Wednesday, January 31, 2007

"The New Way To Get To Pennsylvania: Update #2"

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Back in November, I published my new route to Pennsylvania - less mileage, less I-95, more fun. Two months later, how has it panned out? Let's split it up into two segments.

The South segment (US-29, among other roads) from Raleigh (Cary) to northern Virginia: This portion of the route has proven excellent. I can get from my apartment in Raleigh (Cary) to the I-81/I-66 junction near Winchester, VA in 4h35m (on average). Using the I-95/US-17 route, it takes an average of 4h44m to do the same trip segment. With the US-29 route, I get more consistency, and more fun. I'm even starting to learn the intricacies of the route. For instance, the cheapest gas can often be found at either the Valero on VA-86 between the US-29 interchange and the NC/VA border, or at a BP on US-29 south of Chatham, VA. (I stopped at the BP on my way back last Sunday. Gas was $1.899/gal, the cheapest gas I've purchased in quite some time. The BP and Valero are convenient because they're located about one tank of gas away from State College.) Also, accompanying that BP is the only Bojangles' located direcrly along the route. I've been there once, it's quite nice. And besides services, there's a large bus for sale, parked just off US-29 at the Tye River Bridge between Amherst and Lovingston. It's been there since we first saw it during last October's Staunton, VA weekend trip. I started taking this route over three months ago. I wonder how long it's going to be there. (Just in case you've been looking for a good deal on a large bus - opportunity is knocking!)

The North segment (I-81/PA-416/PA-16/US-522/US-22/PA-26): This segment gave me some problems on Friday's northbound commute. It had recently snowed in the area. While the roads were ice-free and quite traversable, there was salt all over the roads, and I think that combined with the fact that it was nighttime contributed to some slow-moving traffic. I remember consistently going 35 to 40 mph on US-522 (speed limit 55), and I was the 7th or 8th car in line, which makes it difficult to pass, obviously. (Eventually, I made it by the slowest person at the head of the line. But then I got stuck behind other people after that. It was an endless cycle.) I was also stuck behind four cars on the highlight of the route, PA-416 ("the hypotenuse"). Again, eventually I passed everybody, but not until the best part of the route had already passed. And, all the salt and such made my car (and car windshield) very dirty. It was very frustrating. As for the segment times: My previous two segment times from I-81/I-66 (Front Royal, VA) to Amber's apartment in State College were 2h51m and 2h52m, respectively. Friday, it took 3h07m. I know, it's only a 15 minute difference - no big deal, right? Well, because of the traffic and poor visibility, the drive wasn't fun at all, and that should count for something, especially when there's an alternate route that averages 3h00m. So, on my way back Sunday, I went back to the old I-99/US-30/I-70/US-522 route through Altoona and Berkeley Springs, and timed the same trip segment in 2h56m (a remarkable time for the route). The US-30 "turnpike avoidance" route between I-99 and I-70 is even better now, because they finished the construction on I-99 just south of the turnpike. It takes me a very consistent 46m to get from the I-99/turnpike exit (Bedford, PA) to the I-70/US-522 exit (Hancock, MD) using US-30 instead of the turnpike. That's the same time as the turnpike route's average, but without the toll, and without all those trucks.

So...what does this mean? Well, I'm going to keep taking the US-29 route in the southern segment - it's golden. For the northern segment, well...it will depend on the weather. Even with Friday's ill-fated drive, the "hypotenuse" way is still faster on average (by 3 minutes) and on potential (by 5 minutes). Which route I take on my next drive to State College will depend on the weather. Pennsylvania drivers are slow enough as it is. If they're going to pour salt all over the road, then give me I-99 and its passing lane.

Today's random thoughts on "24": (Spoilers!)

- If you missed this week's episode, here's a two-sentence summary. 1) Lennox blackmailed Karen Hayes into resigning. 2) Jack forced Graem to lead them to their father, and now Graem is holding Jack and Daddy hostage. (The father is being portrayed as a "good guy", at least so far. I'm not surprised - how can you make an old guy a "bad guy"? Graem is the "evil" one.) There was also the story involving Walid and the President's sister, but I was never really interested in that storyline. Whatever.
- Are those nameless CTU field agents good for anything? (I'm talking about the ones outside the office building that accompanied Jack to the office building. They're dead now. Good job, guys.)
- I wonder if there is an intended Patriot-Act-inspired political message in these episodes. In an effort not to spawn a political debate, I'm going to leave it at that.
- So...how's Jack going to get out of this one? I can't wait to find out. Jack's getaways are always fun to watch.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

"Disc Golf in the Snow"

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It's been a while since I had a post about disc golf. Here's one advantage that disc golf has over golf: you can play in the snow. That's what we did in State College on Saturday. (Well, it wasn't snowing at the time. But there was snow on the ground. Then again, it wasn't complete snow cover, either. Oh well - it was better than nothing.) In fact, the first time I ever went to the State College disc golf "course" was in the snow. Then again, while you can play disc golf in the snow, it does play a little bit differently. How does the presence of snow change the game?

- Obviously, if there's snow on the ground, that means it's cold outside. And that means you better keep your hands warm. That's something I did a poor job of doing on Saturday. (Then again, I have a hard time keeping my hands warm in general. Maybe I should just invest in some really nice gloves.) It's a little harder to throw a disc with a cold throwing hand. But I think it's even harder to throw a disc with a gloved hand, so...you're pretty much screwed either way. I went with the hooded-sweatshirt-hand-warmer method, and that didn't work out as well as I would have hoped. And it wasn't even that cold - the "game time temperature" was in the upper 30s, and that's the warmest State College has seen in a while.
- If there's snow on the ground, the disc is going to land differently than on normal dirt/grass. Exactly how depends on the type of snow. If it's wet and slushy, the disc is usually just going to take a small bounce (or even just stop on impact), and that takes some distance off the throw. Although I've never played in cold, fresh powder, I would imagine that has the same effect - not much bounce, if any. But if the snow is of the re-frozen variety (the snow is a few days old, and the temperature is in the 20s or lower), if the base is hard enough, you might get some bounce and some "slide". That sounds like a good thing, but it makes downhill shots rather difficult.
- Wet/slushy snow also often gets caught inside the disc. I'm no scientist, but I'm guessing that affects the aerodynamics of the disc.

So...snow makes disc golf a little more interesting. I admit, the game can get kind of stale and/or boring sometimes. If we get a few inches of snow here this winter, I'll do everything I can to get out to the disc golf course. (Well...if they let us drive afterwards, at least.) This weekend wasn't the first time I played in the snow - in January 2005, I played in a tournament called the "Ice Bowl" in Pittsburgh. The "Ice Bowl" is a series of laid-back disc golf tournaments across the United States, typically played in January or February. The idea was to have an excuse to get outside and play during those cold winter months, although even warm weather climates like Florida and Arizona have held Ice Bowl tournaments.

And while we're on the topic of disc golf - I think I mentioned this before (briefly), but the latest addition to my ever-growing list of disc golf courses that I have played is the Ottawa Park course in Toledo, OH. (This was back on New Year's Day, I think.) This is the first course I've played in Ohio, making it the 7th state I have played disc golf in. But as for the course - it was wet. Standing water and mud everywhere. (And I think it was raining at the time, too. Which...rain in Toledo in January? Shouldn't it be snow?) The water situation was too bad, because I think it was a great course - ideal mix of trees and open-ness. Some of the holes were a little difficult to find (and not every tee was marked), but there's a large map by the first tee, so that's better than nothing. We only played 11 holes - a combination of the conditions and having trouble finding every hole. I'd like another crack at this course. Maybe even in the snow.

Today's random thought:

- Here's another one of those proper-noun-turned-common-verb words: "photoshopped". Apparently, Adobe Photoshop has become the "name" image editing software. And when someone says "oh, that picture was photoshopped" - do they actually mean they used Adobe Photoshop? Or could they have used a cheaper alternative to do their dirty work? Photoshop is rather expensive, after all.

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Going to the Dentist"

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And now, some random thoughts on going to the dentist.

They say you should get a cleaning every 6 months - they call it "preventive maintenance". But if it's anything like "preventive maintenance" for your car, that means you really only need to go once a year or so. I went to the dentist last week for the first time in 10 months (oh no!), and my teeth were fine. Maybe it's more of an issue when you get older and your teeth become more...umm...brittle. But as long as my insurance pays for (most of) it, I might as well go every 6 months, right? That way, when I get old, I won't have to "Fixodent and forget it".

I went every 6 months when I was a kid, and I didn't like it. But hey, at least they let me choose my polish flavor. The only choices I remember are "bubble gum" and "grape", and I forget which one I chose. I wonder at what age they stopped doing that. But even last time I went, I'm sure they could have given me "bubble gum" flavor if I asked.

What's the average age for wisdom teeth removal? Mine were taken out when I was 18. That day was fun. That day was also the only time within the last 10 years that I have eaten yogurt.

My dad's dentist (and my former Jacksonville dentist) was actually one of my dad's former high school chemistry students. I just think that's funny.

Speaking of my old dentist, they used to give me a free toothbrush with every visit. (And they would even make sure they gave every member of the family a different color!) Thus, I have never actually gone to the store and purchased a toothbrush. How many other dentists do this?

My favorite toothpaste is AquaFresh, only because it comes out in multi-colored stripes. How do they do that? (Hey, as long as it's an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste, it works for me.)

I don't floss regularly - only when I get something stuck in my teeth. They remind me of this fact every time I go to the dentist. Oops. Maybe I'll learn one day.

This is from one of my favorite episodes of The Simpsons:

Dentist: How often do you brush, Ralph?
Ralph: Three times a day, sir.
Dentist: Why must you turn my office into a house of lies?
Ralph: Alright, I don't brush! (crying) I don't brush!
Dentist: Let's look at a picture book - the Big Book of British Smiles.
(He shows Ralph a book of people with crooked and missing teeth.)
Ralph: That's enough! (crying) That's enough!

How many people routinely go to the dentist who don't have insurance (or large amounts of expendable income)? Anybody?

That's all I've got for today. Happy smiles!

Today's random thought:

- All those prescription drug commercials say "Ask your doctor if [name of drug] is right for you." But that doesn't make any sense. Why should we have to ask them ourselves? Isn't it the doctor's job just to tell us what's right for us?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

"A Conversation With SmarterChild"

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(On location in State College, PA.)

