Wednesday, February 28, 2007

"Waffle Shop Screwed Up My Order!"

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

So, we went to Waffle Shop last Sunday morning, pretty much right before I left town ahead of the storm. (After all, a trip to State College without a stop at Waffle Shop is...well, it's not a wasted trip. It's just a missed opportunity.) And, now I have the first negative thing to say about Waffle Shop. (Or, at least, the most negative thing I've said thus far. This isn't going to keep me from going back - no way.)

I ordered my somewhat-usual "two eggs with three pancakes" meal. You have an option to get bacon or sausage with that, which I did (for a price, of course). But I was surprised when the waitress asked me to choose between toast and an english muffin. Huh? Did they change the menu and add that choice to the meal? I didn't know...I just said "english muffin". Then, a few minutes later, my meal arrived - but I didn't get pancakes. Instead, I got home fries (whatever those are - I didn't really care to try them). So, I had it sent back, because that's not what I wanted. The guy who brought it out let me keep the english muffin, though. Apparently the english muffin is part of the "home fries" meal, but not the "pancakes" meal. So I wasn't really supposed to keep that, but hey - they asked. And when I got my meal, I got one less pancake than normal. Maybe that was in exchange for the english muffin, I don't know. But mistakes happen, and this was the first real mistake that Waffle Shop has made. This isn't really a big deal, but I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss some things.

When the waitress screws up, I think it's within my rights to deduct from the tip. There should be a penalty, right? I think that's what the tip is all about. It's a score. The better waitress you are, the bigger tip you get. Unfortunately, everybody gives tips of different sizes, so one person's 15% might be another person's 20%, and because of that, the amount of the tip alone isn't enough for a waitress to deduce her "score". But that doesn't stop be from instituting this policy. Of course, it works both ways, but I usually start in the neighborhood of 20%. (That's much higher than I used to tip. Five years ago, I would almost never tip much more than 15%. Now that I have a real job, I can afford to reward my waiters and waitresses a little more than I used to.) Anyway, on this Waffle Shop day, I tipped 15%. Without the mistake, I would have gone over 20%. It's possible that the waitress had something else on her mind, some family problems or something, but there's really no way for me to know, so I can't give everyone the benefit of the doubt. 15% isn't a bad tip. It used to be the accepted amount, in fact. Not so much anymore.

Personally, I think tipping is overused in society. I have no problem tipping waiters and waitresses. Bartenders? depends on what they serve you. If they mix you a nice drink, sure. If they pop the top off a bottle of beer, then...I don't see why that should be tipped. I'm quite capable of getting and opening the bottle myself. Barbers? I don't know if you're supposed to tip a barber. I usually don't. (Then again, I haven't been to a barber shop in 14 months.) I think barbering tips should be included in the price. When you go to a restaurant, you go for the food, you pay for the food, and the service is extra. Therefore, it should be tipped. When you go to a barber shop, you're getting a haircut, and that's exactly what you get. Why should I have to pay more than the posted price of a haircut if I'm only getting the haircut? But my biggest issue with tipping is at nice golf courses. People at the clubhouse clean your clubs when you finish, expecting a tip. But it's not like they give you a choice. You park your golf cart, and they just take the clubs and clean them. I didn't ask for my clubs to be cleaned. Why should I pay you for something that you wanted to do? That's why I usually don't play at nice golf courses. (Actually, it's because they're crowded, expensive, and difficult.)

(And by the way, my beef isn't with the service men and women who often work these jobs. They deserve the money. But they should get more from the employers.)

One more word on the Waffle Shop experience. As previously seen in my blog, I always time how long it takes for my meal to arrive. But what happens if they mess up the order? Well, it depends on whether the main course is affected. If they messed up a side item, but not the main course, then the timer stops right then, as long as they don't take the main course away from me to fix the side item. (This happened at Red Lobster last month.) But if the main course is affected, then the timer keeps going, even if I get a side item in the meantime. At Waffle Shop, pancakes were part of the main course, and thus, I did not stop the timer when they brought me my english muffin that I wasn't supposed to have. But it didn't take them long to fix it - they still clocked in at under 12 minutes, even with the order mess-up. Hooray Waffle Shop! I'll try to spell out my order a little more clearly next time.

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

- I'm not going to talk about Morris anymore.
- The whole "let's bring in an old character to help us out, he's a changed man, now he's working for us" - it all seems very "Hollywood", doesn't it?
- Now...about that bomb. In the moments leading up to the "boom", here were the possibilities I was considering: 1) Lennox finds a way to escape and stop the bomb. He was the only person who knew about it (that we know of) other than the perpetrators. Problem is, he was a little tied up. But he tried. Then again, he had his chance to stop to it, and he failed. 2) That woman who kept looking for Lennox might have noticed something was up. But, nope...she was just there to make Reed look uncomfortable. She didn't act on her suspicions. 3) The plan actually works, assassinating the president. I didn't expect this to be the case, never know, right? 4) The bomb goes off, but only kills Assad, not Palmer. It seems like this is what happened. We don't know who's dead and who isn't yet, but according to the episode guide, Palmer is "unconscious". I don't think they would kill him off, particularly in the middle of the season...would they? That said, the middle of each "24" season often provides the most unpredictable moments. As the season progresses, you know CTU will achieve their main objective, and that takes away from the season finales. The most interesting thing about the season finales is always what happens to the characters, not the overall plot. What's going to happen to Jack at the end of this season? Are he and Marilyn going to run off and live happily ever after (at least until next season)? I think Jack deserves a break, even if he is a fictional character.
- Let's assume Palmer is dead for a second. This would put the vice-president (a very generic TV politcal figure with no personality, I must say) in charge, and I believe that would make him 6th president in the show's history:
- #1: Did the president in Season 1 ever make an appearance? I don't remember. Recall that David Palmer was only running for president in Season 1.
- #2: David Palmer, in Seasons 2 and 3
- #3: I don't remember much about the president that started Season 4. He was very generic, and he only lasted half a season. (Did he die, or was he just seriously injured and "unfit for duty"?)
- #4: Charles Logan, half of Season 4 and and all of Season 5
- #5: Wayne Palmer, Season 6 (thus far)
- #6: ???
While they did replace the president in the middle of Season 4, he was a faceless stand-in that the viewing audience wouldn't care a whole lot about. They've tried to make Wayne Palmer a more likeable character, so I would be surprised if they got rid of him. But enough has happened in this show's history as to believe almost anything is possible. And that's what I like about this show. You never really know for sure.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"A Floridian's Guide To Driving In The Snow"

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I had to leave State College six hours early on Sunday due to an approaching winter storm. I left just before it started snowing in State College, and I drove east as to avoid the storm for as long as possible (through Harrisburg and Frederick via US-322 and US-15). But it was already snowing in Maryland at a decent clip, and I had the pleasure of driving through it. This was the heaviest snow I had ever done any kind of long-distance driving in. This was the second long drive in any kind of snowy conditions - there was the drive back from Spring Break in Vermont in 2003. I have video of it on my computer, and I watched it yesterday. In retrospect, that was nothing. Nothing. But when you're traveling with a bunch of Floridians, was something at the time. Sunday's drive back to Raleigh (Cary) was much worse. And it wasn't even that bad, I don't think. I just have a small sample space of snow experience to work with. Overall, the drive only took about an hour longer than it normally does, and the main problems were all localized to the Maryland portion of the drive.

So...given my small sample space, I'm probably not the authority on this topic. But that's not going to stop me. What should somebody do differently while driving in the snow? Let's see...

- Don't react; anticipate. The car takes longer to respond in the snow. So, you should plan all of your movements in advance, and start to execute them before you really need to. Don't wait until the last second for anything. Slow down at the first sight of a slow down up ahead. (And this should go without saying, but slamming on the brakes is a bad idea in the snow.) When changing lanes, start turning before you need to, and straighten out before you need to, because it will take a little bit of time for the car to react. (Changing lanes should be kept to a minimum, but sometimes it's necessary.)
- No sudden movements. It will take your car longer to react, and you may overcompensate. Nice and gentle...what's the rush? If you leave early, you shouldn't feel rushed.
- Stay in the gray. I'm talking about the grooves that other cars use - the most snow-free portion of the road. Obviously, you'll have the most grip here. And if you waver from the gray, not only might you skid a little, but you might spray snow all over another car's windshield. I can't even begin to tell you how many times that happened to me on Sunday. (Well, actually, I could. That happened about 5 to 10 times.)
- Don't be "that guy". I'm talking about the guy who's breaking the flow of traffic - either going much faster than anybody or much slower than everybody. Because cars take longer to react in the snow, breaking the flow of traffic can be hazardous. There is such a thing as going "too slow", I think.
- Turn on your freaking lights. I don't understand why some people don't turn their lights on in the rain or snow. It's even more important in the snow.
- Give people room to make mistakes. Some people weren't giving me room yesterday - running at the edge of the lanes, closely following...I mean, come on, people. Do you really expect the guy with a North Carolina license plate to know how to drive in the snow?
- Don't take the back roads. I would have loved to take the backroads out of State College again, but not in the snow. This is the one time where it was actually a good idea to drive through DC. Even US-15 (a fairly major road) was iffy in spots.
- Don't be stupid. Before you decide to change lanes and pass that it really worth it? (In other words: With every decision you make, you should think to yourself: "Is this good for the company?")
- If you have snow tires or chains or something, well...more power to you. Some of these suggestions may not apply.

I would think all of these things should be fairly obvious. But given some of the things I saw out there on Sunday, apparently not. Driving through the snow shouldn't be that big of a deal - just go slow, work with the other cars, and everything will be fine. (Unless you're driving on I-78 in Pennsylvania, that is.)

