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.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

"Time-Speed-Distance" Road Rally

A while back, somebody on a roadgeek Facebook group that I follow posted about an upcoming "road rally", just east of Raleigh, organized by the Tarheel Sports Car Club. The premise: given a set of complicated driving directions, follow the directions as best you can, and pass through each of several checkpoints not in the shortest amount of time, but in a precise amount of time, based on the directed average speed. (According to Wikipedia, these types of rallies are called regularity rallies, or time-speed-distance (TSD) rallies.)

Anyway, this combines three things that I am very good at: following directions, road navigation, and math. Sign me up! Fellow roadgeek Adam will be the driver, I'll be the navigator (since I'm good at math), and Amber will stay home and watch the kids for the day. (This is the kind of thing Amber would enjoy, too, but she encouraged me to go. The rules allow you to bring children under 10 with you, but...no.)

Now, before we begin...when we signed up, we had the option of two different "classes". One where you can use as many aids as you want - including smartphone apps built for the specific purpose of "cheating" in a TSD rally - and one where the only allowable aids are the equipment on your car, pen, and paper. Naturally, we signed up for the second category, a.k.a. the "fun" category. (We also used my wristwatch, which I think was accepted because we had to know what time, to the second, to leave each of the checkpoints. I only used the standard clock, though, not the stopwatch functionality.)

We had no idea what to expect, but the event started by us pulling into a gravel parking lot across the street from a Hardee's in rural Nash County. Doesn't sound sketchy at all, does it? But, several other teams and cars were already there, and so it looked legitimate enough. Turns out, 15 teams entered, including us. Not bad! First up was the competitors meeting, in which they gave us the driving instructions along with some VERY IMPORTANT HINTS (more on those later). Then, starting at 1:30 PM, cars began the rally, one per minute. We were car number 14, so we started at 1:44:


Being the 14th car to go is better than being the first car to go, because it made the timing checkpoints much easier to spot from a distance: we'd always see several other cars there already. The disadvantage is if we're behind on time and get stuck behind another competitor farther ahead, but that only happened to us once. And I think we did it to someone else, too, who made a wrong turn and got stuck behind us. But that's their own fault.

(By the way, this kind of event is very difficult to pull off logistically, if nothing else because you have to staff each of the checkpoints. You need at least a dozen volunteers for something of this scale. They even went so far as to mow the grass at each of the checkpoints! And, of course, putting together a good route and directions takes a lot of work, but I think aspect of it would be fun.)

Here is a sample of the driving directions. Three or four pages like this:


It's not just "turn left on [name of road]", because that would be way too easy to follow on GPS. (Again, we didn't use GPS at all; we did it the hard way.) It's also "turn left after [landmark]", or "take second turn after bridge", or "turn right at STOP". Still, none of it was really that hard to follow as long as you were able to spot the landmarks, but they did throw us some curveballs:
- One direction referenced "Hardee's", but it turns out, this was NOT a Hardee's restaurant. It was a sign with the name "Hardee's" on it (in reference to a construction company or something by the same name). So if you kept cruising down Highway 97 looking for a Hardee's restaurant, then, whoops!
- For the purposes of the rally, dead end streets and dirt roads do not exist. So if you come to a stop sign, and your only two options are "turn left on a dead end road" or "turn right on a road that isn't a dead end road", you have to turn right, and THAT TURN DOES NOT COUNT AS ONE OF THE INSTRUCTIONS. (That last part was one of the things they made clear during the competitor's meeting. Glad we were paying attention!)
- Sometimes the direction was just "Turn". As in, turn at the next available opportunity, where an "opportunity" (this was clearly defined in the rules) means a legal turn on any non-dead end, non-dirt road. And if it just said "Turn", not "Turn left" or "Turn right", that meant it wouldn't be a crossroad; it would just be a left-only or right-only option.
- If a name was on quotes, like "Hardee's", that meant look for it on a sign, and that it wouldn't be the name of a road. ... Or was it? One direction referenced "Ada Taylor", in quotes, except that this WAS the name of a road in this case. Better yet, if you missed the turn, it would take you straight to the next checkpoint...except that you'd get there a few minutes too early. But if you turned down Ada Taylor like you were supposed to, and the instructions that followed, you'd end up right back down the same road again, except now you'll get to the checkpoint on time. Fun, eh?

