who helped make this happen. This was a lot of work. The building opened later than originally expected, but in hindsight, I think it's amazing it happened this quickly! Only 13 months from ceremonial groundbreaking to doors open.

It was always the plan to have a "housewarming" bonspiel including lots of out-of-town teams soon after the building opened. So, we were kind of cutting it close there on time...but not that close, right? It's not like the parking lot lights were just installed today.

Amber and I have put curling in weekend-long bonspiels on the back burner for the time being while the kids are young. We'll get back to it eventually, but we'll still have plenty of opportunities to curl coming up soon. The first leagues in the new building will start in a week or two, and then Amber and I will be curling three times a week between the two of us. (Twice a week for me, once for Amber.)

We also got out on the ice during "open ice time" last week. I played in a pick-up game, which I lost...

End.........1234567 |TTL
Foulger.....2032030 | 10
Allen.......0300301 | 07

Curling on dedicated ice is a) GREAT, and b) much more complicated from a strategy standpoint because of all the different options you have. I haven't figured it out yet, especially what to do when I don't have last rock. I know what the "curling textbook" says to do - first two rocks on the center line, remove any rock of the other color whenever possible, and if you get an opportunity to steal a point or two, great, but the most important thing is not giving up 3 or more - but I haven't been able to put this in practice yet. We'll be revisiting this topic in the future. (Keep in mind, I have still only played 12 games ever as a skip on dedicated ice.)

One thing that was nice about open ice time was, we could bring Marla on the ice, too! Of all the sports I watch on television, there's really only one sport that grabs Marla's interest for any length of time, and that's curling. (It's true!) And we watched a lot of curling this winter, to the point where Marla is now independently drawing curling stones on her whiteboard:

So when we took Marla out to our new curling facility, where the lines and circles and rocks look just like they do on television (mostly), she just ate it up.

I enjoyed watching Marla go up and down the ice more than I enjoyed curling myself. Eventually she was actually throwing rocks down the ice, for real! (Well, sort of...let's just say, there may have been a few hog line violations.) Hog line violations aside, she even made her own take-out, without assistance!* My proudest moment as a father.**

(* - I swept her rock to hold it straight, but that's legal assistance, of course.)

(** - Well, maybe not my #1 proudest moment as a father, but it's in the conversation.)

Basically, Marla starts in the hack with a rock in front of her like a real curler, starts running down the ice with the rock (her everyday shoes can actually handle the ice extremely well), and then she lets go whenever she feels like letting go - usually past the hog line, and usually with take-out weight. It's pretty awesome. I'm glad we came out with her when we did, because giving Marla ice time may not be so easy once the ice gets busy with leagues and such.

So, it's been a fun week of curling, culminating with this weekend's Housewarming Bonspiel, for which I'll be a spectator. And this is just WEEK ONE of our new building! We have a lifetime of curling in our new building to look forward to. And I mean, that, too: I've purchased a lifetime membership. (For myself, not for Marla. We thought a lifetime membership for Marla would be jumping the gun too much at this point.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

San Diego

I spent three days / four nights in San Diego this week for work. What did I think about the place?

The weather: San Diego is a very popular location to hold a conference. I assume that's because of the weather: you're pretty much guaranteed it will be in the 70s and clear, virtually any time of year. (Although in June, it actually gets cloudy, which is a big deal to the locals.) Some would say San Diego has the nicest weather in the entire country. Personally, though...sure, it was very nice for when I was there, but I would get bored with it. I like changing weather, and it would drive me nuts if I lived in a place where the weather was the same every day, even as nice as it is here. But the local weatherman's job isn't quite as boring as I would have thought, for a couple of reasons. One, he/she has to issue several entirely different forecasts every day: one of for the coast, one for the mountains, one for the valleys, one for the deserts east of the mountains, etc. Also, fire danger is an important thing to stress in a place where it is persistently warm (ish) and dry.

Places to go: No shortage of things to do in this city. So, let's say you get out of your conference mid-afternoon and have a few hours on your hands. Where do you go? ... San Diego has a good train system (locally referred to as the "trolley") which can take you a lot of places, but my hotel actually had a rental car place on site. So, my co-worker and I rented a car for 24 hours and drove to Torrey Pines...

