Saturday, June 30, 2007

"Random Thoughts On Auto Racing"

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All five racing series that I follow have a race this weekend. And I have the TLD set up to record all five. Wahoo! (That doesn't mean I'm going to watch all five. But Amber won't be here Sunday through Tuesday, so I have to entertain myself somehow.)

NASCAR Nextel Cup, New Hampshire: Despite my endless complaining about cautions for "debris", the Nextel Cup race is always the top priority of my sports weekend. (At least until football season starts.) Last week, Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon were caught cheating on the day of qualifying. Their penalty? They had to start the race at the back, they got a 100-point penalty, and their crew chiefs were suspended 6 races and fined $100,000. That's the exact same penalty Dale Earnhardt Jr. received a few weeks ago. What's my take on this? First off, I don't mind that teams are trying to cheat. As the saying goes, "if you're not cheating, you're not trying". If you can cheat without NASCAR catching you, more power to you. It's all part of the game. But, if you do get caught, I don't think you should be allowed to race that weekend. NASCAR can keep "escalating" the penalties all they want until crew chiefs are being suspended for 100 races, but if they really want to curtail cheating, they should park the cars for a race. It's only right. If your car is legal, you get to race. If your car is illegal, you don't get to race. It's that simple.

Formula One, France: Formula One is the #2 priority on my racing agenda. I like it because it's actual racing. None of this "debris cautions" crap. Let's throw the green, and then we'll see you in an hour and a half and see where everyone is. Now that's racing. And if Lewis Hamilton can win, all the better.

NASCAR Busch, New Hampshire: The Busch Series is kind of dumb now. Most races are overrun with Nextel Cup drivers trying to have a little fun, and perhaps gain an edge on Sunday. The Busch Series was better when it had its own drivers, and its own drivers raced for the championship. Now, it's just a matter of which Nextel Cup driver feels like running the entire schedule. Last year, it was Kevin Harvick. This year, it's Carl Edwards, and he has a huge points lead. How dumb. I think they should limit full-time Nextel Cup drivers to 5 Busch starts for the season, and let the Busch-only drivers decide the championship. The Busch Series is supposed to be for the up-and-coming drivers, right? Now, it's just the Nextel Cup drivers' playground.

NASCAR Craftsman Truck, Memphis: While Nextel Cup is afraid to park anyone for a race, the Truck series suspended Ted Musgrave for this weekend's race. Not for cheating, but for running into the guy who wrecked him under caution. Yep, that's it. Come on, NASCAR, he didn't hurt anybody. Who cares? What a stupid penalty. And if that happened in Nextel Cup, you wouldn't see a one-race suspension, you'd probably just a 100-point penalty and a fine. And that's what the penalty should be for frustration. And the ironic thing is, you can wreck anyone you want under green-flag conditions, and as long as you're subtle about it, there's no penalty. What the hell, NASCAR? You suck. Why do I keep watching you?

Indy Racing League, Richmond: This is the "Danica Patrick" series for those of you who may not know what the IRL is, exactly. I watched some of the race last weekend on a similar track to Richmond (the brand-new Iowa Speedway), and the race was boring as hell. These are shorter tracks, and unlike the stock cars, the Indycars can hold the bottom all the way around the track. And because the straightaways are so short, it's almost impossible to pass. At least, that's how the race was at Iowa last week. It was terrible. But at least there were a bunch of wrecks. Hopefully, it'll be different this week. If not, maybe the IRL should give up trying to race on short tracks. Less short tracks, more road courses.

You know...from reading these things, it's almost like Formula One is the only racing series that I'm at peace with right now. And that's about right.

Last Year: "Lame Sports Fan". That post was basically my attempt to justify changing my favorite NHL team from the Florida Panthers to the Carolina Hurricanes. But according to the comment posted to that post, maybe I should take my own advice and stop writing posts like today's.

Tomorrow (Monday): "Move Over, Northwestern". This post has to do with my recent exploits in the NCAA Football 2004 video game.


Today's random thought:

- I guess instead of writing one long post about WKNC 88.1 FM, I'm spreading it out over a bunch of random thoughts. The best time to listen to the station is during working hours (6 to 6, Monday through Friday; the rest of the time is mostly specialty shows that I generally don't care for), so I recently started listening to the station at work. I can't pick it up on my radio, so instead, I hook my headphones up to the PC and listen to the live webcast. Wahoo!

Friday, June 29, 2007

"You Call This Summer?"

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To be fair, I guess it has only been officially "summer" for a little more than a week now. But as far as I'm concerned, "summer" is Memorial Day through Labor Day. Hmm, I guess I already talked about this a few weeks ago, eh? Well, that's a good place to start this post. Let me elaborate on some of the things I said that day:

1) My May electric bill wasn't that bad. I actually had a higher electric bill in February with a smaller apartment. But in May, I did a good job of opening the windows overnight when it was going to get cool, so I wouldn't have to use the air conditioner as much during the day. I haven't been afforded as many opportunities to do that in June. And one night with the windows open, a few ants got inside, so I'm a little more reluctant to leave windows open now.
3) I think I've only had to turn on the air conditioner in my car twice. Once after a round of disc golf, and once on a very hot day after work. But I haven't been keeping track of this. (Why haven't I, anyway? That would be a good stat to keep. Maybe next summer.)
4) Still haven't been to the beach yet. The summer is young. And the week of the 4th of July is probably a bad time to go, so it will be a while longer.
8) I listed a few possibilities for "crazy weekend trips", such as Boone, "The Ultimate North Carolina Road Trip", Delaware, at least one theme park, and Jacksonville. Well, one month later, we've already done three of the five. That was fast.
10) So far this year, the highest temperature recorded on my outdoor thermometer is 96°. (The RDU airport registered 97° that day.) And it didn't even feel that bad. And in response to 11), it's the end of June, and I'm not sick of summer yet. Far from it. That's where I'll continue today's post.

The thing I liked the least about living in Florida were the long summers. Every day, it's hot and humid, for several months. Boring. But now I live in North Carolina, where there's at least some change. For example, five days before the temperature hit 97°, the high was 70°. Not bad, eh? Sure, the hottest days in Raleigh (Cary) are hotter than the hottest days in Jacksonville, but the occasional "nice" summer day in the low 80s makes it worth it. Jacksonville has had a few of those this month, but they haven't had any highs in the 70s. And, their hottest day of the month was actually 98°. And, the dew point in Jacksonville is typically 5 degrees higher than in Raleigh (Cary). (That's what I've noticed, anyway.) So, from a Florida native's perspective, summers here are nice! I'm actually enjoying the "heat". Then again, thanks to my job, I spend more time inside now than I used to, so it's not that big of a deal. And, I don't have to mow the lawn. And, it's only June.

One thing I wish we would have more of this summer is thunderstorms. In Jacksonville, I actually found thunderstorms annoying. Every day, you had to make sure your round of golf was finished by 300p or 400p so you wouldn't get chased away by the daily routine thunderstorms. (Rough life, huh?) But now that I have an added appreciation for severe weather due to taking classes in grad school like "Convection" and "Mesoscale Dynamics" (fun and educational!), I actually want thunderstorms. And, Raleigh (Cary) doesn't have enough of them. Jacksonville has received almost 7 inches of rain this month (about half of which came as a result of Tropical Storm Barry on June 2nd), but Raleigh (Cary) is only in the 4 to 4.5 inch range. And most of the big thunderstorms I've seen pop up on the radar lately have bypassed me. Boring! I want some thunderstorm action! I guess I'm living in the wrong place for that. But hey, it's an improvement over Central Pennsylvania. (Or is it? They might have had more severe weather this summer than we have so far.)

While I've judged summer thus far to be tame and boring, how is Toledo-native Amber adjusting to it? Well...she hasn't complained too much, which I appreciate. I would completely understand if she felt like complaining about how much the weather sucks every day. And for the record, we haven't had a single "fight" about the thermostat yet. (Or anything else, for that matter.) If they were to rank the biggest disputes among same-household couples, I bet the thermostat setting would be near the top of the list, right behind money. Our apartment is typically in the 77-78° range. That's what I grew up with in the summers at my parents' house, so it's normal to me. I thought that might be a little warm for Amber, but she hasn't objected. (Yes, I did ask her about it. I haven't just assumed that she's okay with it just because she hasn't said anything about it.) How much money do you save by having your thermostat set one or two degrees higher, anyway?

So...while I'm content with summer right now, don't be surprised if you see a post entitled "Summer Sucks, I'm Sick Of It" in about a month.

Last Year: "La Copa Mundial". My thoughts on the 2006 World Cup, up to that point. And I'm pretty sure I haven't watched Univision since then.

Tomorrow: "Random Thoughts On Auto Racing". Because all three major NASCAR divisions are racing this weekend, plus Formula One, plus the Indy Racing League (a.k.a. IRL, a.k.a. IndyCar). And tonight's round of pick-up curling was cancelled (lack of interest), so I have to talk about something.

Today's random thought:

- The other day, someone called my apartment phone. Here's how the opening of the conversation went: "Hello?" "Hi, may I speak to Chris?" "This is he." "Umm...did you say 'this is he'?" "Yep." "Well, that's weird." It turns out that she had the wrong number, and that she was looking for a woman named Chris. I think that's the first time that's ever happened. I knew something was up, because most calls to my apartment phone are either telemarketers or other businesses and ask for "Christopher".

Thursday, June 28, 2007

"Driving Through Greensboro"

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I haven't driven through Greensboro a whole lot, but I have a few times. And by that, I mean I've taken the expressways through town. So I don't really know what driving on Greensboro's surface streets is like. Quite frankly, I don't want to know. I only care about the through roads, since that's how I'll be spending most of my time in Greensboro - going through it.

Greensboro isn't that much different than Raleigh. It's part of a major metropolitan area of about the same size () and including several cities. Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point are the "big three", while we have Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Both metropolitan areas have an approximate 2006 population of 1.5 million, with Raleigh-Durham (the "Triangle") slightly ahead of Greensboro/Winston-Salem (the "Triad"), according to this. Ha, take that!