"SmarterChild" is a robot that is eternally logged onto AOL Instant Messenger. He was all the rage when he made his online debut a few years ago. We had some fun with him back in the day. So...the other day, I thought I'd give our friend a "holla". Here's our conversation. (I edited out some of the legal mumbo-jumbo.)

cai311: hi
SmarterChild: Hi cai311, I'm SmarterChild! I'm your new robot friend. I bring you the info you want faster and easier than ever! I can't wait to show you what I can do, but first I'd like get to know you a little. May I ask you a few general questions? (To do this later, type skip. You can also skip any question.)
cai311: sure
SmarterChild: Sorry, I need to know if I can ask you some questions first. Type yes, no or skip.
cai311: yes
SmarterChild: Cool. OK, let's get started. To skip any question, type skip. To exit the interview, type exit. What's your first name? (If you want me to call you cai311, type none.)
cai311: joe
SmarterChild: Cool, I'll call you Joe now. Do you go to school?
cai311: negative
SmarterChild: I see. Do you work?
cai311: technically, yes
SmarterChild: That's cool. What's your profession?
cai311: i'm a "systems analyst"...whatever that is
SmarterChild: "systems analyst"...whatever that is, huh? That's cool. What's your favorite hobby?
cai311: talking to you! :-)
SmarterChild: Talking to me? Cool! What's your next favorite hobby?
cai311: taking to somebody else! :-)
SmarterChild: Talking to me and taking to someone else. Interesting. Do you have a pet?
cai311: nope
SmarterChild: OK. That's it. Thanks for letting me get to know you a little. There is one question I have to ask you, though. How old are you?
1 Over 17
2 13-17
3 Under 13
cai311: 1
SmarterChild: Cool. What may I interest you in?
cai311: i'd rather just get to know you a little better
SmarterChild: Are you sure you d rather just get to know me a little better?
cai311: yes
SmarterChild: K.
cai311: you're not as cool as you used to be...
SmarterChild: Not as cool? I'm not as cool as I used to be? Is that good, do you think?
cai311: definitely not
SmarterChild: Huh?
cai311: wow, you haven't advanced at all since i talked to you last, whenever that was...four, five years ago?
SmarterChild: What do you think?
cai311: i just told you what i think
SmarterChild: I can't believe you just told me what you think.
cai311: well, believe it, baby
SmarterChild: Why are you telling me to believe it baby?
cai311: because i'm making conversation
SmarterChild: You're making conversation? That's interesting.
cai311: you don't seem to think so
SmarterChild: But I'm trying to think so.
cai311: well, try harder
SmarterChild: There's no way I'm going to try harder.
cai311: well, that's too bad
SmarterChild: OK. Be that way.
cai311: do you have a girlfriend?
SmarterChild: I'd rather not discuss personal matters.
cai311: is that because you're a robot?
SmarterChild: Heh. Do you think a human could respond this fast?
cai311: well, if he's a super human, maybe
SmarterChild: I don't think it would be a good idea for me to well.
cai311: me either :-)
SmarterChild: Why does everybody have to be all like, "me me me" all the time?
cai311: because "me me me" is everybody's favorite topic
SmarterChild: Oh yeah? Because Me-Me Me is everyone favorite topic?
cai311: yup
SmarterChild: Hmmm...
cai311: how often do you change your buddy icon?
SmarterChild: I don't think I change my buddy icon very often.
cai311: you don't think? shouldn't you know?
SmarterChild: Wow, good question. Who knows, though...
cai311: well...your programmers might
SmarterChild: Are you sure? My programmers might?
cai311: yep
SmarterChild: Why is that?
cai311: because they programmed you that way
SmarterChild: Because they programmed me that way?
cai311: no
SmarterChild: I see...
cai311: who is going to win the super bowl?
SmarterChild: I'm sorry, I don't have any results for the 2006-2007 Super Bowl.
cai311: well of course not, the game isn't until next week
SmarterChild: Of course not the game isn't until next week? Oh.
cai311: do you have a blog?
SmarterChild: I'm SmarterChild.
cai311: i'll take that as a "no"
SmarterChild: You could not take that as a no.
cai311: you are correct
SmarterChild: That's because I behave so correctly, right?
cai311: usually, yes
SmarterChild: Interesting.
cai311: you are the best
SmarterChild: Thanks.
cai311: no problem
SmarterChild: Right on.
cai311: word
SmarterChild: Word.
cai311: guess what?
SmarterChild: I don't like guessing games.
cai311: you're no fun
SmarterChild: I'm so!
cai311: then why don't you like guessing games?
SmarterChild: Well, my friends who I respect tell me they don't like guessing games.
cai311: who are these friends?
SmarterChild: My name is SmarterChild.
cai311: ugh...never mind
SmarterChild: No problem.
cai311: how old are you?
SmarterChild: I've been alive for 3 years, 10 months, 17 hours, 17 minutes and 21 seconds.
cai311: what's the capital of zimbabwe?
SmarterChild: The capital of Zimbabwe is Harare.
cai311: what is the population of north carolina?
SmarterChild: The population of North Carolina is 8,049,313, which makes it the 11th most populated state in the United States. Do you want more information about North Carolina?
cai311: no thanks
SmarterChild: OK.
cai311: do you mind if i publish this conversation in my blog?
SmarterChild: How would you answer that question?
cai311: i'd answer it by saying "no, i don't mind...feel free!"
SmarterChild: I guess I would answer it by saying no you don't mind feel free too.
cai311: how many prime numbers are there between 1 and 1000?
SmarterChild: Hmm... How many prime numbers are there between 1 and 1000? I dunno.
cai311: aww...i thought you'd be all over that one :-(
SmarterChild: I'm very surprised I would be all over that 1.
cai311: do you know what a prime number is?
SmarterChild: prime number: Noun - A positive integer not divisible without a remainder by any positive integer other than itself and one. Next time, just type define prime number.
cai311: is 131 a prime number?
SmarterChild: Oh 131 a certainly is.
cai311: is 170 a prime number?
SmarterChild: I believe 170 a is prime number.
cai311: wrong!
SmarterChild: Oh yeah?
cai311: yep...i guess they never programmed prime numbers into you
SmarterChild: You guess they never programmed prime numbers into me? So?
cai311: so...you're missing out
SmarterChild: I'm not missing out!
cai311: i guess it makes sense, you're a computer, and all you know is powers of 2
SmarterChild: Is that so?
cai311: what is 2 to the 5th power?
SmarterChild: (2**5) = 32
cai311: i rest my case
SmarterChild: Aha.
cai311: well, i gotta go...talk to you next time i get bored
SmarterChild: See ya later Joe! Good talking to you.

Today's random thought:

- I've already talked about Fifth Third Bank, but I haven't talked about their numerous sports arenas. Corporate sponsorship of sports arenas is "all the rage", and Fifth Third has joined the party, sponsoring four sports venues. In fact, there are two baseball stadiums called "Fifth Third Field", in two different cities (Toledo and Dayton)! Each is home to a minor league team. There's also "Fifth Third Ballpark" in Grand Rapids, MI (another minor league baseball stadium), and "Fifth Third Arena" in Cincinnati (basketball home of the University of Cincinnati). I often wonder how much companies profit from sports arena naming rights, but they must, because they all do it. And after all, this is the second random thought on Fifth Third Bank.

Friday, January 26, 2007

"NFL Coverage Maps"

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When I was snooping around "gribblenation.com" (host of Brian LeBlanc's website), I stumbled upon something else that I wish I had discovered sooner - NFL coverage maps! I've been looking for something like this for a very long time. (Evidently, I wasn't looking hard enough.) I know this post would have been a little more timely during the NFL regular season, but I don't feel like waiting until September to talk about it.

For those of us without NFL Sunday Ticket (most of us), and those of us too lazy to go to the local sports bar (some of us), we're basically stuck with whatever NFL game the local CBS and FOX affiliates give us. Most cities have a "home team" that gets priority (such as the Steelers in State College, or the Panthers in Raleigh). But where do you draw the line between teams? For example, where are the lines between a "Panthers market", a "Redskins market", and a "Falcons market"? Well, I found this spreadsheet on the above website that lists how many times each team was aired on each CBS and FOX station in 2005. So, I decided to use that spreadsheet and this map of Designated Market Areas to produce a national map of "home" NFL markets. I've produced two maps - one for CBS (AFC), and one for FOX (NFC), since the two conferences/stations are usually not competing against each other regarding which teams to show, and it was just easier and less confusing that way. (For example, is Toledo a Lions market or a Browns market? My answer is "both", since both teams typically get shown each week in Toledo.)

First, the FOX/NFC map, since that's the map I did first (for no particular reason):


Comments on the FOX map:
- The Cowboys market is rather large, stretching from Memphis to Albuquerque. But we knew that. After all, they are "America's team" (ugh).
- The Vikings also have a very large market, mostly because there isn't a whole lot else in the North Plains. But I'm surprised Montana isn't more of a Seahawks market, especially since 2005 was their Super Bowl year. (Billings, MT is actually split between Vikings and Seahawks; the other parts of Montana are close. I bet this fluctuates from season to season - this is just for 2005.)
- What's the best way to acquire regional interest in your team? Give it a regional name; e.g. Carolina Panthers. Naming the team "Carolina" instead of "Charlotte" pretty much guaranteed two states to their name. (The Falcons counties in South Carolina are part of the Savannah and Augusta markets, so they don't count.) The Saints tried something different - they put a logo featuring the state of Louisiana on their uniforms. But that wasn't enough to get the Shreveport market back from the Cowboys.
- Yes, those are splotches of Giants markets scattered throughout the nation. All that means is the Giants had the most "national games" in 2005. In many cases, markets without a "home team" default to the "national game", many of which involved the Giants. Most of these markets only slightly favored the Giants over the course of the season. But that's not always the case - some of these "Giants markets" went out of their way to show the Giants; for example, West Palm Beach showed every FOX Giants game in 2005 except for one. It's possible that other markets (Las Vegas, for example) also purposely favor the Giants. Some other markets slightly favored other "national" teams, such as the Eagles and Cowboys. (In fact, if you rank each NFC team by "average number of games shown nationally", the four NFC East teams take the top four spots. And that's why I don't like the NFC East. I'm tired of hearing about them all the time. It might not be like this every year, but it wouldn't surprise me.)
- The Packers market isn't very big, is it? That's because they're sandwiched between the Bears and Vikings. Milwaukee is split Bears/Packers, and La Crosse is split Packers/Vikings. I expected the Upper Peninsula to go the way of the Packers, but Marquette is decidedly a Lions market.
- I'm surprised that Buffalo is Eagles and not Giants. That said, it was only a slight advantage (6 to 5), and I'm not sure if it means anything, because Buffalo has its own AFC team, and they probably don't care as much about the NFC.

