Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dude

(On location in Toledo, OH, until January 1st.)

The Bud Light "Dude" commercial must have been successful, because now they have (at least) two such commercials circulating the airwaves. Personally, I think they should have stuck with the first. The second commercial is too much like the first, and the first commercial is now worse off because of it. It's kind of like a band having one very successful album, and then putting out a second album that sounds just like the first, but isn't as good, and thus, nobody likes the band anymore.

Why didn't Bud Light keep this commercial for the Super Bowl? Given the downward trend of Super Bowl commercial quality, the "Dude" commercial probably would have been one of the best ones of the year.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Simpsons Trivia: 2007 Recap

Knowing that today was my last day of work this year, I went ahead and finished up my Simpsons Trivia page-a-day calendar for 2007. (For the record, this is the only time all year I've skipped ahead.) Here are my final numbers:

2007 Simpsons Trivia Calendar Statistics
- Year total: answered 170 of 307 correctly (55.4%)
- Questions thrown out: 6 (I throw out a question when I accidentally see the answer beforehand)
- Best month: April (19/25 correct; 76%)
- Worst month: February (10/24 correct, 42%)
- Months with 50% or more correct: 10 (Only February and December were under 50%)

I have another Simpsons Trivia calendar waiting in the wings for 2008. Can I do better this time around? While I have made a good effort to catch up on newer episodes (seasons 12 and up) this year through syndication, that didn't seem to help me in December, which was my second-worst month of the year. (To get a lot of these questions right, you really need to see each episode multiple times.) But the goal is still to do better in 2008 than in 2007.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A New Format - Sort Of

So, I lied. I decided to post sooner than January 3rd, as part of yet another change in blog format.

In an effort to make this more like a blog and less like a daily online column, I'll be making the following changes:
- In general, posts will be shorter, but more frequent.
- No more "skip to the random thought" links, because all "random thoughts" will have their own posts.
- No posting schedule whatsoever. I'll post whenever I feel like it, often the same day the post is written. (What a concept!)
- I'm going for a more laid back style here. To go along with that, post titles won't have quotation marks anymore.

I could go on in more detail about these changes, but is it really that big of a deal? It's still just words on a computer screen. And I wouldn't make the change if I didn't think it would be an improvement.

To go along with the "new format", I published two posts today, plus this one.

Piggly Wiggly Locations By State

On the way back from Jacksonville, we stopped at a Piggly Wiggly in Moncks Corner, SC. I made it a point to stop at a Piggly Wiggly in South Carolina because unlike Piggly Wigglys in North Carolina, the ones in South Carolina actually carry Piggly Wiggly-brand generic soda, including the elusive Mr. Pig. They even had Mr. Pig in 12-ounce cans!

Driving through rural South Carolina, you might see a Piggly Wiggly in every small town with a traffic light. That begs the question: does South Carolina have more Piggly Wigglys than any other state? To find out, I went to the Piggly Wiggly website and counted.

Total Number of Piggly Wigglys in Each State
Alabama - 115
South Carolina - 98
Wisconsin - 94
Georgia - 81
North Carolina - 68
Mississippi - 57
Louisiana - 39
Tennessee - 39
Florida - 10
Arkansas - 7
Oklahoma - 7
Texas - 7
Missouri - 5
Illinois - 4
Kentucky - 3
Virginia - 2
Iowa - 1

Given the chain's reputation as a "redneck" supermarket, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Alabama has the most. But Wisconsin? I knew Wisconsin had a few, but I didn't know they had that many. Clearly, I have not spent enough time in Wisconsin.

Popeyes v. Bojangles'

My obsession with and addiction to Bojangles' chicken and biscuits has been well documented here. But is Bojangles' really the best? To be fair, I should probably sample other chicken places too.

Back in Jacksonville, Popeyes was the place to go for fried chicken. (And because I'm a stickler about this: there is no apostrophe in "Popeyes".) It's been a while since I've been there, so during my Jacksonville visit, I thought I'd see how Popeyes spicy chicken stacks up to Bojangles' chicken.

The verdict: While Popeyes has better biscuits, that doesn't trump the chicken, and their chicken is no match for Bojangles'. Good thing, too, because the only Popeyes location in the Raleigh area is at the RDU airport food court, meaning I would have to would have to pay for parking to eat there. No thanks.

And since I mentioned the apostrophe issue, the RDU website gives a good example of how not to spell the name of the restaurant.

Friday, December 21, 2007

"Holiday Plans"

Here's where I'll be spending the next two weeks:

Fri Dec 21 (today): Driving from Raleigh (Cary) to Jacksonville
Wed Dec 26: Driving from Jacksonville to Raleigh (Cary)
Thu Dec 27 and Fri Dec 28: Working for two days
Fri Dec 28: Driving from Raleigh (Cary) to Toledo
Tue Jan 1: Driving from Toledo to Raleigh (Cary)
Wed Jan 2: Back to work

So, I'll be spending five consecutive nights in Jacksonville. When was the last time I've been in Jacksonville five straight nights? March 2006 - but I'm not sure about that, because I made a one-night trip to Tampa during that Spring Break week, which might have split up my Jacksonville tenures into four nights each. Still, the point is, it's been a while.

While we're there, we will play disc golf, attend a Jacksonville Jaguars home game (against the Oakland Raiders - the rivalry!), and play the Nintendo Wii. If Amber and I get bored, maybe we'll drive to St. Augustine or something. (Or, if we're feeling really ambitions, Tallahassee! I haven't been there in three years.)

While in Toledo, Amber wants to go sledding - something, as a Florida native, I've never done. Hopefully, there will be enough snow on the ground to accomodate us. Last New Year's, there was not. It's also possible we might spend New Year's Eve in Port Clinton again, so we can see a giant wooden fish get lowered to the ground by a crane, but we haven't worked out those details yet.

I wrote a paragraph about how I'm able to take five days off from work by only using one day of vacation time, but it was a really boring paragraph. So, I expunged it from the record.

So...that's it for almost two weeks. Enjoy!

"Cedar Hills Park: Beware"

When I first talked about the disc golf courses in Raleigh, I wasn't very complimentary of the Cedar Hills course in North Raleigh. In fact, I didn't go back for over a year. But now, it's a top choice of mine. What changed?

Well, the last two times I've played at Cedar Hills, it wasn't my first choice of courses. My first choice was another course (a different course each time), except that there was a tournament going on when I wanted to play. In fact, I determined through online research that there was a tournament at three of the first four area courses I checked. (Saturday morning is a bad time to play disc golf, apparently - especially the third Saturday of the month.) But, both times, there was nothing going on at Cedar Hills, and when I got there, the parking lot was nearly empty. Wahoo!

My main beef with the course at first was that it was too tight, and that it was unfair. Well, after playing many other North Carolina courses, many of which are much more tight and unforgiving, I've grown an appreciation for Cedar Hills. It's in the woods, but the fairways are wide enough (in most cases). The rough isn't full of thick shrubbery and thorns that make retrieving a bad throw an adventure. And, I'm a lot better at disc golf than I was last year. Well, I don't know if I'm better. I'm just better at throwing a straight disc off the tee, which is paramount at a course like this. I think my short game (approaches and putts) has gotten worse since last year, a symptom of only playing twice a month, instead of five or six times a month like I used to. I've played Cedar Hills four times, and my score has gotten better on every visit, from the 77 I threw on my first visit to the 65 I threw last weekend.

Why don't more people play this course? Well, before I played on Saturday, I read this article about all of the park's problems. Personally, I don't care if people sell drugs or have sex on park grounds while I'm playing disc golf. Why should I care? That's their business - as long as they leave me alone. As long as my safety isn't compromised, I won't stop playing there. And I don't think this kind of stuff is a problem when I normally play on weekend mornings.

So, if nothing else, I might have an interesting story or two next time I play there. But so far, after four visits, I've got nothing.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Inefficient Christmas Shopping"

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I try to be as efficient as possible with everything that I do. However, with Christmas shopping, I was hardly efficient. Christmas isn't for a few more days, so specifics must remain secret. Instead, I'll speak in generic terms.

First off, I think the most efficient way to do Christmas shopping these days is online. No lines, no waiting, no even leaving the house. It's especially great when someone sends you a link to something they want through email; then there's no doubt that you're getting exactly what they want. But there are two problems with online shopping: 1) Shipping and handling fees. Personally, I'm willing to pay shipping and handling most of the time, if it means I don't have to drive somewhere and battle the crowds. Time is money, right? 2) You have to plan ahead, because it takes time for everything to get to you. By this point, online shopping is pretty much done - if you put in an order now, the only way it'll get to you before Christmas is to pay a lot of money for the super-duper fast shipping. Even then, it's no guarantee. But I finished all of my online shopping on December 10th (at three different web sites), and everything arrived by December 17th. That's how it's done.

Unfortunately, there were some things on my "list" that I couldn't really get online, because I didn't have something exactly in mind. So, between Saturday and Sunday, I inefficiently shopped around, going to two different places twice. I should also mention that some (but not all) of the stuff I got online, I probably could have purchased during one of those trips, and thus saved shipping and handling on one or two items.

I guess it's not that big a deal. Compared to a lot of people, I was efficient - I got all of my Christmas shopping done in a total of four stops and three online visits. But I also have a lot less on my Christmas list than most people. And I think I can do better. I'll try to do a little more "planning ahead" next year.

By the way, everything is much less crowded in the morning than in the afternoon. Sunday morning isn't a bad time to shop, presumably because people are in church. Sunday afternoon, however...

Tomorrow: Two posts! "Cedar Hills Park: Beware", and "Holiday Plans". Then, no posts until Thursday, January 3rd.