...and also went east on I-8 (or, as the locals famously refer to freeways, "the 8") into the mountains.

When we took the family to Colorado a couple years ago, we were almost overwhelmed by the recreational opportunities, many of which we couldn't do anyway because Marla wasn't the right age for any kind of "hike". Southern California isn't quite Colorado in terms of recreation, and you're much more limited in where you can go (ocean on one side, Mexico on another), but it's still a great place to be if you like spending time outdoors in the mountains. Plus, there are good places to take the whole family such as the world famous San Diego Zoo. This is definitely a place I'd like to (re)visit with the family.

Traffic isn't THAT bad: Southern California traffic is awful, right? In Los Angeles, most certainly. In San Diego, really isn't any worse than any other city of its size. And it clears up quickly in the evening: by 7 pm Tuesday night, San Diego freeways were nearly 100% green on Google Maps. Maybe because San Diego is a Navy town, the local population's work hours skew early, and the roads clear up quickly in the evening? Either way, I'd say (based on a small sample space, of course) than San Diego's traffic is more tolerable than even Denver's traffic.

Seriously, why don't more people live here? The San Diego television market is only the 28th most populous in the United States, and only the 4th most populous in California. Why don't more people live here? Especially compared to the massive Los Angeles metro? I don't actually know. Does Los Angeles have a better job market? Is Los Angeles more affordable? Is it just the "Hollywood" appeal of Los Angeles? All I know is, I'd never consider living in or near Los Angeles, but I could be talked into moving to San Diego. (There are still too many logistical challenges to living in California for my taste: water shortages, wildfires, congestion, pollution, earthquakes, and so on. But people put up with it because the weather is nice and the scenery is beautiful, right?)

So, if you're in charge of planning some kind of academic or professional "conference" of some kind and aren't sure where to have it...have it in San Diego! Everyone else is.

Meanwhile, back home...the Triangle Curling Club is pseudo-open! I get to check it out on Friday.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Flying in 2015

I'm flying to San Diego next week for work. This will be the first time I'll have been in an airplane in seven years. (I always drive instead of fly when I can, but...can't really drive to San Diego in a timely manner. I'll gladly take advantage of the fact that two airplane rides can get me from Durham to San Diego in just eight hours.)

How much has the airline industry changed in the last seven years? I did my research so that I'm prepared. I've gathered that the two most drastic changes are:

- No more "turn off all electronic devices until such and such time", right? Not only that, many flights - including all four of my flights - will have in-flight wi-fi, for a price. Smartphone wi-fi access for shorter flights is only $2 on Delta, apparently. Don't know what it'll cost for my cross-country flight, but I'm thinking that if it's $10 or less, it'll be worth it, especially since I'll be stuck in a middle seat, and because I have zero interest in the in-flight movies. But then will my phone battery last that long? Well, here's another recent development: Many major airports have installed phone charging stations.

- Baggage fees. I think these were just starting to take hold last time I flew in 2008. Now, they're standard. EVERY checked bag costs money now, at least on Delta (which is what I'm flying). Of course, my employer would foot the bill for my baggage fees (I assume), but it has always better to carry-on if you could anyway. No waiting at the baggage conveyor afterwards; no chance of your luggage getting lost. (Very small sample size, but I've never had the "so-and-so airline lost my luggage" experience.) Now there's even more incentive to carry-on. I haven't figured out if I can fit all of my stuff in a small enough bag for carry-on yet, but if I do have to check a bag, at least I'll get those printed labels with the airport code on it as a souvenir. I've always liked those. At least, I'm assuming those are still a thing.

Also, food is no longer complimentary, it seems; I'll have to pay for it separately. We'll see how the timing works out. And, I'm assuming that security screenings are even more intrusive than they were back then. Other than that, I'm not expecting much to have changed since 2008.

