Thursday, January 31, 2008

Weekend Plans

As I alluded to a couple of times, Amber and I are heading up to State College, PA for the weekend. The main attraction is the nearby Groundhog Day fesitivities in Punxsutawney, which, actually, I have pretty low expectations for. I won't get much sleep, it will be absurdly crowded, and I probably won't even get to see any groundhogs. (This is me trying to get my hopes down, as I often do.) But will I ever have a better opportunity to go than this year?

January 2008: Not Much Driving (Relatively Speaking)

Assuming I don't do any more driving today, my miles driven total for January is 1,361 miles. That's my lowest monthly total since April 2006. Back then, I lived in State College, and I could get away with driving less than 10 miles a week if I wanted to. (The April 2006 total was 275 miles.)

February's total should be much higher, especially considering that I'm going to put 1,000 miles on the car in this weekend alone.

Bartow, FL: Not in the Panhandle

At Kroger this week, I had a brief conversation with the bag boy, who it turns out is also from Florida:

Me: "What part of Florida?"
Bag boy: "Bartow."
Me: "Panhandle, right?"
Bag boy: "No...it's near Lakeland."

Blast! I should know these things. Could I have subconsciously confused Bartow with "Milton" or "Bonifay", both Florida Panhandle cities? I don't know, but I was embarrassed, because I take pride in knowing the geography of my native land.

Speaking of bag boys, one of the Google searches recorded by StatCounter that led to my website was "how much money a bag boy gets working at publix". To answer your question: back when I worked at Publix in 2002, they made $5.75/hr. I think the minimum wage is higher than that now.

(Just a reminder that you can view all of my web site's Google searches, and other stats, by clicking the "Detailed Stats" link on the right. Apparently, two of my most popular posts are this one about Weather Channel OCMs, and this one about NHL play-by-play announcers.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Finally, A Show Worth Watching

Tomorrow night is the "Lost" season premiere. And it's about time, too. I really don't like how they're drawing out the final 48 episodes (three 16-episode seasons, rather than two 24-episode seasons), but what can the viewer do about it? At least it's going to be on at 900p this season, rather than 1000p. While they're advertising a "two hour premiere", don't be fooled - the first hour is one of those "show recap" deals. Which might not be a bad thing, considering that the last episode was over eight months ago.

While I often talk about the poor quality of today's mainstream television, Amber and I actually have several television programs currently set to "Record Entire Series" on the Tivo-Like Device. Here's the current recording schedule (with no overlapping programs!):

Daily, 900a: "Monk" (USA) - I think USA airs approximately 24 episodes of "Monk" each day.
Weekdays, 500p: "My Family" (BBC America) - Amber likes this show (it's a British sitcom), but I don't particularly care for it.
Weekdays, 600p: "The Simpsons" (CW 22)
Weekdays, 700p: "The Simpsons" (CW 22)
Tuesday/Friday, 900p: "House" (FOX) - Whatever FOX originally had scheduled for the Friday 900p timeslot must not have worked out too well.
Thursday, 900p: "Lost" (ABC)
Weekdays, 1100p: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" (Comedy Central) - Hey, I have to get my election news somehow. (During the writers' strike, this show is officially known as "A Daily Show With Jon Stewart".)
Daily, 100a: "NHL On The Fly: Final" (NHL Network) - Last night's hockey highlights on demand!

That's almost 24 hours of programming each week! Of course, we don't watch all of it between the two of us - we pick and choose.

Kroger-Brand Cheese

It isn't often that a store brand product is more expensive than the name brand. But here's one such instance: Kroger-brand American cheese slices. (Err, I mean Kroger-brand processed cheese food.) How can they justify this? Is Kroger cheese actually better than Kraft?

Actually, in my opinion, it is better than Kraft. Funny how that works...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Audi Logo

Car company logos are never very exciting or creative, but something bugs me about the Audi logo. It doesn't look like a car logo to me; it just looks like a bunch of circles. (Or even a Venn diagram.) All other car logos have a distinguishing shape or symbol in the middle, right? Audi has nothing. It might as well be some cool design that the owner of the car decided to attach to the rear bumper, kind of like a Jesus fish.

My favorite car logo? I'm not sure, but I like the Ford logo. It's classy.

Last Year: Week of 1/28/08

Whoops! I forgot about this little deal last week. That tends to happen when I remove routine from the equation. These might not be necessary anymore now with the drop-down menu on the right, but oh well.

Mon 1/22/07: Rules For Laundry, which I still follow, to some extent. Regarding the random thought, I still keep track of how often I see certain people walking past the window, but I've decided not to publish that anymore.
Tue 1/23/07: The Jordan Lake Circle Tour
Wed 1/24/07: This Just In: The NHL All-Star Game Is Tonight. At least they had it on a weekend this year.
Thu 1/25/07: Banzai!
Fri 1/26/07: NFL Coverage Maps, which I updated for the 2006 season more recently.
Sat 1/27/07: A Conversation With SmarterChild. I completely forgot about that guy. I think I removed him from my buddy list. Or, maybe I'm just so used to seeing him on there, I don't even notice anymore.
Mon 1/29/07: Going to the Dentist
Tue 1/30/07: Disc Golf in the Snow, which I've linked to a couple of times this month.
Wed 1/31/07: The New Way To Get To Pennsylvania: Update #2. We're heading to State College this weekend, and I'm really excited to take the new I-99, which might trump the "back way" through Pennsylvania. How much faster will it be? Or will any potential advantage be cancelled out by the weather?
Thu 2/1/07: The Chris Allen Cold Weather Clothing Scale. Raleigh has dipped below 20°F (air temperature) a few times this winter. I believe our lowest recorded temperature so far this winter is 15°F.
Fri 2/2/07: Groundhog Day. More on this next week.
Sat 2/3/07: The 41st Annual Big Game. I might actually be on the road for at least a portion of this year's "42nd Annual Big Game". To be honest with you, it's not really a priority for me this year.

Monday, January 28, 2008

University Abbreviations

I'm having trouble sleeping, so here's something I did to pass the time.

Lots of universities use the same abbreviations. For example, "UM" could mean the University of Michigan, the University of Maryland, the University of Miami (FL), or something else entirely. But which one is most recognized as "UM"?

To help settle this, I entered a Google search for "UM" to see which one came up first. Here's the pecking order: 1) Miami (FL), 2) Michigan, 3) Maryland, 4) Montana. (Although Miami (FL) was first, the majority of links on the first two pages were Michigan-related.)