Today's random thought:

- There's a new sign in the bathrooms at work, right by the sinks: "Please help us in our effort to conserve water by limiting your usage." Well, if you want to conserve water, why not fix the toilets, so that a) we only have to flush them once to get everything out, and b) they don't automatically flush before we're done? I'm sure that wastes more water than washing our hands does.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Merging"

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First off, forgive me if I've already written some or most of this post in other forms. I can't remember if I did or not. But according to a Google blog search, the word "merging" has only appeared in my blog in four posts:
1) "Traffic Dynamics", which is about traffic jams, not specifically this.
2) A post about how much Hampton Roads traffic blows.
3) A random thought about the new opening of NC-540.
4) Yesterday, as the title of today's post.
So, I think I'm okay, at least from that standpoint. This is still likely to be a boring post.

On the way to work every morning, I have three major expressway "merges" to deal with. They're the thing I like the least about my morning commute. Why don't we diagram them with horribly off-scale maps?

The first merge actually has two parts, turning onto US-1/64 from Cary Parkway. The onramp lane ends right away, forcing a quick merge. That usually isn't a problem; US-1/64 isn't particularly heavy with traffic early in the morning. But then, the lane I just merged into is an "exit only" lane at the next exit, one mile ahead. So, I have a mile to get out of that lane, meaning I basically have to merge twice. This usually isn't a problem either. Actually, the most interesting thing about this portion of the drive is the school buses. Many times, there will be school buses in the lane that becomes the right lane after the "exit only" exit. They often travel with their flashers on at speeds of around 45 mph, which is slow by expressway standards. So, naturally, I'd rather not be behind one if I can avoid it, and it's in my best interests to pass them before my exit in case they take my exit as well, so that I'm not stuck behind them all the way up the exit ramp and onto I-40. To prevent this, I look ahead. Is there a school bus up ahead that I might be able to pass before my I-40 exit (which is 3/4-mile past the "exit only" exit)? If so, my two options are to pass it in the center lane, or if the school bus is closer, I can pull it off in the "exit only" lane. This can actually make a difference of up to one full minute in my commute time. A minute isn't a big deal when you consider that I'll be at work for eight hours, but since I time my commute each morning, it is a big deal - it can make the difference between a below-average and above-average commute time. And just to clarify - after passing the school bus, I do not cut them off and swerve back into the lane. I give them plenty of room before getting in my eventual exit lane. School bus drivers often complain about the lack of respect their fellow drivers give them on the road, so I try my best not to contribute to that. But I don't want to be stuck behind one, either.

Now, merge #2:

My path is in red; I'll explain the blue path shortly. Many expressway-to-expressway interchanges in North Carolina are cloverleafs, and have an exit ramp for both directions separate from the main road. The I-40/US-1 interchange is like this. The problem with this interchange design is the "weaving" that results. When I am merging onto I-40 (red), I have to move into the exit lane, at the same time that the people getting off I-40 (blue) have to make the opposite lane change. Fortunately, since both red and blue need to make a lane change, we often work together to make it happen. Generally, I'll wait for the "blue" car behind me to make his lane change, and then that will give me the clear to move into the main exit lane, using the logic that the person behind me has a better idea of how much room there is between the front of his car and the rear of my car.

But what happens when someone in the "exit lane" isn't actually exiting? Then, you have to just squeeze in. Drivers aren't supposed to use the exit lane if they're not exiting, but sometimes do when I-40 is backed up and the exit lane isn't. That's another problem with this interchange design. I think it's pretty outdated; today's high-speed interchanges all have high-speed ramps with tall overpasses that cross over the center of the interchange to make those "left turns" that the clover leafs used to handle. (These are called "stack interchanges".) Just about every new expressway-to-expressway interchange with high traffic volume has this design. I think it's only a matter of time before they have to redesign this interchange, although it would be quite expensive and probably won't be necessary for at least 20 years. (Which means NCDOT won't get around to it for another 20 years after that.)

Finally, here's the merge that creates all of the traffic problems on westbound I-40 every morning:

(Yes, I used the same map as #2, and made some modifications.)
A lot of cars travel from northbound US-1 to westbound I-40 every morning, and that means a lot of cars like me need to merge onto a highway with only two lanes each way that already has a lot of traffic on it. During a typical morning commute (around 650a), I-40 is backed up, but the onramp is not. Later in the morning, the onramp will be backed up as well. The onramp forms a new lane that becomes an "exit only" lane in approximately 3/4-mile, so I have that long to find a spot to get in. Generally speaking, people on I-40 won't let you in, so I have to find a spot myself. The best way to do this is to speed ahead past some of the I-40 cars, and look for where the I-40 traffic is accelerating. (After the next exit, the congestion eases and traffic resumes a "normal" speed.) When cars are accelerating, there is likely to be a gap where one car isn't accelerating quite as fast as the car in front of them. I've found this to be the case most frequently with large trucks. Thus far, through all of my morning commutes, I've been able to merge every time without having to make a last-moment maneuver at the end of the exit ramp. It's all about planning ahead.

Why won't the I-40 traffic let you in? Well, some people will, but most probably don't want to, as "punishment" for speeding ahead in the soon-to-be-ending lane. You see this in a lot of places, where a lane is about to end, and a few people speed ahead in that lane past the backup and then want to merge at the last moment ahead of everyone else who waited patiently. But this merge is different. How? It wasn't my choice to be in that lane. Everybody from US-1 ends up in that lane. So, we don't have a choice but to merge. And the most efficient way to do it is to speed ahead in the exit lane and look for a gap. What do you want me to do, stop? That would only make matters worse.

Of course, the exception is for the I-40 people who use the exit lane just to get ahead. They're scum, and should not be let in. Unfortunately, the I-40 traffic can't tell the difference.

Tomorrow: "Inefficient Christmas Shopping". Seeing that tomorrow is the first college football bowl game of the season, I considered doing a "College Football Saturday"-style "bowl lineup". But there are already over a thousand (approximately) bowl previews on the internet. I would only be adding to an already oversaturated market. And, quite honestly, I don't have a whole lot to say. I could have published all of my "predictions" as well, but who says my predictions are better than anyone else's? It amuses me how many people publish sports predictions on the internet, as if their predictions are any good. What good are predictions if you're wrong half the time? (I'm looking at you, Bill Simmons. A season record of 97-103-9? Way to go! Why does he get paid to publish his predictions? You're better off flipping a coin.)

Today's random thought:

- On a related note, one stat I briefly considered starting up this week was a "honk" ratio. How many times do I honk at someone, and how many times does someone honk at me? This could be a way to gauge how many dumb things I do on the road against how many dumb things other people do. But there's one problem with that - everybody has a different "honk threshold", including me. How much of a mistake does someone need to make to trigger a horn reaction? If I kept the stat, it would be biased by my "honk threshold", which is probably below the average - I use my horn more than most people. I like to think of it as constructive criticism: "Hey, you could have caused an accident there. Watch out! Next time, you might kill somebody, including yourself!" See, I don't honk out of malice. I honk out of love.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

"Curling Recap: 12/14/07"

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It's the last game of the season! However, of the season's final three weeks, this game actually has the least importance regarding our final standing. The first week determined whether we'd be top four or bottom four, and last week determined whether we'd be in the championship (1st or 2nd) or consolation (3rd or 4th). So, the pressure was completely off. Normally, when the pressure's off, I play my best. I wouldn't say I had one of my best games last week, but it was slightly above-average, and it was good enough for an 8-6 come-from-behind win against the team that beat us 15-2 several weeks earlier. Redemption? Maybe...but cumulatively speaking, we're still losing 21-10.

Normally, when I diagram a shot, I give you one that works in our favor. Well, not this week! I'm going to show you the setup going into our final rock of the 6th end, and what we failed trying to do: (our team = red)

With last rock, the obvious play is to split the guards, and hit both #1 and #2 simultaneously, knocking them both out of the rings. If the shooter stays, we get at least three, possibly four (depending on whether or not #4 is in the rings). We never needed to get the "biter bar" for #4, because the throw missed - the shooter hit #3, and #3 sailed wide of the yellow stones. It was a tough throw, but it would have been nice to have. I like to talk about the large "swings" you can get with curling. Going into the 6th end, we had a 4-2 lead. If we executed the throw to perfection, we would have had a commanding 8-2 lead with two ends remaining. Instead, the game was tied 4-4 - that's a 6-point swing with one throw.

Before I continue...our team was once again down to three people this week, meaning I was the "vice", acting as the "skip" for the skip's two throws. Last time I was the "vice", I thought I did a decent job calling the sweeps. This week, however...not so much. In the 7th end, it cost us some points. On the final throw, with the other team lying four, I called "sweep" on our attempted draw to the button, only to have the stone sail through to the back of the target. While the throw wasn't good enough to win the end, it wasn't a total loss, because it reduced their score for the end from four to two, giving us a two point deficit entering the final end.

Going into the final end, with a two point lead and without last rock, what kind of strategy do you employ? The other team decided their best option was to throw their first rock all the way through, basically removing it from play. The idea was that putting a guard up would actually help us; we're the ones that needed to score two. But this "defensive strategy" backfired - they spent the entire end playing defense, and before you knew it, we had four rocks in the house to their zero, and that was before we even threw our last rock. (We declined our last rock and took home the 8-6 victory.) That may have had more to do with execution than strategy, but still. I haven't been curling long enough to know the strategy, but maybe a two point deficit wasn't enough to warrant the "prevent defense". I'd think you would still need to play some offense in that situation, and make us play a little defense. Otherwise, without last rock, you have to be almost perfect for the entire end to keep the other team from scoring two, if you're strictly playing defense. On their last rock, they'll get one; and if you miss one throw, that's two. That's my logic, anyway. But what do I know?

