Friday, November 30, 2007

"How Old People Eat Thanksgiving Dinner"

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Some people cook Thanksgiving dinner themselves. Others go out to eat for Thanksgiving. All these years, I've been in group #1, but this year, I was in group #2, along with the rest of Amber's family in Toledo, and went to a buffet at the local country club. (It's not as fancy as it sounds. This is Toledo, remember. And just for the record, Amber's family usually does not go out to eat for Thanksgiving - this was an outlier.)

I'd say the majority of the people at the buffet were...well, elderly. I suppose that makes sense. When you're older, you may not feel like cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner, especially if it's just you and your spouse of 50 years sitting around the house. Why go through the trouble of cooking all that stuff for just two people? If your kids have moved far away and aren't coming home for Thanksgiving (something that I'm sure applies to many elderly families in Toledo), then I can certainly understand why a Thanksgiving buffet would be a good option. You get to taste all of the Thanksgiving favorites, and all you have to do is pay a few bucks. (I don't know what the price was, but I do know there was a senior discount. For something like this, I think $10-15 would be reasonable.)

Now, for my impressions of the Thanksgiving buffet. I can't say I was disappointed, but still, I wasn't overly impressed, and I much prefer the home-cooked meal. I might have appreciated it more if I had wider tastes, but still, the turkey wasn't as good as most home-cooked turkey. But that might just be a function of grabbing it with a fork out of one of those metal bins with weird juices in it, as opposed to a direct cut from the turkey with no middleman. And the cranberry sauce (a Thanksgiving staple) had real cranberries in it - something probably perferred by most people, but I'm a big fan of the canned stuff. You know, the homogeneous stuff with no chunks that comes right out of the can and still has the can imprints on it. That's the stuff. So given my picky tastes, I'd say it's not their fault I didn't enjoy the buffet more; it's my fault. They did have excellent rolls, though, remisicent of those you'd find at a place like Ryan's or Quincy's. (Quincy's no longer exists, having been gobbled up by Western Sizzlin, but I will always remember them for their Big Fat Yeast Rolls.) I was among the many people at the buffet who brought back a single plate with five or six rolls on it. They also had chocolate chip cookies. With all of those treats, plus the standard turkey, roast beef, and mashed potatoes, I didn't have a problem getting my fill.

I should also note that I've also never been actively involved in the preparation of a Thanksgiving dinner. If I had, maybe I would appreciate the buffet more. I'm sure that day will come.

Tomorrow: "College Football Saturday: 12/1/07".

Today's random thought:

- I've already talked about society's tendency to accelerate Christmas, but three days ago, ABC aired "A Charlie Brown Christmas". Isn't it a little early for that? It's November! It's hard to appreciate a Christmas special in November. Hopefully, ABC will show it again closer to Christmas like they did last year. Meanwhile, two of my six primary ratio station presets are already immersed in an all-Christmas format. I just don't get it. Do they actually get more listeners in November this way?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"Bob Evans #1"

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During last Wednesday's drive to Toledo, seeing no practical difference between getting to our destination at 1130p or 1230a, we figured it might be good to take a long break for dinner. No fast food for us! Besides, Amber decided she doesn't like Burger King anymore (the "chicken fries" just don't do it for her), and I'm boycotting McDonald's until January 16th due to the absurdly slow service we received at their Lovingston, VA location en route to State College.

So, while on US-35 in southern Ohio, we saw a billboard for Bob Evans in Rio Grande, Ohio. Wait - isn't that the Bob Evans? The one right located at Bob Evans Farms? Why don't we stop there? So, we did, not really knowing what to expect. Was this going to be some super-duper Bob Evans? Would the food be any better? Would it be more crowded? Would the service be faster? Would the waiters and waitresses be wearing tuxedos?

To answer my four hypothetical questions: sort of, yes, maybe, no, and no. (The last one wasn't a serious question, of course. That would have gone against everything Bob Evans stands for.) First off, the service wasn't faster. In fact, of the six Bob Evans trips now in my "dinner times" database (the other five all being in Raleigh (Cary)), this one was the slowest (16m53s). That's still pretty good, though, and I'm willing to give them a break anyway. It was the night before Thanksgiving, so they were probably a little understaffed. And it was slightly more crowded than the Bob Evans in Raleigh (Cary), which is never crowded, at least when I've been there. This location had more customers, but it still wasn't the big crowd I expected. I guess Rio Grande is kind of in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, at other Ohio locations, I've seen lines pouring out of the front door. I suppose the restaurants are more popular in Ohio than in North Carolina, which makes sense, since it's an Ohio product and all.

While the Bob Evans corporate headquarters are in Columbus, Rio Grande is the home of the original Bob Evans. I even found a picture on Wikipedia! (The restaurant itself is on the left.) The restaurant itself was just like any other Bob Evans, except that there was a gift shop-type of thing in front, kind of like Cracker Barrel. And, they had a jump-the peg game at every table, kind of like Cracker Barrel. Hmm...

Adjacent to the first Bob Evans is Bob Evans Farms. I'm not really sure what they do at Bob Evans Farms, exactly. And we didn't get much of a view, because it was at night, and we drove up from the other side of the restaurant compared to where the picture was taken. (Side comment: One big difference between this location and most other locations is that this location was not right next to the expressway. We actually had to drive over a mile from the nearest exit to get there. I think it's safe to say that this location predates the modern US-35 bypass.) I'm not sure what actually gets grown on the farm these days, but according to Amber, the mashed potatoes at this location were much better than your typical Bob Evans potatoes. Could the potatoes have literally come from the restaurant's backyard? The rest of the food, meanwhile, was about the same. Of course, we did only have chicken strips. Both of us. Amber wanted chicken pot pie, but they were out. Of all the Bob Evans locations, how can this one be out of something? Were there no more chickens on the farm or something?

To prove that I've been to the original Bob Evans, I saved my receipt, which says "Bob Evans #0001":

This begs the question: if I wanted to go to the "#1" location for another restaurant chain, where would I have to go? Based on a little bit of half-assed internet Wikipedia research, here's where several popular (and some not-so-popular) restaurant chains were founded:
- Applebee's: Atlanta
- Bennigan's: Atlanta
- Chili's: Dallas
- Cracker Barrel: Lebanon, TN
- Denny's: Lakewood, CA
- Eat 'n Park: Homestead, PA
- Friendly's: Springfield, MA
- Golden Corral: Fayetteville, NC
- Hooters: Clearwater, FL
- IHOP: Toluca Lake, CA
- Olive Garden: Orlando
- Outback: Tampa
- Perkins: Cincinnati
- Ponderosa: Kokomo, IN
- Quaker Steak and Lube: Sharon, PA
- Red Lobster: Lakeland, FL
- Ruby Tuesday: Knoxville, TN
- Shoney's: Charleston, WV
- Steak 'n Shake: Normal, IL
- TGI Friday's: New York City

Now, for each of these restaurants, does the original location still exist? It's hard to tell for sure, because very few restaurants list the location numbers on their websites. (The only one I found that did was, of all places, Eat 'n Park. I didn't check every restaurant's website, though.) So, the only two "original restaurants" that I'm certain still exist are Eat 'n Park, and Quaker Steak and Lube. I am also certain that the original locations do not exist anymore for Bennigan's, Ponderosa, Ruby Tuesday, Steak 'n Shake, and TGI Friday's. Beyond that, who knows? Then again, it's not like I would get a whole lot of pride out of going to the original Chili's or Outback. Most of these restaurants just seem like corporate concoctions, don't they? That's one thing I like about Bob Evans - it wasn't founded by a faceless corporation in a large city. That, and they serve breakfast all day. And they have good chicken strips.

Tomorrow: "How Old People Eat Thanksgiving Dinner".

Today's random thought:

- With a big NFL game tonight between Dallas and Green Bay, now's a good time to voice my opinion on the NFL Network. Instead of just regurgitating Tuesday Morning Quarterback, let me just say this: I support you, Time Warner! Don't give in to the NFL's egotistical demands! Besides, I would have much rather watched last Sunday's CFL Grey Cup than watch tonight's game. (Generally, I agree with a lot of what TMQ says. For example: "Located mainly in non-booming old-industrial areas such as upstate New York and central Pennsylvania, Wegmans are the greatest supermarkets out there. Many Wegmans have entire internal food courts of higher quality than most delis and Italian restaurants. When, oh when, will a Wegmans open near me?" Testify!)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"The Thanksgiving Pilgrimage"

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The day before Thanksgiving, and the Sunday after, millions of Americans hit the road. For the last eight years, I've been among the many. Generally, is this a good thing or a bad thing? On one hand, it's kind of exciting to be part of such a large-scale American tradition, almost analogous to a large flock of birds flying south for the winter. On the other hand, I've never been too fond of doing what everybody else does. I think the two viewpoints cancel each other out. In short, what do I think about it? "Eh."

As mentioned previously in this blog, I take a lot of road trips. I would consider myself a road trip veteran. The people you see on the road on some random weekend in October may also be road trip veterans. But Thanksgiving weekend, the roads are full of inexperienced travelers (many of whom have young children riding with them) who don't know how to properly road trip. I'm not just talking about people riding in the left lane on the interstate. Actually, I'm not sure what I'm talking about, exactly. I think it's just a mindset. Route choice certainly has a lot to do with it. The road trip veteran knows that on many occasions, US highways and state routes can provide a pleasant, and sometimes faster, alternative to the monotonous interstate highways. So while the interstates are clogged, the neighboring US highways are often wide open. During last weekend's trip, which incorporated multiple US and state highways, I noticed very few out-of-state license plates off the interstates. Of course, the interstates were full of them. Was it timing, considering that the drives through Ohio were late Wednesday night or Sunday morning? I don't think so - I-75 was still kind of busy as late as midnight on Wednesday night, and the Ohio Turnpike was already busy when we left Sunday morning. Generally speaking, the people who aren't road trip veterans just stick with the interstates, even when their computer-generated directions tell them otherwise.