Hey, why not do this with all letters of the alphabet? According to Google, here are the top two universities for each combination of U_, _U, and _SU:

UA: 1) Arizona; 2) Alabama
UB: 1) Buffalo; 2) Baltimore
UC: 1) Cincinnati; 2) California
UD: 1) Delaware; 2) Dayton
UE: 1) Evansville; 2) University of the East (Philippines)
UF: 1) Florida
- When I list only one (or zero) universities, that means no (other) universities appeared on the first two search pages.
UG: none (Georgia is commonly abbreviated "UGA", not "UG")
UH: 1) Houston; 2) Hawai'i
UI: 1) Iowa; 2) Idaho
UJ: 1) University of Judaism (now American Jewish University); 2) Uniwersytet Jagiellonski (Poland)
UK: 1) Kentucky
UL: 1) Louisiana-Lafayette; 2) University of Limerick (Ireland)
UM: 1) Miami (FL); 2) Michigan
UN: none, thanks to the United Nations
UO: 1) Oregon
UP: 1) Portland
UQ: 1) University of Queensland (Australia)
UR: 1) Rochester
US: none, obviously
UT: 1) Texas; 2) Tennessee
UU: 1) Union University (Utah refers to itself as "U of U", not "UU")
UV: none (I'm not counting the "searches related to" section, even though both Virginia and Vermont appear on that list for UV.)
UW: 1) Washington; 2) Wisconsin
UX: 1) Universidad de Xalapa (Mexico)
UY: none
UZ: none
---
AU: 1) American University; 2) Auburn
BU: 2) Boston University
CU: 1) Colorado; 2) Columbia (I'm not counting the University of Colorado's Denver campus. That's separate from...)
DU: 1) Denver
EU: none
FU: none (Sorry, Furman...)
GU: none (Sorry, Georgetown...)
HU: 1) Hampton; 2) Humboldt-Universitaet zu Berlin (Germany)
IU: 1) Indiana; 2) Indiana-South Bend
JU: 1) Jacksonville
KU: 1) Kansas
LU: none
MU: 1) Missouri; 2) Marquette
NU: 1) National University (specializes in online degrees). Sorry, Nebraska and Northwestern!
OU: 1) Oklahoma; 2) Ohio
PU: none
QU: 1) Quinnipiac
RU: 1) Radford; 2) Rutgers
SU: 1) Shenandoah; 2) Syracuse (a shocking upset!)
TU: 1) Tulsa; 2) Touro
VU: 1) Vincennes
WU: 1) Willamette
XU: 1) Xavier
YU: 1) Yeshiva
ZU: none
---
ASU: 1) Arizona State; 2) Appalachian State
BSU: 1) Boise State; 2) Ball State
CSU: 1) Colorado State; 2) the California State University system (includes San Diego State, Fresno State, Sacramento State, Cal State Fullerton, and others)
DSU: 1) Dakota State; 2) Delaware State
ESU: 1) East Stroudsburg; 2) Emporia State
FSU: 1) Florida State; 2) Fayetteville State
GSU: 1) Georgia State; 2) Georgia Southern
HSU: 1) Humboldt State; 2) Henderson State
ISU: 1) Illinois State; 2) Iowa State
JSU: 1) Jacksonville State; 2) Jackson State
KSU: 1) Kansas State; 2) Kennesaw State
LSU: 1) Louisiana State
MSU: 1) Michigan State; 2) Mississippi State
NSU: 1) Nova Southeastern; 2) Norfolk State
OSU: 1) Ohio State; 2) Oregon State
PSU: 1) Penn State; 2) Portland State
QSU: none (QSU, as it turns out, is a common abbreviation for the "Queer Student Union" at many universities)
RSU: 1) Rogers State
SSU: 1) Sonoma State (part of the afore-mentioned California State University system); 2) Salisbury State
TSU: 1) Texas Southern; 2) Tennessee State
USU: 1) Utah State
VSU: 1) Valdosta State; 2) Virginia State
WSU: 1) Washington State; 2) Wichita State
XSU: none
YSU: 1) Youngstown State; 2) Yerevan State (Armenia)
ZSU: none

Bonus - USF: 1) South Florida; 2) San Francisco

Finally, what if you just type in "U"? Then, you get this top 10: 1) Arizona; 2) Illinois; 3) Arkansas; 4) Iowa; 5) Idaho; 6) Minnesota; 7) Delaware; 8) Michigan; 9) Utah; 10) Alabama. Many of those didn't make the list with their two-letter abbreviations. Meanwhile, Miami (FL), who arrogantly likes to call itself "The U", is nowhere to be found. Ha! (Even if you type in "The U", Miami (FL) still only comes up #2, behind Utah.)

Commercial Lead-Ins

Said Amber: "Wouldn't it be cool if every commercial would introduce the next one?"

Example: at the end of a Budweiser commerical, the voiceover says, "And now, a word for Toyota!"

Completely impractical in today's age, but maybe they actually did this back in the 1930s, when some commercials were live.

Jill Knows Bowling

At the risk of turning this blog into one long Garmin commercial...

Last weekend, we went bowling. We arrived at our "plan A" bowling alley, only to find a waiting list (Saturday morning leagues). But that's okay, because I had the foresight to bring the Garmin ("Jill") along with us. Hey, Jill - where are the next closest bowling alleys to where we are right now? She knows, and she'll even tell us how to get there! She even gave us phone numbers so we could call ahead to see if they had any open lanes! Neat-o!

Of course, by the time we got there, there were no open lanes, and we still had to wait about 10 minutes. But that's not Jill's fault. It's also not Jill's fault that the bowling alley - Rainbow Lanes in Clayton - sucked. (Occasionally malfunctioning lanes would be one thing if the alley had an "old-school charm" to it, but this place had no such thing - it looked less than 10 years old. We're never going back.)

Jill still doesn't know anything about I-795, or the new Walnut St exit, but that's another story.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Some Thoughts On Sports

Now, some random thoughts on sports. First, college basketball. I haven't watched as much college basketball as I have in years' past, but thanks to the internet, and excellent web sites such as this one, I have been able to keep up.

Of course, nationally-based web sites usually don't focus on teams like Florida State and Penn State, because...well...they're usually not very good. I actually thought Penn State might have an outside chance at an NCAA tournament bid this year. Then, their best player (Geary Claxton) tore his ACL (or something), and he's out for the season. They haven't won (or even had a close game) since then. Well, so much for that.

Meanwhile, things aren't looking great for Florida State, either. Every season, Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com insists of including Florida State in his preseason and early season NCAA tournament projections. And every season, without fail, the Seminoles end up in the NIT (if they're lucky). Finally, this week, Lunardi has reduced them to "Last Four Out". Even I think that's a little generous. Why do you think so much of Florida State, Lunardi? What have they ever done to impress you? They're 2-3 in the ACC so far, and they lost to Cleveland State (by three in OT) and - gasp! - South Florida (by one). It looks like another NIT season for FSU - or, maybe even the first-ever College Basketball Invitational.

With close losses like that, and the 2OT loss to Clemson, could you say Florida State has been "unlucky"? Well, college basketball statistical authority Ken Pomeroy actually calculates luck! It's basically the difference between a team's projected winning percentage (based on overall offensive and defensive efficiency) and their actual record. "Unlucky" teams are statistically good teams without the record to show for it, and vice-versa. Florida State is the 218th luckiest team (125th unluckiest team), so I guess they have been more unlucky than lucky, but certainly nothing outlandish.

Now, the smooth transition to a hockey discussion. I've been watching more hockey than ever this year. So, tomorrow's all-star game isn't really that big a deal to me, but I am recording it, just in case I feel like watching it.

One thing I've noticed while watching NHL games across the league (and highlights on the NHL Network) is that a lot of NHL arenas try to give their customers seizures when the home team scores a goal. First, the loud fog horn. Then, lights start flashing everywhere. And then, at many arenas, that Zombie Nation song starts playing. If you have attended a Penn State football game in the last three years, surely you know what song I'm talking about. (Public service: Zombie Nation is the name of the band, not the song; "Kernkraft 400" is the song.) Even some of the more traditional franchises (e.g. the Maple Leafs) have resorted to playing the song, after every single goal by the home team.

I think we need to put a moratorium on Zombie Nation. Go away! I guarantee that at most NHL arenas, when the song starts playing, the reaction isn't, "Yeah! Zombie Nation!", it's "Ugh, here's that song again." At least, that's my reaction. Then again, eventually something else will come along that's even more obnoxious and annoying, and the Zombie Nation song will be relegated to the same status as "Who Let the Dogs Out", that "Woohoo" song, and "Whoop, There It Is".