Today's random thought:

As previously reported in this blog, I go to Bojangles' semi-frequently, and I always get the same thing (a 3-piece dinner). I've noticed that the price of the 3-piece dinner isn't always the same. So, I started keeping track. So far, I've found the price of the 3-piece dinner (tax included) to be $5.24, $5.70, and $5.75. Now...that $5.24 was in Virginia. Since tax is included, state sales tax has an effect on this, but still, it's not cheaper due to sales tax alone. That's just how awesome the Bojangles' on US-29 between Danville and Chatham is. It's on the way to State College, the staff is friendly and welcoming, it's next door to one of the cheapest gas stations along the route, and they even have two televisions in the dining room, one of which is tuned to the Weather Channel. It's like they built this place just for me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

"More Prime Number Crap"

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At work, we often forgo the months and work with "ordinal dates" - instead of a month and day-of-month, we just use a day-of-year. (For example, today is the 57th day of the year.) So, during my musings at work, it got me thinking - how many prime ordinal dates are there in a year, and which dates do they correspond to? Well, here's the list:

#1 January 2nd
#2 January 3rd
#3 January 5th
#4 January 7th
#5 January 11th
#6 January 13th
#7 January 17th
#8 January 19th
#9 January 23rd
#10 January 29th
#11 January 31st
#12 February 6th
#13 February 10th
#14 February 12th
#15 February 16th
#16 February 22nd
#17 February 28th
#18 March 2nd
#19 March 8th
#20 March 12th
#21 March 14th
#22 March 20th
#23 March 24th
#24 March 30th
#25 April 7th
#26 April 11th
#27 April 13th
#28 April 17th
#29 April 19th
#30 April 23rd
#31 May 7th
#32 May 11th
#33 May 17th
#34 May 19th
#35 May 29th
#36 May 31st
#37 June 6th
#38 June 12th
#39 June 16th
#40 June 22nd
#41 June 28th
#42 June 30th
#43 July 10th
#44 July 12th
#45 July 16th
#46 July 18th
#47 July 30th
#48 August 11th
#49 August 15th
#50 August 17th
#51 August 21st
#52 August 27th
#53 August 29th
#54 September 8th
#55 September 14th
#56 September 20th
#57 September 26th
#58 September 28th
#59 October 4th
#60 October 8th
#61 October 10th
#62 October 20th
#63 November 3rd
#64 November 7th
#65 November 9th
#66 November 13rd
#67 November 27th
#68 December 3rd
#69 December 13th
#70 December 15th
#71 December 19th
#72 December 25th

Now, a few notes and statistics:
- The first day of the month appears on this list 0 times.
- There are two months in which each day of the month on this list is also prime: January (obviously), and April.
- The last prime day is December 25th. I think they should make that day a holiday or something.
- The days-per-month distribution is as follows: 11, 6, 7, 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 5, 4, 5, 5.
- While we're only 15.3% of the way through the year (not counting today), we're 22.2% of the way through the prime days this year. Wahoo?
- This list is only good for non-leap years. For leap years, move every day from March through December back one. Thus, in leap years, the last prime day is December 24th. But it doesn't change the days-per-month distribution, because the first day of the month is never prime. It also doesn't add an extra day, because 366 is not a prime number.
- I'm disappointed that my birthday isn't on this list. Amber's birthday is, though.
- The 11th appears on this list twice, but the 18th only appears once.
- Let's make this list a little more exclusive. You'll notice that I numbered each day in order from 1 to 72. Let's take the primes of those, shall we?

January 3rd
January 5th
January 11th
January 17th
January 31st
February 10th
February 28th
March 8th
March 24th
April 19th
May 7th
June 6th
June 28th
July 10th
July 30th
August 29th
September 26th
October 4th
October 10th
November 27th
December 19th

Now...what if you renumber those dates in order and do the same thing again? And keep doing that until one day is left? Then I believe you'll end up with the "most prime day of the year". And here's our winner:

***May 7th***

(Just to check my work: May 7th is ordinal day 127. 127 is the 31st prime. 31 is the 11th prime. 11 is the 5th prime. 5 is the 3rd prime. 3 is the 2nd prime. Yep...that does it.)

So, there you have it - May 7th is the most prime day of the year. And I suppose it's only appropriate that both the month (5) and the day-of-month (7) are also prime. I can't make this stuff up, folks. (On leap years, it's May 6th, not May 7th. But majority wins - most years are non-leap, of course.)

If your birthday is May 7th, congratulations! Give yourself a pat on the back.

Today's random thought:

- The way I see it, there are two methods by which to put ketchup on french fries. Method 1: Create a puddle of ketchup and dip each fry into the puddle on demand. Method 2: Pour ketchup all over the pile of fries. Method 1 requires extra work for each and every fry, and that's why I prefer method 2. The downsides of method 2 are that you don't get equal coverage which each fry, and that it can be kind of messy. But I think the lack of equal coverage makes things more interesting. And, I often eat my fries with a fork to avoid the mess.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

"An Actual On Location Post"

(On location in State College, PA.)

So...lately when I've been "on location" over the weekend, I've written a post for that Saturday earlier in the week. But that doesn't give much of an "on location" feel, does it? I didn't type that post while I was actually "on location".

Well, I decided that from now on, all of my "on location" posts will actually be written "on location". Unfortunately, this means the posts will be awfully short, because I usually have better things to do.

Well, that was fun, wasn't it?

Friday, February 23, 2007

"The Queen City: Cincinnati? Charlotte? Somewhere Else?"

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I've heard both Cincinnati, OH and Charlotte, NC referred to as the "Queen City". Personally, I think only one city deserves this designation. So which city should it be - Cincinnati, or Charlotte?

First off...I decided to google "queen city" to see which came up first. As is often the case with Google searches these days, the first page to come up was the Wikipedia page. It turns out that there are several cities in the United States and Canada that are nicknamed the "Queen City". Buffalo? Never heard that before. Staunton, VA? I've spent the weekend there and I never saw any references to the "Queen City". Cumberland, MD? Why? Toronto? Alright - I'll accept Toronto. But still.

Well, there are far too many cities using this nickname. I think we should settle it and only allow one city to be nicknamed the "Queen City". I'm going to settle this with Google. For each city claiming to be the "Queen City", I'm going to google "Queen City" along with the name of the city and see how many returns I get. The one with the most is the city that uses the "Queen City" designation the most, and thus gets to keep the designation. Here are the results:

Charlotte, NC: 396,000
Cincinnati, OH: 387,000
Buffalo, NY: 349,000
Clarksville, TN: 251,000
Burlington, VT: 241,000
Seattle, WA: 182,000 (no longer used)
Manchester, NH: 168,000
Toronto, ON: 121,000
Helena, MT: 118,000
Cumberland, MD: 111,000
Allentown, PA: 79,900
Regina, SK: 75,500
Bangor, ME: 59,700
Staunton, VA: 36,300
Spearfish, SD: 28,100
Marion, IN: omitted, since "Marion" doesn't really identify Marion, IN, so the Google search isn't much help

Well, that settles it. Charlotte wins. The fact that Charlotte and Cincinnati finished 1-2 gives some legitimacy to this method, since those were the two cities I think of first when I think of the "Queen City".

Now...on to a related topic. Wikipedia led me to this extensive list of city nicknames. Many of the nicknames on this list are informal and "slang", so I was actually quite amused by some of them. Here are some highlights, in no particular order:

Jacksonville, NC: "Actionville". If only this was Jacksonville, FL, then I could be "Action Allen from Actionville". But, wasn't meant to be.
Beaver, OK: The "Cow Chip Throwing Capital of the World". Better to be known for something than for nothing, right?
Charleston, SC: "The Yo". What?
Redmond, WA: "Mordor" and "Nerdburg". Are they implying that Lord of the Rings and nerds are related? No way!
Plainfield, NJ: "Queen City". Wait...Plainfield wasn't on the Queen City Wikipedia page. You mean there are contradictions and inaccuracies in Wikipedia? No way! (This wasn't the only contradiction between the two pages, by the way.)
Bemidji, MN: "Curling Capital of the United States". Now that's something to be proud of.
Gladstone, MI: "The Pet Casket Capital of the World". So, when your dog dies, now you know where to go.

There are many others, but most of them are either insulting or stupid. For example, several cities in southern Ohio have nicknames that end in "-tucky". That's not very creative. Kind of like nicknaming your city the "Queen City".

Today's random thought:

- The "volt" is a unit of measure that you can prefix with the standard set of metric prefixes ("kilo-", etc). But when you see warnings of high voltage, they never use them. It's always "Warning! 20,000 volts!" I guess "Warning! 20 kilovolts!" doesn't have the same ring to it. But why stop there? Why not "Warning! 20 trillion nanovolts!"?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

"Out The Door In 20 Minutes"

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Maybe this is something I should start keeping track of. But once I wake up in the morning, I'm fairly efficient at getting out the door and on my way to work. (Perhaps too much so, in fact.) How long does it take? On a no-shave day, probably 15 to 20 minutes. (Shaving adds up to 5 minutes. Recall that I shave based on a 5-day rotation, and according to this rotation, two out of every five days feature a pre-work shave.)

That's pretty fast. The reason I say it might be too fast is that my speediness often encourages hitting the snooze button an extra time or two. But that's okay - I almost always get to work when I need to get to work. Maybe I should just start setting my alarm for later in the morning.

But, do I get out the door so fast in the morning? Basically it comes down to routine. My morning routine requires very little decision making. Let's examine:

- Clothes. What do I wear to work? Well, as described in my rules for laundry post, the type of shirt I wear is usually determined by the day of the week. I just pick whatever shirt/pants are on top or in front of the line. I make no reasonable attempt to match my clothes, because quite honestly, I don't care.

- Breakfast. What do I eat for breakfast? Well, I alternate between two cereals at a time, so I just eat whatever I didn't eat yesterday. And, I know which cereal I ate yesterday, because it's on top. (I have to put my cereal boxes longways in my cabinet, not vertically.)

- Shower. I don't shower in the morning; I shower at night. That obviously helps my morning thriftiness.

- Computer time. One can get distracted at the computer each morning, but I keep my computer usage to a minimum. I check my email, publish a blog post (most of the time), and that's it. It's easy to keep my morning computer usage to a minimum, considering I spend my entire work day in front of a computer.

- Lunch. I almost always bring in my lunch. But what do I bring in? What kind of sandwich? Or maybe a hot pocket? As you would expect, I have a system for this - a three-day rotation: peanut butter sandwich + apple, meat/cheese sandwich + apple, hot pocket + crackers. The less decision-making I have to make in the morning, the better. I could speed up this process even further by packing my lunch the night before. But the thing is, I usually don't feel like it the night before.

So, that's how I get out the door so quickly. I'd rather sleep an extra 30 minutes than sit leisurely at the kitchen table and read the newspaper in the morning. But nothing will compare to the time when I woke up at 752a for an 800a class and made it on time. I don't think I have that in me anymore. And besides, it's not like I'm in any hurry to get to work anyway.