With the onset of GPS navigation systems, you'd think more people would be taking the alternate routes. Maybe they are, but I haven't noticed a significant shift. I guess the majority of people don't have GPS in their cars. The ones that do are either the afore-mentioned road trip veterans, or are rich people with money to burn who would probably rather fly than drive for Thanksgiving anyway. I did see a few people come along with me on US-52 instead of I-77 in Virginia, but it was certainly a small percentage of the traffic. Do people carry maps in their car? Or do they just have a natural fear of two-lane highways?

As much as I like road trips, I don't particularly enjoy the Thanksgiving trip. There are too many people on the road, and there are too many traffic jams. Why don't we fly instead? I've never flown for Thanksgiving, and all indications are that the airport craze is even worse than the interstate highways. And the worst part is, you're not in control. You can't take the next exit and find an alternate route. You're stuck, at the mercy of your airline carrier of choice. And you're paying more for it, too. No thanks. If I can get there in 15 hours or less, I'm driving. Every time.

Maybe we should just stay home for Thanksgiving one of these years.

(By the way, my MP3 CDs with the entire trip soundtrack on one CD each way worked beautifully. If you're looking for a new car, I would highly recommend a CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability. How long have cars had this?)

Tomorrow: "Bob Evans #1".

Today's random thought:

- I don't partake in much online chat anymore, but when I do, I usually don't use this common acronym: "lol". Sure, I used to, quite a bit. But now, it just seems so "high school". And, I think many people use it too liberally when they think something's amusing, but didn't actually "laugh out loud", which is what "lol" is supposed to mean, right? To get around this loophole, some of us started using "lqi" (laughing quietly inside) as a more accurate, less trendy alternative. But it never caught on. I think part of the reason "lol" is used so much is because the 'l' and 'o' keys are right next to each other, making "lol" very easy to type, while "lqi" takes you all over the keyboard.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

"Ohio Counties: 11/27/07 Update"

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This might not be the best thing to lead off with following last weekend, but I'm obsessed with it, so let's just get this out of the way.

A month ago, I talked about the county stickers that Ohio now puts on their license plates. (In short: instead of having the name across the bottom, Ohio plates now have a numbered sticker in the lower left corresponding to the home county, and I set a goal to find all 88 stickers.) After spending the weekend in Ohio and crossing the state twice (taking two different routes), you'd expect that I would have seen a lot of different stickers. You'd be right: after last weekend's trip, I've now seen 51 of the 88 different stickers.

The stickers are kind of small, and many numbers look alike, so the numbers aren't as easy to read as the county names on the old plates. The problem is compounded if somebody has one of those "plate borders" covering up the bottom half of the sticker, in support of their car dealership or favorite sports team. (I think they should make those illegal, personally. At least in Ohio. They make it so much harder to read the sticker!) But at least Ohio requires front plates - that made this task a little easier. Not so much so I could read the county number from the front plate, but so I could see an Ohio car coming from behind and "get ready".

Most of the stickers were seen on the road, while the rest were seen in parking lots. The stickers are hard to see at night, so I didn't get that many on the way up to Toledo. (The biggest contribution while driving northbound was in the Bob Evans parking lot. We were in a low-population area of the state, so I made sure to check off those counties while we were there.) While driving around Toledo, I saw many new stickers, mostly for counties in the northwestern part of the state. Then, on the way back, I saw a lot of stickers, mostly for counties in the northern and eastern parts of the state. Amber helped me out in this cause - since I was driving, she was in charge of the checklist, and she also helped me spot additional stickers.

On the return trip, I noticed that on the US highways, we were more likely to see stickers for counties in our general vicinity. But on the interstate, the counties were much more random. Makes sense, right? While the vast majority of stickers were checked off in Ohio, we did see a few additional stickers in West Virginia and beyond, but we were at the disadvantage of going in the opposite direction of most Ohio residents (towards Ohio on Wednesday, and away from Ohio on Sunday).

Here's a map with the county stickers I've checked off colored in blue:

While I have most of northern Ohio covered, I'm missing a lot of western Ohio. That makes sense considering we didn't go near Cincinnati last weekend. That didn't stop us from seeing a lot of Cincinnati stickers, though. As you would expect, the bulk of the stickers we saw on the interstates and outside of Ohio were for the "big three": #18 (Cuyahoga Co, Cleveland), #25 (Franklin Co, Columbus), and #31 (Hamilton Co, Cincinnati).

Amber says the most interesting thing about this quest is finding out which county will be last. When I did a similar thing for Florida plates (except with county names), the last county was Glades County, and the only reason I ever saw a Glades plate was to go there myself. I might make a trip to an obscure Ohio county for that purpose this time around, but only for the last county. Until then, I'll let fate determine the last county. But all this begs the question - which counties are most likely to be last? Here are the remaining 37 counties, in order from least-populated to most-populated:

#82 Vinton (88th in population)
#58 Morgan (85th)
#34 Harrison (84th)
#63 Paulding (83rd)
#88 Wyandot* (82nd)
#24 Fayette* (79th)
#01 Adams (78th)
#37 Hocking* (77th)
#10 Carroll (76th)
#81 Van Wert (75th)
#33 Hardin* (72nd)
#59 Morrow (70th)
#64 Perry (68th)
#20 Defiance (65th)
#11 Champaign (64th)
#54 Mercer (62nd)
#49 Madison (60th)
#38 Holmes (59th)
#68 Preble (58th)
#36 Highland (57th)
#14 Clinton (55th)
#08 Brown (54th)
#80 Union (51st)
#06 Auglaize* (50th)
#75 Shelby* (49th)
#19 Darke (48th)
#65 Pickaway* (47th)
#51 Marion* (38th)
#07 Belmont (37th)
#41 Jefferson (36th)
#71 Ross (34th)
#60 Muskingum (31st)
#55 Miami* (28th)
#12 Clark (20th)
#45 Licking (17th)
#83 Warren* (13th)
#09 Butler* (8th)
[* - An asterisk means we're more likely so find a sticker for that county, because we'll probably drive through it on a future Toledo trip.]

So, there are a lot of viable candidates for last place. This might take a while. Florida was easy - I just had to walk around the parking lots on the FSU campus. People come to FSU from all across the state, so it didn't take that long to find plates from all 67 Florida counties. But I don't even live in Ohio. That increases the level of difficulty a bit.

(Side note: You can't do this in Florida anymore, because to my knowledge, all plates from Miami-Dade County say "Sunshine State" instead of the county name. Therefore, there are no "Miami-Dade" plates. This was also true back then, but I did manage to find an older plate that said "Dade" County. You might still be able to find the other 66 counties, though.)

Tomorrow: "The Thanksgiving Pilgrimage". The word "pilgrimage" looks funny. It has two 'g's, but they're pronounced differently.

Today's random thought:

- When bands get together and decide the order in which to put their songs on an album, do they know ahead of time which songs is going to be the big hit? Because many albums have their big hit as either song #2 or song #3 on the album.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Something Quick"

(Still in Toledo, OH)

While I'm at the computer, I might as well write something quick here for today, I suppose.

I've noticed there aren't quite so many Honda Civics in Toledo as there are in Raleigh (Cary). Maybe people up here are a little more willing to "Buy American".

In the last two days, I've seen two bad movies, each of which shall remain nameless (mostly because I don't want to cause an uproar like I did about Beowulf). Is Hollywood that bad these days? Or am I just picking all the wrong movies to watch? I think it's a little of both. I'll take a little responsibility here.

We also played disc golf yesterday in Bowling Green. Temperature at the first tee: 30°F. We had the course to ourselves. I don't know if this is true or not, but I think throws are more "understable" when it's cold, kind of like throwing into a headwind. The conditions were definitely beneficial for Amber - she played as well as I've ever seen her play.

Prior to this weekend's trip, I made two MP3 CDs for the drive incorporating the northbound and southbound driving playlists so I could play them in my car and never have to change CDs throughout the entire trip. It was awesome.

My car reached 1,000 miles early in Wednesday's drive, and will reach 2,000 miles tomorrow on the way back home. At the current pace, it will take only 6½ years to reach 200,000 miles. Hmm...

I looked for more cheap college hats at a truck stop in Ohio on Wednesday, hoping to find some hats for obscure Ohio schools - specifically, Bowling Green. Sadly, all they had were "BCS" schools. I refrained from getting an Ohio State hat, but I did get a Northwestern hat and a new Penn State hat. (Two more recent additions I haven't mentioned: Vanderbilt and Southern Miss.) I should also mention that Petters got me a hat for Colby-Sawyer College, also known as CSC. That's funny on so many levels. (Well, actually, I can only think of two.)

Toledo is trying to land a new hockey team and an arena football team. Some of the nicknames they're considering: the Walleye, the Woodpeckers, the Peckers, and the Peckerheads. One thing's for sure - a Toledo Peckerhead t-shirt would be a must-buy.

Now that I've washed up all of my "random thought" material for the next week, I'm going to go see what's on the Big Ten Network.

Friday, November 23, 2007

"College Football Weekend: 11/23/07"

(On location in Toledo, OH.)

With rivalry games spread out over two days, is this the best college football weekend of the year? Perhaps. You better enjoy it while you can, because the season's almost over.

As I wrote this (Wednesday), I wasn't completely certain which digital-tier channels Amber's parents get and which channels they don't, but this list of games is based on my best guess. The good news is, they get the Big Ten Network! The bad news is, the Big Ten finished playing last week! Oh well.

There's also college basketball this weekend. There are so many preseason tournaments going on this week, even Versus is showing basketball games this weekend. I can't really list this weekend's basketball games ahead of time anyway - since they're mostly tournaments, it's all "Teams TBD". I've been a little slow to get into college basketball so far this season anyway. I think that'll start with next week's ACC/Big Ten "challenge".

