Monday, July 31, 2006

"303 Miles to a Bunch of Places"

WARNING: Hackjob post

Skip to the random thought - remember, hackjobs only have one thought.

One of the stats in my AIM profile is miles driven. (I'd like to think it's the "trademark" stat because it's been there the longest.) I reset the total every semester, and have kept monthly totals going back through May 2004. Usually in my profile, I post an "update" whenever I drive somewhere, saying where I drove and how far it was. Examples: "37 miles to work", "12 miles to disc golf", "3 miles to Harris Teeter". But while Amber was here in Raleigh (Cary) this past weekend, I didn't feel like keeping that much mileage detail every time we went somewhere (which was often), and instead just figured out the total afterwards and posted a generic update: "303 miles to a bunch of places". What was included in this "bunch of places"? As best as I can remember...

Saturday morning drive: Great Outdoor Provisions, disc golf, and Harris Teeter. (~30 miles?)
Saturday afternoon drive: Falls Lake State Recreation Area. (~70 miles?)
Saturday evening drive: Dinner at Ragazzi's [Italian restaurant] of Cary, and Blockbuster Video. (~10 miles?)
Sunday morning drive: Breakfast at Courtney's [restaurant]. (~10 miles?)
Sunday afternoon/evening drive: Various places south of Raleigh, including Benson, NC. (~180 miles?)

I got enough out of these trips (and topics related to these trips) to set up the rest of the week's entries. I want to get all the posts I can out of last weekend - I don't anticipate anything interesting will happen between now and this Saturday's mini-bonspiel. Here's what to look for this week. I expect all of these posts will be winners. (Winners of the "watered down" award, perhaps.)

Tuesday - Saturday's drive to Falls Lake State Recreation Area.
Wednesday - Sunday's drive to Benson, NC and surrounding locations.
Thursday - Non-chain restaurants vs. chain restaurants, and breakfast food vs. dinner food. (It'll be a battle royale!)
Friday - I will start talking about the movie Spellbound, and then will likely drift into discussions about documentaries, spelling bees, movies about spelling bees, and spelling in general.
Saturday - I time how long it takes restaurants to serve my food. Yep. Read more on Saturday.

Today's random thought:

1) One of my pet peeves is when people attach a plural or possessive onto the name of something that is not plural nor possessive. Examples: Eckerds, JC Penneys, Ruby Tuesdays. The actual names of these places are Eckerd, JC Penney, and Ruby Tuesday. There are many other examples that I can't think of right now, but those three are the ones that occur most frequently. There are so many plural/possessive store/food place names that I guess it's a habit for people to attach the 's' onto everything. But it still bugs me. Get it right, people! (Credit to Jeff [Frame] for assisting me in this crusade.) A side note..."Penneys" is acceptable, because it's a nickname. But the name of the store itself does not end in 's'. JC Penney. That's it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Interstate 10: Tallahassee to Jacksonville"

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Have you noticed I like talking about roads? It's one of the most nerdy things one can talk about, I think. Posts like these are the reasons I have that "skip to the random thoughts" link.

So, as referenced in Thursday's post, I used to drive on I-10 between Tallahassee and Jacksonville a lot. During my four-year tenure at Florida State, I drove on I-10 between Tallahassee and Jacksonville an estimated 35-40 times each way, for a total of about 75 drives. (This includes trips where I was a passenger, in addition to those in which I drove.) I-10 is not exactly the most exciting road, so I decided I'd make the drive more interesting by memorizing all of the exits along the way. It took me a couple of years to have it down...and then in 2002, they changed all of the exit numbers from sequential ordering to mileage-based. Bah! (Actually, I was happy about it - mileage-based is the way to go.) Three or four more trips after that, I had the new ones memorized. It helped that the westernmost exit numbers are all separated by 8.

So, here is my recollection of all the exits between Tallahassee and Jacksonville on I-10. I did this on the fly in about 20 minutes, and I haven't checked it for accuracy. Among the things I'm most unsure of are some of the county route numbers, and some of the towns listed on the exit signs (officially called "control cities") because sometimes they're different depending on which direction you're going.

209A: US 90 West, Tallahassee
209B: US 90 East, Monticello
217: FL 59 (no cities)
225: US 19, FL-GA Parkway, Monticello, Perry
233: CR 228 (no cities)
241: US 221, Greenville, Perry
251: FL 14, Madison, Perry
258: FL 53, Madison
262: CR 255, Lee
275: US 90, Live Oak, Lee
283: US 129, Live Oak, Jasper
291: CR 136, Wellborn
296A: I-75 South, Tampa
296B: I-75 North, Valdosta
301: US 41, Lake City, White Springs
303: US 441, Lake City, Fargo
324: US 90, Sanderson, Olustee
327: CR 229, Sanderson, Raiford
331: CR 127, Glen St Mary
335: FL 121, Macclenny, Lake Butler
336: FL 228, Macclenny, Maxville
343: US 301, Baldwin, Starke
351: Chaffee Rd
355: Marietta
356: I-295, Savannah, St Augustine
357: FL 103, Lane Ave
358: FL 111, Cassat Ave (westbound); Cassat Ave, Edgewood Ave (eastbound)
359: Lenox Ave, Edgewood Ave (westbound only)
360: FL 128, McDuff Ave
361: US 17, NAS Jax, Orange Park
362: Stockton St (eastbound only)
East end: I-95, Int'l Airport/Savannah (north), Jax Beaches/Daytona Beach (south) (eastbound only, of course)

If any of you go this way in the near future, feel free to check how well I did. While I made this trip a lot at FSU, I've only made it once in the last two years. If I did this two years ago, I would know all the route numbers for sure. Even so, I'm impressed I'm able to remember as much as I have.

Can I do the same for the much-shorter I-99? It sounds easier because it's shorter, but I don't think it is - it might be harder than I-10, just because I-10 was always the entire drive, but I-99 is only a small portion of the long drives that usually include it. Thus, I never concentrated on the signage as much on I-99 as I did on I-10. Also, I was strictly a passenger for my first two years at FSU, so I was able to concentrate on the signage more on I-10. My drives on I-99 are also much less frequent than those on I-10 - I'm pretty sure I haven't driven the length of I-99 75 times yet. (It's probably in the low 20s, although I've driven on the portion north of Altoona many more times.) Let's try anyway...

1: I-70, I-76, PA Turnpike, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg
3: PA 56, Cessna, Johnstown
8: PA 869, St Clairsville, Osterburg
10: Blue Knob State Park (Is that the name?)
15: Claysburg, King
23: PA 28, PA ???, Roaring Spring, Portage (northbound signs also list Hollidaysburg)
28: US 22, Ebensburg, Hollidaysburg
31: Plank Road
32: To PA 36, Frankstown Rd
33: 17th Street
36: PA 768 South, Pinecroft
41: PA ???, Bellwood
45: Tipton, Grazierville
48: PA 453, Tyrone
52: PA 350, Bald Eagle

I had some trouble remembering the state road numbers. It's much easier in Florida, because there's a pattern to the numbers, much like interstates and US highways. Pennsylvania state road numbers are basically random. Oh well...I think what I have is impressive enough. (Or just disturbing, perhaps.) And while we're on the topic of route numbering, I-99 is a major violation of the interstate numbering system. This will surely be the topic of a future post.

Today's random thoughts:

1) Which is worse, having a last name that is often mispronounced, or a last name that is often misspelled? Likely, you feel it's worse to have whichever type of last name you have. Although I happen to have an often-misspelled name, I'd rather have that than an often-mispronounced name. On a daily basis, your name is said more frequently than it is written. Also, at least in my experience, hearing people mispronounce your name sticks with you more, and pisses you off more. I only remember my last name being mispronounced once. It was in 8th grade. I haven't forgotten. (See what I mean?) Although, it was kind of annoying (albeit humorous) when the EPA had to go back and set up my email address a second time because they originally gave me allan.chris@epa.gov. And if your last name is both mispronounced and misspelled frequently, then, well, it sucks to be you. (Try to refrain from posting comments like "Look at me! My last name is way harder to pronounce and spell than anyone else's!" or anything along those lines. Keep it general. I only gave specifics relating to me to support my views.)
2) Some states (New Jersey, and I think Oregon) prohibit you from pumping your own gas, in favor of all full-service gas stations. Why? I don't like it, particularly because I know how to put gas in my car better than anyone else. My gas door doesn't open by itself anymore, so I have to force it open - I'd rather not explain to the attendant how to do it every time. And, when I last filled up in New Jersey, the attendant broke the gas cap off, so now it is no longer attached to my car. I'm never getting gas in New Jersey again. It's a small enough state where one can fill up in Delaware and not need gas again until at least Connecticut. (Actually, I think the reason New Jersey does this is because of the high number of drive-offs associated with rising gas prices.)
3) The traditional "bored on the computer" game is Solitaire. Why? Minesweeper is much more fun. Whatever happened to Minesweeper? Everyone used to play it. I just thought I'd remind everyone that if you have Windows, you still have Minesweeper. Nothing's changed. (Well...it isn't on my work computer, nor are any of those other games. I guess "the man" took them off.) I loaded Minesweeper up on my 4-year-old computer, and looked at my high scores that I forgot even existed. 7 seconds on beginner? That's okay - I remember getting 5 before. 38 seconds on intermediate? Eh. I know there's a cheat that allows you to stop the clock and win with a time of 1 second, but I forget what it is exactly. Something to do with the mouse buttons. I always enjoyed using the cheat on my friends' computers when they weren't looking.

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Raleigh Radio"

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This post evolved from a random thought about morning radio talk shows, to a post about morning radio talk shows, to a post about Raleigh radio in general. If you pay attention, you might notice the transitions.

I now have a 25-minute morning commute that takes place during the 6a-10a time slot, so I have the opportunity to listen to morning radio talk shows. Why do people like listening to talk instead of music in the morning, as opposed to any other time (like the afternoon)? Do people just want news in the morning? Personally, I don't. I can read the news at work! Actually, though, I was looking forward to listening to John Boy and Billy, which is a redneck-ish morning show based in Charlotte (I think). These guys are all over the south, so surely they would have an affiliate in Raleigh, right? Nope. Apparently there used to be one, but not anymore. I was very disappointed on finding this out. I also looked to see if somebody carried Jacksonville-based Lex and Terry here in Raleigh, but that's also a no. Morgantown, WV has them. Other NC stations have them. Why not Raleigh?