There was also the average speed component. The directions would say "average 44 mph" or something like that, then a few directions later, give you a new average speed. I was expecting round numbers like "45" or "50", but nope - 42 mph, 36 mph, 47 mph, whatever. Also, the directions also occasionally directed us to pause for 45 seconds or a minute. All this made the timing math much harder to do with pen/paper (easy with a smartphone, but what fun would that be?), but basically I thought of it this way. When traveling at 45 mph, one mile takes you 80 seconds; at 40 mph, 90 seconds. So if the directed average speeds over the last 10 miles were somewhere between 40 and 45 mph, then we should have completed those 10 miles in more than 800 seconds (13:20) but less than 900 seconds (15:00). It was hard to do precise calculations on the fly, but I did my best to give meaningful input to make sure our timing was at least in the ballpark as we approached each checkpoint. (They didn't tell us where the checkpoints would be, by the way.) I think we were slow more often than we were fast, because maintaining an average speed of 45 mph means you have to drive faster than that most of the time, when accounting for stop signs and turns and whatnot. In general, it's best to go faster than you think you need to go, because you can always slow down again before the next checkpoint.

(One side note: the first 10 miles was a "odometer correction section", designed to get you up to speed, and also for you to check your odometer accuracy. Turns out the odometer on Adam's Ford Escape is a bit slow: it read 9.8 miles at the 10.00 mile mark. This info helped some, because some of the instructions referenced a specific mileage.)

Roadgeeking knowledge came in handy, but not as much as I thought it would have: even though the route was 75 miles long, it doubled back on itself multiple times and largely avoided roads that we would know anything about (with the exception of NC Highway 97). In hindsight, this makes sense: a route that revisits the same landmarks multiple times (but with different instructions each time so that it all seems fresh) is a lot easier logistically, because the same people can staff multiple checkpoints without having to drive far. One part of roadgeeking that did come in handy was road signs: where to find four-digit state road numbers on signs, and also what something like "BAILEY 9" might mean. (Those are white signs at intersections that mean "9 miles to Bailey if you turn down that road". A common sight in rural North Carolina.) This brings up another fun "curveball": One instruction was 'turn right at "BAILEY 9" after "45 MPH"'. There were two roads with "BAILEY 9" signage, but only the SECOND one came after a "45 MPH" sign. The first one came after a "35 MPH" sign; turn down that road instead, and a few instructions later, you'd still end up at the next checkpoint...on the wrong side of the road. Penalty! (At least two teams did this.)

Not everyone was able to follow all of the instructions. We know this for a couple of reasons: 1) Someone made a wrong turn in front of us, taking the first left after a bridge instead of the second left (as clearly directed - I mean, how hard can this be?). We didn't let that fool us, though: we were confident. 2) Even though we were the 14th car in line, we beat several cars to most of the checkpoints, despite never passing anybody directly.

The scoring: at each of 6 checkpoints, you get 100 points for each minute that you're early or late. (Points are bad; lowest score wins.) There were also some questions which, if answered correctly, would reduce your score by 50 points. (For example: "To whose memory is this road dedicated?" Look for the "Adopt a Highway" signs. Or, "What do you put a HOTT DOGG in?" We thought we missed that one, until we came upon a cemetery featuring tombstones inscribed with the name "BUNN".)

So...did we win? We don't know! We had to leave the after party early, before all of the scores were tabulated. The organizers said the results would be posted online, but I don't seem them yet. Regardless, I'm very confident we finished top 5 out of 15 (electronic aids or not), at the very least. There's a chance we might have even won the thing. I think we averaged less than 1 minute off per checkpoint, including one checkpoint where we were within 6 seconds of the target time - that's pretty good, right? Doesn't really matter, though, because it was a lot of fun! Great mental exercise for the navigator, too. Apparently they don't have these TSD rallies all that often around here - this was the first one in six years, apparently - but we'll be on the lookout for the next one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Publix Grand Opening

Some people wake up early and stand in line outside a store on Black Friday, or whenever Apple starts selling a new iPhone, or when tickets for the new Star Wars movie go on sale. Me? I'm not interested in any of that...but I am passionate about grocery stores.


Today was a VERY EXCITING DAY! The Triangle's first Publix opened its doors at 7:00 AM this morning. I got there at 6:35 AM, and that was only good enough to be 30th or so in line. One local news team (ABC 11) was on the scene, and the Green Hope High School drum line was performing while everyone waited.