Today's random thought:

- This is regarding left-turn traffic lights. At most intersections, the left turn signal comes first, allowing all left-turn traffic to pass through the intersection, and that is followed by the straight signal. Other intersections signal the left-turn one way at the beginning of the road's cycle, and the other way at the end of the cycle. Most of the time, this is because the left turn lanes overlap in the middle of the intersection...I think. Or is it more time-efficient to do it this way? But one thing I've never seen before, at least until I moved to Raleigh (Cary), was an intersection when straight when first, and left-turn went last in both directions. The downside to this is you can't time it exactly and end the left-turn signal when there are no more cars - both left turn greens have to end at the same time. But I think the reason for this is to allow left-turn traffic to accumulate at the intersection during the straight green, and then let them through at the end. That might be a more efficient way to get left-turn traffic through, particularly at intersections where traffic backs up.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

"The Chris Allen Basketball League - Coming Soon! (Maybe)"

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

I'm still not even halfway through the Chris Allen Football League season, but this week, I decided to think about a similar game algorithm for basketball. I probably thought about this when I was browsing through Ken Pomeroy's college basketball website.

First, a few words about Ken's site. Ken Pomeroy is a stat geek who likes college basketball, so you can probably guess why I frequent his web site often. (Not only is Ken a stat geek who likes college basketball, he's also a meteorologist. My hero!) On his site, he posts detailed statistics for all 336 teams in D-I - not just your basics like free throw percentage, but also things like tempo (# of possessions per game) and offensive rebounding percentage (% of missed shots rebounded for an offensive rebound). So I guess that's why I decided to think about this college basketball algorithm. In my football algorithm, I keep track of offensive and defensive run and pass efficiency for each team, and let that help dictate the outcome in favor of the team with the better statistics. How about incorporating some of these Ken Pomeroy-style stats in the same manner?

Well, I tried that. Basically, the idea was this. Each possession would go as follows. First, each possession is given a chance to end on a turnover (according to the average turnover rate in college basketball). If the team avoided a turnover, they were given a chance to draw a foul for two free throws. If they get the foul, they shoot the two free throws (according to the an free throw percentage), and their possession is over. Otherwise, they shoot either a two- or three-point shot (according to the distribution of twos versus threes). if the shot is made (according to the average field goal percentage of twos and threes, respectively), wahoo! If the shot is missed, they have a chance at the offensive rebound (according to the average offensive rebound rate in college basketball). If they get it, their possession starts over. If not, the other team gets it. But, anyway...I ended up scrapping this system for something more repeatable and simpler. (The main reason was actually not for simplicity; it was because I couldn't get the numbers to work out. I kept getting an average score of 83 pts/game, as opposed to an average in the upper 60s which I should have gotten using real-life averages for all of those statistics.)

But, anyway, I decided to do it this way. Instead of having multi-step possessions and keeping track of all those statistics, it would be this simple. Each possession could result in 0, 1, 2, or 3 points. That's it. That way, I would only have to keep track of offensive and defensive efficiency (a.k.a. points per possession). After crunching the numbers on Ken Pomeroy's site, this is what I came up with:

52% of possessions result in 0 points
6% of possessions result in 1 point
32% of possessions result in 2 points
10% of possessions result in 3 points

Now, isn't that easier? I've also decided to keep track of tempo. The average number of possessions in a college basketball game is about 67, with a standard deviation of 3.2. (I estimated those numbers from Ken's site.) Before the season, I'm going to randomly assign a tempo to each team in the league (assuming a bell curve), and that's how they will try to play all season. Before each game, the number of possessions in the game will be the average of the two teams' tempos. Between seasons (if this ever gets beyond one season), I'll recalculate tempos, but using the previous season's tempo as the mean of possibilities on the bell curve. I doubt I'll end up with any teams that play like the Virginia Military Institute, but that's okay. (Speaking of which, did anybody happen to catch that Penn State 129, VMI 111 game over Winter Break? That's something I'd like to have seen.)

Of course, I'll also keep track of each team's offensive and defensive efficiency, and let that skew each team's chances for points in each possession. If you crunch the numbers, you'll find that the average points per possession using this algorithm is exactly 1.00, and that's about the college average. (That's by design, of course.) So, the average score in a 67 possession game is...well, 67. Sounds good to me!

I haven't started league yet - first, I need teams, and second, I need a schedule. For the teams, I'll probably do like the football league and take the top media markets without an NBA franchise. (Cities represented in my football league will also be excluded.) As for the the football league, I just copied the NFL schedule and changed the names of the teams. I don't think I want to do 82 games per team in this league, so I probably won't do that with the basketball league. I'll figure something out.

Whenever I have another "slow news week", I'll update you on how the league is progressing. If I ever start it.

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

- The two "you knew that was going to happen" moments of that episode: Once again, when they received the order to kill Milo, I knew Jack was going to come in at that moment, and sure enough. (His name is Milo, but I keep wanting to call him Milos.) And, of course, you knew Jack's father wasn't going to shoot Jack dead. It was just a matter of why not. I'm guessing we'll see Phillip again. (But I don't see any need for an interrogation anymore - I think we already know everything he knows. Then again...maybe not.)
- When the CTU team arrived at the alleged Gredenko house, I thought they were doomed, because there were no named character field agents on the team, much like when the first bomb went off. But they were just fine - they'll live to see another day. (Or at least another hour.) Then again...other than Jack, there aren't really any named character field agents left, are there? They're all dead.
- I'm getting tired of Morris and all of his problems and self-pity. And how Chloe is so easily manipulated by him.
- They've been giving Jack a lot of cheesy lines lately. Like this week: "It's personal."
- I don't think I've commented on the Palmer assassination plan's still in the "wind-up" phases. It's bound to get more interesting later. Sadly, Jack can't be in two places at once. (Or can he?) But I'm glad to see Lennox tried to back out. Nobody in his position would have gone through with it. (Sidebar: Whenever an important person is killed, it's an "assassination". Whenever some random person is killed, it's just a "murder". Is that the correct distinction - the prominence of the victim?)
- That ending was a classic set-up for next week - outstanding. I can't wait for next week's episode. (These "creepy old men" always have gray ragged beards, don't they? When times are tough, do old people just stop shaving? And haven't they heard of Just For Men?)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

"Presidents' Day (aka President's Day, aka Presidents Day, aka Washington's Birthday)"

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Oops...I forgot to talk about Presidents' Day yesterday! How silly of me. (Yeah, it's kind of a slow news week.)

The main purpose of this post is to settle this debate. Is the official name of the holiday a singular possessive (President's Day), a plural possessive (Presidents' Day), or a plural non-possessive (Presidents Day)? Well, actually, it's none of the above - the official name of the holiday is "Washington's Birthday". A quick Google search led me to this policy observed by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (and likely other government agencies as well):

"This holiday is designated as 'Washington's Birthday' in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code, which is the law that specifies holidays for Federal employees. Though other institutions such as state and local governments and private businesses may use other names, it isour [sic] policy to always refer to holidays by the names designated in the law."

(I know I could have just put a space between "is" and "our" in the quote, but that's how it's written on the OPM web site, and I wanted an excuse to use the [sic] notation.)

Well...alright. Everybody calls the holiday "Presidents' Day" in common speech (possessives don't affect pronounciation), but the holiday is actually called "Washington's Birthday". I guess people started calling it Presidents' Day in order to honor Abraham Lincoln in addition to George Washington (both of whom were born in February). The date of the holiday (the third Monday in February) would indicate that the day is designed to honor both presidents - it always falls in between Lincoln's birthday (February 12th) and Washington's birthday (February 22nd). In fact, calling the holiday "Washington's Birthday" isn't totally correct. Since the observed holiday falls on the third Monday in February, the observed holiday "Washington's Birthday" never actually takes place on the day of Washington's birthday. The closest it ever gets is the day before (February 21st). Yet, this great nation of ours (or at least the government of this great nation of ours) continues to call the holiday "Washington's Birthday". Thus, I am going to go against government protocol and continue to call the holiday "Presidents' Day".

Now, back to the original question regarding possessives (or the lack thereof). Which is correct? Well, when it comes to important issues such as this, I often turn to our friend Wikipedia. Thus far in the post, I've been spelling it "Presidents' Day", because that's what it says on my calendar, and that's what it said in an email I got last week. But according to Wikipedia, it's Presidents Day - no possessive. "This holiday does not belong to the presidents, but rather it is a day on which the United States honors them. Presidents is considered an 'attributive noun' and acts as a modifier." Well, that settles it. I love Wikipedia. (And the best part about the Wikipedia page is that its reference for the spelling issue is from the Raleigh News and Observer's online "Triangle Grammar Guide". Raleigh represent!)

(Sidebar: The actual name of the newspaper is just the "News and Observer", not the "Raleigh News and Observer". I object to this. I think every newspaper name should reference its hometown to make it easier to reference out-of-town newspapers. Jacksonville's newspaper "The Florida Times-Union" is a partial offender. Is it so bad just to call it "The Jacksonville Times-Union"? Are they trying to elevate the paper's status by calling it "Florida" and thus lumping it in with the rest of the state's tourist attractions and prestige? Why not rename the football team the "Florida Jaguars" while we're at it? Ugh. I think Jacksonville can stand on its own. Jacksonville is not Orlando, it is not Tampa, and it most definitely is not Miami. The name of the newspaper should reflect that.)

So, I imagine just about everybody misspells Presidents Day - even I did, up until now. But I just used my calendar as a gauge. I'm guessing a good portion of the population misspells the name of the holiday. So, I think we can add Presidents Day to my "list". I wouldn't put this in the same category as my obsession with Eckerd and Ruby Tuesday, though - the difference with those places is that it's a difference in pronounciation, not just spelling, and that elevates their importance. Still - millions of calendars nationwide have the name of the holiday misspelled. Maybe by writing this post, I can help change the world. (Then again...this is a day late. So maybe not.)

Or...maybe we should all move to Saskatchewan and celebrate Family Day instead.

Today's random thought:

- M&Ms: plain or peanut? The classic debate. Count me in with the "plain" crowd - I just want the chocolate. I don't need nuts. If I want nuts, I'll have a Snickers. (There are other M&Ms flavors, I know...but plain and peanut are the classic flavors. I don't concern myself with those other flavors.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

"Are These Posts Getting Shorter?"

