Tuesday, October 31, 2006


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Happy Halloween!

So, what do I think about Halloween? Well, generally, I think it's a good thing. But like most holidays, it's kind of taken on a life of its own, independent of what the holiday was originally intended to be a few hundred years ago. You can get a history of Halloween with a quick Google search, so I'm not going to touch that. Instead I'm just going to talk about some things.

One thing that I find interesting about Halloween is the separation between the way kids celebrate it, and the way adults celebrate it. Kids go trick-or-treating; adults go to parties. When does the transition from trick-or-treating to partying take place? This varies from person to person, but the median age is probably around 14. Now, a Halloween party for high school freshmen isn't the same thing as a Halloween party for college students, but same general idea - trick-or-treating isn't fun anymore, so people need something else to do. Another distinction between trick-or-treating and partying is that parties aren't always on Halloween night; they are often over an adjacent weekend. Trick-or-treating, however, requires the coordination of both givers and receivers, and thus can only be performed on Halloween night. Maybe it's just me, but trick-or-treating isn't as prominent as it used to be, due to safety issues. I think that's sad.

Halloween parties and trick-or-treating can be completely independent of the "scary" theme. I guess Halloween is based on "scary", right? Well, in addition to the costuming and the candy and the parties, people can participate in many "scary" activites prior to Halloween, such as a haunted house, or "scary" events at theme parks, and so on. These events usually go on for at least the entire second half of October.

Also associated with Halloween: pumpkins. I'm not sure why (and I don't really care...no need to link me to a page explaining the relationship), but with the orange color and the ability to make scary faces, it makes sense. October is also a time for pumpkin-flavored merchandise. At a restaurant we went to last weekend, they had pumpkin-flavored pancakes. I don't know if they have them all year - I'm guessing no. But you can get pumpkin-flavored anything this time of year. (Well, not anything. You probably can't get pumpkin-flavored cauliflower, for instance. But you know what I mean.) The one pumpkin-flavored thing that seems to last beyond Halloween is pumpkin pie. Pumpkin pie is often enjoyed at many holidays, such as Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pancakes? Not so much.

One word about Halloween candy - specifically candy corn. Does candy corn make an appearance anywhere except Halloween? Maybe some people out there actually like it. Personally, I think there's a good reason candy corn only comes out on Halloween - it sucks. When I trick-or-treated as a kid, I was always a little insulted when someone gave me candy corn. I don't want that crap. Give me chocolate! Waaah! I'm not sure if anyone will be trick-or-treating by my apartment, but just in case, I'm going to have some Reese's Fast Breaks at the ready, in an attempt to spread the goodness that is the Reese's Fast Break to the youth of Raleigh (Cary). If nobody comes, oh well - I'll have a bunch of Reese's Fast Breaks left over. Yum!

What do people enjoy most about Halloween? Costumes? Candy? Scary things? Partying? Carving pumpkins? I think the breadth of Halloween is what makes it such a unique holiday. No matter what you consider to be an enjoyable activity, Halloween has something for you. It also allows you to do things you can't do the rest of the year, like dress in funny-looking costumes or drink pumpkin-flavored milk. (I don't know if there is such a thing as pumpkin-flavored milk, but there might as well be.) And for the record - what's the best Halloween costume I've ever seen? A few years ago at FSU, I saw someone dressed as the "Whammy" from the game show Press Your Luck. (The original Press Your Luck - not the new GSN version.) Stop at BIG BUCKS! $5000 and a spin! (Hey, there's an idea for a future post topic: 1980s game shows. Yeehaw!)

And by the way - it's only 715a, and I've already heard the song "Monster Mash" twice this morning on two different radio stations.

Today's random thoughts:

1) Technology is always changing and advancing. Lots of things like VCRs were once revolutionary, but are now outdated. So, I ask you this - when will email become outdated? I think it will be a while, because I don't think the internet is going anywhere. But hey, maybe someday, someone will come up with a better way to send computer messages.
2) I don't know about you, but when I say "daytime running lights", I emphasize the word "running". Daytime running lights. That seems strange to me - as if there is another kind of daytime lights. Daytime walking lights?

Monday, October 30, 2006

"Country Roads, Part 1"

How many blog posts can I get out of last weekend? Two? Three? More? I'm going to get all I can, although tomorrow's post will be unrelated. Today, I'm going to start with a discussion of all the run roads we took.

First off, a little "setup". Amber and I met in Staunton, VA for the weekend, because it's about halfway between State College and Raleigh (Cary). (Actually, Harrisonburg might be a little closer to halfway, but whatever.) I think we both felt we could use a weekend in the mountains away from either of our respective residences. If nothing else, we could go for some scenic drives through the fall foliage of the Appalachians. Usually, our "random drives" have at least one destination in mind. Once we reach the destination and accomplish our main objective, it's "game on" - no matter what happens at this point, our journey was successful, because we accomplished our main objective.

So, where did we go? Here is a map of Saturday's drive:

Let's go "label-by-label":

#1: We started at the Microtel Inn in Staunton. (By the way, Staunton is pronounced "STAN-ton", not "STAWN-ton".) This hotel had free cookies!

#2-#3: The primary objective of this drive was the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, WV (located at #3). (Descriptions of the places we went will come later in the week; today I'm just going to talk about the drives.) The purpose of #2 is to denote the route we took to get there. Our two options were to take US-250 a little more, but instead we took some state roads, mostly because we were stuck behind a slow car, and the slow car took US-250. This can be said about most of the roads we took, but these mountain roads were very intense and loads of fun. I did all of the driving on Saturday, and I can say without exaggeration that I had more fun driving on Saturday than I have ever had driving. US-250 and US-33 between Virginia and West Virginia have long been on my road trip "wish-list", and I took them both in the same day!

#4-#5: Having accomplished our main objective, we weren't exactly sure where we were going at this point, so we took a side road and a minor detour from US-250. We ended up on a road that is literally called "Back Mountain Road". We weren't on it for long, unfortunately - it just took us right back to US-250. But if we had turned the other way...

Somewhere between #5 and #6: I couldn't find the specific road in which we did this on the map, but we took another side road to investigate a train ride called the "Salamander". We found the "ticket booth", and even though it was empty, all indications were that the train was running - a schedule was posted, and a large bus was parked nearby. The next train wasn't for another couple of hours, so we decided to eat first, and then if we had time, maybe come back and hop on a nice, relaxing train ride. We never came back. Oh well.

Also between #5 and #6: We were hungry and looking for lunch at a random small-town restaurant. But as you can imagine, there isn't a whole lot to speak of in this area, and what they do have is kind of shady. But in Dailey, WV (between Mill Creek and Beverly on the map), we did find a small-town restaurant called Donivan's that actually looked pretty nice. Just after 100p, we were their first customers of the day. It was pretty nice - and cheap! So what if my "chicken burger" was nothing more than a Tyson chicken patty? We could play checkers while we ate! Sweet.

#6: Hmm, let's start heading back in the general direction of Staunton. Why not take US-33, the other "fun road"?

#7: And let's stop at this "Seneca Rocks" place along the way. This place looked almost like something you'd see out west - a jagged, rocky mountaintop, much unlike the smoother tree-lined mountains you see everywhere. (Yes, eventually, I am going to get a digital camera.) But perhaps the most important thing that came out of this stop was a trip to the visitor center. Apparently, the highest point in West Virginia is nearby, and you can drive to it! Sweet!

#8: I wasn't sure what the road to Spruce Knob (WV's highest point) would be like, but it started off paved and nice. Eventually it turned to dirt/gravel. Oh well - my car made it, even if it is now very dirty. I'm looking forward to the next rain event so it will wash my car, although it looks like the next rain might not be for a while. At least the paved portions of the drive were fun. (The key is this: Don't look down.) Later in the week, I'll talk about Spruce Knob, and states' highest points in general.

#9-#10: It was pretty late in the day at this point, so it was time to head back. US-33 did not disappoint. Weee! Even though we were kind of tired, we weren't about to jump on the interstate. I attempted to follow CR-613 down to Staunton, but Virginia county roads (a.k.a. secondary roads) are really hard to follow. They turn every which way, and usually without much advance warning. (And the numbers are confusing - they're mostly in the 600s and 700s.) I missed a turn for 613 and ended up on 727, which took me back to US-11. No big deal; we just took US-11 back to Staunton. Let me say this about Virginia roads, however - they are top notch. Even the obscure county roads are in good shape, and they're marked well (even if they are hard to follow sometimes). Virginia also does a great job with the US highways - many of them are four lanes, and include expressways around cities. US-29 in particular is a terrific route with little drop-off from interstate driving. And I saw hardly any construction all weekend! What do you think of that, PennDOT?

#11: I don't know why I bothered with this, considering you can't see it on the map, but we stopped for dinner in downtown Staunton at this place called the Depot Grille. I think the atmosphere was better than the food, personally. But sometimes I'll trade food quality for the atmosphere. The food certainly wasn't bad - I'd call it average.

#12: Back to the hotel. Wee, that was fun!

This drive was somewhere between 250 and 300 miles. I was going to talk about Sunday's drive in today's post also, but this post is already at an acceptable length, so I'll push it back. Here's the preliminary post schedule for this week:

Tuesday - Considering that tomorrow is Halloween and all, I'll tell you what I think about Halloween.
Wednesday - A map and summary of Sunday's drive.
Thursday - A more-specific retelling of some of the things we did last weekend. (Specifically, Saturday's telescope and Sunday's corn maze.)
Friday - I've been to the highest point in four states. A new-ish goal of mine is to get to all of the ones east of the Mississippi. Can I do it? I don't know if it's even plausible, so I'll do some research and let you know on Friday.
Saturday - Depending on what I do this weekend, I might give you another "college football Saturday" post. If not...I'll think of something.

No random thoughts today, because I'm not really feeling it today. Hopefully tomorrow, some will hit me.

Friday, October 27, 2006

"Lost: Season 1"

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WARNING: Spoilers - If you don't want to know what happens in the first season of Lost, you probably shouldn't read this post. (There is also a reference to events that have taken place on 24, so I suppose the same goes for the first season of 24.)

Why wouldn't anyone want to know what happened in an old season of a TV show? Well, I didn't want to know, because I knew eventually I would get around to watching it, and I didn't want to make the same mistake I made with 24 (i.e. finding out Jack's wife died at the end of Season 1 before I actually watched it). What's with the name Jack, anyway? It's hard to single out a "main character" in Lost, but I guess it could be Jack, if you had to name one. But Jack is definitely the main character in 24. I guess Jack is a basic male name that isn't all that common, so it makes a good name for a character on a television show.