At some point during the NHL Winter Classic, organ music started playing, prompting broadcaster Mike Emrick to give this gem: "It's good to hear organ music for a change, rather than...the alternative." Word.

Friday, January 25, 2008

If You Like Sudoku...

Ever since Sudoku puzzles became an acceptable complement to crosswords and the Jumble in the Sunday paper, all kinds of number logic puzzles have sprouted up. And I think they all have the same advertising pitch: "If you like Sudoku, you'll love ________!"

Of the "imitators" I've tried, none measure up to Sudoku. But I guess that makes sense. This is probably just another one of those "crazes" that will fizzle out in a few years. Sudoku will probably still be around in 20 years, but those others probably won't.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Ralph Wiggum For President

In a recent episode of "The Simpsons", Ralph Wiggum wins the Springfield presidential primary.

This begs the question: how many people are going to write-in "Ralph Wiggum" when they vote in November? Quite a few, I would imagine. Seriously. You'd be surprised how many people vote for Mickey Mouse every year.

Personally, I'm going to stick with voting for real, actual presidential candidates. On that front, I haven't figured out who I'm voting for yet. The North Carolina primary isn't until May, so what's the rush? Besides, if I did have an allegiance to this point, he (or she) would probably drop out of the race by then anyway.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

30-Day Tags

When I see one of those temporary 30-day license tags in a parking lot, sometimes I like to look at its expiration date to see if it's expired. These days, I don't think 30 days is enough. After Amber bought her new car, it took more than 30 days for her to receive a permanent license plate. (That was the dealer's fault, but that's another story.)

One such temporary tag I saw yesterday had the following dates:

Issued: 12-14-07
Expires: 1-14-07

Whoops! Somebody forget to carry the one?

(Either way, the tag was still expired.)

1001 Kinds of Toothpaste

Yesterday, we went to Kroger to get some toothpaste (plus other stuff). I always struggle when buying toothpaste because of all the different varieties. "Crest: Tartar Protection". "Creat: Cavity Protection". "Crest: Extra Whitening". And countless others.

Why should I even have to make a choice? Why don't they make "Crest: Tartar and Cavity Protection"? Hasn't the toothpaste industry figured out how to do that by now?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pressing the "Reset" Button

I've waffled back and forth regarding whether it's a good idea to publish the results of my fictional Chris Allen Racing League in this blog. To this point, I haven't, primarily for two reasons:

1) Most of you don't care about real auto racing, let alone fictional auto racing.
2) The league's 200 drivers are real people. Worse yet, they're all women, and a few of them...well, let's just say they aren't too fond of me. I'm worried about someone entering her name into Google, wondering why the hell her name is in my blog, and then filing a restraining order or something. (On the other hand, that might be kind of fun!) And, if I changed the names, the league would lose most of its meaning, at least from my perspective. Which, that's silly, because the names are completely arbitrary and don't mean anything in terms of the league itself, because the league's events and progression are pseudo-random. But that's just the way it is.

On the other hand, if I were publish the results, now's a good time to start. Last week, I finished the league's 30th season. To celebrate, I started over with a new set of initial conditions (i.e. driver rankings). I think this has "blog potential" because the most interesting aspect of the league isn't the racing itself (thank goodness), it's the statistics associated with it. Tendencies, probabilities, records, chaos...it's great. I have a massive spreadsheet tracking the league's first 30 seasons - including all-time cumulative stats, every driver's ranking (where they should finish) and actual finish in every season, relations between driver ranking and actual finish (the average difference between a driver's ranking and actual finish is 2.46), and all kinds of other meaningless statistics.

So, I'll put it to you. If this is something you might be interested in hearing about, leave me a note. (Just don't be surprised if your name shows up.) Otherwise, I'll never speak of the league again.

Where Does Gift Card Money Go?

For Christmas, Amber and I got a gift card for Bob Evans. (Somebody out there knows us well!) Last Thursday night, we used it just up the road in Cary. It was about 530p when we arrived, and there might have been two or three other groups of people there at the time. In the entire restaurant. I know it was a Thursday, but how does this place stay in business?

I like that there's a Bob Evans four minutes from our apartment, so I hope this place doesn't go out of business. In fact, I was a little hesitant to use the gift card. The gift card was purchased at a Kroger in Toledo, OH. (Yes, Kroger sells gift cards for third-party establishments. How convenient!) Does that money somehow make it to the Bob Evans in Cary? I hope so. Some of it must get there, because they let me use gift card funds for the tip. But does Bob Evans in Cary get all of it? Does Kroger make any money off this transaction, or are they selling these gift cards purely for the convenience of their customers?

Actually, that alone might make it worthwhile from Kroger's standpoint. Restaurant gift card availability could be the reason someone shops at Kroger instead of, say, Food Lion. I hope that's it.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Not All Bojangles' Are Created Equal

I think I've touched on this before, but either way, now I'm going to make a separate post about it.

If I go to a Bojangles' in the Raleigh area and order a 3-piece dinner, the meal includes iced tea and one "fixin". (A "fixin" is what Southerners call a side dish.) But that's not true at every Bojangles'. Many locations outside the Raleigh area, even as close as Mebane, NC (along I-40/85 between Durham and Burlington), are different. There, if I get a 3-piece dinner, instead of iced tea (which I normally don't drink anyway) and one fixin, I get two fixins. And it's cheaper! But I won't complain, because Bojangles' with one fewer fixin is better than no Bojangles'.

That said, I've been told that a Bojangles' is opening in Jacksonville (Florida), along Southside Blvd near Tinseltown. Lucky you! I remember there used to be a Bojangles' on University Blvd "back in the day", but that Bojangles' closed, and is now "Ying's Chinese Takee Outee".

Disc Golf in the Snow, Again, Sort Of

First off, to recap that "winter storm" from Saturday: the RDU airport received 0.5" of snow, and the Greensboro airport (a.k.a. GSO, a.k.a. PTI) got 0.6". Hey, that's better than nothing. And since Sunday's high temperature was only 32°F, the snow actually stuck around for over 24 hours!

But that didn't stop us from a round of disc golf at my favorite course in North Carolina, the Cedarock "Open" course south of Burlington. There was still snow on the ground. But it wasn't complete snow cover, and it was fairly wet snow on top of that. So unlike our Michigan adventure on New Year's Eve, we could actually walk up and down hills without slipping, and get running starts on the concrete tee pads!

If nothing else, it was a chance to drive through rural North Carolina, which looked different than normal because of the white stuff, at least yesterday. I almost fooled myself into thinking I was somewhere other than North Carolina. I even brought Jill along with us, just to see how she thought I should get to the course (and to make sure I didn't miss the turns on the backroads once I got close). Jill insisted I take I-40, but I refused, because NC-87 between Pittsboro and Burlington is highly underrated. (By "underrated", I mean it's a really nice road without much traffic to speak of.) I got a lot of satisfaction watching the projected arrival time slowly change from 1:00 to 12:48 as I got closer to the course. In fact, 12:48 was the original arrival time Jill projected, taking I-40 instead of US-64 and NC-87. Take that, Jill!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I'm Watching You...