So, what are my options? I'm trying to avoid AM radio, at least for now. I currently have three FM stations in the rotation, a rock station, an oldies station, and some kind of newer-ish oldies station. The rock station (96.1) actually just changed formats from strictly alternative to "everything that rocks", meaning mostly classic rock, and some 90s/00s stuff. That's actually fine with me - I've gone away from newer alternative radio lately, because I don't feel like keeping up with all the "new music". I don't really like the music industry these days; it's way too commercial. The RIAA lawsuit stuff certainly doesn't help my opinion. And I'm too lazy to keep up with all the new punk rock stuff that's out there, except for the bands I already know.

And if that wasn't enough of an indication that I'm getting old, where did these oldies stations come from? Well, much like with the driving playlists, I guess oldies radio reminds me of a simpler, more carefree time. (Yeah, that's lame.) Actually, it's probably just because oldies radio doesn't seem as commercialized as the newer stuff that's out there. I'm sure it was at the time, but it couldn't have been anything like today. Most of the time, I can pick up the oldies station out of Fayetteville (106.9), which I prefer over the Raleigh oldies station (102.9) because they play more older stuff that was still on oldies radio back in the 80s. The reason 102.9 actually made it on my dial was not because of the music, but because they're the official radio home of the Carolina Hurricanes.

Okay, let's take this back to morning shows. 96.1 plays some music and talks more, and their show is the incredibly-annoying group format, featuring the annoying woman who laughs too much. They're out. 106.9 plays mostly music and has this old guy who's actually fairly entertaining to listen to. 102.9 also plays mostly music, and I actually don't remember who they have talking in the morning. So, as far as these stations go, it's 106.9 first, 102.9 second, and I don't even bother switching to 96.1 in the morning. (One thing about 106.9: I always enjoy those radio station identification jingles these stations come up with. Particularly when they sing the city names. Fayetteville! Lumberton! Does either city deserve to have its name sung? Lumberton is a dump.)

I used to listen almost exclusively to AM radio when I was basically tired of the music industry. I think I'm heading back in that direction now. Oldies radio was nice back in State College when I only spent an hour or two in the car each week. But now that I spend an hour in the car every day, oldies radio is getting predictably repetitive. So, I think it's back to sports talk for me. And I really like the local sports talk shows they have around here. It's not hard to figure out why. I was sold as soon as I heard this: "Coming up next, we'll talk college football. Then, after that, we'll talk NASCAR." It's nice to see they have their priorities straight here. But even here, they still talk about the Yankees and (to a lesser extent) the Red Sox too much. Ugh. Who cares? And you wonder why I don't like those teams.

There are two sports talk stations in Raleigh. Unfortunately, one of them carries a news-based morning show. So, as was the case in State College, once again I've settled with ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike as my morning show, even though the station that carries it is out of Selma (which is way out on I-95) and is hard to pick up sometimes on the AM band. It's simulcast on a Durham station, but I can't always pick up that station depending on where I am. RTP, sometimes. Raleigh, forget it. Oh well. How long before I get satellite radio?

Today's random thoughts:

1) I have a thermometer in my car. I'm not sure how accurate it is at high temperatures, though. The scale only goes up to 120°F, but it's past that pretty much every day when I get off work. Fortunately it's not one of those old-school mercury things, it's a circular dial. Because the needle has two ends, and half of a circumference = 80°F, I can interpolate the temperature past 120°F. Starting two weeks ago, I've been actually keeping track of this every day and writing down the temperatures. On a sunny, hot day, the temperature will exceed 140°F. The hottest so far this summer is 152°F. (The coolest post-work temperature I've had is 124°F, and that was on a cloudy/rainy day.) One time in Florida, it went all the way around the dial past 0°F, meaning a temperature of 160+°F. But that day, I left the thermometer on the passenger seat in direct sunlight. Now I keep it out of direct sunlight - it's in the "shade" in the back seat behind the passenger seat. I still don't believe it's in the 140s every day, though - if nothing else, the thermometer probably isn't calibrated past 120°F, since that's where the scale ends. After I open the window and get going, the car temperature usually drops to about 5° warmer than the ambient temperature, which is about right - it's always going to be a little warmer inside the car. Yeah, even when it's in the 90s, I don't turn on the A/C when I'm driving home from work. The hot air actually feels kind of good after spending 8+ hours in a cool-ish office. If I drive somewhere else after I get home, though, then it's A/C time.
2) Spawned by the last thought: why is "air conditioner" abbreviated A/C? Where did that slash come from? Is it just there to distinguish it from an alternating current (AC)?
3) One of the small issues that comes up at work is our allowed amount of disk space on the EPA's computers. We have a "quota" and a "limit". If we exceed the "quota", we have 7 days to get back under the quota, or we get cut off. If at any time we reach the "limit" (which is about an extra 10% above the quota), we're cut off immediately. We spend almost 100% of the time between the quota and the limit, but that's okay as long as we're under the quota for at least one millisecond each week. If it's such a problem, why don't we get more disk space? Even if we did, and the quota and limit doubled, we'd still be above the quota most of the time, because people only clean up their work when they have to, which only happens when we're above the quota.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

"TV Ramblings"

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This post isn't a "hackjob", but I made no attempt at organization - it's me rambling about TV and my TLD. Read at your own risk.

I just thought I'd talk about my tivo-like device a little bit, and the stuff I have stored on it. When I came back from State College last weekend, I was way behind on watching stuff. Here's what I had waiting for me on Monday: (This should also give you an idea of what I usually watch.)

1 hour - Pardon the Interrpution from last Thursday and Friday
4 hours - Last weekend's NASCAR Nextel Cup race from Pocono
5 hours - other various "minor league" NASCAR races
2 hours - Formula One Grand Prix of France from the previous Sunday (7/16)
2 hours - 2006 World Series of Poker
2 hours - some random World Poker Tour tournament
1 hour - some show on Travel Channel about Florida beaches
½ hour - Sunday's Family Guy (which I hadn't seen before!)

That's 17½ hours of programming. I didn't watch the PTI's though, because both regulars are on vacation. The show is watchable with Dan LeBatard + one regular, but not Dan LeBatard + Jason Whitlock. Whitlock is boring. I'd rather they bring Jay Mariotti back to do PTI guest-hosting again, just so I can watch a Mariotti-less Around the Horn while Kornheiser and Wilbon are on vacation. In the meantime, I'm pretty much stuck with nothing. (Yes, I am still boycotting ATH, because I really can't stand Mariotti.)

As for the rest of the stuff, so far this week, I've watched last week's WSOP's, but I now have this week's episodes to watch. Net effect: none. I've finally finished watching that Formula One race, just in time for the next race this weekend. (F-1 can be pretty boring, but I'll try to explain why I like it in a future post.) I still haven't gotten to the Nextel Cup race, but there is no race this week, so I have another week. As for those "minor-league" races, I usually don't get around to watching them anyway - they're just there just in case. And the Travel Channel stuff isn't time-dependent, so I'll get to that eventually. I may soon be adding some Adult Swim stuff to the recording queue, but not until I get the logjam of stuff cleared up. And that might be another couple weeks. Then, after that, maybe I'll look for nerdy shows from the Discovery/History/Nat'l Geog./Travel channels. Come football season, I'll likely be recording college football games on the Saturdays I won't be at home. I record virtually no baseball - Marlins games only. Like this afternoon's game on TBS, for instance. After I post this, I'm going to start watching the game, while fast-forwarding between pitches and during commercial breaks. I recorded the College World Series championship game last month and watched it in the same manner. How long did it take me to watch the game? 1 hour, 20 minutes. Now that's how baseball is supposed to be. Day games like today's FLA/ATL game are perfect. You get home, you watch the game in 80 minutes, then you eat dinner. And you don't have to wait until the next day while avoiding the result to watch it like you do with recorded night games. And once 24 gets going again, of course, that will be TLD'd. (See what I meant when I said I was rambling?)

Oh, and one more thing I like about my TLD. When you're watching something pre-recorded, it'll record live whatever channel the TV was on, for up to one hour after you turn it on. So what I like to do is turn it on the Weather Channel, watch whatever, then afterwards rewind the Weather Channel, get my local forecast, the top/bottom of the hour stuff, and perhaps something like the Tropical Update. I get all this instantly without having to sit through the commercials or P. Allen Smith's gardening segments. Nice. Who knew the TLD could be so useful, especially with the Weather Channel?

Today's random thoughts:

1) Here's more nights-by-county stuff. Last night was my 31st night in Wake County since I moved, meaning I've been here the equivalent of one month, even though I've "lived" here for a month and a week. It's not hard to figure out where that extra week went - I've spent 7 nights in State College since then. How long will it take me to accumulate the second month? I have an educated guess, but again, I want to keep some level of suspense, so I won't publish it. Stay tuned. (Last night was actually night #32 in Wake for the year, including a one-night overnight stay for my June 1st job interview. Wow, that was 8 weeks ago? Ah, the wonders of time perception...)
2) I suppose I should mention that Jared posted a blog entry regarding last weekend's birthday party with piñatas. With pictures. That alone places his effort above any effort I could have provided in my blog. One of these days, I will get a camera of my own.
3) My favorite company logo of all time is for Two Men and a Truck. I don't think I have to explain why.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"Emissions Processing: Explained"

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This was a typical conversation I had with people after I got the job down here, but before I actually started the job:
You: "What are you going to be doing at this new job?"
Me: "This place does work for the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]."
You: "Right, but what exactly will you be doing?"
Me: "They call it emissions processing."
You: "And what is that, exactly?"
Me: "I don't know."

Well, if you were one of those curious "You"s who was unsatisfied with my answer, today you're in luck! As of today, it's been exactly one month since I started my job, so I've had a month to figure out what emissions processing is. Obviously, now I have a much better idea than I used to, so now for those inquiring minds, I'll tell you. (And then Petters can comment on how wrong I am, because he did it for much longer than one month.)