But getting back to Lost, I just finished watching the first season, and I'm going to talk about it, all the while making comparisons to 24. I probably shouldn't compare Lost to 24 - they are different shows altogether. But I'm still tempted to compare, because they are both "continuation" shows with devoted followings. That's why I wanted to get into Lost - it was supposed to be a good show, and I like the idea that tragedy can strike anyone at anytime. Not so on 24 - you know Jack Bauer isn't going to die. But that doesn't mean the writers can't make him suffer endlessly. That's another thing I should mention - when I watch fictional TV dramas, I always watch it with the frame of mind that it is fiction, a bunch of people in a room made it up, and the people aren't real. So I think that justifies rooting for characters to be tortured and killed. Watching people suffer isn't that enjoyable at the time, because they make it look genuine - but that's why I always keep the "fiction" in mind. It's fake. They're acting, and getting paid handsomely for it. As soon as the show ends, none of the characters exist anymore. This probably isn't the most enjoyable way to watch shows for most people, but it is for me, especially when people make illogical decisions. Often times, when someone makes an illogical decision on a TV show, it's not because that's what someone would do in a realistic situation - it's the decision that is best for the show. The writers' obligation isn't realism; it's what is best for the show. So yeah, it is quite convenient that a plane split into two, crashed on a large Pacific island with other people, things, intrigue, and a supply of food and water, and that no unattractive women or people over 60 survived. How convenient! Well...as for the character distribution, I realize there are other people on the island that don't get any airtime, which is too bad, really - you know their fate is sealed. That high school teacher's death (Arzt, I think his name was) was quite predictable, and quite spectacular. The writers purposely made him an infrequent, entertaining, yet expendable character. I think his death was the highlight of the entire first season. Boom! Haha. (See what I mean? It's only funny because it's fake.)

That's one thing that I am a little disappointed with, so far - I expected more death. Only one central character got the boot during the entire first season. Boring! I guess there aren't enough central characters to start killing people randomly. What they should have done is double the initial number of "central characters", knowing that many of them would not survive the first season, but giving the audience no indication of which ones would survive and which would not. Oh well.

(Side comment: several years ago when I first heard about Survivor, I didn't know it was a reality show at first. I thought it was fictional drama, much like Lost, with one caveat: one character dies at the end of every episode. Really, that's what I thought Survivor was at first before I watched it. So, I was a little disappointed when I actually watched it for the first time. But really, how sweet would a TV show be if someone died at the end of every episode?)

So, anyway - what do I think of Lost? Let me first say that I think it's an enjoyable show. It's not as enjoyable as 24 - there is too much "dead time" in Lost where not much happens, and the focus of the show is just on personal stories of interest...eh. I guess they're vital to the show, but they don't always make for interesting television. However, one thing Lost does have over 24 is a little extra unpredictability. In 24, you know Jack is going to survive, and save the world while he's at it. In Lost, you have no idea what is going to happen. There is no such inevitable conclusion, except that they'll still be stuck on the island for a while longer. At least, I knew that about the first season - who knows what's going to happen over the long run. So when those guys sailed away on their raft at the end of the Season 1, I knew something was going to go wrong - I was just trying to figure out how the writers decided to do them in. I'm pleased with how they resolved it, but I am curious to find out how they make it back to the island, if they really were 15 miles off-shore when they were...I guess "mugged". I guess I'll find that out. I know at least a couple of them make it back, because I've seen them in commercials for the current season. That's one thing I've had to do now that I've started watching Lost - I can't watch commercials for the new episodes until I catch up, because it gives away information about future events - specifically, who is still around. Before I started watching, I didn't know who anyone was, so it didn't matter if I saw a commercial or not. Hopefully I can get through Season 2 soon so I can catch up. (It's on its way to my apartment in the mail - hopefully I'll get it next week.) As for the new season airing now, I've been recording them on my TLD, so they'll be there for me when I catch up.

A couple more things about Lost. It seems like the show's success is based on the mysteriousness of everything. They have been very careful so far not to tell you a whole lot - to keep you in the dark as much as the island's residents are in the dark. I like that. The audience shouldn't find anything out sooner than the characters do, right? It can be kind of frustrating at times, and seem kind a cheap way to gather prolonged interest in the series, but at least it's realistic. (Then again, maybe the writers don't even know everything yet. Are they making it up as they go?) Also, I can do without all the love stories, but even 24 has them, and that's a much more "manly" show, so I guess I'll live with them.

Closing comments: What do I look for in a fictional TV show or a movie? Two things. Either make me laugh, or keep me wondering what's going to happen. Most shows on TV fail miserably at making me laugh - even Family Guy has exited my TV lineup for the time being. In terms of keeping me wondering what's going to happen, Lost and 24 might be the best two shows on television. There might be better ones out there, but I don't have the time, patience, or motivation to find them, so I'll just stick with the popular ones.

I should mention that for the first Saturday since I started the blog, there won't be a blog post tomorrow. I'll be somewhere in Virginia or West Virginia, where they haven't yet invented the internet, or even computers for that matter.

Today's random thoughts:

1) As mentioned earlier in the week, Daylight Saving Time ends this weekend. And it's about time - I don't like driving to work in the dark. This is always my favorite of the two time changes; getting the extra hour is naturally preferred to losing an hour. But also, the clock in my car will once again be correct. You see, I leave my car clock on Standard Time year-round, partly so I don't have to change it, but mostly just to confuse passengers. So, my car clock has been an hour "slow" since the first weekend of April, but it will now once again be correct. (Speaking of "slow" clocks, I know what the term "slow" means in this context, but "slow" clocks move through time just as well as "fast" clocks, do they not? They're just a little behind. I suppose some clocks are actually "slow" - if you set them to the correct time, eventually they get behind. The clock in 402 Walker is this way. Either that, or someone was moving it back a couple of seconds every day just to mess with me.)
2) Today is the 300th day of the year. Wahoo! I know this because there's a bug in some of the code I use at work that has to do with October 27th. It's easy to work around the bug, so I haven't bothered trying to fix it (and neither has anyone else), but it might have something to do with the fact that it's the 300th day of the year. Who knows.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"A Generic Post About Road Trips, Part 2"

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Continuing from yesterday... (Come to think of it, for reading ease, wouldn't it make more sense to post part 2 first, considering the blog posts are shown in backwards order?)

NC-42, Fuquay-Varina to Sanford, NC: I guess I should include at least one road in the Raleigh/Durham area, right? Well, this is the most fun road I've driven on so far in the area, curving its way from the town with the cool name to an area with two Piggly Wigglys. See, this road is fun and practical.

US-70, Raleigh, NC to the Atlantic Ocean: Hooray 4-lane US highways! The road itself isn't that much fun until you get east of I-95 and the traffic subsides, but any road that takes you to the ocean is kind of cool, because it really feels like you're going somewhere, and eventually you're going to get to the end. I haven't done the very end yet, but it's labeled as "scenic" on my road atlas, so that has to count for something, right?

US-64 in North Carolina: I've already written an entire blog post on this road, but I thought I'd mention it here with the others, even though I've only driven on a small percentage of it. I'm saving this road for later - waiting for a good opportunity to make a weekend out of it.

Blue Ridge Parkway, Roanoke to Waynesboro, VA: This is the only part of the BRP that I've driven on, and of course it was fun. (Actually, wait...I've driven small pieces of it in western North Carolina.) This was also probably the closest I've ever come to a speeding ticket. (If there is such a thing. How do you know if you're "close"?) I was going well over the posted speed limit of 45, because it was fun, and I was in control. But I slowed down to the 45-50 range for a while, saw a cop parked on the other side of the road, and slowed down a little more. Then as I passed by, the parked cop started up again in the opposite direction, never to be seen again. Was he waiting for me? Did they hear about some Saturn going "unsafely fast"? I'll never know.

US-250, Staunton, VA to somewhere in West Virginia: This is coming up this weekend. It looks really intense. Wahoo! (US-33 looks equally fun, but we'll probably save that for another time.)

Any road in West Virginia: Yeah, I could separate these roads, but I've never taken a road in West Virginia I didn't enjoy. Well...almost. I'm getting kind of tired of US-522 through Berkeley Springs. But that's extreme eastern West Virginia - does that count? But besides that, US-19 from Beckley to Sutton (I-77 to I-79) is top-notch fast mountain driving. ("Fast mountain driving" means it's, well, fast - no slow-ish curves. Just watch out for the Summersville speed trap.) But there are many, many mountainous US and state highways that I have yet to travel on. Even the interstates in West Virginia are fun - I-77, I-79, I-68, and probably I-64 too. It's too bad West Virginia isn't on the way from Raleigh to State College.

US-322, State College to Harrisburg, PA: The Lewistown construction is a mess, but other than that, this road is great fun. I always took any excuse to drive east towards Harrisburg.

PA-36, Brookville to Pleasantville, PA: Part of the "back way" from State College to Erie, I had no idea what this road was about. The Clayton River in the Cook Forest is quite a tourist destination. Who knew?

US-62, Oil City to Warren, PA: I've never actually driven this route, but it was the way to the grandparents' house every summer, and as a kid, this was one of the highlights of the drive. (The other highlight was West Virginia, of course.) Eventually we stopped going this way because it was slow - we'd always get caught behind some truck or something. But it was a really nice drive through the forest along the Allegheny River. I would have taken this drive during my time at Penn State if the route wasn't perpendicular to any route from State College.

I'm trying to come up with a good route to take to Staunton, VA tomorrow, but it's going to be raining, so I'll probably just go a fast-ish way, because driving through the rain isn't as much fun.

Today's random thoughts:

1) Some of you may be familiar with NFL "Eliminator" contests. What you do is pick one team to win every week, and if your team wins, you move onto the next week. If your team loses, you're out. And, you can only use each team once during the season. Last year I made it all the way to Week 12 before incorrectly picking Oakland to beat Miami. My success is based on two rules: #1 - Always pick a home team. #2 - Never pick Jacksonville to beat Houston. 36% of the people playing on ESPN.com violated both rules last week, and now they're out; less than 10,000 entries are remaining, including mine. (Hey, at least something good came out of that game.)
2) Parallels between my workplace and the movie Office Space aren't quite as prevalent as they probably are in other workplaces, but there is one thing that's started to bug me lately: the shocking doorhandle. Except it always gets me in the afternoon when I leave - not so much in the morning. Blast!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"A Generic Post About Road Trips, Part 1"

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I do a lot of driving, and I enjoy it. I think I've done enough driving up and down the east coast so that I've earned the right to write a blog post about some of my favorite drives. This is in some kind of geographical order, from Florida to Pennsylvania. I'll get through western North Carolina today. I could probably make one post out of this if I wanted to, but I don't really have any pressing topics to write about tomorrow, so...eh.

