Thursday, November 30, 2006

"Disc Golf History"

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As I was writing yesterday's post, I noticed that it's been a while since I've had a "disc golf post". Considering how often I play disc golf, I thought today was a good day to break the drought and write another one. But about what, specifically? I've settled into my once-a-week-after-work disc golf rotation (which now includes the Raleigh course in addition to the two Durham courses and the Chapel Hill course), so that's kind of boring. And I haven't played any new courses since the October 7th drive to Jacksonville, NC. But...I do have this file on my computer called "disc golf.txt". Its contents? It contains how many holes I've played at every disc golf course since May 2004. It also contains my sometimes-alluded-to disc golf rankings, and a list of every disc golf course within 100 miles of Raleigh (Cary). Sounds like a post to me!

Let's start with the list of courses within 100 miles of Raleigh (Cary), because it's the least interesting of the file's three sections. There are 24 courses within 100 miles of Raleigh (Cary). (Only public courses are included; there are a couple of private courses in the area also.) There are the 10 courses within the immediate Raleigh-Durham area (including Zebulon), and I have played all 10. There are also another 14 courses within 100 miles. Of those 14, I have played 3 - the Kinston course and the two Burlington courses. (Jacksonville, NC is over 100 miles from Raleigh (Cary), so it isn't on this list.) That leaves 11 courses: Sanford, Wilson, Rocky Mount (2), Fayetteville (2), Greensboro, High Point, Greenville (2), and Albemarle. Needless to say, I plan on playing all of these courses, eventually. I'm working on it...

Now, I'm going to combine the other two portions of the file into this next list. I've played at 39 different disc golf courses since May 2004 (which includes all but two months of my disc golf "career"). That's 2½ years of disc golf. Which course have I played at the most? As I present the list, I will also include where the course ranks on my ever-changing "course rankings", which I rank in order of which courses are the best. (Just a reminder - these rankings are kind of arbitrary. But that's what those numbers to the left are.) Without further ado, here is the list:

#5 Jacksonville, FL (Fore Palms): 928 holes
#35 State College, PA (Circleville): 430 holes
#16 Raleigh, NC (Kentwood): 94 holes
#4 Indiana, PA (IUP College Lodge): 90 holes
#17 Durham, NC (Cornwallis Road): 83 holes
#6 Tallahassee, FL (Tom Brown): 74 holes
#14 Durham, NC (Valley Springs): 72 holes
#10 Chapel Hill, NC (Carolina Adventures): 67 holes
#36 Altoona, PA (Valley View): 56 holes
#8 Burlington, NC (Cedarock Open): 40 holes
#12 Hanover, PA (Codorus): 38 holes
#27 Asheville, NC (Richmond Hill): 36 holes
#23 Burlington, NC (Cedarock Woods) 36 holes
#29 Indiana, PA (Getty Heights): 36 holes
#30 Black Mountain, NC (Black Mountain): 27 holes
#32 Cary, NC (Scottish Hills): 27 holes
#1 Newtown, PA (Tyler): 21 holes
#2 Chapin, SC (Crooked Creek): 19 holes
#25 Ocala, FL (Ocala Greenway): 19 holes
#26 Columbia, SC (Earlewood): 18 holes
#9 Gainesville, FL (Northside): 18 holes
#15 Greenville, SC (Timmons): 18 holes
#19 Hughesville, PA (Lime Bluff): 18 holes
#7 Jacksonville, NC (Northeast Creek): 18 holes
#13 Kinston, NC (Barnet): 18 holes
#3 Knoxville, TN (Victor Ashe): 18 holes
#24 Lewisberry, PA (Gifford Pinchot): 18 holes
#34 Mars Hill, NC (Mars Hill College): 18 holes
#22 Orangeburg, SC (Edisto Gardens): 18 holes
#18 Pittsburgh, PA (Schenley): 18 holes
#33 Raleigh, NC (Buckhorn): 18 holes
#28 Raleigh, NC (Cedar Hills): 18 holes
#20 Zebulon, NC (Zebulon Community): 18 holes
#11 Charlotte, NC (Renaissance): 15 holes
#31 Raleigh, NC (East Wake Middle): 9 holes
#38 Fletcher, NC (Crookston): 8 holes
#37 Knightdale, NC (Green Pines): 6 holes
#21 Blacksburg, VA (Golden Hills): 3 holes
#39 Charlotte, NC (Cameron Woods): 1 hole
Total: 2,487 holes (or, about 138 18-hole rounds)

As I expected, the Jacksonville course is the winner going away, with State College in second place. Raleigh Kentwood course is already in 3rd, which makes sense, considering Raleigh (Cary) is the only city I've lived in other than Jacksonville and State College since I started these totals in May 2004. But it's going to be very hard for any of the Raleigh-Durham courses to challenge the top two spots any time soon. If I don't play beyond the once-a-week four-course rotation (which I haven't lately), each Raleigh-Durham course only gets played once every four weeks. (By the way, I'm playing at Cornwallis Road after work today, so Cornwallis will pass Kentwood for 3rd place, at least until the next time I play Kentwood.)

Now, while the Raleigh-Durham courses won't catch Jacksonville and State College any time soon, the North Carolina courses combined are moving up on the state totals list:
Florida: 1,039 holes
Pennsylvania: 725 holes
North Carolina: 629 holes
South Carolina: 73 holes
Tennessee: 18 holes
Virginia: 3 holes

I suppose I should elaborate on the four courses where I've played less than 9 holes. A round of disc golf is always at least 9 holes, right? Well, here's why I stopped early each time:
Fletcher, NC - It was raining, and the course wasn't much fun anyway. They didn't mow the place, the grass was very tall, and we kept losing discs. So, we quit with one hole left (the course was only 9 holes anyway).
Knightdale, NC - I just didn't enjoy this course. I couldn't find hole #6, and when I threw my tee shot on #8 into the woods (which is almost impossible not to do), I quit.
Blacksburg, VA - The weather forecast was iffy, but I thought I'd try it anyway. It wasn't raining when I started, but as I finished hole #3, a torrential downpour began. I'll be back to this course sometime...I have unfinished business. (This was over two years ago, by the way. If I pick up where I left off on hole #4, would it be the longest round of disc golf ever?)
Charlotte, NC (Cameron Woods) - I played this course because it was advertised as a "lighted course". Sounds like fun, right? Well...lighted disc golf sounds like a good idea, but it doesn't work so well in practice. You can't see the discs in flight; only when they land. And on top of that, even though the web site said "9 holes", there were only 3 targets with 9 tees - kind of like our made-up State College course. Except that here, the tees were very hard to find, particularly at night. I couldn't find tee #2, and since I discovered nighttime disc golf was kind of dumb anyway, I quit after just one hole.

Now, I listed the state totals. Is "disc golf in all 50 states" a reasonable goal? I'm pretty sure all 50 states have at least one disc golf course. It would be cool, but I think it would be difficult to attain. I haven't even been to all 50 states yet. And besides - I've only played in 6 states thus far. I have a while to go before I can even consider this. And that's if I keep playing - am I still going to be an avid disc golfer 10 years from now? Maybe, maybe not. So I don't think "disc golf in all 50 states" is in my future, sadly. But here's a more attainable goal: 5,000 holes. After today's round, I'll be halfway there!

Today's random thought:

- I heard on the radio that if you were to buy all of the things mentioned in the song "Twelve Days of Christmas", it would cost you $19,000. The most expensive item would be the nine ladies dancing. Who comes up with this stuff? Are people that bored at work these days?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"The Chris Allen Blog 138th Post Spectacular"

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"138th Post Spectacular"? What is this about? Well, those of you who are avid fans of The Simpsons may understand the reference. (Here is a description of the episode for those of you who don't get it.) This is, in fact, the 138th post in the history of my blog, so I thought maybe this was a good opportunity to reflect and just talk about the blog itself. The goal of this is not to give myself a heaping pile of credit and talk about how great I am and how wonderful my blog is. In fact, if anything, I will do anything but. As implied by its title, I don't think much of my blog.

When I started this blog on June 21st, I wasn't sure where it was going to lead. But, I did lay down some ground rules that I have since broken. That whole "once I type something, it stays" thing? Yeah, I haven't really been following that lately. But that's usually just when one of the following happens - either I type something that may offend a reader, or I type something that just absolutely makes no sense, or I type something that doesn't fit with the rest of the post and breaks the flow (more so than usual), or something like that. So...yeah. Hopefully I didn't gravely disappoint you by disclosing this "insider information". And, I also talked about how my blog would be an extension of my AIM feature "by-the-numbers". But one AIM semi-hiatus later, by-the-numbers isn't much to speak of anymore. So much for that. (Speaking of which, I think it's been at least two weeks since I signed onto AIM at all. Oh well.)

One thing you'll find on that semi-hiatus post is something that I used to have every day - three random thoughts. Since then, I've cut it down to one, and that's only on some days. What happened? Well, there were a lot of things I thought about before I even started the blog. Then, I started the blog, and expunged them all at once. I'm not doing less thinking now than I did four months ago; I just don't have as many thoughts floating around that I haven't already talked about. If I were to do it all over again, I would have started out with one thought per day, ensuring several months of thought security. That was poor planning on my part. But I still think I can keep up the 6 posts/week pace, even if the occasional post is a "hackjob".

When do I write my blog posts? Originally, I wrote them at home, and posted them when they were finished, usually in the late afternoon or evening. But lately, I've settled in to the "write the posts the day before and post them early the next morning as I eat breakfast" pattern. Thus, the majority of posts are written the day before they are posted, including this one. But others are written and posted on the same day - most Monday posts are this way. And a couple of times (including last weekend), I've posted the "Saturday post" on Sunday, but given it a Saturday timestamp just to be consistent with other weeks. (The secret's out!)

By now, if you've read enough of my blog, you know what my interests are. But how much do I talk about certain topics? What is my blog about, anyway? I went back through all 138 posts and counted the topics (random thoughts excluded), and tried to place them into categories (which was rather difficult, given the random nature of some posts):

Road Trips/Driving/Travel: 49 (includes 4 about theme parks)
Spectator Sports: 18 (mostly about football)
General Life/Blog Information (includes statistics): 11
Sports I play: 10 (4 curling, 3 disc golf, 2 bowling, 1 golf)
TV/Radio/Movies: 10
Food/Drink/Restaurants: 7
Philosophical/Thought-Provoking: 5
The Diabolical Scheme Thwarter: 5
Grocery Stores: 4
Video Games: 3
Poker: 2
AOL Instant Messenger: 2
Other: 12

So, what is my blog about? It's mostly about road trips, driving, and sports. Throw in a dash of restaurants, grocery stores, life statistics, video games, poker, poorly-written fiction, and (of course) random thoughts, and you have Chris Allen's Bad Excuse for a Blog.