So, this is basically how it works. The EPA has emissions data. ("Emissions" doesn't necessarily have to mean "pollutants" - "emissions" can include all kinds of things.) Their data is in a particular format. But they don't want it in a raw format, they want it in a format that their air quality models (AQMs) can use. So they give us the data. We feed the data through this program called SMOKE (Sparse-Matrix Operating Kernel Emissions) and combine many different types of emissions together. Eventually we give them back files that their AQMs can use. This is emissions processing - reformatting, organizing, combining, and compiling data. Why doesn't the EPA do this themselves? Because it's time consuming and boring. The government would rather let the private sector (me) do the boring stuff. That's really what it comes down to, at least as far as I can tell.

"So, what is it you would say...you do here?" Well, I spend most of the day monitoring SMOKE runs. I usually have between two and four running at once. I monitor these throughout the day. If something goes wrong, I find out why and I fix it. (Problems usually arise from missing files, errors in the scripts that run SMOKE, or computer problems.) When SMOKE sub-programs finish, I make sure the right files are in the right places, and that there are no errors in the logs. I also check the files for QA (Quality Assurance) to make sure the numbers make sense and match the "guides". One way to do this is to plot the data in this program called PAVE (Package for Analysis and Visualization of Environmental data - can these guys come up with clever acronyms, or what?). If it's showing me car emissions in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, something's wrong. Same goes for North Dakota. (That last one was an attempt at a joke...I really wish I could erase that. Stupid rules.)

But the most important question is, do I enjoy the job? Actually, yes. It's laid back, relatively stress free, right up my alley, and I get paid more than a starting high school teacher. (Sorry, James - but at least you get the summers off.) I really like the somewhat flexible schedules, too. It is boring from time to time, but that's why I started this blog, right? Actually, it isn't why I started the blog, but it's nice that it's here now because I usually have some time to kill at work each day. I barely write any blog entries at home anymore.

Does this job challenge me? At the start, it did, just because I didn't know everything yet. But I bet in a year, I'll barely have to think. This work is pretty remedial - with a little computer training, almost anybody could do it. I realize I'm probably underachieving based on my "career potential", but all I've ever wanted was to make an honest living working 40 hours a week, and I'm doing that now. I could have gone for my Ph.D and tried to become the most famous meteorologist ever, but...eh. I don't want to work 80 hours a week to (maybe) get my name displayed prominently somewhere. And there wouldn't be any guarantees, either - for every one who succeeds, five fail. (Or something like that.) Career-wise, I'm not a very ambitious person, really. If you never get a chance to step back and reflect on your accomplishments, what's the point? I'd think I'd rather play disc golf and take road trips. Don't expect to see me back at Penn State getting my Ph.D anytime soon.

Today's random thoughts:

1) One of the benefits of being the lead author and/or presenter of conference talks at academic conferences is that sometimes you get emails such as these: "Dear Dr. Allen, ... You have been recommended as a potential reviewer for the following article: ... Are you willing to review this article for us? ..." Last January just before the AMS conference, I received an email from someone (also addressing me as Dr. Allen) asking me if I had any post-doctoral research opportunites available in my research group. I just think it's funny. Do I think Dr. Allen has a nice ring to it? Judging from the tone of today's post, apparently not. Should I review the article? Nah - it wouldn't be honest.
2) Some states like Florida, West Virginia, and Oklahoma have "panhandles", referring to their shape. Personally, I think there has to be a better word out there than "panhandle". How about "appendage"? The "Florida Appendage" has a nice ring to it. And while we're on this subject, why does the Texas Panhandle refer to the northern part of the state? I'd think the western part is more of a panhandle - it's on the side, as most panhandles are, and it's more "pointy". They should rename the western part the panhandle/appendage, and the northern part the "Texas Hat", because that's what it is. (Or, keeping with the panhandle theme, the lid?) It would save the residents of Amarillo and Lubbock two syllables, while being more correct at the same time.
3) If you look up the definition of the word "a" in Webster's, you'll notice a problem. The definition uses the word itself. How am I supposed to know what the word "a" actually means? This is an egregious error. But really, there is no way around it, when you also consider circular definitions. For there to be no problem, there needs to be a "first word" that requires no definition, and thus can be used in definitions for other words. There would also need to be a "second word" that uses only the "first word" in its definition. Then a "third word" that uses only the first and second words. And so on.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Raleigh (Cary) --> State College"

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(Random note: starting today, all links in my blog entries will open a new browser window. This does not include the "skip to the random thoughts" link.)

I've made this drive twice in the last week and four times in the last month, so today I'm going to talk about the drive between Raleigh (Cary) and State College. Yeah, I'm a dork.

First off, which way do I go? I actually go a different way northbound versus southbound. Northbound, I usually leave from work, which is closer to Durham than Raleigh. So, I find US 70, take it up to I-85, and eventually merge I-95 in Petersburg. From there, I've found I can usually avoid DC rushhour as long as I leave work after 200p, which I pretty much have to anyway. So I take I-95 all the way to DC, find I-270, then take I-70 up to I-99. Pretty standard fare. On Thursday, I made this drive in 7:19 (not counting stops). It took 20 minutes longer on June 30th because of all the traffic leaving DC for the holiday weekend on I-70. I wonder what that road is like on any other weekend - it was wide open on a Thursday evening, but that holiday weekend is the only time I've driven it on a Friday evening so far. Besides that, the only problem is that I usually hit Richmond rushhour. Coming in on I-85, it is very inconvenient to take I-295 around Richmond and avoid the downtown traffic. But, I am going to try something different next time - I am going to take the Pocahontas Parkway (VA 895) east over to I-295. It looks kind of out of the way, but it's worth a shot. It might be worth it just to drive across the tall bridges and on-ramps. We'll see how it goes. In both drives so far, it took 2:34 to get from work to the I-95/I-295 intersection north of Richmond, so I'll time it again taking VA 895 and compare.

Anyway, southbound, I avoid DC for no particular reason, since most return drives are/will be on Sundays or holidays so traffic shouldn't be that bad anyway. I guess there are actually two reasons I avoid DC: 1) When I drove to Raleigh for the interview, I avoided DC, so thus far, I've avoided DC on every southbound drive to Raleigh (Cary). 2) My driving playlist for this drive is much more associated with the non-DC route. So, I take US 522 through Berkeley Springs (which seems slow, but is 6 minutes faster than I-70 --> I-81), then US 17 down through Warrenton to I-95. I also take I-95 all the way to US 64 in Rocky Mount, NC, because I've found that's a faster way to get to Cary than taking I-85 to either US 1 or US 70. That's probably just because of the 70 mph speed limits on I-95 and US 64 in North Carolina.

(I know it's boring to read about driving routes, so thanks for bearing with me.) What are the highlights of the drive? The highlights are driving through DC heading north (which I enjoy, as long as it moves at 60+ mph), and the four-lane US highways heading south (US 522 and US 17 in Virginia). I think four-lane US highways are my favorite roads to drive on, because you get to see stuff, and you can pass. The lowlight is I-85, which is a very boring road. Maybe I just haven't done this portion of the drive enough (three times, so far), so I don't know all the towns and exits along the way. That's one thing that actually made I-10 between Jacksonville and Tallahassee interesting, to me - eventually, I could recite every single exit, so I knew exactly where I was all the time. (I still can, actually. Roads, signage, and exit numbers. I'm going to present my attempted recollection of the list in Saturday's post. Exciting!)

The drive south typically takes 20 minutes longer than the drive north. Half of that can be attributed to work being closer than home, and the other half can be attributed to driving through DC. In any case, without stops, the drives take about 7½ hours. In my opinion, that's about the longest drive you can make and still feel like you had a "full day" of non-driving. I didn't leave State College until after 500p on Sunday. That was probably too late, though...I'm going to shoot for 400p next time. I-95 and US 64 aren't the most exciting roads to drive on late at night.

I've considered taking longer alternate routes that veer off the expressways and have some fun, but I'm usually in too much of a hurry. For example, I could head west to Greensboro and take US 220 all the way from there to State College. That would take a long time, though - and when I'm driving to/from State College, I want to get there as soon as possible, and stay as long as possible. One thing I want to do is take US 1 all the way from Cary to Jacksonville. The drive to Jacksonville is an hour shorter, and I probably won't be in as much of a hurry when I go there. When the US 1 thing happens, whenever that is, expect a post devoted to it. It's a matter of "when", not "if".

Today's random thoughts:

1) Last night, one of my co-workers showed up in my dream. This is the first time I can remember in which one of my new co-workers appeared in my dream. This brings up a question - how long do you have to know someone before they start making appearances in your dreams? Last night's dream would suggest four weeks. But consider this: a couple of weeks ago, a 2nd-level friend whom I have never spoken to, met, or even seen a picture of appeared in one of my dreams. (Apparently I "made up" this person's appearance on the spot in my dream. In retrospect, it wasn't very accurate.) So apparently you don't even need to know someone at all for dream appearances to occur. (Definition of a 2nd-level friend: All your friends are 1st-level friends. All the friends of your friends are 2nd-level friends - they're not your friends, but they're friends of your friends.)
2) Consider types of candies with multiple flavors in each self-serve bag. Runts are (is?) a good example. Chances are, most people don't like all the flavors, or at the very least prefer some flavors over the others. As a public service, shouldn't they publish the flavor content on each bag, so you can choose which bag you want based on how many of each flavor are in it? They could make different combinations and package them separately. Banana is one flavor in particular that creates a rift amongst many people, because it's so different than the others. They should at least start packaging four different Runts packages: No banana content, average banana content, above-average banana content, and all banana. Maybe they get better business the way it is now, because people who like banana have to buy more Runts to get their fix. (In case you're wondering, no, I don't like banana.)
3) In State College last weekend, I saw a dumpster with the name "John Glenn Sanitation" on it. I'm not sure if John Glenn Sanitation has a catchy slogan, but in case they don't, I thought of one. John Glenn Sanitation - We're out of this world!