US-301, Starke to Ocala, FL: 4-lane US highways might be my favorite roads to travel. You get to go fast, you can pass easily, and you get to drive by a bunch of cool stuff that you don't see on interstates, like towns for instance. Florida roads are generally pretty flat, but this one is actually kind of hilly, through the gently rolling hills of North Central Florida. And taking this road is practical, too - it's the fastest way from Jacksonville to Tampa. Sure, there are a couple of speed traps, but this was always my favorite road to drive on in Florida.

GA-94/FL-2, St. George to Fargo, GA: I enjoyed this drive because it's obscure, not far from Jacksonville, and a fairly nice and wide-open road through the swamp. And, it goes straight through the "tongue" of Georgia - possibly the most desolate area of the state. Charlton County represent!

FL-A1A, Jacksonville Beach to Cocoa Beach, FL: The drive itself really wasn't that enjoyable, but I just enjoy the fact that I did it, driving near the coast halfway down the state. It took five hours to to get from Jacksonville Beach to Cocoa Beach. I took I-95 on the way back, and it literally took half the time. The moral of the story is: FL-A1A is slow. (Why is it called "A1A" and not just "1"? Florida's state road numbering system dictates it should be "1", but they named it "A1A" so people wouldn't confuse it with US-1.)

US-27, Mayo to Tallahassee, FL: Another 4-lane US highway; I remember going this way as part of an "alternate route" from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. There isn't a whole lot on this road, but I think this is where I reached my personal top speed as a driver: 92 mph. (It was either this road or CR-108 in Nassau County, FL - the only two times I've eclipsed 90.)

SC-11, Upstate South Carolina: This road even has its own name - the Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway. The mountains of South Carolina aren't that impressive on their own, but they are the closest mountains to Florida, so that always gave them much higher prominence in my book. (And by the way, unlike with New York, there is no such debate as to where Upstate South Carolina is located - Greenville, Spartanburg, and vicinity. "Up" actually refers more to altitude than it does to northernness, because Rock Hill and Florence aren't "upstate".)

US-276, Travelers Rest, SC to Waynesville, NC: Just look at this road on Google Maps. Isn't it intense? I haven't driven any of it, but I've ridden on a large percentage of this section of road, and oh yes - the maps don't lie.

US-23, Waynesville, NC to Gainesville, GA: I went this way on my way to Atlanta for the AMS conference last January. It didn't add too much time, and it was definitely worth it, even if it was mostly at night. The road wasn't very intense for a road through the mountains, but it was just interesting to go that way to Atlanta. Who needs I-85?

I-40, Asheville, NC to Knoxville, TN: Generally, interstates are only interesting if they go through the mountains. I realize I-40 through the Smokies doesn't compare to I-70 through the Rockies Colorado, but hey, it's good enough. This is the most fun interstate I've driven on to date.

I-26, Asheville, NC to Johnson City, TN: This road is pretty much I-40's "little sister", but it's still nice in its own merit. And I've done driven it many more times than I-40. The section south of Asheville is nice too, but...eh, it's still just an interstate.

More tomorrow. (I thought "to be continued..." was a little too over-dramatic for this post.)

Today's random thoughts:

1) A while back, I had a discussion about firefly colors that I sprawled out over many random thoughts. Eventually I concluded that I saw two different colors (green and orange), and that which color I saw depended on whether I was looking straight at it, or if I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Well, it turns out that there are different firefly colors, and it doesn't depend on my perception - it depends on...umm...something to do with which females are in gestation? I forget exactly. (Amber?)
2) I have a new favorite diet soda: Diet Cheerwine. Cheerwine, like Sun Drop, is another southern product in the same part of the soda aisle. Cheerwine is more like a black cherry soda than anything else. But it's really interesting that I like Diet Cheerwine so much, considering I never really liked regular Cheerwine much at all. Hmm.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

"Piggly Wiggly History"

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Yesterday, I was trying to think of good post topics for the rest of the week. So for at least the next two days, I'm going to rely on a couple of favorites: grocery stores and road trips.

I've made note of every Piggly Wiggly I've ever been to, which should come as no surprise to you. I've alluded to this before, when I talked about my three classifications of Piggly Wigglys - nice ones, dumps, and in-betweens. Today, I'm going to talk about all of my Piggly Wiggly adventures, and provide some backstory for each (as much as I can remember), as only the History Channel can bring you.

The most logical place to start would be my first Piggly Wiggly experience, which I think was in early 2002:
- Ashburn, GA (in-between): Ashburn is located along I-75 between Macon and Valdosta. The main purpose of this trip was to visit nearby Sycamore. But Sycamore is rather pathetic, so we drove north to the slightly-larger town of Ashburn so I could look for generic strawberry soda at whatever grocery stores they had there. If you can imagine me excitedly saying "Piggly Wiggly?!?!" as I spotted this place, that's pretty much what my reaction was. And thus, the Piggly Wiggly saga began. (Their strawberry soda is pretty good, by the way.) I also remember light flurries in the parking lot, which for a Floridian is a big deal.
- Apalachicola, FL (in-between): I'm not sure which Piggly Wiggly was #2, but it might have been Apalachicola. Apalachicola isn't the closest Piggly Wiggly to Tallahassee, but it's the most fun drive - US-319 through Wakulla County and along the Gulf. Wahoo!
- Blountstown, FL (in-between): Blountstown is the closest Piggly Wiggly to Tallahassee, about 50 miles away. I'm pretty sure every trip I made to this one was exclusively for Piggly Wiggly.
- Sneads, FL (nice one): Same thing with the Sneads Piggly Wiggly, which is about the same distance as Blountstown. Sadly, this one closed, but according to Erik, they're building another one. That's good to hear, even if I'm not going to be anywhere near Sneads anytime soon.
- Darien, GA (nice one): A quick break from the Tallahassee-visited stores; I made some Piggly Wiggly trips from Jacksonville too. Darien (just north of Brunswick) is the closest Piggly Wiggly to Jacksonville, 75 miles away or so. It's a "short" drive up I-95, and boy, is it worth it. This is one of the nicest Piggly Wigglys I've been to.
- Nahunta, GA (dump): Sadly, the same cannot be said for this Piggly Wiggly. Hey, you win some, and you lose some.
- St. Simons Island, GA (in-between): St. Simons Island is kind of a "rich people area", so I had high expectations for this Piggly Wiggly. I was a little disappointed that it was only an "in-between".
- Atlanta, GA [Cleveland Avenue] (dump): Here's a general rule of thumb regarding Piggly Wigglys. Most of them are in small towns, not urban areas. The ones in small towns are often nice. But the ones in urban areas are almost always dumps, because they're old. That's because for the most part, they aren't building new Piggly Wigglys in urban areas. There are some exceptions - in some cities, Piggly Wiggly has a strong presence. Columbia, SC is an example. But Atlanta is not one of those cities. (By the way, the purpose of the Atlanta trip wasn't Piggly Wiggly. Not quite.)
- Pelham, GA (dump): Piggly Wiggly has a fair presence in southwestern Georgia, so one day, I thought I'd check out a couple of them. The one in Pelham was quite pathetic, however. It probably didn't look much different 50 years ago.
- Donalsonville, GA (in-between): This was the same trip as the Pelham trip, and was a little better.
- Port St. Joe, FL (nice one): I almost forgot about this one. I was very impressed with this store. Any Piggly Wiggly with its own website has earned my respect. This Piggly Wiggly was also the first sighting of the mystical Mr. Pig soda. I literally gasped when I saw it. I bought two bottles. One is still unopened.
- Irmo, SC (nice one): Irmo is a suburb of Columbia, SC, where Piggly Wiggly is well-represented and still growing. This store must have been fairly new. It was visible from I-26, so of course, we had to stop.
- Sanford, NC (in-between): Now we've moved on to the North Carolina stores I've visited since my move. If you've been with my blog since the beginning, this is old news for you, but this store wasn't a planned visit. I was actually going to the Broadway store, but happened to pass by this one along the way. This store was kind of a disappointment because it looked very much like an old Winn-Dixie, but I didn't expect it at all, so I can't complain. It's listed on the Piggly Wiggly store directory after all...I just didn't do my research.
- Broadway, NC (dump): The afore-mentioned Broadway store. This one is small, dumpy, and quite pathetic - just like the town in which it sits.
- Kinston, NC [NC-11/NC-55] (in-between): This is one of five Piggly Wigglys in Kinston alone. Are visits to the other four in my future? Probably.
- Richlands, NC (nice one): This store visit was just this month, so no need to recap it again.

So, there you have it. (How's that for a generic "end of post" sentence?) I've been to 16 Piggly Wigglys in 4 states. I'll keep you posted as I continue to add to my collection.

Today's random thoughts:

1) I have what I think is an impressive collection of college hats. I was going to devote an entire post to talk about them, but I don't think I can get more than a paragraph or two out of it, so here it is. Most of the hats are $5 hats I purchased at gas stations on the road. The original idea was to get "regional" hats depending on where I was - example: my first hat purchase was a Virginia Tech hat, about 30 miles away from the Virginia Tech campus. (This was in March 2003.) Eventually I bought more hats. It's been a while since I've added to my collection (maybe this weekend?), but here's what I have right now (in alphabetical order): Arizona, Auburn, California, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Iowa State, Memphis, NC State, Penn State, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest. I also used to have an Arizona State hat.
2) Speaking of NC State: While their football and basketball teams may be annual disappointments, NC State fans can take solace in this. Last weekend, NC State won the national collegiate bass fishing tournament. Congratulations, national champs!

Monday, October 23, 2006

"The Demolition Derby"

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Where did I spend my Friday night? At the demolition derby. You betcha. This blog post is going to write itself.

For the last two weeks, ending yesterday, Raleigh was home to the North Carolina State Fair. State fairs are generally fairly redneck in nature. ("Hey buddy", if you will.) But this wasn't just any state fair...this was the North Carolina State Fair. Oh yeah. The fact that they had a demolition derby tells you everything you need to know. (They also had a tractor pull.) All state fairs are pretty much the same, though - the same kinds of rides, an incredible food lineup ("Gits yer ham biscuits!"), goats and cows, and so on. But I bet many state fairs don't have a demolition derby.