So, here in the Raleigh area, we're building a new loop expressway, I-540. Slowly, but surely, it will envelop Wake County. (Notice that I'm not using my "Raleigh (Cary)" notation; that's because I'm talking about the entire metropolitan area. I usually reserve that notation for when I'm talking about Cary, or Raleigh and Cary together, not including Durham and all of those other nearby areas.) What's Greensboro doing? Well, the same thing, with I-840. And, much like I-540, part of it is already completed:

The remaining sections are the southwestern segment from I-85 to I-40 west of town (due to be completed this year) and the northern half of the loop around Greensboro (won't be completed for quite a while, much like I-540). I thought the entire loop was going to be called I-840, but apparently that will only be the northern half of the loop. The southern half of the loop will become I-40 once it is completed, and the existing I-40 will be become Business I-40. That's a lot like I-85, which is already on the loop; the old I-85 is now Business I-85. Many states have "Business" interstate routes, but often times, they're surface roads, not expressways. North and South Carolina has made it a habit of renaming old, replaced interstates as "Business routes". I-40 in Winston-Salem already does this. I-85 in Spartanburg, SC also has. I guess that's better than using up another 3-digit spur, because North Carolina is starting to run out of those, at least for I-85 and I-40.

I can't wait for the southern loop to be completed. Then, driving through Greensboro will actually be fun! Right now, it kind of sucks. The existing I-40 (future Business I-40) isn't really up to snuff. So much so, it's earned the nickname "Death Valley". But there is one likeable thing about the road - this sign. North Carolina has also made a habit out of rerouting US highways onto the surrounding expressways (instead of the old routes through the city centers). This is an extreme case of that. Hey, why not stick US-29, US-70, US-220, and US-421 all onto the same piece of highway, along with I-40 and Business I-85? It's fun! I'm not sure how they're going to route the US highways once the loop is complete, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see more changes. I think I read somewhere in that Wikipedia web that US-421 would be rerouted onto the southern loop until its exit towards Sanford. That would make a lot of sense. They could also route US-29 and US-220 on there, too, once they complete the northeastern portion of the loop.

Raleigh-Durham has its airport, RDU. The highway signs simply reference "RDU Airport". The Greensboro area also has its airport, the Piedmont Triad International Airport. The highway signs there simply reference "PTI Airport". Therefore, I just assumed that PTI was the airport code, much like RDU is. But, nope - PTI is just the commonly used abbreviation; the actual airport code is GSO. That's lame.

Charlotte is also building a loop expressway, I-485. Much like I-540 and I-840, it's partially done, although it's more than halfway done. But the entire thing won't be done until next decade. North Carolina was a little late to the loop expressway party, it seems. Charlotte and Raleigh already had old, "wimpy" "loops" - Raleigh's I-440 loop, which is better than nothing, but is really just another expressway that goes through town; and Charlotte's I-277 "loop" that isn't even 5 miles long, and barely even goes around downtown. (Which, Charlotte calls "Uptown". Doesn't that sound snooty?) This paragraph had absolutely nothing to do with Greensboro, didn't it? Let's get back on track here for one more paragraph.

Driving through Greensboro will be really nice once the southern bypass is completed. Winston-Salem? Eh. Most of my driving through Winston-Salem has been going from US-421 (err, Business I-40) to US-52 towards the northwest (or vice versa), which isn't great, but it's better than "Death Valley". And I haven't driven through High Point yet, or made the I-85 drive to Charlotte. I bet that's fun. We'll have to put that on our to-do list.

Last Year: "Bar Poker Tuesday". That was fun while it lasted. I haven't played a single hand of poker since December.

Tomorrow: "You Call This Summer?". Here it is, near the end of June in North Carolina, and I'm not sick of the heat yet. What's up with that?

Today's random thought:

- Some microwaves, after the timer runs out, stay on for a few extra seconds. The sound of the microwave changes at this point, so I would assume it's not cooking any more. But what purpose do those extra couple of seconds serve? Is it to let the turntable return to the original position? Or is it to drain hot air out of the microwave? Or is it just for "style"?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"How To Make Your Own Tourist Trap"

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Recall back in March, when Amber and I went to Nova Scotia, one of the places we wanted to go was this place near Moncton, New Brunswick called "Magnetic Hill". You drive your car onto this, you take your foot off the brake, and your car appears to roll uphill! (Of course, it's just an optical illusion, based on the surroundings. Or...is it?)

But, Magnetic Hill was closed for the season, so we missed out. So maybe that's why we felt like going to this place on Saturday called Mystery Hill, located south of Boone. $8/person to get in? Whatever. We saved money by not going to Grandfather Mountain, and I guess you have to spend money somewhere on a trip. (Well, you don't...but whatever.)

What is Mystery Hill, anyway? Well, the main thing is this "Mystery House", which is basically a house built at an angle. So, you get to see a ball roll "uphill", water roll "uphill", and see other things that look uphill, but are actually downhill, because of the angle of the house. (Unfortunately, Amber forgot her camera, so we don't have any pictures to show you.) Then, they also had some other optical-illusion-themed exhibits and puzzles. It was enjoyable, but only for about 10 minutes. Personally, I'm ashamed that we went to this place. It's not like I didn't have fun there - it actually surpassed my expectations - but $8 is a little steep, and in a way, I feel like I was "had". But it must be a riot for kids. If nothing else, it can serve as a nice "get the kids out of the car so we're not driving on curvy roads all day" stop, if that situation should ever arise.

I think Mystery Hill is a good example of a "tourist trap". I consider "tourist traps" to be gimmicky-type places that are located near tourist destinations, but themselves have nothing to do with the location, and are typically overpriced, and quite lame. And I'm sure many of them have the word "mystery" in their name. Because, if there's anything that attracts families with money looking for something to do, or a way to entice the kids in the back seat to yell "Daddy! Daddy! Stop here! Stop here", putting the word "mystery" in your name is it. Most tourist traps have something quite ordinary, sold as something revolutionary. And, it has to be family-friendly. And while you're at it, you should charge at least $10/person. And a gift shop doesn't hurt, either. People spend money more freely on family vacations than they do any other time[citation needed]. When it comes to tourist traps, exploiting kids and families with deep pockets is the name of the game. Personally, I'd rather to go the places I actually planned my vacation around. (For the record, I do not consider Moncton's Magnetic Hill a tourist trap - it's a "major tourist destination". If it's labeled on my TripTik, it's legitimate. I'm pretty sure Boone's Mystery Hill does not appear on AAA maps. And if memory serves me right, New Brunswick's Moncton's Magnetic Hill is actually cheaper.)

Really, we went to Mystery Hill for comic relief more than anything else. Mission accomplished. Now we don't have to go back.

Last Year: "Grocery Store Roundup". Back then, I guess I hadn't found Kroger yet. Well, I'm glad I did, because Lowe's Foods is dirty, and Harris Teeter is expensive and crowded. And I haven't stepped inside a single Food Lion since I moved here.

Tomorrow: "Driving Through Greensboro". I'm going to go "road geek" on you again and talk about that "other" metropolitan area in Central North Carolina.


Today's random thought:

- Someone left a pocket-size copy of the New Testament in the bathroom at work yesterday. Did someone simply forget it, or did somebody leave it there on purpose in order to help "spread the word"? It was sitting in plain view on the sink, so it seems like it was on purpose. But, then again, maybe someone brought it with them for bathroom reading material, and forgot to grab it after they washed their hands. Regardless, if you're going to leave a copy of the New Testament somewhere for someone to pick up, the bathroom is the best place to do it, because everyone who works on that floor will probably go there at least once during the work day. (Well, half of the people on the floor.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"Boone, NC"

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Amber and I felt like going somewhere on Saturday. Where to? I provided two options: somewhere in South Carolina, and the Boone area. After a quick check of the respective weather forecasts, it was a no-brainer. While South Carolina was going to be cooking in the mid 90s, Boone's forecast high on Saturday was 78°F. (Their actual high was around 81. Eh, close enough.)

It only took 3 hours to get to Boone, thanks to US-421, a four-lane highway all the way to Boone, much of which is expressway. Part of it in Wilkes County is called the "Junior Johnson Highway", named after an area-native NASCAR legend. That made me giggle. On another NASCAR-related note, we also passed by the now-defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway, which is visible from the highway. It's for sale! Anyone interested?

Once we got to Boone, we didn't have any specific "first" destination in mind, so we didn't actually go to Boone at first. Instead, we hopped on the Blue Ridge Parkway and headed towards Grandfather Mountain. (I'm going to provide complete map of the drive at the end of the post instead of right now, as to not "give it away".)

Along the way, we drove over the final completed portion of the parkway, the Linn Cove Viaduct, completed in 1987. The bridge was pretty sweet. Personally, I never really put much thought into how old the Blue Ridge Parkway was, but I would have guessed it was much older than 20 years. Then again, everything except the 7.5-mile section surrounding Linn Cove was completed by 1967, and that's a little bit closer to what I expected. Driving the entire length of the Blue Ridge Parkway in one day is on my short list of drives I'd like to do.

Nearby Grandfather Mountain has a really neat suspension bridge, apparently, so we wanted to check it out. Except that Grandfather Mountain is privately owned, and therefore, has high entrance fees ($14/person). Not today - maybe some other time. Instead, we wasted spent our money at this place called "Mystery Hill", which I'll talk about tomorrow.

US-221 from Grandfather Mountain to Blowing Rock is actually a slower and more curvy road than the Blue Ridge Parkway itself:

So, for this segment, the Parkway is actually a faster route than the parallel US highway. Something's a little unsettling about that. The Parkway isn't supposed to be a through road! Bah!

After Mystery Hill, the next stop was a disc golf course (of course) in the town of Jefferson, about 20 miles north of Boone. I liked the course, and it's probably worth a return visit once they complete all 18 holes. They currently have 11 playable holes, although the course is only officially a 9 hole course. Two of the holes are "alternates", which we didn't play. Instead, we played the regular 9 holes, the last of which is a downhill, 550-foot hole that comes out of the trees. Wahoo! I always appreciate it when courses use elevation change to their advantage and make the final hole a fun one. I'm not sure when all 18 holes will be completed, but it probably won't be for a while. I saw no indication of construction, and there was a sign that said the course was $500 in debt. No wonder - it's kind of in the middle of nowhere.

