Saturday, December 23, 2006

"Holiday Reading Material"

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I'm working under the assumption that most of my blog-reading audience will be with family and whatnot next week. So, even though I am working most of next week (and even today), I've decided that I will take next week off from blog-posting. After today, my next blog post will be Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007. So...until then, have a Happy/Merry [insert name of Winter Season Holiday you choose to celebrate] and a Happy New Year!

"But I'm still going to be bored, Chris! What am I supposed to do next week?" Well, alright. For each day next week in which I would normally write a blog post, I'll forward you to a selection from the archives that you may have forgotten about:

Monday, December 25th: "Introduction", from June 21st. My first ever blog post. My blog has changed a lot since then, hasn't it? I guess I didn't really have a plan when I started the thing.

Tuesday, December 26th: "Tivo-like Device", from June 23rd. This is when I introduce the "Tivo-like Device", or TLD. Just in case you're wondering what a TLD is.

Wednesday, December 27th: "Covert Operations, V2.0", from July 5th. This is the story of how I completely surprised some of my friends at a restaurant in Pittsburgh over the July 4th weekend.

Thursday, December 28th: "Centralia, PA", from July 6th. The story of Centralia, PA, and our trip there over the July 4th weekend. That was an eventful weekend, wasn't it?

Friday, December 29th: "Dinna Time, Break It Down", from August 5th. I time how long it takes sit-down restaurants to bring me my food, and in this blog post, I talk about it. It's a few months out of date now, and the low-record has since fallen (4m36s at Red Hot and Blue of Cary), but not much else has changed - I still think it's a good read, 12 years in the making.

Saturday, December 30th: "AIM Semi-Hiatus", from August 24th. Just in case you're wondering why I'm not on AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) that much anymore. It's hard to believe this was four months ago.

Monday, January 1st: "Florida State v. Miami (FL)", from September 4th. I think it's interesting to go back and see how I felt about FSU football before a 6-6 season and an Emerald Bowl berth. Was this season my punishment for using the phrase "little sisters of the ACC"?

Tuesday, January 2nd: "The 'Learn to Curl' Session", from October 16th. I'm not sure how well-written and insightful this post is, but I mean, come's about curling.

So, in case you need something to read over the holidays, there you go. See you in 10 days! By then, I'm sure I'll have plenty of blog-worthy material to work with. I'll probably start 2007 with a post about this.

Today's random thought:

- I think this would be a fun and interesting driving experiment. How long does it take someone to honk their horn at you if you don't go when the light turns green, on average? It would be an easy experiment to administer - whenever you're first in line at a red light, start your timer when the light turns green, and stop it when they beep at you. I'm especially curious to know how it varies for left-turn signals - I bet it's shorter for left turns, because the window of green-light opportunity is shorter, so people are more impatient to get through the light. I'm not brave enough to try this experiment myself, but if you are, be my guest. I'll even let you write the blog post.

Friday, December 22, 2006

"How To Make Up Your Own Winter Holiday"

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Christmas and Hanukkah work for millions of Americans, but they're not for everyone After all, they are religious holidays. and not all Americans are Christians or Jews. But because the "holiday season" is so celebrated in America, you may feel alienated as a non-Christian, non-Jew. So what do you do? Well, you could still celebrate Christmas by seeing family and giving/receiving presents...but still, something is missing. For something to be a legitimate holiday, it has to stand for something or celebrate some event, right? For non-Christians, what does Christmas mean, anyway? So...for those of you who may feel alienated and left out of this holiday season, there is hope. In America, it is possible to make up your own Winter Holiday.

How, you ask? Well...let's follow the example of a made-up holiday that has become quite successful: Kwanzaa. Just some background for those of you who don't feel like reading the Wikipedia page. I think the public perception of Kwanzaa is that it's an ancient African holiday that has recently been revived, but in fact, it was founded in 1966 by an American living in California. Kwanzaa was billed as an alternative to Christmas for people of African descent. Now, don't get me wrong...I'm not here to criticize Kwanzaa as a made-up holiday. I'm actually impressed with how Kwanzaa filtered into the mainstream. How did this guy from California do it? Introducing a new holiday into mainstream culture 30 years after it was founded isn't easy. But, case in point - it can be done. So, using Kwanzaa as an example, I am going to give you sort of a "how to" guide regarding how can you make up your own Winter Holiday:

- Focus on a particular group of people. No holiday is for everybody; you have to focus. Obviously, Kwanzaa focuses on African-Americans. It doesn't have to be a race or a religion - it can be anything you want, just as long as it's a type of "community" to which people can feel an attachment. Possible examples include "Meteorology Grad Students" or "People from Indianapolis", although you'll likely have more luck if you branch out to a broader (yet specific) group of people. And, most importantly: don't make it exclusive to that specific race. Kwanzaa can be celebrated by people of any race.
- Any good holiday needs a set of principles or ideals. Obviously, these should be related to the group of people that you wish to relate to. And, of course, all these ideals should be good and warm at heart. Every holiday should send a good message.
- Develop some visual/action traditions.
- Write a book about it. Not right away, though - the Kwanzaa book didn't come out until 1997. You shouldn't publish the book too soon. Once the holiday starts to catch on with some people and the holiday starts to garner a cult following and a buzz, then publish your book. No sense in publishing a book nobody will buy.
- It also helps to have an important title, or be the head of some organization. Why? Your holiday will have more creedence. Which sounds better: "Chris Allen founded [name of holiday]", or "Chris Allen, the head of [name of important-sounding organziation], founded [name of holiday]." It helps if your organization is charitable.
- People won't take your holiday seriously if you just made it up a couple of years ago. It needs to tie in to some ancient traditions. Or, at the very least, it should have a "traditional name" that makes it sound like it's centuries old.
- Pick a date, or a range of dates. But whatever that range is, don't include Christmas Day. People will be more likely to celebrate it if it is on, say, December 28th.
- Be patient. It takes a while for any good idea to filter through the mainstream. But thanks to the internet, filtering ideas to the masses is easier more than ever. How long does it take a new YouTube video to reach over a million people? Two weeks? Less?

So, there you have it. "A Festivus for the rest of us!"

Today's random thought:

- In case you didn't notice, I changed the name of my blog last weekend. I upgraded it from a "bad excuse for a blog" to a "spectacularly mediocre blog". If you ask me, it's a step in the right direction.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"The Nations of Africa"

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Africa has a lot of interesting countries that I know very little to nothing about. But, when I was younger (10 years old or so), I had an obsession with memorizing every world capital, and this included Africa. How will I do now, recalling countries and capitals from memory? (Disclaimer: Most of the capitals are on my world map shower curtain, and I was just looking at a few African capitals the other day. So, that's why I know what the capital of Burundi is. And, I looked up the capital of Burkina Faso the other day, because I knew it had a fun name.) In somewhat-geographical order, here are all of the mainland countries and their capitals (that I can remember), plus an occasional note or two about each country. (Things I looked up are in [brackets].)

Algeria; capital Algiers. Not sure on the spelling. That will be a general trend as we continue. But it's easy to remember the capital of a country when it's almost the same thing as the name of the country.
Tunisia; capital Tunis. Same idea.
Libya; capital Tripoli. My favorite thing about Libya is their flag.
Egypt; capital Cairo. When I was in high school, I made up my own corporation called Chris Allen Industries (CAI). (You know, that would make a good future post topic.) I bring this up because Cairo's airport code is CAI.
Morocco; capital Rabat. Not Casablanca. Huzzah! Western Sahara is occupied by Morocco, I think.
Mauritania; capital Nouattchok (really unsure on the spelling). ['s actually spelled Nouakchott. Not I had the quantity of letters right - just in the wrong place. And when I googled "capital of Mauritania", the third thing that came up was a story about a swarm of locusts descending on Nouakchott. Sounds like a wonderful place to live, eh?]
Senegal; capital Dakar. I remember watching some off-road "rally" on Speed Channel that was "Dakar to somewhere" or "somewhere to Dakar". Yeah.
Gambia; capital ?. There are a couple of countries in Africa that are only bordered by one other country; Gambia is one of them. And I don't feel like looking up the capital.
Sierra Leone; capital Freetown. I always mix up the order of all those small-ish countries on Africa's gold coast. You know, I think the next one is actually...
Guinea-Bissau; capital Bissau. Here's the country's official website! While I may wish to live in Fuquay-Varina, I would probably not like to live in Guinea-Bissau. It's too hot.
Guinea; capital ?. I have nothing to say about Guinea.
Liberia; capital Monrovia. James Monroe may not have any major cities named after him in the United States, but hey...he has the capital of Liberia. And countless streets and counties. But the American only city I can think of named "Monroe" is Monroe, LA. Monroe kind of got the shaft, didn't he? Then again, Monroe is the only American president to have a non-American capital city named after him (source: Wikipedia), and that ain't bad.
Burkina Faso; capital Ouagadougou. You can see why I wanted to look this one up earlier in the week.
Mali; capital...something that starts with M. I know it isn't Timbuktu, even though Timbuktu gets all the props. [Actually, it's Bamako. Hey, I remember Bamako from the old computer game "Where In the World Is Carmen Sandiego?" I think. Or maybe that was Timbuktu.]
Côte d'Ivoire; capital Abidjan. I prefer the French name over "Ivory Coast". [The official capital is actually Yamoussoukro; Abidjan is the "de facto" capital. Whatever that means.]
Ghana; capital Accra. Ghana beat the United States in the World Cup this year.
Togo; capital Lome. I just looked this up the other day. I forget why this came up.
Benin; capital Porto Novo. I didn't have to look this one up.
Niger; capital Niamey. Much to Michael Richards' chagrin, it's pronounced with a soft 'g'.
Nigeria; capital Abuja. When I was a kid, the capital was Lagos. Did the name of the city change, or did they move the capital? [The capital was moved to Abuja on December 12th, 1991.]
Chad; capital N'Djamena. When I was a kid, I always referred to this capital as "Aunt Jemima". But how cool is it to have a country named "Chad", anyway?
Sudan; capital Khartoum. Sudan is the largest country in Africa.
Eritrea; capital ?. This is a new country - formerly part of...
Ethiopia; capital Addis Ababa. My world map shower curtain has this misspelled (Ababba).
Djibouti; capital Djibouti. "Chad" is a cool name for a country, but it doesn't top this.
Somalia; capital Mogadishu. Bless you!
Central African Republic; capital Bangui. I wonder what the natives call their country.
Cameroon; capital Youande.
Equatorial Guinea; capital ?. Part of Equatorial Guinea is actually on an offshore island, and that's where the capital is. Whatever it is. My brother did a report on Equatorial Guinea in 7th grade (I think) because it was an obscure choice. Who wants to hear about Spain and China, anyway? We already know about those countries. I'd much rather listen to a report on Equatorial Guinea. Unsurprisingly, he couldn't find a whole lot about it. If only they had Wikipedia back then. [The capital is Malabo, by the way.]
Gabon; capital Libreville. I think I would have forgotten about Gabon if I didn't look up the Wikipedia page on Equatorial Guinea.
Congo; capital Brazzaville. Right across the Congo River (or "River Congo" or just "Congo" or whatever it is) from the capital of...
Democratic Republic of Congo; capital Kinshasa. This country used to be called "Zaire". Then they made it all long and confusing. How does the original Congo feel about this?
Angola; capital Luanda. Angola shows up in the Olympics a lot. The United States basketball team didn't have much trouble with them.
Namibia; capital Windhoek. I remembered this capital because in Ren and Stimpy, Ren's last name was Hoek. (Höek, if you prefer. "It's HOE-ik, you idiot! Not HOOOOKE!")
South Africa; capital ?. South Africa has about two million capitals. I always forget which major cities are capitals and which aren't. Cape Town? Johannesburg? Pretoria? [Actually, South Africa has three capitals. And I had two out of three - Bloemfontein instead of Johannesburg.]
Lesotho; capital ?. I always mix this country up with...
Swaziland; capital ?. One of these two countries is completely surrounded by South Africa, while the other is also bordered by...
Mozambique; capital Maputo. I had a minor obsession with Mozambique as a kid. I don't remember why - it was a probably a combination of obscurity and a cool name.
Botswana; capital Gaborone. You don't hear much about Botswana. I guess that isn't necessarily a bad thing in this region.
Zimbabwe; capital Harare. The last country in alphabetical order in the world? That's quite an honor.
Zambia; capital Lusaka. Oh, so close to Zimbabwe in the alphabetical order war. It used to be a nice ending to the world alphabetical order of countries - Zaire, Zambia, Zimbabwe. Then Zaire screwed it up. (No, I never had the world countries memorized in alphabetical order. Not even close. But that doesn't mean I've never looked at an alphabetized list.)
Malawi; capital Lilongwe. I just looked this up the other day. I don't think I could have remembered this last week.
Burundi; capital Bujumbura. Ditto.
Rwanda; capital ?. In case you're wondering what my stance on genocide is...I'm against it.
Tanzania; capital Dar es Salaam. What first comes to my mind when I think of Tanzania? Mount Kilimanjaro.
Kenya; capital Nairobi. What first comes to my mind when I think of Kenya? Marathon excellence.