I had never been to a demolition derby before, so I had no idea what to expect. I bought my ticket ($7), got my seat, and was greeted with a dirt "track" (not really a track - more like a designated "hitting area"), and many beat-up cars waiting for action. Just the sight of all these cars was enough - severely-dented doors and fenders, and spray-painted numbers and "advertisements". (I doubt Pabst Blue Ribbon was actually sponsoring one of the cars, but there was a PBR Racing car. And by that, I mean someone spraypainted "PBR Racing" onto the side of the car.) Some of the cars actually looked kind of nice...but that didn't last, of course.

There were about 30 cars waiting outside the track. I think my first question was, "How are they all going to fit onto the track at once?" Well, they didn't all go at once - they went 7 or 8 at a time. Silly me. Shortly after 700p, the over-excited track announcer got us ready ("Get ready for mayhem! Mayhem! Mayhem!" - sadly, he didn't actually say that), and then the first few cars moved onto the track for the start.

Perhaps I should go over the rules and regulations. First off, the way a heat starts is with every car parking nose-first towards the "wall". Then they say go, and everyone jumps in reverse. The main strategy in a demolition derby is to hit with the rear of the car. Who cares if you beat up the trunk? All the important stuff is in the front of the car. But that didn't stop some people from just going head first into everybody. Hey, more power to them. But in a demolition derby, the key is survival. The last car (or two) left at the end wins. So why don't you just park your car aside and let everyone else have at it? Because you have to hit a car every 60 seconds. If you go more than 60 seconds without hitting someone, you're out. Also grounds for disqualification are drivers-side hits (for safety), and if you catch on fire twice. (The first fire is okay. The second one, and you're done.) A bunch of cars smoked (in an impressive variety of gray shades, I must say), but I only saw one actual fire.

The derbies (that word doesn't look right) themselves were, well...pretty much what you'd expect. A bunch of cars running into each other. Some hits were actually quite impressive, particularly in the "upper class" later heats. Words really can't do this justice. (Yeah, I should work on getting that digital camera.) It was almost like I wasn't actually watching this in person - it was hard to believe this was happening right in front of me. The crowd reactions definitely added to the atmosphere, with the biggest crunches followed by your standard "Ohhh!" reactions. And don't forget about the track announcer, either - he could spit out catch phrases with the best of them. Late in each heat, it got even better, as cars struggled to drive around the track at all, with wobbly tires and smoking radiators. This was redneck fun at its best.

But wait, there's more! This demolition derby even had a fight! Let me set it up. When a fire (or possible fire) erupts, the safety officials blow their blowhorns to stop everybody. But evidently, it's hard for some of the drivers to hear the blowhorns. One time, one guy just kept on hitting someone else. Then, once he stopped, this guy came from who knows where and started swinging at him. (The drivers were wearing helmets, so I don't know if this was the best strategy.) I don't know where this guy came from or who he was, but another guy followed him in and played defense. Then a handful of cops came out of nowhere and were on the offenders instantly. I didn't notice any cops prior to this, then all of a sudden, they appeared. (I guess that's their job, right?) The fight instigator was handcuffed and taken into custody (I would assume).

This demolition derby had it all. I would highly recommend it. Only missing are the obnoxious commercials you get for monster truck rallies. ("Kids' seats are just FIVE BUCKS!")

Today's random thoughts:

1) This coming weekend is the time change, back from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time. So let me take this opportunity to make a distinction: the official name is "Daylight Saving Time", not "Daylight Savings Time". A subtle difference, but think of it this way. What does this "time" do? It saves daylight. That makes it "daylight saving" time. But "Daylight Savings Time" is generally accepted as well, because that's what everyone says. I guess it all goes back to people's tendency to pluralize everything. (Again, I remind you: Eckerd, Ruby Tuesday, JC Penney. All singular.)
2) Florida State wore all-black uniforms in Saturday's game. Yuck. (Well, the team looked just as bad as the uniforms.) Why did they wear black uniforms? Aren't their colors garnet and gold? Yes, they are...but let me venture a guess. It all goes back to Nike. Nike is always trying to sell crap. I saw a lot of fans in the stands wearing black FSU t-shirts with Nike logos on Saturday. (The theme was a "black out" - everyone's trying to copy Penn State, evidently. Often imitated, never duplicated.) So, yeah, they're just trying to sell crap, at the expense of FSU's uniforms. Nike is always pulling this crap in college athletics, and I don't like it. Ugh. Fortunately, Penn State doesn't have this problem, because they're sticking with the uniforms. One of the things I like about college football is the classic uniforms of teams like Penn State. The more Nike screws up other teams' uniforms, the better Penn State's uniforms look.
3) We've had quite a discussion about regional boundaries in Thursday's post comments. Check it out, if you haven't already. (I feel obligated to mention it because ongoing comment discussions often get lost in the mix as new posts come out.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"College Football Saturday #5"

Don't look now, but the college football season is more than halfway over. It's a shame that my favorite sport has the shortest season. Well, I'm going to enjoy it while I can, to the tune of 26 games today. Wahoo!

Time slot 1
Game 1: Illinois at Penn State, 1200p, ESPN2: Apparently, Penn State gets their first-string quarterback back for this game. Great.
Game 2: NC State at Maryland, 1200p, Local CBS: I almost forgot about Maryland. Are they still around? And are they any good? Other than a brief glimpse of that Thursday night game against West Virginia (in which they were clobbered), I don't think I've seen Maryland play this year.
Game 3: Texas at Nebraska, 1200p, ABC: I guess I'll give the ABC game some love. Nebraska used to be one of those "they're really good, so I'm going to root against them every week" teams, but that's worn off by now. In fact, the tables have turned the other way, against Texas. Go Big Red!
Game 4: Michigan State at Northwestern, 1200p, ESPN GamePlan: Can it get any worse for Michigan State? Can it get any worse for Northwestern? (The answer to exactly one of those questions is, yes.)
Game 5: UCLA at Notre Dame, 230p, NBC: I always have a hard time deciding which time slot to put those Notre Dame 230p games. It's too late for time slot 1, but too early for time slot 2. I think I usually just try to even it out. At least, that's what I'm doing this week by putting it in time slot 1.
Game 6: Wisconsin at Purdue, 1200p, ESPN: I can't think of anything to say about this game.
Game 7: Mississippi at Arkansas, 1230p, ESPN GamePlan: This is the first week we've had in a while without a marquee SEC game.
Game 8: Lousville at Syracuse, 1200p, ESPN GamePlan: This is an excellent noon lineup. I'm likely to go all the way down the list.

Time slot 2
Game 1: Boston College at Florida State, 330p, ABC: My "pessimistic fandom" of FSU is in full-swing now. Man, do we suck. But actually, for the first time this season, my Dirty Dawg picks for the week include an FSU win. (And that means we have no chance.)
Game 2: Alabama at Tennessee, 330p, CBS: Like I said, there aren't any huge SEC games this week (at least in comparison to the last three weeks), but this one is decent.
Game 3: Iowa at Michigan, 330p, ESPN GamePlan: Yeah, if Ohio State and Michigan are #1 and #2 (respectively) when they play next month, I guess that would be good for college football. But why does it always have to be these two teams? Why can't the big games involve at least one team that I can root for? Is that so much to ask?
Game 4: Rutgers at Pittsburgh, 545p, ESPN2: Rutgers is still undefeated, but this is their toughest test of the season so far. (Sorry, James.)
Game 5: South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 300p, ESPN GamePlan: Vanderbilt beat Georgia, and Georgia beat South Carolina, so...
Game 6: Washington at California, 330p, FSN South: Of all the college hats I own, California has the second-best ranked college football team. I should wear that hat more often. (My top-ranked hat is Auburn.)
Game 7: Colorado State at Wyoming, 400p, CSTV: It's supposed to be a nice day in Laramie today - 40% chance of rain and snow, high of 36, 15 mph winds. Wahoo!
Game 8: Boise State at Idaho, 500p, ESPN GamePlan: Out of five "college football Saturdays" so far, I've had an Idaho game four times. What's up with that? Do they really have that many fans?
Game 9: Toledo at Eastern Michigan, 300p (joined in progress), ESPN GamePlan: The MAC game of the week, of course.
Game 10: North Dakota State at Minnesota, 330p, ESPN GamePlan: What??? (Actually, I should give some credit to NDSU. Unlike the University of Colorado, they got their nickname right: the Bison.)

Time slot 3
Game 1: Georgia Tech at Clemson, 745p, ESPN: This is the biggest ACC game of the year thus far. I'm really looking forward to this one.
Game 2: Colorado at Oklahoma, 700p, FCS Central: Outside of the first game, this week's late game lineup is pretty bad. Are they trying to get me to watch the World Series?
Game 3: Hawaii at New Mexico State, 800p, ESPN GamePlan: You know it's a bad sign when this is the #3 game. But actually, Hawaii scored 66 points last week, so I have high expectations for this game's entertainment value.
Game 4: Tulsa at Memphis, 800p, CSTV: Tulsa has one of the most nonsensical nicknames in college football - the Golden Hurricane. How can a hurricane be golden? And why isn't it plural? If they are so opposed to plurality, I am curious to know how Tulsa natives refer to Eckerd, Ruby Tuesday, and JC Penney.
Game 5: Fresno State at LSU, 900p, ESPN2: My obsession with Fresno State has worn off. Those 66 points Hawaii scored last week? That was against Fresno State. Sorry, guys...you're just not very good this year.
Game 6: San Jose State at Nevada, 700p, ESPN GamePlan: Between ESPN2 and ESPN GamePlan, I can watch every WAC team in action this week!
Game 7: Utah State at Louisiana Tech, 700p, ESPN GamePlan: ...but that doesn't mean I'm going to.
Game 8: North Texas at Arkansas State, 700p, ESPN GamePlan: It's too bad the Sun Belt game of the week doesn't involve Florida International.

Thankfully, there are two more sporting events in the evening:
NHL Hockey - Carolina Hurricanes at New York Islanders, 700p, FSN South: I'm making an effort to keep tabs on every game the Hurricanes play this year. Considering how bad the late games are, I'm going to put this one up in the #2 spot.
World Series Game 1 - St. Louis Cardinals at Detroit Tigers, 800p, FOX: Every year, the MLB playoffs seem to peak before the World Series even starts. Seems like that's happened again. I think I'll skip Game 1. (At least until I get tired of watching Hawaii v. New Mexico State.)

