Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Random Stat Updates: 5/19/15

Here are various statistical updates from the past...oh, two or three months? I've got some catching up to do.

Restaurant serving times

Last weekend, it took Red Robin of Raleigh 45 minutes, 40 seconds - from when I order to when the food arrives - to serve my dinner. Going back 20 years, that's the 5th slowest of all-time, and the slowest time anywhere since our wedding rehearsal dinner in 2008. And I was one of the lucky ones: other people in our party got the wrong order, or didn't get their food at all. Overall it was the most putrid performance by a restaurant in quite some time, and one for the record books for sure. (Our three prior Red Robin visits all clocked in under 20 minutes, however, so I haven't written them off forever...just for a while.)

With a 3-year-old and a 0-year-old, it's hard to go out to dinner these days. If we do go out, it's either fast food or fast casual (e.g. Boston Market) - neither of which is eligible for timing. Or, we go early enough to beat the crowds - as in, 4 or 4:30 for dinner, in order to minimize the amount of time we have to sit there waiting with two impatient and/or tired children, not to mention get the kids to bed on time. So, 2015 will likely be my first year with fewer than 20 eligible restaurant visits. (Last year's total was 21.)

But, I do still have to go to Lexington BBQ and Ideal Hot Dog this year. Between them, they've won "fastest time of the year" for each of the last four years. The fastest of 2015 so far is Danny's BBQ, at 9:35 - that's fast, but that likely won't stand for the rest of the year.

County visitation

Last weekend, my roadgeek friends and I drove US 360 from (almost) end to (almost) end: (Didn't have time for the whole thing, but we did most of it.)



Except for some, well, downtrodden parts of Richmond, it wasn't the most interesting of drives. But, combined with the drive up into Virginia, I got two new counties out of it! Only six more Virginia counties to go! Also, I've now visited every county within a 200-mile radius of home. Charles City and Essex counties were the two counties closest to home I had yet to visit; now the closest is Bath County, VA.

As a family, we haven't done many road trips this year. I've been to Louisiana and San Diego this year, but the rest of the family has only left North Carolina once in 2015, and that was for a funeral. The year after our second child was born always figured to be our least-traveled year, so it's alright, but I think it's time we start doing family road trips again. We're staying home for Memorial Day, but we have several trips planned for the summer and fall.

Since I don't publish my "by the numbers" page anymore, here are our current county totals:
- Chris: 1,731 (55.1%)
- Marla: 533 (17.0%)
- Bruce: 89 (2.8%)
- Subaru: 114 (3.6%)

Bruce is nearly 9 months old now; by the time Marla was 9 months old, she had already visited 173 counties. You've got some catching up to do, Bruce!

Bicycling

My fictional "Bicycling Trip in Asia" is now in a place I will almost certainly never visit, let alone bike in: Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the most desolate section of the entire Singapore-to-Gibraltar route, in terms of points of interest and landmarks that can help keep me motivated to ride a little extra each weekend. But, it can't be any more desolate than Adelaide to Perth was, right?

Our weekends at home often revolve around our exercise schedules: Amber gets time for a run, and I get time for a bike ride. Once you add in curling (Amber curls Sunday afternoons), church (every 2-3 weeks on average), a family outing of some kind, and errands like the weekly Publix trip, the whole weekend is pretty much gone. Staying motivated to maintain our exercise routine is harder than it's ever been, but we've been able to do it to this point.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Curling Recaps: 5/3-5/12/15

The Triangle Curling Club has its own building now. Have you heard? This week is the third week of our first set of leagues on dedicated ice, and it's been a learning experience. Everything I learned about curling strategy on arena ice? Throw it out the window! Watching hours upon hours of championship curling helps some, but it's no substitute for experience.

Let's start with something extremely simple. You're the yellow team, and you have one rock in the house, and that's it. What do you do?