Monday, July 24, 2006

"Fisherman's Paradise, PA"

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This past weekend wasn't as blog-worthy as the previous State College weekend. No covert operations, no Centralia, no curvy bowling. There was a piñata birthday party, but I've bestowed upon Jared the task of blogging that. (No pressure or anything, Jared.) Fortunately, I can make at least one blog post out of last weekend - the brief Saturday morning trip to Fisherman's Paradise, Pennsylvania.

I'm not sure if Fisherman's Paradise is an actual town/village name, but it's signed from PA 150, and it's on MapQuest, so that's good enough for me. (I didn't see the Pennsylvania-standard "City/Borough/Village of " sign, though - maybe I just wasn't looking for it. Actually, yeah, I wasn't looking for it.) In any event, when one is driving towards Bellefonte for no particular reason on PA 150 and sees a sign for Fisherman's Paradise, what does one do? Likely, one keeps driving towards Bellefonte. But when two are driving towards Bellefonte for no particular reason on PA 150 and see a sign for Fisherman's Paradise, apparently that's different. Even though neither Amber nor myself is a fisherman, and thus could not fully appreciate this place as "paradise", we thought we'd check it out anyway.

Fisherman's Paradise is a very small town - really, it's just a random collection of houses, much like many "towns" in Pennsylvania that shouldn't have the right to be incorporated. It's on the banks of Spring Creek, which makes sense - it would be hard to call this place Fisherman's Paradise without some kind of water. Because it's near a stream, it is very forested, and looks really cool with the surrounding topography - it reminded me of places in western North Carolina, and Amber of places in rural West Virginia. (As opposed to "urban" West Virginia. Wherever that is. Pittsburgh?)

So, how did this place get its name? You'd think that some fisherman found this spot many years ago and liked it so much that he stuck it with the name "Fisherman's Paradise". But, no - Fisherman's Paradise was started by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as a "model for effective habitat improvement". So, in other words, it's an artificial paradise. How disappointing is that? I wonder if fishermen really view this place as "paradise". Probably not - I mean, there were some fishermen there at the time, but I doubt this place is much more than a "nice place to go fishing" for most fishermen.

But perhaps the coolest thing we found here was a fish nursery across the creek. A fish nursery (aka hatchery) is basically a place where they grow fish, likely to be fed into nearby bodies of water where they will inevitably be caught and eaten. How nice! I can't recognize any varieties (breeds?) of fish when I see them, so I can't say what they had here. But they had everything from baby fish to bigger fish, just sitting around in troughs. Some fish were bright orange, too. The fish were scared of us (well, probably just scared of me) - as we walked by, the fish would scatter to the other end of the trough lickety-split. It looked cool. According to their website, they have a visitor center, but we missed out on that. Oh well. (And, no, they won't let you fish in the nursery. Now that would be Fisherman's Paradise.)

This is normally where I would try to summarize the trip and tie the post up in a nice little bow. But that would be the predictable thing to do.

Today's random thoughts:

1) Here's a quick (and perhaps, unnecessary) update on the nights-by-county competition between Wake (NC) and Centre (PA) counties. I spent three nights in Centre County last weekend, decreasing Wake's cushion from 42 nights to 36 nights. (Remember, each night in Centre decreases the cushion by two.) I'd give you an idea of when I might make my next visit, but that would take away some of the suspense. Plus, I'm not 100% sure yet - I have an idea, but it's not definite.
2) How did the phrase "make your bed" come about? It doesn't make any sense to me. When you "make" your bed, you're actually covering up the bed, rendering it somewhat useless, when compared to a bed where the sheets are halfway off, allowing for entry into the bed. Actually, when you're "making a bed", you're unmaking the bed. Then, before you go to sleep, you actually make the bed. In terms of fold-out couches, you are actually making something when you "make the bed": you're making a couch.
3) Which is a more common name for a lake, "Lake" preceding the name (Lake Okeechobee), or "Lake" following the name (Colyer Lake)? I'm pretty sure it's the former, but this might be one of those regional things. I wonder what the exact ratio is. Google to the rescue! ... In Florida, among lakes over 1,000 acres with actual names including the word "Lake", it's 71 "lake preceding" to 35 "lake following", or about 2-to-1 in favor of "lake preceding". The ratio could also be dependent on lake size, though. Are smaller lakes more likely to be "lake following"? "Lake following" does seem to be a more down-to-earth name than the boisterous and loudly-proclaiming "lake preceding".

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"Theme Park Rankings, Part 2"

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I'm continuing my (arbitrary) theme park rankings from yesterday. Now on to the top 9:

#9) Universal Studios, Orlando: It's been years since I've been to this side of Universal. Why go here when you can go to Islands of Adventure? In any event, my lasting memory is the Back to the Future ride. Is that still around? Probably not - it was one of those "sit in a small room, watch a big screen, and they move you around" type of things, which are swapped out every once in a while.

- A side comment: most theme parks all have the same kinds of rides. Often, people refer to categories of rides by the name one of them has at one theme park. "Splash Mountain" is perhaps the most common example of that. Anyway, for me, the "Back to the Future" ride is one of those that has stuck. Other examples: "Mine Train" (Six Flags/Georgia), "Wild Mouse" (Hershey), "Congo River Rapids" (Busch Gardens/Tampa).

#8) Sea World, Orlando: A nice change of pace from the rest of Orlando, if you're in the mood to see, well, a bunch of sea animals. But I've always enjoyed my visits here, so it's deserving of a decent ranking. You can't go wrong with Shamu. And now they have a roller coaster.

#7) Disney World - Magic Kingdom, near Orlando: This one is just a classic. The definitive Disney park. This is where every kid wants to go. Of course, it's way too crowded. I've been back once as a "grown-up", and it isn't the same, but I still had a good time.

#6) Paramount's Carowinds, Charlotte, NC: This place and Kings Island are very close, but I'm giving Kings Island a slight edge, because the rides are more memorable there. Paramount's parks are better than Six Flags, in general. (Six Flags is so last century.) As for this place, I've been here twice, and I'm sure I'll go back, especially since it's in North Carolina. Well, half of it is...personally, I enjoy the fact that half of the park is in North Carolina, and half is in South Carolina.

#5) Paramount's Kings Island, near Cincinnati: Here's an above average theme park. The Tomb Raider ride (if it's still called that - I went four years ago) was one-of-a-kind, and it's always good when a park has a ride that hasn't been duplicated by any other park I've been to.

#4) Hershey Park, Hershey, PA: I'm surprised this one made it as high as it did on the list, but I think the chocolate factory (and free chocolate) broke the tie this one had with the Paramount parks. The low crowds are always a plus, too. I think this place is very underrated in the court of public opinion. (But maybe it's a little overrated on my list.) It's smaller than the Paramount parks, but in my arbitrary rankings, and I had about the same amount of fun here as those places, but I have to put something #4. There is a big gap between #4 and the top 3.

#3) Busch Gardens, Tampa: This has to be the theme park I have visited the most in my lifetime. Therefore, it gets a high ranking, just based on "home appeal". There was one time I didn't have fun here because many rides were closed/malfunctioning, but that was an anomaly, and this place redeemed itself last March. The straight-down roller coaster is sweet. General consensus is that the Williamsburg Busch Gardens is better, but I haven't been there yet.

I've had a hard time distinguishing these final two in the past. One is a better overall "theme park", while one is best for roller coasters. But, two factors come into play. For one thing, I usually ride the roller coasters the most anyway. (Unlike other types of rides, roller coasters are the only ones I typically repeat in a single visit). Also, I thought of it this way. If I could to go to any theme park in the country I wanted, tomorrow, which one would I choose? I think I've made my decision.

#2) Universal - Islands of Adventure, Orlando: The best variety of rides, the most unique rides, and some awesome coasters (although they don't have many). The best overall theme park I have been to, in terms of design, preparation, thought, and so on. It's really cool that you can have green eggs and ham for lunch. I've only been here once, but I had a blast. I'd like to go back, but because of the lack of coasters, this place doesn't have as much repeatability as other places. No more than once every 3 years. (It's been 3 or 4 years.)

#1) Cedar Point, Sandusky, OH: Did I really have to think that hard about this? The most coasters. The best coasters. And on top of that, my AAA-discounted ticket was only $32 last month, although I would gladly pay twice that. You also don't get the "corporate takeover" feel you get at other parks - this one seems quite independent. This place is all about the roller coasters. Last time I was here, I skipped the bumper cars in favor of riding more coasters. I never skip the bumper cars. This place is widely considered to be the best in the country, and I'm forced to agree. If only it was open year-round. The only drawback to this place is it probably won't be the best place to take my young children, but that's their problem: they're going whether they like it or not.

So, there you have it. You are more than welcome to comment on the list, and perhaps tell me how unfair I was to Darien Lake (if you haven't already). I was hoping I had been to at least 20 parks, but I guess not. Maybe I forgot a couple.

Today's random thoughts:

1) I give Dell credit for being the first to come out with black desktop computers. Apparently, black looks "fresh" and "new". My Dell is over four years old, but it's black, so it still looks new. Maybe that's because almost all of the old crappy computers are white or off-white. Recently, you're starting to see other computer companies come out with black computers as well. So my question is this: when will black become associated with old, crappy computers? I'll give it 10 years. Then everyone will be back to making white computers, because white will be "fresh" and "new" again. I guess. This all seems kind of silly to me...I really don't care what color my computer is.
2) Whenever you hear a city referred to as a "blue-collar town", it's usually intended as a complement. "Oh, Pittsburgh, that's a blue-collar town, you gotta love that." Why is blue-collar better than white-collar? Because steel workers seem "more normal" and "common" than all the programmers and engineers working in Raleigh? I don't think that's true these days. See, I think everyone has it backwards - white-collar is becoming more and more common, especially in cities like Raleigh that people are actually moving to. In addition, to me, "white-collar" implies smart. Raleigh is a smart town in that regard. Blue-collar? Couldn't get into (or finish) college, so that's why I'm a construction worker. Give me white-collar every time. (Except when it comes to redneck stand-up comedy movies.)
3) Sneezing is a lot messier than blowing your nose. However, a sneeze is generally followed by a "bless you". Shouldn't we be encouraging nose blowing more than sneezing? With nose blowing, it goes straight into the tissue. No mess. We should start saying "bless you" when people blow their nose instead of sneezing. Sneezing spreads germs and contributes to the propagation of disease. Blowing your nose only does that if you're digging through the trash, in which case, you had it coming.