And, there's actually one more college football game tomorrow: South Florida at Cincinnati, 800p, ESPN. Most college football fans probably aren't even aware, but ESPN has been showing college football on Sunday nights this season. Blasphemy!

Friday, October 20, 2006

"Formula One"

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I figured today was a good day to weave in the Formula One post, for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it's a Friday - not exactly the day for "premier blog posts". But also, the last race of the Formula One season is this weekend.

What is Formula One (abbreviated F-1)? It's a global racing series. Specifically, it's the premier racing series in every country except the United States. (I'm not sure about Canada...F-1 is defintiely more popular in Québec than NASCAR, but I'm not sure about the rest of Canada.) They race open-wheel cars (like the Indy 500) on road courses (complicated tracks with left and right turns). In a lot of countries (especially in Europe), Formula One is the second most popular sport, trailing only soccer. Who'd have thunk it? And much like soccer, Formula One can be pretty boring. Here's a good analogy (using SAT-style notation): football:soccer::NASCAR:F-1. Basically what that means is, F-1 is a boring version of NASCAR. So if you thought NASCAR was boring, then F-1 is probably not for you. Why is it boring? Three reasons. 1) Only 22 cars start each race. NASCAR starts 43. There was even one race last year where all but 6 cars refused to race because of unsafe tires. I bet that was a fun race to watch. (The 6 cars that did race were running a different tire brand.) 2) In F-1, there is a huge gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots". At least in NASCAR, everyone is pretty close, and the 20th-best driver can occasionally get a "fluke win". But in F-1, a "fluke win" is when the 5th-best driver wins. 3) It's really hard to pass on a road course. And given the huge gap in competition, the fast drivers generally qualify up front in anyway, so they just stay ahead for the rest of the race. But when a pass does happen, it's a big deal, because it's so hard. It's actually pretty funny to hear the over-excited announcers when there's a pass for the lead or something.

If Formula One is so boring, then why do I watch? F-1 has a lot of redeeming qualities; let me try to list them. Let's begin with the start of the race. Unlike NASCAR, F-1 does a "cold start" - the cars are stopped on the starting grid, they say "go", and everybody goes, all at once. The start of an F-1 race is fun to watch. It's the easiest time to pass, and the start often results in a big crash. The first minute of an F-1 race is by far the most exciting minute of the race. Because it's so hard to pass, getting a good start is very important, and sets the stage for the rest of the race. If you don't pass someone on the start, even though you're faster, it might take you five laps to pass him, and by then the leader might be several seconds ahead. The start matters. In NASCAR, the start doesn't mean anything, because you know there are going to be a bunch of caution flags during the race. That's another thing about F-1 - most races don't have any caution flags. Even if there's a crash, they usually have a "local yellow", meaning you can't pass anyone in that portion of the track. But the race keeps going. That means you better get off to a good start, because you won't have that caution flag to fall back on.

Because it's so hard to pass, strategy and pit stops are much more important. Strategy? Huh? Well, here's the thing. In most races, you have two options - pit once, or pit twice. Pitting takes time, so you would think pitting as few times as possible would be your best option, but that's not always the case. Fuel comprises a much larger percentage of the car's weight in F-1 than in NASCAR, so how much fuel you're carrying around makes a big difference in terms of how fast you go. So if you pit twice instead of once, you can carry around less fuel at a time than people on a one-stop strategy. You also have newer tires most of the time. It's up to the teams to crunch the numbers and figure out which pit strategy is best. Pit strategy also goes beyond simply the number of stops - when you pit is just as important. If you're stuck behind someone and can't pass, you should pit sooner, so you can come out and (maybe) have a wide-open track. And when the guy pits who was holding you up, maybe he'll come out of the pits behind you. Wasn't that easier than passing the guy on the track?

Another interesting aspect of F-1 is the teamwork. NASCAR has multi-car teams, but the drivers generally work independently on race day. Not so in F-1. First off, every team has exactly two drivers. The premier teams have a designated "#1" and "#2" driver. The goal of the #1 driver is to do as well as possible, of course. But the main goal of the #2 driver isn't specifically how he does, but it's to help the #1 driver do as well as possible. How can the #2 driver help the #1 driver? Well, here's the most basic thing: let's say the #2 driver is leading, the #1 driver is in second, and the race is almost over. Many times, you'll see the #2 driver pull over and let the #1 driver win, so that the #1 driver can get as many points as possible for the drivers' championship. Also, during the race, the #2 driver's job is to hold everyone else up. Ideally, you want your #1 driver in the lead and your #2 driver in second place, running just fast enough so nobody can pass him. (And if you're the #2 driver and you're holding the #1 driver up, you better let him go.) The idea of letting someone else win the race sounds kind of dumb at first, but I like the idea of teamwork. It's all about doing everything possible to win. There is also a team championship (called the "constructors' championship" in F-1 nomenclature) in which the points from both drivers for each team are added together - teamwork doesn't make any difference here, but it's another aspect of F-1 that emphasizes the team aspect.

One thing I admire about F-1 is the talent of the drivers. Driving around an oval track in NASCAR really isn't that hard. But F-1 is a different animal altogether. Not only are the tracks hard to drive, but the cars are lighter and faster, so there is little room for error. You can't make a mistake - one mistake, and you're out of the race. I don't know how these drivers can race around these tracks at the limits of their equipment and not make a mistake for two hours. I have an F-1 video game, and I usually can't go more than four or five laps without making a mistake. It's fun just to watch these guys race around the track, even by themselves.

Who races in F-1? It's an interesting mix of worldwide drivers. Most of the drivers are European. The best two drivers are from Germany (Michael Schumacher) and Spain (Fernando Alonso), respectively. Outside of Europe, there are a couple of Brazilians, a couple of Japanese, an Australian, and even one American (Scott Speed). Yeah, his name is Speed. How lame is that? It's almost like we're watching a Saturday morning cartoon, seeing someone named "Scott Speed" race around the track. He's not very good, either. Now, I mentioned this weekend was the last race of the season. This "last race of the season" is unusual because the drivers' championship hasn't already been clinched. Most years, one driver (usually Michael Schumacher) is so much better than everybody else that he's already won the championship before the last race even starts. That's not true this year, but the only way Fernando Alonso (last year's champion) won't win the championship is if Michael Schumacher wins and Alonso finishes 9th or worse. Good luck, Michael.

Today's random thoughts:

1) Thanks to my page-a-day calendar, I'm really getting tired of Dilbert. The comic quality has deteoriated substantially throughout the year - they're getting rather ridiculous. The calendar had been giving me all of the 2003 comics, but today, a stark change - it gave me one from 1994, with really old-looking drawings. Am I going to get old comics for the rest of the year? I refuse to look ahead; otherwise I would have nothing to look forward to each day other than another dumb comic. I don't think it's Dilbert's fault; I bet every comic strip (other than the Far Side) gets stale in page-a-day form, forcing you to look at it every day for a year. Next year, I'll get a non-comic page-a-day.
2) According to this commerical I just heard, Dollar Tree is your Halloween headquarters. Wahoo!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Oil Change History"

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I got an oil change yesterday. Can I write an entire post about it, and about oil changes in general? That's the plan. (Well, sort of.)

I keep a folded sheet of paper in my glove compartment. Whenever I get an oil change, I write down the date of the oil change and the car's mileage on this sheet, so that I know how long (and how many miles) it's been since my last oil change. (Personally, I don't like those reminder stickers they put on your windshield. They come across as advertisements more than anything. I usually take them off.) I've been keeping this "oil change history" sheet for over three years. I thought I would publish it today, and provide "running commentary".

But first...as I was unfolding the sheet (which I evidently haven't done in quite a while), I discovered that this sheet is actually the sheet they gave me when I worked at Publix in 2002 that lists the aisles in which common items are located in the store. (Or at least the common items that people have the most trouble finding.) Ammonia...9. Apple Sauce...2. Baby Products...4. You get the idea. I forgot about that. Bonus! But now, onto the oil change history.

#1) Aug 17 2003 - 76,945 miles. This isn't the first oil change I ever got with my car; my dad gave me the car in April 2002. But this is when I started the oil change history sheet. Back when I was in Jacksonville every few weeks, my dad used to change my oil for me. August 17th was probably about a week before I went back to Tallahassee for the Fall semester.
#2) Dec 29 2003 - 81,188 miles. Back in Jacksonville for winter break. So this means during the Fall semester, I drove about 4,000 miles. That's nothing compared to what I put on the car now.
#3) Apr 4 2004 - 85,736 miles. Evidently, I put more miles on the car in the Spring than in the Fall. I forget whether that Louisiana trip was before or after this change. At this point I should also mention that my usual oil change goal is every 4,000-to-5,000 miles. Yeah, the "experts" say 3,000 miles, but the experts lowball everything, because they know everybody's going to go over. Kind of like with speed limits.
#4) Aug 15 2004 - 89,839 miles. This oil change was four days before I went up to Penn State. I didn't realize I did that much driving over the summer - I guess all those 32-mile and 16-mile round trips across Jacksonville add up. My mileage rate while living in Jacksonville was remarkably similar to my mileage rate in Tallahassee. Jacksonville is a big city (size-wise), so it's easy to put up a lot of miles just in everyday life. Tallahassee is much smaller and I did much less driving there, but the trips to Jacksonville made up for that. Now I have the best (worst?) of both worlds: I'm in a big city and I'm making long drives out of town.
#5) Dec 6 2004 - 94,348 miles. I almost made it four months after first going up to Penn State, but then again, that time span only included one round trip to Jacksonville.
#6) Mar 10 2005 - 98,776 miles. This one was during Spring Break. (Side comment: to me, it seems appropriate to capitalize "Spring Break", but not "winter break". I guess that's because "winter break" is a generic term, but "Spring Break" is an event.)
#7) May 31 2005 - 102,545 miles. I remember where I was when my car reached 100,000 miles. It was in April 2005, and I was driving east on PA-45 just east of State College towards Lewisburg. I made a lot of trips in the Summer of 2005 (four, in fact) - two Jacksonville (including a stop in Western North Carolina), one Charlotte, and one Lake George (upstate New York). (By the way, I have a discussion of what constitutes "upstate New York" in the random thoughts.)
#8) Aug 13 2005 - 106,503 miles. This oil change took place in Jacksonville. I think the Summer of 2005 was my favorite summer ever. Sure, Summer 2004 had no responsibility whatsoever, but I had a lot of fun in Summer 2005, making lots of fun trips and playing lots of golf. Ah, life as a grad student. (And in the meantime, I also completed about two-thirds of my thesis research, so I was productive too.)
#9) Dec 28 2005 - 111,435 miles. This oil change was also in Jacksonville. My last haircut was the next day. (Yes, I know the date of my last haircut. I wrote it down.)
#10) Mar 8 2006 - 115,951 miles. In Jacksonville, again. Noticing a pattern? (Yeah, but I've only been to Jacksonville once since then.)
#11) Jun 9 2006 - 119,479 miles. This was the day before we took my car to Cedar Point, so I cut it a little short for once (under 4,000 miles). Oil change #7 was also under 4,000 miles, and that was also just before a long drive. This was my last State College oil change. -sniff-
#12) Jul 17 2006 - 122,530 miles. This was my first Raleigh (Cary) oil change. I really cut this one short, because I was driving to State College the next weekend.
#13) Aug 28 2006 - 126,699 miles. The oil change frequency has really picked up since I moved to Raleigh (Cary). Paying for oil changes has been the least of my car concerns...it's starting to get expensive keeping up with everything. Eventually, I'm going to stop caring about maintenance (other than oil changes) and just drive the car until it breaks, and then get a new one. Maybe I'll stop maintenance after I pass inspection next July.
#14) Oct 18 2006 - 131,051 miles. This was yesterday. My next out-of-town trip isn't this weekend (it's next weekend, to Staunton, VA), but I figured I should get the oil change a week early so I could do some normal around-town driving with fresh oil, for once. The last oil change I've had that wasn't within a week of a road trip (or during a road trip) was #5 - almost two years ago. How about that?