That's all the countries I can think of right now. Is that all of them? Recall that I only considered mainland countries, so I didn't list Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, etc. Here are some corrections/additions:
- I completely forgot about Uganda and its capital of Kampala. I knew I'd leave at least one country off the list. (That's the only one I left off the list, as it turns out.)
- "Congo" is actually called the Republic of the Congo; "Zaire" is, as I correctly stated (articles notwithstanding), the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- The capital of Benin, Porto-Novo, has a dash.
- The capital of Tanzania is officially Dodoma; Dar es Salaam is the "seat of government". Can't these countries just pick one city and stick with it?
- Some additional capitals I missed: Eritrea (Asmara); Gambia (Banjul); Guinea (Conakry); Lesotho (Maseru); Rwanda (Kigali); and Swaziland (Mbabane). With the exception of Eritrea, I did know all of them at one time.

Wasn't that fun? Certainly more interesting than South America and its 13 mainland countries. Colombia (Bogota), Venezuela (Caracas), Peru (Lima), Ecuador (Quito), Chile (Santiago), Argentina (Buenos Aires), Paraguay (?), Uruguay (Montevideo), Bolivia (two capitals - La Paz and Sucre), Brazil (Brasilia), Guiana (?), Suriname (?), and French Guiana (?). Crap...I should know those four question mark capitals. (Asunción, Georgetown, Paramaribo, and Cayenne, respectively. And it's spelled Guyana, even though I had French Guiana correct. I should have known that.)

Today's random thought:

- The other day, I was looking for other radio stations on the dial to add to my rotation, with the goal of never having to listen to a commercial or a Robert Hill traffic report. I stumbled upon one intriguing station: "98.7 Simon". Their slogan? "We play everything." And they say it so matter-of-factly, too. Personally, I think that's hilarious. And you never know what you're going to get with this station, either - that makes it an adventure whenever you turn it on. 98.7 FM, welcome to button #5 of my FM dial.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!"

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It took a while, but I think I'm finally in the Christmas mood. A couple of things finally pushed me there: 1) finalizing my Christmas/New Year's "vacation" plans, and 2) watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas". I don't know what it is about the original "Charlie Brown Christmas", but it does the trick. It's probably a combination of the music, the genuine "feel good" story, and the associated childhood memories. When I watched it on my TLD this week (recorded from Sunday), I realized that I hadn't seen this thing in...I don't know, but it had to have been at least 10 years. It all came back to me as I watched it. I even remembered that as a child, we had the audio version of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on a record. You know, the type of "record" that you play on a record player. I guess the "hip", "21st-century" term for a record is a "vinyl". I don't care for that term, personally.

(For typing ease, I am going to abbreviate "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as ACBC for the rest of the post.)
Classic Christmas specials have tremendous staying power. The copyright date on ACBC is 1965. And yet, in 2006, it still gets the coveted 700p Sunday time slot on ABC. (Take that, 60 Minutes!) Why is that? I think it's the childhood memories. People of a very wide age margin grew up watching ACBC the week before Christmas (or whenever they aired it), so it reminds us all of our childhood Christmases. Because, let's be honest - as adults, Christmas is still a nice time of year, but it will never be as nice as it was when we were kids. Christmas of 2006 isn't going to rival Christmases of 1986-1997, but at least we can watch old TV specials that remind us of the time when we didn't have to worry about things like emissions processing, Master's theses, or how much vacation time to use up for Christmas. I suppose I should give some other animated classic Christmas specials their due - ACBC is by far the best, but "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and "Frosty the Snowman" are a few others that come to mind. I also remember a Garfield Christmas special, but that's certainly not as classic, and I doubt that is getting any airplay anymore. (Anyone see it on TV anywhere?)

Now...I may be in the Christmas spirit, but I'm still not listening to Oldies 106.9 (Fayetteville!) and their 24/7 Christmas music that has been playing for over a month now. Why not? When you play Christmas music all the time, it gets diluted. There aren't enough truly good Christmas songs to play over such a long period of time. Instead, radio stations should be more like 102.9 and wedge in an occasional holiday hit. That way, you only hear the good songs. One Christmas song in particular comes to mind: "Feliz Navidad". Maybe that's just because it reminds me of our Christmas family vacations, during which we drove by "South of the Border". I'm not sure if we ever timed it perfectly so that we would listen to "Feliz Navidad" right as we passed by South of the Border, but that would be really sweet if they did. Maybe I should put the song on a CD and play it as I drive past this Saturday. Just by writing about it, now I have the song stuck in my head. Great.

Christmas is now five days away. So, is every post for the rest of the week going to be about Christmas? Nope - I'm going to follow the 102.9 model of "occasional Christmas" instead of the 106.9 model of "Christmas overload". Tomorrow's post will have absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

Today's random thought:

- This week, the electronic signs on I-40 eastbound have started to give estimated driving times from Research Triangle Park to the US-1/64 interchange (my exit, coincidentally). Yesterday, it said "11-14 minutes" from the Miami Blvd exit to US-1/64. Now, if you know me well, you wouldn't be surprised to know that I timed how long it actually took: 15½ minutes. File that one away for future reference...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Everybody Except Pixar Should Stop Making Sports Movies"

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A while back, I remember saying that I generally tried not to complain in my blog. But...between yesterday's post and today's post, I had a couple of things to get off my chest. Today, I'm going to talk about sports movies, and why I have no plans to see any non-comedic sports movies any time soon, unless they're made by Pixar.

First of all...why does Pixar get an exception? Because everything Pixar touches turns to gold. I've never seen a Pixar movie I didn't enjoy. And even with the high expectations that precede every Pixar movie I see, they still manage to deliver. So as far as I'm concerned, Pixar can do whatever they want. Often imitated, never duplicated. The "computer animated family film" has become quite a cash cow of late, and everybody is doing it. Dreamworks Animation (makers of the Shrek series, among others) has probably been the most worthy competitor. Disney had been associated with Pixar for a while, but then they tried to make one themselves - Chicken Little. And, it flamed out. Nice try, but you can't touch Pixar. And here's one major difference between Pixar and the competitors: as far as I know, Pixar's only sequel to date has been Toy Story 2. The others? Well, you had Ice Age 2 and Shrek 2. Shrek the Third is coming next summer. Madagascar 2 is in production. And there are even plans for a Shrek 4 in 2010. (Source: Wikipedia) And another thing about Pixar - the actors and actresses they hire for the voices? They aren't always big-name actors. They're just looking for talented voice actors, whether you've heard of them or not. The others? They always go for the big names. I don't care who does the voices, as long as they do a good job. Some big-name stars just weren't cut for voice acting. Okay...I'm done slurping Pixar now. They've earned it.

Now, back to the sports movies genre. What's wrong with sports movies? Well...the thing is, sports are real. You can turn on ESPN and watch real sports. So why do you need to make fake sports? It seems kind of unnecessary. Most sports movies that have come out lately have been the historical type. Mostly, I'm talking about all those Disney movies - The Rookie, Miracle, Glory Road, and Invincible. Have I seen any of them? Nope. Why not? Because Disney screws it all up. They're less interested in telling the story than they are trying to sensationalize it and make it "emotional". They also make up stuff to make it more "Hollywood". I don't need that. I would much rather watch a true-to-life documentary that just tells the story. These movies aren't "based on a true story", they are "inspired by a true story". There's a big difference. Saying "inspired by" lets you make up stuff. And that's dumb. No thanks. And have you noticed that Disney hit on all four major sports? What's next, a NASCAR movie? I hope not. But it's not just the Disney sports movies that I'm avoiding...all the fictional stuff, I don't see how a fictional story can be better than a real story.

Speaking of NASCAR movies, I saw Talladega Nights recently. I'll spare you a review (I would call it a "disappointment" and an "underachievement"), but I would like to say a couple things here. First off...why did they find it necessary to tack "The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" onto the movie title? Isn't "Talladega Nights" enough? They did the same thing with Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. It's really kind of annoying. What's the deal? But anyway, I guess comedic sports movies in general are okay. The goal of a comedy is to make you laugh, and it doesn't really matter what the subject matter is. (Well, as long as it's not a "romantic" comedy.) Then again, the best comedies aren't about sports - they're about something else. I guess sports aren't that funny. So there really isn't a reason for anybody to make a movie about sports - at least if they want me to see it.