Friday, July 21, 2006

"Theme Park Rankings, Part 1"

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(On location in State College, PA.)

Like many people, I enjoy roller coasters, and theme parks in general. I've been to several in my lifetime. But which ones are my favorites? Which ones were forgettable? That's the topic of today's (and tomorrow's) post. I will attempt to recall every theme park I've been to in my life, and rank them in order. The criterion for my rankings isn't really the "best" ones, nor is it which ones I enjoyed the most, but some kind of hybrid. Really, the rankings are kind of arbitrary - I just went with my "gut instinct". Naturally, this list is likely biased towards the ones I have been to most recently, but there's nothing I can do about that.

One thing first: What constitutes a "theme park"? That's hard to say, but whatever they have inside Mall of America doesn't count. They just stuck some roller coasters and rides in the mall. It isn't a theme park - more like a carnival. Waldemere (Erie, PA) also doesn't count. Water parks are also exempt, because they're in a separate category. But I will include parks that have closed since my visit.

Now, the list:

#17) Six Flags - Darien Lake, near Buffalo, NY: Back when I went here many, many years ago, it wasn't a Six Flags. But the only thing I remember is it was cold-ish (50s or 60s), and I went on a water ride early in the morning (bad idea). I was miserably cold for the rest of the day. This was really the only time I didn't have fun at a theme park, so I have to put it last. But it wasn't their fault - I should go back and give this place a chance for retribution.

#16) Cypress Gardens, Winter Haven, FL: Calling this place a theme park might be kind of a stretch, but it's on the list by association: it used to be owned by Anheuser-Busch, and is now owned by the same people as Wild Adventures in Valdosta. I went here a long time ago, and it was pretty boring for kids - it was more of an old people type of place. It closed in 2003, but reopened a year later as "Cypress Gardens Adventure Park". Whatever that means.

#15) Disney World - MGM Studios, near Orlando: I'm splitting up the Disney parks because they're pretty different, and you can spend a whole day at each one. Again, I don't remember much about this place, which by definition means it wasn't very memorable. A deficit of real rides always hurts.

#14) Wild Adventures, Valdosta, GA: This is the closest theme park to Tallahassee, but I only went here once. Admission was cheap (under $30), which is always good. While they do have a fair number of roller coasters, they aren't anything special, and a couple of them were closed the day we went. There are also too many "spin and puke" rides, which are okay only in small doses. They also have wild animals, but you can go to Busch Gardens for that, and ride better coasters in between.

#13) Disney World - EPCOT Center, near Orlando: Something about this place just rubs me the wrong way. I don't know what it is. EPCOT is kind of a punch line, too, although it certainly has a devoted cult following. Some people I know just love this place. I guess I just don't understand.

#12) Opryland, Nashville, TN: This park is now closed, but it wasn't when I went there. (No kidding.) The only memory I have of this place is standing in the line for some kind of bobsled ride, only to have the ride close on us. We weren't near the front of the line, but still. If that's my lasting memory of this place, that's probably not a good sign. But this park had to have been better than Wild Adventures.

#11) Six Flags over Georgia, Atlanta: I've been here a bunch of times, mostly as a kid. Maybe I just thought it was bigger than it actually was back then, because when I went back in 2003, it seemed like kind of a letdown. "That's it?" Oh well.

#10) Six Flags - St. Louis: I've actually been here twice, in both the 1993 and 1994 cross-country vacations. The rightful spot for this place on the list is right in the middle. Just like pretty much every Six Flags park. If you want an average theme park, Six Flags is for you. I've heard that there are some top-notch Six Flags out there (Magic Mountain, for one), but I haven't been there.

to be continued...

Today's random thoughts:

1) Yeah, so I'm currently in State College for the weekend. The main "highlight" of the weekend is a 4-way birthday party with piñatas. (Mènage à quatre?) I won't be providing you with a detailed account of the party in this blog, because Jared usually does a pretty good job with that kind of stuff, and he has a camera. (You better not let me down, Jared! No pressure or anything.)
2) My name is pretty common, so I've been waiting for a professional or marquee college athlete to come along whose name is Chris Allen. I admit I'm actually kind of jealous that there are not one, but two players named James Allen in the NFL. Well, I think I found someone. The Big Ten better watch out, because Chris Allen is going to be taking the basketball court by storm in the Fall of 2007. (He looks just like me, too!)
3) I started this blog one month ago, today. Hooray! So far, I've had no problem keeping up the 6 posts/week and 3 thoughts/post pace. But how long is that going to last? Eventually I'm going to run out of things to talk about. I think that's more likely to be the problem, as opposed to me no longer caring. In any event, enjoy the ride while it lasts. (Don't worry, this isn't foreshadowing...I am not planning to cut back the pace.)

Thursday, July 20, 2006

"Time Perception"

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Today's post is more philosophical than anything - think of it as an extended "random thought". The idea is, the human mind is capable of a lot, but one thing it isn't capable of is the accurate perception of time. We can't instantaneously look at "30 minutes". We can only guess how long ago we did something, or how long we've been doing a certain activity. We usually do this by association, not by actual time measurement. (Example: I got here around 7, and it's 9 now, so I've been here 2 hours.) If I didn't have a clock accessible to me, how accurately would I be able to say how long I had been here? (An "hour" is a human-devised measurement of time, but we've all lived long enough - we know what an hour is. Arbitrary selection of time units is not the issue here.)

"Time flies when you're having fun" is a famous cliché about time perception. Is it true? Of course not. Time doesn't speed up or slow down. The only thing that does change is our perception of it. If we're not having fun, we're likely waiting for a time in which we will have fun, whether it be the end of class, the end of the work week, etc. During these unfun times, we're closely monitoring the time, and we notice as every few minutes elapse. When we're having fun, we're paying no attention to time, so we don't sit back and realize that time is still moving the same speed. Time perception is really a matter to how much of your attention is devoted to noticing that time is moving. This is why humans are incapable of accurately giving measures of time. Even when we are paying a lot of attention to the time, we think time is "moving slower" because we're comparing it to occasions in which we're not paying as much attention to the time.

Humans can give approximations, though. Still, the problem is that time perception is reliant on memory. When we sleep, we don't keep memories very well. We're completely clueless as to what's going on when we're asleep. When you wake up in the morning, does it seem like you spent 8 hours just sitting there? Of course not, because you don't have memory of the entire 8 hours. But I think you still sense the 8-hour sleep as it happens. You just don't remember that you did. So wanting to get to sleep sooner so that "the morning comes faster", I don't know if that works. You will just think it did in the morning. It's not like this: let's say the next day, it's currently noon. If you had gotten one less hour of sleep the night before, would it be 1100a instead of noon? No. Don't be silly. In terms of your memory, it might seem like it. Or it might actually seem like 100p, if your memory adds the same amount of "sleep time" every night to your perception, regardless of how much sleep you actually get.

The problem is even worse on the long-term. Once you go beyond a few days, time perception goes out the window, because you don't have an accurate recollection of every event that took place between now and then. When was the last time I was in State College? When was the last time I was in Jacksonville? I have memories of both, but the only way to know this is by association, not by an accurate measure of the time elapsed since both events. Usually, we do this with dates, or by knowing the dates of events that took place surrounding the event in question. I know I came back from State College on July 4th, and Jacksonville on March 11th. When was that trip to the Grand Canyon? I only know because I memorized the year in which it took place.

If it wasn't for memory by association, would we know when anything took place? Would I know that I was in State College much more recently than Jacksonville if I didn't know the dates, and surrounding events that are related to the specific times each took place? I'm not so sure. Here's why. On July 11th, it really didn't seem like I was just in State College 7 days ago - it seemed like it was longer. On July 18th, did it seem like two weeks? Perhaps, but it certainly didn't feel like it was one week + what it seemed like last week, but less. I guess once you get beyond a few days, everything just seems like "a while". Speaking of which, it's been "a while" since I've been to State College, so I think it's time to pay another visit. Right now. (Well, in an hour or two.)

Enjoy my theme park rankings the next two days - I've already written the posts, so all I have to do is point and click, instead of taking a few minutes each day to write hackjob posts like I did during the 4th of July weekend. In the meantime, I'm going to be spending my time completely oblivious to the time. And it's about time, too.

Today's random thoughts:

1) This one is related to today's topic - time. When I was in kindergarten, I had major issues with the clock. If something didn't happen at the exact time it was supposed to (like lunch, recess, or the arrival of the bus), I would cry. Really. It was so bad, one day I came into school, and the teacher had the clock covered up with a piece of paper. (Joke's on her...I had a watch!) Apparently my time escapades were quite memorable, because one of my coworkers at Publix in 2002 recognized me as "the clock guy from Mrs. Lutz's kindergarten class". This was 14 years later, mind you.
2) Here's another time-related thought. Most alarm clocks have a "snooze" feature that quiets the alarm, and then sets the alarm off (on?) again in 9 minutes. What a strange number of minutes to choose. Why 9 minutes? Why not 10? And why are all the alarm clocks (at least that I've had in my lifetime) the same in this regard? Maybe there are scientific studies out there that show 9 minutes is a good number to use. Maybe you're much more likely to fall back asleep in the 10th minute than in the 9th minute. I think alarm clocks should come with two snooze buttons, a 9-minute and a 30-minute, for those occasions when I actually do want to fall asleep again. Or maybe the second one should be 29 minutes.
3) If you look at the arrangement of numbers on a phone, it starts with 123 at the top. But if you look at the arrangement on a computer keypad, it starts with 123 at the bottom. Why is that? Did Mr. Computer think it would be better to have 123 nearest to 0? I think the phone arrangement makes more sense - people read from top to bottom, so they should put 123 at the top. You also see it in more places. Wherever you have to type in a PIN (either at an ATM or at a store), 123 is at the top. Good thing too, because I don't even think about the numbers anymore, I just push a specific sequence of button locations.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Fuquay-Varina, NC"

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Saturday was my lone day off last weekend, because I worked Sunday in order to take this coming Friday off and have an extra day in State College this weekend. (That's right...no surprise visit this time.) So, I wanted to do something fun on Saturday. I thought about buying a couch on Saturday, because my one-chair "living room" isn't the most accomodating for guests. But that will have to wait, because I wanted to have fun on my day off, and the nearby town of Fuquay-Varina was calling. (Pronounciation: FEW-quay var-EE-na.)