Now, some statistics:
- The average span between oil changes is 89 days, or 4,162 miles.
- Since "oil change #1", I've averaged 17,066 miles per year, 1,422 miles per month, 327 miles per week, and 47 miles per day.
- I've had more oil changes on Monday than any other day of the week (4). I've also had an oil change on every day of the week at least once.
- I've had more oil changes in August than any other month (4). I have yet to get an oil change in January, February, September, or November.
- During my tenure at Penn State, I changed my oil in Jacksonville more than I did in State College (4 to 3). Also, I never had an oil change in Tallahassee, going back to when I first got the car.

What's the "over/under" on the date of my next oil change? I crunched the numbers, and I'd say Thanksgiving day (Nov 23 2006) is a good over/under. But once again, I don't encourage betting, even though I made it so there was virtually no chance for a "push".

Today's random thoughts:

1) In my to-and-from work commutes on Tuesday, I encountered not one, not two, but three accidents. The first one occurred in the middle of the night and closed down a portion of I-40 westbound until after 800a, but the closing was after my exit, and the backup started just after my exit. Accident #2 was on my way back on I-40 eastbound along my commute; I heard about it on the radio first and seeked out an alternate route, because I had to make it to my eye doctor appointment. Then on my way back to the interstate (to the first exit after the accident), there was a third accident on one of the side roads that had one of the two lanes blocked. Despite that accident, I am convinced that the route I took was the fastest possible, and I still made it to my eye doctor appointment on time. I don't mean to make light of these accidents, however - the first one involved an allegedly drunk driver and two fatalities.
2) Where exactly is "upstate New York"? It's my understanding that the definition of what is "upstate" depends on where you're from. (Disclaimer: this is information I've gathered from talking to people from various parts of New York. It's probably inaccurate, but oh well. Please comment if you disagree.) If you're from New York City, "upstate" is anything north of you. If you're from western New York (considered "upstate" by NYC), you don't consider yourself part of the "upstate"; "upstate" is Syracuse-Albany and points north. If you're from central New York (Syracuse/Elmira/Binghamton and points in between), you consider yourself part of "upstate", but not Albany; that's more New England than "upstate New York". I'm not sure what Albany thinks; either they agree with western New York, or they think "upstate" is anything north of Albany, excluding Albany. I think the rest of the country generally agrees with NYC - anything north of NYC is "upstate". (The people on the Weather Channel seem to think that way, at least.) Where do I stand? I'd have to go with the western New Yorkers - Syracuse/Albany/points north is "upstate". Maybe that's just the western New York bias my dad instilled in me. But seriously - Jamestown is close to the Pennsylvania border, so how can it possibly be considered "upstate"?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"Eye Exams"

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I had an eye exam yesterday. Can I write an entire post about it, and about eye exams in general? That's the plan.

I had two main motivations for getting an eye exam. It had been three years since my last one, and I think I was due for some new glasses. That, and my insurance covers all but $10 of one eye exam per year, most of the cost of new frames every two years. So, why not? (Having a real job is nice, I must say.) My glasses have gotten pretty warpy over the last three years anyhow. My appointment confirmed that my prescription hasn't changed that much since then, so I didn't need new glasses, but three years is the "rule of thumb" I've followed over the years. I had glasses when I was a kid, but stopped wearing them in 5th grade because I didn't think I needed them. Then in 1997 when I was applying for my learner's permit driver's license, I failed the vision test, and then realized that my left eye couldn't see squat; my right eye was doing all of the work. Oops! Time to get glasses again. Then I got new glasses again in 2000 and 2003. Now in 2006, it's time for a new pair.

While we're on the topic of glasses, the "styles" have defintiely changed over the years. Glasses have gotten smaller and smaller - I'm sure mine have gotten progressively smaller over the last three iterations, although I've been able to maintain the "round" design. But I had to change this time to the more rectangular form. Ugh. But I don't want to be rectangular! Well, there was one circular pair available, but it would have cost me an extra $120. Come to think of it, maybe I should have splurged- it might have been worth it. (These glasses flexed!) But as it is, I'm stuck with rectangulars. (With rounded edges, of course.) The people they have helping you pick your glasses - "optometrists", I think they're called - is their primary job just to provide fashion sense? It seems that way.

I can't talk about eye exams without talking about the glaucoma test. You know what I'm talking about. The test where they blow that puff in your eyeballs. It's short, but...definitely the thing I like least about the eye doctor. (Well, that and getting dilated, but they didn't dilate me this time.) The puff doesn't hurt or anything; I just think I have a hard time dealing with physical "eye contact". Maybe that's why I won't get contact lenses. (Actually, the primary reason for that is because I like having the freedom to take my vision-improvement-device on and off whenever I please.) But I think the glaucoma test could be improved if they provide a countdown. The worst part is sitting there waiting for it, because you don't know when it's going to come. The puff itself isn't so bad; it's just surprising, and because it's your eye, that makes it worse. Well, now it's over, and I don't have to do it again for another year. (I figure I might as well get an eye exam every year, if it's only going to cost me $10.)

I mentioned how I don't like getting dilated. That's probably just because of the whole eye-contact issue. Drops in my eyes...ehhh. I'm a wimp. But here's something else about getting dilated. How about those nifty plastic sunglasses they give you? They're so stylish and cool. (Seriously. I have no reservations about wearing them in public.) It's almost too bad that I missed out on a pair. (I know I could go to some store and get a pair for, say, a dollar, but that's not the point. It's almost like a badge of honor. Wearing them on a random Thursday would be like wearing an "I voted" sticker if you didn't vote.)

This eye exam took longer than normal, because the doctor was trying to work on this "double vision" problem I have when looking close up at things like computer screens; this problem only happens when I have my glasses on. You see, my left eye is "dominant" (meaning it controls the field of vision). However, my left eye also has 20/200 vision. So, with glasses off, I depend on my right eye (which I think is 20/40) to give me clearer vision. In this way, my eyes work together. But when I put glasses on, my left eye vision is perfect, and my right eye isn't needed, so it kind of wanders off and does its own thing. I can live with this; I take my glasses off at the computer anyway, and I don't get double vision when doing something important like driving. I guess it only happens when I'm looking at something constantly for a long period of time. The doctor tried to fix it, but it was so bad and persistent that I'm just going to get glasses that fix it a little bit (via "prism", whatever that is). Hopefully it won't disrupt my normal vision. If so, I can take them back and they'll work on it. But I am kind of anxious to see (literally) what these new glasses will be like, both because of the "prism" and the rectangularity. They're supposed to be ready in a week.

Hopefully that last paragraph wasn't too "diary-like". I've tried to steer clear from that route, but...now that I've made over 100 posts in my blog, I'm just going to write whatever comes to mind.

Today's random thoughts:

1) It's been a while since I've had a good grocery store thought, so here's one. For the longest time, it was, "Paper or plastic?" Now it's, "Is plastic okay?" What if I said no? Do they still have paper bags available? They must, or else they wouldn't ask. "Is plastic okay?" "No." "Well, too bad, because that's all we have." Does anyone ask for paper anymore? During my work tenure at Publix, they did have paper bags available upon request in the same fashion. I rarely bagged, but I remember using them once, but I forget if it was because someone asked for them, or if we were just out of plastic bags. This was four years ago, so I don't know if paper bags even exist anymore. My family used to be on the paper bandwagon back when I was a kid, but at some point, we seamlessly switched to plastic.
2) On my way back from Sunday's Learn to Curl session, I decided to go the "long way" by taking I-540, the currently under-construction "ultra-long beltline". About 16 miles of the projected 50 mile beltline are complete. (Projected completion date: 2030?) It's a fun road - unlike for I-295 in Jacksonville, they had the foresight to give the road 3 lanes in each direction when they originally built the road. This was the second time I've taken I-540; the first time was on the way to my job interview on May 31st.
3) Yesterday, you may have heard that the United States population officially surpassed 300 million people. You may have also heard that this is based on calculated census estimates as to the growth of the United States. With that in mind, of course our population didn't just reach 300 million at that exact time - it was probably well over that due to all those illegal immigrants. But regardless, I found this incredibly addictive. Look at it go!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"The Walking Trip"

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This is another one of those "topics in the queue" for a slow day. It makes me wonder what I'm going to write about for the rest of the week...but I'll think of something. I promise. Even if I'm left with a hackjob post or two, yesterday's post was quite lengthy, so that will make up for it. As for today...

Back in the by-the-numbers days (which are just about over except for miles driven, gas money, and disc golf, thanks to a combination of my AIM semi-hiatus and laziness), I tried hard to think of interesting and creative stats. Late in Summer 2005, I thought of one: walking distance. I did a lot of walking at Penn State, living a short walk from campus and a slightly longer walk to downtown, and also playing frequent golf. But how much walking distance was I accumulating? All I would need to do is wear a pedometer whenever I go somewhere, and it would keep track for me. Sweet! I started this in Fall 2005, the day before classes began (Monday, August 29th).