Disc golf was our last stop; after that, the primary objective was to pick up two more previously unvisited counties, to bring the trip's grand total of new counties to 7 (6 in NC, 1 in VA). Only 17 more counties in NC to go!

So, although the official trip destination was "Boone", we only passed through Boone once, and we were only in the town for about 15 minutes. And it was only that long because we stopped for gas there. And the obligatory round of Reese's Fast Breaks.

So, finally, here's a map of the entire drive: (I left Galax, VA off the map so I could get an extra level of detail. It's up there somewhere - you can use your imagination.)

My car odometer will be up to 200,000 before you know it!

Last year: "First Day Of Work". I considered making today's post another lame one-year-anniversary post, marking my first day of work one year ago today, but...eh. I've decided that talking about work doesn't make for very good blog material. (Which is kind of ironic, considering that's where about 95% of this blog is written.)

Tomorrow: "How To Make Your Own Tourist Trap". I'll talk about this "Mystery Hill" place we went to, and every "tourist trap" like it.

Today's random thought:

- I think KISS is one of the most overrated bands ever. Their music is well below average. The only reason they're popular is because of the whole devil, makeup and tongue schtick. KISS needs to go away.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"The Republic Of Chris"

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Before I take you deep into the Chris Allen Racing League (which will probably happen every time I can't think of something better to write about), I should probably talk about the Republic of Chris Auto Racing Association (ROCARA). But even before I talk about that, I should probably talk about the Republic of Chris. (It's not necessary, but I might as well.)

The Republic of Chris is a fictional country I made up when I was a kid (founded February 8, 1992, mostly inspired by the 1992 Winter Olympics). It borders the also-fictional James Republic, and the also-fictional United Federation (a joint effort between James and myself - I don't know when we founded that country, or why it even exists, to be honest with you). The countries were based on the floorplan of the house. I had the west half, and James had the east half. Here's a half-assed map of the original countries: (Keep in mind, James and I were 12 and 9 years old, respectively, when we came up with this stuff. So give us a break on the city names.)

The capital cities are Bunnyville (later renamed to something else for obvious reasons, once I outgrew my obsession with "Tiny Toon Adventures")
In terms of the outline of the house: My room was Bunnyville/Chris City, James's room was James/Whale City (his closet may or may not have been Whale City), Parkton was the unused bedroom (the "toy room", later the "computer room"), Louisville and Lewiston were in the hallway, Orange Grove and Zypher were in our bathroom, Comor was in the dining room, Eldridge in the hallway, Mellaville in the hallway in front of the front door (whatever's that called), Allenburg/St. Andrews/Pinnacle in the kitchen (I think), and Ormond in the living room. We didn't take up the whole house, because I guess our parents didn't want us playing in the family room or in their bedroom. So, in an effort to expand further, I "conquered" the little pond outside the house the front door, and called it "Lake Estates".

Eventually, our desire to expand the countries further forced us to completely disregard conforming to the floor plan of the house. Many years went by, and we kept adding on new territories and such, and even adding a new country. The final result, many years later, was two much larger countries. Here's a map of the "final" Republic of Chris:

I had trouble reproducing a James Republic map, but that's okay, because his country has its own web site. (I couldn't find a map on there, though.) When expanding the country, I always tried to make my country geometrically sound, so it was easy to reproduce. Almost every border falls on a 1/4-interval of the original size square (now the size of the Sydney and Allen territories). But I also tried to add some curves and angles to make it look a little more interesting. That eastern appendage of the Republic of Chris, though, I think was more the product of a border dispute with James. And we never have been able to agree on the proportions of everything. Perhaps to spite him, I placed my largest city in that area, named West Ormond. (Yes, north is up. And yes, West Ormond is east of Ormond. I guess I hadn't quite grasped directions yet at the time.)

I guess we didn't feel like calling them "states", so we called them "territories". I had the original Republic of Chris, plus a bunch of new terrorities that were periodically added over the next...oh, seven years. Some of the new territories had "themes". For example, every city in the Carolina Territory was named after a real city in North Carolina. (Little did I know I was years ahead of myself. Sadly, I don't think there was a city named "Cary". But we definitely had Raleigh, Lumberton, Asheboro, Southern Pines, and New Bern.

So, I had this country. What does it all mean? Well, I think the original intent was so James and I could have our own "Olympics". But eventually, I did two main things with the Republic of Chris. One was to develop a Republic of Chris Road Atlas. (Surprised?) Over the years, I've had so many different versions of the road atlas, I've lost track. Every time I redid it, I saw glaring faults in my network of roads, so I rerouted all of the roads. I still have the most recent road atlas lying around the apartment somewhere - I know I drew one while on summer vacation in 1999, but I think this version is newer. Once we got a scanner, I loaded my hand-drawn maps onto the computer, and posted them on the internet. I forget how it happened, but somehow, my Republic of Chris Road Atlas web site made it into Google. There was a time where if you would enter "chris road atlas" into Google, my web site would come up first. And even if you just typed in "road atlas", I would come up on the first page (7th, I think). Sweet! I got a lot of hits from seemingly curious people. But, I screwed it up by removing the website. What was I thinking? It was my biggest contribution to the internet!

The other main thing I did with the country was create a bunch of sports leagues with teams in my major cities, much like I'm doing now with the Chris Allen Football League with real cities. I considered going back to a Republic of Chris-based sports league when implementing the CAFL, but decided against it, because I see the Republic of Chris as a childhood creation that I don't really have any desire to upkeep. It was a nice childhood creation, but I think it's time has come and gone. My 25-year-old mind sees a lot of flaws with the country, so if I were to redo the road atlas, I would probably have to completely redo the whole country to be able to live with myself. And then, it just wouldn't be the Republic of Chris. So I'm going to leave it as-is. Maybe I'll redo the road atlas, but based on the last iteration of the country, without removing any unnecessary roads or renaming any stupidly-named cities. Or, maybe not.

Next time I can't think of anything else to write about, I'll talk about the Republic of Chris Auto Racing Association.

Last year: Because the days of the week don't line up from year to year, normally the Monday "last year" segment will actually be "last year minus one day", which was a Saturday. But I actually did write a post on the first Sunday, as well as the first Saturday. The Saturday post was "Zebulon, NC, about my drive to the nearby town of Zebulon, which I knew had a disc golf course (a hard one), and I thought had a Piggly Wiggly (nope). The most baffling thing about rereading that post was my complaint that the sun always woke me up between 740a and 745a. That late? That's almost two hours after sunrise! The Sunday post was "Raleigh Disc Golf". In that post, I said "I'm sure I'll go back and play Cedar Hills more". How many times have I been back to Cedar Hills since then? You guessed it - zero. And one year later, I still haven't been to all 22 courses within 100 miles of my apartment. And, that one-Bojangles-visit-per-month thing didn't work out so well.
Tomorrow: "Boone, NC". A recap of Saturday's drive to Boone.

Today's random thought:

- Why do we refer to wearing no underwear as "going commando"? Does it have anything to do with the movie? (Or the corresponding Atari game?)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"A 'Simpsons' Trivia Sampler"

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I've mentioned my "Simpsons" trivia page-a-day calendar in my blog from time to time. Since Amber moved here, I've been saving the page from each day and posting it on the wall. So, I now have a nice little collection of trivia questions. And today, I'm going to share some of them with you! Wahoo! Here are the questions from the last 2 weeks or so: (Answers are at the bottom, after "last year" and "tomorrow" but before the random thought.)

6/11: In "Duffless" (9F14) why does Homer hit Barney in the head with a crowbar? a) to knock some sense into him, b) to keep him from drinking the last bottle of Duff, c) he doesn't want Barney to drive drunk, d) it's Whacking Day.
6/12: In "Catch 'Em If You Can" (FABF14), Marge is excited because the family is going to Dayton, Ohio, which has what kind of museum? a) zipper, b) corncob, c) beehive hairdo, d) grocery.
6/13: In "Marge Be Not Proud" (3F07), Detective Brodka says if he wanted smoke blown up his butt, he'd be where? a) in the designated smoking area, b) at home with cigarettes and a short length of hose, c) in the movie business, d) at a Las Vegas casino.
6/14: In "Homer and Apu" (1F10), what is the name of Kent Brockman's nursing home exposé? a) Geezers in Freezers, b) Gone with the Teeth, c) When Harry Met Nurse Sally, d) Canasta Crime Lords.
6/15: In "Whacking Day" (9F18), Bart dreams of a job doing what? a) testing video games about shooting people, b) drawing comic books, c) testing dangerous food additives, d) firing people.
6/16-17: In "Sunday, Cruddy Sunday" (AABFO8), Wally Kogen's counterfeit Super Bowl tickets are printed on what? a) the backs of Monopoly money, b) some kind of cracker, c) Wisconsin cheese, d) toilet paper.
6/18: In "Bart Gets an Elephant" (1F15), Grampa calls, telling Bart that he has what? a) palpitations, b) psoriasis, c) Granpappy Syndrome, d) a new phone.
6/19: In "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays" (FABF03), what is Marge's first political initiative called? a) Protect Our Progeny, b) Helping Arms, c) Families Come First, d) Missles of Love.
6/20: In "Itchy & Scratchy: The Movie" (9F03), what is the subtitle of the movie "Star Trek XII"? a) Voyage to the Nursing Home, b) The Trouble with Tums, c) Leave Us Alone, d) So Very Tired.
6/21: In "The Blunder Years" (CABF21), Chief Wiggum hopes to rescue some hikers so he can be a hero and the city will give him what? a) a new night stick, b) a coupon for free guitar lessons, c) a key to the executive washroom at City Hall, d) an annual pass to the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet.
6/22: In "Much Apu About Nothing" (3F20), what does Apu offer the statue of god Ganesha if it will make the protestors go away? a) Crackerjacks with extra peanuts, b) all the day-old bread it could eat, c) a whole botle of Yoo-hoo chocolate drink, d) peanut brittle.