Friday (These games are in choronological order, not priority order)

Game 1 - Central Michigan at Akron, 1100a, ESPNU: No thanks.
Game 2 - Nebraska at Colorado, 1200p, ABC: A 1000a local start! This game is normally the afternoon game, but I think ABC figured they'd get better ratings with Texas/Texas A&M later in the day. They're probably right, although this game is important for this reason: the winner is bowl-eligible, and the loser is not.
Game 3 - Delaware State at Delaware, 130p, ESPN: I normally don't include Championship Subdivision I-AA games on this list, but now that the playoffs have started, I will.
Game 4 - Arkansas at LSU, 230p, CBS: When the #1 team is playing a formidable opponent, it's always worth a look.
Game 5 - Toledo at Bowling Green, 230p, ESPNU: The rivalry! I bet this game is getting a lot of local press in Toledo this weekend.
Game 6 - Texas at Texas A&M, 330p, ABC
Game 7 - Boise State at Hawaii, 900p, ESPN2: Here we go. This is a reason to stay up late. Otherwise, Friday's menu really isn't all that appetizing.


Game 1 - Miami at Boston College, 1200p, ESPN: Boston College is already in next week's ACC Championship, so this game is a "warm-up".
Game 2 - Virginia Tech at Virginia, 1200p, ESPN2: This is a much bigger game than Miami/BC. The winner moves on to the ACC Championship. Why is this on ESPN2 and not ESPN?
Game 3 - Fordham at Massachusetts, 1200p, ESPNU: Who am I pulling for in the I-AA playoffs? Appalachian State. Three-peat!
Game 4 - Tennessee at Kentucky, 130p, CBS
Game 5 - Utah at BYU, 200p, Versus: The Holy War! And, in case you were wondering, Amber's parents do not get "the mtn".
Game 6 - Grambling v. Southern (the Bayou Classic), 200p, NBC: Since the I-AA playoffs have already started, doesn't that mean these two teams can never participate in them? It must be - there is no team from the SWAC in the I-AA playoffs.
Game 7 - Georgia at Georgia Tech, 330p, ABC or ESPN
Game 8 - Connecticut at West Virginia, 330p, ABC or ESPN: : I'm assuming these are the ABC/ESPN games on in Toledo this week. There's no Big Ten game, so what game does Big Ten territory pick up? The other choices are Oregon at UCLA and Kansas State at Fresno State, so I would certainly think (and hope) that these are the games of choice.
Game 9 - Oklahoma State at Oklahoma: 330p, BCSN (Buckeye Cable Sports Network?): I'm assuming this is the FSN game, picked up by BCSN while FSN Detroit and FSN Ohio (both of which are on Buckeye Cable in Toledo) show...other stuff, I guess.
Game 10 - Notre Dame at Stanford, 330p, ESPN2: Darn, I was hoping this game wouldn't be on TV this week. Wishful thinking, I know...
Game 11 - Duke at North Carolina, 330p, ESPNU: While I'm excited that this game's actually on TV this year, I don't think I'll get to watch it.
Game 12 - Florida State at Florida, 500p, CBS: Just keep it close, guys. Please?
Game 13 - Kansas v. Missouri, 800p, ABC: The game of the weekend. Thank you, ABC, for not lumping it in with regional coverage.
Game 14 - Clemson at South Carolina, 800p, ESPN2: Ah, southern rivalries. There's nothing better.
Game 15 - Alabama at Auburn, 800p, ESPN: See above.
Game 16 - Cincinnati at Syracuse, 815p, ESPNU: Boo to ESPN for putting this game on ESPNU instead of South Florida at Pittsburgh (which is on ESPN GamePlan). By the way, South Florida is back up to #23 in the BCS!

Here's one thing I won't be doing today: shopping. No thanks.

Tomorrow: A random post about something related to this weekend, maybe - time permitting.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Bowling Statistics"

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I keep a lot of useless statistics, but only recently have I been keeping track of bowling scores. I guess I haven't gone bowling frequently enough to make it worth it. But now, I do have 11 games' worth of scores, for myself and Amber. Nine of those 11 were at Buffaloe Lanes just south of Raleigh; the other two were last weekend at Northland Bowl in State College. Normally, when Amber and I bowl, we bowl three games, but the State College bowling excursion only featured two.

Here are the stats through 11 games, first for me:

Average score = 124
Median score = 121
High score = 142 (twice)
Low score = 109
Standard deviation = 11.0

101-110: 1
111-120: 3
121-130: 4
131-140: 1
141-150: 2

Now, Amber's stats:

Average score = 128
Median score = 123
High score = 154
Low score = 103
Standard deviation = 14.8

101-110: 1
111-120: 2
121-130: 4
131-140: 2
141-150: 1
151-160: 1

Amber is a better bowler than I am, particularly because she is more capable of a high score (150+) - I think that explains the higher standard deviation. Aside from that, we're generally pretty close. But in head-to-head competition, Amber has an 8-3 edge, and a 3-1 edge in three-game series. (I'm counting last weekend's two-game series as a win for me, because I won both games. If we had split the two games, it would not have counted either way.)

Are all bowling alleys created equal? Of course not. I think some are more difficult than others, because of factors such as the lanes, the balls, and "cosmic bowling", which I hate. It's more expensive, and it's far more difficult. The second half of game two last week was during "cosmic bowling", and both Amber and I posted lower scores as a result. Normally, Amber and I bowl on Saturday mornings or early Sunday afternoons to avoid this. Still, though, I think I've had a harder time at Northland Bowl than at Buffaloe Lanes. The lanes at Northland seem more slippery, perhaps even slightly "concave down". If the ball starts off-center, it will keep going off-center. I don't have enough data to show a bias, but the data I do have to this point would refute that. While Amber's two scores last weekend were below her average, my scores were above my
average, including a 142. (That game featured the only "double" I've been able to get in these 11 games, and that helps.)

My best-ever bowling score is a 201 at Crenshaw Lanes on the Florida State campus, featuring five consecutive strikes. I wouldn't be surprised if I'm never able to replicate that feat again, particularly if I only bowl once every 1-2 months (that's the current pace), and if I never successfully transition to "curvy bowling".

No post tomorrow, because it's Thanksgiving, and that's a convenient excuse. We'll be in Toledo, where there are a lot of bowling alleys. I would hope we'll make a trip to the bowling alley this weekend. So, maybe it would have been better to save the bowling post for next week. Oh well.

Friday: "College Football Weekend: 11/23/07".

Today's random thought:

- Does the "Hot Pocket" brand have any real competition? If anyone else is mass-producing filled frozen sandwiches, I don't know about it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"Something About Interstate 99"

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I think original plans were for I-99 to be completed from I-76 to I-80 in 2003 or 2004. Then, they found acid rock along the route. Finally, now, they seem to have a way to get rid of all of it, and current plans suggest an opening in May or June 2008. Is that going to happen? Given PennDOT's reputation for meeting deadlines, I'd say no. But when it is done, whenever that is, that'll make a good excuse for another weekend visit.

I can't remember the last time I actually took I-99/US-220 into State College. For the last year-plus, I've been taking back roads. So I don't know how long the Bald Eagle exit has been reconfigured, and how long all of this new signage has been around, but it was all new to me last weekend. It looks like all of the signs for I-99 are already up. Some signs in State College have been up for years, with the I-99 shield covered up. I like that they're planning ahead with these signs, but shouldn't they worry about finishing the road first? I think the only remaining section is the Skytop Mountain section where they found the acid rock - everything else is probably done. It looks like they still have a ways to go, especially considering it's no longer "construction season". I'll be surprised if it's done in May or June.

Why did we take I-99 instead of back roads this time? Reason #1 - our destination was on the north (east) side of State College, meaning if we took the back roads, we would have had to drive all the way through town. (All this to save two or three minutes.) Reason #2 - it was snowing on our return drive. State College received its first measurable snow of the season last weekend, something I am proud to have witnessed. (Storm total: 2.5") Raleigh (Cary) will be lucky to get that much snow all winter. (Last year's season total: 1.6") I'll keep my fingers crossed, because after all, we need all the precipitation we can get. I like snow, but only when I don't have to deal with it for four straight months.

Tomorrow: "Bowling Statistics".

Today's random thought:

- Here's something I haven't mentioned here yet: Amber has a new job working for these guys as an Environmental Scientist. She started on November 5th. She declined the opportunity to write a "guest post" about her new job, so...that's it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

"Last Year: 11/19/07"

Thanksgiving week is upon us. Did I write six posts this week last year? Let's find out...

Mon 11/20/06: "Bowling Number Theory". I like this post. I think I'll write about bowling again this week.
Tue 11/21/06: "Pinehurst, NC".
Wed 11/22/06: "The Components of Thanksgiving Dinner".
Thu 11/23/06: No post. That'll be my excuse not to post on Thanksgiving Day this year either!
Fri 11/24/06: "College Football Friday #1/Saturday #7". Expect another post like this one on Friday.
Sat 11/25/06: "I'm Missing Curling!" (Hackjob post) I haven't heard about any televised curling this Thanksgiving.

So, 4½ out of 6? Not bad.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Is the NASCAR Season Over Yet?"

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(On location in State College, PA.)

First, a quick word about college football, because that's what I usually write about on Saturday. There is one clear "game of the week" today. There's nothing better than when two storied programs take the field with so much on the line. It might very well even be the game of the year! You all know what game I'm talking about: Duke at Notre Dame.

No - the NASCAR season isn't over yet. But after tomorrow, it will be. And it's about time, too. I've about had enough. The season is far too long. I liked it better when the season was 30 races, not 36. Even then, I guess the season was still just as long; there were just more off weeks.