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Let's get right to the point. Are my blog posts getting shorter? I had some time at work recently (shocker!), so I decided to take a sample and find out. First, I determined the word counts in each of this month's blog posts. This does not count the random thoughts (or the links to the random thoughts):

2/17 ("The Daytona 500 Is Tomorrow, So I'm Going To Talk About NASCAR"): 1,533 words
2/16 ("Yet Another Drive In Eastern NC"): 571
2/15 ("Amber Goes Curling"): 372
2/14 ("Valentine's Day"): 660
2/13 ("Disc Golf + Softball = Fun!"): 662
2/12 ("Disc Golf Normalization"): 1,778
2/10 ("Freecell and Minesweeper"): 707
2/ 9 ("National Signing Day? Zzzz..."): 853
2/ 8 ("28 Counties Remaining!"): 762
2/ 7 ("What Is Rock, Exactly?"): 1,008
2/ 6 ("Another Drive In Eastern NC"): 682
2/ 5 ("Name Brand or Generic?"): 956
2/ 3 ("The 41st Annual Big Game"): 666
2/ 2 ("Groundhog Day"): 690
2/ 1 ("The Chris Allen Cold Weather Clothing Scale"): 853

(This actually wasn't hard to do. I just had to copy and paste the entire February archives page into Microsoft Word, highlight each day's post, and select "word count").

Then, for comparison, I went back to the archives and loaded up September's posts: (Again, this does not count the random thoughts, because there were often more than one per day back then, and I know that section has gotten shorter.)

9/30 ("College Football Saturday #3"): 735 words
9/29 ("The Diabolical Scheme Thwarter: Issue #5"): 732
9/28 ("This Is What I Did Today"): 924
9/27 ("Working At Publix"): 1,119
9/26 ("Bellefonte, PA"): 865
9/25 ("Wedding Receptions"): 830
9/23 ("Weddings"): 608
9/22 ("More Map County Fun!"): 844
9/21 ("A Typical Week"): 743
9/20 ("The Diabolical Scheme Thwarter: Issue #4"): 729
9/19 ("Instant Messenger Contests"): 1,000
9/18 ("Elementary School"): 890
9/16 ("College Football Saturday #2"): 1,231
9/15 ("If I Had A Million Dollars..."): 816
9/14 ("Soda (Pop)"): 863
9/13 ("Kinston, NC"): 932
9/12 ("The Diabolical Scheme Thwarter: Issue #3"): 709
9/11 ("September 11th, 2001"): 1,063
9/ 9 ("College Football Saturday"): 1,528
9/ 8 ("It's A 'Just Me' Weekend"): 549
9/ 7 ("Drives By County Update"): 649
9/ 6 ("Spelunking"): 677
9/ 5 ("The Bad American Swill Festival II"): 851
9/ 4 ("Florida State v. Miami (FL)"): 803
9/ 2 ("The Diabolical Scheme Thwarter: Issue #2"): 649
9/ 1 ("Live For The Memories"): 547

Now, the statistics:
February: Mean 850; Standard Deviation 364
September: Mean 842; Standard Deviation 218

So, the average post length has actually gotten longer. However, there have been a couple of abnormally long posts this past week, and that skews the average. That also skews the standard deviation. Because of that, I don't know if you can truly say that the post lengths are more varied than they used to be. I could go back and get word counts for all of the previous 199 posts, but...nah. My question has been answered: the posts are not getting shorter.

Today is the 200th post in the history of the blog, by the way. The fact that most people celebrate these "round" numbers purely as a function of our base-10 counting system, so...whatever. Maybe we should consider milestones using other computer-friendly numerical bases, such as hexadecimal. In 56 more posts, we'll have the 0x100th post in the history of the blog!

One word about these Monday posts. I've probably mentioned this before, but most of the time, the Monday posts get written the previous Friday. This post is no exception. The reason for this is because I either don't have time to write (or don't feel like writing) posts over the weekend, and since I like publishing each day's post early in the morning, that means I have to write Monday's posts on Friday.

Yeah, I know...writing a blog post about the blog itself is kind of lame. But it is Monday, after all. But at least you still get one of these.

Today's random thought:

- It's unfortunate that I can't pick up every radio station on my alarm clock at home. For example, I can't pick up 96 Rock ("Everything That Rocks!"), but 102.9 ("Carolina's Greatest Hits!") comes in just fine. And you can forget about trying to pick up a Fayetteville station in there. That's too bad, because 102.9 is starting to get pushed further and further back in my prioritized radio station rotation. Oh gets me out of bed just fine. (Sometimes.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

"The Daytona 500 Is Tomorrow, So I'm Going To Talk About NASCAR"

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How many of you turned on ESPN at 530p this week expecting Pardon the Interruption, only to get some NASCAR show featuring Brad Daugherty? It just goes to show you...NASCAR is slowly taking over the world. You may not like it, but you better learn to live with it, because it's not going away. And that includes here in my blog. (If you were expecting the triumphant return of the "College Basketball Weekend" posts, you'll get one more chance in a couple of weeks. I think.)

As implied by the title of this post, the Daytona 500 is tomorrow. The Daytona 500 is the most prestigious race of the season, and it's also the first race of the season. It's very convenient that NASCAR begins their season right after the end of the NFL season, isn't it? I always eagerly anticipate the Daytona 500. I don't really think about NASCAR during the off-season, and that's consistent with other sports - once the season ends, I pretty much ignore it until at least the following preseason. So I had no idea who was driving what car this season until I watched Daytona 500 qualifying. I had a vague idea, but nothing specific. For example, I knew Brian Vickers was driving for "Red Bull Racing", but I didn't know what car # he was in (83), or who his teammate was (#84 A.J. Allmendinger), or even if he had a teammate. I also had no clue that Jeremy Mayfield found a ride this season, or that somebody (Joe Nemechek) decided to use the number 13 this season. (#13 is seldom used, probably because of its superstitious connotations. Come on, people - it's a prime number! The two greatest drivers in NASCAR history both used prime numbers, you know.) But I picked all of that up during qualifying (which I didn't watch live, or even the day of - thank you, TLD). Qualifying is boring to watch (even for me), but I watch Daytona 500 qualifying because they show every car, and that answers all of my "silly season" questions.

There are quite a few storylines entering this season. I'm going to pretend to be a real NASCAR journalist and talk about some of them:

- Toyota is entering Nextel Cup this season, the first foreign manufacturer to participate in NASCAR's top division. How will they do? Personally, I think the whole manufacturer thing is overrated. The only difference between a "Ford", "Chevy", "Dodge", or "Toyota" are who is doing the research and development. Race teams with a common nameplate tend to work together. (For example, I believe almost all of the Ford teams use engines furnished by Roush/Yates.) The only reason Toyota probably won't do that well this season is because the only teams racing Toyota are new, or are Bill Davis Racing. It's harder than ever for new race teams to enter NASCAR, because in the first 5 races, the top 35 teams from the season before are guaranteed starting positions in each race. That only leaves 8 spots for new teams, and there are more than 8 new teams this season. That's going to leave some teams intending on running the full schedule on the outside looking in, and that will include some Toyota teams. (Starting with the 6th race, this season's top 35 are guaranteed spots. The idea is to ensure the top drivers, teams, and sponsors are racing every week. I don't have a problem with that rule, although I would probably cut it to 30 for the first 5 races to give new teams more access.)

- Juan Pablo Montoya - Indy 500 champion, former Formula One driver, now NASCAR rookie. I think it says a lot about NASCAR that drivers are leaving the world's premier racing circuit to come here. Open wheel cars and stock cars are completely different, but the switch from open wheels to NASCAR is hardly unprecedented, so he won't have a problem. Go Juan Go!

- Cheating. NASCAR has already suspended several crew chiefs for various rules infractions in Daytona 500 qualifying. Some were minor, some were not, but all were penalized points and had crew chiefs suspended. The most severe penalty went to Michael Waltrip's team for trying to add something to the fuel (that's my understanding) - 100 points. But, Michael (and everybody else) still get to race in the Daytona 500. So, depending on how Michael does on Sunday, Michael Waltrip might have a negative point total after the race. That would be a first, and I'm rooting for it. You'll see this said in any number of NASCAR columns, but until they suspend the whole team from races for rules violations, cheating will still happen en masse. A 100-point penalty is major for a new team trying to crack the top 35 in points, but still. I wonder if some teams attempt to cheat, and designate some new guy the "crew chief" so he can take the fall. And for those people who are saying "This just goes to show you - if you cheat, NASCAR will catch you" - how do you know? How do you know there aren't another 20 teams cheating? I think cheating is part of the sport - it isn't cheating unless you get caught. Passing NASCAR inspection is part of the game. Some teams can cheat better than others. I feel the same way about other sports, too. If baseball wasn't enforcing the steroid "policy" in the 1990s, how can you expect the players to abide by it? Don't put this on Barry Bonds; put it on Major League Baseball. In a competitive sport, you can't expect everybody to abide by the "honor system". In my opinion, all of Barry Bonds' records should stand - no asterisks. (But should Mark McGwire go in the Hall of Fame? Only if he was truly one of the best players of his era. And I don't know if he was or not. You shouldn't put every player with 500 home runs in the Hall of Fame out of habit; you should compare each player to the other players of his era.)

- NASCAR changed the points system again. (Surprise!) Three major changes: 1) 12 drivers now qualify for the 10-race season-ending "playoff", up from 10 last season. 2) Drivers get more points for winning in the first 26 races, than last season, but this change does not carry over to 10-race playoff. 3) Drivers will be "seeded" entering the 10-race playoff according to how many races they won, not where they were in the standings. NASCAR is trying to emphasize winning, but I think there are better ways to do this. I still think the 10-race playoff system does not produce a true season-long champion. And you shouldn't just emphasize winning; you should emphasize top finishes. The separation between 20th and 40th is still way too large, and bad finishes are still too much of a penalty. I'm going to be keeping track of the real NASCAR points with my points system once again, except I've made some changes to it to create at least some separation at the bottom. (Specifically: 21st through 25th get 0 points, 26th through 30th lose 1 point, 31st through 35th lose 2 points, 36th through 43rd lose 3 points, and drivers who missed the race lose 4 points. I've been doing this in the Chris Allen Racing League, and it's been a smashing success. The "negative points" are actually kind of fun.) And here's something else that I think is stupid. The reason they're not giving drivers an added bonus for wins inside the 10-race playoff just like in the "regular season" is because it would create a possible "runaway scenario" where one driver can get a large point lead by winning 3 of the first 4 playoff races, for example. They're trying to keep it close so people will watch NASCAR instead of the NFL on Sundays. (Good luck!) Well, if somebody wins a bunch of races in the playoff, don't they deserve a large point lead? All this does is make the championship seem like more of a coin flip than it already is. I think we're headed for a scenario where drivers are progressively eliminated as the playoffs progress, where it all culminates with the final race - between the top two drivers entering the final race, whoever finishes highest wins the championship. That would actually be more entertaining to watch than Jimmie Johnson winning the championship by finishing 9th.