By the way, I have never been to San Diego County before. Hooray for new counties! Even if it's only one.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Daddy-Daughter Grocery Day

I do my grocery shopping at Publix every week, usually early Saturday or Sunday morning. Sometimes, Marla comes with me. I don't force her to come, either: it's her choice. (I'm so proud!)

I can't imagine grocery shopping is all that exciting for a kid, so why does Marla actually want to come with me? Well...I try to give her incentives. One incentive is to get to ride in the "green cars". I don't have my own picture - taking pictures at the grocery store when you have a 3-year-old with you is a) difficult, and b) not a priority - but they look like this:

Kroger has kiddie cars, too, but the kiddie cars ride along the ground rather than up top; Marla has a lot better visibility in the Publix ones. Also, these cars have more room to put groceries than the Kroger equivalents do, and they are easier to maneuver. (As if I didn't already have enough reason to make the longer drive to Publix.) Riding in the green car loses its novelty after three straight weeks of it, though, so usually Marla will lose interest in going to the store, only to gain it back again a few weeks later.

Also, I let her pick one item of her choice off the shelf (with limitations), whether it's food (i.e. candy, chocolate-flavored cereal, cereal with marshmallows, or chocolate-flavored cereal with marshmallows), or one of those random cheap toys. I've never really thought about those cheap toys they put in random locations in the aisles, but now I know why they they're there: to take advantage of 3-year-olds with sucker parents. Seriously, though, I'd rather spend $3.49 on a toy xylophone than on a box of Lucky Charms.

After about 15 minutes in the store, though, it's, "I'm bored". Especially when I spend 5 minutes in the baby aisle getting all the different flavors of baby food Amber asked me to get for Bruce. (Bruce will eat just about anything we give him! Except prunes.) And, when Marla starts grabbing things off the shelf when you're not looking...that's not good either. I just have to be vigilant as to where I put the cart: not within arm's reach of anything that looks interesting. Also, not within arm's reach of the touch pad at checkout. And if she does grab something and ask if she could have it..."Well, you can't have that thing and this other thing. One thing only, remember?" That actually works pretty well. Haven't had any major meltdowns at Publix so far! (Which is saying something, because at home, even a simple "No, you can't have that thing / do that thing right now" can sometimes spiral into a major tantrum.)

Speaking of checkout...Publix gives kids the hook-up. Crayons, coloring books,'s almost overwhelming. I don't have the heart to tell the cashiers that we already have six packs of Publix crayons from prior weeks, because the cashiers are so nice. Last week Marla even got a free balloon. And not just any balloon, a helium balloon!

I also enjoy the occasional "teaching moment" at the grocery store. After a few weeks, I was able to teach Marla the concept of "aisle numbers" - where the aisle numbers are posted in the store, and the idea that such-and-such can always be found on aisle 14, for example. Publix has a feature on their website where you can enter in your shopping list, and it will tell you which aisle in the store everything you need is on; that way, you can put your shopping list "in order". (You can also access your list from your smartphone when you're there, but I still think it's easier to look at a paper shopping list than a smartphone shopping list once you're in the store.) But I'm thinking that after a few more trips, Marla will be able to tell me herself which aisle the cereal is on, for example. ... Actually, that's silly, because there are so many other things - useful things - we could be teaching her. No need to clog her brain with the layout of the local Publix. For now I'll just settle for the fact that when I ask Marla what the name of my favorite store is, she says excitedly, "Publix!" (That's not the first grocery store name I've taught her, by the way: "Piggly Wiggly" was the first. Piggly Wiggly was easy to teach - the logo is a pig, and I have a shirt with a giant Piggly Wiggly logo on it. The name Publix was much harder to teach.)

Also, taking Marla to the store helps us explain during the week - to give an example - why we're out of juice boxes, and how long it will be before we have more juice boxes. Now she understands the process by which we buy food, so she doesn't ask us about it all week leading up to it. ... Actually, she does keep asking us about it, but she accepts our answer of "next time we go to the store" more so now than she used to. Even when Marla doesn't go to the store with me, she knows that she can find more juice boxes in the cabinet after I get back, without us telling her. (Good thing, or bad thing?)