As with the Summer Bonspiel finale, this match had a "box" up for grabs. To recap the rules: whenever one team throws a draw (untouched by other stones) to within the four-foot ring (the second-closest ring on the above diagram), or throws a double take-out (or better), they get the box. Whoever has the box when the first of the four matches ends wins the box, which contains various prizes for the winning team. (This time, the box contained, at the very least, some beer, and a can of Tim Hortons brand coffee.) So, for example, if we executed our 6th end throw and knocked #1 and #2 out of the house, we would have taken the box, at least for the time being. We did have the box for a brief moment - Amber threw two consecutive draws to the four-foot in one of the early ends, possibly the 3rd - but we didn't win it.

Instead, the team that won it used some rather cheap tactics, I thought. After their game's 6th end, they were losing big - the score was 12-2. But they had the box. Since they were probably going to lose the match anyway, why not concede the match, and thus win the box, because their match would be the first one to finish? Cheap, but within the rules, I suppose. I think there should be a rule change: no team may concede their match until after the 7th end, or until our ice time is up.

So, that's it for the Fall curling season. Some final stats:
- We finished with a 5-4 record (4-3 regular season) and in 3rd place out of 8 teams. I'm satisfied with the result, and it more than surpassed my expectations.
- Our cumulative score for the season was 61-61. Sure, we had that 13-point loss, but we also had two 8-point wins.
- That 13-point loss was the largest margin of victory in the entire league this season. 15 points was also the highest score posted in any one match.
- With only three people on our team, we were 3-0; we were 2-4 with the entire four-man team present. But I wouldn't read too much into that.
- Our team was 3-0 the week after a break (including the season opener). We were 1-3 after winning the previous week, and 1-1 after losing the previous week.
- The league champion was an all-female team. Curling is definitely a sport where both sexes can compete on the same level. In fact, strength can actually serve as a detriment. I think it's safe to say that unlike other Olympic sports, curling does not have a doping problem.

Word is, there will be a "Winter" league starting on February 22nd. Until then, no curling for us. That is, unless they have something going on at the Bowling Green Curling Club between December 29th and 31st. Do we have the courage to take our skills to another curling club?

Tomorrow: "Merging".

Today's random thought:

- How many airports are known simply by their three-letter code? The most obvious one that comes to mind is LAX (Los Angeles). I suppose you could include JFK as well. Locally, the Raleigh-Durham airport also simply refers to itself by its code (RDU). But is it fair to include RDU in this category? Around here, people know what you're talking about when you say "RDU". But I'm pretty sure people outside of the Raleigh area do not. If someone with no ties to the region were flying from Jacksonville to Pittsburgh with a stopover in Raleigh, they would probably not say "I have a stopover at RDU". They would probably just say "a stopover in Raleigh".

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Last Year: 12/17/07"

Mon 12/18/06: "My First Complaint About Cary". It took me that long to complain about Cary? This had to do with the lack of festive Christmas lights in the town. This year, we'll give Jacksonville a shot.
Tue 12/19/06: "Everybody Except Pixar Should Stop Making Sports Movies".
Wed 12/20/06: "Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!" Maybe I should have read this post before I basically repeated myself this year. By the way, if you can get a hold of the movie "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians", I would highly recommend it.
Thu 12/21/06: "The Nations of Africa".
Fri 12/22/06: "How To Make Up Your Own Winter Holiday". Apparently, that week, I really liked long post names.
Sat 12/23/06: "Holiday Reading Material". Like last year, there won't be any blog posts Christmas week. In fact, I'm going almost two full weeks between posts. (I'm under the assumption that between Christmas and New Year's, people won't exactly be sitting at their computers a whole lot. Maybe?) Hopefully, I'll be able to accumulate enough blog material between Christmas and New Year's to carry me for a couple of weeks.

Fri 12/21/07: The last post before my self-appointed "break"
Wed 1/2/07: Another lame "Last Year" post, just to keep with the format
Thu 1/3/07: The first "real" after-Christmas post

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"NHL Announcer Rankings"

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In an effort not to let my purchase of NHL Center Ice go to waste, I've watched a lot of games involving a lot of teams. In the process, I've noticed that how much I enjoy watching a game has a lot to do with the quality of the play-by-play announcer. An exciting and knowledgeable announcer will keep you interested in the game even if it's not a close game, while some announcers make some games almost unwatchable. Well, I think I'm at the point now where I can rank all 30 play-by-play announcers from all 30 teams from #1 to #30.

What are the criteria? Well, the simplest criteria is this - without regard to the teams involved, which announcer would I most like to hear broadcast the game I'm watching? I think the best announcers are those who do three things: 1) accurately recall the game action; 2) get excited when the time is right; 3) call the game fairly and without too much bias towards his home team. Every team's announcer will have a little bit of bias; it's only natural. But some are worse than others. The best announcers get excited and raise their voice when either team scores, not just their team. But, if your enthusiasm is good enough (and used appropriately), you can overcome a little bit of bias.

The rankings are purely based on the play-by-play announcer, not the color guy (a.k.a. the analyst). In my opinion, the color guy doesn't add much to the broadcast. (With one exception, which I'll get to.)

Now, without further ado, here are my rankings, separated by category:

The Top Three

The easiest choice on the board was #1 - Mike Emrick (New Jersey Devils; FSN New York). He's the #1 announcer on Versus, and for good reason. He's basically all the things that I said makes a good announcer, and even has a sense of humor.

Next up, I have the voice of all those EA Sports NHL games, #2 - Jim Hughson (Vancouver Canucks - RSN Pacific). (RSN = Rogers SportsNet; Canada's version of FSN.) All these years, I've heard him on the video game, saying player's names with great enthusiasm (Salo! Moss! Hnidy!), but never really thought, "Does this guy actually announce hockey for a living?" Well, yes - he does the Canucks games on RSN, and he also usually does one of the Hockey Night In Canada games on CBC (usually the nightcap, sometimes the mid-afternoon game when there is one). He's not as constantly enthusiastic live as he is in the video game, but that's okay - he's still fantastic. Whenever I think he might be broadcasting a game (usually late at night), I'll record it. (Side note: some Canucks games are broadcast on "Canucks PPV" and not RSN; those games are not announced by Hughson. But those games do not make up the majority.)

Rounding out the top three is the voice of the Buffalo Sabres on MSG, #3 - Rick Jeanneret. He probably gets more excited than any other announcer, and it's fun to listen to. And, he is biased, but the good kind of biased - he gets excited when both teams score, but he gets even more excited when the Sabres score, to the point where when I watch a Sabres game, I'll root for the Sabres to score just so I can hear Jeanneret go nuts.

The Next Sixteen

I think with the next group, I'm basically splitting hairs. All of these guys are good announcers. But first in this section, I have former ESPN announcer #4 - Dave Strader (Phoenix Coyotes - FSN Arizona). How did this guy end up in Phoenix, of all places? I guess NHL play-by-play TV gigs don't come along every year. Better yet, Strader is paired with fellow former ESPN analyst Darren Pang. He's the only color guy that has given his counterpart a boost in the rankings.

#5 - JP Dellacamera (Atlanta Thrashers - SportSouth). You may recognize Dellacamera from his World Cup soccer broadcasts. I always wondered what he did in those 47 months between World Cups...

#6 - Dean Brown (Ottawa Senators - RSN East). The Canadian announcers are pretty solid. I would expect nothing less.

#7 - Rick Peckham (Tampa Bay Lightning - Sun Sports). Am I biased because I "grew up" listening to this guy? Perhaps. But I've heard Peckham broadcast national games on Versus, so that gives him extra credibility.

#8 - Ken Daniels (Detroit Red Wings - FSN Detroit)

#9 - Howie Rose (New York Islanders - FSN New York)

#10 - Joe Bowen (Toronto Maple Leafs - RSN Ontario). One could argue that Bob Cole (lead announcer for Hockey Night In Canada) is actually the Leafs' primary announcer, because he broadcasts the Leafs every week on CBC (or at least most weeks). But they'd both be ranked about in the same spot.

#11 - Kevin Quinn (Edmonton Oilers - RSN West)

#12 - John Forslund (Carolina Hurricanes - FSN South). If Forslund wasn't the announcer for my home team, would I have him ranked as high? Maybe, maybe not. But like Peckham, Forslund has done games on Versus, so that gives him credibility. (As you'll see with #27, broadcasting games on Versus doesn't always give you a boost.)

#13 - Jack Edwards (Boston Bruins - NESN)
#14 - Roger Millions (Calgary Flames - RSN West)

#15 - Sam Rosen (New York Rangers - MSG). Rosen also broadcasts NFL games on FOX. Does that give him credibility? Perhaps. But I think he's a little too boring to be ranked higher than 15th. But, again, everybody through #19 is a good announcer.

#16 - Mike Haynes (Colorado Avalanche - Altitude)
#17 - Dan Terhaar (Minnesota Wild - FSN North)
#18 - Randy Hahn (San Jose Sharks - FSN Bay Area)
#19 - Pete Weber (Nashville Predators - FSN South)

The Guy Who Doesn't Speak English

If I have #20 - Pierre Houde (Montréal Canadiens - RDS) ranked here, whose game broadcasts are in French, what does that say about the next 10 guys? Actually, I like listening to Canadiens games in French - it's kind of like watching World Cup soccer on Univision, except that I have more familiarity with French than Spanish. Unfortunately, NHL Center Ice almost never gives us an RDS broadcast. We only get RDS when a Canadiens game is not being broadcast in English by the other team, which so far has only happened once - in the season opener against Carolina. And, according to the TV schedule, it's not going to happen again the rest of the season. That's too bad.

The Six Guys Without a Sufficient Sample Space

The next six guys, I haven't seen a whole lot. Five of them broadcast Western Conference teams, whom I usually don't stay up to watch. (Occasionally, I'll record a late-night game and watch it the next day, particularly if it might be a Jim Hughson game.) The other one is the Philadelphia Flyers announcer; for some reason, NHL Center Ice doesn't like to give us the Flyers broadcast, instead opting for the opponent's feed. But I have watched at least part of one game with each of these announcers, and they didn't do a lot to pique my interest. I've also heard them on "NHL On The Fly: Final", a highlight show broadcast nightly by the NHL Network. (My DVR records it every night.) They let the in-game announcers dictate the highlights for us, so it's a good way to sample how each announcer handles exciting moments. And, sometimes, if we're lucky, they'll even give us RDS-style French language highlights!