"What happened, Chris? Don't you like NASCAR? Won't you spend the next three months anxiously waiting for NASCAR to come back?" Well, once late January rolls around, I might be eagerly anticipating NASCAR's return. But, for now, I have some bones to pick. And if you've been read my NASCAR posts before, it's still the same old, same old. While NASCAR isn't likely to cut back on the recent explosion of caution flags, or get rid of the "lucky dog" rule (which, finally, some drivers and teams have been complaining about as of late), they might shorten some of the races. A 500-mile race isn't a bad thing - that is, except when there are 12 caution flags, as there were at Texas two weeks ago. Time of race: 3 hours, 49 minutes. Not even I can watch a NASCAR race for that long, especially when a lot of it is run at 70 mph behind a pace car. NASCAR would be almost unwatchable without my TLD/DVR. But instead of increasing their caution flag tolerance back to the levels of the 1990s, when it wasn't uncommon for a 500-mile race to have 5 caution flags, they'll probably just circumvent the real problem and shorten most of these races to 400 miles. But not next year, because there's too much advertising money involved. Why give up an extra five commercial breaks? It's going to take another two years of a steady ratings decline for the race lengths to change.

Alright, now how about this "Chase"? The debate is whether Jeff Gordon should have gotten more credit for his large pre-Chase points lead, instead of starting the Chase 20 points behind seemingly-eventual-champion Jimmie Johnson because Johnson had two more wins. I agree with most NASCAR "experts" in that the pre-Chase points leader should get a bonus. But is Gordon getting "screwed" because he would have been a runaway champion if not for the Chase, making him a 5-time champion (6-time if you consider that he would have also won the 2004 championship without the Chase)? Well, no. Here's the thing. Now, the champion isn't a full-season award; it's a final-10-races award. Johnson has clearly been the best over the last 10 races, so he should be the champion. And I don't think it's fair to claim Gordon a "defacto champion" anyway. Everybody knew the rules going in. If there was no Chase, Johnson's probably would have put more effort into the first 26 races. Instead, they secured a spot in the chase, got some wins, and experimented, knowing that the championship was a final-10-race award. Without the Chase, Johnson might have done better in the first 26-races and have been toe-to-toe with Gordon all the way to finish. We'll never know, and that's why Gordon isn't getting screwed. At the beginning of the season, he had the same opportunity to win the championship as Johnson.

Johnson hasn't won the championship yet, though. He needs to finish 18th or better in tomorrow's race. (That's if Gordon leads the most laps and wins; if Gordon finishes worse than that, then Johnson's "must-finish" position falls back, of course.) Given how Johnson has performed this season, it almost seems like a given that he'll finish at least 18th. Most likely, he'll play it conservatively and finish about 10th, just like he did last year. But when you have guys like David Ragan on the track, the opportunity for disaster always looms. How lame would it be if Johnson crashed and finished 39th, and Gordon won the championship with an unspectacular 11th-place finish? This is why the points system is no good - the penalty for bad luck is too great. With my points system, Johnson's "magic number" is actually exactly the same - 18th place. But the difference is that because my system is weighted much more greatly at the top than from 11th on back, the only way Gordon can win the championship is if he finishes 1st or 2nd. If he finishes 3rd, and Johnson finishes 43rd, that's not good enough, even if Gordon gets all possible bonus points. So, if Johnson has bad luck, Gordon still needs to race for it. Isn't that the way it should be? Instead, we're stuck with the current points system, where if Johnson has bad luck and finishes 43rd, all Gordon needs to do is finish 14th and he's the champion. Lame.

Why do I keep watching a sport that I have so much of a problem with? I'm not sure. But it's a good thing they have an offseason.

Tuesday: Umm...I'll figure something out. Maybe I'll write something about I-99.

Today's random thought:

- There's a new movie out called "Beowulf". I had to read a portion of Beowulf in high school, and back then, it was quite possibly the most uncool thing ever. Why are they making a movie out of this? Is the movie industry that much out of ideas?

Friday, November 16, 2007

"Pardon the Interruption, But What Else Is On?"

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When I got my TLD/DVR, one of the first things I did was program it to automatically record "Pardon the Interruption" every day. But this week, I have removed PTI from the "automatically record" list. Why? Well, a funny thing happened this week. When I started watching on Tuesday, and was greeted with geust host Dan LeBatard's trademark "Bam!" introduction, my reaction was, "Yes!" Then, a few minutes later, "Wait. Has this show gotten to the point where it's actually better with Dan LeBatard? What happened? I'm not watching this anymore."

I'm sure PTI is still a very popular show, pulls in good ratings, and is consistently watched by some of you. But I've had enough. Is it because the show's been on for over six years? Well, that might be part of it. But here's what I don't like about the show. Early on, the strength of the show was the "clock". Each topic would only get 60 seconds, sometimes 90 seconds, and then they would move on. This would allow them to touch on a variety of topics from around sports. Now, just about every topic gets 90 seconds, and many get 105 or 120 seconds. On top of that, many of the "separate" topics are related. The topics on the show are now mostly geared around the sports that Tony Kornheiser (a Monday Night Football analyst) and Michael Wilbon (an NBA studio analyst) cover. On a typical Monday show during football season, the entire first segment ("Headlines") is devoted to the NFL, as is "Five Good Minutes" with fellow MNF analyst Ron Jaworski. On top of that, it's filmed from the site of the MNF game, so all of this seems like one big ploy to get you hyped for Monday Night Football (which is also on ESPN, of course). Then, once you get to "Mail Time", they finally talk about sports like College Football, and even then, outside of generic BCS discussions (which are far inferior to listening to actual college football analysts on the same network), they usually just talk about Notre Dame, USC, Ohio State, Michigan, or something Steve Spurrier said. Same old, same old. And, they almost never talk about the NHL or NASCAR, and when they do, it's obvious that they (especially Kornheiser) have no clue what they're talking about. I'd almost rather they not even bother. Wilbon tries, at least. But Kornheiser actually takes pride in being ignorant. Not just with sports that he doesn't care about, but with small-market teams in sports he actually does pay attention to, like when the Colorado Rockies were making their World Series run. "I can't name three players on the Rockies", he said. (Or something to that effect.) Hey, Tony! As a professional sports broadcaster and writer, isn't it your job to know something about a team on their way to the World Series? Or is that no longer part of your job description as an official NFL analyst? Maybe Tony is too tired to care about the Rockies. After all, in many shows, he often looks tired and completely disinterested in the show at all. But actually, I think he does know more about the Rockies (whom I'm just using as an example) than he leads on; he's just trying to play the part of "big-market bias" (which includes, but is not limited to, East Coast Bias), where the world revolves around professional teams from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and of course, the Dallas Cowboys. Those teams (and some others) get too large of a share And, yes, part of my complaint is as a fan of the small-market Jacksonville Jaguars, who hardly ever get mentioned on the show. When Byron Leftwich was released prior to the season, it wasn't brought up until the end of the show ("Happy Trails"). If a big-market team cut their starting quarterback one week before the season began, it would have been the lead story, don't you think? And even during "Happy Trails", the talk was more about Leftwich than the team. Then, when the new starting quarterback (David Garrard) was injured, I don't think it was ever mentioned. You know, a starting quarterback getting injured on a team that could make the playoffs is kind of a big deal. How many times has Garrard's name been mentioned this year on PTI? Meanwhile, they always talk about the same people. Terrell Owens. Daisuke Matsuzaka. Chad Johnson. Donovan McNabb. Alex Rodriguez. (Does anyone ever refer to him by his full name anymore?) Greg Oden. (They do talk about college basketball some, but it's almost always on a individual level, not a team level. Greg Oden and Kevin Durant were talked about far more than the best teams were, and many times, it was only in reference to their NBA prospects. Speaking of which, I really hate the NBA Draft age limit, but that's a topic for another day.) And only recently has PTI started having athletes on during "Five Good Minutes". Kornheiser's policy used to be "no athletes", citing that athlete interviews bring the show down. I don't know what changed, but he's right. A few athletes give good interviews, but most don't. "Five Good Minutes" is better when they bring in another sports analyst, one who actually knows the sport they're talking about. They used to do that every day. Now, it seems most of the time, "Five Good Minutes" either features a worthless athlete interview, Ron Jaworski, or is omitted altogether.

It took me a while, but now I've realized that given the sports I follow the most, and teams I root for, there's really no reason for me to watch PTI at all. What else is on at 5:30?

Tomorrow: "Is the NASCAR Season Over Yet?"

Today's random thought:
- Does anyone ever use the color "hazel" to refer to anything other than eye color? (Well, I'm sure some people do sometimes, but I'm certain eye color is the primary reference.)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

"Here Comes the Metric System"

As previously mentioned, I've considered setting my new car's odometer and speedometer to kilometers instead of miles. It's an easy enough conversion - 5 mph = 8 km/h, convenient because all commonly-used speed limits are divisible by 5. But as much fun as it is to drive 112 km/h on the interstate, I quickly switched back to miles. Those kilometer-based numbers on the odometer, they didn't mean anything. I was born and raised with miles, not kilometers. Despite my infatuation with Canada, I just couldn't make the switch.

When we visited Canada in March and started watching the weather on Canadian television, of course, they gave their temperatures in Celsius. Celsius is very convenient when the temperatures are always near freezing, as they were in Canada during our visit. So, I thought, maybe I'll make a "mental switch" to Celsius too! After all, my home digital thermometer lets me use either Celsius or Fahrenheit. But, much like with kilometers, I couldn't make the switch to Celsius. While Celsius is nice near freezing, in the South, it isn't very useful. 27°C? Is that hot? The only way for me to fully understand that was to convert it to Fahrenheit, which defeated the purpose of switching in the first place. Besides, there's something to be said for triple-digit temperatures. "It's going to be a scorcher - highs in the low 40s!" doesn't have the same ring to it.