Today's random thought:

- What's the audio version of the word "legible"? If something is legible, you can read it and decipher its content. But if you hear something and can decipher its content, what is that called? It's not "audible"; just because something is "audible" doesn't mean you can decipher its content and interpret it into words. A noisy crowd is very audible, but can you understand what anybody is saying? I guess you could just use the word "understandable", but that's boring - I'm looking for something audio-specific.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

"US-1: Jacksonville to Raleigh (Cary)"

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As mentioned yesterday, I took US-1 all the way back home from Jacksonville on Sunday. Why? Several reasons. 1) I wanted to avoid Thanksgiving Sunday interstate traffic. 2) I was curious how long it would take. 3) US highways always make for more interesting drives than interstates. 4) A goal of mine is to drive US-1's entire length from Key West, FL to Fort Kent, ME. 5) Just to do it.

US-1 passes through both Jacksonville and Raleigh (Cary). So one would think that if the same road passes through point A and point B, then taking that road would be the fastest way to get from A to B, right? Obviously, thanks to the interstates, this usually isn't the case with US highways. But even if you avoid the interstates, US-1 still isn't the most direct route. Far from it. Who decided on where US-1 would go, anyway? US-1 goes northwest from Jacksonville up to Augusta, then northeast to Columbia along I-20, then northeast up to Raleigh. Not exactly the most direct route. But actually, this "same road" rule doesn't even apply to interstates all the time. Some obvious examples of where the rule fails with interstates are I-75 in Macon (it's faster and shorter to take the I-475 bypass) and I-10 in Louisiana (it's faster to take I-12 straight to Baton Rouge instead of going through New Orleans). But here's a not-so-obvious example in North Carolina: Asheville to Wilmington. I-40 passes through both. But is it the fastest way to go? Well, according to MapQuest, you should take I-26/I-20/I-95/US-74. (Personally, I think I-26/US-74 is even faster, but I don't have the data to verify.) I'm very intrigued by this, but I don't want to get too far off topic.

Here's a profile of the segment of US-1 I drove on Sunday. I picked up US-1 at its intersection with the MLK Jr Expressway (Formerly 20th St). As it exits Jacksonville, US-1 is four lanes all the way to north of Waycross via a new-ish bypass that incorporates US-82 as well. US-1 then continues up through various small towns on its way to Augusta. This portion is part two lanes, part four lanes - the distribution might be close to 50/50. Many of the two lane portions are being widened to four lanes. US-1 through Augusta isn't as slow as I thought it would be; it doesn't go straight through downtown, and sticks with major through roads that incorporate expressway-ish bridges. These roads had hardly any traffic on them, but I expect that not to be the case on a weekday, since these areas are mostly industrial. (If you still want to avoid Augusta at all, you can take I-520 around the south end of the city, which now ends at US-1 in South Carolina.) US-1 then passes through Aiken (a nice little town, much like Southern Pines, except not as rich), then a two-lane road takes you towards Columbia. US-1 in Columbia goes right through downtown and is very slow; if I were to do this drive again, I would probably just take I-20 around Columbia. After Columbia, US-1 is a two-lane highway most of the way through small towns until you get to Southern Pines, where it becomes a four-lane highway, which is expressway most of the way to Raleigh. (I apologize for that last paragraph...I realize it was kind of boring.)

Of course, I timed the route. I predicted it would take 10 hours, and I wasn't far off: 10 hours, 13 minutes. The interstate route takes about 6h30m. The interstates can't be beat when you want to get from point A to point B. (But only if there's an interstate close to the straight line path from point A to point B. There is no such interstate from Raleigh to State College; the interstates are kind of out of the way.) However, 10 hours on US-1 feels nothing like 10 hours on an interstate. US highway driving keeps you in the game - it's not monotonous and boring like staying on the interstate for 10 hours is. I only stopped once during my 10 hour drive, and I felt great.

I talked about Batesburg-Leesville yesterday. But there was also some kind of festival in downtown Columbia that had two blocks of US-1 barricaded off. I had to take a short detour around it. So technically, I did not take US-1 all the way, but I did not have a choice, and it was a very short detour, so it still counts in my mind.

I also decided to count the number of Bojangles' and Piggly Wigglys I spotted on the drive, since both are trademarks of the rural south. I didn't expect much of either in Georgia, and sure enough, the first ones were in the Columbia area. But the final totals were 5 Bojangles' and 3 Piggly Wigglys. There was one instance in Camden, SC where a Bojangles' and Piggly Wiggly were on the same piece of property! Talk about one-stop shopping... (And no, I did not stop at any of the Bojangles', although I considered it. It's now been over three weeks.) What I should have done is count Church's Chicken and Food Lion, because there were about ten billion of those. (I may or may not have used hyperbole in that last sentence.)

I kept track of something else on the drive as well - something of which I will continue to keep track. It has to do with two-lane highways. How many cars have I passed? And, how many cars have passed me? By taking a difference of the two (cars passed minus cars passed by), one can get an "aggressiveness" rating that says generally how fast and how aggressive you are on two-lane highways. I think most people are slightly in the negative, because a small percentage of the population does most of the passing. I expect to be slightly in the positive. because I generally do a lot of passing, but I still get passed from time to time. But so far, my average is still at 0 - I passed 3 cars, and was passed by 3 cars. My potential rating is also road-dependent, since I drive 5 mph over the speed limit almost uniformly. On curvy roads (like those we drove in Virginia and West Virginia last month), my rating is probably well in the positive, since most people drive slower than I do on curvy roads. But on flat, straight roads, I adhere to the speed limit still, while others don't hesitate to drive 70+ mph, which would likely put me in the negative. US-1 is more flat than curvy for sure, but so far, I'm even at 0. Since the new route I take to State College incorporates several two-lane highways, expect updates to my rating as early as next week. (Yes, I am going to State College this weekend, but only from Friday night through Sunday afternoon.)

And, I suppose I should give a drives-by-county update. US-1 added 4 counties in Georgia and 2 counties in South Carolina. In addition, Wednesday's southbound drive (specifically, US-501 from Southern Pines to I-95) added 2 counties in North Carolina. So, here are my new totals:
Georgia: 88/159 (55%)
North Carolina: 59/100 (59%)
South Carolina: 33/46 (72%)
Nationwide: 817/3,098 (26.4%)

Am I going to do the US-1 drive again? Probably not any time soon. For my Christmas trip home, I will likely just stick with the interstates, in the interest of time. After that, who knows. But I would like to try a more direct US-highway-only route sometime, perhaps incorporating more of US-15 and US-17, or maybe US-301.

Today's random thought:

- I'm not sure what I think of James Bond movies, but I'll give them this: when you go see one, you know what you're going to get, almost exactly. So unless the movie is poorly made (which I suppose happens from time to time), you're not likely to leave the theater disappointed. That makes a James Bond movie as close to a sure thing as you can find in a movie theater, if that's your thing. Now, about those ticket prices...

Monday, November 27, 2006

"Batesburg-Leesville, SC"

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I took US-1 all the way back from Jacksonville to Raleigh (Cary) yesterday. I'm going to talk about the trip more specifically tomorrow. But today, I'm going to focus on one town along the drive: Batesburg-Leesville, SC, located halfway between Augusta and Columbia.

What's my obsession with these dashed town names, anyway? First, Fuquay-Varina...now Batesburg-Leesville. Well, it just so happens that the most interesting thing on my drive was in Batesburg-Leesville. But before I get into that, first some logistics. Is it one town, or is it two? Batesburg and Leesville could be considered separate entities, but the sign said "town limit, Batesburg-Leesville". On the other hand, mileage signs on US-1 only reference Batesburg (the first of the two you encounter going northbound on US-1). But that makes sense - why put an extra 9 letters on the sign if you don't have to? And where exactly is the center of Batesburg-Leesville, anyway? Batesburg and Leesville have their own downtowns; there isn't really a downtown Batesburg-Leesville. It's really kind of confusing. But getting back to my original question - is it one town or two? I'd have to go with two, if nothing else because the official Batesburg-Leesville web site says "welcome to the towns of Batesburg-Leesville". So, there you have it - as awkwardly as it sounds, I will refer to Batesburg-Leesville as two towns using plural pronouns and verb agreement, all the while trying my hardest not to call it "Batesville-Leesburg". Batesville is a city in Arkansas, and cities named Leesburg exist in both Florida and Virginia. Batesburg-Leesville just doesn't sound right. Talk about confusing...

Confusing town names aside, the most interesting thing I encountered on my US-1 drive was in Batesburg-Leesville. First, I noticed the Batesburg-Leesville High School band was standing around in a bank parking lot near central Batesburg, in their stylish purple and black uniforms. Then, a police officer was standing in the middle of the adjacent intersection, although he wasn't directing traffic. Then, for a couple of miles or so, I noticed people sitting in lawn chairs on either side of the road (with high density, I must say). Hmm...you'd almost think a parade was about to start. I passed through Batesburg-Leesville at 240p; perhaps the parade was to start at 300p. If so, it's a good thing I didn't leave a half-hour later, or else US-1 would have been closed, forcing me to seek an alternate route. A quick google search upon my arrival in Raleigh (Cary), and sure enough - the Batesburg-Leesville Holiday Parade, on Sunday, November 26th, at 300p, on US-1. Ding!

Now, I think a comparison between Batesburg-Leesville and Fuquay-Varina is warranted. Fuquay-Varina was about 2,000 residents larger at the 2000 census, and is rapidly growing. However, Batesburg-Leesville are not growing; their 2005 estimated population is only 58 people larger than their 2000 census population. (Source: census.gov - and yes, the census lists Batesburg-Leesville as one town, even though I insist on using plural pronouns to reference them.) Another difference: Neither Batesburg nor Leesville appears to dominate in size or prominence; both towns can stand on their own. However, the Fuquay portion of Fuquay-Varina is much larger than the Varina portion. But that's probably because all of the growth has been on the Fuquay portion of town; I'm sure back in the day, Fuquay and Varina were comparable in size. (And no, Batesburg-Leesville don't have a Piggly Wiggly either.) Now, while Batesburg-Leesville aren't growing, I'll give them this - they are (barely) located in the fastest-growing county in South Carolina, Lexington County. But that's just because Columbia is also located in Lexington County.

So...while Fuquay-Varina is on my list of places I may like to purchase a house one day, I don't think the same can be said for Batesburg-Leesville. But at least their high school has stylish band uniforms.