#21 - Ralph Strangis (Dallas Stars - FSN Southwest)
#22 - Jim Jackson (Philadelphia Flyers - CSN Philadelphia; CSN = Comcast SportsNet)
#23 - John Ahlers (Anaheim Ducks - FSN Prime Ticket)
#24 - Bob Miller (Los Angeles Kings - FSN West)
#25 - John Kelly (St. Louis Blues - FSN Midwest)
#26 - Dan Kelly, Jr. (Chicago Blackhawks - CSN Chicago)

The Bottom Four

Now, these are the guys I'd rather not have to listen to, starting with the Versus #2 announcer, #27 - Joe Beninati (Washington Capitals - CSN Washington). For some reason, Versus thinks he's a good announcer, but I don't care for him. I find him annoying. I think his voice has a lot to do with it. That, and his version of "shoots" ("Fires!"), and his goal calls - he almost always just says the goal scorer's name, and sometimes the score. (Example: "He scores! Alex Ovechkin! It's 3-1 Capitals!") Great. Boring. How very "video game" of you. Care to elaborate?

#28 - Paul Steigerwald (Pittsburgh Penguins - FSN Pittsburgh). Is Steigerwald an improvement over Mike Lange (the Penguins' former TV announcer)? I'm not sure. But it doesn't help when your broadcast looks and feels like a minor-league broadcast. That's not Steigerwald's fault, but still, he's part of the package.

#29 - Steve Goldstein (Florida Panthers - FSN Florida). I think Goldstein is in his first year broadcasting the Panthers, so maybe I should cut him a break. But I think he spends too much time talking about whatever and not enough time covering the game. Many times, when NHL On The Fly uses FSN Florida for its highlights, Goldstein is talking about something completely unrelated to the game at the beginning of each highlight. And then, abruptly, "He scores!" Goldstein is probably more suited for baseball than hockey. In baseball, you have to make small talk.

#30 - Jeff Rimer (Columbus Blue Jackets - FSN Ohio). This choice was almost as easy as #1. I can't listen to this guy. He's awful. He's also the biggest homer of the bunch. When the other team scores, he doesn't even bother to raise his voice. The good news is that this guy is in Columbus, and we can completely ignore his existence if we want to.

In these rankings, it's quite possible that I completely disrespected a "famous" or "legendary" announcer somewhere and put him in the 20s. Maybe some hardcore hockey fans will stumble upon this post via Google and set me straight.

Tuesday: "Curling Recap: 12/14/07". With back-to-back posts about hockey and curling, would you guess that I was born and raised in Florida, and now live in North Carolina?

Today's random thought:

- Lately, I've been trying to stay online via AIM constantly, like the old days. I'm doing this for no particular reason. I can't take a run at my personal online longevity record (27 days), because I'm leaving town in a week. I think I'm just doing it for the sake of doing it.

Friday, December 14, 2007

"The Battle of the Odometers"

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One of the frills of getting two new cars in 32 days is all of the mileage comparisons I can make. I'm going to try to take full advantage of this opportunity.

First off, I've added a tab for Amber in the car mileage log (link above to the right). I asked her if she was interested in having a log of her own for her new car, and she said, "Sure!" I'll be posting projected mileage dates for her as well, so that we can compare.

Personally, I think my car will reach "high-mileage status" sooner than her car. Here's my reasoning:
- I got a 2,500-mile head start. However, she's going to cut into that some this month, because of this month's three road trips, we're taking her car on two of them (Harrisonburg and Toledo), and my car on the other (Jacksonville).
- My work commute is slightly longer; 19 miles (one-way) compared to 14 miles. That doesn't sound like much, but let's do the math. That's 10 miles extra each day. Multiply that by 5 days/week and 48 weeks/year, and that's an extra 2,400 miles I put on my car each year just by driving to work. (To explain the 48 weeks/year: there are 52 weeks in a year. I get 10 days of vacation each year, plus 10 paid holidays. Amber gets 15 days of vacation and 6 paid holidays. Both result in approximately four weeks off each year.) Of course, as soon as we move out of the apartment and get a house or something, the work commute distances will change, and might result in a longer commute for Amber.
- Our discs for disc golf are in my car. Thus, when we go disc golfing, we'll probably take my car. Our disc golf trips can be up to 300 miles round-trip, so they can be a significant source of mileage. Sure, we could take Amber's car, but that would require moving the discs into her car, and that's an extra step. And, between us, I'm the only one that would disc golfing alone.

Long-distance road trips are likely to be a wash; we'll split those miles as evenly as possible. But whichever car we take on the honeymoon will get a huge boost. (That is, unless we decide to rent a car, which might not be a bad idea, considering the wear and tear that the Nova Scotia trip inflicted on my car. We're probably better off keeping our cars "new" as long as possible.)

Now, some words about the odometers themselves. Like my odometer, Amber's is digital. I guess that's how they make them these days; I miss the old "rolling" odometers. Although an advantage of the digitial odometers is that by the push of a button, I can convert it to kilometers! Amber's car doesn't have that option. But Amber's car does show the odometer even after you turn the car off. Once you turn my car off and take out the key, out goes the odometer. Many times, I've had to put the key back in just to get the odometer reading. Another minor difference - my odometer has leading zeros; Amber's does not. I'm not sure which I prefer. (This paragraph was completely useless; I just needed to pad the post a little.)

The "battle of the odometers" is sure to be a fight to the finish! Wahoo! I'll have more fun tracking it than I should. (By the way, I reached 3,000 miles last night.)

Tomorrow: "NHL Announcer Rankings".

Today's random thought:

Last night, Amber and I went to Applebee's. I couldn't remember the last time I went to Applebee's; the only reason we went was because of a gift card. But one nice thing about my "dinner times" spreadsheet is that I can find out exactly how long ago that last trip to Applebee's was! June 19th, 2004, in West Valley City, Utah - almost 3½ years ago.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

"Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Christmas Specials"

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A week or so ago, while looking through the program guide, Amber noticed "Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys" being aired on ABC Family. Thinking that this was a classic Christmas special from the 1950s or something, we recorded it. Wrong! It was a newer computer animated version. That took all the fun out of it. We didn't watch the rest of it.

There are a lot of bad Christmas specials on TV these days. (I think half of them are on ABC Family. Remember back when it was the Family Channel? Those were the days. Now, with all of the crappy "ABC Original Movies" they throw on the air, almost all of which are chick flicks, it seems like it should be called Lifetime Junior. Yuck.) Maybe I'm just not a kid anymore, and I can't appreciate new Christmas specials because they're geared towards today's generation of kid, I don't know. But I think they should stick with the classic Christmas episodes. You know, the Charlie Brown special, "Frosty the Snowman", the original "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", the original "How the Grinch Stole Christmas", and so on. (Am I missing any? Wasn't there a California Raisins Christmas special back in the day?) These days, the classics get aired as early as November 27th (that's when ABC aired Charlie Brown this year), you get a whole bunch of remakes, new specials with characters you don't care about, and bad movies on ABC Family. Are these new specials really an improvement? I don't think so. They're nothing more than cheap knock-offs. It's like they're selling me Cheese Nips and telling me they're Cheez-Its. Or something like that.

Over the weekend in Harrisonburg, we did get a hold of the original "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" from the 1940s, and watched it. Now...don't get me wrong. If you showed a 7-year old kid the 1940s special and a special from the last 10 years, they'll prefer the newer special. No question. But that's not the point is. The point is, enough already! There are already enough Christmas specials in the world. There are also way too many Christmas movies and Christmas songs. They're all the same, they're all about the same general story (Santa Claus gives toys and elves make them), and there are too many of them that contribute nothing to the market except to oversaturate it with garbage. No wonder ABC has to start airing Christmas specials in November - they have to make room for all of the new crap.

Meanwhile, it's only December 13th, and I'm already sick of Christmas. But that's what happens when society tries to make it a five-week holiday. How can anyone possibly stay in the Christmas spirit for that long?

Tomorrow: "The Battle of the Odometers".


Today's random thought:

- Throughout the holiday season, you will find the Salvation Army "bell ringer" outside area stores collecting donations. When we saw one outside Wal-Mart, he was standing by the store entrance, not the store exit. Amber mentioned that she usually sees the bell ringers at the store exit, not the entrance. This begs the question - which location will result in the most donations, the entrance or the exit? I would think it's the entrance, because at that point, the customers haven't spent their money yet. And by the time customers reach the exit, they're probably tired of shopping and just want to go home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"The Classic Diner"

First off, just to at least mention it, Amber and I made a mini-road trip to Harrisonburg, VA last weekend (Saturday morning through Sunday evening) to see some of her friends. I didn't get much blog material out of it, but we did eat "brunch" at this place called L&S Diner in Harrisonburg on Saturday. It was your classic diner-type setup - everyone sits at the counter, and they cook the food right in front of you.

I don't have a whole lot of experience with the diner-type setup, instead opting for fast food or sit-down restaurants. I guess Waffle House is sort of like a diner, but I think I've only been to one Waffle House in the last ten years. (I've been to just as many Waffle Kings during that time, in fact.) Personally, I've never been crazy about seeing my food cooked right in front of me. It might reassure some people to know that nothing "funny" happened during their food preparation, but with most restaurants, I'm much more interested in the final product than the process. I don't really care to see it prepared. I think it devalues the product in a way, especially with breakfast food, because they make it look so simple. Why did I even bother going out to eat? I can do that at home! I enjoy my food much more when they cook it behind a wall and I have no idea how much or how little work went into it. It doesn't affect the food quality, but of course, everything pales in comparison to Waffle Shop.