Today's random thought:

- Most people are under the impression that every game of Freecell that comes with the Windows game is winnable. I was under that impression as well. But of the original 32,000 games, there is one game that is, in fact, impossible: #11982. But you can still win the other 31,999, I assure you. Apparently there is a newer version of the Freecell program that includes 1,000,000 games; of those, 8 are unsolvable, including the still-intact #11982. Now...I suppose you can still beat #11982 by using Ctrl+Shift+F10 and the "User-Friendly User Interface", but that doesn't count. (Source: Wikipedia. When in doubt, I usually use Wikipedia as my "source".)

Monday, December 18, 2006

"My First Complaint About Cary"

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Before I begin...a disclaimer. This isn't exactly a scientific study. And I have a rather small sample space to work with. But from what I saw this weekend, I am going to make the following conclusion: Cary has no Christmas spirit. Mostly, I'm talking about the lack of Christmas lights. We drove through a few Cary neighborhoods, and hardly any houses were lit. Eventually we got sick of it and drove east to Raleigh, where the lighted-house-percentage was much higher. Why is that?

Well, here's what I think. Most of Cary's residents are rich people. Raleigh, not so much - Raleigh is much more middle-class. From what I've seen, the middle-class houses are more likely to be decorated - I guess rich people are either working all the time, or they just don't care. Now, some rich people do decorate for Christmas, and some do it quite lavishly. But most don't, evidently. And that's too bad. Maybe I was just looking in the wrong neighborhoods of Cary, I don't know. I'm sure there are some nice Christmas light displays in Cary. But I couldn't find them. I would just like to let the residents of Cary know - it is the Christmas season, and you are strongly encouraged to decorate your houses with lights.

I actually lost some respect for Cary because of this. Now, Cary seems less like a "nice, safe town" and more like a "town full of stuck-up rich people". (Well, that's what it was all along, I suppose. I guess there are two ways of looking at it.) So, that begs the question - why am I living here? I don't think I belong. I'm a 24-year old living by myself with a moderately-paying job. I'm definitely Raleigh material more so than Cary material. Well, to answer the question "why am I living here"'s how I stumbled upon my current place of residence. A week or two before my job interview, I showed Petters (a Raleigh native) a map of the Raleigh/Cary area, and he showed me where he would recommend living. His highest recommendation was western Raleigh, but I extended that to southeastern Cary as well. Then, I searched online for some decent apartment complexes in that area. I also looked for apartments in the north Raleigh area near I-540, because I-540 is a much easier way to get to work. I took this list of apartments down to the job interview with me - the plan was, if the interview went well, I would shop for apartments later that day. Well, on my way to the interview, I heard on the traffic report: "Accident on westbound I-540. Delays." This made me think...maybe I-540 isn't so nice after all. Thus, I didn't even bother going to that side of town. Instead, I just went to the west Raleigh/east Cary apartments. I forget exactly how many places I went to could put me in a one-bedroom apartment in 18 days, but I eventually narrowed my list down to two - one in west Raleigh near I-40 exit 291 (off Farmgate Road), and the place where I live now in Cary. Why did I choose the Cary apartment? Better neighborhood, nicer people, closer to grocery and department stores. (About the neighborhood...I don't think Farmgate Road is in a bad neighborhood, of course...Cary was just more of a sure thing.) Would I pick this place again? Knowing what I know right now, definitely. But I'm curious to know how the other place would have worked out.

But just now, I've come to the realization that I don't really belong in Cary. Amber and I went for a walk in the "Lochmere" neighborhood last weekend (which is where my apartment complex is located, barely). This place is, well...a nice neighborhood. Lots of big houses. Jogging trails. A semi-private golf course (which I have no plans to play). And, a bunch of "snotty" street names. But I guess you'll find that in pretty much any subdivision that has been built in the last 25 years. I mean, the neighborhood I grew up in, which is pretty modest, has roads named Brookdale, Hickory Grove, Moss Oak, and Hill Terrace. Ugh. But, anyway...I might be Cary material in about 10 years, if I can somehow double or triple my income by then. But for now...overachieving is a good thing, right?

Oh, and I think the original intent of this blog post was to be about Christmas lights. But let me just say this - "icicles" need to go. They're one color, they're small, they don't "animate", and everybody has them. The sooner they fall out of style, the better. What makes a good Christmas light display? Well...above everything else, creativity. (That's where the "icicles" fail. I don't want to see the same thing at every house.) Color helps, although you can certainly make an all-white display spectacular if you try hard enough. Some lawn decorations are good, if they're incorporated well - don't just throw a bunch of crap on your lawn. Put some thought into it. Animations are nice, too - either with the lights or the decorations, just as long as it's not distracting. Really, the idea is just to show that you're in the spirit, and to give people a reason to drive by your house. Before next year's Christmas light tour, I'll probably do some research first, just so we don't get stuck looking at dark houses in Cary.

Today's random thought:

- I know I've previously said that I was going to wait a very long time for my next haircut, you would probably expect, I didn't quite follow through on that. Not completely, anyway. Over the weekend, I got a "trim" - just an inch or two off the back. I wouldn't call it a full-fledged "haircut", though - I didn't cut anything off the front. Basically, I just wanted to even out the front and the back so it wouldn't look like a mullet. A mullet isn't exactly what I had in mind here. long before the next application of scissors to my hair? Beats me.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Poker Over and Over"

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Four months ago, I said that my next post about poker would be called "Poker Over and Over". Here I am, living up to my promise.

Thursday night was the Sunset Grille Fall 2006 "Tavern Championship". (The way I'm posting now, I guess if something happens on a weekday night, it won't show up in my blog for two days - the next day to write the post, and then the following day to publish it.) I did quite poorly - I was the first person eliminated at my table. But that's okay; I had a good experience at Sunset Grille. I won once and finished second once, thus accumulating $40 in gift cards. (That means I can take Amber out to dinner two times for free, and a third time for cheap. I know you're not supposed to use a coupon or gift card on a "date", but I think we're beyond that at this point.) But in case you didn't notice, said I had a good experience at Sunset Grille. Will I play poker there again?'s not in my immediate plans. That's not to say I won't go back eventually, but for the time being, my bar poker days are over. Why? Don't I have fun? Sometimes...but let's list my reasons:

- Really, the main reason I'm dropping poker is because I just don't feel like going anymore. Lately I've been trying to relax a little more at work, so I don't feel like I'm busy all the time. Poker takes away from my "sitting around and doing nothing" time. There isn't much time between the end of work and the start of poker, and by the time poker ends, the day is almost over. Now, I don't want to just sit around every day; I need some activities to keep myself entertained. But I'd rather those activities take place outside with physical action. In other words, I want to play more golf and disc golf. The busier I keep myself during the week, the less I enjoy disc golf. So, I'm going to drop poker so that I can enjoy disc golf more. Also, I'd like to start playing golf consistently again. This is hard to do during Standard Time, but there's a lighted par 3 course near my apartment, which is very exciting - but I'm trying not to get my hopes up about it. I haven't tried it yet, although this is where I went to the driving range this week. Hey, par 3 golf is better than nothing. (I'm pretty sure it's lit better than Charlotte's "lighted" disc golf course. I would hope so, anyway.) So...I want more physical outdoor activity, and I want to enjoy it more. Poker is, perhaps, one of the least physical activities you can partake in.
- Now, some secondary reasons (that are all more like complaints). Is poker fun? Sure - when you're playing with friends. "Poker with the guys" is good. "Poker with a bunch of strangers in a bar"? Eh...not as much. I gotten to know (sort of) a good number of the people who play at Sunset Grille consistently, but let's just say we haven't exactly exchanged phone numbers.
- The bar poker format - not the most fun. I know the idea is to get the tournament over with as quickly as possible, but once you get to a certain point, it really takes "skill" out of the equation. I've talked about this before. Sunset Grille was better than the place I used to play because of smaller crowds - the bar poker format is best suited for 20 to 40 players, I would say. Not the 60+ that Mac's would always get. But even at Sunset Grille, you get to a certain point, and you think you're basically just playing like a computer - you're either all-in pre-flop, or you fold. Boring. Then again, poker is luck, after all. Sure, you can maximize your chances of winning by playing intelligently, but with the short bar poker format, I think the increase in "chances of winning" you get isn't really statistically significant. That is to say, you don't play enough hands to really have any control over your fate. That, and I'm probably not good enough to greatly increase my chances of winning. I'd like to think I'm a better-than-average poker player, but that still doesn't help me much. I'm pretty sure my finishes are approximately uniformly distributed from first to last. So, I've been getting the feeling that I go play, and I'm pretty much serving the role of a computer. That's okay, if you're playing with friends - it's just something to do with your friends other than just talk and watch sports. But with people I don't know outside of poker, it's just not doing it for me.
- I like Sunset Grille as a venue, except for a couple of things. One is the tables - we play at long, narrow tables instead of round or square tables. Not exactly the most poker-friendly, but that's what they have to work with on the smoking side of the restaurant. The other problem I have - it's not really a problem, it's just an inconvenience for me. Sunset Grille hosts tournaments on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Each night, they host two tournaments - one at 700p and one at 1000p. That's four tournaments each week, and all four count towards the "point standings" that determine who gets the automatic spots in the "regional tournament" (top 10), and the next 30 or 40 who get a shot at being one of an additional 5 qualifiers for "regionals". I only played in one of the four tournaments each week (Wednesday 700p), so that made it almost impossible for me to crack the top 10. That said, I was able to crack the top 40 and get in the tavern championship (which includes regional qualifiers). But not having a legitimate shot at #1 is kind of a downer. Why didn't I play the 1000p tournament? Because I work at 700a every morning. Why didn't I play on Thursdays? One night of poker was enough, for the "relaxation" and "preferred physical activity" reasons I talked about earlier. (I should mention that some weeks in State College, I would play poker three nights a week. Why did I play poker more often then? Well, I wasn't working a 40-hour week, so I had more time to play poker and relax, while still playing golf and disc golf. Also, poker was more enjoyable because it was with friends.)