Today's random thought:

- I am pleased to report that my least-favorite traffic reporter, Robert Hill, is no longer the traffic reporter for 102.9 FM. At least for now...I guess he could just be on vacation, but his replacement is just some last-name-less guy named Brian (not Leblanc). I would guess that because they're not giving the replacement much prominence, they kind of rushed him in there upon Robert Hill's dismissal. Usually the fill-in guys get their full names read. That's what I think anyway. I wonder if that email I sent them a few weeks ago had anything to do with this. (Hey, it certainly didn't hurt, right?) But now I'm listening to 102.9 FM in the mornings once again. I actually feel kind of bad for Robert Hill. I don't think I would like it if some random person emailed my boss saying I should be replaced. But then again, I'm not in show business. When you get into the public performance arena, you should expect this sort of thing. But I think Robert Hill would make a decent morning show host on another station...he's just not a very good traffic reporter.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"I'm Missing Curling!"

WARNING: Hackjob post

A while back, I mentioned that on Thanksgiving Sunday from 200p to 400p, NBC was showing a made-for-TV curling special. I was going to record this on my TLD...but I forgot about it before I left town, and I won't be back in Raleigh (Cary) until after it's over. Bah! So...here's the deal. If any of you can record the curling on VHS for me, I'll give you $5 for the tape. Any takers?

Friday, November 24, 2006

"College Football Friday #1/Saturday #7"

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(On location in Jacksonville, FL.)

Even though I might not watch much football the rest of the weekend, I decided to do one last College Football Saturday post. (I know there are games next Saturday too, but there aren't many, and I'll be in State College anyway.) There are two main differences between this post and the other CFS posts. As implied by the title of this post, there are also games on Friday (today), and I'll include those in my list. Also, I'm not at home in Raleigh (Cary) - I'm in Jacksonville at my parents' house. The bad news is, this means I don't have access to ESPN GamePlan. But the good news is, my parents do have a sweet HDTV. They also have ESPNU! (Their television provider is DISH Network, by the way.) Now, onto the games, which I am listing in chronological order instead of "categorized and ranked":

Friday
Game 1 - Texas A&M at Texas, 1200p, ABC: This game is always the day after Thanksgiving, so in my mind it's forever associated with being at my parents' house. Kind of like how my System of a Down CD is associated with the northern half of I-95 in Georgia.
Game 2 - Ohio at Miami (OH), 1200p, ESPNU: I think Ohio has clinched a berth in the MAC Championship game already, so this game isn't really that important, I suppose. But it is a rivalry game, at least according to NCAA Football 2004.
Game 3 - LSU at Arkansas, 230p, CBS: I don't care much about this game, but I'm rooting hard for Arkansas next week.
Game 4 - Colorado at Nebraska, 330p, ABC: Another game forever associated with my parents' house the day after Thanksgiving. Except by the time this game comes on, I'm usually doing something else.
Game 5 - Oregon at Oregon State, 330p, FSN Florida: Of all the intrastate rivalries in college football, why is this one called the "Civil War"? Oregon wasn't even a state during the Civil War, was it?
Game 6 - Western Michigan at Akron, 330p, ESPNU: ESPNU is loading up on the MAC today. Boy, am I glad my parents get ESPNU.
Game 7 - Fresno State at Louisiana Tech, 900p, ESPN2: This is the only game on in the evening. Hmm...what else is on?

Saturday
Game 1 - Florida at Florida State, 1200p, ABC: Do I have to watch? Yeah, I do - it's my duty as an FSU fan. Fortunately, there are other games to watch as the blowout commences. (Actually, tv.yahoo.com says the Jacksonville ABC affiliate is showing Kansas at Missouri instead, but I'm pretty sure that's not the case.)
Game 2 - South Carolina at Clemson, 1200p, ESPN: This is one of the most enjoyable rivalry games to watch, I think. You never know when a fight may break out. (Was that distasteful?)
Game 3 - South Florida at West Virginia, 1200p, ESPN2: Sorry, James, but I'm not giving you much of a chance.
Game 4 - Syracuse at Rutgers, 1200p, ESPNU: Hey, Rutgers - you still go to a BCS bowl if you win out. (I think - they'd win the Big East on a head-to-head tiebreaker, but does the Big East override the tiebreaker depending on BCS ranking like some other conferences do?)
Game 5 - Kentucky at Tennessee, 1230p, Local TV: This is the Jefferson Pilot Lincoln Financial SEC game, which you don't need ESPN GamePlan to pick up in Jacksonville.
(No TV - North Carolina at Duke, ESPN360: Dammit! I really wanted to watch this one. Although the luster has worn off since UNC won last week.)
Game 6 - Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, FSN Florida, 230p: "Bedlam", as they call it. Or does "Bedlam" only refer to the basketball rivalry?
Game 7 - Georgia Tech at Georgia, CBS, 330p: When was the last time Georgia Tech won this game? I have no idea. (Actually, it could have been last year for all I know. I have a short memory.)
Game 8 - BYU at Utah, CSTV, 330p: This rivalry is called the "Holy War". I like that. (And just to remind you, Utah is one of my top 5 favorite teams, so I'm pulling hard for the Utes.)
Game 9 - Louisville at Pittsburgh, 330p, ESPN: It was smart of the Big East to backload their schedule, so they would get more games televised once the Big Ten season ended. That, and all those Thursday games, the Friday games, the Sunday games, the Wednesday games...
Game 10 - Boise State at Nevada, 415p, ESPN2: Sorry, Boise State, but I think all you're getting out of your perfect season is a trip to the...umm...whatever bowl. I don't even know where the WAC champion plays. Boise State played in the Liberty Bowl a couple of years ago again the C-USA champion, but that was only because the Mountain West champion (Utah) went to the Fiesta Bowl.
Game 10a - Arizona State at Arizona, 600p, FSN Florida (maybe): I'm not sure if this game is coming to us. The listings say that FSN Florida is showing hockey instead, but Florida Panthers games get blacked out in Jacksonville, so maybe this game will come in on one of those "alternate sports" stations DISH Network has set up. (Then again...does it really matter? Not like I'm going to watch anyway.)
Game 11 - East Carolina at NC State, 700p, ESPNU: For those of you who don't live in the area, these two schools don't like each other much.
Game 12 - Marshall at Southern Mississippi, 730p, CSTV: Whatever.
Game 13 - Wake Forest at Maryland, 745p, ESPN: Now we're talking. If Wake Forest wins, they're in the ACC championship. If not, Boston College is in. (That's assuming the ACC uses the standard head-to-head tiebreaker.)
Game 14 - Notre Dame at USC, 800p, ABC: If one of these teams can keep Michigan and Florida out of the national championship game, then more power to them. (Speaking of which, I think an Ohio State/Michigan rematch would be a travesty. If they play again, then did that game last week mean anything? And shouldn't somebody else get a chance to beat Ohio State? For the record, if Ohio State and Michigan play again, I will not watch.)

So...21 games (maybe 22) over two days. Not bad, considering the Big Ten is finished with their season already. And have I mentioned the HDTV?

Today's random thought:

- Anyone who has driven on I-95 in North Carolina or South Carolina has seen the billboards for "South of the Border", an old tourist attraction at the NC/SC border. These billboards are in very high quantity. Well, they're not just on I-95 - they're also on US-301 and US-501 (the roads that South of the Border is actually on), although the quantity and frequency is remarkably less. I forget if I've mentioned this in my blog before, but South of the Border actually predates I-95. When they built I-95, it was routed specifically to pass right by South of the Border. So it's not just coincidence that I-95 intersects US-301/501 right at the NC/SC border, right by South of the Border.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"The Components of Thanksgiving Dinner"

I was going to post this on Friday, but I'm working under the assumption that anything I post this weekend won't get read until next week. That's not going to stop me from posting this weekend (except on Thanksgiving Day), but it would have been kind of silly to write something about Thanksgiving dinner that wouldn't get read until the following week. But dinner is the main attraction of Thanksgiving Day, after all. I'm looking forward to it. The rest of the day? Eh - that's reserved for laziness and bad football.

First off, let me give full disclosure. My family doesn't go "all out" for Thanksgiving dinner like some people do. We'll eat in the "special dinner occasions room", we'll have Thanksgiving-style food, and my parents will likely invite my brother and his wife over (which will make it dinner for five) but other than that, it's no different than any other dinner. We'll eat at the normal time - 530p-ish. A lot of people eat Thanksgiving dinner in the middle of the day, at 100p or 200p. Christmas dinner - same kind of thing. Personally, I've never been a fan of either. As someone who doesn't like to eat breakfast after 1000a, and as someone who is used to eating lunch before noon, I am usually very hungry by then. (Why don't I just eat breakfast later or otherwise change my eating habits? I wish it were that simple.) Eating dinner in the middle of the day pretty much eliminates the opportunity to do anything else during the day. Not that I'm going to do anything on Thanksgiving Day other than sit on my ass, but still - I want my ass-sitting to be relatively uninterrupted until 500p or so. So, instead, my family eats Thanksgiving dinner at about the same time as dinner every other night of the week, and we try to time it so it coincides with halftime of the second NFL game.

Now that I have that out of the way, the main purpose of this post is to discuss the standard components of Thanksgiving dinner. Like anything else I write, this is up for debate, but this is the way I see it.
- Turkey. The most traditional component. Not everybody has turkey, but we always do. We also have turkey occasionally on non-Thanksgiving nights. (When I say "we", I mean my family, as if I still live with them and eat with them every night, which I obviously don't anymore. It's just easier this way.)
- Stuffing. Can anyone out there name a brand of stuffing other than Stove Top? And how many people actually use it to "stuff"? We don't, I don't think. (That's one reason I was originally going to write this the day after Thanksgiving - so I could actually say what we had, instead of what I think might show up.)
- Mashed potatoes. Some (including my parents) may opt for those creamy scalloped potatoes (or whatever they're called), but I think traditionally, they go better with ham than turkey. I wonder why that is. But mashed potatoes are good for almost any occasion.
- Corn. Either on the cob, or off. I always liked the taste of corn on the cob more than the canned stuff. And it's so much more fun to eat! (Even if it gets stuck in your teeth.)
- Green beans. I don't like green beans, personally, but I don't like a lot of stuff. I don't even know if they're included in Thanksgiving dinner, but they seem to fit.
- Cranberry sauce. I don't like the real stuff with chunks - give me the canned stuff in the shape of the can. The sight of the cranberry sauce "can" is very Thanksgiving unto itself.
- Some kind of bread product. Rolls or a big loaf of homemade bread are most traditional. But my parents sometimes make this stuff called "Yorkshire pudding". It's not pudding at all - it's some kind of buttery bread type thing. It's hard to describe. The stuff we make doesn't quite match the Wikipedia definition, so I don't know if it's really "Yorkshire pudding", even though that's what we've always called it. But I do know this - it's good. I don't think we had it last year, though.
- Wine. Does anybody drink beer with their Thanksgiving dinner? I think that would be kind of funny. But I usually just drink milk.
- Pumpkin pie. Of all the pumpkin products out there, the only one that seems to last beyond the Halloween season is pumpkin pie - mainly for Thanksgiving dessert. Personally, I don't do pumpkin pie. Screw tradition...where are the Little Debbies?