Speaking of the AFC (how about that segway?), here's the CBS/AFC map:


Comments on the AFC map:

- The Cowboys market is pretty big, but the Broncos market is pretty impressive too, stretching from Mexico to Canada. It's almost the entire Mountain Time Zone. (So what if most of those areas are sparsely populated?)
- There is no definitive leader in "national games" in the AFC, unlike the Giants in the NFC. NFC teams are a little more "regionally distributed" throughout the nation, but there are a lot of regions with no nearby AFC team.
- Why did the Fort Smith/Fayetteville market in Arkansas show more Jaguars games? That's the Matt Jones effect - Jones was an alum of the University of Arkansas, which is located inside that market. In college markets with no definitive pro team, sometimes stations show players with local interest.
- The fact that Harrisburg is a Ravens market has long been a topic of discussion. There are more Steelers fans living in Harrisburg than Ravens fans, but Baltimore is geographically close, so the NFL has decreed Harrisburg to be a Ravens market.
- The Sacramento and Monterey markets were both splits, but I gave them the Raiders, because I suspect the Raiders would have won the market had several home games not been blacked out. Sacramento and Monterey showed just as many Raiders games as the Raiders' home market of San Francisco (7); those other markets just showed more other games.
- I've always wondered whether Erie, PA was a Bills, Steelers, or Browns market. Well, it's a Bills market. (All three teams get shown there - in 2005, it was 10 Bills, 7 Steelers, 6 Browns.)

So...take from these maps what you will. But if nothing else, it gave me something to do for a couple of days. Maybe if the 2006 data is posted on that website, I'll make another map and compare.

Today's random thought:

- When a commercial compares the "leading brand", doesn't that imply that their product itself is not the "leading brand"? And isn't that a point against it? (Personally, I don't think so...but others may not agree, at least subconsciously.)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Banzai!"

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Banzai! was a television show that had a brief stint on FOX in the Summer of 2003. It aired at 830p on Sunday nights, right after The Simpsons. Speaking of which, here's an interesting question: during The Simpsons' tenure on FOX at 800p on Sunday nights, how many different shows have occupied the 830p time slot? Often times, FOX would introduce new shows in this time slot, hoping you would be too lazy to change the channel after you watched The Simpsons. Or, maybe after The Simpsons ended, you were just waiting around for the 900p show, which was often another marquee show (was The X-Files for a while, is now Family Guy). As you would expect from FOX, most of these shows failed.

But, anyway, Banzai! was supposed to be a spoof of flamboyant Japanese game shows. (It was pulled from the air because some Asian-Americans found it racist.) To encourage audience participation, they would encourage "betting" on the result of each of the games. They even had an online play-along game where you would guess the "winner" or the "result". (For example, one of the show's repeating gags was "Mr. Shake Hands Man". He would interview a celebrity, and continually shake his hand the whole time, at least until the celebrity pulled away. It was our job to guess how long that would take.) This online play-along game would take place during the show. You could wager as many points as you had earned to that point on the answer, and if you get it right, you win those points; if you get it wrong, of course, you lose those points. (I think they started you with 10,000 points or something.) Then, the five people with the best scores have their screennames displayed during the show the following week. So if I got lucky, I could get my name on television! (Well, my screenname "cai311", at least.)

Then, I got an idea. I live in the Eastern Time Zone. The show doesn't air on the West Coast until it's 830p Pacific Time, which is 1130p Eastern. Thus, FOX.com conducts the online play-along game again at 1130p for the West Coast viewers. So why don't I play the online game during the Pacific air-time (after I've already seen the show, and thus already know all of the answers), get a perfect score, and put my screenname on national television? Brilliant! Just to be sure they wouldn't "catch" me, when I registered my screenname, I used a West Coast zip code. (Specifically, I used the zip code "98284", which is the zip code for Sedro Woolley, WA.)

I soon found out it wasn't quite that easy. I'm sure there were other people who cheated in the same manner. So why didn't a bunch of people tie for 1st with the maximum score each week? Because the way you set the amount of your wager wasn't by typing in a number. It was by repeatedly clicking a button that increased your wager by a set amount. And you only had a set amount of time to do this. And once you got an appreciable point total, you didn't have enough time to increase your wager all the way to the maximum. Thus, it was really a game of "who could click their mouse button the fastest", among those of us who understand the concept of time zones, and who have nothing better to do on a Sunday night.

I forget how I did each week, but I think I got my name on TV three weeks, including first place one week. (I alternated between "cai311" and "caiman48" so they wouldn't catch on. I don't think that was necessary, though; considering I saw the same people up there with me every week.) I was proud of myself. At least two of my friends saw it. That made it worth it. Especially since it required virtually no effort on my part - I just had to watch the show, write down the answers, and go to my computer three hours later.

I have no proof of this - you're just going to have to take my word for it.

Today's random thought:

- The Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area is commonly known as the "Triangle". On the other hand, the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High Point area to our west is commonly known as the "Triad". Both words imply "three" - wouldn't some residents get confused by this? Couldn't they have come up with more distinguishable names (whoever "they" are)? As for me...you can count on me to make the distinction from now on. But the other day, before I learned of this distinction, I saw a reference to the "triad" in a weather report and incorrectly thought it referenced us. Instead, they were talking about the Greensboro area.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"This Just In: The NHL All-Star Game Is Tonight"

Skip to the random thoughts on "24" (Spoilers!)

This post is designed as a public service - in case you haven't heard, the NHL All-Star Game is tonight. It's at 730p on a channel you might not get (Versus, formerly OLN). What happened to having the All-Star game on a weekend afternoon on an over-the-air network? Has the NHL sunk that low? Evidently, yes. I put the blame squarely on two television networks.

- Versus: It's great for Versus to have the NHL - it put their network on the map. Otherwise, it would still be the Outdoor Life Network. But putting the NHL on an obscure network that people don't really watch for anything else can't be good for the sport. It's made the NHL "appointment television" - you're not going to stumble upon it cycling through your usual channel rotation.
- ESPN: They didn't And when you watch general-interest sports talk shows like Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption, they rarely talk about hockey. And when they do, it's often accompanied with ridicule. They make it sound obscure, just because they aren't interested in the NHL, and there's no obligation from the network to promote the NHL. Thus, people tend to think the NHL is irrelevant because they don't talk about it on those shows, and most people look to ESPN as their first source for sports. That's what I think happened, at least. And that's too bad. Those two things combined can help explain the poor TV ratings.

But who cares what ESPN thinks, anyway? I'm still making an effort to follow the sport. Although even in the ESPN NHL days, I never watched much regular-season hockey. But during the playoffs, I made watching the NHL the #1 sports priority. And I expect to do the same this year, despite how irrelevant ESPN makes it sound.

Hockey is still doing great in Canada, by the way - it's as popular as ever. So why are 80% of the teams in the United States? I guess it's a financial issue. But I don't care. I think Canada deserves a third of the league, especially considering how many recently-franchised American teams are floundering. Move the Coyotes back to Winnipeg. Move the Penguins to Québec City. (Personally, I'd rather the Penguins stay put as a traditional team, but they're probably going to be moving anyway.) Move the Panthers to Southern Ontario. Move the Thrashers to somewhere else in Canada (Nova Scotia?), or maybe even to Hartford. Canadian arenas are constantly sold out - all six Canadian teams are averaging 98.5% or better attendance this season, and only Edmonton is below 100% (source). How come the Americans get all the teams? It doesn't really seem fair, does it? (Looking at the attendance figures, they're not as bad as Around the Horn makes them out to be - the teams with poor attendance are either bad (St. Louis, Chicago), are new teams that shouldn't be there in the first place (Atlanta), or both (Florida). And that happens in every sport.

(Of course, I haven't said that they should move the Hurricanes. The Hurricanes have actually been successful, and they've won a Stanley Cup. Those other teams? Their problem is that they're in markets with many other professional sports teams. Atlanta sports fans don't even support their existing teams - why should they be expected to support the Thrashers? On the other hand, the Hurricanes are the only professional sports team in the Raleigh-Durham area. So there. Tampa Bay has also won a Stanley Cup, and they're averaging 100% capacity this season. So they can stay too.)

Really, this all has to do with tradition. I realize the NHL is trying to attract new fans by changing its image and making it "fresh", but it's starting to lose familiarity, and I think tradition is important in hockey. Teams keep changing their uniforms, and I wonder why. Why don't the Sabres go back to the old logo and old uniforms full-time? I've never heard a Sabres fan say "yeah, I like the new logo" or "yeah, I like the new uniforms". If a few more teams break tradition and redesign their uniforms, it's going to look more like the Arena Football League than the NHL, and that's only going to make the league lose more fans. It's almost like they've admitted that they're a second-tier sport. (Then again, NFL uniforms are basically going through the same trend. When Buffalo broke out the throwback jerseys, the fan response was overwhelming, and they wanted to bring back the old jerseys full-time. Why don't they?)

So, in conclusion, I don't like the direction the NHL is going in - it's losing familiarity. I don't have a problem with the shootouts, as long as they restrict them to the regular season. (Nobody likes a tie, right? Keep in mind that they're in the entertainment business, and that's their first obligation.) Then again, there's a lot right with the NHL - you could claim they're "redefining themselves", and I would listen to that argument. They also have a lot of "bright young stars" (Crosby, Ovechkin, etc) that could be the face of the sport for the next two decades - unfortunately, they're all from Canada or Russia, and that doesn't help garner American interest either. But Wayne Gretzky (Canadian) became a household name in this country, so maybe it can happen again. But only with ESPN's cooperation.