Do diners qualify for the "dinner times" competition, where I time how long it takes my food to be served? That's a tough call. Sit-down restaurants definitely qualify; fast food restaurants definitely do not qualify. Diners fall somewhere in the middle, so I usually determine it on a restaurant-by-restaurant basis. For example, I did not time Waffle King - it had too much of a fast food feel to it. Meanwhile, I did time L&S. It took 9m04s, which is pretty fast, especially considering that there were six of us. Since I began the spreadsheet in Summer 2004, that's the fastest time for any restaurant with a party of five or more. (The previous such record was held by Cafe 210 West in State College, which was in the 11 minute range.) But should it count? Unlike most restaurants, everybody got their food as soon as it was ready, instead of the entire party getting their food at once. That definitely sped up the process. Had they waited for the last person's meal to finish cooking, I'm pretty sure it would have taken longer than 11 minutes. With the diner setup, where the food is prepared right in front of you, it would be silly to wait. But that gives diners an advantage, one that might be unfair. I'm still thinking about this. I'm starting to lean towards removing diner-style restaurants from the competition. That is, if you're kind of like Waffle House, and they prepare the food right in front of you, then you don't qualify for my "dinner times" competition. That's still undecided.

On an unrelated note, the city of Harrisonburg (an independent city not located in any county) was the 16th different "county" I've stayed overnight in this year. (I don't like Virginia's "independent cities". They really complicate by-county statistics.) I don't expect any more new counties to add this year, but that's okay, because 16 is a lot. Last year, I only had 10.

Tomorrow: "Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Christmas Specials".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Curling Recap: 12/7/07"

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It's playoff time! And no matter what happens from here on out, we're guaranteed at least a 4th-place finish! Yay!

But, we lost, so I expected the ice to be fast again this week, just like last week, but it wasn't - it was much slower. I much prefer fast ice, because I don't have to throw it as hard, meaning I can concentrate more on the line. Sweeping is also more effective on fast ice (I think), so I have more room for error when it comes to the weight. Fast ice is also less susceptible to "random unexpected slowdowns". But, enough excuses - by the time we figured out the speed of the ice, the match was half over, and we were already losing 7-0. We played much better from there on out, eventually losing 9-5, so I'm not all that disappointed. (The web site lists the score as 8-5, but I'm pretty sure the other team had two in the house when we stopped the match, which would have made the score 9-5. Oh well - it doesn't matter.)

For the "diagrammed shot of the week", let's go to the 5th end, which often seems to be a "decisive end" - except in this match, because we were already losing 7-0. At this point, we just wanted to score. We had at least one, possibly two stones in the house (the second one was barely touching the outer ring, maybe). And, we had the house well guarded (or so we thought), and had last stone. But on the other team's last throw, they basically had one play, which they executed perfectly:
(yellow - our team, red - the other team)

(Disclaimer: I don't remember where guards #4-6 actually were; I just put them there in the picture to illustrate that that side of the ice was guarded.)

Well, now what? What do we do with last stone? Well...maybe we can make the same throw, except with more weight to try to knock their stone out, or at least away from center. That was the plan. But this is what actually happened:

#1 hit #7, knocking #7 out. And, #1 stayed in the house, giving us two, maybe three. Let's hear it for "Plan B"!

So, was stone #3 in or out? To find out, we used something called a "biter bar". Basically, it's a 12-foot long pole with one sharp end that points down, which you stick into the center of the house, allowing you to rotate the bar around the house. If the other end of the pole can touch the stone that's "biting" the edge of the house, it's in. If not, it's out. And, as luck would have it, it was in. (That was the second time we needed the biter bar during the game, but I've never seen it used prior to Friday night. It's rarely needed, because it's only necessary when one team has no stones in the house, which doesn't happen all that often.) So, instead of trailing 8-0 with three ends to go, we only trailed 7-3, and we were still in the game. We even got it down to 7-5 going into the last end, but the last end didn't work out so well.

So, remember that 15-2 game we lost a few weeks ago? That team was playing in the other winner's bracket match, meaning there was a chance we'd play them again next week in the season finale (either the league championship, if we both won, or the 3rd-place game, if we both lost). I looked at their score from time to time (we have manual scoreboards, and we're not afraid to use them), and noticed that one team was blowing out the other. The eventual final score was 11-1. Naturally, I thought the team that beat us 15-2 won the game. But, nope - they were on the other end of the blowout. So, having both lost last week, that means we get to play them again next week. Goody. I don't believe in "moral victories", but let's be honest - if we only lose by two or three, I won't be all that disappointed. What's the difference between 3rd and 4th place, anyway? It's not like this is the Winter Olympics.

Today's random thought:

- We associate Christmas with winter, snow, and cold weather. Thus, many "Christmas songs" really have nothing to do with Christmas at all, but just snow and whatnot. But what if we lived in a place like Australia? Then, Christmas would occur in the middle of summer. Instead of drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace, we would be going to the beach and having cookouts for Christmas. Thus, I'd say about half of the "Christmas songs" that get airplay in this country don't apply in Australia. At least, that's my logic.

Monday, December 10, 2007

"Last Year: 12/10/07"

Mon 12/11/06: "Early Thoughts on Christmas". Early? It's only two weeks away! That's not early, especially by today's standards.
Tue 12/12/06: "Putt-Putt Golf and Games".
Wed 12/13/06: "Let's Settle This Once and For All". After a bunch of us wrote blog posts regarding which states belong in which regions, I don't think the topic has been of serious discussion since then. Consider it settled. (Or, more accurately, I think we all agreed to disagree.)
Thu 12/14/06: "The Chris Allen Calendar".
Fri 12/15/06: "Taco Bell Sucks".
Sat 12/16/06: "Poker Over and Over". I still have a Sunset Grille gift card in my wallet, leftover winnings from poker. Since I haven't played bar poker since I wrote this post, that means the gift card is more than a year old. I presume it's been partially used. I wonder how much is left on it...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

"A Half-Assed College Football Preview: Redux"

At the beginning of the season, a bunch of us made predictions on how this college football season would go. Now that the regular season's over, let's make fun of our predictions!

1) Pick a team in the preseason top 10 who will NOT be in the top 10 when the regular season ends. Using the same poll (USA Today) as the basis: If you said Florida, Texas, Michigan, or Wisconsin, you're correct! Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, USC, and West Virginia all started and finished the season in the top 10. The consensus pick was Florida (ding); my pick was Wisconsin (ding).

2) Pick a team not in the preseason top 10 who WILL finish in the top 10 at the end of the regular season. Correct answers: Georgia, Missouri, Kansas, and Hawaii. Two people had Hawaii, and one person (Lindsey) had Georgia. Ding! My pick (South Carolina) didn't pan out, but it looked good for a while.

3) Predict the regular season record of your favorite team. I predicted 8-4 for Florida State, and they went 7-5. As for everyone else, everybody over-predicted their team's win total, except for Robert Carver, who predicted 11-1 for his Oklahoma Sooners without a Big XII Championship game appearance. Counting that game, they went 11-2. So, partial credit. As for the rest of you, you're all a bunch of homers.

4) Predict the order of finish (top four teams) in your favorite conference -- if you pick SEC, Big 12 or ACC, pick the top 2 in each division. I'm going to skip the consensus on this one, in lieu of the "conference champions" prediction that will come later. My predictions - I predicted Virginia Tech would win the Coastal Division of the ACC, so at least I got something right.

5) Predict the biggest upset in your conference (must be a conference game). Did anyone get their prediction correct? Two people - Jeff [Frame] (Illinois over Wisconsin) and Jon Lee (Oregon over USC). However, as I recall, at the time of the game, both of the "underdogs" were actually favored by Vegas to win. So...partial credit.

6a) How many undefeated teams will there be at season's end (NOT including bowl games)? As I said in the consensus post, nobody predicted one team, instead opting for two or zero. Guess how many went undefeated? Oh well.

6b) Which teams will be going undefeated? Hawaii got four votes, including one from me. Hooray! (By the way, I am counting Jeff [Frame]'s picks here, even though they weren't part of the consensus post.)

7a) Predict the BCS teams. Let's go conference-by-conference. ACC - 5-of-9 said Virginia Tech. Ding! Clemson? Not so much. As the "ACC Expert" of the bunch, you'd think I would have made better ACC predictions. Big East - 5-of-9 said West Virginia. Ding! Big Ten - only one vote for Ohio State (Robert Carver); five incorrect votes for Michigan (including me). Big XII - only one vote for Oklahoma (Jared); six incorrect votes for Texas (including me). (No votes for Missouri or Kansas.) Pac-10 - Only one person didn't have the correct answer, USC. SEC - Six correct votes for LSU. At-large berths - the most-popular incorrect pick was Texas; everybody had them in the BCS somewhere, either as a conference champion or at-large. Here's how many pre-season votes (out of 9) each actual BCS team got: USC (9), West Virginia (6), LSU (6), Virginia Tech (6), Oklahoma (5), Hawaii (4), Ohio State (3), Georgia (1), Illinois (0), and Kansas (0). If anyone had Illinois or Kansas getting an at-large bid in the preseason, that would have been amazing. (That's kind of what I was going for with that South Carolina pick.) Surprisingly, the Georgia pick was not UGA alum Lindsey, but was Mike Mathison, who ruined any good will he might get for his pick by answering "Notre Dame" for #2.

7b) Predict the BCS championship game and the national champion. Four people picked LSU as national champion (and one picking them as the loser of the championship game), so they're still alive. Nobody had Ohio State getting this far.

8) Not a prediction question, so it will be skipped.

9) Who will have more wins at season's end, JoePa or Bobby Bowden? Paterno picked up one this season, but still trails Bowden by two, 373 to 371. 5-of-9 got that right.