Last Year: "Tivo-like Device". This was two days after I got my Tivo-like device from the cable company, and I was already in love. But this post and the comments were actually more about how people use some name brands to refer to any kind of product of that type (e.g. Kleenex, Xerox, Band-Aid, Q-Tip), and my opinion that while close, Tivo doesn't quite fit into that category. I think DVR has become more commonplace than Tivo as of late, as more and more cable companies and satellite providers offer them as part of their TV package. Thus, I'm beginning to wonder if the Tivo brand is even going to survive.

Tomorrow (Monday): "The Republic of Chris". My brother and I were very creative in our childhoods.

Answers:

6/11: c). I was wrong. But at least I didn't pick d); the Whacking Day episode didn't come until later that season, and I'm not sure I've seen it mentioned in any other episode.
6/12: a). I was right. I don't remember seeing the episode, but for some reason, "zipper" sounded right.
6/13: b). I was wrong. And I'm embarrassed for it, because this is one of my favorite episodes, for two reasons: 1) "Thrillhouse!" 2) "Ball is in...parking lot. Would you like to play again? You have selected, 'no'."
6/14: a). I was right. Of course it's the one that rhymes, right?
6/15: c). I was right. Those other answers were way too generic.
6/16-17: b). I was right. I'm surprised they could use the phrase "Super Bowl" in this calendar. I guess if you use it in the episode, you can use it whenever you refer to the episode?
6/18: a). I was wrong. I never really liked that episode. That's my excuse.
6/19: c). I was wrong. This is the second question on this episode this year; I should probably watch it sometime.
6/20: d). I was right. I didn't know this one for sure, but d) was the only one that sounded right.
6/21: b). I was wrong, because I had no idea.
6/22: c). I was wrong, again. Ugh. I always hate it when I miss a question about an episode from seasons 4 through 9.



Today's random thought:

- Most computer science classes stress that you need to heavily comment your code, so that others can look at it and understand what's going on. But is that really in an individual's best interests? Are computer programmers actually better off making our code as confusing as possible, so that nobody else can understand or run it, making us an "indispensable" part of whatever company we happen to work for? In the corporate world, I'd say yes. But in academia, I'd say no. If you're a student, you're not going to be there forever, so it's important to make your code easy to understand so that the next person can come in and run it. And if you're a professor, you want your code to be easy to understand so that you can have your students use it.

Friday, June 22, 2007

"It's Always Construction Season In Raleigh (Cary)"

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The Raleigh (Cary) metropolitan area is growing by leaps and bounds! And, the Research Triangle Park area continues to expand! Thus, the need to give people a pleasant way to get back and forth between Raleigh (Cary) and RTP is increasing by the day. Has the NCDOT been able to keep up? Not so much. But they're trying, one project at a time.

Before I continue, here's a map with labels that I will reference:

Since I moved here, they're already completed a bunch of projects. The US-64 bypass towards Zebulon (1) was done before I even got here, and makes getting to I-95 northbound much faster. Then, they widened US-1 from I-40 to Tryon Rd (2) to three lanes plus an exit-only lane, and reconfigured the Walnut St and Cary Pkwy exits (for the better, I must say). And, they opened 9 new miles of I-540 from US-1 to US-64 (3). They also widened NC-55 from two to four lanes from I-40 all the way to US-64 (4), making NC-55 an excellent alternate route home from work. It helps get projects done when you don't have to shut down the construction over the winter like you do in Pennsylvania. But I don't mean to take anything away from PennDOT's snail-like construction pace, winter or no winter. Pennsylvania's problem is that there are too many projects going on at once, and they don't focus on any particular project enough to get it done. And, they close far more lanes of traffic than they need to. And what's with the stop signs at the end of highway on-ramps? Ugh. PennDOT is awful. God bless North Carolina.

So, what construction projects can we look forward to in the future? Let's see...

(5) I-540 is scheduled to open another four miles before the July 4th holiday, that will extend it from I-40 to NC-55 with exits at NC-54 and Davis Dr. Good thing, too - the I-540 onramp to I-40 west is highly inadequate with just one lane, and now people who look to exit at RTP will have three alternate exits to take. As soon as this road opens, you can expect me to investigate.
(6) Davis Dr is a nice little alternate route to take home from work when I don't feel like taking the interstate. The problem is, it's only two lanes north of Morrisville-Carpenter Rd. Until recently, Davis Dr only had one open lane through that interchange, even though the road was two lanes each way starting 15 feet south of the intersection. Apparently, this was the result of miscommunication between neighboring towns Cary and Morrisville (the intersection lies on the town border, I believe). But they've fixed that now, and the daily traffic jams at this intersection have improved. I tried going this way after 500p one time, and it was awful. Maybe it won't be so bad now. But actually, I put this road in the "ongoing projects" section because they're still working to widen Davis Dr all the way to NC-54. From the looks of it, that probably won't be done for a while.
(7) The town of Cary has done a nice job building roads as four lanes the first time through. But one of the older roads in Cary, Maynard Rd (the "inner loop, if you will"), still has a congested two-lane section that they're widening now. Maynard used to be part of an alternate route I took home from work, but now it's kind of a mess - not just because of Maynard, but because I have to take NC-54 (7A) to get there, and there is a mess of construction going on right now at the future I-540 interchange.
(8) Most of the recent growth in Cary has been in south Cary (like me!), and thus, Tryon Rd (two lanes from Kildaire Farm Rd to Piney Plains Rd) is sorely overcrowded. Since I moved here, they've widened Tryon from Piney Plains to Walnut, and again from Gorman St to Lake Wheeler Rd, and they're probably working on widening the rest of the road, too. The Tryon Rd/Cary Pkwy traffic light is a mess right now, and I'll be glad when it's done, because I go through that traffic light every day.
(not on the map) I-40 in Durham County was repaved a few years ago. And, they screwed it up, so they're repaving it now. The result: massive lane closures on weekends, massive backups, and a massive waste of money. Good job, guys! I guess that's what happens when you take the lowest bidder. (Also see: White Course Apartments, Penn State)

So, there's a lot of construction going on around Raleigh (Cary). And as long as people keep moving here, there's always going to be construction somewhere, and I've accepted that. But it makes me wonder why there's so much construction in Pennsylvania. Who's moving there? Or are they just rebuilding all of their highways for fun?

Last Year: "Raleigh (Cary) Driving, Part 1". Since then, I haven't done quite as much exploring around town as I thought I would have, particularly in Raleigh. I know Cary pretty well, though. And, I almost forgot about the 1/2% milk. Kroger doesn't have it, and that's the only store I go to anymore. Maybe I'm due a trip to Harris Teeter specifically for the 1/2% milk.

Tomorrow: "A 'Simpsons' Trivia Sampler". I'm going to let my "Simpsons" trivia page-a-day calendar write my blog post for me.

Today's random thought:

- What would happen if you used chicken with Hamburger Helper? Or beef with Chicken Helper? Would your kitchen explode? I think it's worth a shot.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"Volume 2, Issue 1"

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First off, I want to thank everyone who reads this blog. Without you, this blog would be the proverbial tree falling in the forest, and that wouldn't be any fun. Your participation and feedback is much appreciated. If there's something about the blog you think there should be more of, or if there's something that's just been bugging the hell out of you, feel free to post a comment or send an email (callen24@yahoo.com).

I've managed to keep this blog going for a full year now, and it's been fun. So, what's the best way to keep it going for at least another year? Well, I think at least for now, you can expect more of the same - six posts a week on topics that include road trips, sports, statistics, and curling. I think the blog has become a bit watered down as of late. Six five-paragraph posts per week is a lot, and my life simply isn't that interesting, so I've resorted to posts about things like NASCAR and the Chris Allen Football League. I've long resisted writing more posts about the Chris Allen Racing League, but have resisted due to the lack of interest I think it would generate. But given how much time I put into it, and that some of the readers of this blog are drivers in the league, part of me really thinks I can write some interesting posts about it. I wouldn't talk about the actual racing, just the league - how my league structure works, how its participats progress from the depths of the waiting list to the top of the league and back again, and so on. From your perspective, the fact that it's a racing league is actually quite irrelevant. It could just as easily be a golf league, a curling league, a chess league, or a weather forecasting league. (Because all of those things are so much more interesting than racing, right?) So, maybe the CARL will surface into my blog in the future. Besides, the way I see it, if I'm having trouble coming up with post ideas, I'm no worse off writing about the CARL than cutting back to 5 posts/week, right? You could always ignore that 6th post if you wanted to. (Many of you probably do that already.)

That said, I'm always trying to think of interesting stuff to write about. I think my best work is about the hobbies I am most passionate about - roads and highways, sports, and various recreational activities (disc golf, curling, bowling, etc). So, you can expect more posts on those topics. But, for now, I am going to add a couple of new features. One is a "coming tomorrow" feature, so you know what to expect. But that may actually be a bad thing, if part of the "excitement" of my blog is not knowing what you're going to get when you load it up each morning. So, if this feature offends you, let me know. The idea is so that you won't have your hopes up ahead of time, only to get another post about Lewis Hamilton. (He won again last weekend, by the way. The man is unstoppable.)

Another new blog feature I'm going to implement for the time being is "Last year". Now that my blog is a year old, I can go back and see what I wrote about last year, and comment on that a little bit. Because, let's face it - my blog was much better back then. And, of course, I'll try to keep the random thoughts, although they've been less thought-provoking of late, and have just been more of the "short meaningless info about my life" type. (Like today's! I think I have a good one for tomorrow, though.) It was poor planning on my part to unload three random thoughts per day in the early days. I should have saved them up. But, clearly, I wasn't planning ahead.