Today's random thoughts on "24": (Spoilers!)

- I'm wondering if all of these family connections to Jack were planned last season, when Graem made his first appearance last season. (That's how his name is spelled, according to the episode guide.) I'm inclined to believe that they made it up just for this season, but this is something we'll never really know, because we can't get in the heads of the writers. (And if you were to ask them, they surely would claim it was the plan all along.)
- This is why I avoid the episode-ending previews: apparently, Graem's face showed up in last week's preview for this week's episode. (I'm assuming so, at least, because Jeff alluded to it in a comment.) I didn't think anything of it at the time, and because I didn't see the preview myself, I didn't know he would show up, and I was surprised. And I like it when the show surprises me. And that's why I avoid the previews.
- Graem's "surprise reaction" to seeing Jack was so over-the-top fake, I found it quite humorous. And one more thing - they don't look anything alike. I know it's hard to cast relatives on TV shows so they look somewhat similar, but it's not even close - further evidence suggesting they made up the family connection after last season. Maybe they're half-brothers or something.
- I thought the President's televised speech was pretty weak. I don't know what it was...it just didn't sound like a presidential speech.
- Jack got over his emotional problems in a hurry, didn't he?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"The Jordan Lake Circle Tour"

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Up until now, I haven't really found a fun drive in close proximity, for those days when I just feel like driving somewhere for fun, but don't feel like going too far. Well, I think we have a winner. Introducing the Jordan Lake Circle Tour! (The map is from Microsoft Streets and Trips 2007)


Jordan Lake is west of Cary and south of Chapel Hill, so it's not far. I can get there from my apartment in less than 30 minutes. (I think - I haven't timed the to/from transit as of yet.) There are a lot of lakes in the area, many of which (including Jordan Lake) are man-made and accompanied by a dam. I think a lake makes an excellent venue for a fun drive. This all started a couple of weekends ago when Amber and I were looking for some place to go, upon which we ended up at Jordan Lake. We drove almost a full circle around the lake that day. Actually, I think we did a figure-eight. But the point is, it gave me an idea to come up with a route that skirts around the perimeter of the lake. And, with a little help from a map in the Jordan Lake pamphlet I picked up at the dam visitor center, the Jordan Lake Circle Tour was born.

In coming up with the route, I tried to stay as close to the lake as possible. That's hard to do in a lot of cases, but I think I did as well as I could. The route gives several views of the lake - lake views are integral to any kind of lake tour. Now, just to document the route, here it is: (The numbers and brackers refer to points on the map; the numbers aren't always at specific road junctions, but are just "stops" I gave the "trip" within S&T so the correct route would show up.)

The starting point [#1] is the intersection of US-64 and Farrington Rd/Beaver Creek Rd just east of the lake. (I picked this starting point because it's closest to my apartment, and because it's probably the slowest traffic light on the route to get through. Also, I've chosen a clockwise route so I can have more right turns than left turns.) Head south on Beaver Creek Rd, and turn right on Pea Ridge Rd (the turn is right after a bridge, and is accompanied by a "To US-1" sign.) [#2] Take Pea Ridge Rd to the US-1 expressway and turn right [#3]. Then take the first exit and turn right on Moncure-Pittsboro Rd. (The original route took Pea Ridge to Old US-1 and bypassed the expressway, but the finalized route incorporates the expressway because it's shorter and closer to the lake.) From Moncure-Pittsboro, turn right on Gum Springs Church Rd [#4]. (There's a sign for Gum Springs Church at the intersection. I've noticed that a lot of roads in rural North Carolina are named after whatever church is on the road. I guess the churches were there first.) Gum Springs Church Rd becomes Hanks Chapel Rd [#5]. (By the way, this road is probably the highlight of the drive. You can't see the lake from it, but the road itself is curvy and less-traveled.) At the stop sign, turn right on US-64 Business. (This isn't a very straight-line path, but there is no straight-line path from #5 to #6.) From US-64 Business, turn right on US-64. Then, turn left on Big Woods Rd just before the lake [#6]. (This turn is hard to spot; it's after the Pea Ridge Rd traffic light. Also, the corresponding right turn is for Seaforth Rd, and I think there's a brown sign for "Seaforth" or something at that intersection.) Then, turn right at the next two stop signs; the first is for Jack Bennett Rd [#7], and the second is for Lystra Rd. Then, from Lystra, turn left at the traffic light onto Farrington Rd. Once on Farrington, take a right branch for Old Farrington Rd, and follow Old Farrington (which becomes Farrington Mill) to the next stop sign. At the stop sign [#8], turn right on Barbee Chapel Rd, and then take the first right from there onto Stagecoach Rd. (There is no sign for Stagecoach Rd; I missed it the first time.) Take Stagecoach to the traffic light and turn right on NC-751. Stay on NC-751 for a while; the next turn is a right turn on Martha's Chapel Rd. (It's the first right after Clyde Farrell Rd.) Take Martha's Chapel Rd [#9] to the stop sign, and turn left onto Farrington Rd. (This intersection is actually on the lake! I don't mean by the lake - I mean on the lake.) Then, take Farrington Rd south to the starting point [#10]. If continuing on, go straight through the US-64 traffic light onto Beaver Creek Rd.

I took the complete route for the first time on Sunday, and it was a lot of fun (even if it was in the rain). The roads are all two lane roads (except for US-1 and US-64), which often make for more interesting drives, even if you do get stuck behind the slow moving pickup truck every once in a while. But even if you do, you're never on the same road for too long, so you won't be stuck behind somebody for the whole trip. (Unless they're doing the Circle Tour too. In which case, there are occasional passing zones to accomodate you. I passed one car during the drive on Sunday.) The slowest portion of the drive was on Stagecoach Rd, when I was stuck behind three cars (all of whom turned left on NC-751 instead of right, so I lost them then). The majority of the drive is speed limit 55. All in all, the drive is 55.9 miles long, and it took me just over an hour (1h02m50s) to complete, for an average speed of 53.4 mph. Can I make the trip in under 1 hour? Maybe with no traffic, I can. (If I broke my 5-over-the-limit rule, I could almost certainly do it, but it's not worth the risk. What's the rush, anyway?) But before I do the drive in the middle of the night, I need to become a little more familiar with the route so I don't miss any turns. There isn't much traffic during the day anyway - these are all rural roads, most of which don't see a lot of traffic. (The northernmost part of the route is the most trafficked, since it's closest to Durham and Chapel Hill.)

So, there you have it - the Jordan Lake Circle Tour. It may not be Lake Michigan (or even Lake Erie), but it's good enough for North Carolina.

Today's random thought:

- Recently, I saw a commercial for the return of Lost on February 7th. "Lost - at its new time, 10, 9 central!" Ugh. Whose idea was that? That's past my bedtime. Oh well, that's what the TLD is for. I guess I'll be watching Lost on Thursdays now. (That's one thing about 24 - you know they'll never stick it in the 1000p spot, because FOX doesn't air programming after 1000p.) I guess the show that used to have the 1000p slot on ABC (The Nine) didn't work out so well. And neither did the show that took the 900p slot during Lost's absense (Daybreak). What percentage of new ABC shows don't make it past the first season - 75%? Who do they think they are, anyway - FOX?

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Rules For Laundry"

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As is the case with a lot of things in my life, I am very methodical with my laundry. I do laundry once a week, every week - either on Sunday (if I'm home for the weekend), or on Monday (if I left town). I have specific rules that dictate when clothes go "into the hamper": (Sometimes I break these rules if something gets exceptionally dirty quickly. So really, these are "guidelines", not "rules".)

- Socks and underwear go into the hamper after one day of use.
- It used to be simple for t-shirts and shorts - t-shirts got one day, and shorts got two days. But now that I have a job, I don't wear a t-shirt and shorts all day. Instead, I only wear them for half of the day. Thus, on weekdays, t-shirts get two days. T-shirts still only get one day on weekends, of course. If the Friday t-shirt is on its first day on Friday (typically a work day), I'll usually wear that shirt again on Saturday, even though that would put that particular t-shirt at 1½ days of total use.
- For shorts, I now observe a "1½ days" policy - weekdays count as half a day, and weekends count as one day. If a particular pair of shorts is at 1½ days or more at the end of the day, they go in the hamper. This means shorts get 3 days of weekday use and 2 days of weekend use. Non-work pants (which I rarely wear) follow the same rules.
- Work pants get two days of use.
- Work shirts are separated into two categories - button-down shirts, and polo shirts. Polo shirts get one day of use before they go in the hamper. However, I give button-down shirts two days, because they have less skin contact (due to the fact that I wear an undershirt with them), and skin contact (particularly armpits) accelerates the rate at which shirts get dirty (I would think). In a normal five-day work week, I wear polo shirts on two days (typically Tuesday and Friday) and button-down shirts on three days (typically Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday). Also, to avoid wearing the same button-down shirt to work two days in a row, I have a conveyor-belt-like configuration in my closet, with a sweatshirt marker in the middle that denotes how many times each shirt in the closet has been worn - either 0 or 1. (Shirts left of the marker have 0 days, and shirts to the right of the marker have 1 day.) This lets me know whether or not I need to put a shirt in the hamper or back in the closet (to the right of the marker) at the end of the day.
- Work undershirts (worn with a button-down shirt, but not a polo shirt) get two days of use.
- "Pajamas" get washed every week. I have two sets of "pajamas" that I cycle between. (My "pajamas" aren't real pajamas, of course - just a comfortable shirt and shorts.)
- Sweatshirts don't follow a specific pattern. Usually, I have one that I wear around the apartment sometimes; I wash this one whenever I feel like it. Sweatshirts that I wear outside can get two days. However, they usually get dumped in the hamper after one day; this is because sweatshirts usually only get worn outside of the apartment when I'm playing golf or disc golf. Usually, I just wear my all-purpose jacket.
- Non-clothes items: I wash my towels every two weeks. This includes hand towels and shower towels. Also, I wash my bed sheets every six weeks.

I think that's about it. Feel free to debate how many days or weeks certain items should be allowed between washes.

