Wednesday, December 31, 2008

See You Next Year! Har dee har har

Chances are, someone - most likely a co-worker - has said "See you next year!" to you this week. Hilarious! Usually when someone says that, you're not going to see him/her again for a while, but in this case, it only means next week, or maybe even tomorrow! How clever!

Or...not. The "joke" has gotten old. I will no longer say "see you next year" in the month of December.

Actually, taken literally, "See you next year!" does not necessarily mean "Won't see you again before next year!" even though that's how it's generally interpreted. So really, I could tell someone "See you next year!" anytime of year and it would be accurate for most people.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The DUI Plate

I don't know how common this is across the country, but if you get convicted of a DUI in Ohio, you might have to drive with one of these license plates for a while. Bright yellow with bright red lettering, it really stands out. Personally, I like this idea. It's a "scarlet letter" for the 21st century! I think all states should do something like this. If a fine or license suspension isn't enough of a deterrent, maybe public humiliation is.

No word on whether or not these special plates have county stickers on them.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Driving Around Lowe's Motor Speedway

So, why did we drive to Charlotte a couple of Saturdays ago, anyway?

By buying tickets to the NASCAR All-Star race this year, Amber was placed on the speedway's email list. That week, she got an email advertising a special offer. Drive your personal car three laps around Lowe's Motor Speedway for $25! I'm sure that seems rather pricey to 99 out of 100 people (at least), especially considering that the speedway is a 2½-hour drive away. But for me, it was a day well spent. Besides, given current gas prices, driving to Charlotte and back is not a major expense ($15 round trip).


As you would expect, they didn't let you go around the track "unrestricted". There were two pace cars, one at the front, and one at the back. (They were sure to point out that the pace cars were Toyota Camrys.) I expected the pace to be somewhere around 55 mph, but it was actually much faster:


Weee! In retrospect, maybe I should have switched the display to kilometers per hour; 145 on the speedometer would have looked a lot more impressive. I didn't drive 90 mph the whole time, though. The actual pace car speed was around 75 or 80. But we were able to speed up, slow down, and even pass other cars as we pleased. I actually had a hard time keeping up at first. When you're driving around a high-banked turn at speed, you have to give it a lot of gas in order to maintain speed. You can also feel the downward G-forces in the turns, even at only 80 to 90 mph. I can only imagine what it's like going around those turns at 150 mph.


We had the Garmin GPS with us, but the Garmin map software did not have the speedway on the map itself. That's too bad, because it would have been nice to see "Driving on Lowe's Motor Speedway" on the display. Some race tracks actually do appear on Google Maps, for example, Pocono Raceway.

Now for the obligatory video game comparison...



Come to think of it, this would probably be even more fun at night. But I imagine powering the track lighting system isn't particularly cheap. $25/car might not cover it.

This qualifies as the type of activity that doesn't need to be done more than once. However, Amber says she might want to go back another time with her car. If so, I'd be more than happy to ride along.

Toledo Weather

When you drive north for Christmas, you never know what you're going to get. Here's the wide variety of weather we encountered during our trip to Toledo:

Wednesday (12/24): Rain for most of the northbound drive in West Virginia and Ohio
Thursday (12/25): Low of 15°F, high of 23°F
Friday (12/26): Freezing rain in the morning, causing widespread road closures and car accidents in the Toledo area
Saturday (12/27): A record high of 65°F; the previous record was 60°F
Sunday (12/28): Wind gusts of over 50 mph

Fun, eh? Here's guessing the weather won't be quite so interesting in Jacksonville this weekend.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

In today's politcally correct world where people are too easily offended, I've decided to just say "Happy Holidays" to everyone rather than "Merry Christmas" - sometimes, even when I know people are Christian. Uh oh, but does this offend some Christians? I can't win.

Well, anyway, there won't be a whole lot of blogging this week or next. But there may not be zero blogging, either. We'll see how it goes. I don't expect much readership this week or next, so I won't make it a priority. January 5th, we'll be back to "normal".

It's been a year since I ditched the standard "one post per day" format, and the result was more posts (303 last year; 414 so far this year), but probably less content. I think the blog is at its best when discussing our road trips to strange places, and there was a lot more of that last year than this year. And unfortunately, there probably won't be much more next year, either. But we will make a trip somewhere interesting next year. We just have to figure out where.

As for this week and next, it's off to - surprise! - Toledo and Jacksonville. It's a good thing we like driving so much.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The SAP Button

Occasionally, a television program will inform you that you can listen to the program in Spanish by pressing you SAP button on your remote. Cool, right? Except how many of you actually have an SAP button on your remote? I've never seen it.

Well, as it turns out, there is an SAP button on my DirecTV remote - sort of. It's the "green button", and I only discovered it by accident. Some programs advertise "secondary audio" on the program guide, and this secondary audio is often advertised as Spanish. (SAP stands for Secondary Audio Program.) However, on most of these programs, the secondary audio sounds just like the primary audio! Bummer. I have been able to pick up the Spanish feed from time to time, however, although this is very rare.

One time, a hockey game gave me the SAP button option. The secondary audio wasn't Spanish, but it wasn't English, either. Instead, the secondary audio had the announcers muted. No play-by-play, and no commentary, just the sounds of the game. Why don't all televised sporting events give you this option?

Mitchell County: You're Next

We were in the Charlotte area on Saturday (I'll divulge why we were there once we get some pictures organized). While we were there, I wanted to take advantage of our proximity to one of two North Carolina counties I had yet to visit: Lincoln County. And it was done.

I have now visited 99 of North Carolina's 100 counties; only Mitchell County remains. Mitchell County is a bit out of the way, so it won't be quite as easy. But we'll be there before the end of 2009. I can almost guarantee it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Minute, 35 Seconds

I've been doing this restaurant serving time business for a while now - over 14 years. But never have I witnessed a performance quite like yesterday at Stamey's BBQ in Greensboro. The record for "fastest serving time ever" used to be 4:00 at Waffle Shop in State College, but Stamey's obliterated the record, serving our food in 1:35. How did they do it?

Well, needless to say, the food at Stamey's isn't exactly "cooked to order". It's a traditional barbecue joint with a very short menu, so just about everything on the menu has already been prepared back in the kitchen. All they really need to do is plop it on a plate and bring it out. That said, Stamey's is hardly the only barbecue joint we've been to, and they've all taken longer in the past. Our first visit to Stamey's was over eight minutes. So, maybe we just got lucky this time around. Or, maybe the waitress noticed that I started my timer when she took my order. And just to clear the air, Stamey's BBQ is absolutely eligible for the competition. It is a traditional sit-down restaurant where patrons sit in an area completely separate from the kitchen, and where waiters and waitresses take your order and bring it out to you. One could claim that this place is "fast food in disguise", but nonetheless, they fit all of the criteria for a sit-down restaurant.

Either way, congratulations, Stamey's: you will be forever immortalized in Chris Allen statistical lore. There is no such thing as an unbreakable record, but this one is going to very, very, very tough for anyone to beat.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quarter Collection Complete

With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii, I've completed my collection of all 50 state quarters. Hooray!

My grandmother deserves almost all of the credit, because over the past few years, she's been sending me the latest state quarters almost as soon as they're released. I guess she goes to the bank and gets them herself, or something. That's about the only reliable way to get the newest quarters, because rarely do I stumble across them in circulation. Sure, there are plenty of Connecticut and Virginia quarters in circulation, but I don't think I've seen any Oregon quarters floating around. I think collectors are keeping all the new quarters for themselves.

While my collection is now complete, I doubt it's worth much more than the $12.50 its 50 quarters represent, because my collection isn't exactly rare. How many people do you think have been collecting these quarters? Ten thousand? One million? Not even close. According to the U.S. Mint, the number of people collecting state quarters is 147 million. Yikes! Talk about being one of many...

But how many of those 147 million actually have a completed collection? Well, all I know is that I have one. And I can only assume my grandmother also has one.

Bandwagon Fan, or Dedicated Fan?

Tonight offers a true test regarding what kind of sports fan I am. Am I a bandwagon fan, who follows whichever team is "hot"? Or am I dedicated fan, who sticks with my team no matter how bad the team is? We'll find out tonight, based on which sporting event I choose to watch. I can either watch the Jacksonville Jaguars play a meaningless game (for them) against Indianapolis, or I can watch the Penn State women's volleyball team in the NCAA national semifinals. Watching the Jaguars would make me a dedicated fan; watching Penn State volleyball would make me a bandwagon fan.

My allegiance to the Jaguars is the strongest of all of my non-collegiate sports allegiances. No matter how bad the team gets, I would never claim any other NFL team as my favorite. Nonetheless, the team is 5-9 and out of the running for any kind of a playoff spot, so there isn't a whole lot of "buzz" surrounding tonight's game. Sure, they could "play spoiler" and slightly decrease the Colts' playoff chances, but that's nothing more than a lame consolation prize that will be forgotten as soon as the season is over. Which, one could say the Jaguars' season is already over. Does it really matter whether they win or lose tonight? Not really. But if I claim to be a dedicated Jaguars fan, I should watch, right?

Meanwhile, the only reason I know anything about Penn State women's volleyball is because they're good. They're very good, in fact. They're the defending national champions, and they haven't lost a single game (or even a single set) all season. But it's not like I'm just now jumping on the bandwagon. I've been following the team's progress periodically all season. And tonight's national semifinal would be the third, not the first, Penn State volleyball game I've watched this season. And, of course, I actually went to the school. So why would watching Penn State's match against Nebraska make me a bandwagon fan? Because let's face it. If the team wasn't good, I would pay as much attention to Penn State volleyball as I do Florida State volleyball: zero. (Side comment: we can't call this the women's volleyball "Final Four"; the NCAA has that term reserved for basketball only. During last week's regional final broadcast, the announcers resisted even mentioning the words "Final Four".)