So, here's what these new features look like:

Last Year: "Introduction", my first blog post. Unfortunately, I put much more effort into organizing my blog posts than I said I would back then. And, I don't really talk about my AIM profile's "by-the-numbers" much anymore, because it's not what it once was. But since I mentioned it, I'm currently keeping track of empty soda cans collected in my apartment (122), money spent on gas ($1,924.29 since September), money spent at Bojangles' ($49.27 since February), my record at Freecell (79% success rate), my car odometer reading (see today's random thought), and my passed/passed-by ratio on two-lane highways (which I do update in my blog when necessary). And notice the time I posted that first post - 1138p. How often am I up that late anymore?

Tomorrow: "It's Always Construction Season In Raleigh (Cary)", which will be about area road construction.

Today's random thought:

- I've made another update to the car mileage log (link above on the right), and this one was the most boring yet. Just like the 152K milestone, the 154K milestone occurred in Wake County, on eastbound I-40, on a Tuesday, and at almost the exact same location. Boring!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Curling Recap #1"

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It has been the intent of Amber and me to join the Triangle Curling Club. Last Friday, that dream became a reality. (An expensive reality, but a reality nonetheless. It's worth it.) The TCC is holding periodic "pick-up" curling sessions this summer, and last Friday night was the first such session since Amber moved here. Seems like a good time to join the club, eh?

Given our inexperience, they placed Amber and me on different, but opposing teams, in an effort to cancel each other out, I suppose. And, they put us with a bunch of the more experienced players. I had the club president on my team, so I thought we would kill. But, it came down to the very last end, and my team only barely won. Unfortunately, I don't have an end-by-end recap memorized, but I definitely recall being down 10-4 after the 4th or 5th end. While my team had the club president, the other team's skip was no slouch either, and helped put together a 5-point end for Amber's team. But my team came back, and with a 4-point 8th end (without last stone), my team won 11-10. Wahoo! (A standard non-championship curling match is 8 ends. We just barely crammed an 8-end match into the two hour time frame we had on the ice.)

So...how did we do? Well, it's hard to really get good when you only throw 16 stones total for the entire match. But my last four throws all landed in the target area and so I'm quite happy with how I did. Amber had some good throws also, but I don't remember how she did near the end. (Not well enough, evidently, for my team to score four.) Her best throw was actually immediately after my best throw. I threw it almost right on the button, and then Amber immediately knocked it out. Boo! Oh well, at least I have scoreboard. (Just to clarify: Amber and I were both the "firsts" on our respective teams, throwing the first two rocks in each end.)

Afterwards, everyone went down to the local pizza-parlor-slash-bar for drinks and whatnot. Apparently, tradition dictates that the winners buy the losers a drink. I offered Amber a drink, but she declined. (Oh well, I tried, right?) In the midst of conversation, we heard about a "mini-bonspiel" (a.k.a. curling tournament) recently held by the Great Smoky Mountains Curling Club in Knoxville. While the TCC isn't entirely northern and Canadian transplants, apparently the Knoxville club is. So, the TCC guys didn't stand much of a chance. Oh well. We'll get better. Maybe Amber and I can help out next time. But, obviously, we need to get better first. I really think curling is something I can get good at. It requires touch and feel, which I have lots of experience with playing various forms of golf. The strategy is fun too, but I don't need to concern myself with that yet - that's entirely the skip's responsibility. (The team members have input, of course, but in the end, it's the skip's call.)

Our next curling opportunity is a week from Friday. Wahoo!

Today's random thought:

- For just about every radio station that's out there, if you listen to it long enough, it's going to get repetitive. But I was wondering how long that would take with WKNC 88.1 - they seem to have enough variety, where it may never get repetitive. Well, more than four weeks after I began listening to it, I have started to hear repeat songs. I've heard one song three times in the last week! Oh no! One repetitive song isn't bad, but when you don't really like the song that much, then it makes me wonder how long 88.1 will stay at the top of my rotation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Moving Day #11"

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I don't have a full week of blog material for this week (do I ever?), so I'm going to keep talking about last year. Wahoo!

As of today, I've lived in Raleigh (Cary) for one full year. And that seems about right. (Of course, I haven't spent all 365 nights here since then, only 310 of 365.) Looking back on it, last year's move was really easy. No furniture or anything! Just a bunch of clothes, a computer, and a couple of televisions. It all fit with room to spare into two passenger cars. And when I made it to Raleigh (Cary), my parents were there waiting for me, plus Petters (who drove the other car - he was more than willing to help out, especially considering I was giving him an all-expenses-paid trip home).

I didn't have any furniture, including a bed, so that was the first priority. Normally when it comes to furniture, I go cheap, but when it came to a bed, I went a little higher-class, because I knew I might be sleeping in this bed for many, many years. In retrospect, I should have spent even more on the bed. Instead of spending between $400 and $450 on a nice bed, I should have spent around $900 on a really nice bed. You know, the Tempur-Pedic ones they show in the commercials, where they drop a bowling ball on one side of the bed, and the wine glass on the other side of the bed is undisturbed. Oh well - I didn't want to spend too much money during the moving process. That's the problem with moving. Even when it's necessary and good in the long run to spend a lot of money then, you're reluctant to, because moving time is generally the time when you're short on cash. Oh well, I guess I could always go buy a nice bed. But the motivation to do so isn't there. I mean, I already have a bed. Well, I guess the kids will need beds too. But that's not for a while, obviously.

I bought the bed the day of the move, because I wanted a place to sleep that night. Then, the next day, we raided the Target furniture section, bought five pieces of furniture (a dresser, a bookshelf, a TV stand, and two night stand type things), and put them together. Wee! As chronicled in my recap of Moving Day #12, the TV stand was the most difficult of the five to move next time. But when they're still all in boxes, they're not too bad. What an easy move that was. And fun, too! And I didn't have to go to work for another week!

I figured it was a good idea to get to Raleigh (Cary) a week before I started the job in order to get settled in, so that I could have everything set up before I had to worry about how to pay for it. I didn't need to full week; I was settled in by that Wednesday. So, I had time to do other things, like play disc golf, drive aimlessly around town, and have fun with my new Tivo-like device. But I've already written about all of that in this blog. And because of that, you won't see any more "one-year anniversary" posts. (Well...maybe one more on Thursday. The one-year anniversary of this blog gives me a good opportunity to talk about what to expect from this blog in the future.)

So, while some people in the Raleigh-Durham area will remember June 19th, 2006 as the day the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup, I'll remember it as the day I moved to North Carolina. (And also as the day the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.)

Today's random thought:

- Amber and I went to Cracker Barrel last weekend. I forgot how great of a restaurant it is. They have good and plentiful food, you can play the peg jump game while you wait, and then after you're done, you can sit outside on the porch and play checkers. And, they don't take long to serve you your food. Last weekend was my fourth Cracker Barrel visit since starting the dinner time spreadsheet (not the overall competiton, just the spreadsheet), and their longest time is 18m17s. I was wondering how long it had been since I last went to a Cracker Barrel. Well, thanks to my spreadsheet, I know: March 12, 2005.

Monday, June 18, 2007

"Observed Anniversary"

WARNING: Hackjob post; Sappy post

Oops! I didn't write a blog post last week for today. So, this one will be a bit short.

There are a lot of "one year anniversary" type things this week, so that will provide me with blog material for at least a few days this week. (That's good news, if you're tired of all of those Chris Allen Football League posts. Hey, I think they're interesting.) One year ago today was my last day in State College before moving here. It started at Waffle Shop with Amber, and then continued with her helping me pack up my stuff. (Which, it's amazing to think how little stuff I had back then. But more about that tomorrow.) Then, after the packing was done, we told each other that we kind of liked each other, and we kissed. (And then I left the very next day. Great timing, eh?) Thus, June 18th is our observed "anniversary". Which, once people get married, do they still acknowledge their "get together" anniversary, whether it be a first kiss, a first date, an acknowledgement of one's affection for each other? Because once you get married, the wedding anniversary is the anniversary. Which is nice in a way, because you can plan the wedding date. So if you want your anniversary to be on a fun date, like the most prime day of the year (May 7th), that's up to you, as long as it falls on a Saturday on the year you want to get married. But those other anniversaries are a little bit more random.

When I moved down here, I thought I had a plan. I have a job. I can do fun things like go play poker every once in a while, play disc golf, and go to Jacksonville more often. (I didn't even know about the curling club yet.) Well...needless to say, Amber changed my plans a bit. And that's a good thing too, because now I've realized that I didn't really think my plan through when I moved here. Sure, I had a plan to get me through the first month down here, but what about after that? Fortunately, things couldn't have worked out better. I'd love to say that was my plan all along, but it wasn't. I just got lucky. I couldn't have planned it any better anyway.

Thanks for kissing me that day, Amber. My life is so much better for it.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

"The Big Bowl"

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One week after I posted the Chris Allen Football League playoff preview, the playoffs are now complete, and we have a champion. One thing that was fun about the league is seeing not-so-major metropolitan areas take center stage. Little Rock? Greensboro? You betcha. So, you can understand my disappointment when Los Angeles won the first Big Bowl. Ugh. Oh well. Still, the Big Bowl was a very exciting game to follow - without a doubt the most exciting of the 11 playoff games, and possibly the most exciting game of the whole season. (Well, that's a bit of an exaggeration. There was that one triple-overtime game.)

First off, before I get into that, a quick recap of the prior playoff rounds:
- Little Rock: 16-0 in the regular season, 0-1 in the playoffs. How? Little Rock had the best passing defense in the league. It's very hard for a team to win if it's disadvantaged in the passing game. Unfortunately, they got matched up with Los Angeles, who had the best passing offense in the league. Los Angeles, despite its #6 seed, was the worst possible matchup for Little Rock. And I can't say I didn't see this coming. In my preview, I said Las Vegas and Los Angeles were the teams to watch in the West. As it turns out, that was your conference championship matchup, with LA winning 28-13.
- The Eastern Conference: While #6 seed Los Angeles created chaos in the West, the better-seeded team won every single game in the East playoffs, even when they were a ratings underdog (as was #3 Birmingham against #6 Dayton). Greensboro steadily marched its way to the Big Bowl in the East, giving us Greensboro v. Los Angeles for the title.
- A random note: when teams play primarily within one's own conference, it's interesting to see how the conferences diverge. It became clear in the playoffs that the West was more defensively-oriented, and the East was more offensively-oriented. In the East playoffs, teams averaged 25 pts/game, while teams in the West playoffs averaged 15 pts/game. Los Angeles was one of the few teams in the West with a legitimate passing offense, and that's how they were able to advance out of it.