So, in conclusion, I've decided poker is only worth playing if it's with friends. Or if it's for money, I suppose. But I've never played poker at a casino - I've only played in $5 or $10 "house tournaments". I also played in an $80 "house tournament" earlier this year, but that was more for the experience than financial gain. (But it did suck to come within two places of cashing in, and not getting a dime.) I think that's enough for me. I don't think highly enough of my poker skills to take it to a casino or one of those online gambling web sites. Just a reminder: poker is gambling. If you do everything right, there's still a chance you'll lose due to probability. The idea behind being a "professional poker player" is that if you truly are a skilled player, you will end up making money over time, based on statistics - play enough hands, and if you're a good player, you'll make a profit. But most people who enter the $10,000 World Series of Poker don't win any money back. I'd rather play in a thousand $10 tournaments than one $10,000 tournament. Sure, my potential winnings are much smaller, but I am far more likely to net in the positive. So, don't expect to see in the World Series of Poker any time soon. (Those people who "win a seat" in the they have the option of accepting the $10,000 buy-in instead of entering the tournament? That's what I would do. $10,000 is a lot of money.)

A closing thought on poker. Why is poker so popular? Because it's based so much on luck, and that allows plenty of proverbial "blind squirrels" to find plenty of nuts. Everybody likes a game they can win, right?

Today's random thought:

- I try to keep "let me link/tell you to this cool news story!" to a minimum in my blog, but this is just funny. Recall back in the American League Championship Series, Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joel Zumaya missed three games because of inflammation in his right wrist. Now we know why his wrist was inflammed - according to the Detroit Free Press, he was playing too much "Guitar Hero" on PlayStation 2. As a fellow player of Guitar Hero, maybe I deserve a few sick days myself.

Friday, December 15, 2006

"Taco Bell Sucks"

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I saw a recent news story about a breakout of E Coli at Taco Bell. What was my initial reaction? "Wow, that's a shocker." I food in general isn't very high quality. But even for fast food, Taco Bell has to be at the very bottom of the list. Their "beef" is seriously "Grade C" or "Grade D" or something like that. (Hey, at least they don't use "Grade F" meat like Springfield Elementary.) So, I was actually surprised that the E Coli breakout was traced back to the lettuce. The lettuce? Isn't the vegetable supposed to be the "healthy" part of the taco? Apparently not. That just goes to show can't run from bad food at Taco Bell.

What's my problem with Taco Bell, anyway? It's cheap food, and it tastes good, right? Well, yeah...but first, let me go back to when I was 10 years old or so. I was a very picky eater back then (much more so than now). So...I wasn't very happy when my Cub/Boy Scout troop decided we would go to Taco Bell for lunch. Waaah! So, Taco Bell didn't get off to a good start in my book. Eventually, I got over it and starting eating at Taco Bell. I even began to like it, and developed a "Taco Bell tradition": under no circumstances would I ever pay for a drink at Taco Bell. (That was mostly just born out of the fact that they didn't have value meals back then. None that I wanted to get, at least.) I ate at Taco Bell a lot at FSU - I mean, it was right across the street! But recently, I decided to take Taco Bell out of the "rotation". Did I "grow out of it"? Perhaps. But it just doesn't do it for me anymore. If I want a taco, I'll buy my own meat and taco shells and make it the way I want it. (Tacos used to be a part of my weekly dinner rotation, by the way. Then I got lazy.) Taco Bell is cheap, but I guess you get what you pay for. They keep your stomach and your wallet full! (And your toilet!)

Most people that have worked at restaurants will tell you that once you work at a restaurant, you'll never want to eat there again - not when you see how they actually make the food. This isn't true for good restaurants, but it's especially true for fast food. But for no restaurant is it more true than at Taco Bell. Even back when I ate at Taco Bell regularly, I made a rule: "Don't look at the food. Just eat it. It tastes good. That's all that matters." I guess I've raised my standards since then.

So...Taco Bell is on the bottom of the "Mexican totem pole". (If you can call it Mexican, anyway. Mexicans might take offense to calling Taco Bell "Mexican". But it's still a food genre nonetheless, and Taco Bell qualifies, I suppose.) There are three levels of the Mexican totem pole: Taco Bell at the bottom, nice Mexican restaurants at the top (Don Pablo's), and hybrids in the middle (Qdoba; Moe's Southwest Grill). What do I think of the other portions of the Mexican totem pole? Eh...I don't really like Mexican. It's too complicated. Just give me beef or chicken, and sometimes give me a bun. And give me fries too. Don't give me guacamole. What the hell is that crap, anyway? I don't like salsa, either. I just want chips. Give me cheese. If you want cheese at a nice Mexican restaurant, you'll have to pay a decent amount for it. I mean, come on - its cheese. Why is salsa free, but not cheese? That's crap. Nachos are the only redeeming quality that Mexican restaurants have, in my book. That's not to say I won't eat at a Mexican restaurant. I can always get a cheese quesadilla, perhaps including a meat. But please don't put beans in there. Yuck. See...Mexican food takes good ideas, and then they put a bunch of crap in it that ruins it. (And by the way, Qdoba is pronounced "cue-DOE-bah". And it's yet another restaurant/store name where some people like to attach that extra "s" onto the end, when it's not there. It's not "Qdoba's", people...)

I realize I've probably stepped on a few toes with this one - many people very passionately love their Mexican food. Hopefully, I did not offend you. Mexican food just isn't my thing. What is my thing, you ask? Well, let me tell you about this place called "Bojangles'"...

Today's random thought:

- This week, I went to the driving range in an effort to hit a bunch of golf balls and reacquire what golf skill I once had. That was the first time I had swung a golf club in four months. I didn't do too badly. But I bring this up because I don't wear a glove when I play golf...and maybe I should. When I played consistently, I developed calluses on my hands that kept them nice and tidy. But apparently they wore off, because now I have a huge blister on my hand. And I didn't even use my entire large bucket of balls! Let that be a lesson to you - either wear a glove on the golf course, or play more often than every four months. Plans are to get out on the course more often starting in January - more on that in a future post.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"The Chris Allen Calendar"

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The traditional 12-month calendar is nice, but it has one weakness. It is sometimes difficult (although certainly not impossible) to figure out how many weeks away a certain event is. Because I generally live my life on a week-by-week basis, this is a problem. Weeks are cyclical - work Monday through Friday, don't work Saturday or Sunday. I also do many other things according to the day of the week (most weeks) - grocery store on Monday, poker on Wednesday, disc golf on Thursday. Sporting events and TV shows are the same way. Football on Monday night; Lost on Wednesday night. Days of the month are not cyclical as such - what I do today has far more to do with today being Thursday than today being the 14th. So...when I keep track of upcoming events, I like the day of the week to be included. I have a good feel for how long a week is, and I think it should be the main basis upon which the calendar is based instead of the month.

Right now, you may be thinking this: "Well, if something is on December 27th, why not just write 'Wednesday, December 27th'?" First of all, that's an awfully long thing to remember. And when you say "Wednesday, December 27th", Wednesday is the modifier; all the emphasis is on "December 27th". If someone is told something is on Wednesday, December 27th, they will almost certainly write "December 27th", but they may or may not write "Wednesday". And you can't write "Wednesday" alone; that's not specific enough. You need the whole date. So...a while back, I came up with a calendar system where the day of the week and the "counter" work together in unison.

It all started when I began the meat of my Masters research in the summer of 2005 - the first week after Spring finals. I decided to take detailed notes on everything I did for my research, because Computer Science teachers taught me to document extensively (not just in code, but in life). Since it was the first week of my research, I referenced my notes with "Week 1", and decided to reference days of the week by a single letter: M, T, W, R, F, S, and X. (Why is Sunday 'X'? I think I picked it up from my brother...not sure how or why. But X is letter befitting of Sunday, don't you think?) As I did research and kept a log, I always used this date system instead of the calendar date. Then, as deadlines cropped up, I began to adopt this dating system to let myself know how many weeks I had to meet the deadline. (If it's 2R, and the deadline is 4F, I have two weeks and one day.) I kept this going throughout my Masters research, and now use it at work, and in my life in general as well. Today is "32R", by the way. (It's also year two, but as I will discuss later, my calendar system isn't really designed for long periods of time. You could easily append "-02" onto the end, and that would make today "32R-02", but I usually don't bother with that.) When I talk about using this system in my life in general, here is what I mean:
- I wash my bed sheets every six weeks. The next time I will wash my sheets is in "Week 36". So when Week 36 comes around, I know it's time to include my bed sheets in the laundry, and that the next sheet-washing occasion will be Week 42.
- Penn State Spring Break is Week 45. 13 weeks away! (What does Penn State Spring Break have to do with me? I've probably mentioned this before, but I'm planning on taking that week off.)
- I have sports schedules for my favorite teams posted on my wall, so I don't have to look online every time I want to see if my favorite teams are playing each day. And I have all of the dates written in my calendar system. It makes it easier to tell, for example, exactly when a certain team is playing this week. (For example, the Carolina Hurricanes have games on 32M, 32F, and 32S this week. I just have to look for the "32"s.)
- I also use this system for various other "schedules", such as which blog post to write on which day, and which route to take home each day. The only real reason to do it here is just to emphasize the day of the week, since I live week-to-week.

Now, a logistical point. The place at which I started the calendar is kind of arbitrary - it was May 9th, 2005. But what I'm going to do from now on to have a general starting point for my count is start with the first week of May each year. By that, I mean the first week that starts in May, with the "week starting point" being that Monday. But 7 does not divide evenly into 365 (or 366), so if we keep 52 weeks per year for all of eternity, then the first week of the "Chris year" will progressively move backwards in the "real year", and will eventually start in late April. Thus, I'm going to institute an occasional "leap week" to ensure that Week 1 always starts in May. The first leap week will happen in 2012; beyond that, it will happen every five or six years. Leap weeks will be known as "Week 53". But will I still be using this system in 2012? We'll see.

What are the advantages of this system? Well, I've already talked about the three central advantages - it focuses on the day of the week, it's easier to tell how far away something is in terms of weeks, and it's easier to see what I have to do in a certain week. Now, the disadvantages. I have no problem remembering what day of the week it is, but how do I remember my made-up week number? Well...that takes some work. I have it written on my page-a-day calendar, and keeping my work notes in terms of the week number helps emphasize it as well.