Midway through the first week, I came up with another idea. Why don't I translate my walking distance to a cross-country trip, and see how "far" I can get? The "first draft" of this trip started in Key West, and I wasn't sure where I would try to go, but I'd just see where the trip took me. But as soon as I realized it would take me several months just to get out of Florida, I decided to do a more practical and shorter trip: State College, PA to Jacksonville, FL. I made this drive semi-frequently (every couple of months or so), and it was an event. I took a bunch of different routes, and I eventually became quite familiar with the drive. So why not take the walking trip on this route? I started in State College, and decided to take the "interior" route to Jacksonville - I-81 to I-77. This trip is 910.3 miles long. How long would it take me to walk that far? About a month into the walking trip, I discovered that I would probably finish the trip within a month of my graduation from Penn State. Perfect! Now I could use the trip to "symbolize" my journey back to Florida (which, at the time, was where I planned on going after graduation).

I kept a web page log of this trip, and Penn State has been nice enough to not delete my web account (yet), so here is a summary of the trip. According to that web page, I finished the trip on the exact date of my college graduation (Saturday, May 13th), but that isn't completely accurate, because the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences actually held their graduation the night before. So I really finished the trip the day after my graduation. But the Saturday of "graduation weekend" is the generally-accepted "graduation date", so I'm satisfied. Close enough, right?

Did I really walk 910.3 miles in 8½ months? According to my pedometer, yes. But is it accurate? Well...I don't know how precise it was, but it gave me a general idea of how far I walked. It doesn't actually measure distance; it measures how many steps you take (based on your vertical movement), which it then multiplies by a stride length set by the user. I set my stride length to 29 inches, even though my full stride length is longer than that, in order to account for those smaller steps that one makes in daily life, such as walking around the office and whatnot. The pedometer provided as good an approximation as I could get. I worked hard to calibrate it with known distances, and 29 inches is the number I came up with. For the sake of the walking trip, I assumed it was 100% accurate, just so I could precisely mark my current location.

How did I manage to walk that far? Well, let's analyze. If I did nothing more than walk to and from Walker Building in a day, that accounted for 2 kilometers (the pedometer measured distances in kilometers for some reason). Every trip to the Water Tunnel building (a.k.a. ARL) added about half a kilometer. A walk downtown for lunch added another kilometer or two, depending on where we went. Disc golf and other downtown trips (Bar Bleu poker, Sports Café trivia, etc) also added a few kilometers each, but the two biggest contributors were golf (10 km per 18 holes) and tailgating on football weekends (~8 km roundtrip to the stadium, plus other walking). Combine all of this together, and there was a lot of walking to be had, and it added up. Even when snow covered the golf course for the season, I still made a weekly walk around town, partly for exercise, but mostly to add up distance.

I've considered doing a new walking trip - maybe a State College to Raleigh trip, since that's my new frequently-traveled drive of choice. But I don't walk anywhere near as much now as I did at Penn State. In any given week, I might not even walk 10 kilometers. Besides disc golf (4 to 5 kilometers on an 18-hole course), how much walking do I do in a week? Not much - besides disc golf, the only non-negligible walking I do on a weekly basis is checking my mail and going grocery shopping. So, it would likely take me over a year to walk from State College to Raleigh. Maybe I should invest in a good bike and do a biking distance trip. Hmm, that's not such a bad idea...

Today's random thoughts:

1) In last Friday's post, I mentioned that it had been almost five weeks since my last trip to Bojangles'. Well, no sooner than the very next day (Saturday) did I end that streak and get my usual 3 piece dinner with fries. This time, I went a total of 34 days between Bojangles' visits, my longest stretch since my move to Raleigh (Cary). How long before the next visit? We shall wait and see. In the meantime, I will mention that there are no Bojangles' anywhere in Cary. I had to drive almost all the way to the NC State campus in Raleigh to find some. What's up with that? (This is the only displeasure I have with the town of Cary so far.)
2) Yesterday was "National Boss Day". Did you know there was such a thing? I didn't, until I got a real job. Ah, the joys of the real world. "Happy Birthday, Mr. Lumbergh..." (Actually, everyone here likes our boss. And I'm not just saying that.)
3) Stalking people update! I don't know if it's just because I was busier than normal at work last week and wasn't as attentive to the people walking outside, but I didn't see "tall guy" or "short late woman" at all last week, and only saw "professional woman" once or twice. Yesterday, however, I saw all three. "Short late woman" was even later than usual, and "tall guy" was wearing a dumb-looking sweater. It had been two weeks since I last saw tall guy. Was he on vacation or something? In any event, it's nice to have him back. The totals are now: tall guy - 35/54; professional woman - 19/24; short late woman - 8/15.

Monday, October 16, 2006

"The 'Learn to Curl' Session"

I'm not letting you skip to the random thoughts today. I mean...this is curling we're talking about.

As promised, here is a well-detailed account of yesterday's "Learn to Curl" session hosted by the Triangle Curling Club. The event took place at the home of all TCC events, the Factory Ice House in Wake Forest. (It's 33m08s away from my apartment, by the way.) I got there kind of early - I didn't want to be late for this. I had no idea how many people would show up for this thing - it could be anywhere from 3 or 4 to over 20. Well, it ended up being over 20. That isn't a bad thing, though - they had plenty of "experienced" curlers available for group instruction. But first, a guy with a strong Canadian accent gave brief introduction to curling, the TCC, and an overview of how the session was going to work. Then, we each picked a broom, and went out onto the ice.

(Just a warning - my writing isn't going to flow very well. Think of it as a little kid excitedly telling his parents about something without stopping to breathe.)

They split us up semi-randomly into five groups of 4-to-6 people, and we each got our own couple of instructors. Lucky me, I happened to draw the club president! Wahoo! I think that gave my group an advantage. So...how does one teach one how to curl? Well, the first thing to learn is balance, considering that curling is played on ice and all. Learning the proper release mechanic and maintaining your balance is the most important thing here. The release is basically a four-step process. 1) Crouch down with your right foot (or left foot if left-handed) on the left (right) step of the "hack" (the footrest you start from), and your opposite foot sliding freely. 2) Move forward slightly, sliding your opposite foot. 3) Step up, then move back, keeping the stone on the ice. (They didn't give us a stone at first - it was important to get the mechanic and the balance down first.) 4) Push off your right (left) foot, and...weeee! Simple enough, right? Well...there are a lot of other things to remember, particularly when you incorporate a stone into the release. Clean off the bottom of the stone first. Aim for where the skip is pointing at the other end. Give the stone the proper turn. (You're supposed to give every stone a rotation, either "in" or "out" - the stone will rotate on its own if you don't, so you might as well control the rotation. The rotation makes the stone "curl" as it moves down the ice.) Don't support yourself with the stone, because you're going to eventually let go on it. Put your weight and balance on your opposite foot. Stay low when you release - it's an easier balance and a shorter trip to the ice if you fall. Release the stone as soon as possible for the most power (unlike the people on television who get much more power off of their release and can afford to slow down and wait to release). Don't slide on your right (left) knee - it'll hurt after a while if you do; instead slide on your opposite foot. Again...simple enough, right? Well, after some more practice in with some actual stone throwing, it didn't quite seem second-nature, but I still didn't have to think as hard and could actually concentrate on things like, you know, power and accuracy. (One quick note - although you can slide on a regular shoe, it's much better to slide using a super-slippery slip-on that you put on your opposite foot's shoe. They had some makeshift ones you strap on. They're really slippery. I don't recommend trying to walk in them, although the people you see on television don't seem to have a problem. But they're a lot more experienced than I am. Not that I fell or anything. Actually, I didn't...at least not with the slippy thing on. More on that later.)

There's one more thing aspect of curling that I haven't mentioned yet - the sweeping. Sweeping should seem pretty simple, right? Well, it would be if this game wasn't played on ice. The trick is to get a moving start with the stone - start a few feet ahead of the thrower, start moving forward as soon as they release. Then let the stone catch up, walking forward steadily (no sudden movements), and sweep away at the direction of either the thrower or the skip. If the stone passes you by, don't worry about it - if you try to speed up, you might fall; besides, if the stone is moving fast, it probably doesn't need any sweeping anyway. Thanks to the sweeping, everybody is involved on every shot - the thrower, the two sweepers, and the guy who provides the aim. The "aim provider" is usually the skip, except when the skip is throwing; then someone else does it. The skip also helps with sweeping towards the end, and they can sweep the other team's rocks once they pass the center of the target. Sweeping is a lot of fun, and it's quite a workout too. See - curling is exercise!

Now that we have the fundamentals down, let's play a quick three-end game against one of the other groups, shall we? Our group was fortunate enough to have exactly four people in it, considering that there are typically four people on a curling team. We semi-randomly chose the "throwing order", and for the first end, I was the "skip", meaning I pointed to where I wanted the throwers to aim (and spin) the stones. No sweeping, unfortunately - in that regard, being the skip isn't a whole lot of fun, but at least you get to "call the game". There wasn't much strategy involved here - we were just trying to get a stone in the target area. Unfortunately, none of our throws did - they were either short, long, or wide. My throws both ended up going straight through the target. Even with the sweeping, it's really hard to get a feel for how hard you need to release off the hack and release the stone. The other team (who won the "coin toss" and had last rock for the first end) scored one in the first end (one stone in the target) for an early 1-0 lead, but we had last rock in the next end. (In a professional match, having last rock and only getting one point is bad - you're better off "blanking the end" and carrying last rock over to the next end. But in a game like this, every point is good.)

In the second end, I went first. I forget what the other team's first throw did, but my first throw was the throw of the match. I almost threw it right to the center (the "button"), but it was almost completely inside the inner circle (the "four-foot"). Who's the man? (Yeah, it was luck - but still. I had the aim right and everything.) So the end of the match pretty much went like this - they tried to knock my awesome shot out, while we tried to put up guards. My second throw was an attempt at a guard, but I left it short of the "hog line" (the line all stones must reach) so it was taken out of play. Oh well - we got a couple of guards up later, and my stone was never taken out. And on the last throw of the end, the skip put another one in the target, giving us a score of two, and a 2-1 lead going into the last end.