I'd say the majority of the people waiting outside were women, because that's who usually does the grocery shopping in most households? I guess. Not in our household! I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Perhaps that's because I grew up with Publix, "where shopping is a pleasure". (If I grew up in a town where the only options were Winn-Dixie and Walmart, maybe I would hate grocery shopping.) I also gathered that for most of the people waiting in line before 7 AM - well over 100, maybe even 200 - this was not their first Publix experience. Chances are, more than a few of us waiting in line this morning were Florida natives.

Then, at about 6:57 AM - three minutes early! - the first person in line was awarded the privilege of cutting the ceremonial ribbon, and the store was open. Let's GO GO GO!!


By the way, there is nothing like using a brand new grocery cart. This thing practically pushed itself! (Although, if I'm honest...Kroger's shopping carts are a bit bigger. This will be my first of many Publix v. Kroger comparisons, and some of them will actually be pro-Kroger, believe it or not.)

My first stop? The bakery to get some cookies.


In hindsight, I should have used the "theme park" strategy. When a theme park first opens, the most crowded attractions are those near the front entrance, so you're better off starting at the back and then working your way from there to the front, or at the very least turning left and going clockwise instead of going counterclockwise through the park. Same thing happened at Publix this morning: The bakery and the deli - the first stops if one were to turn right upon entering the store - were where most people went first. But the bakery, deli, and other specialty areas - for example, the seafood department - actually stayed pretty busy throughout. The aisles themselves? Not that busy, yet. It seems, of all the people waiting in line this morning, I was only one a few who intended making this early morning stop a regular grocery shopping trip. In fact, I may have been the first person in the history of the Cary Publix to grab a box of cereal off the shelf. (Publix brand Corn Flakes, by the way.)

As with any blog post I write about Publix, here's the obligatory "What's so great about Publix, anyway?" section. As grocery stores go, the service is second to none, the employees are always available to help and are friendly, checkout is fast and enjoyable, and they even offer to take your cart to your car and help you load your groceries. (That's always been a long Publix tradition.) Publix stores are always clean, always have excellent selection, have a deep stock of store brands, occasionally great sales (even if overall their prices are a bit higher than a store like Kroger), and excellent bakery and deli departments. And, of course, they hold sentimental value for me, being a Florida chain that I grew up with. Publix stores all have a similar feel: it's like I'm back home!

As for whether Publix will be successful here...well, I don't see why not! Although not official, they are looking into more Triangle locations, beyond just the North Raleigh one that's been facing local opposition. I'm rooting for Publix all the way, of course...but competition is good, too, so I don't really want them to put Harris Teeter out of business altogether. And that won't happen anyway, given all the equity Harris Teeter has built up with longtime North Carolina residents. Best case scenario, in 20 years, there are just as many Publixes in the Triangle as there are Harris Teeters.

Now...about our neighborhood Kroger. I've been going to the same neighborhood Kroger for nearly 6 years now, and I know that Kroger front to back to front. It's plenty adequate as a grocery store, and it's more convenient (5-10 minutes from home, compared to 15-20 for Publix), a bit cheaper, and the pharmacists know our names. Am I going to give up on all that and start shopping at Publix every week? ... Well, not every week. We'll keep Kroger as our pharmacy of choice, and Kroger will still be the place to stock up on things that are cheaper and/or more widely available at Kroger - namely, snack crackers*, some cereals, and Kroger brand macaroni and cheese. Sorry, Publix, but Kroger's selection of store brand macaroni and cheese is superior. At the same time, there are a lot of things that Publix has in stock that our neighborhood Kroger does not, it turns out - for example, certain flavors of Lean Pockets(TM) and yogurt. Plus, Publix's bakery is a LOT better than Kroger's.

(* - That is, when they're not out of stock. Seems that every time Reduced Fat Cheez-Its are on sale, the shelf is empty.)

Well, we'll see how it goes after the first couple of months. I've only been to the new Publix once so far. Can't wait until we need to go shopping again!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Mountain Trip 2014: Recap

Let's get this out of the way first: road tripping with little ones is hard and can drive you crazy sometimes, but it's (sometimes) worth it, and can even be enjoyable (sometimes). The primary things we learned from our weekend overnight road trip were:
1) We might need to upgrade Marla's car seat before the next trip. (She was constantly complaining about it.)
2) Staying in a hotel for just one night isn't really that nice. We already knew that, but it's especially true now. Six trips to the car and back to get all of our stuff. For just one night!