Why is the United States reluctant to keep out the metric system? I think it's a matter of pride. I think we're the only ones still using "English" or "Imperial" units. So, it's our system. We don't need your stupid metric system; we have our own system. Maybe it's the idea that we achieved our independence from Europe over 200 years ago, and that we don't need some recent European creation. (Despite the fact that the system we use is called the "English" system.) Either way, I don't think the common American would like to switch, facing the same crisis that I described in the first two paragraphs. I would have a much easier time making the switch if everybody did it, and I was exposed to kilometers and Celsius on a regular basis.

Is the metric system that much better? Well, yes, especially in terms of conversions. But I think one problem with the metric system is that the numbers are just too big for simple-minded Americans to understand. If you buy a box of cereal in this country, it will give its weight in "ounces", which will usually be between 10 and 20. But in Canada, the box will say "grams", amounts which are often in the triple-digits. '345 grams'? Oh no! Big numbers! '12 ounces' is much easier to understand, right? Same goes for liquid measurements - 1 gallon = 3.8 liters, 1 fluid ounce = 29.6 milliliters. And, 1 mile = 1.6 kilometers, of course. The exception is temperature, but with Celsius comes negative temperatures as far south as Florida. And if common people have a hard time comprehending large numbers, they probably have a really hard time comprehending negative numbers.

So, why is this country stuck with a measuring system from Medieval times? Because Americans are lazy and don't want to change. I think that's the bottom line.

Tomorrow: "Pardon the Interruption, But What Else Is On?"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

"Nat Geo"

I didn't have time to write "Here Comes the Metric System" yesterday. Oops. I'll try again today. For now, here's a random thought.

Saying "The National Geographic Channel" is a mouthful. Thus, the network has started referring to itself as "Nat Geo" in its commercials. I think that sounds dumb, and it sounds like an over-the-top attempt to be "hip" or to appeal to the "young 'uns". Why can't they just call themselves "NGC"? That would be much more professional.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

"Curling Recap: 11/9/07"

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This week's final score: a 15-2 loss. How'd that happen?

Well, first off, we were playing the first place team, which happens to have two skip-caliber players on it, a third with a decent amount of experience, and no inexperienced lead to bring the rest of the team down. So, I already expected to lose. Before the match, I told Amber that our goal was to do better than the team that lost 18-1 during the Fall League. Well, mission accomplished, I guess. See what happens when you aim low? You meet your goals.

After the first end, we were already losing 4-0, despite winning the coin toss and having last rock in the first end. (Winning the coin toss is grossly overrated, as it turns out.) In the second end, we managed our only two points of the game, cutting the deficit to 4-2. And as I recall, the only way we got two points is because of a bad bounce by the other team, accidentally taking out their closest stone, giving us two. We more than made up for it, though. In one later end, Amber threw two through all the way through the house (I think). "Don't do worse than me, Chris!" Well, somehow, I managed to do worse. The first throw went all the way through, and the second throw knocked one of their stones into the house, while my stone careened out of play.

So, obviously, the other team was really good, and they made all the throws (except in the second end). And, we weren't on our game, but even our best effort wouldn't have been enough to win.

The "diagrammed throw of the week" pretty much sums up the match. I was feeling pretty good after we (red) had two in the house. But we didn't really have much in the way of guards. And they made us pay:

The dreaded double-take out. And, they managed to keep theirs in the house, too. A single take-out isn't too difficult to pull off, but a double-take out, when the two stones are on opposite ends of the house? Clearly, we were out-matched in this one.

So, we were beat. We're currently 5th in the league standings, with one regular-season match to go. If we win, we make the winners' bracket in the playoffs. If we lose, we're off to the losers' bracket. So, for all intents and purposes, we're already in playoff-mode, as the next match will determine whether our team finishes in the top four or the bottom four. So, as long as we can win one of our next three matches, we'll avoid a last-place finish. Hip hip hooray!

This week, the league goes on another two-week hiatus, so the next match isn't until the week after Thanksgiving (Friday, November 30th).

Tomorrow: "Here Comes the Metric System". Just warning you, it's a slow news week. And, there will be a NASCAR post on Friday. Ack!

Today's random thought:

- I don't know how many of you ever look at my car mileage log, but I recently made the revelation that it would make a better Google spreadsheet than Google document. Thus, I've upgraded it - now, it's the Car mileage log v2.0! I think it looks much better now. I'm taking the original mileage log offline at the end of the week, just in case anyone has it bookmarked.

Monday, November 12, 2007

"Last Year: 11/12/07"

I just noticed that in last week's "last year" entry, some of the dates were wrong, because subconsciously, I thought it was still October. Oh well. I could go back and fix it, but I doubt anyone would notice anyway. Except that I just pointed it out to you. Why didn't I just keep my mouth shut?

Meanwhile, I made sure to double-check these dates:

Mon 11/13/06: "Yummy!".
Tue 11/14/06: "The New Way To Get To Pennsylvania". I'm looking forward to this drive this weekend.
Wed 11/15/06: "US Highways In Cities".
Thu 11/16/06: "Fun With Road Signs".
Fri 11/17/06: "A Better NASCAR Points System". I changed the points system again in my video game league, but I don't need to get into it here. At least right now. Maybe during a really slow week...
Sat 11/18/06: "FSU Football: Not So Good". One year later, I guess FSU is a little better. I just hope they don't end up spending New Year's in Boise.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

"College Football Saturday: 11/10/07"

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This is the next-to-last "College Football Saturday" post of the weekend, because we'll be out of town the next two weekends. Then, after that, the last week of the season barely counts as a "College Football Saturday". I think I speak of a lot of people when I say that the college football season isn't nearly long enough. Other sports, on the other hand...

Time slot 1

Game 1 - North Carolina at NC State, 1200p, Local TV: This game is huge around here. Huge!
Game 2 - Michigan at Wisconsin, 1200p, ESPN: Looks like we're headed for yet another overhyped Michigan v. Ohio State game next week. Whoopee. Will it be on the Big Ten Network?
Game 3 - Wake Forest at Clemson, 1200p, ESPN2: If Clemson wins their next two games (this one, and Boston College next week), they'll play in the ACC Championship. That's pretty good, but somehow, I don't think their fans are satisfied. Clemson fans are never satisfied. (I looked at the tiebreaker procedures to make sure head-to-head was the tiebreaker. But I'm a little confused by those procedures. Within a division, every team plays every other team, and there are no ties. So for a two-team tie, why are tiebreakers #2 through #8 even necessary?)
Game 4 - Texas A&M at Missouri, 1230p, FSN: Hopefully, Missouri isn't looking ahead to that mammoth showdown with Kansas in two weeks.
Game 5 - Penn State at Temple, 1200p, ESPNU: Yeah, I know. Penn State always gets priority. What gives? Well...they're playing Temple. Hopefully, I won't have a reason to watch this game.
Game 6 - Kansas State at Nebraska, 1230p, Versus: Yawn.
Game 7 - Indiana at Northwestern, 1200p, ESPN Classic: Double yawn.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Florida State at Virginia Tech, 330p, ABC: I didn't think Florida State had a chance last week, and they won. This week? Well, every time they look good one week, they flame out the next week. So, I still don't think they have a chance.
Game 2 - Air Force at Notre Dame, 230p, NBC: I have no interest in this game. But I can't wait for next week: Duke at Notre Dame. Yeah!
Game 3 - Illinois at Ohio State, 330p, ESPN: I'm sick of Ohio State. Boo.
Game 4 - Auburn at Georgia, 330p, CBS: This is a "friendly rivalry", right?
Game 5 - Wyoming at Utah, 330p, CSTV: Why aren't more Mountain West games on national television? Why don't they have any games on ESPN GamePlan? You may not even be aware of this, but before there was the Big Ten Network, there was the MountainWest Sports Network. "The mtn" (as it is informally known) is available on cable providers in most Mountain West markets, and nowhere else. And unlike the Big Ten Network, you can't even get "the mtn" on DirecTV or Dish Network. So if you're a Colorado State fan living in Indiana, or an Air Force fan living in Georgia, there is no way to get "the mtn" and watch your team. These conference-specific sports networks might be great cash-grabs, but they are terrible for the conference's national exposure. And being on CSTV and Versus doesn't help either. What are they thinking? This television deal is killing the conference.
Game 6 - Connecticut at Cincinnati, 330p, ESPNU: Hmm, I guess USF's game against Syracuse is the GamePlan-only "ESPN Plus" game this week. Three short weeks ago, USF was #2 in the BCS and in the national championship discussion. Now, they're 1-3 in the Big East and tied for last in the conference. Wow. Of course, it doesn't help when you commit eight turnovers in one game, as USF did last week.

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Florida at South Carolina, 745p, ESPN: Steve Spurrier has been the coach at South Carolina long enough, I now have no problem rooting for him to win, particularly in this game.
Game 2 - Boston College at Maryland, 800p, ABC: It's a good thing the ACC invited Boston College and not Syracuse, isn't it?
Game 3 - Virginia at Miami (FL), 715p, ESPN2: It looks like the winner of the season-ending Virginia v. Virginia Tech game will go to the ACC Championship. (Against Clemson?)
Game 4 - Central Florida at Alabama-Birmingham, 730p, CSTV: Both schools prefer to be referred to by their initials (UCF and UAB), but I thought I'd spell them out just to diminish the importance of this game. UCF is contending for the C-USA championship, but UAB...not so much. There isn't that much intrigue during this time slot anyway; maybe I'll watch hockey instead.
Game 5 - Washington at Oregon State, 1000p, FSN: Yeah, it's bed time.
Game 6 - Fresno State at Hawaii, 1100p, ESPN2: If Hawaii goes undefeated, do they deserve a BCS berth? According to the computers, no. Jeff Sagarin's ratings say that Hawaii's strength of schedule is ranked 160th, right between Northern Arizona and Texas State. But, here's a trivia question - when was the last time Hawaii played in a bowl game somewhere other than their home stadium (Aloha Stadium)? Answer below.
Game 7 - San Diego State at UNLV, 1100p, CSTV: I think it's bed time.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Tuesday: "Curling Recap: 11/9/07".