I just thought of something. "Name a food often found at Thanksgiving dinner" would be an excellent Family Feud question. Turkey would undoubtedly be the #1 answer. I'd say stuffing would probably be #2. What would be #3? Corn? Cranberry sauce? A non-turkey meat? Speaking of which, what are the most popular non-turkey Thanksgiving dinner features? Ham and roast beef have to be up there. There's also the famous Turducken = turkey + chicken + duck. For the last two Super Bowl parties I've attended, we've had a Turducken. I like the turkey and the chicken. The duck? Not so much. Personally, I think we should leave out the duck, get a turkey, and go to Bojangles' for the chicken. Speaking of which, I am driving to Jacksonville after work today for the weekend. Last time I drove to Jacksonville, I stopped at Bojangles' for dinner in Lumberton. I think I'm going to do the same thing again today. Yum!

Today's random thought: (I didn't provide a direct link because I don't think this one was worthy.)

- Very few (if any) of you can relate to my "afternoon commute" competition that I discussed a few weeks ago, but some interesting developments have come up in the first portion of Round 2 of the competition. Because of ongoing construction and the fact that the competition takes place over several months, the routes have an opportunity to change. Case in point: Round 1's non-interstate winner (Davis/High House) is currently undergoing construction that caused significant delays the first time through, registering a time of over 39 minutes, which was several minutes worse than any of that route's Round 1 times. But because the median time is the metric used for the competition, Davis/High House can rebound with a few 30-32 minute times. Now, consider the US-1/Cary Pkwy route that finished 2nd in the interstate category. I always thought that this route would benefit from the completion of the US-1 widening. Well, when I took this route home on Monday, I was pleasantly surprised to see that US-1 is now four lanes all the way to Cary Pkwy. They're still working on the interchange itself, but the US-1 completion allowed US-1/Cary Pkwy to register the best commute time thus far in either round (19m06s). (But that was also due to some incredibly lucky traffic light timing.) Additionally, the US-1/Walnut exit is now completely different with a brand new off-ramp. I'll talk about that once I record a time or two with it (which might not be for a couple of weeks).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Pinehurst, NC"

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I've always wanted to drive down to the Pinehurst/Southern Pines area. Honestly, I'm surprised it took me five months, considering it's only 60 miles away. Pinehurst is a "resort town" with rich people and golf courses; Southern Pines is a nearby "real town". Just to clarify those terms: a "real town" has structure, some kind of downtown, and no direct attachment to a nearby larger city; a "resort town" has no clear downtown and few businesses, but is simply a sprawling of new condominiums and nice houses, and are home to primarily rich and old people. "Resort towns" also usually have a major form of recreation - golf or skiing, for instance. The recreation is often the reason the "resort town" exists at all, although it doesn't have to be. Palm Coast, FL is an excellent example of a "resort town".

So when Amber and I drove to Pinehurst on Saturday, I expected nothing less than a "resort town". And my expectations were easily met. Everything looked new; driving around in the residential areas, it really looked like one of those "really nice neighborhoods" you see in larger cities. Except that was the entire city (or at least as much of it as I saw). And, of course, there were golf courses everywhere. I think Pinehurst qualifies as one of those places I would consider living if a very large sum of money suddenly dropped in my lap. It has the State College "isolation" feeling I like, but it's not too far from larger cities like Raleigh and Fayetteville. (Hey, don't laugh - Fayetteville is growing by leaps and bounds. Don't confuse it with Lumberton. Speaking of which, I still haven't done that Fayetteville drive yet...)

Now, what about the adjacent town of Southern Pines? Before talk about Southern Pines, let me go back to my Palm Coast example. While Palm Coast is new, rich, and growing, it hasn't done a whole lot for the nearby "real towns". Bunnell is just south of Palm Coast on US-1. I've been to Bunnell, and it's about on the same level as any other town you encounter on rural US highways in the southeast. In other words, it isn't really a place I'd want to live. No thanks. So, I had low expectations for Southern Pines; I expected it to be a dump. This is where all the poor people in the area live, right? Well, no...apparently they all live in Lumberton, because Southern Pines was a really nice town. Of course, it wasn't as "rich" and "new" as Pinehurst, but was still much nicer than I expected. It isn't like the richest neighborhoods in bigger cities...it's kind of like the neighborhood I grew up in. And downtown was kind of, well, "cute". It was very walkable - the people were nice, they talked to us, and they had your standard shops. It reminded me of a smaller-scale downtown St. Augustine (except not quite as old). I really need to get a digital camera, don't I?

And while we were in this area, we also drove down towards Rockingham on this trip. In an effort to keep a particular low-interest topic out of this post, I'll save an account of that for later.

Now, a word about "scenic routes". Most road atlases have certain roads labeled as "scenic". I'm not sure what qualifies a route as scenic, but I'm pretty sure of this - it's all relative to the surroundings. A "scenic route" in Indiana is probably not as scenic as a route in West Virginia that isn't labeled as such. But I guess the idea is to pinpoint the routes that are most scenic in the area. I mention this because NC-24/27 from Albemarle to Carthage is labeled as scenic in my road atlas, so we went out of our way to take it. I wasn't that impressed. It goes through a portion of a national forest, so I guess it really was more scenic than the other roads in the area (certainly more interesting than US-15/501), but I was a little disappointed. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but oh well. I guess if I want scenic, I should drive north and west, not south.

One more thing - this trip contributed two new counties: Moore (Pinehurst/Southern Pines) and Stanly (Albemarle). We didn't actually have to go in Stanly County - we took NC-73 up to NC-24/27 for the scenic route. This route took us within a very short distance of Stanly, but not in Stanly. When I realized how close we were to a new county, we turned around, picked up Stanly, turned around again, and went on our merry way. This took a total of four extra minutes, and I'm glad I did it, even though I will probably pass through Stanly County again in my attempt to visit all 100 counties in North Carolina. But you never know, right? Past experience has taught me that I should pick up every county possible when given a golden opportunity. Currently, I have 57-of-100 North Carolina counties. I've filled in almost all of the counties within reach of Raleigh/Durham, so I'm going to have to be a little more ambitious with my drives to pick up the remaining 43.

Today's random thought:

- I have a beef with Oldies 106.9 (Fayetteville!). I turned them on last weekend, and they were playing Christmas music. The whole time. Isn't November 18th a little early to switch to Christmas music? Not just that, but constant Christmas music? I would think most people would be turned off by Christmas music this early, but apparently not. I certainly am, however. Maybe their strategy is to sacrifice listeners right now, and get them back in mid-December, because right now we all know Oldies 106.9 (Fayetteville!) will be playing Christmas music, so when we actually do want it, we'll turn them on. In the meantime, I have found another just-out-of-reach oldies station: Oldies 105.5 (Sanford, Siler City).

Monday, November 20, 2006

"Bowling Number Theory"

Amber and I both like bowling. We also both like prime numbers. (It's a match made in heaven, let me tell you.) Last time we bowled, after about the fourth frame, I noticed that all of our scores (the totals after each frame) were either prime, or were multiples of nine. For example, I think I was at 19 after frame 1 (with a spare), then 36 (another spare), then 45, then 63...or something like that. That didn't last, however - Amber reached 64. But 64 is a perfect square, we said! That's good enough. Later on, one of us posted a score that's the product of two primes (I forget what it was), so we added that to our "rules" as well. How long could we keep this up? Not for the whole game...120 kind of screwed it up for us. Last week, I was thinking about this, and realized 120 is the sum of two primes - 31 and 89. So if we add this to the list, here are our rules for mathematical bowling bliss:

- Prime numbers
- Perfect squares
- Multiples of 9
- Product of two primes
- Sum of two primes

This covers a lot of numbers. So it got me thinking: is every possible bowling score up to 300 covered by these rules? Let's find out! Let's skip 0 and 1, because they're dumb. And if you're ever at 0 or 1 after the first frame, maybe it's time to start over.

2 = prime. 3 = prime. 4 = square. 5 = prime. 6 = 2*3. 7 = prime. 8 = 3+5. 9 = square. 10 = 2*5. 11 = prime. 12 = 5+7. 13 = prime. 14 = 2*7. 15 = 3*5. 16 = square. 17 = prime. 18 = 2*9. 19 = prime. 20 = 7+13. 21 = 3*7. 22 = 2*11. 23 = prime. 24 = 5+19. 25 = square. 26 = 2*13. 27 = 3*9. 28 = 7+17. 29 = prime. 30 = 13+17. 31 = prime. 32 = 13+19. 33 = 3*11. 34 = 2*17. 35 = 5*7. 36 = square. 37 = prime. 38 = 2*19. 39 = 3*13. 40 = 17+23. 41 = prime. 42 = 19+23. 43 = prime. 44 = 13+31. 45 = 5*9. 46 = 2*23. 47 = prime. 48 = 19+29. 49 = square. 50 = 19+31. 51 = 3*17. 52 = 23+29. 53 = prime. 54 = 6*9. 55 = 5*11. 56 = 19+37. 57 = 3*19. 58 = 2*29. 59 = prime. 60 = 29+31. 61 = prime. 62 = 2*31. 63 = 7*9. 64 = square. 65 = 5*13. 66 = 29+37. 67 = prime. 68 = 31+37. 69 = 3*23. 70 = 29+41. 71 = prime. 72 = 8*9. 73 = prime. 74 = 2*37. 75 = 2+73. (At this point, I can tell it's probably going to be an odd number that foils me. The only way you can have a sum of two primes be an odd number is if one of them is 2, and that means that number minus 2 must be prime, which isn't always the case. Fortunately, many odd numbers are prime, products of two primes, or multiples of 9.) 76 = 29+47. 77 = 7*11. 78 = 37+41. 79 = prime. 80 = 37+43. 81 = square. 82 = 2*41. 83 = prime. 84 = 41+43. 85 = 5*17. 86 = 2*43. 87 = 3*29. 88 = 41+47. 89 = prime. 90 = 10*9. 91 = 7*13. 92 = 31+61. 93 = 3*31. 94 = 2*47. 95 = 5*19. 96 = 43+53. 97 = prime. 98 = 37+61. 99 = 11*9. 100 = square. 101 = prime. 102 = 43+59. 103 = prime. 104 = 43+61. 105 = 2+103. (Not only do I think an odd number will foil me, I bet it will be a multiple of 5.) 106 = 2*53. 107 = prime. 108 = 12*9. 109 = prime. 110 = 43+67. 111 = 3*37. 112 = 53+59. (Can every even number be written as the sum of two primes? Isn't there some theorem that says that? Well, sort of...it's an unproven conjecture. But let's just skip the even numbers from now on.) 113 = prime. 115 = 5*23. 117 = 13*9. 119 = 7*17. (I love those numbers that look prime, but aren't.) 121 = square. 123 = 3*41. And now, we come to the first number that violates my requirements: 125. But 125 is the product of a square and a prime - 5*25. Let's make "prime * square" a new rule, shall we? I think it's allowed, since primes and squares are two of our basic numbers. Moving on: 127 = prime. 129 = 3*43. 131 = prime. 133 = 7*19. 135 = 9*15. (That multiple of 9 rule saved us! See, we do need it.) 137 = prime. 139 = prime. 141 = 3*47. 143 = 11*13. 145 = 5*29. 147 = 3*7^2. 149 = prime. 151 = prime. 153 = 17*9. 155 = 5*31. 157 = prime. 159 = 3*53. 161 = 7*23. 163 = prime. 165 = 2+163. 167 = prime. 169 = square. 171 = 19*9. 173 = prime. 175 = 2+173. 177 = 3*59. 179 = prime. 181 = prime. 183 = 3*61. 185 = 5*37. 187 = 11*17. 189 = 21*9. (Once again, saved by the 9 rule.) 191 = prime. 193 = prime. 195 = 2+193. 197 = prime. 199 = prime. 201 = 3*67. 203 = 7*29. 205 = 5*41. 207 = 23*9. 209 = 11*19. 211 = prime. 213 = 3*71. 215 = 5*43. 217 = 7*31. 219 = 3*73. 221 = 13*17. 223 = prime. 225 = square. 227 = prime. 229 = prime. 231 = 2+229. 233 = prime. 235 = 5*47. 237 = 3*79. 239 = prime. 241 = prime. 243 = 27*9. 245 = 5*7^2. (And to think, I almost gave it up at this point. Let's continue...) 247 = 13*19. 249 = 3*83. 251 = prime. 253 = 11*23. 255 = well, I think we're done now. 255 is not prime, not a square, not a multiple of 9, not the product of two primes, not the sum of two primes, and not the product of a prime and a square. It is the product of three primes - 3*5*17. But every number is the product of N primes - that's what a prime factorization is. So I can't go beyond the product of two primes. (But it is the product of a prime number of primes. Eh?)