I've resisted adding a counter to my blog to this point, because most of the time, I'd rather not know how many people read my blog. I'm much happier believing my blog is widely read, rather than expose myself to the "bitter truth". But there will inevitably come a day when this blog won't be read by anyone anymore, and when that happens, I'd like to know. That's the real reason I went to StatCounter and added a counter to the bottom of the right column. I gave the counter six digits not because I ever expect to reach 100,000 visitors (regardless of how many times I visit the blog myself), but because I'm obsessed with car odometers.

A logistical note: only unique visits separated by 12 hours or more are recorded. So if you go to my blog at 900a and again at 500p, it will only count as one visit.

Actually, this stat counter can be kind of fun. One of the many things StatCounter keeps track of is the keywords people used in a Google search to find your site. Apparently, if you search for "65 in a 45 speeding ticket in nahunta georgia", my blog comes up #2. Who'd have thought?

(Actually, now that I put that phrase verbatim in my blog, it's probably #1.)

'By The Numbers' Has A New Home

"By the numbers" has been a long-standing feature (and, for a while, the only feature) of my AOL Instant Messenger profile. But since I've decided to go back on AIM Semi-Hiatus, I figured this was as good a time as any to move "by the numbers" out of AOL Instant Messenger and into the blog, via Google Docs. You can now find "by the numbers" here. I've also added a permanent link in the upper right.

It's probably better this way anyway, because I'm no longer subject to that annoying 1,092-character limit. Now there's no limit to the fun!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Winter Weather Advisory: Take Two

Actually, we're under a Winter Storm Warning this time. Whether it's warranted or not, I'm hoping for at least a little snow. And since I have no need to leave the apartment the rest of the day, bring it on!

I hope it does snow, because we could use a little excitement around here. We're going through curling withdrawal, and the "winter" league doesn't begin for another five weeks.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Valet Trash Pickup

Here's something to give you an idea of the kind of place I live, and the town of Cary in general.

A while back, our apartment complex introduced something called "valet trash pickup". Tired of carrying your trash all the way to the dumpster? We'll do it for you, for free! Just place a trash bag inside our provided trash can, and place outside your front door prior to 800p, Sunday through Thursday. That's right - five days a week, at no charge to you! Although I do use the service (hey, why not?), I could definitely live without it, and I do have some complaints about the system.

For one thing, while the service is "free", the trash pickup is performed by a hired third party, not the complex itself. Surely, the apartment complex has to pay for it somehow. I find it hard to believe that won't affect our rent at least a little when we renew our lease. And that's whether we use the service or not.

Of course, the service isn't without its rules. All trash cans must be inside your apartment between 900a and 600p. Apparently, this has been a problem, because they're started threatening fines for people who leave their trash cans outside during the day. (Personally, I think this complex is a little too image-conscious.) And, everyone is responsible for their trash can, and if we want to "opt out" of the service, we must take the can to the office. Something's a little unsettling about this. Everyone got "opted in" automatically, and suddenly, we're responsible for a trash can. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

The trash pickup is also anti-recycling. They have recycling bins next to the dumpster, and we use them. But there is no separate recycle bin as part of valet trash pickup, so if you want to recycle anything, you have to go down to the dumpster anyway. Perhaps, people that recycled in the days before valet trash pickup now just put everything in the trash.

I haven't mentioned any of this to the people in charge, because I've decided this isn't a battle worth fighting. This is a pretty minor issue, and I'd rather maintain our status as law-abiding, non-trouble-causing residents.

Winter Weather Advisory: Recap

How did that "big winter storm" pan out?

Well, as you might expect, it didn't amount to much of anything, at least in Raleigh (Cary). Raleigh recorded 0.5" of wet snow before sunrise, and it quickly changed to rain. The temperature at RDU Airport never dipped below freezing during the storm, so there was no freezing rain, and no icy roads. Commuting to and from work was no different than any other day, except people were actually driving the speed limit, for once.

Most area schools, including NC State University, were on a two or three hour delay. Amber, born and raised in Ohio, finds all of this ridiculous. Welcome to the South, Amber!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Winter Weather Advisory! Run For the Hills!

Unlike places farther north, North Carolina doesn't really handle frozen precipitation very well. As an example, read this recap of how in 2005, after one inch of snow, the area literally screeched to a halt. One inch! Give me a break.

Well, it's time for everyone to freak out again, because as of the time of posting (400p), the Raleigh-Durham area is under a Winter Weather Advisory. Light snow, sleet, and freezing rain are possible between now and 1200p tomorrow, after which all precipitation will be in the form of rain. If this happened in Pennsylvania, no big deal. But here...

Any time winter weather is a possibility, I can't help but get a little nervous. Not because of the weather itself - I welcome frozen precipitation most of the time - but because of everyone else's reaction to it. Snow isn't the biggest road hazard. It's the drivers. I-40 is scary enough as it is.

And, of course, given how difficult it is to forecast winter weather, a "Winter Weather Advisory" could just as easily become 5" of snow. Raleigh got snow twice last winter, and neither time was snow accumulation specifically forecast.

No, I Haven't "Scene It"

The movie trivia DVD board game "Scene It?" is slowly taking over the world. Lots of people have the game. It's even an acceptable activity at a company Christmas holiday party! It's almost inevitable that at some point during your life, you'll end up playing "Scene It" somewhere.

This means is that it's important to know your movie trivia. That's too bad, because due to a combination of rising ticket prices, declining movie quality, and over-exposure to the mega-blockbusters, I don't see many movies these days.
I think last century's movie crop is much better than what this century has churned out so far. I used to make fun of my dad for watching channels like Turner Classic Movies, but I think I'm headed down that path as well. How predictable...

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Interstate 795

Recently, a new interstate opened in eastern North Carolina: Interstate 795. I've approximated its route with the black line:

The expressway itself (US-117) has been open for over a year, but I guess I didn't notice it was new until they made it an interstate. So, only last weekend did I go out there and check it out. There isn't much to it - it's 25 miles long, and 70 mph the whole way, so before you know it, it's over. It makes me wonder if this even deserves to be an interstate. It definitely doesn't seem like an interstate when I drive it. The interstate signage isn't complete, and the exit numbers correspond to US-117's mileage, not I-795's mileage. Interstate status would be justified if the road extended all the way down to I-40 towards for Wilmington, but for now, this is just an expressway linking Wilson and Goldsboro. Whoopee. North Carolina is getting a lot of new expressways, and if we keep making some of them three-digit interstates, eventually we're going to run out of legitimate numbers, right? Hopefully, we won't get to this point.

(Yes, I'm making a big deal out of nothing. For the record, I don't really care.)

The problem with these new roads is that many of them aren't in the Garmin map database (which was purchased less than a month ago, remind you). That results in a lot of "off-road driving" and chirping from Jill. I'm not the only one with this issue, either. I think the lesson here is, if you have a GPS, don't bother getting a map update every year. I'm going to wait at least three years before a map update. Until then, Jill and I are going to get into a fight every time I drive to State College on the new I-99. After all, a certain amount of pride comes with beating Jill's arrival time calculation. See, even with the GPS, it's still important to do your homework before embarking on a road trip.

Monday, January 14, 2008

How Are You?

Here's a common conversation introduction that probably takes place millions of times each day in this country:

Person A: "Hi! How are you?"
Person B: "Good. How are you?"
Person A:" Good."

Why can't we just say "Hi" and get on with the conversation?