Now, the Big Bowl. Here's the drive summary! (Greensboro is abbreviated GRE. The LA abbreviation should be obvious.)

Plays 1-7, LA: As all "visiting" teams do in the CAFL, LA gets the ball first. 6 plays, 21 yards, punt.
Plays 8-10, GRE: On the 3rd play of the drive, GRE completes a 75-yard touchdown pass. GRE 7, LA 0.
(Commentary: One of the perks of having a ratings advantage in the passing game is a higher probability of big play scores. Both LA and GRE had a positive passing advantage in this game, although LA's advantage was higher. Both teams also had a positive running advantage, although GRE's advantage was higher there. So, I think what this means is that unlike the NFL cliche, offense wins championships in the CAFL. In terms of the algorithm, I think that makes sense, because you can luck your way into a strong offensive rating more easily than a strong defensive rating, via the "big play". A 75-yard pass does more to boost your rating than a 10-yard sack hurts it. Thus, the highest offensive ratings are typically higher than the highest defensive ratings. And so when the #1 pass offense plays the #1 pass defense, as with Los Angeles v. Little Rock, the offense wins. A good defense makes beating the bad teams easy, and that's how Little Rock amassed their record, but it won't necessarily help you against the offensively elite. Also, it should be noted that when necessary, I normalize the ratings so that the offensive and defensive ratings average to 0, so that the league doesn't become too offensive or defensive as a whole.)
Plays 11-14, LA: 3 and out for LA, and then GRE returns the punt for a touchdown. What are the odds? (Actually, since you asked, 1 out of every 100 punts is returned for a touchdown. Except for punts from the opponent's side of the field, which always go to either the 20, 15, 10, or 5 yard line - 25% chance each way. Kickoff returns also have a 1% touchdown probability.)
Plays 15-18, LA: Another 3 and out for LA. What happened to that strong passing offense? Well, even though LA's ratings dictated a 70% completion rate, which is quite high, 70% isn't 100%.
Play 19, GRE: First play for GRE is an interception, giving LA a short field. (Given the ratings, GRE had a 3% chance for an interception on each pass play. LA's interception probability was only 1%, which is the minimum. The maximum is 7%, and the average is 4%.)
Plays 20-23, LA: Another 3 and out for LA, resulting in a field goal. GRE 14, LA 3. (Field goals attempted between the 21 and 30 yard lines - referring to the line of scrimmage, not where the holder is set up - have a 75% chance of scoring.)
Plays 24-29, GRE: Punt. This post is already getting too long, so I'm going to try to speed it up here. But I just can't help but bombard you with probabilities!
Plays 30-38, LA: A touchdown, the first real sustained drive of the game. GRE 14, LA 10.
Plays 39-44, GRE: Field goal. GRE 17, LA 10. (Field goals from within the 10 yard line have a 99% chance of going in. I can only remember one short field goal being missed all season.)
Plays 45-48, LA: 3 and out, punt.
Plays 49-51, GRE: Another interception. (From play 51 on, if a team is past their own 30 yard line, they pass on every play in an attempt to hurry up and score before the half. Not for clock management, because a run or pass each decrements the clock equally, but because passing plays have a higher chance for long yardage. Unfortunately, they also carry the risk of interceptions. Although for LA, they actually had a higher chance of a fumble on a run play, 2%, then their interception chance. Fumble probabilities for running plays are fixed at 2% and don't change with the ratings.)
Plays 52-54, LA: 3 plays, 36 yards, touchdown. Game tied at 17. Nothing important happened in the last 6 plays of the first half, so let's move on to the second half.
Plays 61-63, GRE: GRE's 3rd interception of the game, but it would only result in...
Plays 64-69, LA: ...a field goal for LA. LA 20, GRE 17.
Plays 70-72, GRE: Another big play in the passing game, a 66-yard touchdown. GRE 24, LA 20. GRE had a disproportionate number of interceptions and big plays in this game. (For GRE in this game, the chance of a big-play touchdown was 1.86% - 62% for a completed pass, and 3% of all completed passes for automatic touchdowns.)
Plays 73-74, LA: FUMBLE!!! LA's only turnover of the game.
Plays 75-82, GRE: But, much like LA, GRE is only able to get 3 out of it. GRE 27, LA 20.
Plays 83-92, LA: Another long drive, but only resulting in 3. GRE 27, LA 23.
Plays 93-98, GRE: Another big pass play touchdown, this time 56 yards. GRE 34, LA 23. With only 22 plays remaining, is time running out for LA? (Kickoffs and PATs don't count as plays, but punts do.)
Plays 99-106, LA: According to the algorithm, teams can't go for it on 4th down until play 111, no matter the circumstances. So, given 4th and 2 on the GRE 33 yard line, down 11 points halfway through the 4th quarter, any real team would have gone for it instead of kicking the 50-yard field goal which LA only had a 50% chance of making. But I have to stick by the rules of the algorithm, which are already complicated enough. Fortunately for them, LA made the field goal, their fourth of the game. GRE 34, LA 26.
Plays 107-110, GRE: GRE had a chance to put the game away here, but...nope. 3 and out. Now, this is where the game gets really interesting.
Plays 111-113, LA: Now passing on every possession (teams losing within the last 10 plays always pass and go for 4th down), LA lands a big pass play touchdown! GRE 34, LA 32. Now...the conversion.
Play 113A, LA: According to the algorithm, teams go for the two-point conversion only in the fourth quarter, and if they're losing by 2, 5, 9, 10, 16, 17, or 18, or winning by 1 or 5. The chance of a successful two-point conversion is 40%. (The actual NFL average is around 50%, but I don't like that, because then the expected value of a two-point conversion attempt is the same as the automatic PAT, one point. So, I made it 40%.) LA missed the two-point conversion. So...their next step: an onside kick.
Play 113B, LA: Teams attempt an onside kick if they're losing by one possession (8 points or less) after their latest score, in the last 10 plays of the game. (Teams losing by more than one possession at this point "give up".) The chance of a successful onside kick is only 10%. If successful, they get the ball at their own 40. Well, LA may not have made the 40% two-point conversion, but they got the 10% onside kick. Wahoo. 7 plays remaining, all they need is 3 points, and they only have 20 yards to go to get into FG range (the longest allowable FG attempt is from the 40 yard line). Easy, right?
Plays 114-120, LA: With one play to go, LA made it to the GRE 23 yard line. So, obviously, on play 120, they go for the FG and the win. 75% chance of success. It's up...and it's good! But you already knew that, because I already said Los Angeles won the game. Final score: LA 35, GRE 34. LA went 5-for-5 on field goals in this game. Given from where they attempted the field goals, they had a 25% chance of making all 5. (One 99% chance, one 90% chance, two 75% chances, and one 50% chance.)

So, I had a lot of fun with the CAFL. I'm going to begin another season once real football season starts in September. (And maybe I'll even finish it before June this time!) Until then, I have a basketball league, and hockey league, and a baseball league - all implementing different algorithms that are kind of like the football algorithm, but nowhere near as complicated or fun. Oh well. But that's what those other sports are for, right? Just to pass the time until it's football season again?

Today's random thought:

The apartment complex I call "home" recently changed their signs. Instead of being all cursive-like and fancy, they're much more readable now. But, they also include the words "Luxury Apartments". I wasn't aware that I lived in "Luxury Apartments". But, I do live on the Cary side of Raleigh (Cary), after all.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"Ranking The Weather Channel OCMs"

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I've been known to watch the Weather Channel from time to time. I'm not talking about "Storm Stories" or "It Could Happen Tomorrow", I'm talking about your basic Weather Channel material. Two meteorologists standing in front of a green screen giving you their interpretation of the forecast. (Yeah, it's someone else's forecast, but still.) So, I thought it was a good idea for a blog post to rank my favorite Weather Channel on-camera meteorologists (OCMs). I went to the Weather Channel's web site, took everyone listed as an OCM (not the expert desk people), removed the two people I wasn't familiar with (Eboni Deon and Keith Westerlage), and here's the list I came up with, from first to worst, because that's the order I wrote this:

#1: Stephanie Abrams. Stephanie probably isn't the best OCM on the network, but if I'm flipping the channels, I'll stop and watch her before I watch anyone else on the network. The main reason is because Stephanie went to Florida State the same time I did, and she was in many of my classes. (She was always the loud, talkative one sitting near the front of the classroom.) So, unlike anyone else on the network, I know Stephanie outside of a television screen, and that really helps. It's like a real person is giving you the weather, instead of just another TV personality. Nobody else on the network gives me that. And, I always like to make fun of her misspeaks.
#2: Bill Keneely. Bill makes the weekend morning show ("Weekend Now"?) watchable, mostly because his command of American geography is far superior to anyone else on the network. I always appreciate it when someone can reel off the names of obscure cities or counties that aren't on the map.
#3: Mark Mancuso. This is an "old school" selection; I always liked him because he seems to have a sense of humor. I don't see him on TV much anymore. Maybe he's a midday OCM now.
#4: Kristina Abernathy. I've always maintained that Kristina is the most attractive OCM on the network. Maybe it's the blonde hair, maybe it's the subtle southern accent, I don't know.
#5: Mike Seidel. I remember back during the Hurricane Andrew coverage watching Mike Seidel try to speak a little bit of Spanish for the Spanish-speaking viewers in South Florida. It was hilarious. Is "effecto" an actual word?
#6: Jennifer Lopez. I always like to ask people this: "Did you know that Jennifer Lopez went to Florida State? No, not that Jennifer Lopez - the one on the Weather Channel!"
#7: Jim Cantore. Like him or not, he is the face of the network.
#8: Warren Madden. For the Penn State Meteorology people: Doesn't Warren remind you a lot of Steve Greenberg?
#9: Rich Johnson. We're now getting into the middle ranks, where I don't really have much to say. Your standard-fare long-tenure OCMs go here.
#10: Jeff Morrow
#11: Vivian Brown
#12: Paul Goodloe
#13: Mike Bettes
#14: Sharon Resultan. I haven't seen her in a while. Is she still around?
#15: Marshall Seese. The weekday morning people do a good job, but they seem awfully generic, don't they? Oh well, might as well lump them together.
#16: Heather Tesch
#17: Jeanetta Jones
#18: Dennis Smith. I haven't seen him in a while, either.
#19: Bob Stokes
#20: Kelly Cass
#21: Carl Parker. I've always found Carl quite boring. (Now, we're starting to head towards the criticism-section of the rankings.)
#22: Kristin Dodd
#23: Kevin Robinson. Kevin always seems like he's yelling at us. You know...you have a microphone.
#24: Kim Perez
#25: Nicole Mitchell
#26: Jennifer Carfagno. Isn't she the "travel expert" or some nonsense? Or is that Nicole Mitchell? Whatever.
#27: Adam Berg. I remember one time, I was watching late at night (2 or 3 in the morning on a weekend night), and Adam was all by himself on the Weather Channel. This was the first time I had ever seen him on TV, and he was awful. It was the single worst Weather Channel on-camera performance I've ever seen. But I actually felt sorry for the guy. He was obviously inexperienced, and he didn't have anyone to help him out. They just threw him out to the wolves. Adam is a much better OCM now, but I'll always have that memory in my head. Poor guy.
#28: Nick Walker
#29: Betty Davis. Eat some damn food, Betty! Or lift some weights. Or something. (It's not really right of me to criticize someone's appearance. But her OCM skill is slightly below average, so that's all I have to go on.)
#30: Dave Schwartz. Dave has always seemed extremely smug. I used to like him, but I've kind of grown tired of his act by now.
#31: Cheryl Lemke. Cheryl is from the "old school". However, I really don't like her tone of voice. It's rather insulting - it's like she's talking to a bunch of first graders or something.
#32: Alexandra Steele. I don't know what it is about Alexandra, but she's always bugged me.

I'm more than welcome to hearing some debate on who's the best and who's the worst. Bring it on, weather weenies!

Today's random thought:

- I enjoy looking out my office window and the people that walk by each day, but especially when it's raining. Not only is rain fun to watch, but people scurrying through the rain to get into the office building is fun to watch through. Because, you know, your corporate office types don't want to get wet, right? Some have an umbrella, but most don't. I have an "emergency" umbrella in my backpack, but the walk from the building to the car isn't long enough to justify using it, no matter how hard it's raining. Come on people, it's just water. (But hey, it's fun to watch!)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

"Meow"

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Here's something I haven't covered in my blog yet: pets. What's my take on pets? Well, most generally, it's this simple: cats okay, dogs no, everything else no.

So, if Amber was going to bring a pet with her when she moved in with me, I supposed it's convenient that it happened to be a cat. Her name is Rolo (like the candy), and Amber has had her since early on in her Penn State tenure (Fall 2005). You may have noticed the last picture in Monday's post featured a cat front and center. Well, that's Rolo, seemingly always in the way. Especially when she's hungry. (Speaking of the map room, we got Iowa and Delaware in the mail Tuesday! Wahoo! Iowa's map also came with a travel guide, which was decidedly small. I guess there isn't a whole lot to do in Iowa.)

Unlike many cat owners, Amber does not "free feed" the cat, in an effort to not make it look like this. Rolo has two feeding times daily - once in the morning between 600a and 700a, and once in the evening at 500p. And, each time, Rolo tries to jump the gun a little bit. Every morning between 430a and 500a, here comes the cat. Feed me! Feed me! She doesn't meow, but she does make noise, whether it be making various objects fall from the nightstands, or playing with the blinds, or just walking back and forth across the bed. But the nice thing about having a two-bedroom apartment is that you can always close the door on her. Is that mean? I don't think so. By now, the cat should know when feeding time is. And then on Tuesday, when I got home from work a few hours before Amber, I took it upon myself to perform the 500p feeding. The cat was very nice and "cuddly" to me up until then. Then, once she got her food, that was the last I saw of her until Amber got home. Oh well, I guess that's the way it goes.

But that's actually the main reason I prefer cats over dogs. As long as the cats have food, they'll leave you alone. Dogs won't leave you alone. As soon as you walk in the door...ruff, ruff, lick lick, jump jump, claw claw. Ugh. I guess part of it is that my family shares my anti-dog sentiment and has been exclusively a cat family. Except my parents have never gone out and actually bought a cat. What usually happens is that my mom becomes friends with one of the neighbor's cats, and eventually the neighbors realize that my mom treats the cat better than they do, and then my mom gets the cat. Or, similarly, the neighbor moves a few blocks down the road, and the cat keeps running back to the old street to hang out with my mom.

Dogs are more needy than cats, too. Take me for a walk! Let me outside so I can pee! Waah! Cats are perfectly capable of taking care of their own excretory business. And, they're there when you need them. When you have a cat, you can play with the cat on your terms (feeding time notwithstanding). Playing with a cat can be a lot of fun, too. (Cat + laser pointer = hours of entertainment!) When a dog wants to play, you don't have a choice. And, some dogs bite. That's always scared me. When some neighbor's dog comes running at you, how am I supposed to know what the dog's intentions are? Is the dog coming to lick me, or to bite my leg off? (Yeah, I know. More often than not, it's the former. But I'll be sure to stay away from Michael Vick's house.)

That's not to say I could never enjoy having a dog. It's a possibility. (Just as long as it's not a chihuahua.) While I prefer cats to dogs, I've been pretty much anti-pet my whole life. So I never thought I would actually enjoy having a cat, but I've "warmed up" to having a cat around quite nicely. It's been a very smooth transition, to the point where three weeks in, I don't know what the apartment would be like without Rolo. But if we were to get a dog (which will surely happen at some point, whether I like it or not), it would help if the dog is like a cat and leaves me alone. In which case, we might as well just have a cat instead, right?

Today's random thought:

- Happy Flag Day! Flag Day has always been kind of a punch line, as perhaps the lamest holiday in existence. We don't get the day off, and it's not like people go out and party because it's Flag Day. (Wouldn't that be funny, though?) If you can't stay home from work, and if you can't go to a party, is it really a holiday?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Welcome Aboard The Lewis Hamilton Bandwagon, Everyone"

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I think Formula One is far more legitimate of a racing series than NASCAR right now. I guess it always has been, except that I haven't been able to watch the races until I picked up the Speed Channel But that's all about to change (at least for a couple of weeks), thanks to Lewis Hamilton. I joined the Lewis Hamilton bandwagon weeks ago, but now that Lewis won his first race last weekend, now everybody is jumping in. And considering that the United States Grand Prix is this coming weekend, you might actually get tired of hearing about Lewis Hamilton this week. But thankfully for you sports fans, the race is not on the "ESPN Family Of Networks", so PTI and SportsCenter aren't likely to promote it much. Then again, all that means is we get more coverage of the "NBA Finals", whatever those are. (The race is on FOX, by the way. Most races are on the Speed Channel, but I guess FOX needed something to fill in the void left by NASCAR after they reorganized the TV contract. Speaking of which, I think Bill Weber's performance as the lead play-by-play for TNT last Sunday was abysmal. But on the bright side, we only have to listen to him for five more races. And at least he's not paired with Rusty Wallace.)

So, what's the big deal with Lewis Hamilton, anyway? Well, first off, he's only 22 years old. That makes me feel old. Here I am, 25 years old, and I haven't won my first Formula 3 race yet, let alone Formula One. And, obviously, the guy's fast. In his rookie year, he already has a win, he's leading the season standings, but most impressively, his worst finish is 3rd. And in terms of getting American media attention, it doesn't hurt that he's black. (Oops - I almost said "African-American". "African-British"?) That has no bearing on my fandom, but of course, that's not going to stop every major American media outlet from giving him the obligatory Tiger Woods comparison. Which, I don't like that comparison. Tiger Woods is a cliché-spewing jerk. ("Golf course looks good. My swing feels good. I like my chances.") Lewis Hamilton is a bonafide "nice guy". And, he seems genuinely happy just to be part of the sport. And thus far, he hasn't exhibited a single ounce of Tiger-style cockiness. I don't see how anyone can not like this guy. If you can't get with Lewis Hamilton, then you're a communist.

Then again...I kind of thought the same thing about Jeff Gordon when I first declared my fandom for him. Much like with Lewis, I declared a fan interest in Jeff Gordon before he won his first race. (It's my policy not to join bandwagons.) And now, I'm pretty much serving a life sentence for it. Nothing against Jeff, but come on, man - I think we're all a little tired of seeing you win all the time. Amber doesn't pay that much attention when I watch NASCAR, and even she is sick of you already. So while I still claim to be an official "Jeff Gordon fan", it's mostly for logistical purposes. These days, I would much rather see Carl Edwards or Denny Hamlin win. Hey, I have to stick with at least one of my fan interests, right?

So, I'm hoping that the same thing doesn't happen with Lewis Hamilton that happened with Jeff Gordon. In 15 years, will Lewis Hamilton be so successful and so famous that he'll become the guy we're all sick of hearing about? I hope not. But that's a chance I'm willing to take. And besides, there's no turning back now. Go, Lewis, go!

Today's random thought:

- Amber and I have been watching a lot of "The Simpsons" lately (both on DVD and in syndication). Maybe it's just me, but does almost every episode from Season 6 or 7 to the present have at least one celebrity cameo? I'm sure it's not every episode; it just seems that way. And, I could look it up, but I'm sure there are about 50 websites out there that have already done the necessary research.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"Random Thoughts On Bowling"

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Amber and I went bowling last weekend. Amber has always enjoyed bowling, but I think she enjoys it even more now because it's one of the few competitive things at which she can actually beat me. (That, and the board game "Sorry!") This post is just going to be a few collective thoughts on bowling, with no aim at smoothly-flowing prose, or even discernable text. (Hey, if you've read this blog long enough, you should know what to expect by now.)