So, which will it be? Meaningless football involving my favorite professional sports team, or a national semifinal featuring a team I only care about because they're good? Well, here's your answer: I'm watching the volleyball game. Let's go State! Beat the Cornhuskers! Hooray bandwagon fandom!

UPDATE 9:55p: The volleyball game isn't even going to start until 10:05, which is ridiculous, so I'm over it. I guess I don't care about volleyball that much after all. Oh well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Downsizing at the Cheez-It Factory

I buy at least one box of Cheez-Its almost every week. And unless one of the smaller boxes is on sale, it's always the one-pound box (a.k.a. "the pounder"). The standard non-sale Kroger price for Cheez-Its is $3.00/box. Not too unreasonable.

Well, anyway, this week at the store, I reached for the Cheez-It boxes at the same shelf location as always, with the same price tag as always ($3/box). But when I got home, I noticed something was wrong. These weren't one pound boxes. These were 13.7 ounce boxes! I guess you could say they're "downsizing".

Actually, it's smart business. Instead of increasing the price of "the pounder" and risk losing customers, they reduced the size of the box by 2.3 ounces, kept the price the same, and hoped nobody would notice. Well, the gig is up, Sunshine. We're on to you.

"Two Men and a Truck": Catchy AND Accurate

In preparation for next month's move, yesterday we booked a moving company to help us move the large, bulky stuff (bookshelves, washing machines, etc) that we don't have big enough cars or muscles to move ourselves. So, naturally, we chose the moving company with the best logo: Two Men and a Truck.

Actually, the logo isn't the only reason we chose them. They have a good reputation. Except that each location is independently owned and operated, which means you never know what you're going to get from location to location. You know, kind of like with Best Westerns and Super 8 Motels.

Anyway, you'd never guess that they're going to provide us with, well, two men and a truck. Duh. Of course they would. If we needed three men and a truck, or two men and no truck, we'd go hire someone else.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Time To Start Packing, Again

Perhaps I should change the name of the house-related tag from "housing search" to something else that doesn't imply that we haven't found a house yet. But that would be a lot of work. At this point, we're pretty much set, and there's no turning back. One month from today, we'll be homeowners! And as long as we have the job security that we think we do, we'll be able to pay for it, too!

But now begins the painful process of packing. (Unintended alliteration!) So far, packing has been as much "getting rid of stuff" as it has been actual "packing". Obviously, the only stuff we can pack now are things that we don't use on a regular basis, or at all. This would include the vast majority of our books (including this gem - yes, we still have all of our grad school textbooks), and anything else that isn't doing much more than sitting on our bookshelves. So, now, we have a bunch of very heavy boxes.

The next packing step might be taking down decorations, including the map room. The plan is to construct a new map room in our new house, including some new maps and replacements for maps that Rolo (the cat) liked to play with, such as the Florida map. I'm sure Rolo doesn't hold any anti-Florida grudge; the Florida map is just in a very vulnerable position. Maybe next time, we'll put a different state in the most vulnerable position. Any recommendations?

We still have a long way to go, but that's why we started packing a month in advance. And even after we move, we still won't be done. Since our apartment lease doesn't run out for another six weeks after we move, the plan is to postpone all cleaning until after all of our stuff is out of there. It will be much easier that way, after all.

Curling Recap: 12/12/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Their team..... 00003321 | 09
Our team....... 11120000 | 05

After closing out the season with five consecutive losses, I think it's fair to say that we didn't play so well. I think the biggest problem was our tendency to give up a high-scoring end or two. And, when we scored, it was often only one or two. I'm not sure why that is, but perhaps that's what happens when you miss a lot of take-outs. I'm not thrilled about finishing the season in 8th place out of ten teams, but at least we got a lot of free drinks out of it.

The next league season begins in next January, with possibly as many as twelve teams. Until then, it's time to advertise!

The Triangle Curling Club is hosting a "Learn To Curl" session on Friday, January 9th. If you're in the Raleigh-Durham area, and would like to try your hand at curling before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, come on out! Click here for more information. It's only $10, all you have to bring are warm clothes, and you'll be experienced enough for full league participation as soon as the session is over.

As you might expect, the Winter Olympics always increase interest in curling, and the club usually sees a spike in interest and "Learn To Curl" attendance shortly after each Winter Olympics. But given how much the club has grown, even in these past non-Olympic years, can a second night of weekly curling be far away?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Boring Post About Insurance

Earlier in the week, I said that I wouldn't even ask State Farm for a quote on homeowners insurance, almost assured they would be more expensive than the rest, even with the discount we would get from already having auto insurance with them. Well, I lied. I asked them or a quote, and - surprise! - they were the cheapest. No kidding. Hey, it works for us. I'm glad I didn't have to resort to NASCAR sponsorship to decide which insurance company to go with.

I'm glad we got most of of the house purchase logistics out of the way before Christmas. That was the plan, after all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dropping Sporting News Radio Like It's Hot

Back in January, I talked about Raleigh's newest sports talk radio station (99.9 FM), and how they picked up Sporting News Radio only because ESPN and FOX were already taken. (That post also featured an uncapitalized, incomplete sentence. Hooray proofreading!) I'm sure every radio station stuck with Sporting News Radio would switch to ESPN or Fox Sports if they could.

"Lo and behold", as soon as ESPN Radio became available in Raleigh, 99.9 started broadcasting it the very next day. (Well, the very next business day.) That leaves me to wonder what's going to happen to 620. "The Bull" has plenty of programming to replace ESPN on weekday mornings and afternoons, but what about nights and weekends? Surely, there aren't enough independent sports radio programs or live sporting events to fill 168 hours of air time every week. Does 620 have to resort to Sporting News Radio to fill those hours? If so, I wish them the best of luck.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NASCAR HotPass? Nope

Last week, I mentioned that I was considering getting NASCAR HotPass next season. I've never considered it in the past, my rationale being, "I can already watch the races end-to-end as it is. Why would I want to pay extra for a few extra camera angles and in-car camera shots?" Thing is, though, if you really like NASCAR (as I do), then there is a lot of appeal to having dedicated in-car camera and radio feeds featuring various drivers, along with additional race commentators, and no commercials (I think - don't know that for sure), as opposed to just the same old race broadcast, which I almost always record in advance, and then fast-forward through much of in an effort to get to the final 50 laps as quickly as possible. I would think that NASCAR HotPass makes the first two-thirds of the race a lot more interesting. So, I was actually considering buying it next year. That is, until it was cancelled.

According to the linked article (from The Daly Planet), the problem with NASCAR HotPass was that it wasn't profitable. Unlike in other sports packages, where regional sports networks do all of the work, NASCAR HotPass was a bunch of extra stuff that wouldn't exist otherwise. And that extra stuff isn't free. Hey, NASCAR, here's an idea. If you wanted more subscriptions, then why did you give DirecTV the exclusive rights? You're not the NFL; people are not going to switch from cable to DirecTV just for you. Especially since - like I said - the races are already on TV anwyay.

Oh well. I'll save my $99 and buy something else I don't need.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Radio Gimmicks That Actually Work

The local rock station is playing every single song on their playlist in alphabetical order, from A to Z. Hey, that's like something I would do! And it's actually gotten me to listen to their station once again, at least until they're done. It's taking them a few days, but it might take substantially less time if there wasn't so much mindless, uninteresting chatter between songs, which is one reason I switched to other stations in the first place. Another reason is because mainstream rock stations keep playing the same music over and over; at least during this alphabetic exercise, you get to hear some songs that don't get played very often.

One thing is bothering me, though. They played "No More" after "No More Mr. Nice Guy". Shouldn't "No More" have come first?

?!

Whose idea was it to put the question mark and exclamation point on opposite ends of the keyboard? Seems to me they should be right next to each other.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Curling Recap: 12/5/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Their team..... 04321000 | 10
Our team....... 10000111 | 04

This was the last game of the "regular season", and it didn't go so well. After starting out 3-1, we've now lost our last four, so we'll be in the 7th-place game next week. (The league has 10 teams.) But hey, that's better than being in the 9th-place game, which I believe is taking place in a nearby bar.

Here's a fun stat. Since we've gotten married, Amber and I have yet to win a game together, going 0-4. Uh oh...

Actually, let me attribute our streaks to a couple of things. Two of our three wins were against the eventual 9th and 10th place teams, which we played during the first half of the season. During the losing streak, two of the games were against teams that had two skip-caliber players, due to normal team members (usually the lead or second, or both) being unavailable. Let's face it - replacing an inexperienced lead with an experienced skip makes your team a lot better. The third loss was when I was the skip, and it was against the eventual 2nd-place team. In the fourth loss, we lost by two after leading with two ends to play. So we haven't been playing that poorly, really. And, my all-time record is still 10 games over .500. And unlike in hockey, .500 actually means .500.

In other Triangle Curling Club news (I've slacked off on getting the name of the club in these posts), the club just purchased some used curling stones from a now-defunct club near Ottawa. Yes, the stones are used, but they're a substantial improvement over some of the mix-and-match stones we've been using. After all, that's how the pecking order of curling stones goes: Canada, then North Carolina. And given the current US -> CAN exchange rate, now is the time to buy Canadian curling stones! As for the old stones, I think the club is going to sell them to whoever would like to decorate their living room with a curling stone or two. Hmm...