10) Also not a prediction question.

Tuesday: "Curling Recap: 12/7/07".

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Let's Go Marlins!"

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This week, my "beloved" Florida Marlins traded its two best players (or, at least, its two highest-paid players) to the Detroit Tigers for six prospects. Anyone who follows baseball knows that the Marlins trading high-paid players for prospects is nothing new. But I'm here to provide my perspective as a Marlins fan. What's it like to root for a team that will win the World Series every now and then, but is absolutely terrible the rest of the time?

Actually, it's quite nice. Some years, the team has no expectations, so I don't need to bother getting my hopes up. Other years, the team has a shot. Instead of rooting for a team that can content for a playoff spot year after year, but isn't good enough to win the World Series, I don't have to deal with disappointment every year. The last two seasons, there was no disappointment with the Marlins. I knew they would stink before the season began, and they did just that, for the most part. No effort wasted on my part thinking about the chances of postseason glory. But here's the difference between the Marlins and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays: the Marlins are building towards something. With all these prospects, they can have a really good team in a few years, as long as they keep everyone around. I just hope that's the plan. Eventually, they should work to keep everyone around for a season or two. During those years, then they put out a (relatively) large payroll. The rest of the time, why spend $30 or $40 million a year to put a losing team on the field when you can do the same thing for $15 million? Is winning 75 games really that much better than winning 65? Not in my book. I think that's the smart way to lead a small-market franchise. Over a six-year period, if you have $180 million to spend, you're better off spending $90 million one year and $15 million the other five years, than doing like the Devil Rays do and spending $30 million every year. I just hope that's the plan. Eventually, they're going to have to keep high-priced players around for a season or two, instead of perpetually trading them away when their salary exceeds $5 million. Then, after one or two seasons of attempted glory, trade everyone away and start over again.

Meanwhile, to anyone who roots for the Tigers: you're welcome. The Red Sox won this year's World Series with two players traded from the Marlins in similar fashion (Josh Beckett and Mike Lowell). Other Marlins players from the team that won the 2003 World Series are floating around the league as well, the most successful of whom have been Brad Penny (Dodgers) and Derrek Lee (Cubs). (Carlos Delgado was also with the Marlins in 2005, and was part of their 2005-2006 "fire sale", being traded to the Mets.) Carl Pavano aside, if the Marlins kept their team together, how awesome would they be? Instead, here we are.

As for next season, the fact that they traded Cabrera and Willis away means that next year isn't the year, and the team knows it. Whew - that's a relief. I was considering getting MLB Extra Innings to watch my team next year, but now that I know my team doesn't have a chance, I don't have to! I'm assuming that the team is waiting for their new stadium before they make another run at the title. Not a bad strategy, because as it is, nobody is going to the games. But I'm not convinced the situation is going to improve even after they build a new stadium. Personally, I think the team should move. Miami has had their chance to support the team, and they've blown it. Give another city a chance to support Major League Baseball!

If the Marlins moved to another city, would I still root for them? Well, that depends on where they moved:
- Yes: Raleigh (obviously), Charlotte, Norfolk, Salt Lake City, Portland, anywhere in Canada
- No: San Antonio, Puerto Rico, anywhere in California
- I'd have to think about it: Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, anywhere in Tennessee

For now, I'm sticking with them. No question. But if they don't make an attempt to win the World Series within the next six years, I'll consider finding a new team to root for. As I proved with the Florida Panthers, I'm not afraid to abandon my team for a new one if the team doesn't give me something in return.

Tomorrow: "A Half-Assed College Football Preview: Redux".

Today's random thought:

- Yesterday at home, Amber used the fireplace in a very generic scene of holiday cheer. How cold should it be in order to justify using the fireplace? I think it varies by location, because Jacksonville never gets as cold as it is in Pennsylvania nearly every day in December. Yesterday was probably as good a day as any - the temperature never got above 41°, which will probably end up being one of the lowest high temperatures all season.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"New Car Shopping, Part 2"

(Sorry about the lack of random thoughts this week...)

This week, on very short notice, Amber decided to get a new car. The culprit - a gaping hole in the radiator of her Dodge Stealth. Repairs would have gost $750, and only then would we know if the engine was damaged. Given that the car is 16 to 17 years old and has over 195,000 miles on it, and that Amber now has a well-paying job, we both decided it was time for a new car. (But she was so close to 200,000! I would have been rather pissed if my car broke down at the 195,000 mark. Fortunately, I didn't let my car even get to 170,000.)

Buying a new car can be stressful, but the good news for Amber is that I just went through the process five weeks ago! So, we have a little more of an idea what to expect. Like me, Amber had already done the research and knew what she wanted - a Mazda 3. It's just like a Honda Civic, only "more fun" (according to her), "not as common", and "not as boring" (I'll give her that). Besides, she's driven Mazdas in the past. (By the way, by watching Canadian NHL games on NHL Center Ice, I've learned that the Canadians pronounce Mazda differently than we do. Americans pronounce the first a like a short o (as in "pot"), but Canadians pronounce it like a short a (as in "cat"). Weird, huh?)

First question - which dealer to go to? Like with Honda, there are three Mazda dealers in the area - one in Cary, one in North Raleigh, and one in Durham. Early on Tuesday, she did the online "request a quote" thing for all three dealers, and the Durham dealer was the only one of the three to actually give her a number, which was a good price. (Of course it was - they just want you in the door. The "catch" with those prices, as we later discovered, is that those "quotes" are for something not as specific as the car you want.) So, we went there. Durham is probably the best place to go anyway.

I was driving and accompanying her to the dealership (mostly to act as the "male intermediary" to offer helpful advice and make sure they weren't pulling any fast ones on her, and to make sure they didn't talk her into the extended warranty or service plan), so I felt kind of guilty driving up in my brand new Honda. Would they think less of me/us if they knew I just bought a car from one of their hated rivals? Well, they obviously didn't give us that impression, because the last thing they wanted was for us to buy another Honda.

I think another reason we went to the Durham dealership was because they had the exact car she wanted, with regards to color and options and such. So, to make a long story short, she bought it that day. Now Amber has a new car. Wee!

Having just bought a new car myself, I'm obligated to make comparisons to the Honda. During my test drive, I asked some questions. "How much horsepower does this car have?" It has 148, which is slightly more than my Honda (140). I'll sacrifice eight horsepower for a little more fuel mileage. Amber, on the other hand, feels the opposite. "How big is the gas tank?" The Mazda3's gas tank is slightly larget, at 14.5 gal, compared to the Honda's 13.2. (When I was car shopping, I already knew all of this stuff, but this week the actual numbers had escaped me.) "Does the radio have speed-sensitive volume controls?" Nope. (Actually, it does. Is the salesman trying to sell us the car or not?) "Can the CD player play MP3s?" Nope. I guess we'll have to bring the case full of CDs when we take trips in Amber's car. And, also, I think the Honda salesman was much better than the Mazda salesman. I don't think the Mazda salesman ever even told us his name. Oh well - we can't all be like Honda, right?

Wow, will you listen to me? I've turned into a 100% Honda "honk". I'm totally biased now. (How soon before they enter NASCAR? Come on, Honda, what's holding you back? You could totally kick Toyota's ass.) But, quite honestly, riding in her Mazda after driving my Honda for a month really seemed to be like taking a step backwards in technology. In my opinion, Honda really knows what they're doing, and their main focuses are on fuel economy, low emissions, and dependability. (Their marketing is very much "green"-oriented.) The important thing is, however, that Amber likes her car, which she does. Now we can have fun little "competitions" with our Japanese cars. (Side note: while my car was actually assembled in North America, Amber's car was assembled in Japan.) First one to 100,000 miles? I have a 2,500-mile head start, and I imagine we'll try to split up the miles evenly between the two cars on our road trips. And since I have a slightly longer work commute, I suspect I'll win the mileage battle.

One quick word about credit ratings, which affect financing: where do they come from? Is it a matter of paying your credit card bills in full every month? Is all you have to do pay the minimum balance? Actually, according to the salesman, it has more to do with your credit card balance, not necessarily the payments you make. If your balance is around 30% of your credit limit, that's good. If your balance is around 50%, that's neither good nor bad. But if your balance is in the 75% to 100% range, that's bad. People with bad credit often have three or four credit cards, all nearly maxed out.

Two new cars in two months. Wahoo!

Tomorrow: "Let's Go Marlins!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Meijer"

In the Midwest, you will find a supercenter-style store called Meijer (pronounced "Myer"). They're a lot like Wal-Mart Supercenters, only better. Problem is, they only have locations in five states. Why don't they expand? Maybe they're taking a Publix-style approach to corporate expansion - just a little bit at a time, don't overextend yourself. (Wikipedia says that "hypermarkets" such as Meijer are more successful in northern states where winter weather makes it less convenient to visit multiple stores.)

First of all, I've long-publicized my pet peeve regarding the unnecessary pluralization or possessivity of store and restaurant names (Eckerds, Ruby Tuesdays, etc). Well, it's especially bad with Meijer - everywhere you go, people say "Meijers". Everywhere! I don't think I've ever actually heard anyone just say "Meijer". Oh well - I can't fight it.

Why is Meijer better than Wal-Mart Supercenter and many other grocery stores? Let's list the reasons:
1) They're not Wal-Mart. That's a reason in and of itself.
1a) A subheading of not being Wal-Mart is that Meijer is a regional chain, not a national chain. Regional chains are generally a little more polished, with a focus on the customer and not world domination.
2) Selection. We went on Thanksgiving Day in Toledo to get a few food items, and found a couple of gems. First, I found Diet Faygo Redpop. I used to be on a "generic strawberry soda" kick, but then when I converted to diet soda, I stopped, because they don't make diet strawberry soda. Well, I found one. Even though Faygo Redpop was one of my least favorite strawverry sodas, and Diet Redpop leaves a lot to the imagination, it's the principle of the matter. Not only did Meijer have Faygo, the "red-headed step child" of generic sodas, they had Diet Redpop! Then, after that, we found ½% milk! I don't know if Wal-Mart Supercenter has either, but on the occasions I have been there, I haven't seen it. I think I would have remembered seeing Diet Faygo Redpop.