Last Year: Week of 1/14/08

Mon 1/15/07: "Golfing at Night". I think I only went back to that course once or twice.
Tue 1/16/07: "Mille Bornes"
Wed 1/17/07: "Kroger"
Thu 1/18/07: "Benny Parsons: 1941-2007"
Fri 1/19/07: "I-540: Nine New Miles!" I took another new road last weekend for the first time. Details forthcoming. (Don't worry - it's not that exciting.)
Sat 1/20/07: "College Basketball Weekend #3"

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Don't Keep Golf Balls Near the Kitchen Sink

Here's why:




As it turns out, the diameter of a golf ball is probably about one millimeter less than the diameter of the drain in our kitchen sink.

How did we get it out? Duct tape, of course.

The Best Way To Lose

If the Jaguars were going to lose last night (which they did), I think they lost in the best possible way. They didn't embarrass themselves in a blowout. They didn't lose a nail-biter in the last few seconds, either. Instead, they lost by 11 - close enough to make it a game and get respect, but not close enough to make me fume over this loss all off-season. (I know the game was tied at halftime, but that's only because they got the kickoff to start the game.)

Good season, Jaguars. 75% of the league didn't make it this far, and you gained league-wide respect in the process. And, the future is looking up! But I think if the Jaguars are going to make a run for the Super Bowl, they need to beat the Colts and win the division, for once.

So, as far as I'm concerned, football season is over. I don't really care about the other 31 NFL teams. See you in eight months!

Friday, January 11, 2008

Not Even Jack Bauer Can Take Down the Writer's Guild

This Sunday night, we were supposed to get the season premiere of "24". Instead, because the writers' strike, FOX has delayed the season premiere until the strike is resolved, in order to be sure that the entire season will air uninterrupted. Only (approximately) half of this season has been written and produced thus far, so they could air what they have, but given the nature of the show, it's probably better that they wait.

Normally, I would be in favor of Hollywood unrest, especially if it were in the movie industry. But I don't like this strike one bit, because it means two things: 1) More reality television. Yuck. 2) Instead of "24", we get "The Sarah Connor Chronicles". No thanks.

At least "Lost" is set to air some episodes in a few weeks.

Jaguars v. Patriots On Slight Tape Delay

Rumor is, the Jacksonville Jaguars have a big game tonight against the New England Patriots. Before I continue, let me mention that in my Chris Allen Football League simulation, Little Rock went 16-0 in the regular season, only to lose their first playoff game.

Am I saying the same thing is going to happen tonight? Well, no. It's certainly not impossible, but I don't see it happening. Regardless of how many sports columnists are picking the Jaguars to win, experience has taught me that when it comes to sports, Las Vegas oddsmakers know best. And they say that the Patriots are 13-point favorites. And, besides: as a generally pessimistic sports fan, it's my duty to expect the worst.

(Side comment: twice now, I've misspelled Patriots: "Patroits". I blame Detroit. Thanks to some Detroit-area stuff I've done at work, typing the "roit" letter combination has become second-nature.)

Of course, it just so happens that my only prior commitment of the weekend is Saturday night, which is when the game is. (Whose idea was it to have a Christmas party in January?) But that's why I have the DVR (a.k.a. Tivo-like device), right? In an effort to avoid the outcome before I watch the game, starting at 800p on Saturday night, I am going to turn off my phone. I am also going to avoid my computer, listening to the radio, and watching any form of television other than the recorded game. The trick will be starting the game broadcast from the beginning without mistakenly skipping to the live game broadcast, or accidently seeing a score on another channel before I hit play. But I'll be extra careful.

Power Windows

My new car has power windows, which is a new experience for me. Like most (if not all) power windows systems, there's an "auto" feature that allows you to "roll" the driver's window all the way down or up with the push of a single button. But why isn't there a button that allows you to instantly "roll" all four windows up at once? This way, you can press the button when you park the car, and be assured that all of the windows are up, not just the driver's window. Maybe the 2016 Honda Civics will have that feature.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Decadent

The use of the word "decadent" in television commercials really bothers me. It's often used when describing dessert food. What does "decadent" mean, anyway? It just seems like a meaningless buzz word to me.

If I didn't know any better, I would think it had something to do with the number 10. But here's what it actually means: "marked by excessive self-indulgence and moral decay". So, in other words, that "decadent" chocolate pie will make you fat, and will contribute to your moral decay. You selfish pig, you!

Ramada

Back in the day, they were known as "Ramada Inn", and they weren't considered to be very upscale.

Then, they dropped the word "Inn" from their title; now they're just "Ramada". I think that was a good move from a business standpoint. "Ramada" sounds much more upscale and proper than "Ramada Inn", doesn't it? Instead of being in the same category as Super 8, now it's a good place to have a conference meeting or a banquet. I guess they weren't doing so hot as a hotel, so they rebranded themselves as a conference center.

But, to this day, I don't think I have ever been to a Ramada. Or a Ramada Inn.

The Toledo Zoo

At some point during the Toledo trip, we went to the Toledo Zoo. Not so much to see animals, but to see their Christmas lights display. As we found out, going to a northern zoo at night in the middle of winter isn't a good idea if you want to see animals. The lights display was nice, but probably not worth the price of admission ($8/person, plus $5/car for parking), in my opinion.

But that didn't stop an impressive crowd from showing up. I guess there just isn't a whole lot to do in Toledo.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Toledo to Raleigh (Cary): 1/1/08

Given that we got the first 3½ hours of the Toledo to Raleigh (Cary) drive out of the way the day before, we had time to take a scenic route here, too!

US-52 is a lot of fun. The portion from Huntington to Williamson isn't very curvy, but the part from Williamson to Bluefield is quite interesting. I would highly recommend it. The only problem with this route is that it's kind of out of the way, and slow, and long. Taking this route added about 2½ hours to our overall trip time.

What's along this stretch of US-52? Lots of old mining towns. McDowell County, along with its county seat of Welch, are good examples of what's happening along this route. (Source for all of this: Wikipedia) In 1950, McDowell County had a population of 100,000 people, and was the 3rd most-populous county in the entire state. Now, McDowell's estimated population is less than 25,000. McDowell County also has the 28th-lowest per capita income in the United States. It's kind of sad, really.

But hope is on the way! Plans are in the works to build Interstate 73/74 along the US-52 alignment in West Virginia. That's the best thing that could possibly happen for these counties. Unfortunately, from the looks of it, this won't happen for decades, if it all. That's too bad, because I-73 is supposed to go all the way from North Carolina, straight to Toledo. How convenient!

In the meantime, this area of West Virginia (and neighboring areas of Kentucky) can lay claim to being the home of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. It says so on the Pike County, Kentucky welcome sign. They're quite proud of it.

Jacksonville to Raleigh (Cary): 12/26/07

I don't know if anyone cares about the specific routes I take on some of these road trips, but if nothing else, it's great for documenting where I've been, in addition to the county map. For example, when determining how far east and north my old car went, I consulted the maps from our Nova Scotia trip.

That said, here's the route we took back from Jacksonville the day after Christmas:

We had some time on our hands, because we left Jacksonville around 900a, it's only a 7-hour drive, and there was no real incentive to get back home before dark (other than to feed the cat, perhaps, but she was fine). So, I designed a route specifically pass through some counties on eastern South Carolina that I've never been to. As a result, I picked up four new counties. I could have picked up a 5th (Horry County) by taking a 10-mile round-trip detour, but decided against it. Horry County is also home to Myrtle Beach, which will probably a day trip in its own right. If nothing else, I left Horry "blank" to motivate us to make that trip one day.

I think rural South Carolina is fun to drive through. The towns are small and sparse, and the pine trees give the roads a "relaxing" feel to them. And, you can find a Piggly Wiggly in almost every town. It was a fun drive. And, for the first time, I saw some of South Carolina's new state road signs. I like the color, but I don't like all of the whitespace that results from having to fit the state outline in there.