Housing Update: 12/8/08

It's been a month since the last update, so you might think that everything is going smoothly, considering that most of my blog space is spent complaining about things. You would be correct. The home inspection did not yield any serious problems, and most of the problems that were found, the current owners agreed to fix between now and closing, which is on January 15th. I think that date is pretty well set by now.

Following the inspection, the next step was to get all of the loan paperwork taken care of. We've filled out all the forms and given the lender all that they need (at least as far as we know), so we're all set there. And we've already secured what we think is an excellent interest rate (5.25% for a 30-year fixed mortgage). Hooray recession! There's a chance we could have gotten an even lower interest rate if we held out longer, but there is no guarantee interest rates will keep going down. Over the past year, interest rates really haven't changed much over the long term, and there continues to be up-and-down fluctuation. It's like looking for the cheapest gas on an interstate. You see a sign for reasonably cheap gas at the next exit. Do you stop, or do you try holding out for even cheaper gas? Except with mortgage rates, you stand to gain or lose thousands of dollars based on when you "fill up", as opposed to just a dollar or two.

Now, it's time to get quotes for homeowners insurance. There are a lot of insurance companies out there. How do we choose? Well, we could start with our auto insurance company, but everyone says State Farm will be more expensive. (It's also more expensive for car insurance, but customer service - State Farm's strength - is more important for auto insurance than home insurance, since auto accidents are far more frequent than fires and tree collapses.) So, they're out. Now, we could always "break the tie" the same way I break the tie with home improvement warehouses. (NASCAR sponsorship works, folks!) But something about Nationwide makes me a little uneasy, so maybe we should just do like everyone suggests and get as many quotes as we can, starting with insurance companies that people we know use, and go with the lowest bidder. We're starting that process today.

As far as I know, the only other thing we have to do between now and January is pack up our stuff. Not really looking forward to that. But at least this will be our last move for a while. Hopefully.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Neutral...Reverse...Same Thing, Right?

I've been keeping track of how many times I stall my car, going back to when I bought it 13 months ago. (My car is manual transmission.) I stalled it quite frequently at first, since it requires a little more gas and/or less clutch to get going than my previous car. But once I figured it out, I stopped stalling altogether. Until Wednesday morning, that is.

But it wasn't first gear acceleration that was the problem. I was sitting in the parking lot with the car idling, waiting for another car to pass before I backed out of my parking space. I thought I was in neutral, so I popped the clutch. But...I was in reverse. Whoops! I'm actually surprised that hasn't happened more often.

So, I went 334 days without stalling the car. No small feat if you ask me. Oh well, time to begin a new streak...

College Football Saturday: 12/6/08

The last one of the season! This week, to artifically increase the apparent number of games, I'm including lower division playoff games on this list.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - ACC Championship, Boston College v. Virginia Tech, 100p, ABC: In my book, Boston College sucks all the life out of the ACC and the ACC Championship. If this game was between two real ACC teams, this would be a lot more interesting. Who down here cares about Boston College? And how many fans are going to make the trip from Boston to Tampa for this game? The ACC Championship was not very well attended when it was played in Jacksonville, and I doubt that's going to change much this year.
Game 2 - Albany v. Jacksonville, 130p, YES: The Ivy League and the SWAC are not the only conferences in I-AA/FCS football who do not send their conference champion to the NCAA Tournament. Upon hearing that Jacksonville University won the Pioneer League, I was excited! And then, disappointed to learn that their only reward for their conference championship was an extra game against Albany. Oh well, at least it'll be on television, somewhere.
Game 3 - Army v. Navy, 1200p, CBS: Classic.
Game 4 - Conference USA Championship, East Carolina at Tulsa, 1200p, ESPN2: Even though it's Conference USA, this game might still prove entertaining, because it's the conference championship.
Game 5 - Weber State at Montana, 200p, Altitude: I'm disappointed that the Appalachian State playoff game is not televised this week. (It's on ESPN GamePlan,
Game 6 - Minnesota-Duluth at California (PA), 1200p, ESPN Classic: This is a Division II semifinal. If only Indiana (PA) was also involved...
Game 7 - Pittsburgh at Connecticut, 1200p, ESPN: Less interesting to me than lower-division playoffs.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - SEC Championship, Alabama v. Florida, 400p, CBS: Roll tide! But you know, regardless of who ends up in the national championship, I'm not sure if I'll watch, because I don't care to see any of these teams win. You know, I think I've said this every year since the last time Florida State was in the national championship game.
Game 2 - USC at UCLA, 430p, ABC: I'd just like to remind everyone that USC has NOT clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl yet.
Game 3 - Washington at California, 300p, FSN: Oh, I thought Washington's season was already done for some reason. Hey, one more chance to win!
Game 4 - Northern Alabama at Northwest Missouri State, 400p, ESPN2

Time slot 3

Game 1 - South Florida at West Virginia, 800p, ESPN2: With all due respect to USF's final game of the season, and the Big XII Championship, I will probably not spend the evening watching football.
Game 2 - Big XII Championship, Missouri v. Oklahoma, 800p, ABC
Game 3 - New Hampshire at Northern Iowa, 700p, MASN
Game 4 - Arizona State at Arizona, 900p, ESPN
Game 5 - Cincinnati at Hawaii, 1130p, ESPN2: Definitely won't be up this late.

Well, that's it for college football. Now what?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Too Much Sports?

DirecTV provides a lot of sports programming on television. That's part of the reason (okay, the reason) I switched to DirecTV. But is it too much?

Right now, I have subscriptions to DirecTV's Sports Pack NHL Center Ice. NHL Center Ice gives me a handful of hockey games every night. That's fine. But between all those regional sports channels, Sports Pack gives me a lot of college basketball games on top of that. And I mean, a lot. And I feel obligated to watch as much of it as possible, simply because I feel privileged in being able to do so. Sure, Penn State and Florida State both played basketball games last night on easy-access ESPN2. So why did I feel compelled to repeatedly flip between the Oregon/Utah, Auburn/Xavier, Richmond/Old Dominion, Towson/UMBC, Alabama State/Nebraska, and UNC-Asheville/Tennessee games? Because, dammit, I could. If you were paying an extra $12/month for all of those regional sports channels, wouldn't you?

And the scary thing is, this is still far from the maximum. I could spend a lot more money on sports programming if I wanted to. There's still NFL Sunday Ticket (maybe someday), MLB Extra Innings (probably never), NBA League Pass (definitely never), NASCAR HotPass (thinking about it), and Setanta Sports (no single channel is worth $15/month, even if they do show Aussie Rules).

You could spend a fortune on this stuff if you really wanted to. But, I think I've reached (or crossed) my threshold. The more things there are on television, the harder it is to choose, focus on, and enjoy a single event. Or, maybe that's just my problem. I probably have a mild form of ADD. As soon as one team gets a double-digit lead in football or basketball, or a hockey team gets a 3-goal lead, I turn the channel. Sometimes, I'll change the channel during a 30-second timeout, and then forget about the game I was watching originally only to find that the game had already ended by the time I remember to flip back.

I would imagine people with ADD have a hard time dealing with expanded television packages. I can relate.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Travelogue: 11/30/08

When it comes to driving on Thanksgiving Wednesday or Thanksgiving Sunday, I've learned that you can't win. The best way to avoid traffic and frustration is to spend as little time on the interstates as possible. So, here's how we went home on Sunday:


This route isn't that much different than when I took US-1 all the way back, except that we took a different route through Georgia to pick up three new counties (Pierce, Jenkins, and Burke), and that I took I-20 rather than drive through Augusta and Columbia. I didn't think that I-20 would be too bad, and I was right. The problem was getting onto I-20.

Congratulations, Pennsylvania! You are no longer the only state dumb enough to have stop signs at the end of interstate on-ramps! I-20 in Augusta is under construction, and every on-ramp leading onto the interstate has a stop sign right at the merge point, including the on-ramp from I-520. The line of cars waiting to turn from I-520 onto I-20 was a 30-minute wait. Who thought this was a good idea? I would think that making people stop before turning peeling out onto a high speed interstate would result in a lot of accidents. Is that not the case, or are PennDOT and GDOT just trying to help out the local car repair business?

And by the way, the I-95 widening in Georgia isn't much farther along than it was four months ago. I think GDOT's motto is, "If it's not in Atlanta, who gives a crap?"

But other than that, it was a nice drive home. You know, I really like complaining about construction, don't I? It's not the fact that there is construction at all. I understand that work needs to and should get done. It's how some states deal with construction that bothers me. Why didn't I become a civil engineer? Apparently they make good money.

R.I.P.: Krackel and Mr. Goodbar?

Hershey's bag of assorted chocolate candy is a staple. Regular Hershey's, Hershey's Special Dark, Krackel, and Mr. Goodbar. Unlike the proverbial "box of chocolates", you know exactly what you're going to get with this American classic.

But, could change be on the way? I noticed in a bag recently purchased by a co-worker that Krackel and Mr. Goodbar had become "Hershey's with rice" and "Hershey's with almonds". Upon further inspection, I discovered that these candies were all special dark and not regular milk chocolate. But still, it got me thinking. It's only a matter of time before Hershey's phases out the names Krackel and Mr. Goodbar, and starts referring to those products as mere variations of the classic Hershey's bar. That is the trend these days, to use name and/or company recognition. Hershey's is already doing it with the Reese's brand. How many new types of Reese's candy bars are there? Does Mountain Dew Code Red really taste anything like regular Mountain Dew? No, but if they tried giving it a completely new name, it might not sell as well. Given that Krackel and Mr. Goodbar aren't really sold on their own anymore, I think it might be time to drop their individual names and start emphasizing the Hershey's brand name.