Hmm...those are actually the only reasons I can think of. I just think it's refreshing to see a place like Wal-Mart Supercenter that isn't Wal-Mart Supercenter. Super Target doesn't count. There is one on the West Coast called "Fred Meyer" - which, apparently, is part of the Kroger corporate family, but not the Meijer corporate family, even though the current chairman of Meijer is someone named Fred Meijer. Confusing? I wonder if the locals call it "Fred Meyers".

Actually, you know what? I think I'm against this whole hypermarket concept. It's a little too dominating. But given a choice between Wal-Mart Supercenter and Meijer, I'll take Meijer. (I'll also take Fred Meyer based on "benefit of the doubt".)

Tomorrow: "New Car Shopping, Part 2".

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

"Curling Recap: 11/30/07"

In last Friday's regular season finale of the Fall League, everything was on the line. Win, and we're in the winner's bracket of the playoffs. Lose, and we're in the loser's bracket. (I think there was still a chance for us to "back in" to the winner's bracket with a loss, but it was a slim chance.) Worse yet, our team was down to three players this week. But we've won with this three-player lineup before...could we do it again?

Final score: a 10-2 victory. Wahoo! We didn't even play the 8th end, but that had more to do with time constraints than with the score. (Week in and week out, it seems like our game is the last one of the four to finish.) If the game had been closer, we might have tried to squeeze in a final end. Instead, we earned the #3 seed, which means we don't have to play the #1 seed in our next game, the team that clobbered us 15-2 three weeks prior. Then again, I think next week's opponent is just a likely to beat us, even though we won the regular season meeting 7-5. How many times in sports do you see a playoff team get the opponent they'd "rather play", and then lose?

There were a couple candidates for "diagrammed shot of the week". I had a double take-out early in the match, but it wasn't very diagram worthy, because the shot was lined up perfectly - two opposing stones one behind the other, with the 2nd stone slightly off-center of the first one, with no guards in the way. All I had to do was hit the lead stone head-on, which I did. But then, there was this throw, the last throw of the 5th end. We had last stone and a 4-2 lead, with the other team lying two, which would have tied the game with three (or two) ends remaining. Instead, we (and by we, I mean Howie, the skip) pulled off this shot, which I'm not even sure I diagrammed accurately: (Red = our team)

The original plan was to "raise" #4 by hitting #3 into it, so that #4 would become "shot rock" (i.e. the closest to the target). (This was actually an easier throw to pull off than trying to sneak the shooter through the gap untouched. There might have also been a guard in the way that took that shot out of play - I forget.) We also had a plan B: if the line was off to the right, try to glance it off of #1 so that the shooter itself would become shot rock. As the defacto skip to the throw, I had to pay attention to weight and line. Sweeping not only affects the speed of the throw, but also the line; stones will curl less if you sweep. In the end, what happened was this (to the best of my memory): The shooter glanced off #3 and into #1. #3 hit #4, but ever so slightly, inching #4 forward just enough to become shot. But we weren't out of the woods just yet - the shooter also hit #1. Fortunately, it hit #1 hard enough so that #1 went all the way through, and came to a stop farther from the target than #4 did, at which point I exclaimed excitedly, "One red!" So instead of a tie game, we had a 5-2 lead, and we cruised from there.

I was actually the defacto skip on that throw (the actual skip was the shooter), so I had a lot going on, because I was in charge of calling "sweep" or "no". (It's a fun job, I must say. But I kept it simple - nothing like "HURRY! HURRY! HAAAAAAAAAARD!") As the stones began hitting one another, I had some options. Should I sweep #4 to get it closer to the center, or should I sweep #1 so that it slides on through? Well, for one thing, here's an important rule: you can't sweep the other team's stones until they pass the tee line (a horizontal line passing through the center of the target), even if it's during your team's throw. So, I couldn't have swept #1 until it passed that point anyway. My natural inclination was to sweep #4 anyhow - which, it probably didn't make a difference in the end, but I thought I'd provide some insight on how complicated "skipping" can be. It's nice to be able to plan your shots ahead of time, but things normally don't work out exactly the way you planned, so you need to be able to improvize on the fly and re-think throws in progress to decide how to call the sweeps. I had a lot to think about, so the throw diagram may not be completely accurate. At the time, I wasn't exactly thinking, "I better remember this throw so I can diagram it on my blog next week!"

Our whole team played well, and I owe that to a few factors. For one thing, we played with the "good set" of curling stones, which certainly makes things a lot easier. The ice surface was as fast as I can remember, which sounds like a bad thing, but it actually makes the stones easier to throw, because you don't have to throw them as hard, enabling you to concentrate on weight and line instead of strength. And, of course, the two week break had to play a role. As I've discussed in the past, I always play better after a break.

Tomorrow: "Meijer".

Monday, December 03, 2007

"Last Year: 12/3/07"

The good news is that because I wrote this post ahead of time, I was able to put more time into it than last week. The bad news is, that gives me an opportunity to ramble about soccer.

Mon 12/4/06: "The NCAA Women's Soccer Championship". This year, the Final Four College Cup isn't until this coming weekend, and it's in Texas. Noteworthy things that have happened in this year's tournament so far: North Carolina, the definitive favorites year-in and year-out, lost to Notre Dame in the round of 16. Oops. Penn State, a #1 seed just like UNC, lost in the round of 16 - just like UNC. Meanwhile, we get yet another Florida State v. Notre Dame Final Four College Cup semifinal matchup. This year's men's soccer Final Four College Cup will be in Raleigh (Cary) at SAS Soccer Park. And none of the schools I care about will be involved. Oh well.
Tue 12/5/06: "Smath.
Wed 12/6/06: "The New Way To Get To Pennsylvania: Update". My favorite thing about this post is the random thought.
Thu 12/7/06: "These Bowl Games With Their Very Long and Obnoxious Names Are Getting Ridiculous". Pretty much everything I said last year still applies.
Fri 12/8/06: "Find Your Spot!"
Sat 12/9/06: "College Basketball Weekend #1".

Sunday, December 02, 2007

"Raleigh (Cary) <--> Toledo: Part 3"

When I last visited this thread, I needed one more round trip to Toledo to determine the fastest route from Raleigh (Cary) to Toledo. One round trip later, I have the answer: I-40 west to Winston-Salem, US-52 north to I-77, I-77 to Ravenswood, WV (north of Charleston), US-33 to Columbus, US-23 to Findlay, and I-75 the rest of the way:

This was actually the route I took on the way back from the Labor Day trip, when I said that route took just as long as I-77/I-80. But that was taking the long way around Columbus on I-270, something I did so that between the two Columbus routes, I would have traversed the entire length of I-270. The short way around saves 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, last weekend, I took two new routes. The first one was like the eventual winner, but took different routes north and south of Columbus. South of Columbus, we took US-35 to US-23 via Chillicothe, then took US-33/OH-31/US-68 from there to I-75 in Findlay:

The main difference between this route and the winning route was south of Columbus. I-77/US-33 is a much faster route, mostly because of West Virginia: I-77 is speed limit 70, while US-35 is a slow two-lane road. The Ohio portions of those routes are a wash. North of Columbus, there wasn't much difference between the new route and US-23 in terms of time. But if we're coming into Columbus from the southeast on US-33, we're better off taking US-23 from there, instead of taking an extra 4 minutes to get to the northwest branch of US-33. (Also, taking exit 44 instead of exit 39 for US-35 in West Virginia didn't make a difference.)

On the way back from Toledo, instead of taking I-80 (the Ohio Turnpike) all the way to I-77, we cut the corner on US-250:

This route saves 29 miles, but as it turns out, it's 7 minutes longer. Oh well - it was worth a shot. And I was able to add a couple of counties to my county map by taking this route, too. (Since I mentioned it, last weekend's routes added six counties to my total, bringing my up to 915 counties nationwide, 15 short of the 30% mark. (In my last update, I said had 908 counties; the extra one is because I forgot to count Grayson County, Virginia, which I visited on this trip five months ago. How'd I miss that one? See, if nothing else, this blog is great for documenting everywhere I go.) Also, my new car has now been to 43 counties in four states, up from five counties in one state.

I should note that while holiday traffic was bad in North Carolina and Virginia, we had no problems in West Virginia or Ohio. Thus, traffic congestion did not affect the parts of the trip that I needed for this study.

Now, the numbers. Over the last three round trips, incorporating the average amount of time each trip segment took, here are the average trip times for each of the different route possibilities from Charleston, WV to Toledo:

I-77/US-33 to Columbus, US-23/OH-15 to Findlay, I-75 to Toledo: 4h51m
I-77/US-33 to Columbus, US-33/OH-31/US-68 to Findlay, I-75 to Toledo: 4h56m
I-64/US-35/US-23 to Columbus, US-33/OH-31/US-68 to Findlay, I-75 to Toledo: 4h59m
I-77 to Cleveland, I-80 to Toledo: 5h02m
I-64/US-35/US-23 to Columbus, US-23/OH-15 to Findlay, I-75 to Toledo: 5h04m
I-77/US-250 to Sandusky; I-80 to Toledo: 5h09m
I-64/US-35 to Dayton, I-75 to Toledo: 5h22m
I-64 to Lexington, I-75 to Toledo: 6h57m

I'm happy for the result. For one thing, the winning route does not use the Ohio Turnpike, so we get to save some money and go the fastest way. It's also shorter mileage-wise than some of the other routes, which means less money spent on gas. The roads are also slower than interstates, which means better fuel economy. Wahoo! It also goes right by Ohio University in Athens, Amber's alma mater.