For the last end, the other team had last rock, and I was the second thrower. I don't have quite as accurate a recollection of how this end transpired, but my throws were both quite unspectacular - the aim was off, the turn was too much, and I threw them too hard. But that's okay - I already got my super-duper throw in. But this end, the other team made a good throw too (even if it was lucky). We had a stone hovering between the four-foot and the eight-foot(thrown by the first, I think), and they had one just outside of that. Well, the other team managed to knock their existing stone inside of ours, and keep the new stone in the target area (but further from center than ours). Boo! We tried as we might to get theirs out, but no dice. And this is when I fell down, sweeping one of our rocks. I expected the rock to be thrown much harder than it was, so I got off to a fast start, but then I tried to slow down...and, ouch. Fortunately, I'm not sore today. Now, back to the game. The other team had an outside chance of scoring three on the last rock if they knocked ours out and kept theirs in (coupled with their second stone that was further from center than ours), but they didn't execute - I mean, for people like us, any throw is a tough throw to make. But they still ended up scoring one, ending the game in a 2-2 tie. But I feel like we won - I mean, we only had last rock once, and they had it twice. Had this been a real match, we would have gone to an "overtime" end with us having last rock, which would give us the advantage, but we ran out of time.

Then, we went back off the ice and the club president talked about the club and the events that they do. They currently have a league going on right now. They will have more stuff going on in the Spring, and that's when I think I'm gonig to jump in on the action. I probably won't do a league since I spend so many weekends out of town, but one can be a "sub" and play every in the league every once in a while, so I might do that. Or if they decide just to do pickup games, I'll do that. Good stuff.

Now, a couple of other thoughts. I'd like to make a correction to something I said in my August recollection of the Summer Mini-Bonspiel. I said that they spray the ice with water droplets to make the ice surface rough so that the sweeping actually does something. WRONG - the frozen-on-contact droplets actually make the stones travel further by decreasing the surface area contact between the stone and the ice, and thus decreasing the friction. Also, the droplets allow the stones to curl. If we went out there and played on zamboni-fresh ice, the stones wouldn't go as far, and they wouldn't curl. As for the sweeping, I don't think the sweeping has anything to do with the droplets; instead, it creates a thin film of water that is more slippery, and allows the stones to travel further with less friction. In addition, sweeping cuts down on how much the stones turn. So, now that we have that straight, let me also say that it was pretty cold in there. I'm glad I wore pants and a jacket. Oh, and one more thing - even though we lost the coin toss, we got to choose which color we wanted to be - red or yellow. Wahoo! Our team chose red because one of the people in my group was wearing a Red Sox sweatshirt (ugh).

Sometimes, I wish I was born and raised in Canada. It's way cooler than Florida.

Today's random thoughts:

1) I've said this already, but I'd just like to elaborate that the new traffic guy (Robert Hill, I think his name is) on 102.9 FM in the morning is awful and needs to go. I'm glad I only have to hear him when I'm already at work and don't need a traffic report. He would probably make a good regular DJ with all of his useless buzz words and inappropriate word emphasis, but he's the worst traffic guy I've ever heard, and I say that with no exaggeration. I think he deserves a promotion - he should be the new morning show host on another station.
2) This is a random thought in which I would actually like to know the actual scientific answer. What makes leaves turn color in the Fall? How they know when to change color - rapidly decreasing sunlight, or temperature? And why do the leaves on mountainsides change colors at different times?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"College Football Saturday #4"

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I only have 22 games available to me this week. What's up with that?

Time slot 1
Game 1 - Minnesota at Wisconsin, 1200p, ESPN: Minnesota might play for more "traveling trophies" than anyone else. At stake today: Paul Bunyan's Axe.
Game 2 - Wake Forest at NC State, 1200p, Local CBS: How good is that new NC State quarterback, anyway? Or did FSU just make him look good? (And what does it say about the current state of the ACC that I prioritized the Big Ten game ahead of the ACC game?)
Game 3 - Syracuse at West Virginia, 1200p, ESPN GamePlan: Syracuse is much improved over last season. But how much?
Game 4 - Iowa State at Oklahoma, 1230p, FSN South: I don't know a thing about how good Iowa State is this year. But I do have an Iowa State hat.
Game 5 - Rutgers at Navy, 130p, CSTV: Rutgers is still undefeated, right?
Game 6 - Vanderbilt at Georgia, 1230p, ESPN GamePlan: I know this is probably a "down year" for Georgia, but they can't possibly lose at home to Vanderbilt...right?
Game 7 - Purdue at Northwestern, 1200p, ESPN GamePlan: I've been asking a lot of questions so far in this post. I don't have any questions about this game, though.
Game 8 - Iowa at Indiana, 1200p, ESPN2: This is actually the best noon lineup I've had so far, with a Big Ten game all the way down in the #8 slot. (Even if it will probably be a dud.)
Game 9 - Northern Illinois at Western Michigan, 200p, ESPN GamePlan: I guess GamePlan gives me a MAC game every week. How nice of them! (Actually, this game does feature the nation's most-talked-about least-talked-about running back, UNI's Garrett Wolfe. That might make half the game worth watching.)

Time slot 2
Game 1 - Ohio State at Michigan State, 330p, ABC: While today's noon lineup is the best of the season, today's 330p lineup is the worst of the season. I think I might take a break during this time slot. Or watch baseball.
Game 2 - Missouri at Texas A&M, 330p, ESPN GamePlan: Missouri is still undefeated, right?
Game 3 - UCLA at Oregon, 330p, ESPN GamePlan: What will Oregon's uniforms look like this week?
Game 4 - Mississippi at Alabama, 330p, CBS: If it wasn't for ESPN GamePlan, I would have a total of two games available during this time slot, and this is the second one. Boring.
Game 5 - Hawaii at Fresno State, 500p, ESPN GamePlan: I don't know what my obsession is with Fresno State, but every time they're on TV, it seems like they have an intriguing opponent. (Maybe that's why they're on TV in the first place.)
Game 6 - Louisiana-Monroe at Troy, 400p, ESPN GamePlan: Louisiana-Monroe offers an undergraduate degree in Atmospheric Science. Who knew?

Time slot 3
Game 1 - Michigan at Penn State, 800p, ABC: This probably isn't any consolation, but consider if Penn State actually beat Michigan last year. Then PSU would have gone 11-0, and still been the #3 team in the country, except then we would have been pissed about not getting a chance to play for the national title. As it is, PSU went 10-1 and we had no complaints. But there is no consolation for losing to Michigan this year.
Game 2 - Florida at Auburn, 745p, ESPN: War Eagle! If Florida wins the national championship this year, after just winning the national championship in men's basketball, living in Jacksonville would be insufferable. For the sake of every non-Gator fan living in Jacksonville, I hope that doesn't happen.
Game 3 - Arizona State at USC, 800p, ESPN GamePlan: Huge drop-off in game interest after Game 2. USC has been living dangerously - they're bound to lose sooner or later, right?
Game 4 - Oregon State at Washington, 630p, FCS Pacific: An even bigger drop-off to this game. You know it's a bad sign when the #4 game is between a couple of Pac-10 bottom feeders.
Game 5 - Baylor at Texas, 700p, TBS: Baylor actually isn't that bad this year. But they'll still get crushed.
Game 6 - UAB at Rice, 730p, CSTV: I wonder how CSTV decides with Conference USA game they show every week. I doubt this is the most intriguing one.
Game 7 - Florida International at Miami (FL), 700p, ESPN GamePlan: The only way I will turn this game on is if it's close late. But I won't get my hopes up.

Other sports - The 330p lineup leaves a lot to be desired, and the 700p lineup has a huge dropoff after the #2 game. However, there are some other sporting events on Saturday that will enter the rotation.
Time slot 2, Game 1.5 - Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers (ALCS Game 4), 400p, FOX: I've said this before, but I really like how MLB does their postseason. We're already up to ALCS Game 4? Didn't the playoffs just start? (Game 1.5 means this enters the "priority list" between Game 1 and Game 2.)
Time slot 3, Game 2.5 - New York Mets at St. Louis Cardinals (NLCS Game 3), 730p, FOX: A lot of people don't like Joe Buck, but I think he's one of the best play-by-play guys out there. A lot of people really don't like Tim McCarver, but I can tolerate him. And I have no opinion about Luis Gonzalez, except that at least he's not Lou Pinella.
Time slot 3, Game 3.5 - Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL), 730p, FSN South: The defending Stanley Cup champions are five games into the new season, and they just got their first win last night. Tonight's game looks like a good opportunity for win #2, doesn't it?
And, there's also a NASCAR race at 730p on NBC. I've said this before, but NASCAR doesn't belong on Saturday nights; it belongs on Sunday afternoons. So I'm going to record this race tonight on the TLD and watch it tomorrow. I mean, seriously - between playoff baseball and college football (and the fact that it's Saturday night), is this race going to get better ratings tonight than if it were up against the NFL tomorrow? Apparently so; otherwise there wouldn't be so many of these stupid night races.

And finally, I should mention two college games that I won't get to watch today:
- Florida State at Duke, 100p, no television: Tickets start at just $15, so why don't I go and watch the game in person? The way I see it, it's lose-lose, because one of two things will happen. 1) FSU will win big, the game will be boring, and I'll spend the second half waiting for the game to end so I can leave. 2) The game will be exciting, and I'll be pissed, because Florida State v. Duke should not be a close game. I don't care how "bad" FSU is. I think I'd rather just not watch this game at all.
- South Florida at North Carolina, 1200p, ESPNU: Damn you, Time Warner! Give me ESPNU! That's all I have to say about that. (Coincidentally, this is another game that's just up the road from me.)

Enjoy your Saturday!

Today's random thoughts:
1) The other day at a gas station in Raleigh, I noticed something I don't think I've ever seen before on the pump - a gauge for total gasoline output. On each pump there were three separate readings, one for each of the grades of gasoline. And at this particular gas station, there were three pumps in a row, parallel to the street. So I was curious - which grade of gasoline is most popular, and by how much? And which of the three pumps do most people use? Well, here are your answers. For the pump I used, regular unleaded accounted for 82% of total usage; "plus" 11%, and "premium" 7%. That's surprising to me; I thought premium would get more use than plus. I know cars that require premium, but I don't know any that require plus. As for the pump locations, the far pump (furthest down the street, relative to the side of the street that the gas station was on) had 46% of total usage; the first pump 32%; and the middle pump 22%. This is not surprising; people generally try to move to the furthest down pump (as they should), and people also don't like using the middle pump. I think I've talked about the three-in-a-row gas station formation before, actually. (Yep. People are generally afraid of the middle pump.)
2) Just a reminder that tomorrow is the Triangle Curling Club's "Learn to Curl" session. You'll hear all about it on Monday. (I'm trying to keep my expectations in check, but honestly - how could this not be fun?)