On arena ice, your options were really limited. If that yellow rock was on a "predictable line" that was easy to hit, you'd pretty much have to throw a guard along that line. Alternatively, you could throw another one in the house, depending on the ice conditions and "zamboni lines". Really, those were your two and only two options, and often, the ice conditions told you which play was the better play, and whether or not you had hammer really didn't affect the strategy much. But on real curling ice...you can make pretty much any shot you want! More importantly, the other team can also make pretty much any shot they want. Sure, you can still guard or split the house, but if the guard's not perfect, the other team could still reach your rock, depending on how good they are. But if your team is struggling with weight, there are more "plan B" shots available if you throw one on the same line, but then maybe you set up a double take-out. Aaahhh! And this is with just one rock in play! On top of that, you had better know where to put the broom, because that rock will curl, and if you're a few inches off (or the shooter is a few inches off the broom), that makes a big difference! That's what I've been struggling with the most so far. That and, of course, making my own shots, which when you're the Skip is kind of important. We can talk strategy all we want, but I still have to hit the broom...

As of today I have still only Skipped a total of 15 games on dedicated curling ice. My opponents have Skipped hundreds, maybe even thousands. So, I am a long, long way from having figured it out yet. There are SO many variables; I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at a situation and immediately know the optimal call. Arena ice was "the great equalizer" - I could occasionally beat some of the club's best and most experienced curlers head-to-head on arena ice. On dedicated ice, though, it's a lot harder to make up that gap, both in terms of strategy and shot-making. So far, we're 0-2. Also, we haven't scored more than one point in an end yet. Something to shoot for tonight!

Monday League: May 4, 2015

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Allen.......01010011 | 04
Hunneyman...10104000 | 06

Monday League: May 11, 2015

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
M. Jackson..31311011 | 11
Allen.......00000100 | 01

But, I did win a pickup game as Skip earlier in the month:

Sunday Pickup: May 3, 2015

End.........123456 |TTL
-----------------------
Feinson.....020001 | 03
Allen.......302130 | 09

But in the Tuesday league, where I play Vice - probably my best position - and don't have to worry about strategy or anything other than shot-making and occasional sweeping, we're 2-0:

Tuesday League: May 5, 2015
(my team: Jaun)

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
K. Jackson..20101100 | 05
Jaun........01040023 | 10

Tuesday League: May 12, 2015
(my team: Jaun)

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Jaun........01500010 | 07
Mitchell....10001202 | 06

I curl again tonight, and tomorrow night, and twice next week, and twice the week after that...I mean, isn't this great? Better yet, this building is permanent, and I have DECADES of this to look forward to!

(By the way, we won't always be curling in May and June. We are this year because that's how long it took to open the building. October through April or May will be the curling schedule most years.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jury Duty II

The first time I had jury duty in 2011, I was really excited! I ended up on a jury almost immediately, and the trial went into a second day. In the end, I was actually a little dissatisfied with how the trial went down.

So when I had to back for jury duty again this week...meh. I'd willingly serve on a jury if I was picked, but I would rather not be picked. And, that's what happened. After getting a ridiculously long lunch - at 11, they said "We won't need anyone until after lunch, so come back at 2:30" - a bunch of prospective jurors were taken to a courtroom. Actually, they wanted to take everyone to the courtroom just so everyone could watch the proceedings, rather than be stuck in the jury pool room. But the courtroom wasn't big enough for everyone, so instead, 15 people were chosen at random to stay behind and not go to the courtroom. I was one of those 15, so I never left the jury pool room. But I still had to stay all the way until 5 PM in case I was needed, which I wasn't. So, back to work the next day.

Just as well. Maybe in another four years, or however long it takes to get another jury summons, I'll be excited about the prospects of being a juror again.

Speaking of sitting around and waiting, between flying last week and jury duty this week, I thought that would have been plenty of time to listen to the entire "Serial" podcast from start to finish. (Yeah, "Serial" was so last year, but I like to stay a few months behind social trends.) But, nope. Still three episodes to go. Once I finish, though...blog post!

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, however...it 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, stickers...it'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.