Today's random thought:

- There used to be one phone book, and one yellow pages. Now, there's like five of each, none of which has everything listed in it, because people don't want to pay for five listings. How does that benefit society? I don't even use the phone book anymore. Why bother when you have the internet?

Trivia question answer: Hawaii has only played in one bowl game away from home: the 1992 Holiday Bowl in San Diego, a 27-17 victory over Illinois. Hawaii's six other bowl appearances were all at home. I think it's safe to say that if Hawaii doesn't get a BCS berth, they'll be playing at Aloha Stadium once more this year.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"The Day After the Ultimate NC Road Trip (12 Days Later)"

Nothing that exciting happened the day after the Ultimate North Carolina Road Trip. We just got stuck in a traffic jam, and had a fun (?) time trying to get around it.

The traffic jam was on I-40 eastbound between Canton and Asheville. Instead of sometimes-going, sometimes-slow, it was extremely slow the whole time, which usually indicates an accident and/or lane closure. With this kind of traffic jam, you're usually better off seeking an alternate route. Here's a map, followed by the sequence of events:

Traffic was already slow when we merged onto I-40 (A), but it wasn't bad. Then, around (B), traffic screeched to a halt. Time for an alternate route? The first exit we could conveniently use was Exit 33 (C). But there were two reasons we didn't take it - it backtracked to the alternate route (US-19/23), and traffic sped up right before the exit. Of course, as soon as we passed the exit, traffic slowed down again. So, we took the next exit (D) and hopped onto US-19/23, which was conveniently right by I-40. Of course, everyone else had the same idea we did. US-19/23 was okay at first, but then slowed down. Maybe it's time for an alternate route for the alternate route? We don't have a GPS, but we do have one of those DeLorme gazetteers that shows every road in the state. Problem with those things is that the roads aren't all labeled, so some roads are hard to find. So, right after we turned right at (E), we took the first left thinking it wasn't a road that just led us right back to US-19/23 and the traffic jam once again. Next plan: turn right on NC-112 (F) and head towards I-26. Of course, a lot of people had that idea too, and there was a backup at this traffic light (G), because everybody was turning left. After further inspecting the gazetteer, we found a shortcut back on NC-112 a little bit, so we turned around and got on Pond Rd (H), which absolutely nobody else was taking. We took it under I-26, and conveniently found ourselves at NC-191 and then I-40 (I). We then re-entered I-40 and everything was fine. What caused the traffic jam? We'll never know. I didn't have the patience to find out. Did we actually save time by taking our alternate routes? Again, we'll never know. But we made it home before dark, and that's the important thing when you have a broken headlight.

Before that traffic jam, before we entered "hurry-up mode", we had some time to do a couple of fun things. In the past, I've made slight detours specifically for the purpose of visiting extra counties so I can color them in on my county map. On the return drive, we made the shortest county-related detour ever: 23.7 yards.

(I outlined the county borders in blue just to make them easier to see. The Macon/Graham line straddles the railroad tracks.)
We turned left onto US-129, passed by the "Now Entering Graham County" sign (it was visible from US-19/74), immediately turned around, got back on US-19/74, and went on our merry way. And since we caught back up to the same car we were stuck behind before, the "detour" actually added no time whatsoever to our drive. It was pretty sweet.

Then, in Waynesville, we played disc golf. I've already played most of the disc golf courses in the Asheville area on previous trips, but the Waynesville course was new. After playing the course, my main complaint is about the out of bounds. On the message board at the first tee was a list of everything that's OB on each hole. It was really complicated, but I guess it was necessary because they built the course right in the middle of a city park. Among the obstacles: a creek, a softball field, a playground, tennis courts, railroad tracks, a dog park, and a horse ring. (My favorite OB was on hole #14: "the roof of the recreation center". Given where they put the tee, the roof was definitely in play.) Did I ever go OB? Who knows? I probably did at some point, but the only OB I was playing was obvious stuff (over fences, on or across roads, etc). The fact of the matter is, they had no business trying to squeeze in a disc golf course here. But given the park's constraints, they did the best they could do, so I'll cut them some slack. After all, some tee markers indicated that at least some of the course was built as part of a Boy Scout's Eagle Project. (Damn! Why didn't I think of that?)

I think that's it for my "Ultimate North Carolina Road Trip" posts. With no road trips or car purchases this week, what am I possibly going to write about next week?

Tomorrow: "College Football Saturday: 11/10/07".

Thursday, November 08, 2007

"My 2008 Honda Civic: Early Impressions"

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What do I think of my new car so far? Well, the long term will determine how well I really like the car, but for now, I'm just excited that I don't have to worry about the car breaking down at any moment. I have had to make some adjustments to my driving, though - I've already stalled the car three times. (By the way, that's a new statistic in my AIM feature "by the numbers". Hopefully, I'll keep the stalling to a minimum.)

How good is the gas mileage? I'm still on my first tank of gas, so I don't have numbers yet, but it looks like my every-day mileage will be around 30. That's a little lower than the Saturn mileage, but still acceptable. The gas tank is about the same size as the tank in the Saturn (13.2 gallons). I'd like to have a bigger gas tank so I didn't have to stop for gas every 300 to 400 miles, but 13.2 gallons is about what you're going to get in a car like the Civic. The Honda Accord has a much bigger tank than the Civic (18-19 gallons), but I'm saving a bigger-car purchase for next time, when I'll likely need a little more back seat room. (Side comment: when cars are transported from the factory, they have 0.5 gallons of fuel in them. Thus, a car's first-ever test drive starts with a prompt trip to the gas station.)

The car has plenty of room in the back seat; that's definitely an upgrade. Trunk space is about the same as the Saturn. And I can open my door wide without hitting the car next to me! Yay!

Here's something I'm not used to: a CD player. The Saturn had a cassette player (remember those?), for which I had a CD-to-tape car adapter. That was kind of annoying, albeit better than nothing. Because of the inconvenience, I only listened to CDs on long road trips. Now, it's easy to listen to a CD during every day driving. But even better than just having a CD player, the CD player also reads MP3s. I made an MP3 CD just to try it out, and it works great. Prior to the car's first road trip, I might put an entire drive's playlist on one MP3 CD, so that we don't have to change CDs during the drive. Can I fit 13 CDs on a single MP3 CD? Let's do a little math: using a bitrate of 128 (Kb/sec), one minute of music takes up 960 KB. Thus, I can fit almost 12½ hours of music on a 700 MB CD, which is longer than it takes to drive to Toledo. Yay!

The odometer and speedometer are digital. I much prefer a "rotating" odometer - milestones are much more of an event with a rotating odometer than with a digital odometer - but I don't think they make those anymore. I don't have a preference with the speedometer. But the advantage of a digital speedometer/odometer is that with a push of a button, I can switch from miles to kilometers. That's nice to know, because I'm sure I'll be driving this car to Canada at some point. And, this way, the odometer will hit 100,000 on two separate occasions - once in kilometers, and once in miles! Now that's exciting. Once my car reaches 62,000 miles (99,779 km), I'll switch over to kilometers so I can witness the 100,000th kilometer.

At one time, I actually considered keeping the car mileage log in kilometers this time around, because the "milestones" would be much more frequent in kilometers. But, for consistency, and so the numbers are more meaningful to American folk, I'll stick with miles. If you've ventured over to the car mileage log (link above to the right) within the past week, you'll see I've already added a new entry for the 2008 Honda Civic. I'm excited to chronicle my car's mileage from the very beginning. (Well, not the very beginning. The car had 28 miles on it when I drove it off the lot.) And, the car mileage log have a new wrinkle this time: at every milestone, I'll post projected dates for the car's 50,000th, 100,000th, 150,000th, and 200,000th miles. Given the Civic's reputation for longevity, I will be disappointed if I don't get 200,000 miles out of this car. That's the goal. How long will that take?

Well, last month, I put 3,500 miles on the Saturn. If I did that every month, it would take less than five years to rack up 200,000 miles. But I'm not going to do that. I'm trying to take it easy on the car at first and not get too "road trip crazy" with it right away. In fact, when we head up to State College in a little over a week, my car won't be coming with us. (That's dependent on the working condition of Amber's car, which now has over 194,000 miles on it.) My car's first road trip will probably be Thanksgiving weekend, which we've decided will be spent in Toledo. I'm going to try to keep the car's monthly totals around 2,000 miles; at that pace, I'll hit 200,000 miles in eight years. That's a little more reasonable.

Sunday, I posted my county map with all of the counties that my Saturn has been to colored in red. Am I going to start a new map for the new car? You betcha. I've "converted" all of the counties to blue and started over:

So far, the Civic has been to 3 counties. How long will it take the Civic to match the Saturn's total of 522 counties?

Technically, the Civic has been to more than 3 counties, because it had to be transported from the factory. But that doesn't count, of course. I didn't see where this particular car was built, but most cars on the lot were manufactured in either Ohio or Ontario. I expected at least some of the cars on the lot to be manufactured in South Carolina (I-95 exit 153), but I didn't see any.