But the good news is, I'm pretty sure neither Amber nor I is going to bowl a 255 anytime soon. See, isn't bowling fun?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"FSU Football: Not So Good"

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I'm not doing a "traditional" college football Saturday post today, but I am going to talk about college football. While Michigan and Ohio State are playing for a berth in the national championship game, Florida State is playing to become bowl eligible. The opponent? Western Michigan. And the folks at Dirty Dawg had the fortitude to make that game one of the picks for the week. I know this is a down year for FSU, but come on, guys. Western Michigan? Then again, we almost lost to Troy, so I suppose it could happen. (My pick? 14 on FSU. My 15 was Hawaii over San Jose State, purely based on the 25-point spread, whereas FSU is only favored by 17 or so.)

Things aren't good in Tallahassee, but could be a lot worse for Florida State Football this season. Just look at some other teams in the ACC. Miami (FL) has been right there with FSU all season, except they've been getting in fights. FSU does have that going for them - they've avoided any off-the-field turmoil. Except for the offensive coordinator resigining this week. Well, I guess technically he resigned...but really what happened is a bunch of FSU Boosters bought him out. I've heard of schools buying out coaches' contracts, but the boosters? For an assistant coach? Well, you can't buy out Bobby Bowden, but you can buy out his son, who as offensive coordinator just put up less than 150 yards and 0 points on Wake Forest, and had no chance of getting fired by the school because he's the coach's son. The boosters paid Jeff Bowden over half a million dollars to resign, well beyond the reach of his contract. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. I should become a college football coach. Sure, it's a lot of work for a while, but eventually you get to make $100K a year for five years to do nothing - not because you were doing a good job, but because you were doing a bad job. I wonder if there are any college football coaches (or coaches in other sports) who purposely tank it in the hopes that they get fired and bought out of their contract.

Speaking of "things could be worse", let's look at the three teams in the Raleigh-Durham area. NC State is the best of the three, and they're only 3-7 and will not go to a bowl. Meanwhile, UNC has one win (over I-AA Furman), and Duke has no wins (including a shutout loss to I-AA Richmond). NC State and UNC play this weekend, and everyone around here is trying to hype the game. Traditionally, it is the biggest college football game of the year in North Carolina. But I mean, come on, guys. Both teams suck. (Granted, NC State beat FSU, but I'm not saying we're a whole lot better.) I guess this is one next-to-last gasp to salvage something out of the season. I say next-to-last because NC State still plays East Carolina, and UNC still plays Duke - both rivalry games. ECU is actually having a good season - they have a shot at the Conference USA title, and I think they can beat NC State. (NC State already lost to one C-USA team this year, I remind you.) As for UNC/Duke...I'm really looking forward to this game. If NC State beats UNC this weekend, then the two teams will both be going for their first I-A win of the season. I hope this game's on TV in Jacksonville. If not, I'll record it on the TLD. The only thing more exciting than watching two very good teams play is watching two very bad teams play. Well, only if it's a college rivalry. I wouldn't get the same enjoyment out of watching, say, a Devil Rays/Royals game. What's the difference? Professional athletes don't care as much. College athletes - even if they have a putrid season, if they beat their rival, that almost makes it worth it.

Speaking of which, earlier in the season, I said that if we beat Miami (FL), it doesn't matter what happens the rest of the way - the season is a success. Now that we're 5-5, is that still true? Well...if Miami (FL) were any good this year, then yes. But they suck too. And the game was at the beginning of the season, so it's kind of been forgotten. But beating Miami (FL) did help out the status of the season a lot. That's the only thing keeping this season from being a complete disaster. But if we beat #4 Florida next weekend, then yes, that would make it worth it. I would much rather beat Miami (FL) and Florida and lose to Clemson, NC State, Boston College, Maryland, and Wake Forest than the other way around. Hell, you can even throw Western Michigan in there. Unfortunately, I don't think we stand a chance against Florida. I'm not sure if I even want to watch. Last year's game was bad enough.

FSU fans have been spoiled with success over the years. During the Chris Rix years, we weren't as good as we were in the 1990s, but we were still better than a lot of teams. I think some fans needed to hold their expectations in check. I mean, no team can be that good every year. It happens. And it could have been a lot worse. That was about the time Penn State started declining into 3-8 and 4-7. And now that FSU is 5-5, hopefully we'll have more realistic expectations for the future. I think the occasional 6-6 season and west coast bowl game is necessary to keep expectations in check, and so most fans can better appreciate the good season. But you never have to keep my expectations in check - I always expect FSU to lose. Except today. But that doesn't mean it can't happen...



Today's random thought:

- I have one of those atomic clocks in my bedroom that I use as the basis for all of my other clocks. Every once in a while, I have to change the time on my other clocks (such as my watch) to re-synchonize it to the second. Just the other day, I changed my watch because it was off by a few seconds. Why was it off by a few seconds? How does this happen? Shouldn't all clocks know how long a true second is? Well...obviously it's hard to get an exact second. But most clocks are very close. Think of it this way. Suppose a certain clock is accurate to within 0.001%. That sounds pretty accurate, right? Well...a clock with that accuracy will be 12 seconds off in two weeks. Most clocks (but not all) are better than that, including my watch. I just reset it on Thursday; in two weeks I'll see how close it is to my atomic clock basis.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"A Better NASCAR Points System"

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After three straight road geek posts, here's one about NASCAR. I'm on a roll! (Every once in a while, I reserve the right to talk about something that I know most of you don't care about.)

One of the problems I have with NASCAR is the way they determine their season champion. Two things in particular, which I will spell out for the non-fan (you) in as simplistic a way as possible...

- The "Chase for the Championship". NASCAR used to just add up points for the entire 36-race season, and whoever had the most at the end of the season won the championship. But in 2003, Matt Kenseth won the championship in truly unspectacular fashion, only winning one race, and having such a large point lead towards the end of the season that he essentially coasted his way to the championship in the last few races, playing it extremely conservative. That's not very exciting, and that's not going to get your average fan to watch NASCAR instead of the NFL in November, so in 2004, they introduced a "playoff system" to make the end of the season more exciting. After the 26th race, the top 10 drivers in points enter the "chase for the championship", and their point totals are reset. Then, whoever has the most points in the last 10 races out of those 10 drivers is the champion. This was probably a necessary step in terms of making NASCAR more entertaining (by making the championship undecided until the last lap of the last race, instead of weeks in advance), but I don't think it produces a true "champion". But I think that problem could be fixed while maintaining the "chase" by changing the points system.

- About that points system. Here's what NASCAR currently uses:
Winner: 180 points.
2nd: 170 points.
3rd-6th: subtract 5 for each position.
7th-11th: subtract 4 for each position.
12th and worse: subtract 3 for each position, on down to 43rd place (34 points).
Bonus points: irrelevant towards my argument.
Pros: awards consistency, and the people who are in the top 10 every week.
Cons: Doesn't award outstanding finishes (wins and top 5s) enough, and provides too much of a penalty for a bad finish (35th or worse). I don't like how one bad race (which is often just bad luck) hurts you as much as it does. Compare two drivers - one with two wins, two seconds, and one 43rd in five races, and another driver with five 6th-place finishes. Which one gets more points over those five races? The guy with no top 5 finishes, just because the other guy had that one last-place finish. (That ignores bonus points - the guy who won twice might have made up the difference by getting more bonus points, but that's not the point. The point is that this shouldn't even be in question.)

So, let me introduce my points system. This is the one I use in my video game league. (Which is still going strong in its 23rd season, by the way.) Here's the system:
Winner: 30 points.
2nd: 26 points.
3rd-9th: subtract 2 for each position.
10th-20th: subtract 1 for each position. 20th place gets 1 point. Everybody who finishes worse than 20th receives no points.
Bonus points - still irrelevant to my argument, but for the sake of completeness: 1 for the pole (qualifying in 1st), 1 for leading at least one lap, and 1 more for leading the most laps.
How is my points system better? Unlike the NASCAR system, it rewards success more than it penalizes failure. You can make up for a bad finish by getting a few top 5s, because the difference in points at the top is so large. It also promotes "going for broke" more than "playing it conservative and finish 9th". Sure, bad finishes still hurt, but only if the drivers you're competing against for the championship finish in the top 5. You lose just as many points finishing 40th against your rival's 9th place finish as you do finishing 6th against your rival's win. That's the way it should be, in my opinion. I've changed a lot of things about my video game racing league as it has progressed, but one thing that hasn't changed is the points system.