Prior to that side trip, we stopped by Savannah so that Amber could reminisce about her brief stint (1½ years?) at the Savannah College of Art and Design, and show me around. My impression of Savannah is that they go out of their way to make it look "old", which evidently works just fine for them, because downtown Savannah gets a lot of tourists.

(Side note: upon leaving Savannah, the Garmin was quite useful in getting us back on US-17 north and over the Savannah River. I had a lot of trouble finding the bridge on-ramp the last time I was in downtown Savannah. Road atlases aren't very useful for that sort of thing.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Jill, the Garmin

Now that both Amber and I have real jobs, we can afford to spend a lot of money on Christmas presents. The result - I got a new Garmin-brand GPS device for Christmas. Cool, huh?

Wait a second. Why do I need a Garmin? I'm generally on top of things when it comes to road trips and directions. In fact, that's half the fun. But nevertheless, I've always wanted one, because you can do a lot of cool things with it. (Just for the record, I did ask for one; Amber didn't just randomly get one for me.)

Through my last three trips to Toledo, I now know the fastest way to get there from Raleigh (Cary). I don't need the Garmin to tell me the "fastest route". In fact, the Garmin won't always give me the actual fastest route. (I usually have to give it a "via point" along the route I'm actually going to take.) But it will tell me when to turn, decreasing the likelihood of a missed turn. On the display, it also says how many miles away the next turn-off is, and an estimated arrival time at the eventual destination (which is surprisingly accurate, usually within 5 minutes or less, even when you're still a few hours away). And, of course, the map display is fun to watch. Being a road trip passenger has never been more fun!

Probably the most useful feature of the Garmin is finding things like restaurants, hotels, and that sort of thing. When we left Toledo on New Year's Eve, en route for a hotel in Athens, I simply searched for a "Super 8" near "Athens, OH", and it popped up, and suddenly, I had directions that took me right to the front door. No more wondering how far down the road that hotel is, or figuring out which side of the street it's on.

As seen on TV, the Garmin has a female voice dictating directions for you. Her name is Jill. (The Garmin says so.) Of course, she has no personality. But she does anunciate the street names, which is fun. (On the way back from Jacksonville, we took a road called "Chicken Road". Hearing Jill say "Turn left on Chicken Road" was more amusing than it should have been.) But Jill doesn't sound very happy when you miss a turn (or, in our case, decide to take a different route). When this happens, she ominously says "Recalculating", and then gives you a new set of directions. "Recalculating" is a very commonly heard phrase. (For example, she wanted us to drive straight through downtown Columbus on I-71, but I've found that I-270 is just as fast, if not faster.) Sometimes, it's just fun to spite Jill for no reason. But isn't it nice how the voice has allowed me to personify the Garmin? In a way, I can relate to the guy from the commercial. (Side comment: the Garmin also has French and Spanish voices. The French woman's name is "Julie". Amber's parents also have a Garmin, and theirs has a guy with an Australian accent, but ours does not, sadly.)

The Garmin also has two display settings - day (a light background) and night (a dark background) - and an "auto" setting that uses "day" during the day and "night" at night. But when you're driving from day into night, when does it make the switch? Is it at a fixed time every day? Or, does it actually depend on sunrise and sunset? On our way back from Jacksonville, the display switched to "night" at 510p as we passed near Fayetteville, NC. The next day, I went online and checked the Fayetteville sunset time for that day: 510p. To the minute!

Another neat feature of the Garmin: stat keeping. You know how I like stat keeping. During use, the Garmin keeps track of total driving time (the sum of total moving time and total stopped time, which are both kept separately), average moving speed, average overall speed, maximum speed, and total distance driven (not quite as useful since the car does this anyway). Of those, the most fun is the maximum speed. On the way back from Jacksonville, my maximum speed was 79.5 mph. Then, Amber broke that mark on the way to Toledo: 82.2 mph. I don't break 80 very often; it only happens when I'm scurrying to pass someone on the interstate. I think I register my fastest speeds on the way to work; I-40 can get kind of crazy sometimes. But I'm only using the Garmin for out-of-town road trips. For everyday use, commuting to and from work, the Garmin will stay at home.

So, what isn't the Garmin good for? Well, as you might expect, the maps aren't 100% up to date. For example, the new interchanges on US-1 in Cary aren't reflected in the Garmin, leading to inaccurate directions. Obviously, I don't need Jill to tell me how to get home, but this appears to throw some people off. Every now and then, I'll see somebody at the Cary Pkwy exit either take the exit and immediately head the other way on US-1, making a U-turn. Or, I'll see someone expecting to turn left onto US-1 northbound, only to find out that the ramp is now on the right. Could these people have GPS devices that are incorrectly telling them to turn the wrong way, or take an exit ramp that no longer exists? As for me, all this means is we get to hear Jill say "recalculating" one more time.

If you ask me, the Garmin was money well spent. I can't wait to take it to Canada.

Sporting News Radio

Not too long ago, a third sports talk radio station began broadcasting in the Raleigh/Durham area: 99.9 FM, "The Fan". (Would it kill these people to have a little creativity when they name these stations?) To get their station started, they acquired the Carolina Hurricanes radio broadcasts. That's a good start. But as the third sports station in the area, 99.9 FM is stuck with the "red-headed step child" of syndicated sports talk: Sporting News Radio.

In many markets (including Jacksonville), a third sports talk radio station has spawned, only to ultimately fail. I think Sporting News Radio is to blame. Being #3, ESPN Radio and FOX Sports Radio are already taken. the reason many markets cannot support three sports talk radio stations. Sporting News Radio is far inferior to ESPN Radio and FOX Sports Radio. In fact, it's almost unbearable at times. Yuck.

While on the topic of sports talk radio: whenever people call in to these shows and say what team they root for, it's almost always like this: "I'm a BIG Red Sox fan." "I'm a HUGE Packers fan." "I'm a DIEHARD Cowboys fan." What does that mean, anyway? Are these people trying to imply that they care more for their team than other fans do, and thus are better people? "So, you're a Steelers fan, huh? Well, I'm a DIEHARD Steelers fan." For once, I want someone to call in and say something like this: "I'm a sort of a Patriots fan...I guess. As soon as they have a losing season, I'm jumping ship. But what do you think about their chances this weekend? Who are they playing, anyway?"

Monday, January 07, 2008

License Plate Registration Stickers

Like most states, North Carolina license plates have an annual registration sticker in the upper right. To make the each year's stickers easier to tell apart, North Carolina changes the color every year. 2007 was green; 2008 was blue. I've been eagerly anticipating the sight of the first 2009 stickers. What color will 2009 be?

Now that the New Year is upon us, the 2009 stickers have made an appearance. And, the winner is...purple!

Florida used to do something similar, and they had a four-year color rotation: green, blue, red, yellow. (Florida doesn't do that anymore; now all of their registration stickers are yellow. Boring.) Based on the above link, the 2003 North Carolina sticker was green, implying that North Carolina also has a four-year rotation, and that we'll see green again in 2011.

But what will the color be in 2010? Red? Yellow? Brown? Orange?

I must have a thing for license plate stickers or something.

Kohl's

What does a guy like me do with a $50 gift card for a place like Kohl's? They don't exactly have the kind of stuff I would get on a whim. Clothes and kitchen appliances aren't really my thing.

Well, I ended up getting a new pair of work pants and some new bed sheets. Exciting stuff, huh?