Monday, December 01, 2008

How To Break a Three-Way Tie

If you follow college football, you already know that the Big XII South ended in a three-way tie between Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma. All three teams went 1-1 in games against each other, and undefeated against everybody else - the worst possible situation for a tie-breaker - so the Big XII reverted to the BCS standings and awarded Oklahoma the division title. Fair or foul?

Actually, I think it's as fair as it can get. Not so much because human opinion played a role in the outcome, but because Oklahoma has a decided edge in the computer rankings. I've always been a proponent of computer rankings, so if an objective formula says Oklahoma is most deserving, then so be it. Then again, this basically means the tiebreaker was decided by each team's non-conference strength-of-schedule. Texas Tech, this is what you get for scheduling UMass, Eastern Washington, SMU, and Nevada. At least Oklahoma played a ranked team (TCU) and an eventual BCS conference champion (Cincinnati). In a perfect world, non-conference games should not decide a conference championship, but college football is hardly a perfect world.

How else could the Big XII have broken the tie? Let's investigate the possibilities...

- Point differential. Whether you consider the three games these teams played against each other, common opponents in the rest of the conference, or the entire conference schedule, it's entirely fair. But it's politically incorrect in college sports to run up the score, so it's not practical.
- Away games. Many soccer leagues use "away goals" - most goals scored away from home - to break a two-game aggregate tie. Could the same principle be applied to the Big XII South? Well, if you ignore points scored for the reasons stated above and focus on where the games in the round-robin were played, then yes. Oklahoma/Texas was at a neutral site; Texas played at Texas Tech, and Texas Tech played at Oklahoma. This would give the tie-breaker to Texas, having played one road game and one neutral game.
- Conference strength-of-schedule. Not every team plays the same conference schedule with respect to the Big XII North. This tiebreaker would be luck of the draw, but isn't basically any three-way tiebreaker completely arbitrary? (This wouldn't work anyway, since Oklahoma and Texas Tech both played the same conference schedule.)
- The team that has gone the longest without winning the division or conference title. This is the tie-breaker the Rose Bowl uses, I think. Personally, I think it's dumb, because prior seasons should have no bearing on what happens this season.
- Flip a coin a few times. Hey, why not?

This looks messy, but it's not a "worst case scenario" with respect to tie-breakers. All Oklahoma, Texas, or Texas Tech had to do to avoid controversy was not lose any games. A worse scenario would have been if two Big Ten teams who don't play each other during the season both went undefeated. Then what? Do we have an all-Big Ten national championship? Now that is a worst-case scenario.

1,000 Holes of Disc Golf At One Course

While in Jacksonville last weekend, I played my 1,000th hole of disc golf at the local course (Fore Palms DGC at Ed Austin Park). And having recently played my 4,000th hole of disc golf total, I guess that means one out of every four holes of disc golf I've played is at one course.

How long before another course reaches the 1,000 hole mark? Well, considering that no North Carolina course has even reached 200 holes - 192 is the highest - it'll be a while. There are too many courses in the Triangle for me to justify playing at the same course every time. But in Jacksonville, Fore Palms is the only 18-hole course in town.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Publix Likes Green

(On location in Jacksonville, FL.)

While in Jacksonville, we made the customary trip to Publix. Even though Publix's prices are higher than they used to be, and Publix isn't really that much different than Harris Teeter (which generally has even higher prices), they still have really good chocolate chip cookies, among other things.

But I did notice that Publix seems to be pushing the color green more than they have in the past. Green has always been Publix's color, but only now do all of the employees wear green polo shirts. When I worked there, we had gray shirts with blue trim. But now we're in a world where "green" is "trendy", so I guess Publix is trying to market themselves as a "green" supermarket. For instance, in front of the store, they have recycle bins for you to return your used grocery bags (paper and plastic) from last time. So, good for them. And, they still have really good chocolate chip cookies.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Interstate 99 Is Going ALL THE WAY

I criticize PennDOT a lot - pretty much every time I drive through Pennsylvania - but evidently, they got something done. Interstate 99 is now all-the-way complete. Hooray! If I still lived there, no doubt, I would have already taken the new road by now. (Well, if the roads have been plowed since yesterday's snow. That's never a guarantee in Centre County.) While I was at Penn State, a completion prediction of 2008 seemed realistic. It's nice to know that PennDOT can match my pessimistic expectations.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me until now, the "Lewistown Narrows" construction project (US-22/322 east of Lewistown) was completed almost a year ago. That was another project I for which I expected a 2008 completion, so they actually did it "ahead of schedule". We've been to State College twice since then, and thus missed two opportunities to take that road. Maybe next time... (It's possible somebody told me it was complete, and that I forgot, or something. I apologize if that's the case.)

So, how long before they have to close a lane or two on the new I-99 for repaving?

Nights By County, 2008 Final: Jumping the Gun

I think we know where we're spending the holiday season, and how long we're going to be there. And since I don't have much other blog material today, let's see what we have!

Here are the projected year-end totals:
Wake NC - 326
Lucas OH - 11
Duval FL - 8
Centre PA - 4
Others - 17 (See By the Numbers for the complete list.)

If the projections hold, then both Lucas (Toledo) and Duval (Jacksonville) will have exactly the same counts as they did last year. Weird. Centre went down from 17 to 4, and Wake just about made up the difference, increasing from 314 to 326. That's what happens when your love interest moves in with you. The "Others" count also stayed about the same, increasing from 15 to 17. (Remember that this year was a leap year.)

This will be the "last hurrah" for Wake County, since our new house is in Durham County. At the end of 2008, I'll have spent a total of 805 nights in Wake County; the grand total will be between 820 and 840 depending on when we move our "essentials" into the house. Where does that rank Wake County on the all-time list? Let's find out!

With a grossly estimated total of between 6,500 and 7,000 nights, Duval County, FL is far and away in first place. Centre County, PA has between 550 and 600 nights (including weekend trips after I moved out) and is in fourth. But how does Wake County compare to Leon County, FL (Tallahassee)?

Speaking in start-to-finish terms, I was at Florida State (45 months) longer than I will have lived in Wake County (31 months). BUT, during my time at FSU, I spent every summer, winter break, and spring break, in addition to every third or fourth weekend, somewhere other than Tallahassee. That's a big chunk of time - probably about 4½ months per year. That leaves 7½ months in Tallahassee for each year at FSU, and that comes out to between 900 and 925 nights spent in Leon County in my life. So, there you have it: Leon County is second and Wake County is third, but only by about three months.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Let's Refuel America: Revisited

Hey, remember that "lock in your gas price at $2.99/gal" promotion that Chrysler had over the summer? How's that working out for everyone?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Jack Is Back

Remember that show "24"? It's back! Tonight! Well, sort of. Does tonight's two-hour "prequel" count as part of the series? Or is it a separate entity - a "made-for-TV movie", if you will? Given that it has its own title ("Redemption"), I'm going with "separate made-for-TV movie".

Either way, I'm highly looking forward to it. The DVR has been set. And I know a little bit about what to expect, but not much. With "24", I find that the less I know going in, the more I enjoy the show. So, I don't know the plot besides what's shown in the commercials - something about Africa and a female president, or something. I also don't know if this is going to be in real-time over two hours, or if it'll be over 24 hours with portions in real-time, or another time frame entirely. I'm sure this information can all be obtained online, but what's the fun in that?

Either way, once the season starts, I'll be resurrecting the "Random Thoughts on '24'" feature that I used to have waaaaaay back when this show was last on the air, except this time they'll be separate posts, complete with its own tag.

Curling Recap: 11/21/08

End............ 12345678 TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 30001200 06
Their team..... 01330052 14


Our team's usual skip had a prior obligation last Friday, so that means skip-hood falls to the next guy in line: me. Being the skip means calling all of the shots and the strategy. Obviously, I didn't do so well, but at least we did better than last week. I did not expect to win. Maybe that was the problem?

Actually, the problem was that I had trouble lining up the shots, particularly the take-outs. If the skip doesn't know where to put the broom (which the shooter uses as his/her target), then most of the time, the take-out isn't going to work. And when you miss a lot of take-outs, that means the other team can keep throwing rocks into the house while you keep throwing rocks out of play. That's how the other team managed to put up two 3-enders and a 5-ender. ("X-ender" simply means "scoring X points in an end", with an "8-ender" being the ultimate.)

One who isn't that familiar with curling might say, "Well, if you want to hit another stone, why not just aim for it? Duh." Not so in curling. As implied by the name of the game/sport, the stones don't go straight. Under normal conditions, you place the broom (e.g. target) anywhere from one to several feet away from where you actually want to the stone to go, and then instruct the shooter to give the stone an "in turn" or "out turn" to make the stone curl. Thing is, a stone with draw weight will curl a lot more than a stone with take-out weight, so it's not always going to curl the same amount each time. Add to that the zamboni-induced valleys, and it's not easy. And I'm not good at it. Yet. More often than not, I gave "too much ice" (allowing for too much curl).