I think a couple of things could be done to further adapt this system to NASCAR. They may wish to offer points to more competitors as a reward for just showing up. For this, I propose 1 point be awarded for 21st through 30th place as well. If you can't finish in the top 30, you probably don't deserve any credit. Even the worst teams finish in the top 30 every once in a while. (But not the top 20. In my video game league, occasionally a driver will go an entire season without earning any points. My tiebreaker is whoever finishes higher in the last race - a more fair tiebreaker would be best finish throughout the season, but I'm lazy.)

If I used my points system in NASCAR this season, how would the points look? For this example, I also decided to include a "chase for the championship" format, because if NASCAR were to adopt my points system, they undoubtedly would keep the "chase". So...if NASCAR used my points system, the major difference is that Tony Stewart would have made the "chase" instead of Mark Martin. And this makes perfect sense. Let's look at the drivers' results in the first 26 races:
Stewart: 2 wins, 10 top 5s, 8 finishes of 20th or worse
Martin: 0 wins, 6 top 5s, 5 finishes of 20th or worse
So in a nutshell, Stewart had more good races than Martin, but also had more bad races. The NASCAR points system awarded Martin's tendency to avoid trouble and put up a mediocre finish over Stewart's success. NASCAR probably prefers to award someone like Martin, but I think Stewart had the better season overall. Sure, he had some bad races, but he had a lot more success at the top than Martin. Therefore, I think he deserved a "chase" spot more, and my points system would have given it to him.

Now, within the "chase", where would we stand right now with one race left? (One small detail: NASCAR "seeds" drivers going into the "chase" based on where they were ranked, separating each driver by 5 points. In other words, the leader starts the "chase" with 5 more points than 2nd place, who starts with 5 more points than 3rd place, and so on. I decided to do the same thing, except separating by 2 points since I award a smaller point quantity.) With one race left, Jimmie Johnson would be 1st (as he is in real life), with Tony Stewart 2nd (5 back), and Kevin Harvick 3rd (31 back). Harvick would still be mathematically alive, but would face extremely long odds, so it would basically be down to Johnson and Stewart. That's fair, because Stewart has won 3 of the 9 "chase" races (even though he's not in the real "chase"), and Johnson has finished 1st or 2nd in each of the last 5 races. In real life, there are four other drivers alive in addition to Johnson: Matt Kenseth (the poster boy for "lame consistency"), Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

One word about Denny Hamlin. He's basically a "poor man's Matt Kenseth". He's finished in the top 20 in 24 of the last 26 races, an amazing record. NASCAR's points system rewards this. But mine doesn't reward it without some good finishes. In the "chase", Hamlin has no wins and three top 5s. That's not bad, but it's not championship-worthy. In my points system, Hamlin would be 59 points behind Johnson, mathematically eliminated. But instead, in the real system, he's still in the hunt (although his chances are slim).

What about Kasey Kahne? His season has been interesting - 5 pre-"chase" wins (more than any other driver), but very inconsistent with many bad finishes. Going into the chase, Kahne would have easily made the chase in 6th place, instead of just sneaking in like he did in real life. (The fact that Kahne might not have made the "chase" despite his series-leading 5 wins was a topic of discussion in NASCAR circles this season.) Five pre-chase wins is a lot, and he had a few other good finishes, which would have been enough to get Kahne in the "chase" using my system. But even with my system, you need some level of consistency (not just a few wins) to contend for the championship. In the "chase", Kahne has not performed well (despite winning once), and would currently be 8th. (I don't feel like looking to see where he is in real life right now. I think he's 9th, ahead of Kyle Busch.)

So, in summary: I think NASCAR should change their points system to a more-forgiving, more-rewarding help determine a more-deserving series champion. My points system (30, 26, 24, 22, 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, ... 2, 1, 0, 0, ...) requires drivers to be both consistent and successful, while allowing for the occasional bad race. The end. (I would send this to the NASCAR president, but I'm sure he gets a bunch of these every day and doesn't read them. They're not going to change the points system just because some math nerd with a desk job says they should.)

Today's random thought: (I'm not necessarily going to cap it at one every day from now on. If I come up with a whole bunch at once, I'll unload them. But for now...)

- Traditionally, I have a glass of orange juice with breakfast, and a glass of milk with dinner. But yesterday, I accidentally poured myself a glass of milk at breakfast. I tasted it, and thought to myself, "Wow, this tastes funny. Wait...this isn't orange juice." But even when I was sure it was milk I was drinking, it didn't taste right. Milk tastes different in the morning, evidently. And then to balance it out, I had orange juice with dinner, and the same kind of thing happened - it seemed to taste differently than normal. Our mouths have different...umm...stuff in them in the morning compared to the rest of the day; is this why my beverages tasted different than normal? And is this why we drink orange juice in the morning, because our mouths are most receptive to it then?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Fun With Road Signs"

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Part of being a road geek is my fascination with road signs. It's kind of hard to describe, actually - maybe it's just because seeing highway signs for other cities is part of the experience of being somewhere else. Here's an example: part of the "fun" of being in Atlanta is driving around the beltline (I-285) and seeing signs for the six "outbound" interstate city destinations: Chattanooga, Birmingham, Montgomery, Macon, Augusta, and Greenville. (I've been to all six, by the way.)

I'll show you what I mean. First off, let me introduce you to the SignMaker, a cool little Java applet that lets you make realistic-looking road signs. I've had hours of fun with this thing. But anyway, here's how the signage on I-285 works. Let's say you're approaching Atlanta on westbound I-20, coming up on I-285. Typically, on exit signs for interstates, they list the interstate, and the cities it travels to. (The cities are called "control cities", by the way.) For major interstates, the control cities are actually on the interstate's path. But on many city loops, the control cities are the cities that you can get to by taking the beltline for another interstate. In my I-285 example, I-285 north will take you to I-85 north (Greenville) and I-75 north (Chattanooga), and I-285 south will take you to I-75 south (Macon) and I-85 south (Montgomery). Here's an example with SignMaker of what the sign on the exit ramp might look like:



This isn't an accurate sign; it's just a guess. It features one thing you see from time to time: the directions on multi-panel signs ("north" and "south" in this case) are often on the outside of the assembly, instead of being on the same side on both panels.
So, anyway, the main purpose of this post is to have some fun with SignMaker and reproduce some of the reoccuring signs in my travels. Let's start with one from Jacksonville:



This is the exit I take from I-95. I'm actually not sure if the sign specifies "south" or just "9A", but I'm certain it's an "exit only" situation.



This is the I-10 exit that leads you to downtown Tallahassee and the Florida State University. It's been a while since I've seen this sign (almost two years) so I don't know how accurate it is, but it's not like anybody is going to call me out on it. (Well, unless one of you goes there and checks.)



This is the I-95 exit for the Jacksonville's closest Piggly Wiggly. A couple of things about Georgia exit signs: 1) The font is different. SignMaker doesn't have the Georgia sign font (not to be confused with the "Georgia" font on your PC), just the font that every other state uses. 2) The distance indicator features the word "exit", as in "exit 1 mile". Florida doesn't do this on interstates. 3) The exit number panel in Georgia stretches the entire width of the sign. Most states just do the corner (like in my Florida signs), but Georgia isn't the only state with the long width. One thing you may not know about the exit number panels: in many cases, the side of the sign the panel sits on denotes which side the exit ramp is on. Here's an example of a left exit:



Here's a sign some of you may recognize:



But does the 220/322 sign specify "north" and "east"? I forget. I'm having trouble remembering that detail on many of these signs. I also don't know the specific arrows that are used. I was just there 5 days ago...I should have noted this stuff specifically.



This is the I-40 exit I take to my apartment. And here's the one I take to work:



One final word about state road symbols. A lot of states use either the circle or the square to denote their state routes. Boring. Personally, I'm a fan of the state outlines, particularly when they have to distort the state outline to get a 3-digit number to fit. (Alabama, Georgia, and Ohio are guilty of that.) But I think Pennsylvania is my favorite state road symbol - the keystone. It's simple, classy, and unique. A close runner up is the Washington state route symbol - a profile of Washington's head. Here are some samples below:



Today's random thought:

- Say the word "mountain" out loud. Do you actually make the 't' sound? A lot of people don't. (Me? Depends on what mood I'm in.) And it's not unique to the word "mountain" either - many internal 't' sounds often go unpronounced in speech, particularly when it's part of an "nt".

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"US Highways in Cities"

This is kind of a dumb post, but I don't care. I just like looking at which US highways go through which cities. US highways are interesting to me. Interstates are kind of boring; I pretty much know where they all go. But US highways have a different character altogether. I know US-64 ends somewhere near the Four Corners, but I'm not sure how it gets there. And I think the US highways that go through each city give the city some kind of identification. So, let's go around the country! (See, I told you this was a dumb post.) I'll start with the four cities I've lived in...

Jacksonville: 1, 17, 23, 90. Two of the four end in Jacksonville. (Or do they start in Jacksonville? It all depends on your perspective, I suppose.) US-301 also passes through the Jacksonville city limits, but wouldn't say it actually goes through Jacksonville. The most civilized place in "Jacksonville" it goes through is Baldwin. Whatever.

Tallahassee: 27, 90, 319. I took US-90 from Tallahassee to Jacksonville a couple of times. And as you would expect, I timed it - it took about one hour longer than normal. Not too bad if you ask me.

State College: 220, 322. State College is devoid of any "major" US highways, sadly. I suppose you could consider US-220 major, considering how long it is, but I'm just talking about one- and two-digit routes.

Raleigh: 1, 64, 70, 401. Much like I took US-90 from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, I'd like to take US-1 from Raleigh (Cary) to Jacksonville. Maybe on my way back from Thanksgiving? My time estimate is 10 hours, compared to 6½ hours for the interstate.

Now, some other cities...

Durham: 15, 70, 501. I mention 15 and 501 because they're considered one entity in Durham and Chapel Hill. It's "15/501". They're multiplexed for most of North Carolina, so I guess it's only right. But usually when two routes are multiplexed, one gains supremacy. But usually, the multiplexing is shortlived, which helps explain it. US-1 and US-64 are multiplexed from I-40 to south of Cary, but everybody just calls it US-1, I guess because US-64 breaks off and US-1 keeps going on the same road. That's usually what determines which route gains supremacy - which one is "straight"? Speaking of multiplexed roads, one of my favorites is in this next city...