Another weakness of the system is that it isn't really built to keep track of past events. With the exception of my work logs (which are dated with my calendar system), I don't keep track of anything in the past with my calendar system; only future events. Once it happens, it's done, and I just remember when it happened with the regular calendar date. When did I go to State College last? I don't know off-hand what week number it was, but I do know it was the weekend of Saturday, December 2nd. And my trip prior to that was the weekend of Saturday, November 11th. Sure, I can figure out what "week number" those trips took place, but that's based on the real dates themselves, so there is really no point. Figuring out what week number they took place and figuring out how long ago they occured (which is easier to do with my system) are essentially the same task. When I note a past event down (usually for statistical purposes), I use the regular calendar date. This is true for all past events; I generally know the approximate calendar date they took place, but I have no clue what week number they may have been. There are two notable exceptions, however: I moved to Raleigh (Cary) in Week 7, and I started my job in Week 8. Those numbers are entrenched in my brain, mostly just so I can easily figure out how long I've lived here and worked here. Then again, the actual dates are entrenched in my brain as well (Monday, June 19th; Monday, June 26th). Also, for events that are more than, say, a few months away, I generally just use the regular calendar date.

So, let me summarize the merits of the Chris Allen Calendar System:
- When I keep track of future events, I do so with a "week number" and day of the week so I can keep track of how far away future events are, and on what day of the week they take place. This way, I can more easily tell how far away something is in weeks, and what is coming up in a particular week (everything that is "32" is this week, for instance).
- I also keep notes at work that are dated by my "week number". If nothing else, I do this just to constantly remind myself what week number it is.
- I don't remember "week numbers" for past events. Instead, I use normal dates.

I'm not really trying to "sell" my's kind of weird. But it fits my needs just fine.

Today's random thought:

- Many grocery stores offer gift cards. My question is this: why? What kind of a gift is a gift card for a grocery store? "Merry Christmas, honey! Go get some bread, paper towels, and Wheat Thins at Harris Teeter! You deserve it!" For the most part, grocery stores don't carry "pleasure items" - only things you need on a day-to-day basis (mostly food, of course). I guess I could sort of see it if you're giving to the needy. Instead of giving that homeless guy a $10 bill, you could give him a Food Lion gift card so he can't go spend it on crack. (A homeless person would fit right in at Food Lion, too.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

"Let's Settle This Once and For All"

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So, Jared sent out the following email to a bunch of people yesterday:

"In an effort to settle once and for all the numerous arguments we've had about whether state A is in region B or region C, we'll let everyone graphically display how they would divide the US if they were in charge of defining things. Divide the Lower 48 into exactly 11 regions (somewhat arbitrarily chosen by Jacob, except that it's prime). Each region must be composed of only contiguous states. The only one-state region that is allowed is California."

Alright, well, here's my map. I will explain my reasoning behing each geographical region below.

- Northeast: Clearly, New England is part of the Northeast. New York as well, in my opinion. Pennsylvania? Well, Pennsylvania is one of two things - it's either Northeast, or it's Mid-Atlantic. I placed it in the Northeast because it doesn't border the Atlantic Ocean, and its weather is certainly more like the Northeast than the Mid-Atlantic.
- Mid-Atlantic: Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, sure. New Jersey? I think this state could be split in half (northern Northeast, southern Mid-Atlantic), but that's against the rules of this debate. As with Pennsylvania, I used a climatological argument to place New Jersey in the Mid-Atlantic.
- Southeast: I think this is pretty well-defined. The only question (brought up by the Find Your Spot poll) concerns North Carolina. Is it Southeast, or is it Mid-Atlantic. Geographically, it's probably Mid-Atlantic; culturally, it's Southeastern. (I suppose the same could be said for Southern Virginia, but Virginia is too far north to be called "South", even if Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.)
- Midwest: This definition is consistent with previous definitions. I toyed around with placing Minnesota and Iowa in with the North Plains, and I don't object to that idea. I just wanted to be consistent with my previous arguments.
- Leftovers: Kentucky and West Virginia are in the middle of everything, and not really part of anything. Let's just give them their own geographical region. (You can call it Appalachia if you prefer, although Western Kentucky is hardly Appalachia.)
- South Plains: Is Texas its own geographical region? Perhaps. But according to the much-debated rules, Texas isn't allowed its own region. But that's okay; I think it fits better in with Oklahoma.
- North Plains: Again, you could include Minnesota and Iowa here, and I would not object. Now, Kansas: some might prefer to split the six Plains states in half, which would place Kansas in the South Plains. But I ask you this: is Kansas more like Nebraska, or Oklahoma? I'd say Nebraska. And aside from Wichita, it's certainly more like the Dakotas than Texas.
- Southwest: New Mexico and Arizona? Absolutely. Nevada? Sure. Utah? Eh...again, this is a state that could be split in two. The northern half is more Rocky Mountain than Southwest, but I'm putting Utah in the Southwest just to make the Southwest region more contiguous.
- Rocky Mountain: I think the only question here is Idaho. Is it Northwest? It could be...but I have a hard time placing Boise and Pocatello in the "Northwest".
- Northwest: Washington and Oregon are pretty well-defined.
- California: If not for the "one state rule exception", I'm not sure what I would do with this state. But the rules made it easy for me. Wahoo! (If not for the rule, I'd probably group it with Washington and Oregon and call it "Pacific".)

So, there's my list. To encourage live debate, for the rest of the week, I'm going to waive the "I have to approve your comments first" requirement in my blog. That means if you've always wanted to cuss me out and call me sexually explicit names on my blog, now's your chance!

But in the meantime, three people already posted theirs:
Adam Moyer
Jared Lee
Jacob Haqq-Misra

I'll provide an all-encompassing comment on their maps later today (once I get bored at work).

Today's random thought:

- If Dr. Pepper is a blend of 23 different flavors, then how many flavors are in Diet Dr. Pepper? 22? 13? 5?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Putt-Putt Golf and Games"

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Whatever happened to Putt-Putt Golf and Games? They used to be the place to go for miniature golf. Basic, yet classic. There were multiple Jacksonville locations. Then, I guess kids decided they wanted a more lively miniature golf experience. And once the "mini golf + go-karts + laser tag + arcade" places like Adventure landing gobbled up all of the kids, Putt-Putt couldn't compete with only "less jazzy mini golf + arcade". Then, before you knew it, Putt-Putt closed all of the locations I knew about, never to be heard from again. Putt-Putt was done.

...or were they? Several weeks ago, I did a web search on Putt-Putt to see if they still existed. And...let the fun begin! Putt-Putt has updated their image a little bit to be...a little more "21st Century", I guess. In other words, they sold out. But they are a business, right?

Well, you know what the next logical step was. Is there a location in Raleigh (Cary)? Yep! And in fact, it's right on Tryon Road, in a place I've driven by multiple times. Huh? How come I've never noticed it? I guess that's just me...I have a tendency to not be very perceptive of landmarks when I'm driving. (Road-related landmarks, definitely. Buildings on the side of the road, not so much. One day driving back home from high school, I noticed a brand new Golden Corral, in a place that I drive by almost every day on my way home in broad daylight. I never noticed them building this thing. But there it was. Oh well.) Promptly, Amber and I paid this place a visit. (And just in case you're wondering, this was over three weeks ago. I just now got to writing about it.)

"So, Chris...what's it like? Tell me all about it!" Funny you should ask, anonymous question-asker, because I was going to talk about that anyway. Well, it looks like they took an old Putt-Putt from "the day", added a new arcade building, and go-karts. No laser tag, but I don't know how standard laser tag is anyway. (Maybe laser tag is just an Adventure Landing thing. A word about Adventure Landing...I thought AL was just a Jacksonville thing, until I saw one on Capital Blvd in North Raleigh. So is AL a regional thing? Sort of...they have two in Jacksonville, three in North Carolina, three in upstate western New York, and one in Dallas. Who decides where to put these things? How do you end up with such a discontinuous network of locations?)

Now, about the golf hole design. Did Putt-Putt sell out with that too? Well...yes and no. No, because the holes haven't changed. The classic Putt-Putt hole design is what defines the franchise. No crazy hills or hole designs here...simple banks, ramps, and obstacles. That hasn't changed. One thing I like about Putt-Putt holes is that it's quite possible to get a hole-in-one on every single hole. Between Amber and I, we racked up 6 aces in 72 total holes (3-out-of-36 each). That's a hole-in-one every 12 holes. Wahoo! did Putt-Putt sell out with the holes? Well, there are two 18-hole courses at this location. One had the classic green carpet, orange wall color scheme. The other course? Not so much. They have all the holes different "bold" colors - purples, yellows, reds, and blues were everywhere. Ugh. I'm just glad we went at night.

Actually, that night, Putt-Putt was a backup plan. There were hints of another course in Cary. Why did we try the other course first? Because it was indoors. I've never done indoor mini golf, not that I can remember. And the description on some website that I don't feel like looking up again made it seem like it was can't-miss. But, the course was closed for good. That's too bad. It seems like the market for mini-golf is dwindling. It's almost like the only time people play mini-golf is on family vacations. If you go up and down US-441 in the Sevierville/Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg region near the Great Smoky Mountains, you'll find a mini-golf course every other block. Same goes for the Outer Banks. But it doesn't seem like a cool thing to do in a city anymore. That's too bad. We're going to do what we can to keep these places in business.

Today's random thought:

- "That's the best thing since sliced bread!" That's a common expression people use to give extreme praise to some thing or idea. But does anybody mean it? Is the said thing really the best thing to come into existence since sliced bread? When was sliced bread invented, anyway? And is sliced bread really that landmark an invention? Sure, it's nice...I don't know where I would be today without sliced bread. But personally, I think toilet paper and duct tape were more important inventions.

Monday, December 11, 2006

"Early Thoughts on Christmas"

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Christmas is only two weeks away. Gah! How'd that happen? Well...during the "single digit" days of December, Christmas still feels like "a ways away". Then the "double digit" days hit, and all of a sudden, it's two weeks away. I guess it's time for it to start "feeling like Christmas". Raleigh's "oldies" station has started playing Christmas music, but not 24/7 like Oldies 106.9 (Fayetteville). I miss 106.9; I haven't listened to it at all since they started the week before Thanksgiving. One Christmas song every once in a while is fine. But all the time? For over a month? I find it hard to believe anybody wants that.

I guess the Christmas spirit is starting to creep in now. But this Christmas will be different than any previous Christmas, because I don't get two or three weeks off. I'll only be in Jacksonville for three nights over Christmas. Will going to work on December 23rd hamper the Christmas spirit? Probably, but I don't want to use up my vacation time yet. (Yes, December 23rd is a Saturday. The current plan is to work that day instead of the day after Christmas. We'll see if the "people in charge" let me do that. You know...having a real job is rather inconvenient sometimes.)

Have I done my Christmas shopping yet? I've done a decent portion of it. Christmas shopping is easier than ever, thanks to the internet. I don't even have to leave the house. And they bring my stuff to me! Some may feel that isn't "real Christmas shopping" and that standing in lines at Wal-Mart is "part of the experience", but I'm not included in that "some".