Side comment about clothes shopping: men have it figured out. Pants sizes are given numerically: one number for the waist, and one number for the length. And unlike women's "sizes", the numbers actually equate to something (inches). This makes buying pants quick and easy, which is the way I like it.

Last Year: Week of 1/7/08

Some of these topics, I've already updated since then. Others, I'll update later in the week. Hooray repetition!

Mon 1/8/07: Florida v. Ohio

Tue 1/9/07: Raleigh (Cary) <--> Toledo: Part 1

Wed 1/10/07: 2006: A Year of Driving. Regarding the random thought, Fifth Third Bank now has branches in Florida. When did that happen? And why?

Thu 1/11/07: The Nintendo Wii

Fri 1/12/07: The Jack Bauer Power Hour. I'll have a brief thought on "24" (or, more accurately, the absence of "24") later in the week. But regarding the random thought, Brian LeBlanc (the best traffic reporter ever) is now nowhere to be found (or heard) on local radio. Without Brian LeBlanc, I've lost the will to listen to traffic reports at all anymore. Why did you leave me, Brian? Why?

Sat 1/13/07: The Small Town NFL Experience. I'll give some more thoughts on the Jaguars later in the week.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Disc Golf: Dexter, MI

During our Toledo visit, Amber and I drove across the state line to Dexter, MI (approximately 10 miles northwest of Ann Arbor) to play disc golf at Hudson Mills Metropark. The setup looked promising: two 24-hole courses on site: the "Original", and one called "The Monster"! The only catch was that it costs $4/car to enter the park.

That, and unlike in Toledo, there was a decent amount of snow on the ground. I've played disc golf in the snow before, but this wasn't the "fun" kind of snow. This was the non-fresh, re-frozen variety that was very difficult to walk on. Making matters worse, there was a coating of ice on almost all of the concrete tee pads. It wasn't fun, so we quit after 11 holes. (Don't worry, Frame - you didn't miss a thing.) It's too bad, because it's a really nice course. Aside from the re-frozen snow, it's worth the $4/car price tag, particularly if you have a few people with you.

But is it also worth an additional $2/person on top of that? That's what they're charging for disc golf course use starting this year, in addition to the $4/car for general park admission. (We played on December 31st, the last day of "no additional charges" disc golf.) Well, maybe it is worth it: I ranked the "Original" course as the 2nd-best course I've ever played, behind Tyler State Park north of Philadelphia. Being a "pay to play" course does not negatively affect the ranking. My rankings only reflect the quality of the course itself. In fact, to justify the price, you should expect a "pay to play" course to be better. They even had printed scorecards! With pencils!

Speaking of the rankings, along with the car mileage log, I've decided to publish a spreadsheet with all of my disc golf statistics: holes played at each course, total number of holes played, my course ranking (based on which courses I've judged to be the best and worst), and the last time I've been to each course (as best as I can remember; my blog archives proved to be quite useful for this). The ranking for State College's Circleville Park course has an asterisk next to it, because the ranking is based on the old 3-hole course, and I have yet to play the new 9-hole version. Having 6 extra holes should will improve the course's ranking, but not much. (Currently, the highest-ranked 9-hole course is "High Country" in Jefferson, NC, at #30. Unless the course absolutely blows, I prefer any 18-hole course to any 9-hole course.)

Catching Up With the Times (Finally)

It took me a while, but I finally decided to use Blogger's "new" GUI template editor. As a result, I've slightly enhanced your blog experience by giving you things that other blogs already had a year ago:

- You can now access any post I've ever written from the blog archives on the right.
- Starting with the first "new format" post, I'm giving each post one or more "labels", so that you can view posts by category. If I get motivated (bored) one day, I might go back beyond that.

Actually, the main reason I went to the GUI template was to see if I could add "recent comments" to the sidebar, like in Jacob's blog. Because from time to time, somebody posts a funny comment on an old post that otherwise would never get noticed. (That must be a Wordpress thing and not a Blogger thing. Or maybe Jacob is just better with web technology than I am. Actually, I know that's true.)

UPDATE: I attached labels to (almost) every post since August 1st, 2007. That's as far back as I feel like going right now.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Jaguars 31, Steelers 29

I care too much about sports. Watching this game took more out of me than it should have. And had the Jaguars not eventually won, I wouldn't have been a cheery fellow the next day.

Part of the fun of seeing your team win a big game is turning on ESPN afterwards and hearing people talk about how great your team is. But don't be fooled...I don't think the Jaguars have much of a chance next week, regardless of whom they play. First of all, they got kind of lucky tonight. They got 14 points from a long kickoff return and an interception return. I think the Jaguars' biggest weakness is the secondary, and I think that's going to kill them next week. But, that's not for another week. I'm going to enjoy this while I can, because it's not every season when your team wins a playoff game.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Olive Garden or Red Lobster?

That was the choice we had tonight. For Christmas, my parents gave us a $40 gift card that we could use at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, or two other restaurants I've never heard of. Hence the choice.

I've always been more of an Olive Garden person. Amber, as well. So, Cheddar Bay Biscuits aside, it wasn't a difficult choice for us. My "Tour of Italy" was outstanding.

Christmas Television

It's my understanding that people don't watch much television on Christmas. Thus, most networks don't bring out the "big guns" when it comes to Christmas Day programming. But what if you do want to watch television on Christmas? What is there to watch?

Well, the Boomerang channel (Cartoon Network's outlet for old cartoons - you know, the good ones) was showing old cartoon Christmas specials all day. First, we watched the Smurfs Christmas. Eh. Then, "Yogi's First Christmas", which was a full two hours, featuring several classic Hanna-Barbera characters: Yogi Bear, Boo-boo, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound, and Augie Doggie and Doggie Daddy. I thought it was fantastic! They don't make cartoons like they used to.

One thing we didn't watch on Christmas was sports. The only sport playing on Christmas Day these days is something called the "National Basketball Association", or "NBA". Whatever that is.

The Cry Room

In Jacksonville, my "neighborhood" Catholic church has an upstairs room called the "cry room". It's for families with young children, so that their children can cry all they want without disrupting the service. Being that my 5-month-old niece was with us, that's where we sat during Christmas mass. It wasn't quite as loud in there as you may think.

Well, I'm not really sure if it's called the "cry room" anymore. I didn't see any signs up that denoted it as such. When I was of "cry room" age, there was one. I guess the term "cry room" is a little too non-PC for today's standards. (On that note, at that church, the "children's mass" - the first of four Christmas masses, normally at 400p on Christmas Eve - is now called the "youth mass".)

Sailing on Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve in Jacksonville, we did something you can't do everywhere this time of year: we went sailing. I hadn't gone sailing in at least 10 years. Back then, as a "young'un", I was completely oblivious about everything. What did I learn about sailing this time around?

It's complicated. It takes a while to get everything in place, but it's a lot more fun than motorboating. And there weren't a whole lot of people out there on Christmas Eve, so I didn't get to test the theory proposed by that boating commercial. You know, the one where that family waves at everybody, but only the people out on the water wave back.

(That commercial reminded me of something I did in 7th grade on a school trip to Virginia. While walking around Colonial Williamsburg, I waved at 40 people. 24 of the 40 waved back. I bet if I were to do the same thing now, I would get far fewer wave-backs, because people are more likely to wave back to a 12-year-old than a 25-year-old.)

Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Nintendo Wii: Second Impressions

Last year, I played the Nintendo Wii for the first time. I wasn't overly impressed. A couple of you disagreed. One year later, I've reconsidered my stance. It's Wii-tastic!