Lynchburg: 29, 221, 460, 501. For a short time, US-29, US-460, and US-501 are running together, and they're all going in different directions . You can be going north (on 29), east (on 460), and south (on 501) all at once. I like that. Which way are you actually going? East. There's another one like that near Wytheville, VA: North I-77, South I-81, South US-11, North US-52. (That's heading west.)

Los Angeles: 101. I think it's sad how few US highways there are out west anymore. They've all been replaced with interstates. US-101 is the only one left in Los Angeles.

Atlanta: 19, 23, 29, 41, 78, 278. Here's a challenge for you: can you find a city with more US highways than Atlanta? I know there's one out there; I just don't feel like finding it.

Washington, DC: 1, 29, 50. That's it? Did I miss one?

I could do a few more, but it's kind of hard to figure this out using things like MapQuest and such. So I'll ask you this: do you know all of the US highways in your hometown? Unless you're a road geek like me, you probably don't, because US highways don't matter anymore, and that's too bad. I can understand it in cities - most people don't think of Beach Blvd as US-90 in Jacksonville, for instance, it's just Beach Blvd. But US highways used to be relevant before the days of the interstates. I'm kind of glad we have the interstates now, though - they help me get to State College in 7½ hours.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"The New Way To Get To Pennsylvania"

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I take pride in finding the absolute fastest route from point A to point B. How do I do this? Sure, things like MapQuest and Microsoft Streets and Trips help, but they often disagree on what the "fastest route" is, thus discounting each program's information. So, what I started doing with the State College/Jacksonville drives is taking a whole bunch of different routes, and timing each them. Not just timing the entire route, but timing segments of the route. After three round trips, I had segment times for many different possible routes, and was able to calculate the route with the shortest driving time. Yes, segment times can vary. But because I always go 5 mph over the speed limit, with no traffic problems, you'd be surprised how consistent the times are. The stretch of I-81 between I-66 and I-77 in Virginia almost always takes me 3h08m. Non-interstate routes can be a little more inconsistent; for example, the segment between I-81/I-66 (Front Royal, VA) and I-70/US-522 (Hancock, MD) averages out to 1h00m, but can take anywhere from 0h58m to 1h05m.

But now, the challenge is to find the fastest route from Raleigh (Cary) to State College. Through my Jacksonville drives, I had already driven most of the possible trip segments, so I had some data to go on. (In a nutshell, driving through DC is a few minutes faster than taking US-17 to I-66, but depending on the time of day has a high risk of traffic delays.) There was one unanswered question, however. Which is faster to get from Raleigh (Cary) to Richmond - US-1 to I-85, or US-64 to I-95? I didn't waste any time figuring this out; I did this study to and from the job interview on June 1st. The result: US-64/I-95 is faster. It's all expressway (much of which is 70-mph), while US-1 north of Raleigh can be kind of slow. That said, here was my original Raleigh (Cary) to State College route:


I took this the first couple of times I drove up to State College. (Note that it takes I-295 around Richmond. I found that I-295 around is about the same driving time as I-95 through with no traffic delays, but I-95 in downtown Richmond is far more likely to have a delay, making I-295 the preferred route.) But there was one problem with this route. On the Jacksonville drives, I would time it so that I avoided DC traffic at its worst, usually driving by DC on a weekend morning, on a weekday between 1000a and 300p, or on a weekday after 800p. So that's what my segment times were based on. With these weekend trips, I don't have as much freedom to time my DC arrival such that I can avoid traffic delays - I leave Raleigh (Cary) after work, and I leave State College at the last possible time. When I do this on a holiday weekend, I may avoid DC rushhour, but I don't avoid all the DC "leaving town for the weekend" traffic on I-70. I-70 between Frederick and Hagerstown was a mess the Friday before the 4th of July and Labor Day weekends, and on Labor Day evening as well. Since most of my weekend trips will coincide with when everybody else is making a weekend trip, the DC route will almost always have delays. Coupled with those delays is heavy traffic on the PA Turnpike, which make US-30 a worthwhile substitute. Thus, I decided to give up on the DC route and the PA Turnpike, and take the US-17 and US-30 routes instead.

Also, I discovered a back way into State College, which I think I've mentioned before (Exit 48, PA-550, PA-350, PA-45, Whitehall Rd). I knew about this way prior to the move, but whether or not this way is faster depends on where in State College you start. From the White Course Apartments (near downtown), the back way didn't save you any time over the US-322/US-220 Port Matilda route. But when you're starting from somewhere on the south side of town (such as Amber's apartment), the back way is definitely faster. So in summary, the back way is only faster if your destination is on the West College or South Atherton sides of town. On the East College or North Atherton sides of town, US-322/US-220 is best. (Now, once they finish I-99, I suspect that route will be faster than the back way, no matter where in State College you're going. But that won't be for a while.)

So, with these changes, here was the second route:


Before I move on, there is one complication with these routes. When I drive to State College, I leave immediately from work, which is closer to Durham than Raleigh. Thus, from work, I did not take US-64/I-95; instead I took I-85. If you're leaving from Durham, I-85 is definitely your best bet.

Now, fast-forward to my Staunton, VA trip two weekends ago. I took the scenic route to get there because I had some time to kill. But on the way back, I was trying to figure out the best way, and came up with this route: I-64/US-250/VA-6/US-29/NC-86/US-70/I-85/NC-147/I-40. (Got that?) It was almost a straight-line shot, and US-29 in Virginia is the next-best thing to an interstate, with many segments of 65-mph expressway surrounding 60-mph surface roads with minimal traffic lights. I thought the drive would still take over four hours, but instead, I got home in 3½ hours. Wow! I decided to try this route driving up to State College last weekend, and I registered a faster trip time than any of my US-17 trips, both ways - my return trip was my fastest return trip time to date. Wahoo!

I also decided to try one more new route with my return trip. An alternate route south from State College that avoids I-99 and I-70 altogether is this: PA-26 south to Huntingdon, US-22 east to Mount Union, US-522 south to McConnellsburg, PA-16 east to Greencastle, I-81 south to wherever. I didn't think this would be faster at all. But compared to the segment averages for the other route, I made it to the I-81/I-66 junction 2 minutes faster (2h58m instead of 3h00m). Wow! This route is almost exclusively two-lane highway and is thus highly dependent on how many cars get in your way, so I think I need more data on it, but this is promising. (One note about this route - again, it depends on your starting point within State College. The same rules apply as for the PA-45 back way.)

So here's the new route:


What is the route? It's simple, really... 1) PA-26 south from State College to Huntington. 2) US-22 east to Mount Union. 3) US-522 south to McConnellsburg. 4) PA-16 east to Greencastle. 5) I-81 south to Staunton. 6) Exit 221, I-64 east to Waynesboro. 7) Exit 99, US-250 east to Afton. 8) VA-6 south (a fun road!) to US-29. 9) US-29 south to Danville. 10) NC-86 (VA-86 at its junction with US-29) south to Hillsborough. 11) US-70 Bypass east. 12) I-85 "north" for one exit. 13) Exit 172, NC-147 (the Durham Freeway) south to I-40. 14) I-40 east to wherever in Raleigh or Cary you want to go. Got it? I'm not sure if steps 1-5 are faster, but steps 6-14 are definitely faster. The stopwatch doesn't lie. (While it may be faster, some people may not enjoy the roads - they aren't all "set cruise control and go"; they require some work.)

In fact, here is the segment time data for each route. (I've split the route into two. North half: 26 is the PA-26/US-22 way, and 99 is the I-99/I-70 way. South half: 29 is the US-29 way, 17 is the US-17 way, and 95 is the I-95 way through DC.) The numbers indicate how many minutes slower (or faster) each route is, on average, from both home and work in Raleigh-Durham: [From home, From work]
26/29 [basis]
26/95 [-2, 0]
26/17 [+6, +8]
99/29 [+2, +2]
99/95 [+5, +7]
99/17 [+8, +10]

Wait...99/29 is faster than 99/95, so why is 26/29 slower than 26/95? That's because the 26 route goes through Hagerstown, and thus intersects the 95 route before it intersects the 29 route. The 26 route is definitely a faster way to get to Hagerstown (by a full 7 minutes). Finding a faster way to Hagerstown benefits the 95 route, but provides no direct help to the 29 route. So if I can avoid DC traffic, maybe I should take 26/95 and go for the absolute best route time I can get? Hmm...maybe. But the risk-reward isn't there. Sure, I could save 2 minutes, or maybe even 5 minutes. But I'm just as likely to lose 30 minutes as I am to save 5 minutes. The risk-reward isn't there, and that's why I avoid DC.

Now, one more thing that could improve the 26 route. Currently, it takes PA-16 east to I-81. However, PA-416/MD-58 is a more direct route to the interstate - it's the hypotenuse of the PA-16/I-81 right triangle. But rural routes can be hit-or-miss; is this a hit? I think it's worth a shot. I'm going to try it next time. Maybe I can save a couple more minutes.

One final word...keep in mind we're only talking about a few minutes difference here. I take pride in saving five minutes on a 7½-hour drive, but that's just me. It may not matter that much to you. But if the time doesn't matter to you, maybe gas mileage does. The 26/29 route is about 30 miles shorter. And because you're driving slower than on the interstates, you get better mileage, on top of the fact that you're driving a shorter distance. Just keep that in mind.

I'm talking as if there are a bunch of you who drive from State College to Raleigh on a semi-regular basis. Well, I know there are at least two of you, and others may do portions of the drive to get to other places, and people I don't know may blog search and stumble upon this page. So that's my justification for writing at length about this.

Today's random thought:

- If you have a gallon milk jug in your fridge, go look at it. Do you notice that circular indentation on the side? What purpose does that indentation serve? Half-gallon jugs don't have them (that I've seen). Maybe after making the original gallon jug, they discovered its volume was actually more than one gallon, so they took a chunk out of the side to compensate. (Hey...you never know.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Yummy!"

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I ate a lot of food last weekend. In fact, it was probably a little too much. But before I move on with the rest of this post, here are the weekend's restaurant times:
- The Deli (State College): 37m52s (6 people) - the longest in the last 23 meals (38m16s at Cafe 210 West on April 20th)
- Denny's Beer Barrel Pub (Clearfield): 20m28s (4 people)
- Waffle Shop (Bellefonte): 14m13s (4 people)

Before my arbitrarily-set 5-minute limit timed out while writing Saturday's post, I mentioned that I was going to a restaurant in Clearfield that starts with "D". Those of you in the area could have guessed that means only one thing - Denny's Beer Barrel Pub (not affiliated with the Denny's restaurant chain). This place's claim to fame is its giant burgers. I'm not talking about a one-pound, or even a two-pound burger (although they do have them). They have a three-pounder, six-pounder, and a fifteen-pounder. Finish one of them, and you get them for free, along with a t-shirt, certificate, and maybe something else. (There is also a fifty-pound burger, but there is no challenge for that.) I wasn't about to even try the two-pounder, or even the one-pounder - I stuck with the half-pound bacon cheeseburger. If I paced myself, I might be able to finish the two-pounder, but the problem is that to complete the challenge, you have to eat all of the giant condiments too. I saw one of the large burgers being carried by our table - I would estimate it was the six-pounder, but I don't know for sure. There are pictures on the web site. It's truly amazing how a single person could eat all of that in one sitting. Especially considering it's the skinny people that can usually do it. I'm jealous. I eat a half-pound burger, fries, and a few double-stuffed E.L. Fudge afterwards, and I feel sick. (Did you know they had double-stuffed E.L. Fudge? I didn't. In retrospect, I don't think the E.L. Fudge cookies are really built for double-stuffing. Oreos? You betcha.)