I have absolutely no Christmas decorations in my apartment. But that's okay...I can't justify it when it's just me sitting around here. (That, and I don't own any decorations.) But I helped Amber put her tree up the last time I was in State College, and that was fun. I can live through other people's decorations in the meantime. (Especially when I don't have to help take them down. Haha. Seriously, though, is there a more somber activity than taking down Christmas decorations? "It's all over...time to resume the normal routine. But at least I can listen to Oldies 106.9 again.")

In case you can't tell, I had no real plan for this post. I just thought I'd talk about Christmas some, seeing as how it's two weeks away. (Oh...and I apologize for not using the poliltically correct term, "the Holidays". And since I bring this up, I thought I'd remind everybody that Christmas is a religious holiday. Considering how commercial it has become...who'd have thunk it?)

Today's random thought:

- One of the many things I associate with the Christmas season: "advent candles". One of my parents always used to get one as a birthday present (both have birthdays near the end of November/beginning of December). What is an advent candle? Well, it's a long candle that has the numbers 1 through 24 down the side, corresponding to the days in December leading up to Christmas Day. Each day in December, you burn the candle just long enough to melt away that day's number on the candle. I think it's a marvel concept.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"College Basketball Weekend #1"

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Not that I'm going to be watching college basketball all weekend - in fact, I will be playing some form of golf Saturday morning/afternoon. But this is the first non-college football weekend of the college basketball season (not counting NCAA playoffs for Divisions I-CS, II, and III), so most networks have now made the switch over to basketball programming on Saturdays. (Not so much Sundays, at least as long as the NFL is still playing. And that's fine this weekend, because the Jaguars game is being shown locally! Wahoo! That's 6 of 13 Jaguars games that have been shown locally this season. That's far more than I could have expected.) Anyway, I'm really just curious how many college basketball games are available to me this weekend, between regular TV, the FOX College Sports channels, and ESPN Full Court (which works now). (I'm not sure how many games ESPNU is showing...I'd rather not even know. Ignorance is bliss, right? Just pretend the channel doesn't even exist.)


Game 1 - Indiana at Kentucky, 1200p, CBS: The biggest problem I have with CBS's regular season lineup is they almost always show exclusively "traditional teams". Indiana. Kentucky. Duke. North Carolina. UCLA. How many CBS games don't involve one of those five teams? I bet it's less than half.
Game 2 - George Mason at Duke, 1200p, ESPN: George Mason doesn't have the same team that went to the Final Four last year. Then again, Duke doesn't have the same team that lost in the Sweet Sixteen last year. Speaking of Duke, I know Duke has a strong national following, but I'm getting the feeling that there are hardly any Duke fans actually here. I'm basing that on the fan distribution at poker last week, as the Duke game was being shown. There wasn't a single person in the place rooting for Duke. On the other hand, there were at least a half-dozen people wearing UNC hats. (See...this is why I won't buy a UNC hat. Way too trendy.) I almost feel like I have to root for Duke just to balance it out. (But not against teams like Holy Cross and George Mason.)
Game 3 - Robert Morris at Wagner, 1200p, FCS Central: Why is this on FCS "Central"? Aren't these both eastern schools? Maybe it is on FCS Atlantic. Whatever. I doubt I'm going to watch this game, even if I am home.
Game 4 - Penn State at Seton Hall, 100p, ESPN Full Court: My first chance to see Penn State this season. (If I'm not on the golf course.) But considering we lost to Shippensburg in an exhibition game, lost to Stony Brook, and barely beat Hartford this know, I really don't think this is the year. Come on, Milos! You're better than this. (Milos is Milos Bogetic [MEE-losh BOW-gah-TEESH], my favorite player on the team. He is still playing, right?)
Game 5 - Arkansas-Little Rock at Minnesota, 100p, ESPN Full Court: FC has been showing a lot of Minnesota games this season. But that's better than a lot of the games. Most of the early FC games have been Florida, Kansas, or Kentucky playing some crappy team. Who wants that?
Game 6 - Toledo at Kansas, 100p, ESPN2: These teams played in football this year, and Toledo won. Revenge?
Game 7 - Wisconsin at Marquette, 200p, ESPN: Rivalry!
Game 8 - Illinois-Chicago at Illinois, 200p, ESPN Full Court: Rivalry?
Game 9 - Centenary at Texas Tech, 200p, ESPN Full Court: Quiz...where is Centenary? For some reason, I want to say Shreveport, LA. (Correct! I really need to get a life.)
Game 10 - Texas A&M at UCLA, 230p, CBS: See above comment about the CBS games. But this is actually a legitimate matchup - two teams currently ranked in the top 10. Unlike that "unranked Indiana v. unranked Michigan" game that CBS always seems to air.
Game 11 - BYU at Michigan State, 300p, ESPN2: I like the name of the Michigan State student section: The "Izzone". (Their coach's name is Tom Izzo, in case you're wondering why I like it. Besides the fact that it's fun to say. Izzone! Sure beats the "Nole Zone". Ugh.)
Game 12 - Nebraska at Oregon, 300p, FSN South: Are Oregon's basketball uniforms anything like their football uniforms?
Game 13 - Cleveland State at Ohio State, 400p, ESPN Full Court: Another Full Court "Top 5 team versus scrub" game that I will steer clear of.
Game 14 - Pittsburgh at Buffalo, 400p, ESPN Full Court: See previous comment. (But at least here, the Top 5 team is on the road. You never know, right?)
Game 15 - Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt, 500p, ESPN2: At least I'll have something to watch in the evening.
Game 16 - George Washington at USC, 500p, WGN: That's right...WGN. Does this make any sense to anyone else?
Game 17 - South Carolina at Baylor, 600p, FSN South: We get a lot of South Carolina games.
Game 18 - Oklahoma State at Ball State, 700p, ESPN Full Court: There aren't many games on in the evening tonight. Instead, ESPN is showing this thing called the "Heisman Trophy Presentation". What's that?
Game 19 - Coppin State at Oklahoma, 800p, ESPN Full Court: No thanks.
Game 20 - Washington at Gonzaga, 1100p, FCS Pacific: If this game was on earlier in the day, then, sure. Maybe I should record this and watch it Sunday morning. (Good idea! I've been doing that with some games this week, but I always screw it up by going to and stumbling on the result. I did that with WSU/Gonzaga earlier this week. Oops.)


Game 21 - Maryland at Boston College, 630p, FSN South: "ACC Sunday Night Hoops". I'm a fan.
Game 22 - LSU at Texas, 800p, ESPN: Only two games on Sunday this week...but like I said, that will pick up after the NFL season is over. (See...the fact that every other sport pretty much bends over to the NFL kind of bugs me. Smart business? Sure. But it still bugs me. There is one sport that doesn't bend over to the NFL, though...NASCAR. Keep it up, boys.)

So...enjoy your weekend! (Am I going to do this every "non-eventful" weekend? Probably. But the next "non-eventful" weekend won't be until at least January.)

Today's random thought:

- I just heard on the radio that 9 out of every 10 emails sent on the internet are "spam". Actually, I'm surprised it's not more. On my (no longer primary) Yahoo account, I'm sure it's more. I've decided not to empty Bulk Mail folder anymore, just to see how full it can get. (It empties every month, or something like that.) I think it's been three weeks, and I'm now well over 2,000 messages. Wahoo?

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Find Your Spot!"

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Let's have some fun with the Find Your Spot website, shall we?

What's this website all about? It's a quiz that's designed to tell you where you would most like to live in the United States. They ask you all kinds of questions about weather (of course), recreation, cultural opportunities, religion, education, geography (size of city; region of country), and so on. I've had a lot of fun with this in the past. I always have been curious where "my spot" is. Sure, I have cities I think I like. But from a completely objective standpoint, what cities are best for me? I first took this quiz one or two years ago, and I also took it again yesterday. The first time, I was far less restrictive in my geographical requirements and preferences, because I didn't know where I was going to go after I graduated from Penn State. Now, I have a better idea of what I want and where I want to be, so the new results are a more accurate reflection of where I would most like to live today.

But the first time I took the quiz, my top 10 cities were:
#1 Las Vegas, #2 Salt Lake City, #3 Little Rock, #4 Denver, #5 Albuquerque, #6 Phoenix, #7 Frederick MD, #8 Reno, #9 Boise, #10 Saint George UT.
Other notables (it gives your top 24 cities): #12 New Orleans (this was pre-Katrina, by the way), #13 Charleston WV, #23 Flagstaff (a city I could definitly live in). Also, it gave me four cities in Louisiana. I'm not sure why.
Clearly, my preferences were met very well by the Rocky Mountain region. Not sure if I can explain Little Rock and the Louisiana cities, however. But Frederick is always the city I bring up when I talk about the "ideal city". Frederick is its own entity, it's in the mountains, it's a short drive from two major metropolitan areas (yet far enough away to be disconnected from them), and close to an ideal weather environment (just enough snow, and not too hot in the summer).

Well, I re-took the quiz again yesterday. I have more specific requirements now, starting with geographical regions. I didn't include anything west of the Central Time Zone in my preferences this time around, prefering to stay in the east. I also did not include the Southeast, because I don't really want to go back there. (As discussed later, this quiz classifies North Carolina as Mid-Atlantic and not Southeast. I absolutely included Mid-Atlantic in my preferences.) Now...the cities that the quiz gives you aren't restricted to just your geographical region(s) of choice; it just gives "more points" to those that you choose. But still, all 24 of my cities were in the Eastern or Central Time Zone. Here are my top 10 cities this time around:
#1 Cincinnati, #2 Lynchburg VA, #3 Bloomington IN, #4 Springfield MO, #5 Asheville NC, #6 Carlisle PA, #7 Roanoke VA, #8 Norfolk, #9 Charleston WV (repeat appearance!), #10 Rochester MN.
Other notables: #11 Topeka KS, #12 Charlotte, #14 Frederick MD (of course), #19 Durham, #23 Altoona PA, #24 Overland Park KS. (I will elaborate on why the Kansas choices are "notable" below.)