Marla and I don't have much one-on-one time away from the house, but for now, we've got our Publix trips. Father-daughter bonding at its best if you ask me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Subaru Tire Replacement

Ten months in, I'm as happy as can be with my decision to buy a Subaru Forester. However...

So, Amber is in a few "mommy Facebook groups" where moms (and sometimes dads too) ask a wide range of questions. Usually it's about kids pooping in the bathtub or something like that, but there was a car question the other day to the effect of, "I want a small SUV. What should I get?" Amber responded "We like our Subaru!"*, but the author's response was that Subarus have high maintenance costs. We didn't follow up, so I don't know if they were just talking about the fact that the Forester requires synthetic oil instead of conventional (which makes oil changes quite a bit more expensive), or if there was more to it than that.

(* - By the way, almost EVERYONE will tell you that his or her car is the best.)

Well, here's something. All Subarus are All Wheel Drive cars. That's great, and I generally like having an AWD car. However, here's one problem with that: it is very important that all four tires be matched. If the circumference of one tire is longer or shorter than any of the others, because of the way the AWD works, it can break the transmission. And I don't just mean mixing/matching different types of tires; even if one tire is simply more worn than the others - if the difference in tread is 2/32 of an inch or more - that's enough of a difference to cause a huge problem, more so with Subarus than with other AWD cars (source). This doesn't seem to be a thing that car repair places are simply exaggerating for the sake of profit, either. It's a real thing.

The bottom line is this. If you have a Subaru with four partially used tires, and one of them gets punctured beyond repair and has to be replaced, that means you have to replace all four tires. Boo! With every car, there's always something that gets you, it seems.

So, yeah, I had a flat the other day. (Only took 10,000 miles to get my first flat with the Subaru!) Fortunately, it was patchable, so I didn't need a brand new tire...or four brand new tires.

Hopefully every flat I get over the life of the Subaru is a) patchable, and b) happens close to home, because driving on a spare - even a full size spare - for more than just a few miles can cause the same transmission issues as mismatched tires. How likely am I to get that lucky? Well, my Honda had three flat tires in 125,000 miles of driving; two of the flats were patchable, one was not. So...we'll see.

Because of the synthetic oil - and because I pretty much have to rotate the tires with every single oil change to keep the wear as even as possible - I've already resigned myself to the fact that I'll be paying more for maintenance with the Subaru than I did with the Honda. With the Honda, maintenance costs came out to around $500/year over 6½ years. (Most of that was spent on tire-related issues.) With the Subaru, if each oil change + tire rotation is already going to cost me a full $100 - that's how much the first one was, anyway; I may shop around some and see if I can get a better deal - then those costs are going to add up.

On the other hand, Consumer Reports says that Foresters are as reliable as any small SUV on the market (one big reason why I got one), so I am less likely to need major work down the road with the Subaru than with other small SUVs. As long as I keep the tires closely matched, of course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New Hope Church Road

Many roads in rural North Carolina are named after whatever church happens to be on that road. I don't know the official history behind all this, but the churches have been around for a while, so perhaps before the roads got their official names, that's just how people referred to the roads: "Take the road that goes by New Hope Church" became "Take the New Hope Church road", and then when road names became formalized, "New Hope Church Road" became the official name of the road. (That is 100% speculation on my part, by the way. I have done no research.)

There seem to be a lot of churches named "New Hope Church", and as such, there also seem to be a lot of roads named "New Hope Church Road". There are three in the Triangle area alone, and all of them are completely unrelated to each other (Raleigh, Orange County, NE Chatham County).

This got me thinking: how many "New Hope Church Roads" are there in the entire state? If there are three in the Triangle alone, might every single county in the state have their own "New Hope Church Road"?

Not quite. Via OpenStreetMap (which is actually better than Google Maps for doing this kind of search), here is (I think) the complete list of roads named New Hope Church Road in North Carolina, sorted by county name:

1) Allegheny County (near Laurel Springs)
2) Caswell County (Leasburg)
3) Chatham County (west of Cary / north of Apex)
4) Cumberland County (east of Fayetteville)
5) Edgecombe County (east of Rocky Mount)
6) Montgomery County (Star)
7) Orange County (between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough)
8) Randolph County (near Seagrove)
9) Sampson County (between Clinton and Warsaw)
10) Union County (Marshville, northeast of Monroe)
11) Wake County (Raleigh)

So, there are 11 roads named New Hope Church Road in North Carolina. Let's drive them all!