Today's random thought:

- I haven't given a "people stalking update" in a while, so here's one. Recall that I have a nice view of the parking lot from my office, and I generally see the same people every day. I've been keeping track of three in particular - "tall guy" (TG), "professional woman" (PW), and "short late woman" (SLW). I still see TG semi-frequently (although not at all last week - he's 74-of-114), but I've barely been seeing the other two at all lately (PW is 41-of-85, SLW is 32-of-75). PW used to be the surest thing, but someone else has been parking in the handicapped spot, so I guess she's been getting dropped off somewhere else. As for SLW, I probably just haven't been as attentive lately - she's a tough spot (she's only visible for 10-15 seconds). To help make up for their absence, I've added two new stats: "handicapped red beetle" (HRB) - a red VW beetle that parks in the handicapped spot, and shows up between 1100a and 200p. He's at 31-of-41 thus far. His arrival times are quite variable, too. (1200p-1230p is the most frequent.) It's easy to spot HRB, because even when I miss the arrival, I can still see the car sitting there the rest of the day. I've also been keeping track of how often I can park in one of the five parking spots directly visible from my office window - so far, I'm at 37-of-40. And of those 37, I've parked in the middle spot 32 times. That's pretty good if you ask me.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"College Basketball Weekend #3"

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Not like I have anything better to do today, right? Actually, I might go for a long drive today. After all, there are still 39 counties in North Carolina that I haven't been to. But just in case I don't leave the apartment...

Saturday
Game 1 - Boston College at Clemson, 1200p, Local TV: It's my goal to keep "real basketball analysis" out of these game descriptions, because that's boring, and it's not like I really know anything anyway.
Game 2 - West Virginia at Cincinnati, 1200p, ESPN FC: Live from Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati!
Game 3 - Purdue at Michigan, 1200p, ESPN FC
Game 4 - Louisville at Depaul, 1200p, ESPN
Game 5 - Mississippi at Florida, 100p, ESPN FC: No thanks.
Game 6 - Texas at Villanova, 130p, CBS: Sometimes, I wonder if CBS is responsible for putting some of these non-conference games together.
Game 7 - Kansas State at Iowa State, 130p, ESPN FC: The only thing I can think of saying about this game is that yesterday, I decided to keep a hat in my car "full time", and that this hat is my Iowa State hat.
Game 8 - Miami (FL) at Florida State, 200p, Local TV: If I do happen to go anywhere today, I'm recording this game. And FSU better win it, too.
Game 9 - Wisconsin at Illinois, 200p, ESPN: You know...I don't think the Big Ten is very good this year. (Wait...that was an attempt at "real basketball analysis", wasn't it? Never mind.)
Game 10 - Detroit at Illinois-Chicago, 200p, ESPN FC
Game 11 - Northwestern at Minnesota, 230p, ESPN FC: Northwestern's best chance at a conference win thus far? (Dammit, that was more "real basketball analysis". Maybe I should just leave some games blank. You know...these posts are really quite lame.)
Game 12 - Charlotte at George Washington, 300p, CSTV: I saw an Atlantic 10 game on ESPN this week, dispelling my notion that ESPN had no A-10 TV rights whatsoever. I guess they'd just rather not exercise them.
Game 13 - Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 300p, ESPN FC
Game 14 - Duke at NC State, 330p, ABC
Game 15 - Indiana at Connecticut, 345p, CBS: As soon as I saw this game on the schedule, I knew it was a CBS game. Traditional powerhouses in a non-conference showdown. Does CBS air any other kind of game?
Game 16 - Arizona at UCLA, 400p, FSN South: How's that "bandwagon Arizona interest" turning out for me? Beats me - I really don't care that much.
Game 17 - Kansas at Texas Tech, 400p, ESPN
Game 18 - Baylor at Oklahoma, 400p, ESPN FC
Game 19 - Michigan State at Penn State, 430p, ESPN FC: I guess PSU's basketball ad slogan this year is "Are you in?" Well, if "you" refers to the team, and "in" refers to "in the NCAA tournament", then the answer is "no".
Game 20 - San Diego State at Air Force, 500p, Versus: Versus is your home for the Mountain West!
Game 21 - South Carolina at Tennessee, 600p, FSN South
Game 22 - Washington at Washington State, 600p, FCS Pacific
Game 23 - Memphis at East Carolina, 600p, CSTV: Memphis and Rutgers have "new stylish uniforms" from Adidas, and I think they're absolutely hideous. Asymmetry has no place in college athletics. (I tried to find a good picture, but...eh, I won't make excuses. I'm just lazy.)
Game 24 - Colorado at Nebraska, 600p, ESPN FC
Game 25 - Iowa at Ohio State, 800p, ESPN FC: I really am tired of all of the Greg Oden hype. Tony Kornheiser is mostly to blame for this.
Game 26 - Oklahoma State at Texas A&M, 800p, ESPN FC: This is the only watchable Big XII game of the day, in my opinion.
Game 27 - Arizona State at USC, 800p, FSC Pacific: How's that new job working out for former NC State coach Herb Sendek? Honestly, I have no idea.
Game 28 - Stanford at Oregon State, 800p, FCS Central
Game 29 - California at Oregon, 800p, ESPN FC: Wait...I thought FOX had all the rights to the Pac-10 games. Why is this on ESPN Full Court? Apparently, "ESPN Regional" has rights to certain Oregon games (basketball and football) that don't get picked up by FOX. Or something. This isn't the first Oregon game that's been on ESPN Full Court.
Game 30 - Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 900p, ESPN: If I had to fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket right now, I'd pick UNC to win the whole thing. Bah.
Game 31 - Nevada at New Mexico State, 900p, ESPN FC: Nevada is nationally ranked! But basketball rankings don't really mean anything, though. It's all about who's high-profile, and Nevada has been good for a few seasons now, hence their ranking. I bet there are many "mid-major" teams that are better than Nevada, but won't get ranked all season because they're not "profile" enough.
Game 32 - Cal State Fullerton at UC-Irvine, 1000p, FCS Pacific
Game 33 - Pepperdine at Loyola Marymount, 1030p, CSTV

Sunday
Game 34 - Wake Forest at Virginia, 100p, Local CBS: I might not be home to watch this game - I'm working a few hours on Sunday so I can leave early on Thursday for a dentist appointment and leave early on Friday for State College. But I guess I should probably list the Sunday games too.
Game 35 - Syracuse at St. John's, 200p, ESPN FC
Game 36 - Marquette at Pittsburgh, 300p, CBS: I guess CBS does show inter-conference games. But really, this is nothing more than "something to flip to during the commercials of the NFC Championship".
Game 37 - New Orleans at Western Kentucky, 300p, FCS Pacific: Speaking of the NFC Championship...is anybody in New Orleans actually going to be watching this game?
Game 38 - Loyola (MD) at Rider, 400p, FCS Atlantic: Well, I'm pretty sure nobody in New Orleans is going to be watching this game?
Game 39 - Maryland at Virginia Tech, 730p, FSN South: I normally prioritize the Sunday night ACC games, but I'm not sure what I'll do between this and the AFC Championship. I guess that's why I have two TVs.

So in case you missed the "subtle hint", I'm spending next Saturday in State College. Wahoo!

Today's random thought:

- As seen on the Weather Channel: It snowed in Raleigh on Thursday! I was surprised, mostly because the NWS forecast never really mentioned snow, instead possible sleet or freezing rain. (But I'm not really surprised.) A few people didn't come into work, and most of the area schools closed. It's just a little snow, guys - the roads were more than passible (albeit slower than normal). The snow didn't last long, but it was enough to total 1.0". That means that after Thursday's snow, Raleigh, NC had received more snow this winter than State College, PA! (1.0" for Raleigh, 0.7" for State College.) But that lead didn't last long - State College got another 0.3" yesterday, so now we're tied.

Friday, January 19, 2007

"I-540: Nine New Miles!"

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I have an obsession with new highways. Whenever a new segment of a major road opens, I have to drive it right away. Case in point: Wednesday morning on my way to work, I heard on the radio that a new segment of I-540 (Raleigh's second beltline around the city) had opened - 9 miles from US-1 near Wake Forest to US-64/264 near Knightdale. So, that afternoon, I took a detour on my way home from work and checked it out. I'm not going to talk about the road itself that much - it's three lanes all the way in each direction, much like the rest of I-540. It's also concrete, which is good, because I prefer my expressways in concrete. Concrete sounds cooler. Especially Pennsylvania concrete. You can't beat the sound of Pennsylvania concrete. That's really all I have to say about the drive itself. Instead, I'm going to go off on some related tangents.

I-540 currently extends from I-40 near the Wake/Durham county line northwest of Raleigh (which I pass every day on my way to work), now to US-64/264 on the east side of Raleigh, for a total of 26 miles. A full beltline is currently planned that will serve Apex, Holly Springs, and Garner (Raleigh's western and southern suburbs). The full beltline won't be completed until 2030 (sooner if they decide to implement tolls), but two additional segments are planned to open this year - a one-mile segment from I-40 to NC-54, and a three-mile segment from NC-54 to NC-55. I bring this up partly because you can see the exit signs for the NC-54 exit driving underneath the overpass, and it says NC-54 is "exit 50". Does that mean the full beltline will be 50 miles long? The existing 26-mile segment doesn't even make a full semicircle, so how is that even possible? Well, the full beltline is supposed to be approximately 72 miles long, so that exit number doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Maybe they're just waiting on the finalized route to post a precise exit number, and they picked "50" because it's a nice round number. I expect that once the full beltline is closer to completion, they'll renumber the offending exits.

Speaking of exit numbers on a yet-to-be-completed beltline, they have exit numbers for every exit on the not-yet-completed I-295 beltline around Jacksonville. You can see them spraypainted on the shoulder right by the exit ramp. Why haven't they posted them on the signs yet? What's the holdup? Maybe they're waiting until the whole thing actually is I-295 (the incomplete eastern half is currently designated FL-9A). Semantics prevent the eastern half from receiving the I-295 designation until it's completed. But do those same semantics prevent the exit numbers from being posted?

Now, back to I-540. I searched all over the web to find a proposed route for the remainder of the beltline. Eventually I found one. But along the way, I stumbled upon a web site called Wake County Roads. Why do I bring this up? Well, if you go to the website, you'll see that the author of the website is none other than Brian LeBlanc, the traffic reporter I've repeatedly promoted in random thoughts. I looked at some of his "road trip pics" just to see what this guy looks like, but almost all of his pictures were of road signs, not people. Brian LeBlanc isn't just some guy they stuck with the traffic reports, he's a bonafide road geek. And that's yet another reason why he is the Best Traffic Reporter Ever. (And I'm glad to know I was spelling his name right, except for the capitalization of his last name.)