Only two cities made both lists (Charleston WV, Frederick MD). What's different this time around? Well, of course, my geographical preferences pretty much eliminated anything out west. And my choices might have been somewhat biased towards a place like...well, Frederick. But many of these choices are kind of interesting, and here's why. Every time I drive through Lynchburg on the new route to State College, I think "this would be a nice place to live". Sure's #2. And of all the big cities out there, I've thought of a couple that I could totally get with (without ever spending much time in either, mind you). One is Cincinnati, which came in at #1. The other is Kansas City. Kansas City didn't specifically make the list, but a suburb did (Overland Park). And a nearby smaller town (Topeka) also made the list. Topeka is a lot like Frederick - it's close to a big city, but still far enough away to be disconnected. Why Cincinnati and Kansas City? Well, if I lived in "Cincinnati", I could actually live across the river in Kentucky, and I think it would be cool to live in a civilized region of Kentucky. But what I like about Kansas City is its wide array of weather. Kansas City gets everything, from suffocating heat waves to bitter cold snaps, from tornadoes to snowstorms, from floods to drought. When it comes to weather, I like change, and I like extremes. Kansas City provides both. I could never live in a place where the weather never changes. (Oh, and as for Durham...I'm not sure why Durham made the list, but Raleigh did not. Are the cities really that much different? Well...)

Each time I took the quiz, I also decided to have some fun with it. Could I purposely answer the questions with a certain city in mind? Well, the three cities I know best are Jacksonville, State College, and Raleigh (Cary). (Tallahassee is too much like Jacksonville to be considered separate.) The first time around, I took the quiz a couple of times, purposely trying to get Jacksonville and State College (respectively) to come up #1. I think I did pretty well. I was able to get Jacksonville to come up #2 (behind Houston). (Basically, I said I liked beaches, golf, hot/humid summers, and that I wanted a strong Baptist community.) And State College isn't specifically in the website's database; however, when I tried to get State College to come up (by saying I liked snow, hunting, and mountains), I got Altoona #1 and Harrisburg #2. That's about as good as I could have done. I think that's amazing, personally. And it's nice to know the quiz is actually giving us real answers. This year, I tried to get Raleigh (Cary) to come up. I don't think Cary is in the database, but Raleigh and Durham both are. I didn't do as well this time around, but I did get Charlotte to come up #1, and that's not bad. Raleigh was #7; Durham was #11. Interestingly, Jacksonville ranked higher on that list (#5) than either Raleigh or Durham. I guess I haven't lived here long enough to really know everything about the area; I wasn't quite sure how to single this area out compared to other cities in the Southeast.

I should talk about this, too. We've had at-length discussions about geographical region definitions in the past. Well, one of the questions splits up the country into geographical regions. How do their classifications compare with ours? Here are some notable things they did:

- Pennsylvania is in the Northeast (along with New York and New England). I agree with that.
- New Jersey and North Carolina are both in the Mid-Atlantic, along with the obvious choices (VA, MD, DE) and West Virginia. I can live with North Carolina being in the Mid-Atlantic. New Jersey has always been a tough one for me; I guess it depends on which part of NJ you're in.
- South/Southeast goes west through Texas and Oklahoma, and also includes Kentucky. Yeah...I guess you have to put Kentucky somewhere.
- The Midwest is quite large, starting in Ohio and going all the way out to North Dakota south to Kansas. I guess if you ask people from around the country, every state that anybody anywhere considers to be "Midwest" is included.
- The western regions are a bit smaller. "Southwest" is three states only - NM, AZ, and NV. "Pacific" is California and Hawaii only. They also have Pacific Northwest (WA, OR, and AK) and Rocky Mountain (the other states, CO through ID).
Let the flaming commence.

And by the way...including your "top spots" in post comment is not only allowed, but encouraged!

Today's random thought:

- One thing I didn't mention in the NCAA Women's Soccer post was another change to NCAA terminology. If a game were to go into overtime, it would be decided by "sudden victory". Not sudden's called sudden victory now. How ridiculously PC is that? I mean, were there people out there who actually took the term "sudden death" literally? Ugh.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"These Bowl Games With Their Very Long and Obnoxious Names Are Getting Ridiculous"

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(Before I begin: in case you weren't aware, prior to this season, the NCAA officially dropped the designations "Division I-A" and "Division I-AA". They are now officially known as the "Bowl Subdivision" and the "Championship Subdivision", respectively. To comply with the NCAA's new terminology, I will discontinue my use of "I-A" and "I-AA".)

I didn't originally plan on another college football discussion this season, but I have some things to get off my chest. But not so much about the method by which college football determines a "national champion", the BCS. I mean, who doesn't criticize the BCS? It's almost too easy to do - everybody knows it's flawed. Any system in which every team in a predefined division does not have a chance to win the "national championship" is flawed. Boise State is one of two undefeated teams in the Bowl Subdivision, but all they get is an exhibition game with Oklahoma. With this in mind, I think we should stop calling it a "national championship" and start calling it a "BCS championship", because that's all it is. But personally, I think given what we have to work with (a two-team playoff), the BCS does as good a job as it can. That's not to say I wouldn't make some tweaks to the BCS, but like I said, I don't want this to be just another "this is what I would do with the BCS" post, like you may find in other more-sports-oriented blogs or newspaper columns.

Instead, I am going to criticize the bowl system in general. I have the following criticisms:
1) First, the obvious - there are too many bowl games. This year, there are 32. That's 64 out of 119 teams in the Bowl Subdivision that are going to a bowl game. Back in the day, a bowl game was supposed to be a reward for a good season, right? Now, a bowl game is a reward for a mediocre season. I thought a bowl game was supposed to be a reward for a good season. Now it's a reward for a mediocre season, and it doesn't really mean anything anymore. Do teams like Florida State and Miami (FL) deserve a reward for a good season?
2) The names of bowl games are getting ridiclous. The San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl. The Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. I mean, come on. Bowls are supposed to be about tradition, right? Well, no...they're about money, and that's it. Let me rephrase: Why should fans embrace the bowl system? Tradition, right? Tradition is really the only redeeming quality the bowl system has. And with games like the Bowl, there is no tradition. And I'm not just talking about the games that are before Christmas; I'm talking about the more prestigious bowls that are now completely sponsor-oriented. The Outback Bowl. The Chick-Fil-A Bowl. The Capital One Bowl. I don't even know what the Outback Bowl used to be called. (Grapefruit Bowl?) But the Peach Bowl and the Citrus Bowl carried great tradition with them; now fruit isn't even part of the name. I have no problem with the "Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl" or the "Capital One Citrus Bowl"; I realize every bowl has a sponsor. Even the Rose Bowl presented by Citi has a sponsor. But keep the traditional name. I realize that the name of a game is completely arbitrary and has no affect on the game itself whatsoever, but if we're going to talk about tradition, then we need to discuss this. (By the way, I know why they dropped "Peach" and "Citrus" from the name. The respective companies ponied up the big bucks to keep everybody from referring to the bowls as just "Peach" and "Citrus", and to force everybody to say "Chick-Fil-A" and "Capital One" when discussing the game. Well, you know what...for the most part, it's worked. Dammit. But I would like to commend Chick-Fil-A for successfully incorporating cows into their advertising campaign. Capital One, on the other hand, might have the worst commercials on television. Every Capital One commercial tries to be funny, and they never are. Screw you, Capital One. What's in my wallet? Not your sorry ass, that's for sure.)
3) The matchups need some work. Nobody cares about a game between the 7th place ACC team and the 5th place Pac-10 team. Also, nobody cares about a game between the 3rd place MAC team and the 2nd place C-USA team. Now...if we matched up the 7th place ACC team and the 2nd place C-USA team, then that might make things a little more interesting. That's just an example...I'm talking about matching the best non-BCS teams with some major conference teams. I know the major conference teams will usually win these games (particularly when they play early in the season), but not always, and they deserve a shot. And there is no greater travesty than the fate of the MAC champion, Central Michigan. Central Michigan won their conference. Therefore, they should get a game against a major conference team (perhaps a mid-level team like Clemson or Georgia) in a somewhat prestigious bowl as a reward, right? Instead, they get the Motor City Bowl (in a cold weather city, in a stadium where they just played the MAC championship at last week) against the 2nd place team from the Sun Belt. That's right...they don't even get the Sun Belt champion; they get the 2nd place team. What kind of a reward is that? That's a disgrace. Conference champions deserve a more prestigious bowl game. Personally, I would decrease the number of bowl games to 16, limit each BCS conference to four bowl bids, and have every non-BCS conference champion play a BCS team. To me, that would be more interesting than Purdue v. Maryland. The bowl game I am most interested in, in fact, is Oklahoma v. Boise State. How will undefeated Boise State fare against a team that might be in the BCS championship game if not for a botched replay call against Oregon? Utah v. Pittsburgh from two years ago was also intriguing, although it would have been more interesting to give Utah somebody other than a token opponent barely in the Top 25. (Pittsburgh was the Big East champion, but that was the year after Miami and Virginia Tech left and before Louisville, South Florida, and Cincinnati joined. Utah dominated the game.)
4) Back in the day, bowl games were sequential - we started with the minor games, they progressively got more prestigious, and it culminated on New Year's Day. Now it's all jumbled up. For example, I think the Holiday Bowl should be closer to New Year's Day - at the very least, it should be on New Year's Eve. That's because it's Pac-10 #2 v. Big 12 #3. #2 v. #3 is a pretty prestigious matchup, certainly worthy of a January 1st slot. I think the Pac-10 gets screwed. Why does the #2 Pac-10 team play four days before New Year's Day, while the SEC gets four guaranteed New-Year's-Day-or-later bowls? (East Coast Bias?) The Holiday Bowl has a decent payout, by the why does it get played on December 28th? (Oh, I and television. But like I said before, if we're going to embrace the bowl system for its tradition...) But the most egregious error in bowl game ordering has to do with the International Bowl and the GMAC Bowl. These games are being played on January 6th and 7th, respectively. I thought it was supposed to be an honor to play a bowl game in January. Not anymore, I suppose. I guess this is for television too, but seriously - by the time January 6th rolls around, you're probably tired of meaningless bowl games, and you're just waiting for the BCS championship game (which is January 8th, also way too late in my mind). Who is going to watch the International Bowl? And who is going to watch the GMAC Bowl? Anybody outside of people interested in the teams? The matchups aren't exactly marquee: Cincinnati v. Western Michigan, and Ohio v. Southern Miss. (Ohio v. Southern Miss isn't too bad; each team lost its conference championship game. I might watch it if it was in December. But January 7th? Not a chance.)
5) There shouldn't be any bowl games in cold-weather sites. Bowl games are supposed to be a reward, right? With all due respect to the city of Detroit, wouldn't Central Michigan rather go somewhere further south? Although, I admit...I like the Boise bowl game, with its blue field and all. And seriously, how random is it to have a game in Boise? And how happy is Miami (FL) that they get to play there? Some might view it as a punishment. Personally, if I lived in Miami, I'd love to go to Boise, especially in December. But that's just me.
6) No team should be allowed to play a bowl game in their home stadium. I'm not talking about established major bowl games; I have no problem with UCLA playing in the Rose Bowl. Memphis plays home games in the Liberty Bowl, and I suppose I'm fine with that too. We can make exceptions for established bowl games. Mostly, I'm talking about Hawaii. When was the last time Hawaii played in a bowl game outside of Hawaii? Has it ever happened? Also, Boise State shouldn't be allowed to play in the Boise bowl game. That just seems like another home game for them.
7) Also, if we're going to talk about tradition, I think we should just get rid of the BCS championship altogether and go back to the traditional bowl matchups. Rose Bowl: Big Ten champion v. Pac-10 champion. Didn't the Rose Bowl carry more prestige when it was exactly that, every year? I forget what the other matchups were, but let's start with the Rose Bowl.