We knew it wouldn't be easy, but we really wanted to make that annual fall mountain trip before the foliage peaked. And, it had been 6 months since we went an overnight road trip. (Duke Hospital doesn't count.) Scenes like this made it all worth it:


That was off the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville, which is where we saw the best foliage of the weekend. Some more pictures from up there:


(These are mostly Amber's pictures, and she's already posted these on Facebook. I decided not to worry about picture taking or live tweeting the trip, because I didn't need any additional distractions.)

We also went to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Bruce's first state highpoint! #5 for Marla. This is at least the 3rd time I've been here, and out of those three, I doubt the weather has been as nice as it was that day.


And aside from a stop at a playground on our way out there, and because we had to drive all the way to Greenville, SC to get to our hotel (Greenville hotels are WAY cheaper than Asheville hotels), that was pretty much all we had time for the first day. When you have two little kids with you, stops that would normally only take the two of us 15 minutes can take upwards of 90 minutes.

On day two, we first went to Caesars Head State Park, just on the South Carolina side of the state line. I think Upstate South Carolina has some underrated scenery. I'm assuming most North Carolinians probably don't bother coming down here:


Our next stop was Carl Sandburg National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC, which was a nice setting...except that we didn't make it to the house or the goat farm itself, because we had the stroller with us, and the paths weren't stroller friendly, and we didn't feel like walking all the way to the car and back again to get the baby carrier. Whoops! (And, it was lunch time, and we were hungry.)


Finally, ice cream in Gastonia as we worked our way back to Durham. (Tony's Ice Cream is excellent, by the way.)


And, that's that! Lots of work, but it was (mostly) worth it, and we learned a lot for the next road trip.

Statistical stuff

The full weekend route is mapped out here.

This was the first time we took Bruce out of state. Bruce is now up to 32 counties - 31 in North Carolina, 1 in South Carolina. Marla's county total is now 532, including 74/100 in North Carolina. Marla had been to South Carolina before, of course, but this was the first time she's overnighted in South Carolina. (Bruce's map, Marla's map)

This was the first big road trip for the Subaru, and it handled the mountains great, although it's not as much fun to drive as a smaller car, of course. I also enjoyed getting "99.9" miles per gallon on our descent down Mount Mitchell:


About 32 miles per gallon for the entire trip, which is exactly what the Forester's highway mileage is advertised as, so, hooray!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Triangle Curling Club Championship

I haven't been talking curling much lately, because I haven't been doing much curling! The Triangle Curling Club is only having one league this fall, its final league on rented arena ice. And since Amber had been on the sidelines pregnant all year, I let her curl in that league, with me just playing a couple of times in her place.

(By the way, my predictions regarding the opening dates for the Triangle Curling Club's new building, versus the Cary Publix, were a bit off. Not because the curling club is behind, but because Publix is opening much earlier than I expected: next week!)

One thing that's nice about having your own curling building is that you can have as many leagues as you want, whenever you want! It's limited by how many people are available to curl in them, of course, but we're currently planning on something in the neighborhood of 5-6 leagues. We've got all of that outlined here: two "open" social leagues, a men's league, a women's league, and a "competitive" league. (Plus another league geared towards instruction.)

I've been the League Coordinator for the club for several years now, but with so many leagues, I'm not going to coordinate all of them, of course. Each league will likely have a different coordinator, and with that in mind, I specifically requested that I coordinate the "competitive" league. I'm really excited about it. Have been for years.

What's so different about the competitive league?
- MAKE YOUR OWN TEAMS. We've never allowed club members to form their own teams for league play before. Want to form a stacked team that can compete at bonspiels? Now you can! Want to form your own team with your friends, regardless of how much experience (to a point - see next item) you have? Now you can!
- Minimum one year curling experience, since this is the "competitive league", after all. (All other league offerings are open to everyone regardless of experience, provided they've at least done the "Learn to Curl" session.)
- The winner of this league will be declared CLUB CHAMPION for the year, and will get their names engraved on some kind of permanent plaque/trophy/something that will go on display at the club to commemmorate all of the club champions in the history of the Triangle Curling Club. (At least, that's what I'd like to see. I don't know how far my authority reaches with this.)