Fuquay-Varina (F-V, for short) isn't far from my apartment - it's about 12 miles to the south. It's close enough where I imagine some people commute from F-V to Raleigh and RTP (Research Triangle Park, where I work) - but more on that later. Why did I want to go here? Because the town has a funny and interesting name. I wish I could tell people I was from Fuquay-Varina. At least I'm not from Raleigh - that's boring. State College is also boring. Bellefonte? Interesting. Port Matilda? Interesting.

Anyway, Fuquay-Varina is a nice town, and it appears to be growing. According to the stylish banners on the lightposts (a trademark of smallish towns), there are three parts of town (at least that I drove through): Downtown, Uptown, and "Varina". Uptown is where all the shopping areas are; Varina is just some crappy-looking section literally on "the other side of the tracks". I wonder if Varina used to be an independent town, and then got "annexed" by nearby Fuquay, forming what is now known as Fuquay-Varina? I knew where Uptown ended and Downtown started, too - at the western-most intersection of US 401 and NC 55, because there was literally an Uptown banner on one side of the intersection, and a Downtown banner on the other side. Head northwest on NC 55, and you're in "Varina".

Fuquay-Varina also offered a big surprise. I decided I'd get gas in F-V, because all the gas stations around my apartment are expensive. I spotted one very nice-looking and new gas station in the distance, and thought I'd give it a shot. Then I looked at the sign: "Sheetz". Yeah! Sheetz is one of my Pennsylvania favorites. I didn't know they had any this far south! This is obviously a new development. There are two more in Raleigh, and others in the surrounding areas. They need to build one in Cary. They would get my business every time. As it stands, F-V is the closest Sheetz, even closer than the ones in Raleigh. (They're on the opposite sides of Raleigh.)

Fuquay-Varina has the small town feel, and it's close to a big city - I've often said this setup is my ideal place to live. Thus, F-V is a place I would consider buying a house someday, ignoring external factors. I was wondering, how long is the commute to work from F-V? NC 55 provides virtually a straight-line shot from F-V to RTP. Upon leaving town, I thought I'd find out: 38 minutes, 26 miles. NC 55 is a nice 4-lane road between F-V and Apex, and is currently being widened to 4 lanes from Apex to RTP. Once they finish it, it will be a nice road for all those Apex (and F-V?) commuters. I bet the commute takes a lot longer than 38 minutes on a weekday, though.

Today's random thoughts:

1) On the subject of area cities: one city I (briefly) considered living in is Morrisville, located a little bit closer to work, but in a more expensive area. I'm glad I don't live there, if nothing else, for this reason: there is a sizeable city north of Charlotte called Mooresville. If you say Morrisville too fast, it sounds like you're saying Mooresville. So if someone asked me where I lived, I'd have to say "Morrisville" very slowly so people wouldn't confuse it with Mooresville. What a mess. There's no mistaking Cary's pronounciation. Spelling? That's another issue.
2) As part of my Fuquay-Varina trip, I ruined my "novelty protection" by eating at Bojangles'. I was hungry, and I wanted Bojangles'. So long as I continue to want Bojangles', I don't see why I have to abide by my own arbitrary rules. Even though, I still made it three weeks. How long before my next Bojangles'? I'll let you know when I give in again. One more thing: I went to the one near RTP, which is right next to a bunch of other food places. Surely these places are packed on a weekday with all the workers. But at 400p on a Saturday afternoon, this place was deserted. I had all these food joints to myself. It was nice. I even took the drive-thru, which I almost never do.
3) Let's revisit something I said in random thought #3 last Wednesday. Yesterday was the 18th. Was it a good day? I'd call it above average. But I'm not talking about every 11th and 18th. Just the extreme cases - the ones you remember for most of your life. Bad ones on the 11th, good ones on the 18th. I'd give you some examples, but most of them are too personal for publication. (Well, here's one everyone can relate to: September 11th, 2001.) This month, neither the 11th nor the 18th was that memorable, but let's have looksie anyway...
July 11th - Chris's car fails North Carolina state inspection.
July 18th - Chris's car passes North Carolina state inspection.
Draw your own conclusions. It doesn't work like this every month - both June 11th and June 18th were good days. I'm not exactly going to cringe when August 11th rolls around.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Answers to Random Questions"

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On the blogger profile page, one of the things you can post is an answer to a "random question". Whenever you save your profile and select "give me a new random question", it...well...gives you a new random question. I've decided to make today's post my answers to a bunch of these questions.

1) If you were a wrestler, what would be your finishing move? Either to pin the other guy, or get pinned by the other guy. Isn't that how a wrestling match finishes?
2) The love potion you made tastes terrible. How will you drink it? What am I doing making love potion? You shouldn't have to drink something to be a better lover. (Well...I guess that helps some people.)
3) Please describe how you could take the peel off an apple all in one go. Don't they make some kind of kitchen instrument for that? I'd buy one, and then I'd use it.
4) If you were a cannibal, what would you wear to dinner? A t-shirt and shorts. Why would I wear something different just because I was a cannibal?
5) What's the earliest you've gotten up to watch cartoons and what did you see? I've never woken up early just to watch cartoons. Didn't the best cartoons always come on later in the morning? The cartoons that got stuck with the 630a time slot must not have been very good.
6) Never mind the turtle. Don't you think you're sure to win? Huh? Depends on what I'm playing.
7) Why do you think honeydew is the money melon? I don't think that. That's a trick question.
8) Whoops! Your tongue is now a magnet. Whatever will you use for silverware? Plastic silverware. That was easy.
9) Create a tagline for a new line of plastic bedsheets. We weren't kidding when we said "plastics make it possible".
10) Which do you prefer and why: whittling with soap or whistling with wood? Let me look up the definition for "whittling" and I'll get back to you.
11) The hair from your last haircut ... what would it say about your new style? Hair can't talk. Next question.
12) What reason do you have to believe the earth is flat? It's flat to a first-order approximation.
13) Radio wire is often used to make bird nests. What station do they listen to? NOAA weather radio, broadcasting at a frequency of 162.55 megahertz.
14) That can't really be a fish you're standing on, can it? Actually, I'm sitting down right now. These question-askers aren't doing their homework. First they assume I think honeydew is the money melon, and now this.
15) Which is more important to you and why: flexibility or expandability? Doesn't flexibility imply expandability? I'll take flexibility.
16) Please come up with a more appropriate name for the ringtoe. I didn't even know the other toes had names. There's the big toe, and then the other four.
17) You've been invited to a fancy ball but the only thing you have to wear is an orange wooly jumper. What shoes do you wear? Vans.
18) Try making up the rules to a game where you tie knots in a yo-yo string just to see if you can get them out. Rule 1: Person #1 ties the knots. Rule 2: Person #2 tries to untie them. If he does it in less than a minute, he gets a point. Rule 3: The two people switch roles. Rule 4: The game continues until both players realize this game is stupid.
19) The wicked backspin caught you off guard. How will you play it off without losing your footing? I won't...I'll just fall.
20) Sponges and tongues are frequently misspelled. Is it because both are thirsty? I'm guessing, no.

Okay, my answers are really getting lazy. Tomorrow I'll write a real post.

Today's random thoughts:

1) If I get to work early enough each day, my reward is a parking spot that is in clear view from my office. I enjoy looking at my car all day. It gives me some added security knowing it's there, for one thing. Have I mentioned that North Carolina license plate looks good on my car? (Yep.) I usually have to get to work by 710a to get one of those parking spots.
2) Allstate offers a "good driver discount" to their auto insurance customers if they don't crash. How nice of them to put such a positive spin on it! Let me clue you in on something - it's no discount, it's just the absence of a rate increase. The glass is always half-full at Allstate. I think auto insurance is evil in general. (But they have such great commercials!)
3) The calendar is arbitrary. I worked on Sunday this week, and it was nice. The DJ on the radio said "if you're working today, like me, I feel your pain." What pain? I had the office to myself. There was no traffic. No stress. It was more productive than a typical day of work. And thanks to my TLD, the NASCAR race didn't effectively start until I got home. Just because they call it "Sunday", I shouldn't feel like working? Why is it a 7-day week, anyway? At least the other calendar units have a basis, whether it be the earth's rotation, the moon's revolution around the earth, or the earth's revolution around the sun. Is it a 7-day week just because it's a single moon phase? Oh...it's because in Genesis, God created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. That's right. (See, this is what I meant when I said I wanted to give this blog a "stream-of-consciousness" feel.) By the way, since I mentioned God and alluded to Christianity...from this point forward, I'm declaring religion as an "out of bounds" topic in my blog. It's too serious a topic. I'd rather have light-hearted discussions about grocery stores.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"Raleigh Disc Golf, Part 2"

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(Since the random thoughts seem to be more popular than the posts themselves, I'll now provide you a link that takes you there automatically.)

Since my last disc golf entry, I've played three new courses in the Raleigh-Durham area. Here are reviews and impressions of each.

Cornwallis Road Park, Durham - another course they stuck in the woods. But the good news is, it's short, fair, and easy. I had a chance to break the 56 I posted at Kentwood in the first week, but barely missed with a 57. And, thankfully, there is one open hole where you can just rip it. It did take me a while to find this hole, though. This was hole #10, and there was no sign for #10 at the tee. All the other holes were signed. I found it by going from the #18 target and walking the entire back 9 backwards, and eventually found a tee with no markings that probably had to be the #10 tee. (I thought that tee was it the first time, but I still had no idea where the target was.) I basically had the course to myself, too, although it was on a weekday, and most courses are pretty open on weekdays. And the best part about this course - full-length concrete tees! This course is in Durham - not the ghetto part of Durham, a nicer part - so I'll likely play this course after work on occasion, since work is already halfway there. That's what I did the first time. There are other courses in the Durham-Chapel Hill area that I'll probably do the same with. This might be my favorite area course so far.