But the good news is, none of this points nonsense means anything tomorrow. Regardless of how NASCAR determines its champion, somebody will win the Daytona 500 tomorrow, and it will be entertaining to watch. (Even if they do throw caution flags every now and then for "debris". I mean...if they're going to do that, they might as well just have a scheduled caution flag with 20 laps to go in every race. Call it the "20 lap warning". Actually, I don't know why they don't do that - I would be fine with that. Or at least I would prefer that over the "whenever NASCAR feels like it" cautions.)

Today's random thought:

- Last time I went to Kroger, I noticed something different about my shopping cart - it was wider than normal. It was also a little bit shallower. I'm not sure if the total shopping cart volume was different, but the surface area certainly was. I liked the wider shopping cart - I was able to fit everything in my car without having to pile anything. It was a little harder to maneuver than the regular shopping carts, but it was fine - and I'm going to look for one next time I shop there. Hooray Kroger!

Friday, February 16, 2007

"Yet Another Drive In Eastern NC"

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When I wrote that "28 Counties Remaining!" post last week, I didn't expect to take care of another 5 counties that coming weekend. Well, I did - Amber and I went to Wilmington and took care of the five counties in southeastern NC: (Map from Microsoft Streets and Trips 2007)

The main purpose of the trip was to go to the beach - the beach makes a good road trip destination, because it's the "end of the road". But since we were there, we might as well drive through all of those counties, right?

Some highlights of the drive:

- I-40 is speed limit 70 all the way from Raleigh to Wilmington. I approve.
- Driving through Wilmington, I saw something I've never seen before. You know those left-turn traffic lights with the red arrows? Well, "red left arrow" means you can't go, even when the straight traffic is green, regardless of whether or not there is oncoming traffic. But what if the intersection has a separate left-turn signal? How do you allow left-turn traffic to yield on a straight green with a separate left-turn signal? Wilmington figured it out - a flashing yellow left turn signal. Brilliant.
- The beach we went to was Carolina Beach. The choices were Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach, and the coin flip dictated we go to Carolina Beach. Wrightsville Beach was probably closer, but...oh well. You can't tempt fate. The beaches were probably the same, and neither one was probably crowded on a 50° day in February.
- We took a $5 ferry from Fort Fisher to Southport. It worked out well - the ferry departed every 45 minutes, and we got there 3 minutes before the next departure. It's been a while since I took a car-transporting ferry - I think I took the FL-A1A Mayport ferry at some point in the last few years. I don't remember. But the ferry was fun - it was nice to go somewhere with the car without adding any mileage. (By the way, I'm very impressed with Microsoft S&T that they actually incorporated the ferry into the route in the above map.)
- And, the drive after the ferry was nice, too. NC-211 goes through pretty much the middle of nowhere from the shore inland. Just the road, trees, and not much traffic. It was very reminiscent of FL-24 from Gainesville to Cedar Key. On roads like this, people generally drive fast, so I only had to pass one car - and somebody even passed me! That passing car was enough to nudge my "aggressiveness rating" back below 90% (40 to 5, or 88.9%).
- There's a city in southeastern North Carolina named Shallotte. Not to be confused with Charlotte. What were they thinking?
- A drive through eastern North Carolina wouldn't be complete without at least one stop at Piggly Wiggly, right? We stopped at one in Garland on the way back. I've classified it as an "in-between". Garland is quite a pathetic town (population 833), so a "nice one" would probably look out of place. We saw another one in Clinton that looked quite nice, but I guess one Piggly Wiggly per drive is the quota.
- On this day, I resisted the urge to stop at Bojangles'.

So...only 23 counties to go in North Carolina! But I guarantee I won't be making any road trips this weekend. My car needs a weekend off.

Today's random thought:

- Unlike the "major" networks, FOX does not air network programming at 1000p. I'm glad they don't - if they did, that's probably when 24 would be on. I wonder if the main reason FOX doesn't air 1000p programming is so that the local affiliates can air their local newscasts at 1000p. Because, after all, that's the only way anybody would watch. If FOX local news was on at the same time as the other networks, would anybody watch? Doubtful.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Amber Goes Curling"

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No "lovey dovey" stuff today...I promise. Just curling.

This is something it would really be nice to have a picture account of. Not just for this post, but in general. An in-action picture of me hurling a curling rock down the ice would make an excellent picture for my "blogger profile".

In any event, the Triangle Curling Club held another "Learn to Curl" session last Sunday. I already went to one four months ago for myself, but this time, it was Amber's turn.

Just to recap, these "Learn to Curl" sessions have two parts. The first part is instruction on how to do it, and it was fun watching everyone fall and such. (Nobody got hurt, of course. Falling without injury is funny.) I simply observed the instruction. Then, the "sample game" took place. Amber's team just so happened to need one more person, and, well, I just happened to be there, so, you know... did Amber do? Well, she had one of the best shots of the game - a draw that touched the inner circle. (One thing that was different this time around is that the curling targets were permanently etched and painted into the ice, just like the hockey lines. Progress!) One of the club "pros" told me that she had a "natural delivery". And, she had fun. I think she's hooked. And that's a good thing, because I think curling is a lot of fun too. I thought I did well also - I wasn't sure how I would do after four months of curling dormancy, but I got on the ice and started curling without a hitch. The delivery seemed quite natural. That doesn't mean the throws were good...that just means I didn't have to re-learn it. So no matter how long it is before I get out to the curling rink again, I'm happy to know it will kind of come naturally. (And, for the record, our team won the three-end curling match, 2 to 1.)

The Triangle Curling Club has "league curling" every Friday night, but I'm waiting to join the club until Amber moves here. I think the Factory Ice House would be a great place to spend Friday nights. I can't wait.

Today's random thought:

- When I first moved here, I bought some Country Crock butter. Then I never used it. Now, almost eight months later, I threw it out. The expiration date had passed in November, and the surface of the butter turned yellow. Does that mean the butter "went bad"? What if I just remove the surface? The rest of the "tub" was not discolored as such. In any event, I got rid of it just to be sure. (Obviously, I don't use butter much anyway.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"Valentine's Day"

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Continuing my "tradition" of commenting on holidays or events as they happen, here are my thoughts on Valentine's Day.

First of all...I think I'd rather society just abandon it altogether. The gist of the holiday seems to be that guys have to do something nice for their special ladies...that's not what it should be about. Nice things don't mean anything if they're forced. Valentine's Day should be thrown away, and guys should do nice things some other time of year when it will actually be a surprise (and likely, much more appreciated). Instead...all we get this time of year is commercials that tell you "she won't like you if you don't buy her flowers from", or "she won't like you if you don't buy her a diamond necklace from Zales", or, more generally, "she won't like you if you don't spend at least $100 on her this Valentine's Day". Not only is there corporate pressure, but there's peer pressure as well. From the female perspective, if your friends gets something really nice (i.e. expensive) for Valentine's Day from her love interest, you might get jealous. "Why don't my love interest do that for me?" Then it begins. From the male perspective, well...goal #1 is usually just not to make her unhappy, as opposed to simply trying to make her happy, which is too bad. And, for the singles out there, all Valentine's Day means is a reminder that you're single. Who needs that? The only reason this day exists is for corporate profits. It's a potentially good thing - guys should try make their ladies feel special - but it's the expectations that kill this holiday. Even so...what does buying something off a store shelf really say, anyway? Buying something from a website or a shelf doesn't require any effort at all, and if Valentine's Day is supposed to be an opportunity for people to show how they feel about their special someone, and I don't think buying something off a shelf really does that. That's just "trying to get by". And if you want to buy something for your someone, then Valentine's Day is probably the worst time of the year to do that. Everything is expensive. Dinners at romantic restaurants are especially expensive. (And sometimes they change the menus!) I think flowers and nice restaurants are better in August.

Valentine's Day shouldn't be about commercialism. It should simply be a day in which people profess their love for one other. For me, that makes this day just like every other day, because I try to let Amber know how much I love her and what she means to me every day of the year. Couples tend to get complacent in their love, and then when Valentine's Day rolls around, then he calls her and tells her that he loves her and is thinking about her. Women like to know how you feel about them every day of the year, not just on February 14th. It doesn't matter how many times you've told them before...she still likes to hear you say those words. The "Valentine's Day attitude" should be a year-round thing. But since society focuses its efforts on Valentine's Day, that takes away from the rest of the year. I'm not going to fall into that trap. Today, I'm going to call Amber and tell her that I love her. And I'm going to do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day.

From the tone of this post, you would think that Valentine's Day is strictly for the women. Men do things for the women. Isn't that the way it is? I've never wanted anything myself specifically for Valentine's Day. The thought has never even occured to me that I should get anything for Valentine's Day.

One more thought about Valentine's Day. What do homosexuals do for Valentine's Day? Both give each other flowers? How's that work? (That's not a rhetorical question - I'm actually curious.)

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

- I thought it was too early in the season for two episodes, but that's okay, because I thought these were good episodes.
- A drill? Are you kidding me? I don't think I could watch that again. (But as long as you remember that it's just fiction, it's actually kind of funny.)
- I can't understand what Morris is saying. I'd rather they just get rid of him.
- 7 million dollars, or death? You think she wants that one back?
- As soon as Fayed gave the order to kill Morris, you knew that's when the CTU agents would make their entry. Right then. The timing always works out that way.
- Why couldn't Marilyn have just told Jack what Phillip told her on the phone, so they could work together to save her son and find the Gredenko house. Jack could have figured out a way. It's not like Phillip could hear their in-car conversation. Everybody on this show needs to trust Jack a little more. Then again, if they all trusted Jack the first time, it wouldn't be called "24", it would be called "5". This show has to take some liberties to make all of the plots last exactly 24 hours. There are a million "what ifs" in this show, where if one little thing happens differently, they'll either catch the terrorists several hours early, or they won't catch them at all. But that's just the way it goes. It's just entertainment, after all.
- As cheesy as it's going to be, I'm eagerly anticipating Jack's interrogation of his father. It's inevitable. But we probably won't get it for a while. (Possibly in the next-to-last hour.)

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"Disc Golf + Softball = Fun!"

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I didn't originally intend on having two consecutive posts about disc golf, but...that's the way it goes.

I talked myself into playing disc golf at the UNC course in Chapel Hill after work on Friday, and I'm glad I did. As I drove to the course, I noticed a sign advertising a softball game today. This is somewhat significant because the disc golf course goes near the two softball fields. On hole #12, if your throw is bad enough, it might actually end up on the softball field. (Not the main field - there's a secondary field "out back".) So...if there was a game happening on that field, I would skip #12 and take a 4. (Whenever I have to skip a hole, for scoring purposes, I usually take a 4. But if there's a hole where I think my average score is higher than 4, I'll take a 5, even if my average is 4.1. I don't want to give myself an advantage just because I couldn't play a hole.)