Just to rehash some things I said earlier, here would be "my" bowl system:
- 16 bowl games only: Rose, Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, Gator, Cotton, Citrus (now Capital One), "Outback", Holiday, Peach (now Chick-Fil-A), Alamo, Sun, Liberty, Tangerine (now Champs Sports), Hawaii, and Las Vegas. (Note: none in cold-weather sites; Memphis is as "cold" as it gets.)
- All bowl games would take place between December 26th and January 1st, getting progressively more prestigious.
- No conference can get more than four teams in a bowl game.
- Every "non-BCS" conference champion would play a BCS conference team. (Not necessarily a BCS conference champion.)

Now, some comments about this year's real bowls:
- Florida State v. UCLA on December 27th in the Emerald Bowl. I was afraid this game would get a 1030p start due to its California location; instead, it's starting at 800p. How much am I looking forward to it? Eh...of course I'm going to root for the Seminoles, but if they lose, it will be the least disappointing loss of the season, for sure. I think the season is more defined by which bowl game you play in than whether or not you win the game. (The exception being, of course, the BCS championship.) But the best thing about the Emerald Bowl might be the Emerald Nuts commercials. You know what I'm talking about? Eccentric Matadors Exercising Religiously And Littering Do Not Use The Steamroller. Eagle-eye Machete Enthusiats Recognize A Little Druid Networking Under The Stairs. (Speaking of FSU, they took a lot of crap for their non-conference schedule of Troy, Rice, and Western Michigan. But you know what? All three of those teams made bowl games. So there.)
- Miami (FL) v. Nevada on December 31st in the MPC Computers Bowl (Boise). I can't wait to see Miami (FL) on the blue field. I hope it snows. Ha. (And to their credit, I would have never heard of MPC Computers if not for their sponsorship of this game. But I enjoyed it more when it was the Humanitarian Bowl.)
- Penn State v. Tennessee on January 1st in the Outback Bowl. Does the 4th place Big Ten team deserve to play on New Year's Day? No less than the 5th place SEC team, I suppose. In "my" bowl system, Penn State wouldn't play on New Year's Day, and Tennessee wouldn't even be in a bowl. And now that Capital One has made Steve Spurrier's famous quote obsolete, let me offer an alternative: "You can't spell Outback without UT."
- Oklahoma v. Boise State on January 1st in the Fiesta Bowl. I've already said this was the most interesting matchup. Even though I have an Oklahoma hat, I'm pulling for Boise State.
- Ohio State v. Florida on January 8th for the BCS championship. I don't care for either team. Although, I'll root for Ohio State, because the main reason I don't like them is because they're good; I wouldn't like Florida no matter how good or bad they are. Will I watch? I'm sure I'll watch the first half, but I'll probably go to bed at halftime.

That's probably it for college football in this blog this season. Now, onto college basketball, at least as soon as Time Warner comes and fixes my cable box to appropriately give me the ESPN Full Court subscription package I rightfully paid for.

Today's random thought:

- Nights-by-county update! Barring any future developments, this will be the last one until the year is over, because my end-of-year plans are now well-defined (to some extent), and they will force a Wake/Centre tie. With 25 nights remaining, the current score is Centre 165, Wake 146. According to the current plan, Centre County is done for the year, and I will have 3 nights each in Duval, FL (Jacksonville) and Lucas, OH (Toledo). That leaves 19 nights for Wake, resulting in a 165-165 tie. I'll wait until the year is over to give a full final rundown; until then, I'll let you know if there are any changes in plan that would affect the result (because I know you care that much).

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"The New Way To Get To Pennsylvania: Update"

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On my drive to State College in November, I tried a new route documented here, with much success. One more round trip later, how does it stand?

First off, I've made one change to the route. Instead of taking PA-16 to I-81 in Greencastle, I now take PA-416/MD-58 to I-81 closer to Hagerstown. This route is the "hypotenuse" of the PA-16/I-81 right triangle, and it shaved seven minutes off the trip segment time, thus cementing the "ultra back way" as the fastest way to get into (the West College side of) State College. A couple of words about the "hypotenuse" (as I will call it from now on). The speed limits leave much to be desired; much of the road is either 35 or 45 mph. Through residential areas and cities, I have no problem going slow. But the rest of the road, I have no such problem. The reason the speed limits are, well, limited, is that the road is very hilly. Let me just say this: It's a lot of fun! I'll probably keep it at 55 for most of this portion of the route. Some of the bumps and hills are actually kind of scary if you're going faster than 60. There's also a small traffic circle that you have to go straight through in Maryland, so if you're going to go this way, keep that in mind. (The route you take doesn't have a number north of the traffic circle until the PA border, so take the sign towards Mercersburg.)

Now, some words about other portions of the drive. Both the Raleigh-to-Lynchburg and Lynchburg-to-Winchester segments took longer than last time on my way up to State College, for two separate reasons. On NC-86, I got stuck behind a couple of school buses. That was just unfortunate timing on my part - if I left 5 minutes earlier or 10 minutes later, it wouldn't have been a problem. There are passing zones on NC-86, but it can be difficult to find an open spot during the day, especially when a school bus is blocking your vision. Even with the school buses, the Raleigh-Lynchburg segment only took 7 minutes longer, which isn't too bad when you compare that to some of the traffic delays you encounter on the DC route. (But more on that later.) As for the Lynchburg-to-Winchester segment, that took 5 minutes longer than last time, and that was my own fault. You see, there are two ways to get from US-29 to US-250/I-64. One is VA-6 all the way, a portion of which is a very slow, curvy, mountainous road. The other way is to take VA-151 from VA-6 all the way to US-250, which is faster, but longer distance. I thought I'd try the VA-151 route for the first time. That decision was solely responsible for the 5-minute bump. The reason: VA-151's intersection with US-250 is at a stop sign. Both VA-151 and US-250 have a fair amount of traffic. When I stopped at the stop sign, I was probably about the 6th or 7th car in line. And, given the amount of traffic on US-250, it took each car close to a minute to turn onto US-250. So, I was sitting there a while. VA-6 also has a stop sign at US-250, but I've never seen a line of cars (or even a car) there. So, northbound, VA-6 is the way to go. Now, southbound, it might be a different story, because you don't have that stop sign - you can just turn right onto VA-151. It might actually be faster southbound to take VA-151, because VA-6 has a stop sign at VA-151. I'll try that next time I drive southbound.

Why didn't I try that on my southbound drive this past Sunday? Well, I thought I would try the DC route using the "ultra back way" out of State College. Because the "ultra back way" is a much faster way to pick up I-70 in Hagerstown, this gives an extra advantage to the DC route that was not present when I was taking the Bedford-Breezewood-Berkeley Springs route. Taking the DC route is a very bad idea if you're going to hit rushhour, or if it's a holiday weekend. But this was neither, so it seemed like a good idea. And I stand by my decision - I just got unlucky. DC was actually fine; there was just an accident on I-95 just south of Fredericksburg that added 45 minutes to my trip time. Even with the old US-17 route, I still would have been screwed. This really wasn't DC's fault; it was I-95's fault. I-95 between Richmond and Washington might be my least favorite interstate anywhere, right up there with Central Florida's I-4. But this just goes to show you how vulnerable the DC route is as a whole. Most of the segments are fine. But because there are so many potential trouble spots (traffic north of DC entering/leaving town for the weekend, Capital Beltway traffic, and I-95 to Richmond), you're almost always going to hit something that's going to cost you anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. So it's not just worth the risk, when all you might gain over the US-29 route is 10 to 15 minutes. I'll take US-29 every time from now on, and know that unless something really strange happens, I'll make it in under 7h30m. (I-81 can have problems too, but I've never had a backup of more than 10 minutes on I-81 between Staunton and Hagerstown. Knock on wood. I-81 south to Roanoke, that's another story...) By the way, without the I-95 accident, I would have made it home in 7h14m, which would have shattered the records. But you can play "what if" all you want with the I-95/DC route. All I know is, the last four or five times I've gone that way, they've all been over 7h40m. And even with the school bus and stop sign delays, the northbound commute still took less than 7h30m. And besides...the US-29 route is much more fun.

One more word...when I talked about US-1 last week, I mentioned that I was starting to keep track of how many cars I pass on two-lane highways compared to how many cars pass me. After the US-1 drive, it was 3 to 3. Well, after going to State College and back, the count is now 15 to 3 (cars passed to cars passed by), meaning I passed 12 cars and was passed by none. Pennsylvania drivers are very slow - probably the slowest of any state from there to Florida. I know that's partly a function of the roads, but the roads aren't that bad. So I think as long as I keep taking this route, I'll be way in the positive. Also, since I'm going to be taking this route every time, I'm going to change my driving playlist. All of the CDs are associated with the old route, and I need CDs that have no such association so they can acquire one with the new route. I'll work on that. I won't be back in State College until at least mid-January, so I have some time.

Today's random thought:

- I received an invitation to a "Christmas party" at my apartment complex. I only mention this because the invitation completely butchered the spelling of "hors d'oeurves". I know it's hard to spell, but the best the invitation could do was "ordure's". First of all...possessives are not the same thing as plurals! Second of all...give the French some respect and spell out all those unpronounced letters. They even left out the 'v', which is pronounced. Awful. Third of all...any time I hear "hors d'ouerves" will be served, that's usually a bad sign. It's usually crappy vegetables with weird sauces and toppings or whatever. What the hell are "hors d'ouerves", anyway? The definition is "an appetizer usually served before dinner", but I'm pretty sure there won't be a full meal accompanying the hors d'ouerves. So thus, they're not really hors d'ouevres at all, it's just a snack. Why don't they just call it "snacks"? Because people usually use "hors d'ouerves" just to mean "snacks I won't want to eat". So, I'm kind of glad they didn't just say "snacks", or else I'd have my expectations shattered.