But we did have some success. Amber's two shots in the first end, including a perfectly-executed hit-and-roll, were outstanding. My best shot of the night was the last shot of the 5th end, which went something like this: (our team = red)


There wasn't any room to draw to the button, so my call was to raise our best rock (#1) just enough to beat out the best yellow rock (#2). It was pretty sweet. As the skip, it's my responsibility to at least make some good throws, seeing as how I'm the last person to shoot for our team. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly a Pontiac Game-Changing Performance (TM).

Calling the strategy was a lot of fun, though. As implied by the unusually long length of this curling recap, I enjoyed being the skip. (Amber also enjoyed being my vice-skip.) If I stick with this curling thing for a while, I think I have a future as a skip. But not for a few years. For now, I'll stick with being a substitute skip.

Friday, November 21, 2008

College Football Saturday: 11/22/08

I guess college football season is almost over, isn't it? Well, for some teams, it is. Why does the Big Ten insist on finishing its season two weeks before the other conferences? Maybe that's why they keep losing BCS bowl games.

By the way, some may call this "Rivalry Week", but it's only "Rivalry Week" for some teams. Many rivalry games are either next weekend or the weekend after. There is no such thing as "Rivalry Week" anymore.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - NC State at North Carolina, 1200p, Raycom: This game is often played earlier in the season, but maybe they've moved it back to late November in order to be part of that mythical "Rivalry Week"?
Game 2 - Clemson at Virginia, 1200p, Raycom: The first Raycom game is on WRAL; the second is on the previously mentioned over-the-air 5.2. Unlike with other local channels such as ABC, NBC, and FOX, My apartment has a hard time picking up the WRAL over-the-air feed, making these games rather unwatchable. Oh well.
Game 3 - West Virginia at Louisville, 1200p, ESPN: The Big East plays until the very last week of the season, possibly in order to get more games on television.
Game 4 - Michigan at Ohio State, 1200p, ABC: You know, I really don't care this year. But I'd be lying if I said I wouldn't at least keep tabs on it.
Game 5 - Indiana at Purdue, 1200p, ESPN2: Rivalry games are fun, but rivalry games between bottom-feeding teams are even better. But it gets even better later in the day.
Game 6 - Colorado State at Wyoming, 200p, the mtn
Game 7 - Army at Rutgers, 1200p, SNY: Is this considered a rivalry?

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Michigan State at Penn State, 330p, ESPN: You better win this game, Lions.
Game 2 - Washington at Washington State, 300p, FSN: Yes! I am looking forward to this game more than I should. Washington has no wins; Washington State has one win (against Portland State, which doesn't really count in my book). But the only thing worse than all of that would be if you also lost to your fiercest rival, a rival who is just as bad as you are. Think about it. How would you feel if ythe only team your rival beat all season was you? That would have to hurt. This is what college football is all about.
Game 3 - Boston College at Wake Forest, 330p, ABC: I'm sick of both teams. Can they both lose?
Game 4 - Boise State at Nevada, 400p, ESPN2: Haven't seen Boise State yet this year.
Game 5 - Air Force at TCU, 330p, Versus
Game 6 - Ole Miss at LSU, 330p, CBS: Honestly, the SEC hasn't been as interesting this year. It's been too "top heavy". This game really doesn't matter a whole lot.
Game 7 - Syracuse at Notre Dame, 230p, NBC: Amber hasn't been watching or caring about Notre Dame that much lately. Maybe she won't feel like it this week, either? Please?
Game 8 - Illinois at Northwestern, 330p, BTN
Game 9 - Iowa State at Kansas State, 330p, FCS
Game 10 - Marshall at Rice, 330p, CBS College
Game 11 - Cal Poly at Wisconsin, 330p, BTN: Not only does the Big Ten end their season too early, but one team - either Wisconsin, Iowa, or Minnesota - has to end one week earlier than everybody else. This year, Wisconsin gets the short straw.
Game 12 - Louisiana Tech at New Mexico State, 400p, MASN

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Florida State at Maryland, 745p, ESPN: FSU's season has been rather frustrating. As soon as I feel like we're back in the swing of things, and ready to win conference championships again, we lose to Wake Forest. Or Georgia Tech. Or Boston College. Ugh. So much for the Gator Bowl.
Game 2 - BYU at Utah, 600p, the mtn: HUGE game in the Mountain West. Too bad most of you won't be able to watch.
Game 3 - Texas Tech at Oklahoma, 800p, ABC: "Game 3?! This is the game of the weekend! And you're only putting it as the 3rd most interesting game in its own time slot?" Yup. Yes, it's a big game, but I'll be watching FSU first. And Utah is playing for a probable BCS berth. The thing that bothers me about this game is that if Oklahoma wins, then what? We have a three-way tie in the Big XII South, at which point it will become a popularity contest (BCS standings) to determine who goes to the Big XII championship game, followed by the national championship game. If only there was a better way...
Game 4 - Oregon State at Arizona, 700p, Versus: When Penn State blew away Oregon State earlier this season, was anyone thinking "Rose Bowl preview"?
Game 5 - Duke at Virginia Tech, 530p, ESPNU: I think the ACC is better than people think. Just look at Duke. They had a fairly productive non-conference schedule, including a win at Vanderbilt. Yet, they only have one ACC win. Could the argument be made that Duke would have more wins playing in any conference other than the ACC, including the SEC and Big XII? I think so.
Game 6 - Iowa at Minnesota, 700p, BTN: Playing for a pig makes a rivalry game even better.
Game 7 - Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, 715p, ESPN2: Big game in the Big East. I think.
Game 8 - UNLV at San Diego State, 800p, CBS College: By the way, "the mtn" has long has the exclusive rights to broadcast BYU/Utah for some time now. I'm sure these other networks would rather broadcast that game than UNLV and San Diego State, but sorry! Those are the breaks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

At a Time When Others Don't, This Blog Delivers

A widely circulated Nissan commercial starts out like this: "At a time when others don't, Nissan delivers." Who are these others, exactly? Who's not delivering? Who are you talking about, Nissan? If you're talking about the financial struggles of GM, Ford, and Chrysler, then that's just in bad taste, especially considering that these commercials are airing in America. People are losing their jobs, you know.

My mom had a 1985 Nissan Sentra, and it didn't work out so well. Amber has also known people who have had poor experiences with Nissan automobiles. So, I think it's safe to say that we're done with Nissan and never going back.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Something About Hockey

The NHL season started well over a month ago, and I haven't said anything about it yet. Does that mean I didn't renew my NHL Center Ice subscription? Does that mean I don't care about hockey anymore? No, and no. I just haven't found much blog-noteworthy hockey stuff to discuss. I still haven't, actually; it just happens to be a "slow week". So, here is a bunch of random hockey thoughts.

Last year, I attended one Carolina Hurricanes home game. I feel that if I live 15 minutes away from the home arena of my favorite team, it's my responsibility to attend at least one game. But this year, the plan is to attend three...for the price of one! The curling club took advantage of a two-for-one group ticket deal for groups of 20 or more, so that's two. The third game will apparently be on Amber's employer's dime as part of a 25th anniversary celebration or something. (Financially speaking, Amber's employer appears to be much better off than a lot of companies.)

On NHL Center Ice package, Carolina Hurricanes games are blacked out. BUT, when the game is not being televised locally, which happens between 15 and 20 times a year, the blackout is usually lifted. This was true on Time Warner Cable, and it's also true on DirecTV. I had the pleasure of watching a Hurricanes game in French for the second straight year. Good stuff. Compare that to the NBA and MLB, where all local-team games are blacked out whether you can get them or not, to my knowledge. (In the NHL, this is actually a network and/or team decision, not a league decision. It's up to Fox Sports Carolinas to lift blackouts of games they don't televise, which they almost always do.)

One of the reasons I got NHL Center Ice last year was for Hockey Night in Canada. This year, HNiC is broadcast on the NHL Network. So is my Center Ice purchase still worth it? Time well tell, but I think so. It's nice to have hockey on television every night of the week, and it's also nice to get those 15-20 untelevised Hurricanes games, in addition to Florida Panthers games, Canadian broadcasts, and so forth.

But enough about television coverage of hockey. What about the game itself? Well...uhh...I don't know. It's fun to watch. I try not to think to much when I watch it. It's mindless entertainment. When I watch football, I'm always thinking something like, "Well, why would you call that play?", or, "What the hell are you doing? You're supposed to be over there!" Meanwhile, with hockey, I don't know the strategy. Sure, I know the rules and everything, but I wouldn't recognize the neutral zone trap if I saw it. Like most poor athletes who never played the sport for real, I've gained most of my football knowledge through video games. But with hockey video games, it's pretty much "set up a one-timer in front of the net" on offense, and "hit the guy with the puck" on defense. And that's as complicated as it gets, because that's as complicated as you need to get to win a typical hockey video game. It's actually kind of nice to be able to just watch something without automatically dissecting what is happening and getting frustrated when my favorite team does something dumb. Ignorance is bliss, eh?

One more hockey random thought. If a team has a record of 5-5-2, most hockey analysts will call that team a ".500" team. But are they really? 5-5-2 means 5 wins, 5 regulation losses, and 2 overtime losses. So they actually have two more losses than wins, which in every other sport means "two games below .500". Even though it's technically correct to call a 5-5-2 team ".500", since they have half of the possible points in the standings, but it's misleading, because a ".500" team is not necessarily a middle-of-the-pack team. Last season in the NHL, 24 out of 30 teams finished "above .500". That bothers me a little, especially since most people on television continue to use ".500" as a standard, as if to imply that ".500" is a sufficient condition for being "above average", which it clearly is not. I'm not sure what to do about it, though, other than stop using the term ".500" in the NHL.