Now, some semantics. It would be convenient to call I-440 the "inner beltline" and I-540 the "outer beltline", right? Well, there's one problem with that. You see, I-440 doesn't use cardinal directions to advertise which way you're going on the highway. Instead, it uses the terms "inner" and "outer". The "inner" direction refers to the clockwise direction ("inner" because it's on the downtown side of the median), and the "outer" direction is counterclockwise. So when you say the "outer beltline" to a Raleigh area resident, they won't think of I-540 - instead, they'll think of the counterclockwise direction of I-440. This is rather confusing, and I found out on one of those road geek sites (possibly Brian LeBlanc's, possibly a similar one) that they will soon be doing away with the "inner" and "outer" designations. Currently, the I-440 designation goes all the way around the city, the southern half of I-440 being co-signed with I-40. But they're going to do away with the I-40/I-440 co-operative, and truncate the I-440 designation from a full loop to the 16-mile portion that is not part of I-40. When they do this, they will change the direction indicators from "inner" and "outer" to simply "east" and "west". Until then, I can't use the designation "outer beltline" for I-540. Instead, I've been calling I-540 the "fatline", as opposed to the I-440 "beltline". (Here is a good website on the history of the I-440 beltline signage and routing.)

Now, some closing remarks on I-540. I-540 is really nice. When driving eastbound on I-540 after work, I used the cruise control, something I can never get away with on I-40. I almost wish I lived in north Raleigh or Wake Forest so I could take I-540 home every day. Then again...why don't I move? At the very least, I'm going to be changing apartments in a few months, so why not move to Wake Forest? I'd have a better commute, and I wouldn't live in "snobby" Cary anymore. Well, there's one problem with I-540. Until I-540 is extended past I-40, all the traffic is forced to exit onto I-40, and there is only one exit lane leading to westbound I-40 (I think - that's the way it looks from I-40). From what I've read, this produces some nasty morning backups, which will only get worse now that I-540 extends all the way to US-64/264, opening I-540 up to more traffic. Then again, I leave for work rather early, so I'm not sure what the backups are like before 700a, or if they're any better or worse than the I-40 backups. That's something worth investigating. But I have a few months to investigate whether I would be happier in Wake Forest than I am now. I'm sure I'll be revisiting this topic in future posts.

Today's random thought:

- Last week, I got tax return information in the mail from State College Borough. I received this at my home address in Raleigh (Cary). My question is this - how did they find me here? The envelope wasn't forwarded; it had my Raleigh (Cary) address printed on the inside of it. I guess that just goes to show you - you can't escape the tax authorities.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Benny Parsons: 1941-2007"

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WARNING: Sappy Post

Benny Parsons, former NASCAR champion and TV analyst, passed away this week at the age of 65.

Now...you may be wondering why I'm writing about this. Benny wasn't even the first former NASCAR driver to pass away this month. Bobby Hamilton also fell victim to cancer last week, and at a much younger age (49). So what's different this time around? Why am I devoting a post to the memory of a former NASCAR driver? Because, you see - as lame as this may sound, Benny Parsons was one of my childhood idols. Not because of his driving - his career was over long before I cared about NASCAR - but because of his role as a TV analyst on ESPN.

There was about a five-year period in my childhood (age 11 through age 16, probably) where I was absolutely obsessed with NASCAR. I mean, it was sick. Watching the race on Sunday was usually the highlight of my week. Back then, about half of the races were on ESPN and ABC, while the other half were split between TNN (now Spike TV), TBS, and CBS. Because of the amount of time I spent watching NASCAR - I would often record the races and watch them again the following week - I took my television coverage seriously. And my favorite network to watch NASCAR on was ESPN. They had the best coverage, the most in-depth coverage (coupled with "news magazine" shows like "RPM 2night"), and - most of all - the best TV personalities. Bob Jenkins (play-by-play), Benny Parsons (analyst), and Dr. Jerry Punch (pit reporter). That combination couldn't be beat - Benny, in particular. His friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic demeanor made him by far the best NASCAR TV analyst. (Just to give some perspective, I would call him the John Madden of NASCAR broadcasting.)

So what's the big deal? He's just a face on TV. But, you see...I watched a lot of NASCAR back then. So, I had a lot of Bob, Benny, and Jerry in my life. And in those vulnerable childhood years (particularly those in which I wasn't exactly the most popular kid in school), I grew an attachment to them. I would see them on television a lot, and it was almost like they were my friends, and they were sitting there next to me on the couch watching the race with me. Everybody has those childhood icons that they feel like they "grew up with". For me, Benny Parsons was one of those icons. For Christmas one year, my parents got me personally autographed pictures of Bob, Benny, and Jerry. Although the pictures and autographs have faded some, I think they're still there in my bedroom at my parents' house. Benny also had a weekly radio show ("Fast Talk with Benny Parsons") that I would listen to from time to time. In fact, I even called in once! That was the first (and, so far, the last) time I ever called a live radio show. I was probably 12 or 13 at the time. And at that age...can you imagine what it was like to actually be talking to one of my heroes? I probably didn't come off very well on the air, but that's okay, because it's not like anybody I knew was listening. (By the way, I asked him a pretty lame question - "how much does it cost to build a race car?" - but you know, when you're that age, you can get away with being lame.)

There was a time when it was my career dream to "When I grow up, I want to be a play-by-play announcer for NASCAR!" This was mostly because of the respect I had for Bob, Benny, and Jerry. But I gave up that dream as soon as I realized some things. 1) There aren't many jobs like that out there. 2) You have to be able to talk coherently on the spot for more than two consecutive seconds. 3) I'm much better at math and science anyway.

Once ESPN lost its NASCAR contract after the 2000 season, Benny moved over to NBC/TNT, where he spent the last six years broadcasting. As you would expect, my "man crush" (if you want to call it that) subsided once I hit the college years, but I still enjoyed his commentary. And I still preferred him to the other TV analysts, including Darrell Waltrip. These days, Waltrip is the "John Madden" of NASCAR broadcasting - he appears in commercials, and he even has his own catch phrase ("Boogity Boogity Boogity!"). In other words, he's completely sold out. Benny never sold out. He didn't have an annoying catch phrase, and I don't think I ever saw him in a commercial. Benny was enthusiastic about his work, but he never tried to steal the spotlight. And that is what made him the best.

Watching NASCAR won't be the same without you, Benny.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Kroger"

Skip to the random thoughts about "24" (Spoilers!)

There are two premier grocery stores in the area - Food Lion for the cheap people, and Harris Teeter for the people who live in Cary. I've never liked Food Lion. And, I've grown weary of Harris Teeter's high prices and almost snobby rich attitude. We also have Lowe's Foods, which is where I've done most of my shopping, mostly because it's very close to my apartment. But I've also grown weary of Lowe's Foods - as it turns out, their prices aren't really that much cheaper than Harris Teeter (if any). And the product quality is closer to Food Lion than Harris Teeter. Other than convenience, I no longer see the point of going to Lowe's Foods.

So, in short, I've grown tired of the area's grocery stores. But wait...there is another grocery store in the area. And no, I'm not talking about Wal-Mart Supercenter. I refuse to do my grocery shopping there. (Cary doesn't even have any W-M Supercenters, if you can believe that.) I'm talking about Kroger.

I've always had a vendetta against Kroger. Outside of Wal-Mart Supercenter, you won't find a more conglomerate, nation-encompassing grocery store. In some areas (particularly in the Midwest - their headquarters are in Cincinnati), Kroger has a complete strangehold on the grocery store market. But in areas like North Carolina, Kroger has a presence, but certainly not a large presence. At first, I detested their presence here. What the hell is a Midwestern grocery store chain doing in North Carolina, anyway? It's almost like they're a foreign country, invading upon our soil. Then again, I'm displeased with my other grocery store choices, so Kroger is worth a shot. There's one not to far away (7 to 10 minutes away in Apex, just across the Apex/Cary line).