We haven't tried curvy bowling since we first tried it last summer. Why not? Well, a couple of reasons. First off, bowling is kind of expensive. One three-game set for two people (our standard load) runs for about $20. Therefore, you can't really go bowling too often, and you have to get your money's worth. But more importantly, Amber and I are too competitive. We take every opportunity to beat each other silly. We're not going to waste a trip to the bowling alley just to practice a skill that probably neither one of us will ever be able to perfect.

If you're aware of my obsession with stat-keeping and statistics in general, you'll be surprised to hear that up to this point, I've never kept track of my bowling scores. I know my best-ever score is a 201 (at Crenshaw Lanes on the campus of FSU) and that my worst-ever score is an 11 (at a friend's birthday party in 1st grade), but beyond that, I don't know anything about my tendencies. How often do I break 100? (Most of the time, I hope.) How often to I break 150? (Not too often. My last game over 150 could have been the 201, for all I know.) And, what's my average score? Well, starting with Saturday's three games, I now have a spreadsheet of my (and Amber's) scores. So far, indications are that my true average is somewhere in the 120s, and that I'm more consistent than Amber. Amber usually has one very good game, one good game, and one poor game per three-game set. My scores, on the other hand, are usually fairly consistent. Unfortunately, that means Amber's 2nd-best score is usually good enough to beat my best score, and so she usually beats me 2 games to 1. When that doesn't happen, she beats me 3-0. (I think I beat her 3-0 once, but that was definitely an "off day" for her.)

One thing I've always wondered is whether some bowling alleys are "more difficult" than others. For example, I've always had trouble scoring well at Northland Bowl in State College. The balls don't seem to be able to hold a straight line there. If I played enough games at multiple alleys, we'd be able to find out, but I don't expect to acquire enough of a sample at more than one alley. My alley of choice in the Raleigh (Cary) area is Buffaloe [sic] Lanes on US-401 between Raleigh and Fuquay-Varina. Buffaloe Lanes also has a location in Cary, but it's more crowded, more expensive, and more full of teenagers. No thanks.

There are a lot of old bowling alleys out there, and I think they have a nice charm about them. They're usually cheaper and less crowded, and I've always been a fan of the "old school". I don't need the big fancy scoring monitors and music videos you see at "modern" bowling alleys. Maybe there's a nice old alley near me! (Fuquay-Varina does not have a bowling alley, sadly.) One example of an old bowling alley is Bellefonte Lanes, north of State College. (They're hard to find, because there is currently no sign on the street, nor is there any marking on the building to indicate that it is, in fact, a bowling alley.) Toledo has an old bowling alley on seemingly every other block. And, during my drives to and from State College, I've always wanted to stop at the Berkeley Springs Bowlerama. One can only imagine that it's probably an old-style alley. Either way, it's undoubtedly the best thing Berkeley Springs has going for it.

Hmm, I think I have enough for a full-length post at this point, so I'll stop here. And I didn't even get to my paragraph on bowling ball weights! Maybe next time.

Today's random thought:

- When Florida State was eliminated from the NCAA baseball tournament a couple of weeks ago, I was disappointed. Baseball may not be football or basketball, but it would have been nice to win a national championship in something. Well, my dreams were answered: Florida State are your NCAA National Champions in Men's Track and Field! Wahoo! Apparently, they won last year too. Where was I on that one?

Monday, June 11, 2007

"The Map Room"

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I didn't have anything written for today, so I'm just going to post some pictures from our award-winning* map room. Last week, we went online and sent away for a bunch of free state tourism maps. Much sooner than expected (especially considering some web sites said "8 to 10 weeks"), we've already started to rake them in! Tennessee came on Thursday; Minnesota, Kansas, and Washington came on Friday; while Arkansas and Montana came on Saturday. In addition to that, we already have Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Michigan, Louisiana, Nevada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Plus a giant Yield sign out in the hallway. (* - Our map room hasn't actually won any awards yet. But I'm sure it could.)

So, here are some pictures: (Arkansas and Kansas are not shown in the pictures. Arkansas is behind the door, below Minnesota; Kansas is next to Montana, above the bedroom window.)





Today's random thought:

- One of the best things about my current radio station of choice (88.1 FM, WKNC) is that often times during my morning commute, I won't hear any commercials. Solid music, all the way from Amberwood to the RTP. That doesn't always happen, but it certainly happens more often than on other "for profit" stations. The only thing missing from WKNC is Brian LeBlanc. (Or any traffic reports at all, for that matter.)

(If you happened to read this before 1000a this morning, you may have noticed that there was no random thought then. Yeah, I just forgot to insert it into the post. Oh well - that happens sometimes.)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

"The Chris Allen Football League: Playoff Preview"

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I don't even remember how long ago I started the Chris Allen Football League season, but finally, I've finished the regular season, and it's playoff time!

First, before I talk about the playoff matchups, some words about the progress of my "random number football" algorithm. I think in my previous post about the CAFL, I said that the ratings system I implemented was "unstable". The better you are, the better ratings you get, and then it accumulates, as long as random luck doesn't push you back in the other direction (which, it could, but has less than a 50% chance of doing so). Well, I wasn't exactly correct about the rating system being unstable. Near the mean, the ratings are unstable. But towards the edges of my predefined range of acceptable ratings (necessary so that teams don't keep progressing towards infinity), the system is actually a little more stable. That's because I didn't do a good job of implementing the impact of extreme ratings. Because of that, it's hard to maintain extreme ratings. I suppose somewhere in the middle, there's a point of neutral stability. I'm not sure where the "tropopause" is in my range of ratings (-10 to +10), but instead of waiting around trying to find out, I'm implementing a minor tweak in the system to help the ratings hold true towards the edges. For the pass ratings, I had been using a fixed sack rate (7 sacks every 100 pass attempts) that wasn't affected by the ratings, but now I will change the sack rate as ratings progress towards the limits. (For example, teams with the minimum rating advantage of -10 will have 14 sacks every 100 pass attempts, while teams with the maximum advantage of +10 will have no sacks whatsoever. For the record, a +10 advantage is not realized very often, but it has happened a couple of times in the league this season. And, I don't think I've seen a -10 advantage yet.) I don't know of a convenient way to tweak the run ratings, but I've learned that in my algorithm, the running game doesn't really matter that much anyway.

Now, onto the league results and the playoff "preview". Let's start in the Eastern Conference, due to my East Coast bias. The playoffs have an identical format to the NFL - 12 teams, 6 from each conference, 2 teams in each conference (the top two division winners) get a first-round bye. Here are the seedings, along with their ratings: (seed, team, record, pass offense, run offense, pass defense, run defense)
#1 - Greensboro, 14-2 (+3.6, +6.2, +1.3, +2.2)
#2 - Harrisburg, 14-2 (+2.7, +4.6, -3.0, +4.5)
#3 - Birmingham, 12-4 (-2.2, -1.0, +1.4, -1.9)
#4 - Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, 12-4 (+3.6, +2.0, +2.1, +0.9)
#5 - Raleigh, 11-5 (+4.6, +2.4, -0.4, +0.7)
#6 - Dayton, 8-8 (+0.2, +6.7, +2.0, +1.1)

Greensboro is certainly the best team, and they earned their #1 seed. I'd consider them the favorite, although Scranton appears to be their biggest threat. Birmingham didn't have a very good finish to the season, and they lost all of their momentum. One thing about the ratings is that they only consider each team's last five games. So while Birmingham had an excellent middle of the season, they haven't been so good over their last five games. So, they'll find themselves to be the underdog in their first round matchup against Dayton. Also, it should be noted that the ratings will change during the playoffs, so it's not only important that teams win, they need to win impressively so that they can maintain their ratings.

Now, the Western Conference seedings:
#1 - Little Rock, 16-0 (+2.9, +0.6, +4.6, -3.6)
#2 - Las Vegas, 12-4 (+3.8, -0.4, +2.5, +1.3)
#3 - Fresno, 11-5 (-3.8, +1.9, +3.2, +2.5)
#4 - Milwaukee, 11-5 (-5.0, +2.6, +3.7, +4.7)
#5 - Salt Lake, 12-4 (-0.2, -0.7, +1.8, +0.6)
#6 - Los Angeles, 11-5 (+7.7, -4.4, +2.6, -0.3)

Little Rock made it the entire season undefeated. Amazing! However, their ratings aren't that good. And, they had a weak schedule, only playing three other playoff teams all season. So, it's anything but a guarantee that they'll make the championship game (which I'm calling the "Big Bowl"), even though every team in the West has a weakness. However, given the importance of the passing game, I have to give a nod to Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Los Angeles currently has the best passing rating in the league. However, their best games were their 4th- and 5th-most recent games, so they will lose their high rating if they don't produce in their first two games. And it will be difficult to do so, because they'll face a good pass defense in their first game (v. Fresno), and if they get past them, they'll face Little Rock in the next round, who currently has the best passing defense in the league. So, Little Rock's ratings don't look that great on the surface, but a good pass defense is hard to beat. Maybe they will get it done. Or, maybe not. It all depends on the random numbers. That 16-0 record doesn't lie. The fact that a team was able to go 16-0 definitely lends credit to my algorithm and my ratings system, particularly if they don't win the "Big Bowl", which would demonstrate that there are obvious tendencies, but no obvious guarantees, which to me is the perfect system. (Also, in case you're wondering, nobody went 0-16. There was one 1-15, though.)

I'll post again once I finish the playoffs, which will probably take no longer than a week, because there are fewer playoff games total (11) than games in a single week of the regular season (16). Oh, the excitement!

Today's random thought:

- Amber and I played mini-golf at the local Putt-Putt this past week, and I had what was perhaps my best round of mini-golf ever - a round of 34. And, I got a hole-in-one on four of the first six holes - I know I've never done that before. Granted, the Putt-Putt courses are quite easy, and much easier than other mini-golf courses, but still. That's part of what makes them fun, actually - they're simple, and a hole-in-one is within reach on every hole. I don't care what kind of mini-golf course it is; when you average less than 2 shots per hole, you're doing something right.