November Flurries

Weathermen sometimes throw around the words "summer-like" and "winter-like" when it's not appropriate, but yesterday qualified as "winter-like" in Raleigh (Cary): a high of 44°F, and flurries! Certainly somewhat unusual for November in these parts. And that's fine with me; I'd rather get unseasonably cold weather in November than in March.

Fortunately, the flurries did not cause any traffic problems. They shouldn't, but in a town where a half inch of snow results in citywide gridlock, you never know.

But now, some perspective. Canadian television, in Raleigh last night to broadcast a hockey game on TSN, called it "chilly". That's about right. If it's above freezing, I can't really call it "cold". "Chilly" works for me. Leave it up to the Canadians to provide a true perspective on what "cold" is.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

S.C.N.B.

According to some signs I saw on I-40 last weekend, Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q is rebranding themselves as "S.C.N.B." Now, I'm going to rip them apart for it.

I know "Smithfield's Chicken 'N Bar-B-Q" is a long name. But what's so bad about just calling it "Smithfield's"? Bojangles' is really Bojangles' Chicken and Biscuits, but everyone calls it Bojangles', just like everyone should be calling it Smithfield's, instead of some awkward four-letter acronym. It's not even a good acronym. Society has proven that three letters is the optimal length for an acronym. Several government agencies, companies that employ both Amber and me, and at least one other fast food chain use three-letter acronyms successfully. Four is just too many. If you're going to use a four-letter acronym, it better have at least one vowel in it so that you can sound it out instead of having to spell it. "S.C.N.B" is awful. And it's not like Smithfield's is that well known. It's a local chain. People coming from out of town see "S.C.N.B" and think, "What the hell is that?" Maybe that's why the new signs still say "Chicken N' Bar-B-Q" on them, along with "S.C.N.B." What's the point of using an acronym if you're still going to write out what three of the four letters stand for anyway? In doing so, you're admitting that nobody knows what you are, which means you have no right to be changing to an acronym in the first place. What are they trying to accomplish here, anyway? Do they really think they'll be better known by an awkward four letter abbreviation than by just "Smithfield's"?

And on top of all that, they put cole slaw on their sandwiches, which is just disgusting.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Curling Recap: 11/14/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 00000001 | 01
Their team..... 11113310 | 11

So...where do I begin? Well, really, the other team was just better than us. A lot better than us. It's just that simple.

That, and I forgot to change into long pants before we left home, meaning I curled in shorts for the first time ever. It's possible, and it probably didn't affect my game that much, but I wouldn't advise it. My right knee has a nice little bruise now. That knee isn't really supposed to be sliding on the ice anyway; ideal curling form would have only my right ankle/foot on the ice with my left foot acting as the slider. But I haven't really figured out the "ideal curling form" yet. More experienced curlers in the club have worked with me in the past, but I'm not flexible enough to pick it up right away. I'd like to work on it during a game, but then I'd basically be throwing my shots away, and I'm too competitive for that. Last Friday's game might have been a good opportunity for that, except that we couldn't let ourselves live with a shutout. I can totally understand why a football team would want to kick a field goal when losing 49-0. It's a matter of pride.

Apparently, this week, I'm going to be the skip. Speaking of not getting shut out...

4,000 Holes of Disc Golf

I played my 4,000th recorded hole of disc golf on Sunday. Yippee! And as luck would have it, it was my very last hole of the round, so 4,000 is my current total.

4,000 is not divisible by 18, but not every course is 18 holes, and circumstances (e.g. darkness, rain, crowds) sometimes prevent me from playing all the holes at a given course. Also, competitive rounds may require an extra hole or two to break a tie. All of the courses near the top of my hole count list have a count that is not divisible by 18; I have to go down to my 7th-most-played course (Cedar Hills) to find a hole count that is divisible by 18.

Since we plan to move 20 miles north and west soon, I've decided to only play courses that are closer to home now than they will be after we move. So, that's why I drove down to Jacksonville (NC) yesterday. Trips to Zebulon and Greenville (NC) won't be far behind. Then, after we move, I'll go back to playing the Durham and Chapel Hill courses.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wedding Photos

I know the wedding was seven weeks ago. Chances are, most of you are probably over it by now. But that's not going to stop me from advertising our wedding photos!

Click here to see lots of pictures of a beautiful bride and a surprisingly adequate groom.

College Football Saturday: 11/15/08

Yeah, so, last Saturday wasn't so good for Penn State fans. The first loss of the season always hurts. It doesn't matter how good or bad the team is. It always hurts.

As soon as Brad Nessler was revealed as ABC's play-by-play announcer for the Penn State v. Iowa game, I knew they might be in trouble. Between Florida State and Penn State, Brad Nessler has been part of way too many excruciating defeats. For instance:

October 12, 2002: "HE MISSED IT! WIDE LEFT!!"
October 15, 2005: "TOUCHDOWN MICHIGAN! MICHIGAN WINS!!"

Ugh. At least last week, Brad Nessler did not give us a particularly memorable call that will perpetually echo in my head.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Indiana at Penn State, 1200p, BTN: Fortunately, this week, Penn State gets to unleash their frustration on the worst team in the Big Ten.
Game 2 - Duke at Clemson, 1200p, Raycom: Let's go Duke! Bowl eligibility is still within reach!
Game 3 - Notre Dame vs Navy, 1200p, CBS: Here's something kind of funny. The local station that broadcasts Raycom ACC games, WRAL, is also the local CBS affiliate. Normally, there's no conflict, because CBS rarely broadcats a national game at noon. But this week, they're broadcasting Notre Dame and Navy at noon. So what happens? Duke and Clemson get priority, while Notre Dame and Navy get shipped off to WRAL's alternate channel (over-the-air 5.2, digital cable 256). So in other words, if I didn't buy that digital convertor box a few weeks ago, Amber wouldn't get to watch Notre Dame this week. See, Amber? It was worth it. UPDATE 11/15 12:06p: In order to provide ongoing news coverage of a tornado that happened hours ago, Duke/Clemson was bumped to 5.2, and Notre Dame/Navy was bumped completely off the air. Whoops!
Game 4 - Rutgers at South Florida, 1200p, MASN: It would be nice to see South Florida win a conference game against someone besides Syracuse.
Game 5 - Texas at Kansas, 1230p, FSN: I know this isn't likely to happen, but if what the Big XII South winner loses in the Big XII Championship? Then another Big XII South team will probably back into the national championship game, which I wouldn't be too fond of. My biggest complaint about the BCS is that you don't have to win your conference to win the national championship. I know college basketball is like that, but here's the difference. In college basketball, there are more playoff spots (64) than conferences (31), so you have to let in non-conference-champions. In football, there are 11 conferences, but only two playoff spots. Conferences are already pseudo-playoffs as is, so why not use their results as pseudo-semifinals?
Game 6 - Ohio State at Illinois, 1200p, ESPN: And now, the other Big Ten games...
Game 7 - Northwestern at Michigan, 1200p, ESPN2
Game 8 - Purdue at Iowa, 1200p, BTN overflow

Time slot 2

Game 1 - North Carolina at Maryland, 330p, ABC: Every week, I have to check the ACC conference standings to see who's leading, and how important each game is. It's actually been fun to follow.
Game 2 - Wake Forest at NC State, 330p, ESPNU: Florida State still needs a Wake Forest loss to have a chance to reach the ACC Championship game. Come on, Pack!
Game 3 - South Carolina at Florida, 330p, CBS: I'm thinking, "Over at halftime".
Game 4 - Minnesota at Wisconsin, 330p, ESPN: The Paul Bunyan's Axe game usually does not disappoint.
Game 5 - BYU at Air Force, 330p, CBS College: Responding to a comment from James last week: does the Mountain West have more BCS credentials than the Big East? Maybe this year, but on a year-to-year basis, probably not. When you consider the entire conference top-to-bottom, even though the Mountain West has three ranked teams, the two conferences are probably about equal. But I don't think anyone can debate that the Mountain West is, by far, the best "non-BCS" conference. If the Mountain West continues to find success out of conference (6-1 against the Pac-10 this season), I think an argument could be made to make it the 7th BCS conference.
Game 6 - New Mexico at Colorado State, 200p, the mtn: The 200p games usually go in "time slot 1", but since there's far more intrigue with the early slot than the middle slot this week, I'm putting the 200p games here. In situations where the games overlap "time slots", I go with "in which time slot am I more likely to watch the game?"
Game 7 - Toledo at Western Michigan, 200p, FS Detroit
Game 8 - New Mexico State at Fresno State, 500p, Altitude: Do they get the Altitude channel in New Mexico?

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Boston College at Florida State, 800p, ABC: You know it's a slow week in college football when an ACC game is ABC's headlining game of the week. Meanwhile, I believe Florida State will be wearing black uniforms in this game. Ugh. Teams that do not have black as one of their official colors should NOT have black uniforms. End of story.
Game 2 - Utah at San Diego State, 800p, the mtn: Hey, thanks to FSU, I'll probably stay awake for the entire Utah game, for once.
Game 3 - Mississippi State at Alabama, 745p, ESPN: I think Alabama can absorb a regular-season loss and still be okay in terms of the national championship.
Game 4 - USC at Stanford, 700p, Versus: I bet Versus was thrilled about last year's game. How often does anything important in college football happen on Versus?
Game 5 - Missouri at Iowa State, 630p, FSN: All of these other games will only serve as "flip to during the commercials" games.
Game 6 - Arizona at Oregon, 630p, FS Arizona
Game 7 - Vanderbilt at Kentucky, 800p, ESPN2
Game 8 - UCLA at Washington, 1015p, FSN
Game 9 - Connecticut at Syracuse, 700p, ESPNU
Game 10 - Tulsa at Houston, 800p, CBS College: Yeah, I know Tulsa is supposed to be "kind of good", but I still can't get interested in Conference USA.