Now...not every church named "New Hope Church" is on a road named "New Hope Church Road". There appear to be many, many more New Hope Churches in North Carolina then there are New Hope Church Roads. There are also many more "New Hope Roads", or other things named "New Hope" something or other, such as the New Hope Commons shopping center in Durham. How many of those are there in North Carolina? That exercise is left for the reader.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Internet Based Television

Let's start with what's good about streaming television over the internet: I can watch more curling than I ever have before. And now that I have a Chromecast, I can even stream it directly to my television. It's pretty sweet.

Sure, the internet gives you more viewing options than ever before, but regardless, I'm not really a fan of this trend towards internet-based television. It used to be, you just had to pay your cable or satellite provider so much money per month, and you would have access to pretty much all of the television that's out there. Back then, all the best television shows were on widely-available television networks, either on cable or over-the-air. Today, if you want access to all of the best television shows that exist, you have to:
- Pay for a Netflix subscription
- Pay for an Amazon Prime subscription
- Pay for a super fast internet connection that allows you to stream high definition video
- Pay your cable/satellite provider more than you did 10 years ago, even though a much smaller share of the good content is available through cable/satellite compared to 10 years ago
- Pay extra on top of that for channels like HBO and Showtime, which used to just show movies, but now have a lot of very good original programming

So...who says we have to keep that cable/satellite subscription, anyway? Especially now that you can get an online HBO subscription separate from cable/satellite? Well, here are several reasons why cable/satellite is still the best way to watch television, compared to internet streaming...

You need to pay more for internet. I currently pay $30/month for a "basic" 6 Mbps internet connection. It's good enough for my purposes, but it's not quite good enough to stream a single consistent HD picture, let alone multiple HD pictures at once, in case you don't want to watch whatever your kids are watching. If you do a lot of internet streaming, you really need to pay at least twice that much for internet.

Picture quality through cable/satellite is still superior, and much more reliable. Even if you do have a super fast internet connection, video quality through cable/satellite is still superior to the internet, both in terms of picture quality, and reliability. Especially reliability. People complain about the DirecTV signal going out when it rains, but that happens very rarely for me, certainly much less often than when the online service you're streaming from goes down, or the internet in general goes down. Satellite television is actually extremely reliable in comparison.

Commercials. Internet streaming forces commercials on you, and you can't do anything about it like you can with a DVR.

Sports. If you like sports, you can't get by (legally) without a cable/satellite subscription. Many professional sports leagues offer internet-based subscriptions, but they're expensive, and only worth it compared to cable/satellite as sports viewing options if you were thinking of paying for MLB Extra Innings / NHL Center Ice / etc anyway in order to watch a non-local team.

About sports, which is what keeps many people from "cord cutting": it may not take that long - a decade? - for enough online streaming subscriptions to pop up for sports, which will cover the majority of the sports that are currently available on cable/satellite. When that happens, you'll probably start seeing even more "cord cutting"...but when we get to that point, are the cord cutters really going to be saving any money? People talk about the "a la carte" model, where you pay only for the channels you watch, but the general consensus is that if the TV industry went full "a la carte", most of us would end up paying more for television, not less. The online television marketplace is pretty much already "a la carte". It didn't seem like it at first when it was just Netflix, but now you have all these other companies trying to get their foot in the door, and it's only going to get more crowded, not to mention more fragmented. Before long, even the "cord cutters" will be paying over $100/month for television. Hopefully by then, internet streaming will be as reliable and crisp as cable/satellite.

I'm actually glad internet television exists and is growing, because somebody needs to keep the cable/satellite industry in check, but the growing number of shows you can only watch online bothers me. There may come a day when watching television through the internet is better than watching television through cable/satellite, and at that point, everything will be fine...but we're not there yet.