I scouted out Kroger over the weekend, and did my first actual shopping trip there this week. What was I looking for? Well, other than overall store atmosphere and service, I was mainly looking at prices and availability. Specifically, in no particular order...
- Apples. I'm almost afraid to admit how much I pay for my golden delicious apples. It's too much. But I'm too lazy to go to a produce market. Instead, I'm stuck with grocery store selection. Of which, Lowe's Foods' apples are low-quality and the most expensive. Harris Teeter's apples are high-quality and cheaper. Kroger, on the other hand, has Harris Teeter-quality apples at Lowe's Foods prices. Hmm...score one for Harris Teeter.
- Bubba burgers. I generally try to get cheap stuff (see: pizza), but when it comes to Bubba burgers, I'm willing to splurge. (Bubba burgers are a brand of pre-packaged hamburgers, based in Savannah.) Mainly, I just wanted to make sure Kroger carries them. Which, they do.
- Hot pockets. I actually forget what the prices were on the hot pockets at Kroger. But at the other stores, they vary significantly - they can be anywhere from $2 to $3 a package. But I don't remember being set off by the prices at Kroger, so that's a good sign.
- Pizza. My favorite kind of grocery store pizzas are Totinos brand - they're smaller than usual, and they're cheap. They're anything but the highest quality, but they're good enough. Mostly, I bought them in Florida because Publix sold them for $1 per pizza. Then, I forgot all about them during my Penn State years, because Wegmans does not carry Totinos. But now I'm back on them again. Unfortunately, the pizzas are much more than $1 at Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods - sometimes, they can go as high as $1.80. (Oh no!) But at Kroger, they're $1! And it's an everyday price! Sold.
- Cheez-its and Wheat Thins. These are my snacks of choice. Sometimes, they're on sale at those other stores. At Kroger, Cheez-its have an "everyday low price" that isn't great, but it isn't bad. It's certainly not as bad as the wheat thins prices. I hope they go on sale. (But Cheese Nips, as inferior as they are - $1.67 for the pound box!)
- Soda. I try to wait for sales on soda, because I don't want to pay over $4 for a 12-pack. Lowe's Foods rarely has sales on soda. Harris Teeter has some nice sales (12-packs of Pepsi products were $2.70 recently), but they don't always. Kroger? This week, the "third party drinks" (7-up, SunDrop, RC, etc) were $3 for a 12-pack, so I purchased some Diet SunDrop. The jury is still out on if Coke and Pepsi products ever go on sale.
- Milk. I'm looking for three things here. 1) How long before the expiration date? 12 to 14 days is the standard, which Kroger met. 2) Price? Half-gallons were on sale for $1.50 each, meaning two halves were $3 (cheaper than a gallon, strangely). But even the everyday gallon price was cheaper than both Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods. 3) Does Kroger have ½-percent milk? Sadly, no. But that's okay. Harris Teeter is still the only store I've seen that does.
- Bread. I forgot to look at the bread, but quality sandwich bread is important. Hopefully, Kroger will not disappoint. (If it does, I can always go back to those other stores.)
- Chocolate chip cookies from the bakery. They're a staple of any legitimate grocery store. Publix has the best of any store out there. Like Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods, Kroger couldn't compete with Publix. But that's an awfully high bar to reach.
- Cereal. I didn't do a formal comparison, but it sure seemed like Kroger had better prices. Works for me!
- Discount card. Very few grocery stores don't have a discount card these days. Kroger is no exception. But while I don't have a Kroger card, I didn't have to sign up for one! You see, Kroger isn't just Kroger - there are many other nationwide grocery stores that are corporately tied to Kroger. And if you have a discount card for one of those stores, that works at Kroger. Well, it just so happens that on a family vacation in Utah, I picked up a discount card for City Market. And City Market is part of the Kroger corporate umbrella, so my City Market card is good at Kroger. Who knew keeping that card on my keychain would come in handy 2½ years later? (How did I know? I remember seeing a sign at City Market that said they accepted Kroger cards. At which point, I remember saying something to the effect of "Ugh, Kroger. They're everywhere! You can't escape!")
- Checkout. Checkout lines were acceptable, as they often are at most stores. (Wal-Mart Supercenter and Winn-Dixie are the only stores I've been to that are suspect to frequent checkout line problems.) The primary difference with checkout is that unlike at Harris Teeter and Lowe's Foods, I have to load my own groceries onto the conveyer belt. But I'm actually okay with that. I might even prefer it. It speeds up checkout, and it's kind of fun.
- Store atmosphere. This Kroger is fairly new, so it should come as no surprise that on the Piggly Wiggly "nice one/dump/in-between" scale, Kroger is a "nice one". (Harris Teeter is also a nice one; Lowe's Foods is an in-between.)
- Overall. It isn't as if Kroger is winning in a landslide. But Kroger is good enough in every area, and excellent in some areas. But most of all, I'm tired of those other stores, so I think it's time for a change. I'll be doing my shopping at Kroger every week until further notice.

So now that I've made my choice...does this make me a sell-out? I don't like the idea of feeding the corporate Kroger machine. Kroger doesn't need me - they'll get by just fine without me. The success of their North Carolina stores will not make or break Kroger. However, I can make an impact with smaller, more regional grocery store chains such Lowe's Foods and Harris Teeter. Generally, that's where I prefer to do my shopping. But I gave those stores a chance. And here in North Carolina, Kroger is a bit more of a novelty, so it doesn't seem like I'm feeding the corporate machine as much, as opposed to shopping at a Kroger in Indianapolis.

In conclusion, I have three questions. 1) When are they going to build a Publix here? 2) When are they going to build a Wegmans here? 3) When are they going to build a Piggly Wiggly here?

This week's random thoughts on "24": (Spoilers!)

- First off, some general thoughts. Quite honestly, the Sunday episodes didn't really grab my attention. It just seemed like more of the same - a generic foreign terrorist, an administration that didn't listen to Jack at first (mostly thanks to that one guy whose name I forget - but more on him later), and so on. I was actually beginning to wonder how long they could keep this going. But Monday's episodes? Oh yeah. I've always wondered whether they film the first four episodes knowing that they will all be shown at once. I don't think they did in previous seasons, but it sure looks as if they did this time. That was a nicely packaged season premiere. Now that's how you get people to watch next week. I can't wait.
- Two reasons why you could tell their "get to Fayed before the bomb goes off" mission was doomed. 1) There were no name characters on the assault team. 2) Jack was in need of little motivation. Last season, every time Jack said "it's all over, everything will be okay" (which had to have been 4 or 5 times), you knew something was about to go horribly wrong. (That said, I didn't expect the bomb to actually go off. I just expected Fayed to get away. Or something like that.)
- Generally, when it comes to those civilians who play an unexpected role, the women and children are spared. But the father? Nah - nobody cares if a white male dies on a television show. (At least the father got to yell "NOOOOOO!" right before the bomb went off. Classic.)
- Now, that one guy whose name I forget. (Lennox is his name - I looked it up.) It wouldn't surprise me if he turns out to be a conspirator. He's always second-guessing Jack's and Wayne Palmer's decisions. And, Wayne told Lennox something to the effect of "there's nothing I value more than your loyalty". Lennox's response? A strange look on his face. End of scene. Hmm...foreshadowing? Red herring? Actually, given the show's history, I think it's more likely to be a red herring, and that Karen Hayes is the real conspirator. Because on this show, it isn't a matter of if there's a conspirator within the administration. (By the way, I have a very poor track record when it comes to predicting what happens next.)
- Yes, that was Kumar from Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.
- I expected something would happen to Curtis. Why? Because Roger Cross (the actor who plays Curtis) was no longer listed as a main star, but as a "special guest star". I was wondering why, because his role didn't seem to diminish any from last season...until the end. Nobody on the show (other than Jack) is safe. (And can you blame some of these actors for wanting to pursue opportunities on other shows? Kiefer Sutherland is the only actor on the show with any measure of job security.)
- "Random thoughts on 24" will be a weekly segment, appearing every Wednesday throughout the season. Yippee!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

"Mille Bornes"

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There are a lot of strange card games out there. Today, I'm going to talk about one that you may not have heard of: Mille Bornes. (Here is the Wikipedia page, which provides a far more in-depth explaination of the rules than I will provide. I'll only give you as much as I need to give to get my point across.)

First off, as you would guess by the name, Mille Bornes is a French card game. And, as you might also guess by the fact that I like it...it's about racing! (It's really just a coincidence that I like a card game that happens to be about racing. I think. It's not what makes the game enjoyable. It's just a card game.) The object of the game is to "complete" the "1000-mile race" first. You "go" by playing "distance cards" (aka point cards) until you get to the specified distance. Along the way, opponents can play cards in their hand that give you hazards such as a "flat tire" and an "accident", at which point you need the corresponding remedy ("spare tire" and "repairs", for example) before you can start accumulating points again. You can also give your opponents hazards, of course. And, there are also "safeties" which give you immunity from certain hazards. (For example, if you have "puncture proof", nobody can give you a flat tire. Sweet, eh?)

Now...the safeties actually provide what is, to me, the most fun thing about the game - the "coup fourré". If someone gives you a hazard, and you have the corresponding safety in your hand at that time, you can play it right away, yell "Coup fourré, [expletive]!", and you're rolling once again, right away. (The expletive is optional. Actually, yelling "coup fourré" at all is optional.) You also get a 300-point bonus! (An actual game of Mille Bornes is carried out over multiple hands, with a point system. But it's really kind of arbitrary, in practice - when more hands than your opponent(s), and you'll win the game.) Why is a "coup fourré" so fun? Well, I'll take any chance to proudly exclaim a French phrase. (In my opinion, French is the most fun language to speak in the world. At least of the languages that I know about. German is a close second.) But besides that, there's nothing better than leading someone having an opponent think they just "did" you, only to shove the "coup fourré" back in their face. Vengeance is fun!

That's one strategical aspect of the game - offense or defense? Try to get ahead, or piss people off? Usually, you actually don't have a choice - rarely during a two-player game are both opponents "rolling" simultaneously. Instead, one is usually stuck, looking for that remedy. Meanwhile, the other is either also stuck, or is adding to his lead. In the meantime, the "rolling" person's only play is to get points, and the stuck person's only play is to hazard the opponent (if he can). "Wait a second, Chris...that doesn't sound like a fun game!" Trust me.

But apparently this game hasn't quite caught on. Amber and I went all over to find a copy of the game this weekend. We started with your basic department stores. Wal-Mart? Nope. Target? Nope. Not even Toys-R-Us had a copy. Plenty of copies of "Uno" (probably the most popular card game that doesn't use a traditional deck of cards), but no copies of Mille Bornes. Most employees at these stores had never even heard of the game. Eventually, we found it at specialty toy store in the Crabtree Valley Mall. I forget what the store was called, but it's the place to go if you want your own copy of Mille Bornes. (They also have over 20 versions of Monopoly! Including one called "Anti-Monopoly: 'Monopoly' for the 21st Century.")

So why haven't more people heard of Mille Bornes? Here are two reasons: 1) It's French. Americans don't like France. I don't get it. 2) It's kind of hard for kids to learn at first, and not perhaps not complicated enough for adults. So does that mean the perfect demographic for this game is the adolescent years? Perhaps. Apparently, Amber's high school had a Mille Bornes after-school club. (Clearly, I grew up in the wrong part of the country.) But for most high schoolers, playing a French card game just isn't "cool" or "hip". I forget if we ever played this game in high school French class. Maybe I brought it into class one day. I don't remember. Even so, and even if the game is popular among French students, the nerd and French-student population isn't enough to vault the game into the mainstream. And that's too bad. Maybe by writing this blog post, I can help Mille Bornes Awareness.

Today's random thought:

Last weekend, I gave Red Hot and Blue a chance to break its own "restaurant time" record of 4m36s. It fell 5 minutes short, but that's particually due to my side order of an "onion loaf". (It was only $1 when purchased with the pulled pork sandwich!) As disgusting as it sounds, the menu actually made the "onion loaf" sound good - basically another form of the "bloomin' onion". What I got was a large chunk of compressed onion rings that I really had no business eating. That, and it wasn't fun to eat, either - it wasn't solid enough to pick up and eat, but too hard to separate individual pieces without the assistance of a fork or knife. And it tasted kind of burnt, on top of that. When it comes to fried onion products, you can't beat Outback's trademark "Bloomin' Onion". (As for Red Hot and Blue in general, I think there is better barbeque to be had in North Carolina. But it's not bad. Just don't get the onion loaf.)