There's also some college basketball on television this weekend, including a Penn State game tonight (wahoo, Big Ten Network!), but I don't think I'm quite ready for college basketball yet. Its time will come.

I Saved a Bunch of Money On My Car Insurance By Getting Married

Geico says that you can save up to 15% on your car insurance by switching to Geico. But I have a better idea. If you want to save lots of money on car insurance, get married! Our combined premiums dropped by over 25% after we combined our policies. Sweet.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Trade Proposal?

Major college football does not have a playoff, and fans complain. Meanwhile, NASCAR does have a playoff, and fans complain. Hey - why don't they trade?

Yeah, it sounds good, but here's how I see it on the college football side. As long as college football is still as popular as it is today, including the BCS bowl games themselves, we'll never have a playoff. There needs to be an impetus , and that impetus has to be empty seats in the Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and so on. Only when the BCS games begin to have trouble selling tickets, and TV ratings start to decline, will a change to a playoff system be considered by the people in charge. Everyone makes too much money under the current system. What incentive is there for college presidents and conference commissioners to want to change? Every year, sports talk radio, newspaper columnists, and now bloggers (I guess I'm part of that crowd) go through the same routine. When are we going to have a playoff? Huh? Huh? I guess what I'm saying is, if you really want a college football playoff, don't buy bowl game tickets.

(NOTE: If you don't care about NASCAR, you can skip the rest of this post.)

As for NASCAR, fan complaints aren't so much about the current "playoff" system as they are about just about everything else. Let me address all of these complaints...

"The races are boring!" Let me clue you in on something: the races have always been boring. I think what you really mean is, "They don't crash as much as they used to!" I don't have the data to back it up, but I think that is true. (Caution flags are not a reliable surrogate for crashes, because debris cautions are far more prevalent than they used to be. Also, back in the day, not every crash brought out the caution flag.)

Actually, here's my take on this perception. The races aren't any more boring now than they used to be. The problem is - and I really hate to criticize this guy - ABC/ESPN play-by-play announcer Dr. Jerry Punch makes the races seem boring. His monotone, non-dramatic announcing style makes the races seem exceedingly uninteresting. Put him back on pit road and stick someone in the broadcast booth who actually gets excited when something happens on the track, and the race is instantly more exciting. It doesn't matter what sport you're talking about, an energetic (or at least dramatic) play-by-play announcer is essential to making the event appear exciting on television.

"The races are too long!" I agree, which is why I DVR the races, and then fast-forward through the commercials, caution flags, and mid-race periods where Carl Edwards has a 7-second lead. (Of course, recording the race in advance only works if the network broadcasting the race doesn't switch to America's Funniest Home Videos before the end of the race, as happened last week. While the race started on ABC, the last 30 laps were bumped to ESPN2, unbeknownst to my DVR. Fortunately, I don't think I missed anything.)

"The season is too long!" I don't think this is really a fan complaint - why would a true NASCAR fan complain about there being too many races? - but perhaps an argument as to why fan enthusiasm is down. The season is so long, fans kind of take NASCAR for granted, because it's on pretty much every week. And once it's over, it's only three months before it starts right back up again.

"The 'Chase' is stupid!" I agree, and I'd rather do without it, but I still think it's good for the sport. If we're going to have a 36-race season, there needs to be some structure to it in order to make the entire season as interesting as possible. Otherwise, it's just one long season. And I think the existence of the Chase actually makes the pre-Chase races more exciting, because drivers are willing to take more chances and go for the win.

NASCAR's economic problems have been making a lot of news lately. Teams are going out of business and/or merging with other teams, sponsors and manufacturers maybe be pulling out of the sport, and so on. From my perspective, it's actually fun to watch which teams will bite the dust and which ones don't. It wouldn't bother me one bit if there are only 38 cars in any given race, 10 of which are exceedingly under-funded. Hey, it would be just like the old days! And that's what most fans want, right?

Yogurt

Here's another sign that little ol' Chris is growing up: I'm eating yogurt now. WOW! How very grown-up of me.

(But not just any yogurt; only eat the kind without chunks of fruit in it. Unfortunately, they don't really advertise this on the label, so it's a matter of trial and error.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Still Getting Those "Dr. Allen" Emails

I've talked about this before, but that was a long time ago, and I still get the occasional email addressing me as "Dr. Allen" and relating to journal articles from my Penn State days. Last week, for instance, I got a request to help review an article for the Journal of Computers. I declined. I'm assuming they don't want lowly non-PhDs such as myself reviewing journal articles.

I guess those journal articles I wrote and co-wrote must have been pretty good if people automatically assume I have a Ph.D., eh?

Cash or Credit

Back in the day (i.e. before I started driving), I think the price of gas was different depending on whether you used cash or credit. That stopped, but I've seen it reappear at a few stations around the country. For instance, the station where we filled up in Columbia, SC was $1.979 for cash, $2.039 for credit. Of course, this wasn't advertised on the big sign you can see from the interstate.

I'm guessing the reason stations have started doing this again is because they have to pay a little extra for credit card transactions. In the past they've been able to absorb this cost for the sake of customer convenience, but as the price of gas skyrocketed and demand decreased, profits shrunk, prompting some stations to "penny pinch" more than they used to. (Note: most gas stations make the majority of their profit from convenience store sales, not from the sale of gas; they use cheap gas to get you in the store.)

We had cash, so we just paid "the old fashioned way". But is debit also considered cash? I didn't notice this before prepaying, but the pump says "cash/debit different price than credit". So, I think I can get the cash price if I use debit. I'll have to try that next time this comes up.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Benefits of Living Closer to Work

I think the house buying process is far enough along now that I can point you to the house we're on our way to purchasing.

Regardless of whether or not all (i.e. the home inspection) goes well with that house, or if we end up buying some other house in the neighborhood, one of the things I'm most excited about is how much closer to work we'll be after we move. Instead of a 19-mile commute with traffic jams in both directions, I'll have a 3.5-mile commute with virtually no traffic issues. Amber's commute will also be shorter and easier, but by a smaller margin (reduced from 14 miles to 9 miles). I might even start working 8:00 to 4:00 like normal people do! (I currently work 7:00 to 3:00 in order to beat peak rushhour, which won't be an issue after we move.)

In addition to the time and the hassle we save by not sitting in traffic for 20-25 minutes every day, we'll save car mileage and gas money, too! I'll save 8,000 miles per year, which comes out to $625/year in gas savings. Amber's savings will be less, but still noteworthy (2,500 miles/year and $220/year in gas). Aside from work, the nearest Kroger is about the same distance from home, and curling is slightly farther but is a much easier (and possibly more fuel-efficient) drive. We're also 15 minutes farther away from the beach and from Jacksonville, but we're that much closer to the mountains and to Toledo, so it balances out. Wahoo!

And yes, I realize that the cost of house upkeep, along with higher electric bills associated with a larger living area, will more than counter the $70/month we'll save on gas by living closer to work. But that's okay.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Travelogue: 11/9/08

When gas prices approached $4/gallon, we cut back on our "random weekend drives". But now, gas is back down to around $2/gallon, and my car odometer is much lower than the 25,000 I was planning on after year one. So, let's go for a Sunday drive, shall we?


We were considering two destinations, both in South Carolina: Myrtle Beach (which neither of us have been to), or a disc golf course in Chapin, SC, which I have ranked 3rd overall out of over 50 courses, but haven't played since August 2004. We chose the disc golf course. It was a nice day for it, too: sunny and in the 60s. That's about as good as it gets. I'll talk more about the disc golf in a separate post.

Aside from disc golf, a goal of the trip was to pick up two "holes" in my county map: Lee and Lancaster counties in South Carolina.


Lee County is right along I-20, so that one was easy. Lancaster County required a bit of an alternate route, although it still provided a somewhat direct, non-interstate route back home. Now I only have seven counties left to visit in South Carolina, so I think it's only a matter of time...

Disc Golf Report: Chapin, SC

First off, this is not a course review.

Over four years ago, on our way back from a camping trip in the Asheville area, we played disc golf at Crooked Creek Park in Chapin, SC. I really liked the course, so I ranked it #1 on my course rankings. Since then, I've only had the mustard to rank two courses ahead of Crooked Creek in my rankings. But I don't hold courses to the same standards now as I did back then, when I only had a few months of disc golf experience to draw from. So is this course really the third best course I've ever played?

Well, maybe. I think I do know why I ranked it so high the first time, though. The course is very well marked, all holes have tee signs and multiple concrete tee pads, and the targets are in good shape. One target is situated on an artificial mound, and one is on sort of an "island green", which I thought was really neat at the time, hence the top ranking.

But what about now? Well, it's still a good course, and I've decided to keep the ranking at #3. There's a big drop-off from #2 to #3, and there isn't much difference between the #3 course and, say, #15. Ranking these courses is like splitting hairs, really. So, congratulations, Crooked Creek: you've been "grandfathered" into a high ranking.