So what I really wanted to talk about today was this. How can people eat so much food in one setting? I don't feel like looking up the science and anatomy behind it, but I guess every person is built differently. That's really what it comes down to. I think the more interesting question is this: Why? Why put your body through all of that? Well, through various eating contests and large-burger challenges like those offered at DBBP, society has glorified the ability to eat large amounts of food. Shows like Pardon the Interruption have made a celebrity out of Ken Kobayashi, the man who usually wins the annual hot dog eating contest (along with other eating contests). Eating large amounts of food is hard, and finishing a large meal comes with a sense of accomplishment. People are also enthralled by the ability of others to perform disgusting acts, such as eating large amounts of food. (That also applies to disgusting forms of food, as often seen on shows like Fear Factor.) Personally, I have a hard time deciding when to stop eating. I heard somewhere that you don't "feel" full until 15 minutes after you actually are full. That's a problem for me. I think we should be rewarded for not eating so much. It's hard to look at food on a plate that you've half-eaten and not feel obligated to finish it. At least, it is for me. There should be a prize for stopping a meal mid-course in anticipation of being full. Well, I guess there is a prize: you don't feel like crap afterwards.

Why is eating so much fun, anyway? Is it the act of chewing on food? Is it the act of swallowing the food? Is it the sensation you get with your taste buds? Or is it just satisfying a feeling of hunger? I guess it's a combination of the four, but chewing and swallowing are only fun if the taste buds are happy. I used to chew gum a lot, but I don't so much anymore, because my mouth gets tired. But gum is probably as popular as it is because it fools us into thinking we're eating something, but we're not; we just spit it out in the end (most of the time). Maybe chewing isn't as satisfying to me without the swallowing. Chew, enjoy the taste, swallow. Chew, enjoy the taste, swallow, don't feel hungry anymore. Wahoo! Also, maybe food is enjoyable because eating it gives us a break from the daily routine. I look forward to lunch time just because it gives me a break from doing work (or at least something to do while I continue working). I don't really look forward to dinner that much, usually because I have to cook it. I think most days, I just want to get dinner out of the way. Maybe that's why I eat dinner so early. Speaking of which, it's about that time...

Today's random thoughts:

1) My NFL eliminator picks have now been...well, eliminated. My pick was Atlanta over Cleveland, and it didn't work out. That was pretty much my only option for the week, given my home-team-only and no-Jacksonville-over-Houston rules. (Jacksonville over Houston wouldn't have worked out this week, either.) Given the teams I've used up, the only correct pick I could have reasonably made was Seattle over St. Louis, and all things equal, Atlanta was probably a better pick in the end. Oh well - I still finished in the 99th percentile. I think it's been a tougher year this year than last year; I'm pretty sure I finished higher this year, even though I lasted two weeks longer last year.
2) Those of you up north (or south) may not be aware, but North Carolina actually does have some "fall foliage". The pine trees obviously don't change color, but there are many that do. There are some yellow trees outside my office window and my apartment. (Well, the trees themselves aren't yellow...the leaves are. But you know what I mean.) The leaves up north have pretty much all fallen off by now, and they're working on it here. I now have a much clearer view of the street behind my apartment.
3) I'm going to go "road geek" for the next few posts. Tomorrow, I'll start with the new route I took back from State College yesterday. Is it complicated? Very. Is it fun? You betcha. And most importantly, it's fast - I registered the fastest State College --> Raleigh (Cary) trip time thus far. I'll reveal the route tomorrow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"The Five Minute Post"

I thought I'd try an experiment today. Usually when I am in State College or elsewhere on a Saturday, I already have the blog post pre-written. That is not the case today, and I don't really feel like writing a long blog post today, so in the interest of time, I'm going to limit myself to a five-minute post. I started the timer when I started typing this, and when it hits five minutes, I'm going to stop, immediately. So be prepared.

I don't know what I'm going to write about here, but I will say that Amber and I went bowling in Bellefonte today, and I must say that I'm a fan of the old-school bowling alleys. You know, the ones that haven't technologically advanced in appearance in the last 30 years. They do have electronic scoring, however. I think going to obscure bowling alleys in places like Bellefonte and, perhaps, Berkeley Springs, WV should be on the ever-evolving "road trip list".

As I type this, Penn State is about to start its game against Temple. I considered doing a "college football Saturday" post today even though I'm not at home, but oh well. I don't know how many big games there are today anyway. But I better watch the Penn State game now before it gets out of hand. (But hey, you never know, right? I have a history of declaring games as blowouts, only to have the underdog win. But I doubt that will happen today.)

In the search for obscure dinner places, tonight will take us to Clearfield, home of D

Friday, November 10, 2006

"State College, PA"

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(On location in State College, PA. Surprise! See you tonight?)

I'm sure I've said lots of things about the town of State College up until now, but I haven't devoted an entire post to the town in which I lived from August 22nd, 2004 until June 19th, 2006. I've lived in four cities so far, and I think overall, State College is my favorite of the four.

First off, for those of you who have no idea where State College is, it is located in basically the geographical center of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's two major cities (Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) are located on opposite ends of the state, so State College isn't really near either of them. Pittsburgh is a 2½-hour drive; Philadelphia takes over 3 hours. Washington and Baltimore are also just over 3 hours away. New York City is 5 hours away (I think; I've never done the drive). So State College is kind of close to a lot of things, but it's not really near anything. And that's okay. I've always said that my ideal place to live would be a smallish (but self-sufficent) town located a short drive from a major metropolitan area. Frederick, MD is one such example. (Suburbs don't count; there has to be some rural area between the town of residence and the major metropolitan area, which there is between Frederick and Washington.) What do I consider "self-sufficient"? I used to define it this way - if you have a Best Buy, you're self-sufficient. I think that rule holds pretty well. Based on that definition, State College has been self-sufficient for a few years now; Altoona became self-sufficient only recently. But more generally, self-sufficient means you never have to leave the town if you don't want to. I never had to leave State College to do day-to-day things. If you lived in say, Lewistown, occasionally you'd have to make a trip to State College or Harrisburg to go to, say, Best Buy. (But in the new age of online shopping, I guess you could be self-sufficient even in Port Matilda if you wanted to.)

Anyway, back to the main topic here - State College. State College has everything you need, in almost the smallest possible area. No wasted space. You have all the major retail stores and restaurants, an airport (sort of), and a mall. And it's all right there! The mall is on the very edge of town, and it's only 5 or 6 miles away from the center. When I lived in Jacksonville, I had to go more than 6 miles to get anywhere. (Except the grocery store, I suppose.) So when you need to drive somewhere in State College, it's close. And many times, you don't even have to drive - you can walk. I miss being able to walk everywhere. And while I'm talking about walking, I never felt unsafe walking by myself late at night. State College is as safe a town as you can find. And there aren't any traffic problems! That's something I definitely miss.

So while you have everything you need in State College, it is kind of isolated. That's bad if you want major concert events and things like that; you have to drive to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia for those. But I kind of liked the isolation, being disconnected from the rest of the world. It seems more relaxing that way, at least to me. But it was kind of annoying to have to drive a long way to find a big city.

A few more pros and cons about State College, in no particular order...
- The scenery is outstanding. I definitely took it for granted.
- Fun mountain drives, only 15-30 minutes away! (Now, these drives are nothing compared to roads like US-33 and US-250 between Virginia and West Virginia, but they're certainly more fun than anything you can find in Central North Carolina.)
- Beer flows cheap, for those of you who are into that sort of thing. (I'm talking about the bars, not the distributors. That's another thing - you can't buy beer in a grocery store in State College, or anywhere else in Pennsylvania.)
- One thing I didn't like about State College was the lack of quality disc golf. There is a "course" in town, but it's only three holes, so we had to make up holes just to get to 9. Altoona has a 9-hole course, but I hate it. So, if you want a real disc golf course, you either have to drive 85 miles northeast to Hughesville/Marcy, or 100 miles west to Indiana. (That's the city of Indiana I'm talking about, not the state. The state is a little more than 100 miles away.)
- Wegmans, my third-favorite grocery store of all time. (#2 is Publix. If you don't know what #1 is, you haven't been reading my blog enough.) #3 doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, but Wegmans far surpasses anything Raleigh (Cary) has to offer.
- Of course, I have to talk about the weather. I'm not sure what my "ideal" weather location would be on the east coast, but I think it's somewhere between State College and Raleigh (Cary). (Staunton? Sure.) Being someone originally from Florida, it was refreshing to experience something called "winter". It was nice. But, I think I'd be happier a little further south, because I got kind of tired of the snow by March. (And we didn't even get that much when I was there!) That said, the summers were really nice. But I think Raleigh (Cary) doesn't get enough winter precip to make me happy, so my optimal location is probably around Staunton - enough snow to make me happy, but not too much so that I'd get sick of it. As far as the temperatures go, State College isn't too cold for me, but I'm the guy who wears shorts at below-freezing temperatures.

Abrupt post ending...now!

Today's random thoughts:

1) I don't think I mentioned this week, but to keep the pattern of telling you every time I eat at Bojangles', I ate there last Friday, 20 days after my last visit. Not only did I eat at Bojangles', but I ate at the Bojangles' in Fuquay-Varina. Fuquay-Varina is always a nice, fun little drive.
2) A couple of things about school buses. First off, the "short buses" are often associated with the...umm...special needs children. Given the reputation that short buses have, is this why you don't see them much anymore? Are the special needs children now given full-length buses so they don't look like special needs children, instead blending in with all of the other children?
3) I've driven in rural Virginia a lot over the last two weeks, and I've noticed something interesting about the school bus stop signs. In rural areas all over the country, school bus stops get their own signs. (I guess because cars travel at high velocitiesin rural areas, as opposed to urban areas where those signs aren't necessary?) But in Virginia, all the signs say "School Bus Stop, 800 feet". Every sign gives an 800-foot warning. Why did they pick 800? Why not 1000? How strange.