So, does this mean we'll take this route every time we go to Toledo now? Probably not. All this means is we'll take it next time. Beyond that, who knows?

Now, for something completely different - "bonus" thoughts on college football from yesterday:

- If LSU (SEC Champion) doesn't get into the BCS title game and Georgia (not SEC Champion) does, then that's not right. But, nonetheless, I hope Georgia gets the nod. Every "unfair" season gets us closer to a playoff, right? (In theory.) Since my team's not involved, I don't really care if this season is "fair" or not. I think LSU, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kansas would all beat Ohio State. (Virginia Tech? Nah...)
- The most entertaining thing from yesterday's games was watching Dave Wannstedt's sideline temper tantrums.
- During the ACC Championship (played in Jacksonville), ABC tried their hardest not to show a view of the entire stadium, either from the blimp or from the stadium itself. As far as I could tell, the entire upper deck was empty. But the official attendance wasn't all that bad (53,212). While it's easy to say that the game shouldn't have been played in Jacksonville, let me ask you this: would more people have attended the game if it were in Charlotte? I doubt it. The only way you would get more than 60,000 is if you played it at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
- Between the Dr Pepper ACC Championship, Dr Pepper Big XII Championship, and the SEC Championship Presented By Dr Pepper, I probably saw that fat-football-player-touchdown-dance commercial about once every 15 minutes. That commercial has definitely surpassed the point of diminishing returns; every time I see it makes me less and less likely to purchase their product.

Tuesday: "Curling Recap: 11/30/07". The exciting conclusion to the regular season!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

"College Football Saturday: 12/1/07"

Even though there aren't as many games today as there are on a typical College Football Saturday, the good news is that today is Tim Tebow-free. Hooray! I'm a little sick of hearing everybody in college football talk about Tim Tebow. It was especially bad during last weekend's Florida v. Florida State game. Verne Lundquist, normally a top-notch announcer, spent most of the game sucking up to Tebow and campaigning for him to win the Heisman. It was sickening to listen to, even more so than the game itself was to watch. Get a room, you two!

Time slot 1

Game 1 - ACC Championship: Boston College v. Virginia Tech, 100p, ABC: When they decided to put the ACC Championship in Jacksonville, they probably figured that more often than not, Florida State or Miami (FL) would be involved. How's that working out for them? Last year, the stadium was half-empty. How can you expect Jacksonville to get excited about Georgia Tech and Wake Forest? That said, if I still lived in Jacksonville, I'd probably go to this game. Every year.
Game 2 - Conference USA Championship: Central Florida v. Tulsa, 1200p, ESPN: How many college football fans didn't even know C-USA had a championship game?
Game 3 - Army v. Navy, 1200p, CBS: I usually root for Navy in this game, because I grew up in a Navy town. Go Navy, Beat Army! (Again!)
Game 4 - MAC Championship: Central Michigan v. Miami (OH), 1100a, ESPN2: If Miami (OH) wins, they're the MAC champions. If they lose, they're 6-7, and thus not bowl-eligible, and would have been better off not playing in this game in the first place. How is that fair? (The MAC is talking with the NCAA about getting Miami (OH) an exception. Even so, I'm not sure if a 6-6 MAC team would get invited to a bowl game anyway.)

Time slot 2

Game 1 - SEC Championship: LSU v. Tennessee, 400p, CBS: Isn't this game usually in primetime? I can think of two good reasons for the switch: 1) To make Army/Navy a lead-in game for a doubleheader. 2) Because the Big XII Championship is in primetime, a game with "national championship implications".
Game 2 - UCLA at USC, 430p, ABC: The Pac-10 does a couple of things right. For one thing, they play a 9-game conference schedule, which means one fewer game against the Big Sky conference. (This 12th game that the NCAA has added recently? Most teams just use it as an opportunity for a win against a FCS I-AA team. Why even bother? Personally, I think teams should play a 10-game schedule, plus a conference championship, plus a 16-team playoff.)
Game 3 - Oregon State at Oregon, 430p, ESPN2: The Pac-10 also puts the majority of their rivalry games on the final weekend of the season, in lieu of a conference championship. Why does the Big Ten insist on ending their season so early? It forces all of its teams to play for 12 consecutive weeks with no bye week. How is that a good thing?

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Big XII Championship: Missouri v. Oklahoma, 800p, ABC: Speaking of the Big Ten, when Ohio State lost to Illinois, the immediate reaction was that they're out of the national championship picture. I wasn't so quick to dismiss them. That was only their first loss, and there are a lot of one-loss teams. Now, Ohio State only needs Oklahoma to win this game, and they're back in. College football commentators are too quick to jump to conclusions sometimes.
Game 2 - Pittsburgh at West Virginia, 745p, ESPN: Don't blow it now, West Virginia! If you win this game, one of my half-assed preseason predictions might actually be correct! (Specifically, that West Virginia would finish with one loss at USF.)
Game 3 - California at Stanford, 700p, Versus: The competition is on! Versus! Contact your local cable or satellite provider.
Game 4 - Arizona at Arizona State, 800p, ESPN2
Game 5 - Washington at Hawai'i, 1130p, ESPN2: Hawai'i must not believe in noon games (local time). If they played at noon (500p ET), they might get a national audience. Instead, at 1130p, nobody on the East Coast is going to watch. But don't blame Hawai'i - I bet ESPN determines their game times, and the only way they can fit Hawai'i into the schedule is to put them on late at night. By the way, when I talk (type) about Hawai'i, I'm going to start putting the apostrophe (actually called an 'okina) in the name, because that's how they spell it. I would have done this a couple of weeks ago, but I decided against it because appending a possessive 's onto the end (as in, Hawai'i's weak schedule) looked awkward.

For the final week of the regular season, 12 games isn't too shabby. I was hoping for some FCS I-AA playoff games as well, but all four I-AA semifinals are on ESPN GamePlan. Boo! Why can't these games be on CSTV or ESPNU or something? Well, they actually are on TV, somewhere...but more on that later. As for ESPNU, they're showing college basketball all day.

Speaking of college basketball, now that the season is well underway, let's list all of this weekend's televised games, just for fun:

Saturday
Game 1 - Duke at Davidson, 1200p, ESPNU
Game 2 - Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt, 100p, FSN South
Game 3 - North Carolina at Kentucky, 200p, ESPN2: This game follows the MAC Championship, which starts at 1100a. Can anyone say "joined in progress"?
Game 4 - Connecticut at Gonzaga, 330p, ESPN
Game 5 - South Carolina at Clemson, 400p, FSN South: FSN has an outstanding lineup of games this weekend.
Game 6 - Bowling Green at Oakland, 400p, FCS Atlantic: My beef with FCS Atlantic is that they don't show any of the Florida State games from FSN Florida. Isn't that what the FCS channels are for? Showing college sports from the various FSN channels nationwide? Ugh.
Game 7 - Western Kentucky at Northern Arizona, 430p, FCS Pacific: The "little guys" get more attention in basketball than football, because unlike in football, they actually have a chance at winning the national championship.
Game 8 - Washington at Oklahoma State, 530p, ESPN
Game 9 - Michigan at Harvard, 530p, ESPNU: Thanks to the Big Ten Network, I suspect ESPN is trying to show as many Big Ten road games as they can. (There is a storyline behind this game, though: former Michigan coach Tommy Amaker is now coaching at Harvard.)
Game 10 - Boston College at Providence, 600p, ESPN Classic
Game 11 - Cincinnati at UAB, 600p, CSTV
Game 12 - Ohio State at Butler, 730p, ESPNU: See my comment on Michigan/Harvard.
Game 13 - Indiana at Southern Illinois, 930p, ESPNU: See my comment on Michigan/Harvard.
Game 14 - UC Santa Barbara at Loyola Marymount, 1000p, CSTV
Game 15 - Missouri at California, 1100p, FSN South: Isn't it clever how this game doesn't start until after Missouri and California's football games have been played?

Sunday

Game 1 - Kansas at USC, 200p, FSN South: I'm not sure how many of the FSN South games are national, or just on FSN South, so I'm just going to list these games as "FSN South" games. For example, I think Saturday's Georgia Tech/Vanderbilt game is FSN South-only. But generally speaking, if an ACC or SEC team isn't involved, it's probably national.
Game 2 - Arizona State at Nebraksa, 200p, ESPNU
Game 3 - St. John's at Miami (FL), 400p, FSN South
Game 4 - Stanford at Colorado, 400p, ESPNU
Game 5 - Texas A&M at Arizona, 600p, FSN South
Game 6 - Hampton at Howard, 730p, ESPNU
Game 7 - Texas at UCLA, 800p, FSN South
Game 8 - Oklahoma at TCU, 800p, CSTV

23 games is pretty good for the first weekend in December. Now, what if I got the Big Ten Network? Then, I'd get 5 more games on Saturday: UC Riverside at Minnesota (100p), Indiana State at Purdue (300p), Weber State at Illinois (500p), Jacksonville at Michigan State (700p - how often is Jacksonville University on TV?), and Eastern Illinois at Iowa (900p). Then, there's also the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), another channel not carried by Time Warner Cable. They're showing four games this weekend: Loyola (MD) at Mount St. Mary's (730p Saturday), Auburn v. George Washington (230p Sunday), East Carolina v. George Mason (500p Sunday), and Maryland v. VCU (730p Sunday). And, on Saturday, they're also showing - of course - the FCS I-AA playoffs, including the Appalachian State game. Dammit! While I support Time Warner when it comes to NFL Network, MASN is another story. If Time Warner doesn't carry MASN by the time my NHL Center Ice subscription runs out (April-May), I'll revisit my satellite options once again.

Tomorrow: "Raleigh (Cary) <--> Toledo, Part 3".