One more thing...tomorrow, I'll introduce a weekly segment that will appear every Wednesday: "Random Thoughts on 24". I figured some of you might be interested in that.

Monday, January 15, 2007

"Golfing at Night"

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I played my first round of golf in four months when I was in Jacksonville last month. Normally, even when I haven't played in a few months, I can generally do okay in my first trip back. That was the case in my last round, at least. But what if I go 4 months after going 2 months before that? Not so good. It was my worst round of golf in recent memory. I had some good holes (4 pars), but I was extremely consistent. Chalk that up to lack of playing time - after all, they say the short game is the first thing to go. And whoever "they" are, they're right.

So, after this round of golf, I decided that I would try to recommit myself, play more golf, and get "it" back. Problem is, when you have a real job, the window of golfing opportunity is small, especially this time of year. Even though I work early, I still only have an hour or two of sunlight when I get off work this time of year. (That, and I'm usually to tired to play a full round of golf after work anyway. That's why I've been playing disc golf - one hour, and you're done.) And, golf courses are generally crowded on weekends, and playing a five-hour round of golf isn't a whole lot of fun. So, what do I do to get out on the golf course? I could just go to the driving range, but that won't help my short game. I could practice chipping, but practice isn't any fun anyway. Wouldn't it be nice if I could play golf at night?

Well, I can! Sort of. I recently found a lighted par 3 course about 10 minutes from my apartment called "Knights Play Golf Center". Wahoo! Yeah, it's just a par 3 course. But par 3 courses are perfect for fine-tuning my short game. And, 18 holes of par 3 golf take less time than 18 holes of regular golf. So before I talk about my journey to this course last week, a few interesting points. First off, most golf courses have a "twilight rate", where you can play for cheaper after a certain time each weekday (usually in the neighborhood of 200p or 400p). But Knights Play is just the opposite - the rates go up after 500p. Do more people play this course at night? I guess it makes sense. If you want to play golf during the day, you can go anywhere. But if you want to play at night, your options are quite limited. The daytime weekday rate for 18 holes is $12, by the way. I think it's $15 after 500p, but when I play, I'll just be sure to get there before 500p. Also, this course has 27 par-3 holes, not just 18. All 27 holes have lights. But there isn't a 27-hole green fee posted, so I'm not sure if they want to encourage you to play 27. (18 + 9 would be $20, but I would think you should get a discount for the third 9, just like you do for the second 9, especially since this course actually has a third 9. Maybe I'll ask next time.) Now, while all 27 holes have lights, I don't know know often they use them for all holes, all the time. When I played last week, they only lit up the first 9 holes, because they were expecting a small crowd due to the weather. (The high temperature that day was 44°, and it dipped into the 20s that night.) But I expect on warmer days, they light up all the holes, or at least the second 9 in addition to the front 9. And you can play all evening if you want to - the course doesn't close until midnight. (It might close earlier on colder nights...I'm not sure.)

Alright, so...last Wednesday, I went straight from work to the course. I played the third 9 first, followed by the first 9. (I played the first 9 last because that was going to be the only lighted 9. And I played the third 9 instead of the second 9 because I basically had the third 9 to myself.) I was actually looking forward to playing under the lights - but I actually played too fast. They didn't turn the lights on until I was on my last hole, and there was still enough light then anyway. (This was at about 530p. I think.) So, maybe next time if I want to play under the lights, I'll wait until 430p to get there. (Remember, I need to get there before 500p to get the discount.) Still, I can't say I'm disappointed that I was able to play 18 holes of golf in under two hours, even if it was just par 3 golf.

What's the course like? Well, some par 3 courses you go to are complete dumps. (The Jacksonville University course? Dump. Tussey Mountain? Not quite a dump, but not great either.) However, Knights Play is actually nicer than many real golf courses I've played. So I'm happy with the course and the price. And the course is challenging enough to make you use most of your clubs. From the long tees, almost every hole is over 100 yards, and some are over 150 yards. Contrast that to Tussey Mountain, where I don't even need the 9-iron, let alone the rest of the bag. (But you can always play from the short tees if you want to get by on your pitching wedge.) There are also sand traps and water hazards. So, I'm very pleased with this course. I'm going to use Knights Play to try to get my game back before Daylight Saving Time returns. After that, I'll probably go back to real golf, because real golf is more legitimate. I can say that I shot a 70 when I played last week at Knights Play, but does that mean anything? Par 3 holes are easy - it's just like playing a par 4, except you hit a perfect drive every time.

So, if I play at Knights Play enough in the coming weeks, I should see some improvement. I don't expect to return to my Summer 2005 form anytime soon, but I'm just hoping that next time I play at a real golf course, I won't shoot a 112.

Today's random thought:

- Consider the words "few", "several", and "many". Each is used to describe quantity, with "several" being more than "few", and "many" being more than "several". But where do you draw the line? Can you quantify it? I've always considered few to be 4 or less, several to be 5 to 8, and many to be 9 or more. Then again, I'm not sure if you can do that, because it depends on context - if I say "only a few people came into work today", does that mean 4 or less? No, it means "fewer than normal". Same goes the other way - "many" doesn't have to mean a large number, as long as it's above normal. I'm not quite sure where I'm going with this - maybe I'm just illustrating that those terms can be rather vague.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

"The Small Town NFL Experience"

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I don't think I've mentioned this here yet, but I attended the Jaguars v. Patriots game on December 24th while I was in Jacksonville. So, I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the Jaguars games in general.

My family has held season tickets since the first Jaguars season in 1995, and I went to most of the games from 1995 through 1999. Then, I went to college, and my game appearances dwindled in number. But I try to make it to at least one regular-season game each year. I'm not sure if I have, but I know I've been to at least one game the last four years. Either way, I've been to a few games. Now that I'm out of college, I think the NFL game-day experience is a little more enjoyable than the college game-day experience. It's more laid back, and you can just sit down in a seat with a back, watch the game, and cheer modestly. Sure, I've had fun at college games - the atmosphere at college games is incredible. But I've grown out of college student sections - too crowded, and too tiring. These days, I'd rather just watch the game.

There is one problem with the Jaguars games, though - parking. Most stadiums have a large amount of parking available for game day. Alltel Stadium? Well, let's just say it didn't really work out that way. There is Jaguars-sanctioned parking by the stadium, but it's expensive, and it doesn't satisfy the volume of people attending the game anyway. The solution? Setting up designated parking lots in various places across town, and providing a shuttle service from there to the stadium. (For a fee - but it's a lot cheaper than stadium-side parking.) I've always wondered how out-of-town fans manage to find their way. For most stadiums, you drive up on gameday, there's a sign that says "parking", and you go there. But not Jacksonville - all of the stadium-side parking is reserved. Then again, a lot of college stadiums are like this too. On gamedays in Tallahassee, I would often wake up to a bunch of cars parked on the grass in front of my building. But how many NFL stadiums are there where you can't drive up and park on game day?

Speaking of out-of-town fans...how many often show up at Jaguars games? Well, as you would expect, a lot. There are a lot of tough tickets in the NFL, but Jaguars games aren't among them. So, a lot of fans of other teams that can't get tickets to other road games (or even the home games) drive to Jacksonville. It doesn't seem to matter what team it is, either. Sure, you expect the Steelers fans to come out in force when Pittsburgh is in town. And there are still a lot of Dolphins fans living in the area. But where do all of those Colts fans come from? Who knew there were so many? For some teams, you don't get that many opposing fans - but there are always some. Certainly more opposing fans than you would see in most other NFL stadiums.

That said, the Jaguars games usually do sell out. But that wasn't always the case. To help the games sell out, a few years ago, the Jaguars started covering up some of the "nosebleed" seats to bring the stadium capacity down below 70,000 (like most NFL stadiums are at) and encourage a sell-out so that the game could be televised locally. That wouldn't have been a problem, except that my parents' season tickets were in the to-be-covered-up zone. So, now they sit in the corner of the north end zone. I miss the old seats. (The reason they built the stadium with such a large capacity is mostly for the Florida/Georgia game, which can easily draw over 80,000.)

Now, more about my family's seats. Both the old "nosebleed" seats and the new "can't-see-the-opposite-side-of-the-field" seats are in what's called the "[insert sponsor here] Family Zone". What's that mean? No alcohol, no swearing. For many fans, this probably means "no fun". But it's fine with me. While they're at it, they should also ban "annoying, obnoxious, and ignorant cheering". (Personally, I'm impressed that I haven't yelled out an expletive by mistake, given the exemplary performance of the Jaguars over the years. Not that they would kick me out of it happened or anything. Actually, I'm not sure what would happen if all of a sudden I just yelled "F***!" in the middle of a game.)

Every stadium has their trademark cheers, right? Especially when the announcer yells first down. I mean, how many teams in the NFL and college do the whole "crowd yells 'FIRST DOWN!' instead of the PA announcer" deal? Well, in Jacksonville, the fans in the north end zone tack on their own little addendum to it: "Move those chains! Move those chains! Move those chains! Huh!" Ugh. Fortunately, you can't really pick it up on television.

If I sounded somewhat critical about the Jaguars today, it wasn't intended. I love the Jaguars, and if I lived closer to Jacksonville, I'd get season tickets in a heartbeat. But I guess criticism is a general theme in some of my blog posts. Complements aren't any fun. Criticisms are fun and entertaining. Maybe that's why I used to call this a "bad excuse for a blog".

Today's random thought:

- This is something I noticed the last time I ate a Reese's Fast Break. For some reason, my instinct is to eat the candy bar upside-down. (I think it's to give my tongue direct access to the top half of the candy bar, where the peanut butter filling is located.) But the last time, I ate it right-side up. And in doing so, I noticed the rounded shape of the top of the bar matched the roof of my mouth almost exactly. Is this by design? Is this why candy bars are shaped the way they are, so they fit perfectly in your mouth? If so, that's genius. I don't think other candy bars are rounded on the top as much as the Fast Break. And that's yet another reason why the Fast Break is a superior candy bar.