But, anyway - there were two softball games taking place as I played #11 and #12. While #11 is playable regardless of surrounding softball games, I had to skip #12 - not just because of the chance of interrupting the game, but there were some spectators lined up along the hole. So that would have been a bad idea. Was I disappointed? Not at all - in fact, the softball games made things more interesting, because as I was finishing up hole #11, I heard a "thunk", some cheers, and saw a softball rolling towards me in the woods. Sweet! Somebody hit a home run, and I got the ball! Thus is the story of why I now have an official NCAA softball displayed in my apartment.

The home run was hit by Tennessee's Jennifer Griffin in a game against Coastal Carolina. (I'm assuming so, anyway. There was only one home run in the game. And I'm not completely sure it was a home run ball - I just saw the ball land 10 feet away from me. But it was definitely in "fair home run" territory. And they probably wouldn't have cheered for a foul ball.) I stayed and watched the game for a few minutes because I couldn't figure out who the other team was. Tennessee's orange is very distinctive, so they were easy to identify, but I couldn't make out the insignia on Coastal Carolina's teal uniforms. Eventually I figured it out. (Coastal Carolina is located in Conway, SC, near Myrtle Beach. They play in the Big South Conference with such powerhouses as Winthrop, High Point, VMI, and UNC-Asheville.)

There was also a game taking place on the primary field between UNC and the College of Charleston. And, I saw an Ohio University team bus parked in the parking lot. (Coincidentally, I also happened to see a similar Ohio University bus on my visit to State College two weekends ago. In that instance, Ohio was participating in a track meet on the Penn State campus. Are these guys following me around? If I see an Ohio University bus in Nova Scotia, then I'll really get curious.) I figured this was some kind of softball tournament, given all the teams that were present, so I looked it up when I got home. Sure enough, this was the "Carolina Classic". Among the other participants were Gardner-Webb, East Carolina, and...Penn State! Not only is the Ohio University bus following me around, but evidently so is Penn State. This is two weekends after the NC State gymnastics team followed me from Raleigh to State College. And this is a few months after Florida State played Notre Dame in a women's soccer national semifinal in Raleigh (Cary).

Thus, I've come to the following conclusion: The Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metropolitan area is the center of the known universe. (Or, there just happen to be three major universities nearby, all with prominent athletics programs. You choose.)

Today's random thought:

- I usually don't mind the cold (especially the "cold" in North Carolina), but I always enjoy looking to see how much colder it is in other places. Specifically, it's usually colder in Crookston, MN. Crookston is my favorite "let's see how bitterly cold it is somewhere else" spot to look up. Why Crookston? Why not another city (e.g. Embarrass, MN)? No particular reason, other than I (indirectly) know a Florida native who went to school in Crookston for a year. And only a year. (But hey, northern Minnesota does have one thing going for it: Curling.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

"Disc Golf Normalization"

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One negative aspect of disc golf (at least for people obsessed with statistics, like me) is that you can't really compare a score on one disc golf course to another disc golf course. Every disc golf course is different, and some are remarkably different. Golf courses are also different, but at least most courses are par 72 (or close to), and that provides a good comparison from course to course. So, when I say that I shot a 78, that means something. (Yeah, it was on a par 70 course, but who cares? That last hole might as well have been a par 5.) But when I say I shot (threw?) a 52 at the Cornwallis Road course in Durham, what does that mean? Is that better than 58 at the Cedarock Wellspring course, or 63 at the UNC course? Not necessarily.

Many courses have posted "pars", but these pars aren't really portable. Sometimes, the pars are designed for amateurs (me); sometimes, they're designed for the really good players (not me). So really, the pars are useless. Instead, I'm going to try to come up with a scale that "normalizes" disc golf scores at different courses so that they can be compared directly. I'm going to do this using my scores as a benchmark (which, I've recorded all of my disc golf scores since I moved to Raleigh (Cary)).

I'm going to base this scale off of the two things that most affect how "hard" a disc golf course is - length and obstacles. Obviously, the longer a hole is, the more throws (on average) it will take to complete the hole. Also, the more crap you put in the way, the most throws it will take. I've arbitrarily chosen five categories of length and five categories of obstacles.

First, the length categories. I will consider the average hole length for this. For me, anything under 200 feet is a par 3, so that will be the first scale. (Par 3 will be the basis; the scale will add to the par.) The other scales will be 200 to 250 feet; 250 to 300 feet; 300 to 400 feet; and over 400 feet. Anything over 400 feet (without obstacles) is a par 4 for me. (Of course, that doesn't consider holes that are really long - obviously, #18 at Indiana, PA (722 feet) and #13 at Jacksonville, NC (1001 feet) are longer than par 4s. But there aren't many of those, and when you take an average across all holes, it will balance out. As far as the in-between scales go, it's most convenient to add a quarter-throw for each level. A 225-foot hole is probably a par 3, but I certainly get more 4s than 2s on those, so I think a par of 3.25 is justified. 250 to 300 is probably the "average" length I like to play, and those are 3.5. Then, 300 to 400 are tough 3s, but not impossible - 3.75 works. (Remember, this is assuming they don't stick any crap in the way.) So, here's the length scale, considering the average length per hole:

Under 200 feet: par 3
200-250 feet: par 3.25
250-300 feet: par 3.5
300-400 feet: par 3.75
Over 400 feet: par 4

Now, the obstacles categories, and this is where it gets a little more complicated (and subjective). Obstacles will add to the par in addition to the length. First, one extreme - no obstacles at all. (State College, anyone?) That gets a par 3. The other extreme is heavy woods (Altoona, anyone?) - even if there's a path from tee to target, if the path is narrow, and there are hardly any open paths within the woods, that's the maximum rating. That will be a par 4 - a hole under 200 feet that's heavily forested is probably a par 4. ( a heavily forested hole over 400 feet a par 5? It's probably more, but there aren't many holes like that. I have considered a multiplicative scale to account for very long, very tight holes, but I'm trying to keep this as simple as possible.) Now, to define the other scales:

Level 1: Little to no obstacles
Level 2: Trees in open areas
Level 3: Mix of "open" and "wooded" holes
Level 4: Mostly wooded, but with paths, or some open holes mixed in
Level 5: Extremely tight

Just like with the length scales, each obstacle scale adds 0.25 to the par per hole. To help define the obstacle scale, I'm going to classify each course that I'm familiar with:

- My favorite courses are level 3. These may have a few tight holes, but also some open holes, and holes with a decent amount of trees (but not heavily forested). This, to me, is what disc golf should be. Examples include Jacksonville (Fore Palms), Tallahassee (Tom Brown), Chapel Hill (UNC), and Raleigh (Kentwood). (Kentwood could be a 4, but I think the course just appears tighter than it really is just because it's crowded, and the holes are crammed close together.)
- Level 2 courses are more open than level 3 - there aren't many trees, but there are some on most holes, or perhaps other obstacles like water hazards, mounds, out-of-bounds, or elevation changes. (Elevation changes count as obstacles as well.) I can only recall two "level 2" courses off hand - Hughesville, PA (Lime Bluff) and Burlington, NC (Cedarock Open). I'm also classifying State College (Circleville) here, because we did try to stick some stuff in the way (a dry lake, out-of-bounds).
- Level 1 courses are the easiest kind. There aren't any of these that I can think of.
- Level 4 courses are mostly in the woods, but have some openings, and perhaps an open hole or two. If you throw your drive off-line on a level 4 course, you might be able to find another path to the target. On a level 5 course, your only option is usually to throw it perpendicularly back onto the fairway. Most courses in this area are level 4 - both Durham courses (Cornwallis Road and Valley Springs), Zebulon, and Burlington (Cedarock Wellspring). I'm also classifying Altoona as "level 4", because while it's very tight on some holes, other holes are level 2 or 3, so it averages out to level 4. Indiana (IUP) is also level 4.
- Level 5 courses are the kind I don't like to play - the ones where it really just looks like they stuck a course in the woods. I've only played the Raleigh (Cedar Hills) course once, but I'm pretty sure it's level 5. (And that's why I've only played it once.) There aren't many level 5 courses.

So, to get a course's average par, start with a par 3, and add 0.25 for each level to the par per hole. Now, to attempt to classify some notable courses in order of state and city: (I've approximated the lengths for most of these.)
Course: length, obstacle (par per hole)
Jacksonville, FL (Fore Palms): 3, 3 (4.00)
Tallahassee, FL (Tom Brown): 3, 3 (4.00)
Burlington, NC (Cedarock Open): 3, 2 (3.75)
Burlington, NC (Cedarock Wellspring): 2, 4 (4.00)
Cary, NC (Scottish Hills): 1, 3 (3.50)
Chapel Hill, NC (UNC/Carolina Adventures): 3, 3 (4.00)
Durham, NC (Cornwallis Road): 1, 4 (3.75)
Durham, NC (Valley Springs): 2, 4 (4.25)
Kinston, NC (Barnet): 3, 4 (4.25)
Jacksonville, NC (Northeast Creek): 4, 3 (4.25)
Raleigh, NC (Cedar Hills): 3, 5 (4.50)
Raleigh, NC (Kentwood): 2, 3 (3.75)
Zebulon, NC (Zebulon Community): 4, 4 (4.50)
Toledo, OH (Ottawa): 3, 3 (4.00)
Altoona, PA (Valley View): 3, 4 (4.25)
Hughesville, PA (Lime Bluff): 3, 2 (3.75)
Indiana, PA (IUP College Lodge): 3, 4 (4.25)
Newtown, PA (Tyler): 3, 4 (4.25)
State College, PA (Circleville): 2, 2 (3.50) do my scores compare to the pars?
Cornwallis Road: par 68; average score 58 (6 rounds)
Kentwood: par 68; average score 57 (6 rounds)
Valley Springs: par 72; average acore 66 (5 rounds)
UNC: par 72; average score 65 (4 rounds)
Circleville: par 32 (9 holes); average score 31 (3 rounds)
Scottish Hills: par 32 (9 holes); average score 29 (3 rounds)
Cedarock Open: par 75 (20 holes); average score 67 (3 rounds)
Zebulon: par 77; average score 76 (2 rounds)
Cedarock Wellspring: par 72; average score 64 (2 rounds)
Fore Palms: par 100 (25 holes); average score 92 (2 rounds)
Cedar Hills: par 81; average score 77 (1 round)

So, generally, I'm under par. If I subtracted 0.5/hole at the end, I think that would help some. Here are the new comparisons:
Cornwallis Road: par 59; average score 58 (6 rounds)
Kentwood: par 59; average score 57 (6 rounds)
Valley Springs: par 63; average acore 66 (5 rounds)
UNC: par 63; average score 65 (4 rounds)
Circleville: par 27 (9 holes); average score 31 (3 rounds)
Scottish Hills: par 27 (9 holes); average score 29 (3 rounds)
Cedarock Open: par 65 (20 holes); average score 67 (3 rounds)
Zebulon: par 72; average score 76 (2 rounds)
Cedarock Wellspring: par 63; average score 64 (2 rounds)
Fore Palms: par 88 (25 holes); average score 92 (2 rounds)
Cedar Hills: par 72; average score 77 (1 round)

I think I've got it. I'm within 5 throws of par on every course - some slightly under, but most over. Perfect. My best courses relative to the system are the short, wooded courses - Cornwallis and Kentwood. But those are also the courses I've played the most. And the more I play a course, the better I get at it. (But generally, I think a 175-foot hole in level 4 woods is easier than a 350-foot hole with no obstacles. So maybe there's something to that.)