Okay, that's enough about my obsessive stat-keeping. (For today.) Here's one thing I might not like about the car: service reminders. Apparently, the car will remind me when it's time for scheduled maintenance, and will make a scene about it, too (with respect to warning lights and such). Included in all this is something called "oil life". If I scroll past the two trip odometers (that's right, two!), I'll see the "oil life". When it gets below 15%, it's probably time to get an oil change. When you get to 0%, a warning light comes on, and it starts calculating "negative mileage" (how many miles you've gone since your last oil change). The owner's manual warns you: when this happens, take your car in for service immediately! What does "oil life" mean, anyway? Is it an actual measure of the oil's dirtiness? Or, is it simply a measure of how many miles you've driven since your last oil change? Well, the manual gives you instructions on how to reset the oil life to 100%, which implies it has nothing to do with the oil itself. I'm assuming it's either based strictly on miles, or on how you drive your car. The manual doesn't say how many miles it takes for the oil life to reach 0%. Hopefully, it's more than 3,000 miles, because despite what all those car care places tell you, 3,000 miles per oil change is overkill. Historically, I've gone 4,000 to 5,000 miles between oil changes, and that was good enough for the Saturn. Some car experts say even that is more frequent than necessary. But whenever my car tells me I need my first oil change, even if it's at 3,000 miles, I'll probably just go ahead and do it then. After all, Crown Honda is paying for the first one. (They're also paying for the 10,000-mile maintenance. What do they do to the car at 10,000-mile maintenance? I asked Matt the salesman, and he said "I have no idea.") Beyond the first oil change, if the "oil life" meter expires as early as 3,000 miles, then I'll probably just reset it 1,500 miles after each oil change, so that it expires at 4,500 miles instead.

This new car stuff is exciting, isn't it? And I haven't even mentioned the "new car smell". Hopefully, I won't screw it all up. I'll keep an eye out for deer.

Tomorrow: "The Day After the Ultimate NC Road Trip (12 Days Later)".

Today's random thought:

- I convinced Amber into going to a Carolina Hurricanes game last Saturday night against the Florida Panthers. I gave Amber the opportunity to wear my old Florida Panthers jersey if she wanted to root against my "new" team for fun. She accepted. She was one of only two people I saw at the game wearing Florida Panthers paraphernalia. That's not surprising, considering a poll I saw a couple years ago, which determined that the Florida Panthers have fewer fans than any other team in the NHL. (Yes, even fewer than Columbus.) The game was my first Carolina Hurricanes home game since they played in Greensboro in the late 1990s, and was my third Hurricanes game overall. The result: a 4-2 win for Carolina. (I was going to write a full-length post about the game experience, but I didn't have enough material to work with. Besides, it's been a busy couple of weeks, as evidenced by the fact that tomorrow's post will be about something from 12 days ago.)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"New Car Shopping"

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First thing's first: why did I decide to get a new car?

Well, one thing I didn't mention during all of those "Ultimate North Carolina Road Trip" posts was that on our way out to the Outer Banks on Friday night, I hit a deer, and there wasn't a whole lot I could do about it. Apparently, hitting a deer isn't that big of a deal; lots of people have done it as it turns out. At first, I thought the car was unharmed, but later found out that the left headlight assembly was broken. Not a major problem, and fixable without too much money spent. But in July, once I passed state inspection, I decided that I was going to stop preventive maintenance altogether (except for oil changes), and if I ever had to spend a bunch of money to keep the Saturn running, I'd just get a new car instead. So, that's what I decided. Upon stopping at our apartment on the Saturday of the "Ultimate" trip, we could have switched cars and taken Amber's car the rest of the way, but...nah. I wanted my car to finish its last road trip. And, it did without further incident. (Well, almost. More on the drive back to Raleigh (Cary) later in the week.)

Alright, so, it's time to get a new car. What kind of car do I want? Well, I want something fairly inexpensive. I want something that's going to last me a long time and is dependable. I want a manual transmission. I want good gas mileage. I want a four-door sedan. (One thing that really bugged me about the Saturn was the huge-ass doors that come with most two-door coupes. I could barely get those doors open without hitting the car parked next to me.) I had already done some research several months ago, and decided that the Honda Civic was the right car. Yeah, there are a lot of Civics on the road already. But I don't mind. Just as long as I don't get a silver one. There are way too many silver Honda Civics on the road. I think I counted four or five in the work parking lot alone, plus a couple more at home.

Sunday night after we got home from the "Ultimate" trip, I went online and did some research on the Civic, determined which "trim level" I wanted (LX), and looked up various Honda dealers in the area. There are three area dealers - Leith Honda in North Raleigh, Auto Park Honda in Cary (owned by Rick Hendrick), and Crown Honda in Durham. Knowing what I know about this area, I figured I could get a better price in Durham. Doing some online research confirmed that. Back in the day, I always envisioned getting a car from the Rick Hendrick family of car dealerships. But, nope - that's what you get for building a dealership in Cary, Mr. Hendrick. It's not like you need my money anyway.

After work last Monday, I met Amber at Crown Honda, and walked inside the dealership. Would a salesperson pounce on me immediately? Well, not immediately, but there was someone waiting there with nothing better to do at the time. (Monday at 345p isn't exactly a busy time at the car dealership, I suppose.) "Can I help you?" "Yeah...uhhh...I'm in the market for a Honda Civic...and...uhhh...I'd like to take a test drive." The idea behind the test drive was just to make sure there wasn't anything that would drive me nuts about the car. I mentioned that my preferred trim-level was LX, but Matt (the salesman) took me on a test drive in the next-step-up, the EX. Clever, eh? The EX has some extra things, like back seat cupholders, a moonroof, and some other extra "bells and whistles", but I didn't think all that was worth an extra $1,800. Of course, after the test drive, he asked me if I would consider buying that vehicle today, because that's what car salesmen are supposed to do. "Nope." He then printed up an "offer sheet" for an LX, offering me sticker price (MSRP) for a car that they would have to get from the factory or from another dealership . "Nope, not today. I need some time to shop around for a bit." So, we set up an appointment for later in the week.

Since this was my first new car shopping experience, I read up on the car buying procedure earlier in the day. The main idea: dealers set their own car prices, and you should be able to get a price lower than sticker price, unless it's a high-demand, low-supply car. But why should the dealership give you a discount? What's in it for them? In order to get the best possible deal, you should be flexible with respect to features and colors. My first choice was a "Penn State blue" LX (that's my name, not Honda's name), but as I headed back towards the dealership on Friday, I planned on trying to get a better deal for the "Florida State red" EX that I test drove. Why? It is in the dealer's best interest to get their cars off the lot, because they're paying interest on the cars while they sit there. So, I figured I could probably get a better deal on a car that they already had in stock, because I'd be helping them out. Bargaining power is the key. Another way to get bargaining power is to shop around to other dealerships or other car manufacturers, but I didn't think I was going to get a better price in Wake County, nor did I have any interest in any other cars (although I did try to fake a little interest in the Mazda3).

When we came back on Friday, Matt was waiting for me outside. "I want to show you a car!" It was a manual-transmission LX, on the lot. The color was "Tampa Bay Buccaneer peuter" (a.k.a. dark gray), not my first choice, but maybe I could try bargaining for it. "Would you consider this car?" "Well, blue is my first choice, but I'd be willing to pay less for this car." Moments later, a new offer sheet emerged, with a $450 discount for the gray car. Sold! The color's not my first choice, but the way I see it, if someone offered to pay me $450 to paint my car a different color, I'd take it.

But we were barely halfway there at this point. Next step: how am I going to pay for the car? Well, I've been saving up for such a purchase, and on Friday, I had moved a large sum of money from my savings account to my checking account so I could pay for the car in cash up front. You can save a lot of money on a car without having to paying one dollar of interest. Next step: features! The only extra feature I considered was an auto-dimming day/night mirror with compass. (The compass was actually as intriguing to me as the auto-dimming.) Price: about $220. Alright. But installation is another $60. Okay, that's fine. But then, this mirror also requires an extra $50 part, driving the total cost to $330. Umm...never mind. I can always go back later and get the mirror if I really want it. Besides, I'll probably end up purchasing a GPS at some point, and they have compasses.

Next: service plans and extended warranties, and other stuff. I could have paid up to $3,000 extra on a 100,000 mile warranty (the default is 36,000), a 75,000-mile service plan, a shiny water-resistant finish, LO-JACK security system/stolen car locator, and other stuff. But again, I could always get this stuff later. The LO-JACK is $695 - if your car is stolen, they guarantee you'll get it back in 24 hours or less, or they'll refund your money. They say it's a good idea, because the Honda Civic is the second-most stolen car in North Carolina, and North Carolina is in the top 10 nationally in car thefts. But those are biased statistics; they don't consider the number of Honda Civics on the road, or the large population of North Carolina. Of course there are more Honda Civics stolen than Mitsubishis. Of course there more car thefts in North Carolina than in Wyoming. Duh. A more useful statistic would have been a ratio of cars stolen versus total number of cars on the road, to give you an idea of the actual probability of your car being stolen. I would think that because there are so many Civics around, that would actually decrease the chances of a theft. As for the service plan and such, they wouldn't offer it to me if they didn't make money off of it. I might save money by getting a service plan, but chances are, I won't. My expected value is better by not getting the extra stuff. Surprisingly, they didn't try too hard to talk me into any of it. They took "no" for an answer very well.

Finally: tag, insurance, and so on. I'll get my new car title in the mail in 30 days, along with the new car registration. I kept the same license plate, though, which I'm happy about because I like my "older" North Carolina plate with blue letters. My goal is to have one of those really-old looking plates in 20 years, like some people on the road do. As for the insurance, the dealer called State Farm themselves to say I traded in my Saturn for a new car. State Farm then called me Monday morning to confirm. That was easy, wasn't it?

That night, I drove home in my brand new 2008 Honda Civic LX. I'll talk more about the car itself tomorrow.

Fannin County Election Results: Last week, I talked about Fannin County's vote on "by the drink" liquor sales. Did it pass? Nope - the "No" votes won by about 500 votes (3871 to 3330). So, I was wrong. (Wouldn't be the first time!) But in the process, two Fannin County locals commented on that post, and I think they have some interesting things to say to provide some "local perspective". You know, if the residents want to maintain a set of ideals in their county, I don't have a problem with that. That's how democracy is supposed to work, right?