Curling Recap: 11/7/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Their team..... 00100000 | 01
My team........ 11013111 | 09

This was our team's "bye week" in the league, so Amber and I substituted on other teams, based on who asked for a substitute first. And it just so happened that the first-place team asked first, and that they were playing against the last-place team this week. So, I'm not surprised that the game wasn't close. Meanwhile, the team Amber was substituting on won 8-6, although they almost came from ahead to lose (7-0 after the 5th end, 7-6 after the 7th end).

Friday, November 07, 2008

College Football Saturday: 11/8/08

It must be November, because now I find myself rooting for all of the top-ranked teams (except Penn State, of course) to lose. It's an annual ritual of mine.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Georgia Tech at North Carolina, 1200p, Raycom (Local TV): The biggest game of the week in the ACC, and yet, it's not on ABC or ESPN. Why is that? Oh, right...so that ESPN could air Notre Dame v. Boston College in primetime.
Game 2 - Purdue at Michigan State, 1200p, BTN
Game 3 - Michigan at Minnesota, 1200p, ESPN: I don't think I've watched a Minnesota home game yet this year.
Game 4 - Ohio State at Northwestern, 1200p, ESPN2: I suppose Ohio State success slightly increases Penn State's BCS championship game chances...but still, I can't root for them against Northwestern.
Game 5 - Louisville at Pittsburgh, 1200p, MASN: And now...the early time slot's "irrelevant" games. And there are a lot of them.
Game 6 - Wisconsin at Indiana, 1200p, BTN overflow
Game 7 - Baylor at Texas, 1200p, FSN
Game 8 - San Diego State at BYU, 200p, the mtn
Game 9 - Iowa State at Colorado, 130p, Versus
Game 10 - Syracuse at Rutgers, 1200p, ESPNU

Time slot 2

Game 1A - Clemson at Florida State, 330p, ABC: Today, I'm glad I can watch two games at once. Well, maybe. Last week's Florida State game was brutal.
Game 1B - Penn State at Iowa, 330p, ESPN: I'm also very happy for the "reverse mirror" that ABC/ESPN does for the 330p Big Ten games.
Game 3 - Alabama at LSU, 330p, CBS: As they say (or spell) down there, "Geaux Tigers!"
Game 4 - Virginia at Wake Forest, 330p, ESPNU: For Florida State to still have a chance to reach the ACC Championship game, Wake Forest needs another loss. Of course, Florida State also needs three more wins, which is probably far less likely to happen.
Game 5 - Marshall at East Carolina, 330p, CBS College: Hey, remember ECU? From earlier this year?
Game 6 - Stanford at Oregon, 330p, FSN

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Oklahoma State at Texas Tech, 800p, ABC: I admit, I did not stay awake for the end of last week's Texas/Texas Tech game. Maybe this week?
Game 2 - Notre Dame at Boston College, 800p, ESPN: Maybe it's just me, maybe Amber is losing interest, I don't know - but there seems to be no buzz whatsoever surrounding Notre Dame football this year. (Not that I'm complaining; just making an observation.)
Game 3 - Florida at Vanderbilt, 800p, ESPN2: I'm worried that if Florida wins out and beats Alabama in the SEC Championship, that they'll jump an undefeated Penn State in the BCS, even with one loss. As if I needed another reason to root against the Gators... (And, yes, I realize that Penn State still has three games left. The season is not over.)
Game 4 - Arizona State at Washington, 700p, FSN Arizona: The top three games are the only ones I'll probably follow during the late time slot; all these others are just "flip to during commercials or halftime" games.
Game 5 - Oregon State at UCLA, 600p, FS Prime Ticket: I think I put the 600p games in "time slot 2" sometimes, but this week they go in "time slot 3", because there is basically zero chance of me watching this game before 7.
Game 6 - Kansas State at Missouri, 700p, FSN: The Big XII North isn't very good this year, is it?
Game 7 - Colorado State at Air Force, 600p, the mtn: When "the mtn" advertises upcoming games and programs, they do so in Mountain Time. Makes sense to me.
Game 8 - Cincinnati at West Virginia, 700p, ESPNU: Now that South Florida has basically no chance of winning the Big East this year, I am officially considering the Big East to be "less interesting than the Mountain West", and "only slightly more interesting than Conference USA".
Game 9 - Tulane at Houston, 800p, CBS College
Game 10 - New Mexico at UNLV, 1000p, the mtn
Game 11 - UTEP at Louisiana-Lafayette, 700p, MASN: MASN airs the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles; the rest of the year, they scrounge for as much "sports filler" as they can. MASN: your home for Sun Belt Conference football!

Taxes By the Mile

Most states, including North Carolina, use proceeds from the state gasoline tax to fund roads and highways. Problem is, the ever-increasing price of gas has decreased gasoline consumption, and so state DOTs across the country are now receiving far less revenue from the gas tax than they used to. So, now what?

The University of Iowa is conducting a field experiment to investigate an alternative to the gas tax: a mileage-based road tax. Instead of including a highway tax in the price of gasoline, you pay a tax proprtional to how far you drive. In this field experiment, several volunteers in a few metropolitan areas across the country, including the Research Triangle, will install GPS units on their cars. These GPS units will send data regarding which state, county, or municipality you're driving in, and how many miles you drive. Then, you'll get a bill in the mail showing how much you owe in highway taxes, and where that money will go (e.g. North Carolina, Virginia, the city of Durham, Wake County, and so forth). So, basically, it's a way to make every road a toll road.

I am assuming that most people will oppose this idea. I oppose it as well, but probably not for the same reason. The "big brother" nature of it all doesn't bother me. What bothers me the most is that unlike the gas tax, a flat mileage-based tax does not encourage the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles, nor does it help decrease demand. I think the people who drive gas guzzlers should pay more in highway taxes than the people who drive responsible vehicles. If we're ever going to get rid of that dreaded "dependence on foreign oil", we should continue to tax gasoline consumption, and tax it aggressively. This is coming from a guy who likes to drive a lot.

But how do we make up for the recent gas tax revenue deficit? That's easy - increase the gas tax! Duh. Yes, North Carolina already has the highest gas tax in the southeast, and already high gas prices will be even higher. But we're going to have to pay for our roads somehow, and we might as well help decrease demand for oil while we're at it. And instead of that money going to an oil company or to Saudi Arabia, the money goes right back to the state to fund our highways. Why is it so hard for people to figure this out? (And yes, I know about the gas tax cap. The cap can be rescinded as easily as it was implemented.)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Day's Drive Away

Here's something I've been wondering. How much of the country is within a day's drive from home?

Here are the ground rules:
- For the purposes of this exercise, a "day's drive" is a 15-hour drive, so I'll be determining which parts of the country are less than 15 hours away from home. I'll also be considering which parts of the country are within a day's round-trip drive, which will mean anything less than 7½ hours from home.
- I used Microsoft Streets and Trips 2007 for this exercise, which has a "Drivetime Zone" feature that makes this really easy! Beforehand, I calibrated S&T using known no-delay trip times (e.g. 6:30 to Jacksonville, 9:30 to Toledo).
- Since we expect to move to south Durham soon, I'll consider south Durham to be home, not our current residence (which we used for calibrating purposes). This will shift the drive-time window 20 minutes northwest of what it would be starting from Raleigh (Cary).
- I'll be doing this at the county level so that I can make a nifty county map. I'm including a county within the "drivetime zone" if we can get to a centrally-located area in that county in 15 hours (or 7½ hours), not necessarily any location in that county.

So, without further ado, here's the map I came up with. Dark yellow counties are within a day's round-trip drive, while light yellow counties are within a day's one-way drive:


The one-day region also includes southern Ontario and southern Qu├ębec.

Since this is approximate, don't put too much stock into the exact boundaries. (You know, kind of like with those geographical centers.) This just gives us a general idea for next time we plan a quick weekend getaway. It's nice to know that we can get to places like Key West, New Orleans, or Bar Harbor in one day - if we really wanted to, of course.

Housing Update: 11/6/08

When I last posted, we had found some houses we would consider buying. And since all of those houses were listed by a Realtor(R), we were about to hire a buyer's agent to help us out. But that was 2½ weeks ago. What's happened since then?

First, after doing some Googling (it's what I do best), I found an agent who actually lives in the neighborhood we're looking to move into. From what I've heard, it's good to have an agent who knows the neighborhood well. So, I gave Dawn a call, and we met in person later that week. Memo to Realtors(R) out there: it pays to be on the internet!

If you're a first-time home buyer, it's probably a good idea to hire an agent, because searching for and buying a house is a lot of work. We'd probably be completely lost and overwhelmed otherwise. Instead, Dawn does most of the work, and since we're likely going to be buying a listed house (i.e. not by owner) anyway, it doesn't cost us any extra money! So, why not? (When both buyer and seller have an agent, each agent gets 3%, for a total of 6%. When only the seller has an agent, that agent takes 6%, because legally he/she represents the buyer as well. That's called "dual agency", which generally isn't preferred.)

On a few occasions over the last two weeks, we met after work and toured the houses we had considered on our drive-through and internet search. This allowed us to narrow the search further. The internet is nice, but there's no substitute for actually being in the house. And, in some cases, smelling the house. One house we went to, it was obvious the owners had tried really hard to clean before we went there. The entire house - especially the bathroom - smelled like bleach, or Scrubbing Bubbles, or some generic cleaner. Were they trying to hide something? They must be having trouble selling the house, because there's a sign in the front yard that says "Make Offer". A little desperate, are we?
So, what happens when you see a house you like? You make an offer! And, you fill out a bunch of paperwork. Lots and lots of paperwork. I'll go into the details of the offer, including the house we're looking at, later on. Don't want to compromise the negotiations, you know.