So, to answer the question that started us off. Under this system, what's my "best" round of disc golf since I started keeping track? Well, after all that, it's still the 52 I got at Cornwallis Road - 7 under par. Second-best was a 58 at Cedarock Wellspring (5 under par), which is another short woods course (but not as short as Cornwallis). So I think the short woods courses need some tweaking. Or maybe I'm just that good at them. (Ha!) But scores are more variable in the woods than in the open, so it makes sense that the best round would happen in the woods. (Then worst round was 11-over-par at Cedarock Open, which as the name suggests, is an open course. But that day probably was the worst I have played in quite some time.)

I like this system, and I'm going to use it from now on.

Today's random thought:

- I have a designated "peanut butter knife". It sits on top of my jar of peanut butter in the cupboard, and I only use it to spread peanut butter. After each use, I wipe it off, and put it back. I also wash it whenever I use the dishwasher. I used to use a plastic knife for this task (and throw it away every so often), but my last one broke inside the peanut butter jar, so now I use a regular knife. I think they should come out with a peanut-butter-spreading device that works better than a knife. I'm not sure what it would be, but...does such a thing exist? Maybe not specifically. But what is the best for spreading peanut butter? There has to be something better than a knife.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Freecell and Minesweeper"

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I've been playing more Freecell and Minesweeper lately at home. There's no particular reason for it, except it's just one of those "trends", and right now, I feel like it. I'm going to compare and contrast the two games, because I feel like they kind of go together.

Freecell is a good game to play off and on when I'm doing something else on the computer. Minesweeper isn't the type of game you can do that with as much, because it's a timed game. But because it's a timed game, you know it'll be over in no more than a few minutes. Some Freecell games take a while, but you can leave that window open for hours (even days), because all that matters is the win.

My "by-the-numbers" feature in my instant messenger profile is trying to make a slow comeback, and one of the new stats is my Freecell record. Right now, my record is 72-19, for a winning percentage of 79%. (I think my goal is 80%, but whatever - my goal is simply to win the next game.) The Freecell "stat tracker" also keeps track of your longest winning and losing streaks (mine are 13 and 3). The equivalent for Minesweeper is your "best time". There's no convenient way to do a won/loss record in Minesweeper, because in many games, it's hard to get started - you just have to get lucky and find a bunch of blank spots.

I have a hard time playing more than one or two Freecell games consecutively. In the first game, I take my time, I concentrate, and I'm not afraid to take a long time to figure it out before I make any brash decisions.

There are ways to cheat in both games. In Freecell, pressing Ctrl+Shift+F10 brings up the "User-Friendly User Interface", which allows you to record a win on-demand. In Minesweeper, after the game starts, hold down the left mouse button, followed by the right mouse button, followed by Esc, and the clock stops. Of course, you still have to win the game, but if you do, you'll beat your high score with a time of 1 second. I don't use these cheats on my home computer - that takes all the fun out of it. But I've always had fun doing the Minesweeper cheat on other people's computers.

A legal thing to do with the two mouse buttons in Minesweeper is this. If you have the correct number of mines marked accordingly around a numbered space, you can click on the numbered space with both mouse buttons, and all of the yet-uncovered spaces surrounding it will be uncovered. I find this particularly useful with '1' spaces. If you don't have the correct number of mines marked surrounding that space, no action will take place. I almost do this out of habit now, not just to uncover multiple spaces quickly, but to see if I have the correct number of mines marked around a space. I'm not sure if marking all of the mines helps you get the best time, but I think it helps on Expert level. On Intermediate level, I mark some mines. On Beginner level, I don't mark any. (I don't play Beginner anymore anyway. I'm satisfied with my time of 5 seconds.)

Solitaire was the "original" bored-game-to-play-in-Windows. But I think it's old news, because they have no stat tracker. I used to keep track of Solitaire wins and losses on my own (shocking, eh?), but then I moved on to Freecell. Solitaire does have the Vegas game mode where it keeps a running total of your winnings debt, but unfortunately, it doesn't keep a total across multiple game instances. I think Solitaire needs an upgrade. Does Microsoft Vista includes a new "21st Century" version of Solitaire?

It took me a while to figure out Freecell. For a while, I played recklessly with no clue as to what I was doing. I think I lost 50 or so games before I ever won my first. But evidently, I figured it out. I think 79% is a respectable total - some people are better, some are worse. I wonder what percentile that puts me in.

Let's hear it for an abrupt post ending!

Today's random thought:

- In an effort to get at least some exercise, when I need to take the trash out, I run there, and I run back. The dumpster is on the other side of the complex. I don't know long the run is (1/4 mile?), but it shouldn't be long enough to make me tired. However, I'm just that out of shape. I think it's going to take more than just a short run every few days.

Friday, February 09, 2007

"National Signing Day? Zzzz..."

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I realize I might step on some toes with this post, but oh well. (I'm banking on the idea that some people might agree with me.) (I also realize that this is a couple of days too late, but that's the way things have been with my blog lately.)

Wednesday was college football's National Signing Day. That's when all of those high school football players announce where they decided to go to college for free, in exchange for attempting to propel their football program to national excellence, and thus help the school make money off athletics, money they will eventually spend on...umm...books. But I digress. My point is, recruiting is the most boring thing about college football, and I really don't care about it. I don't follow it. I'm not that guy who checks the message boards every day and subscribes to ESPN Insider to see if that 5-star recruit is leaning towards committing to Florida State, or how Penn State's incoming wide receivers rank among other Big Ten schools. Whatever. (Not that there's anything wrong with that. To each his own.) First of all, I just like to watch the games. College football is over for me from January until August. Second of all, it's a crap shoot. These "blue chip recruits"? It's all a crap shoot. These ratings that these recruits get, they're all opinions. And those "top classes" rankings are based on those recruiting rankings, so those are kind of useless too. My main point is that having a top class does not translate directly to more wins. How many times has Notre Dame had a top 5 recruiting class? And how many bowl games have they won recently? (Of course...getting better players will help your program. In theory. But it's no guarantee.) Same goes for basketball, too. I don't know how many times I've heard that Florida State put together one of the top recruiting classes in the country over the last few years. (Really, they have.) How many NCAA Tournament games have we won with those top classes? Zero. How many NCAA Tournament games have we played in with those top classes? Zero. It's all a bunch of hogwash, and all this recruiting hubbub is just something to give college football fans an excuse to keep following college football in the offseason and ignore how their basketball team might be doing. (Which, if you're a Penn State fan...I can't say I blame you.) The same pretty much goes for spring practice. I went to the "Garnet and Gold" game at Florida State one year, and it was boring as hell. I guess it's not really about the game itself - it's about the "event". Alright, fine. But college recruiting isn't an event. it? National Signing Day may not jam the streets of college towns across the country, but it does have people who care tuned in to their television sets. National Signing Day features many high school seniors announcing their schools of choice live on national television. This isn't very interesting to me - I don't follow recruiting, so I don't know who any of these people are. Great! Some guy I've never heard of is going to play at Florida State! Not really a reason for me to get excited. I guess all of this hubbub is a competition within itself. If I have a friend at Florida, and Florida State picks up this highly-touted recruit, I can call him up and say "Ha! We got Joe Schmo! Up yours!" And then he can say "Yeah, well, we got five other highly-touted guys instead. And we've beaten you three straight years. And we just won the national championship. Anything else you would like to gloat about?" And then I'll wonder why I called him in the first place. I guess recruiting might be a game within itself, but not as much as the games themselves, which I enjoy watching to no end.

I'm always amused when I hear or read something like this: "Joe Schmo chose Penn State over Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, and Oklahoma." I know what they mean when they say that - those schools were his five final choices, and he eventually chose Penn State. But didn't he choose Penn State over everybody else, too? It should go like this: "Joe Schmo chose Penn State over Alabama, Air Force, Akron, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Arkansas State, Army, Auburn, Ball State, Baylor... ...Virginia, Wake Forest, West Virginia, Western Michigan, Wisconsin, and Wyoming." Personally, if I were a high school college football recruit, and I already knew where I wanted to go to college, I would feign interest in schools in fun locations so I could get some free recruiting trips! It would go something like this: "Chris Allen chose Florida State over West Virginia, Utah, Northern Michigan, Alaska-Anchorage, and the University of South Australia."

But anyway, I guess my main point is that I like sports not just because I'm interested in the result, but because watching sports happen is entertaining in itself. Watching recruiting happen? Not so much. Wake me up in August.

Today's random thought:

This was the second consecutive NFL season where the Super Bowl champion was a team that lost to the Jaguars during the regular season. I just wanted to get that out there.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

"28 Counties Remaining!"

After this weekend's drive (and my Cabarrus County discovery), I have 28 counties remaining to reach my goal of visiting all 100 counties in North Carolina. Here's the map again (unvisited counties are in white): should I go about visiting the remaining 28 counties? I think it's inevitable that I'm going to get there at some point. Let's categorize them! (Here is a NC county map with names, in case you want to follow along.)

- Towards the Outer Banks (Hyde, Tyrrell, Washington): These counties are along US-64 and US-264 between Greenville/Wilson/Rocky Mount/etc and the Outer Banks, so I'm going to pick up these three counties when I do the Ultimate North Carolina Road Trip. Whenever that is. It is a full weekend commitment, so that won't be for a few months. There's a chance I could just go to these counties on some random day trip, but I'm trying to avoid that as to not spoil the "ultimate" trip when it does happen. (I'm going to abbreviate that trip the UNCRT, because I will reference it a few more times before the post is over.)