Tomorrow: "My 2008 Honda Civic: Early Impressions".

Today's random thought:

- I bought a new pair of "casual" shoes last weekend. What brand? Vans, of course. I think I've stuck with Vans for the better part of 10 years. During that time, I've always been able to get a pair (often on sale) for $40. Historically, I've bought one pair each year, usually in May. But I got an extra six months out of my last pair before deciding it was time for new ones. I don't wear Vans to work (except on some Fridays), and that's increased their life span.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"Curling Recap: 11/2/07"

Skip to the random thought (I actually have one today!)

In my last "curling recap", I said that with things like golf and disc golf, I often play better when I haven't played in two or three weeks, as opposed to just playing within the last week. Does the same apply for curling? Well, based on last Friday's performance, I'd say yes. It wasn't just me either - I think last Friday's match was, all-around, the best-played match I've been a part of. Then again, that might just be because we got to play with the best set of stones we have. (Insert joke here.)

Final score: a 7-5 victory. It was close throughout, and it came down to the last throw. (Well, the next-to-last throw.) Heading into the final end, our team led by one and had last stone. Advantage us, right? Well, on paper, it seems that way. But you can't afford to play strictly defense with a one point lead, because unless the end is "blanked" (neither team scores - a rare occurrence at this level), you still need to get "shot rock" (the closest stone to the target) to win. How did we do it? Well, before I diagram one of my throws in the final end, I should mention that we were playing on one of the outer sheets. This is important because the ice surface isn't perfectly level; it slopes towards the center. Thus, all the stones have a tendency to curl that way too, regardless of which turn you put on the throw. This effect didn't seem quite so bad in this match, actually, but it was still there, and the right-to-left slope of the ice probably helped me execute this throw:

I don't remember where the other stones were exactly, or even if there were that many; I'm just trying to illustrate that my stone took an awesome left turn at the end and hid itself behind a bunch of guards in excellent position. That throw was important because it removed the possibility of a direct take-out.

Was I trying to make that exact throw? I don't think so, but it worked out. That throw was either the 3rd or 4th of the end. After that, we concentrated our efforts on putting guards in front to the right to keep them from pulling off the same kind of throw, and the stone was left untouched for the remainder of the end and was the game-winner. But barely - the other team's final throw managed to knock one of their stones close to the target, but was just an inch or two outside of my stone. (The throw was kind of like the throw we tried to make at the end of the last game, except they almost actually pulled it off.) So, we declined our last stone and took the victory.

One more win, and we assure ourselves a regular-season winning record! Wahoo!

Finally, just for the sake of Google searches and the like: we are in the Triangle Curling Club, and we play in Wake Forest, NC.

Tomorrow: "New Car Shopping".

Today's random thought:

- It seems like all public restrooms without hand blow-dryers now have the "motion activated" paper towel dispenser. I'm not crazy about the "motion activated" dispensers, one reason being that I usually have to touch the thing anyway, making it "touch activated". And, these dispensers don't give you enough paper towel length to sufficiently dry your hands. I know the idea is to save paper, but if you want to save paper, why not get one of these, the only hand dryer that actually works?

Monday, November 05, 2007

"Last Year: 11/5/07"

Mon 10/6/06: "The Afternoon Commute". I stopped this "competition" a few weeks ago; now I just take the fast route home every day. But now that I have a new car, maybe I'll be re-energized to start it back up again.
Tue 10/7/06: "Election Day". So...was that really Kris Bailey who commented on my blog, or one of his employees? He commented the next day and said "Yes, it was me, call me and I'll give you voice proof". But he probably knew I wouldn't call. So, the debate rages on. (Well, not really.)
Wed 10/8/06: "Your Charlotte Bobcats!" One year later, I care even less about the NBA, if that were even possible.
Thu 10/9/06: "1980s Game Shows". Last week, I recorded "The Price Is Right" during the day to see how Drew Carey would do as host. My main impression is that when he tries to be Bob Barker, he flames out. But when he tries to be Drew Carey, he does okay. He'll do better is he just does his own thing instead of trying to emulate Bob's style. But I think it was a mistake to make a comedian the new host. They should have gone with Marc Summers.
Fri 11/10/06: "State College, PA".
Sat 11/11/06: "The Five Minute Post". From what I've heard, my "winging it while on the road somewhere" posts haven't really worked out so well, so generally, I don't do that anymore.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"Nights By County Update: 11/4/07"

While I'm posting a drives-by-county update, I might as well update this deal too, right? (Click here to skip this post and go down to the Drives By County update.)

Here are all of the counties I have stayed in overnight this year, along with the number of nights (updated through last night): (The cities are also included in parentheses, where necessary.)

Wake NC (Raleigh (Cary)) - 272
Centre PA (State College) - 15
Lucas OH (Toledo) - 4
Duval FL (Jacksonville) - 3
Westmorland NB (Sackville) - 2
Halifax NS - 2
Dare NC (Kill Devil Hills) - 1
Somerset MD (Princess Anne) - 1
Cherokee SC (Gaffney) - 1
Fannin GA (Blue Ridge) - 1
Pinellas FL (Pinellas Park) - 1
Cumberland ME (Brunswick) - 1
Aroostook ME (Houlton) - 1
Queens PE (Charlottetown) - 1
Cape Breton NS (North Sydney) - 1

That's 15 different counties this year. That's a lot, eh? But I don't have as many counties as Amber does this year - she has 17:

Wake NC (Raleigh (Cary)) - 162
Centre PA (State College) - 116
Lucas OH (Toledo) - 9
Duval FL (Jacksonville) - 3
Macon NC (Franklin) - 2
Westmorland NB (Sackville) - 2
Halifax NS - 2
District of Columbia - 2
Dare NC (Kill Devil Hills) - 1
Somerset MD (Princess Anne) - 1
Cherokee SC (Gaffney) - 1
Fannin GA (Blue Ridge) - 1
Pinellas FL (Pinellas Park) - 1
Cumberland ME (Brunswick) - 1
Aroostook ME (Houlton) - 1
Queens PE (Charlottetown) - 1
Cape Breton NS (North Sydney) - 1

So, when the year is done, Amber will have spent more nights in Wake County than Centre County. I guess we knew that as soon as she moved here. But mathematically, Wake County hasn't "clinched" first place just yet - that is set to happen next Saturday night. (For me, Wake County mathematically clinched first place back on July 22nd. That's how it's going to be until we move to a new county.)

Why have we stayed in so many different counties? Well, now that we live together, we can concentrate our "road trip energy" on going all kinds of different places, instead of just going back and forth to see each other. That, and I've trying to run up the mileage on my car. (Well, it worked!)

At the beginning of the year, I said that Duval County might challenge Centre County for second place, saying I expected Duval County to rack up about 15 nights this year. Umm, not quite - Duval currently sits at 3. Meanwhile, Centre has 15, and there are likely two more coming this year, so I can comfortably give Centre the second place trophy.

But what about third place? Obviously, it will come down to Lucas and Duval. Thanksgiving and Christmas plans haven't been worked out yet, so it's too early to say which one will finish ahead of the other. If I were to guess, I'd say Lucas will take third. (Lucas currently leads Duval by one.) Lucas will probably finish ahead of Duval next year, too, because that's where the wedding will be. But I should note that from a family perspective, in addition to the three nights in Duval, the night in Pinellas County was also with my family. So between families, it's tied 4-4. It's nice to know both my family and Amber's family have received "equal time" so far this year. (That doesn't count occasions when they visited us, of course.)

So, at least in the near-term, you can expect Wake to finish first, and Lucas, Duval, and Centre to jockey for the next three spots.

"Drives By County Update: 11/4/07"

The Ultimate North Carolina Road Trip added a few counties to my counties-visited map, so here's another update. Besides, Sundays are always good days to post this stuff. It's better than posting nothing, right?

First off, I've simplified the color coding. I've done away with "pre-2000" and "post-2000" designations. Now, there are only two colors: red (counties that my car has been to) and blue (counties that I have been to, but my car has not).

This update includes counties accumulated during the UNCRT, and counties accumulated during the Carowinds/Upstate South Carolina trip in mid-September. Since then, I added 17 total counties, and 23 counties to the driven-to list. The new totals, out of 3,098 nationwide counties: 522 for my car (16.9%), 908 for me (29.3%). I need 22 more counties to reach 30%. Almost there!

The car total of 522 is significant, because it's a final count. My 1998 Saturn SC2 has taken its last road trip. Thus, the red counties in the map you see above, and the 522 counties in 24 states...that's it. On Wednesday, I'll talk about why I got rid of the car and got a new one two days ago.

Some more final statistics about the travels of my car:
- Final mileage: 166,731, well short of my goal. But at least 166,731 has an interesting prime factorization: 3*149*373.
- Farthest north: near Cape North, Nova Scotia (2007) - on Cape Breton Island along the Cabot Trail
- Farthest south: Key West, FL (2002) - not necessarily at the "Southernmost Point", but close enough
- Farthest east: near Main-a-Dieu, Nova Scotia (2007) - also on Cape Breton Island, along the Marconi Trail
- Farthest west: New Orleans, LA (2004) - at the southern end of the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway

So, back to the counties. What about North Carolina? I've now visited 97-of-100 North Carolina counties. The three counties that remain:
- Pamlico County, located along the coast.
- Lincoln County, located just northwest of Charlotte.
- Mitchell County, located in the mountains.
I could probably knock out Lincoln and Mitchell with one trip, but Pamlico will require its own special trip. But at least I got all of the really remote counties out of the way already.

I'm also posting a "Nights By County" update today, and since it's the second post, and blogs are shown in the order of most-recent to least-recent, that post is above.

Tuesday: "Curling Recap: 11/2/07". I guess this would have been "Curling Recap #10" if I kept the count going, but I don't feel like looking up what the count is up to every time.