Buckhorn at Harris Lake County Park - I'm not sure what city to classify this course in. Apex? Holly Springs? In any event, it's southwest of Cary on US 1, so it's definitely not in Raleigh as implied by the PDGA web site, but I would consider it in the Raleigh (Cary) area. Not that it really matters anyway - I'm not coming back to this course. The course description isn't joking when it says there is water in play on six holes. I knew what I was getting into when I came here, but I feel obligated to play every area course at least once. First of all, playing from the pro tees was a mistake. In general, on courses with multiple tees, I decide what tees to play from based on where the signs are, which indicates where the "default" tees are. Oops. I played the shorter tees on the water holes, though. The course description says there are four throwovers, although only one of them is strictly a throwover - the other three are all on the side, with some intrusion into the straight-line path to the target. As for the throwover, that's where I lost my disc. If you want to see what this hole looks like, go here and click on #17. Then zoom in. Yeah, even though my disc floats, I wasn't about to go swimming for it. (Did I follow the website's advice and lay up? Yep...I even laid up twice. From the short tee.) As for the non-water holes, they're all in deep woods, and they suck. At least Cornwallis had one open hole. I'm never coming back here. ... Okay, I remember saying that about the Altoona course, and I've been back at least twice since then with groups. So let me clarify: I'm never coming back here by myself.

Scottish Hills, Cary - This is the closest course to my apartment. Even though the website says it is very short (average whole length of under 150 feet), there are only 9 holes, and the baskets aren't "official" disc golf baskets, I felt obligated to try it. I'm glad I did, because I actually had a lot of fun here. The course is short, but playing in State College, I'm used to that. And these holes actually have trees in the way! (But not too many trees. Altoona, this is not.) There is one open hole over 250 feet long, which is nice. The baskets were in crappy shape, and a couple holes didn't even have baskets (one had a pole where the basket used to be, and one had a makeshift set of chains), but that's okay, I just used the pole and the makeshift chains. This course isn't crowded at all, and it's a great place for beginners. I'll play here either with a group of beginners, or when I just feel like throwing a quick 9 without dealing with the crowds of Kentwood.

One more word about disc golf. I've decided for the time being that I'm not going to join a disc golf league such as the Raleigh Area Disc League, for these reasons: 1) If I join a league, I'd have to play courses like Buckhorn and Cedar Hills more than I'd like. 2) I'd be restricted to playing a certain course on a certain day at a certain time. What if I'd rather play later in the afternoon somewhere else? 3) Money isn't really a factor, but I'll save $15 this way. 4) Skill isn't a factor either, but I would get smoked. But why am I joining a curling club and not a disc golf league? Simple: if I want to curl, I have to join the club. I don't have to join a league to play disc golf.

Today's random thoughts:

1) - I think the national flags for Australia and New Zealand look too much alike. Didn't these guys get together when they came up with the flags and said, "You know, it would probably be a good idea if our flags looked kinda different, since our countries are basically next to each other"? Apparently not. That web page I linked you to probably explains what the deal is, but I didn't feel like reading it. I'm sure at least one of you knows something I don't, so please comment if you can shed any light on this.
2) For the betterment of society, I think all the grocery stores should get together and synchronize the color code for different types of milk. Wherever you go, each type of milk is a different color. This can make it confusing if somoene goes to a new grocery store and buys the wrong type of milk because the colors were different. The only color code I know is at Publix, because I had to stock the milk shelves many times: blue = skim, purple = 1%, green = 2%, red = whole. I think Wegmans uses green for 1%, although I honestly don't remember for sure. Fortunately, I never got the wrong one by mistake, perhaps because there is no purple at Wegmans. (Is there?) It would benefit shoppers and grocers alike if they standardized the colors. I think red is whole pretty much everywhere; blue is skim at a lot of places. Let's start with those colors and go from there to come up with a standard milk color coding scheme for all grocery stores to abide by. And don't forget to assign a color for ½% milk. (I think it was pink at Harris Teeter.)
3) The other day on the radio, I heard someone say he went to "the Harris Teeter". Not just Harris Teeter, but the Harris Teeter. Is that how people are supposed to refer to it? They do this with interstates in California ("the 10", "the 5", and so on). I can't think of another grocery store where that's the case. "I'm going to the Publix." "Soda is on sale at the Wegmans." Those don't sound right - maybe it's because they both end in an 's' sound. Does it work better for singular names? "I bought milk at the Kroger." Nope. "The" Harris Teeter doesn't sound that bad, though. (Yeah, I like to talk about grocery stores. Have you noticed?)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Triangle Curling Club"

I wouldn't really call curling an obsession...more like a curiosity. I've always wanted to try it. I enjoy watching it on television during the Olympics, going back to the 2002 Salt Lake games. It's kind of hard to explain why I find it enjoyable...maybe it's the combination of strategy and (athletic?) skill you find in curling. I don't know. It's fun to talk about what kind of shot each team should make next when you're watching.

So, yeah, I've always wanted to try it. But you can't just go to the local park and curl. There are curling clubs around the country, but I've never lived near one. There is a "Florida Curling Club" in Sarasota...or at least there used to be. The web site doesn't exist anymore. Who would have thought that a curling club in Florida couldn't make it?

I was bored at work on Thursday, so I decided to find out if there was a curling club in the Raleigh-Durham area. And, as implied by the title of this post, the answer is yes. It's the only curling club on the east coast between Washington and Florida, it says. Good thing I moved here, eh?

I plan on joining the club. This is perfect: it's well documented that I need hobbies down here. Sure, I play disc golf, and poker on Tuesday nights, but that's not enough. Curling is perfect, even though it will be a fairly infrequent activity, especially this time of year, because curling is traditionally a winter sport. (Who would have thought?) But, if you visit the website, you'll find out that they have a "mini-bonspiel" scheduled for August 5th. I plan on attending, at the very least...considering I have never curled, it might not be a good idea for me to try and actually participate. But the club president told me that I might get a chance to go out on the ice and try it out between matches. Sweet! In the fall, they will likely have a "learn to curl" session for people like me, so I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully they won't schedule it for a weekend I won't be here. Expect a post about the mini-bonspiel after August 5th.

In retrospect, I probably should have waited until after August 5th to write a post about this...I really don't have that much material to work with right now. Oh well. It's Saturday...I can't write long posts every day; it's not like I'm at work or anything. In any event, I thought I'd give you an idea of what posts to look forward to next week, so you know which ones to skip ahead of time. (I've already written most of these.)

Monday - Reviews and impressions of three more disc golf courses in the Raleigh-Durham area.
Tuesday - My answers to random questions from the blogger profile edit page.
Wednesday - An account of today's drive to Fuquay-Varina, NC.
Thursday - My thoughts on the perception of time.
Friday/Saturday - I've recalled all the theme parks I've been to in my life, and ranked them in order from "least enjoyable" to "most enjoyable". What will be #1? I'll give you a hint...it won't be this place.

Today's random thoughts:

1) (This one is blatantly stolen from Amber, but she gave me permission to discuss her thoughts here. I think.) Why do refrigerators have a light, but not freezers? I can't think of any logical reason for this. Maybe just because fridges are larger? No; actually, you'd think the smaller compartment would be more in need of a light. Is it because light --> heat, and you don't want heat in a freezer? No; the lights are only on when you open the door anyway. This is a real head-scratcher. One more thing: why is "fridge" spelled with a 'd', but not "refrigerator"?
2) When I shop for groceries, I use a list. Eventually I got to the point at Wegmans where I ordered the list according to where the items are located in the store, so I can just go down the list and get everything in order while minimizing walking distance and time. How long will it take me before I can do the same at Lowe's Foods? I think it'll take me at least a couple of months. (That's right, I'm talking about grocery stores again.)
3) I find color blindness interesting. If someone is colorblind with respect to a couple of colors, what do they see instead? One or the other? Something else? You can't ask them either, because they don't know what we see. It's also possible that everyone sees colors differently. What looks red to you might look blue to someone else, even though he calls it red too, because he was taught that it was red. But we'll never know, because we never look out of someone else's eyes, only our own, and what we think is red is always red. The only way we can describe colors is with respect to other colors, or in terms of brightness, which when it comes down to it is really irrelevant of the particular color. Any color (well, except for black) is capable of being as "bright" as any other color (well, except for white). (Am I way off on this?)

Friday, July 14, 2006

"47 Down, 3 To Go - Part 2"

This is a continuation of yesterday's post. The idea is, I've been to 47 of the 50 states, and I'm recalling them in the order I believe I visited them. Now, back to the list, as we're in the midst of our 1993 Grand Canyon trip:

#26: New Mexico - My first documented "dry heat" experience. A gas station thermometer in Tucumcari read 105°, and I felt fine. (Granted, those things usually have a warm bias, but I bet it was at least in the upper 90s.)
#27: Arizona - There's that Grand Canyon. Yay!
#28: Utah - Possibly my favorite state to visit. The scenery in southern Utah is amazing, and without the crowds of the Grand Canyon. I went back in 2004.
#29: Colorado - Another state I'd like to re-visit, if nothing else just to drive through the Rocky Mountains.
#30: Kansas - My memory of Kansas is that many intersections in Manhattan (where we stopped for the night) had no stop signs whatsoever. Not a good idea in a college town like Manhattan. Maybe a bunch of fraternity hooligans pulled all the signs. I also remember an "exit for nothing" on I-70. The sign simply said "Exit 279, 1 mile." That's it. (I don't remember the exact number, but it was 200-something.)
#31: Missouri - We got here shortly after the great Midwestern flood of 1993 (or whatever it's called). The Mississippi River was still higher than normal, but it didn't prevent us from doing anything.
#32: Illinois - The last new state on the 1993 trip, as we took I-24 back into Kentucky.
#33: Iowa - The first new state on the 1994 Yellowstone trip. We were so close to Nebraska - why didn't we just cross the river?
#34: South Dakota - Mount Rushmore is okay, but the surrounding Black Hills area is very underrated. And although I objected to it at the time, I'm glad we stopped at Wall Drug.
#35: Wyoming - There's that Yellowstone Park. Hooray! Although, our hotel was actually in...
#36: Montana - Yeah, our hotel was in Montana.
#37: North Dakota - Nothing memorable about this place, except I remember staying at a Best Western in Bismarck.
#38: Minnesota - I remember riding roller coasters in the Mall of America, and going to some science museum there. I forget what else we did in Minneapolis. I guess we only spent two days there? If that?
#39: Wisconsin - Drove through on the way to Chicago, which we did not visit on our trek through Illinois the previous year.
#40: Indiana - We drove through Indianapolis on our way back home. This leaves only Rhode Island east of the Mississippi. This was the last new state on the 1994 trip. (This is one I'm not 100% sure about. Did we go through Indiana on our way to Mammoth Cave? When was that?)
#41: California - Our 1995 trip started in San Francisco. My parents had enough of driving cross-country, so we flew. We went a lot of places in California, but we did not go to Los Angeles or San Diego.
#42: Oregon - Crater Lake was our lone Oregon stop in 1995 before heading back south toward Redwood National Park.
#43: Washington - We took a couple of years off from new vacations before going to the Pacific Northwest in 1998. This was pretty much the last region of the lower 48 states we were yet to visit.
#44: Idaho - The 1998 trip also included Glacier National Park in Montana, which required driving through Idaho.
#45: Hawaii - Finished with most of the lower 48, our next logical step was Hawaii in 1999. That was a fun trip.
#46: Louisiana - In my last month at FSU in 2004, realizing that I was living as close to Louisiana as perhaps I ever would, I grabbed a couple of my friends, drove to Louisiana, spent a couple hours there, and drove back. Good times.
#47: Nevada - In the summer of 2004, I visited Las Vegas and re-visited southern Utah with my parents.

So, this leaves three states. Here's the order in which I'm most likely to visit them:
#48: Rhode Island - If/when I make it back to Maine, or go to Atlantic Canada (which I have never visited, but want to), or make a less ambitious trip to Cape Cod (which I also have never visited), I'll make it a point to drive through Rhode Island, just so I can cross this eyesore off the list.
#49: Nebraska - Speaking of eyesores: since I don't stormchase, what reason would I ever have to go to Nebraska?
#50: Alaska - One thing's for sure. Alaska has to be last. And I have to drive there. That would be the perfect (and only appropriate) culmination of my 50-state journey.

Going back to Tuesday's post, here's another thing. How many states have I stayed overnight in? Let's see:
Yes - 34: AZ, AR, CA, CO, FL, GA, HI, IL, IN, KS, KY, ME, MI, MN, MS, MT, NV, NJ, NM, NY, NC, ND, OH, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, VA, WA, WV
No - 14: AL, AK, CT, DE, ID, IA, LA, MA, NE, NH, OK, RI, WI, WY
Unsure - 2: MD, MO (I forget where our hotel was on the 1991 Washington, DC trip, and our hotels on the St. Louis stops in 1993 and 1994 - I recall at least one of them being in Illinois.)
Sleeping in every state is a secondary goal - maybe I'll get to that at some point. Chances are, Alaska won't be last on this list. Should I accomplish this "next goal", any guesses which state will be last?

Today's random thoughts:

1) Before I moved here, I assumed we would receive regional telecasts of Atlanta Braves games on the local sports channel in Raleigh. I was wrong: instead, we get Baltimore Orioles games. Great, because that's exactly what I want. More chances to see the Yankees and Red Sox, and fewer chances to see the Marlins. Ugh. I guarantee there are more Braves fans here than Orioles fans. I guess Raleigh-Durham is in an "abyss" of professional baseball, not really near any team. And that's exactly why the Marlins should move here. (I guess the Washington Nationals don't have enough "cred" yet for their games to be shown here?) I'd watch an occasional Pirates game in State College, but I don't envision myself watching many Orioles games. Maybe I'll get MLB Extra Innings next year.
2) My page-a-day calendar is nice, but it gets boring looking at the same comic strip all day. They need to come out with a page-an-hour calendar. Or even a page-every-two-hours calendar would do. You don't need to do all 24 hours, just do an 8-hour work day. Even so, it would be pretty thick, but still, I'd buy one just so I can introduce some change on my desk throughout the day. I guess I could always just buy a bunch of page-a-days and switch them throughout the day, but that's too much work, and it takes away from the continuity.
3) I've already published my thoughts on Major League Soccer. I wouldn't object if they completely got rid of the MLS. Would anybody miss it? Maybe, but not if we replace it with the MLC: Major League Curling. There is no major curling league in the USA. (Does Canada even have one?) It would be a huge hit. I don't like having to wait 4 years between Winter Olympics to watch curling on television. And when they form the MLC, they should put a team in Raleigh. (Speaking of curling in Raleigh, that will be the topic of tomorrow's post. How's that for a tease?)

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"47 Down, 3 To Go - Part 1"

(This turned into a very long post, so I've split it into two. Part 2 will be tomorrow.)

First of all, I'm impressed that I was able to incorporate the number "47" into two consecutive post titles. Maybe it's one of those magic numbers. My favorite number is "48"...eh, close enough. Now, onto today's post.

There is one thing I am quite proud of: I have been to 47 of the 50 states. Not many people can claim that. And it's not like I got in the car one day and started driving cross-country - the list has steadily accumulated throughout my life. How have I pulled this off? My parents are both high school teachers, so they always got the summers off and we went on vacations. So in today's post, I am going to attempt to recreate the list, in order, along with a note and perhaps a story about each state. (James: if you notice any inaccuracies, let me know.)

First, the ground rules: 1) Driving through a state counts. 2) Riding a train through a state does not count, because you are not free to go outside at any time. 3) Flying over a state absolutely does not count. 4) Airports also do not count, even if you go outside. If you leave the airport premises, then that counts.

Now, on to the list:
#1: Florida - obviously.
#2: Georgia - I'm banking on the fact that the first long-distance trip I made as a kid was to see relatives in Pennsylvania. Or, at the very least, my first trip probably went through these next few states.
#3: South Carolina - Possibly the first state other than Florida I stayed overnight in. Something about a trip to Hilton Head when I was one year old?
#4: North Carolina - My current place of residence.
#5: Virginia - I've been through here a lot.
#6: West Virginia - Fun state to drive through. One of my favorites.
#7: Pennsylvania - A large portion of my family lives here.
#8: New York - My grandparents' church is in New York, which is enough to make New York 8th.
#9: Tennessee - Probably my next trip was to either see family in Knoxville, or family in Michigan. Either way, the next state would be Tennessee.
#10: Kentucky - Mammoth Cave is cool, although that didn't come until later.
#11: Ohio - Cedar Point is cool, although that didn't come until later.
#12: Michigan - Home of more relatives. In fact, I've never been to Michigan except to visit relatives.
#13: Maryland - Now we're progressing to family vacations, starting with a 1991 trip that (I think) started in New Jersey, progressed to Ontario, and then back to Washington, DC. Even if we didn't go to New Jersey in 1991, we did the next year, and that doesn't change #13-#15.
#14: Delaware - The only state in which I've been to every county. Granted, there are only three counties in Delaware, but still.
#15: New Jersey - I remember the three of us picking up my dad in Princeton on the 1992 trip, and then continuing on. Or was it 1991? Or both? Either way, New Jersey is #15.
#16: Connecticut - Part of a 1992 vacation to Maine and Montréal.
#17: Massachusetts - Why didn't we drive through Rhode Island, just to do it? Oh well.
#18: New Hampshire - One of my aspiring trip goals is to drive to the top of Mount Washington, and then to get the bumper sticker that says, "This car climbed Mount Washington".
#19: Maine - Fourteen years later, this is definitely a state I'd like to re-visit.
#20: Vermont - en route to Montréal. I went back in 2003 for Spring break. In case you were wondering where Florida residents go for Spring break, they go north. (Well, we did, at least.)
#21: Alabama - Now, onto the 1993 Grand Canyon trip. This trip will kill a lot of states. Florida borders two states, and I didn't get to the second one until #21, which I think is odd.
#22: Mississippi - We stayed overnight in Tupelo on our first night of the 1993 trip.
#23: Arkansas - Our first destination along the way was Hot Springs, Arkansas. I don't remember much about it, except there was water, and it was hot.
#24: Oklahoma - In my entire lifetime, I've only spent a total of 6 hours here, and that was plenty.
#25: Texas - but only the panhandle. Airports aside, I still have never been to Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, El Paso, or anything anywhere down there.

to be continued...

Today's random thoughts:

1) There are two types of faucets - the type with separate dials for hot and cold, and the type with a single multi-dimensional dial that controls both flow and temperature. Naturally, I much prefer the single dial, because it's easy to get the temperature you want. Use a single-dial faucet a couple times, and you already know what direction you need to point the dial/lever to get your desired water temperature. This is much harder to do with separate dials, because not only are there two dials, but it's hard to remember how far you need to turn each one to get your temperature. Why do they even make two-dial faucets? Maybe I should take a Sharpie and mark my optimal temperature settings on the dials. Now, my shower faucet is a different animal altogether - two dials, but one controls flow, and one controls temperature. And, I can leave the temperature one still as I turn the shower on and off. I'm a fan.
2) A few months ago after I first shaved off the goatee, I added "shaving cuts" as a stat in by-the-numbers, thinking I would cut myself a lot since I was out of practice in the chin area. I cut myself multiple times the first few times I shaved, but I didn't start the stat until later. Two or three weeks after I started it, I only had one total cut, so I removed the stat because it was stale. Well, it was a long time coming, but cut #2 just happened last night. (A "cut" requires the use of a toilet-paper-like substance to stop blood flow.)
3) Speaking of shaving: I've determined that I need to shave every 36 hours. I do this with a 3-day rotation. On day 1, I do not shave. On day 2, I shave in the morning. On day 3, I shave in the evening. How do I remember which day it is? It's a simple formula, really: day_type = day_of_month mod 3. (0 is day 3.) Today is the 13th, so 13 mod 3 = 1 --> No shave. Yesterday was an evening shave, because 12 mod 3 = 0.