Speaking of which, calling this league the "competitive" league...well, it's descriptive, but I think the league needs a more glamorous name. Something simple: how about "The Club Championship"? Or even just "The Championship"? Some folks in the club may want the league to be named in honor of one of the club's founders, and/or someone who has made large contributions (financial or otherwise) towards the building of our club. We'll think on that, For now, it'll just be the "open competitive" league. ("Open" means that teams can be made up of any combination of men and women.)

Another thing that's nice about our own building: we're not necessarily limited to 8 teams per league. We can expand to two draw times in any given night and have up to 16 teams! We won't have that many teams in any one league from the start, certainly, but eventually we will, just like the Potomac Curling Club's leagues. (Speaking of Potomac, they call their competitive league the "Capital League". That's kind of what I'm talking about with the name. Something that sounds serious and prestigious and gets people talking, but at the same time is simple and elegant. Something that would sound fantastic if the late Pat Summerall were to narrate it, similar to how he always used to say CBS Sports...presents...THE MASTERS.")

We won't really be able to do this until we go well beyond 8 teams (perhaps well beyond 12 teams, actually), but eventually I'd like to institute a "tiered" system within the competitive league. Not unlike European soccer leagues, the bottom team(s) in the top tier will be "relegated", and the top team(s) in the next tier down will be "promoted", something like that. This is probably 2-3 years down the road, though, at least; probably need to have at least one full 16-team season without tiers under our belt before we can institute tiers. The benefit to tiers is that you get more games against similar competition, and it also increases the prestige of the league in general, I think. Plus, it's fun! The Utica Curling Club's men's league has promotion/relegation between four tiers, with 12 teams in each tier! If we can ever get something that deep in our club, that would be so, so unbelievably awesome.

So, yeah, this competitive league is sort of my baby. I've been thinking about it since the day we started planning our own curling facility. Can't wait! And, the other leagues will be fun, too.

===

Since I insist on documenting every single game of curling I ever play, here's the one game I've played so far this Fall season, a loss. I didn't play all that great, but this was also my first game in over three months, so...

Career game #253*: 2014 Fall League - October 5, 2014
(my team: M. Jackson)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Jaun........... 02111010 | 06
M. Jackson..... 10000201 | 04

(* - The last game I recapped was labeled as game "251", but it was actually "252", and this game makes "253". There was a pick-up game on May 18 of this year that I never put in the blog. That game was a 7-2 win.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Green Acres Farm

Going to a pumpkin patch or farm in October is very popular these days. Has it always been this way, or am I just now noticing?

Last year we went to Hill Ridge Farms. This year we decided to go somewhere else, for variety's sake: Green Acres Farm in Cary.


It's a pretty similar type of place, with a play area, farm animals, a hayride, pumpkins for sale, etc. But they also had a corn maze, which we spent about 15 minutes in before Marla wanted out:


Maybe some other year, we'll do the entire corn maze.

We thought last year's Hill Ridge Farms was slightly better overall than this place. Except for no corn maze, Hill Ridge had a little more to do, plus it was in a rural setting. Green Acres Farm is actually right in the middle of the suburban Cary sprawl.



That makes me wonder: why haven't they sold the land? They could probably make a fortune selling their land to a developer - several million, at least. Then, they could buy new land farther out in the country for less, and keep the profits. Zillow values their property - 80 acres - at $7.5 million. Meanwhile, here is an 80 acre "recreational property" in Warren County which just sold for $200,000. What's stopping the owners from pocketing a one time profit of over $7 million?

Well, for one thing...their location is, of course, great for business, much more so than if they moved to a place like Warren County. They charge $10/person, and some of the activities (which we tried to avoid) cost additional money on top of that, so...how much do you think they rake in a given Fall season? $1 million? Maybe not that much, but certainly six figures, right? Move the farm into the country, and it would be but a small fraction of that. But maybe the best location for a place like this to be is the "exurbs": affordable, rural in nature, and close enough to a large metropolitan area to attract large crowds. That's exactly where Hill Ridge Farms is: less than 30 minutes from much of north Raleigh, and the value of their 50-acre property is an affordable $935,000 according to Zillow.

Or, maybe the folks at Green Acres are being patient and waiting for the right time to cash out. I mean, as Cary continues to grow and attract new residents, it's not like the land is going to become less valuable any time soon. In another 20 years, maybe this plot of land will be worth $15 million. At some point they're going to have to sell, right?