- Pamlico County: This county is kind of out of the way, and there isn't much of anything there. So, the only reason I'll probably ever have to here is strictly to check this county off my list. This will require its own trip, and I'll probably make it one of the last counties to go.

- Wilmington area counties (Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, New Hanover, Pender): I should easily be able to pick these five up on a single trip. Thanks to I-40, they're only two hours away. I haven't been to Wilmington yet (obviously), and it's the most accessible beach to Raleigh (Cary), so it'll happen eventually. (Although I'll have to be slightly creative on the return route to pick up three of the five, as they're not along I-40.)

- Northeast of Charlotte (Davidson, Davie, Rowan): These counties are along I-40 and I-85, so I'll probably pick them up at some point without trying to specifically. It's possible I've already been to some of them (much like Cabarrus), but I don't know for sure.

- Southeast of Charlotte (Anson, Union): There's nothing of note in these counties, and they're not along any major routes (other than US-74, which doesn't do me any obvious good). So, these two counties will almost certainly require their own specific trip. Maybe while I'm down here, I can pick up that South Carolina county, too.

- That chunk of 11 counties in northwestern North Carolina (Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Lincoln, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes): Well, let's see. Catawba and Burke are on I-40. Alexander and Caldwell are on US-64 (the UNCRT). Watauga and Wilkes are on US-421 towards Boone, and Boone is already on the list of "nearby places I'd like to check out". The Boone trip could also take care of the other four border counties. (Those four counties are also along the Blue Ridge Parkway, another potential long-distance weekend trip that would take care of them.) That leaves Lincoln County (the southernmost of that chunk), which...that's a tough one. There's no convenient way to pass through Lincoln County, so I'm going to classify it in the same group as Pamlico, Anson, and Union.

- The Western Tip (Cherokee, Clay, Graham): The UNCRT will take care of Cherokee and Clay for sure. Graham, however, is not directly along the route...but it's close. I just need to remember to take care of it. The return trip comes within a few hundred feet (at the most) of Graham County, so all I'd need to do is head north on US-129 for a few seconds and I'm there. If I miss that opportunity, who knows when I'll be anywhere Graham County again.

Where do I expect to be by the end of 2007? Well...assuming the UNCRT happens by then, I could be up to as many as 96 counties by the end of the year. I expect the last four counties to go will be Pamlico, Anson, Union, and Lincoln - they all will likely require their own special trips, and thus, I'm going to save them for last. Some of those northwestern counties might also be unaccounted for (I might not feel like going to all of those counties on one trip). I don't think I want to get all of the counties out of the way this year anyway...what fun would that be? Then again, I still have 13 counties left to visit in South Carolina...

Today's random thought:

- Those of you on AOL Instant Messenger may have noticed that I've ended the self-imposed "AIM Semi-Hiatus" (at least temporarily). I've been keeping myself logged in for all hours of the day for the last week and a half. What spawned it? Well...I figured I might as well use my computer for something. I'm also trying to revive "by-the-numbers" with a more laid-back attitude (as opposed to an obsession). As for the away messages, I'm no longer going to give "informative" away messages that say what I'm actually doing, and that includes the old classics such as "dinna time, break it down" and "all aboard the sleepy train". Instead, I'm just going to write something random up there. Think of it as the instant messenger version of "today's random thought". Sometimes, you'll see a thought in my away message appear in my blog as a random thought two or three days later. But not always - sometimes my daily away messages are dumb one-line statements like "the amount of spaghetti i eat for dinner is limited by the size of my bowl" and "the post office smells funny". So...I'm going to try to keep this up for a while.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"What Is Rock, Exactly?"

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

On my normal road trips to State College and Jacksonville, I have a set playlist that I use every time. But when it comes to random drives like Saturday's, I usually just listen to the radio. And this drive took me outside of the Raleigh-Durham region, so I had to venture outside of my usual radio station influence. I'm going to talk about some of the stations I found, and use that to spawn some general discussion about radio stations.

Along the drive on Saturday, I mostly listened to three radio stations: (The names might not be accurate, by the way. This is strictly from memory.)

- 99.5 "The X", Greenville. I'm not sure what the main city for this station is, but it's somewhere in this area. (There is no main city in this area; it's just Greenville/Wilson/Goldsboro/New Bern/Jacksonville/Kinston. Or something like that.) This station's specialty (as implied by the name "The X"), is 1990s alternative rock. Except they don't call it "alternative rock" anymore - it's usually "new rock" or "modern rock". I forget which terminology they used. But in any event, they played mostly 1990s alternative rock with some "new rock" mixed in that in many cases I hadn't heard before. The "rock" station in Raleigh (96 Rock) plays "everything that rocks", of which the 1990s alternative rock is a subset. I don't think I heard any 90s songs on 99.5 that aren't played on 96 Rock. That's a little disappointing - I was hoping they would pull out some songs from the archives that I had forgotten about. Instead, I think I heard two Nirvana songs in the short time I listened to 99.5. That's a little disappointing. While the 1990s alternative rock genre used to be my only radio station option, I don't think I could listen to a station like 99.5 for long periods of time (too repetitive). Instead, with 96 Rock, I get all that stuff in moderation, plus other stuff. (I can't pick up 99.5 from Raleigh (Cary) anyway.) But the good thing about 99.5 is that they carry Jacksonville's own Lex and Terry. (That's Jacksonville, FL I'm talking about. And I know they're not based in Jacksonville anymore, but they used to be.)

- 106.5 "The Fox", Norfolk/Virginia Beach. I made it a point to listen to this station because it's always competing with Oldies 106.5 (Fayetteville!) for my reception in Raleigh (Cary), so I wanted to find out exactly what this station was. And now I know - "classic rock". Now...what is "classic rock", anyway? Well, according to this station, it's a little softer in nature than the "classic rock" you'll hear on 96 Rock. (In other words, you'll hear Fleetwood Mac on 106.5, but never on 96 Rock. They don't use this terminology, but I think 96 Rock is trying to be "classic rock for the alternative rock generation". And it works.) You know...the term "rock" is probably a little overused these days. What is "rock", anyway? It could be anything from your alternative rock/heavy metal stuff to your "soft rock favorites". Isn't "soft rock" just "pop"? Well, no..."pop" is something a 15-year-old girl will listen to; "soft rock" is something a 50-year-old will listen to. There's a difference. (Another designation: you'll hear "soft rock" played at the dentist's office, but usually not "pop". I think a synonym for "soft rock" is "adult contemporary". Maybe there's a difference between those two also.) On the other hand, "new rock"/"alternative rock" is completely different. Maybe the brand of "classic rock" that 106.5 "The Fox" plays falls somewhere in the middle.

- There was also 97.9 ("The Great 98" - I looked that name up because I was curious), an oldies station based in Gaston, NC. It seems like that the further away from major metropolitan areas you are, the better the oldies stations get. Maybe that's because the demographics are more elderly-based in rural areas. I've grown tired of Raleigh's "oldies station" 102.9 - they don't play enough variety, and most of it is too new to be oldies. Then again, they don't even call themselves oldies ("Carolina's Greatest Hits!"), but they are the closest thing Raleigh has (outside of Fayetteville). Most of Raleigh's population has recently moved and is probably "working age", so an "oldies" station that specializes in "newer" oldies probably serves the best interests of the area. On the other hand, Gaston, NC is hardly a metropolitan area. I was surprised to find out they even had a radio station. But I was happy with their song selection for the brief time I listened to them. Basically, I want oldies stations to play the same songs oldies stations played when I was a kid. But most of them don't do this - they've substituted the 50s for the 70s. 102.9 (Raleigh) plays a lot more 70s stuff that I didn't hear on oldies radio as a kid. And what "oldies" they do play, they play far too frequently. On the other hand, 97.9 seemed to have a good mix. But then again, I did only listen to it for an hour or two. Every station has their songs that they play too much, right? And it seems to vary from station to station. So I'm sure 97.9 would have the same problem if I listened to it long enough. To prevent the same problem from happening with 106.5 (Fayetteville!), I force myself to only listen to it during the morning commute. (Goldy in the morning! Makes you rise and shine! Goldy in the morning! Well, he makes you feel so fine! Hey, hey, hey, hey! Oldies Radio! <--That little jingle is often the highlight of my morning.)

To me, listening to new radio stations is part of the fun of a road trip (particularly if you're going somewhere new, or for the first time in a long time). I even like listening to the local commercials. I plan to make that part of the Nova Scotia experience. (They do have radio in Nova Scotia, right?)

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

- I thought this week's episode was boring. Jack's "escape" was extremely unspectacular (for his standards, I guess) and quite predictable, of course. And then, not much else happened.
- I like how when Wayne Palmer started his cabinet meeting on Lennox's resolution, he started talking in the past tense ("I had felt...") to try to make you believe he would accept the resolution this time. But I wasn't fooled. Now the stage is set for another "cabinet conspiracy to overthrow President Palmer" (just like in Season 2). Do the president and vice-president ever agree on this show? (And why does Lennox care so much about that resolution? What's in it for him?)
- Whenever CTU is in need of a little help, they always manage to intercept a call. Why weren't they able to intercept any of McCarthy/Fayed's previous conversations?
- The "we're progressively trying to decode the engineer's image on the computer, and we won't reveal that it's Morris until the last segment of the show" was really cheap and predictable. I didn't expect it to be Morris, of course, but I knew they'd wait until the last 10 minutes.
- I like Jack's "interrogation package". While his interrogations are often one of the highlights, not so this time - it's not the same when he's interrogating a family member. It's much more fun when he's just interrogating some random terrorist. (How soon before Jack starts interrogating his dad? It's inevitable.)
- Personally, I wish they didn't introduce family members into the plot. Jack can't be Jack when his family is involved - and it all seems really cheesy. I guess if you're trying to develop the Jack Bauer character, his family has to crop up at some point. And family relations are always so dramatic in shows like this. It's never "My dad's been happily married to my mom for 30 years! I'm going to visit them next week with my brother - we're doing great!" (And where's Mom, anyway? Presumed dead, only to show up in Season 8?) Even so...I'm sad to see Graem go. He was the most interesting and entertaining character on the show this season.
- I don't think I'm ready for a double-episode yet. Didn't the season just start? (Then again, I'd rather get two episodes this week than over Spring Break, like last year. But at least now I have a TLD, so it doesn't matter whether or not they get FOX in Nova Scotia.)