First of all, let's look at how the market is performing. Prior to Christmas, lots of families were scrambling for new Wiis, and having trouble finding them. Meanwhile, I'm sure there are plenty of PlayStation 3 consoles available. (By the way, I think Sony really blew it with the PS3. The new, cheaper version doesn't let you play PS2 games, which would be the only reason I would get a PS3 instead of an Xbox 360.) Also, suddenly, I know a lot of people with a Wii. Every time we visit friends, wherever we go, it's "hey, want to come over and play the Wii?" It's not "hey, want to come over and play the Xbox?" Many of the people with Wiis aren't traditional video gamers, either. Many Wii games have a very short learning curve (if any); just about anyone can start playing competitively in no time. It's also become a real social activity, because you don't just sit in your bean bag chair and press buttons all day. You've moving around, swinging your arms, interacting...and, you can create your own likeness (the "Mii") and play with him/her inside the game. The Wii has made video gaming fun for everyone!

As for the games, if you have a Wii, let me recommend Wario Ware: Smooth Moves. It's crazy Japanese video gaming at its finest.

Mandarin Mill

Here's a classic scene from a television show or movie: adults go back to their "childhood paradise" (a theme park or some such thing) only to find it run-down and deserted, a sight that gravely depresses them. I wouldn't say that our recent visit to the Mandarin Mill mini-golf course in Jacksonville is quite that extreme, but it's certainly heading that way.

When Mandarin Mill was first built, it was instantly the best mini-golf place in existence. Two 18-hole courses. Intelligent and creative hole design. A sufficient game room. It was the place to be. Now? Not so much. Their first mistake was removing nine holes and building a batting cage, thus reducing the number of holes to 27 (both "courses" used the same front nine). Then, it appears they just stopped caring; now there are only 22 holes (both "courses" use the same first 14 holes; then you get a choice between two groups of four). Playing the course a couple of weeks ago, it really looks like they haven't done any maintenance for a couple of years. Part of one hole literally collapsed, forcing them to make a new "tee" at the halfway point of the original hole. And, when we went (on a Saturday night, mind you), they had one employee! All this, for a price tag of $7 per round. Where is all of this money going, anyway? Right into the owner's pockets? It's a shame, because the course has the most intelligent design of any course I've been to. It's much more fun than the Adventure Landing-style courses - and without all of the rowdy teenagers!

Just to clarify, here's what I mean by "intelligent design". Many holes give you a choice between two or more paths. One path may be easier to get to, but it doesn't get you as close to the hole. On the other hand, the "high risk", narrow and/or hard-to-get-to path might take you right by the hole, giving you an easy two. That's "intelligent design" - effective balance of risk and reward. (In fact, since I'm using the phrase "intelligent design", maybe God himself designed this course.) But still, because of the twists and curves that the holes take, getting the lucky bounces plays a large role in how you score. And I'm not just saying that because Amber beat me by 10 strokes.

Curling in High Definition

On Sunday, December 23rd, at 230p, NBC showed a made-for-TV curling exhibition between a Pete Fenson-led American team against a Swedish team. It was a lot like last year, except I remembered to record it this time. I was in Jacksonville at the time, so I recorded it on my parents' homemade Tivo-like device (they have a Linux machine with Tivo-like software hooked up to their satellite receiver). I was hoping the curling would be in high definition, but sadly, my efforts were thwarted by the local NBC affiliate, who didn't show it in HD, even though there was an available HD broadcast. Boo!

This was the first time I had watched curling on TV since I joined the Triangle Curling Club and started curling myself. (I'm trying to mention the club by name as much as possible, because if you Google "Triangle Curling Club", my blog appears on the first page. And I'd like to keep it that way.) With that in mind, I understood the broadcast on an entirely new level. Here is my perspective.

Even though these guys are professionals and among the best non-Canadian curlers in the world, they still had a really hard time with the weight. Many throws were left short, or sailed all the way through. But that's probably because it was makeshift curling ice that they didn't know that well, which makes it difficult to judge the weight. The match was also being held outdoors, which complicates matters even further (if you watched any of Tuesday's outdoor NHL game, you can relate to the difficulties of outdoor ice). See, curling is hard. And I feel a lot better now about my occasional struggles with weight.

On the other hand, while their weight was occasionally off, the professionals were much better than us club folk at the aim. Just about every take-out attempt (including double take-outs) was spot-on. In this match, they had to play solid defense to make sure they weren't vulnerable to easy take-outs. In our matches, take-outs aren't always so successful, and challenging the other team to execute isn't a bad strategy from time to time. Not so here.

There was also a lot more sweeping in this match than our club matches. On just about every throw, they would start sweeping as soon as the stone is released. They wouldn't always sweep the whole way, of course, but sometimes they did. In our club matches, "sweep" is rarely called right from the get-go. (And when it is, it's usually a bad sign.) I suppose if you sweep right away, you don't have to throw the stone as hard, and thus can be a little more precise. As I've mentioned before, I play better on fast ice than I do on slow ice. Maybe that's not a bad way to go.

If you would like to see the match, Google "2007 Korbel Elite Curling Challenge" and some video links will appear. Even though they have Christmas decorations up, and the match aired on December 23rd, don't be fooled: it was actually filmed in October.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Florida Knows Christmas

Last year, I talked about Cary's almost non-existent display of Christmas lights. This year, I decided to give Jacksonville's residential neighborhoods a try. Better? Worse?

The verdict: much better. We saw several outstanding displays, and far more homes had Christmas lights in Jacksonville than we saw in Cary last year. Why is that?

Well, I think people are more likely to spend a day outside with Christmas lights when it's 75° than when it's 50°. That, and (generally speaking) the rich people who live in Cary don't get excited about the holiday season. They'd rather sit inside their giant house by the fireplace than go outside in the "cold" and put up some decorations.

Or, maybe people in Florida have to go out of their way to make it "look" like Christmas. Decembers are warm, and there is practically zero chance of a white Christmas. To compensate for that, Florida residents have to go overboard with the decorations to make it look and feel like Christmas. At least, that's the way I see it.

Mass Statistical Updates

I have a lot of stat updates resulting from the holiday road trips. Rather than split them all up into separate posts, I'm just going to lump them all together here.

Drives By County

We took the scenic route back home from Jacksonville and Toledo, and took a random drive while in Toledo, so I was able to add some new counties to my map. New counties are in green, old counties are in blue:

I added four counties in South Carolina, four in West Virginia, three in Michigan, two in Ohio, and one in Kentucky, for a total of 14 new counties. That brings my national total to 929-of-3,099 (29.98%). One more county, and I'll be over 30%!

Now, some logistics, and a rule explanation. The "national total" went up from 3,098 to 3,099, because I discovered a new, previously-unaccounted-for county. Broomfield County, Colorado, was founded in 2001. I'm assuming I haven't been there. Even if I have, it wasn't called Broomfield County back then, so would it count? What if a county I've visited in the past gets split in two?

Here's my ruling on this, using Broomfield as an example. If I had visited the area inside Broomfield County in the past, I would get credit for it now, even though it wasn't "Broomfield County" back then. But I would also have to reconsider the original counties that Broomfield was formed from. For example, Boulder County is now smaller as a result of Broomfield's formation. If I had counted Boulder before, I would have to reconsider whether or not I have been inside Boulder County's new boundaries. If I had only been inside the portion of Boulder County that is now part of Broomfield County, then I could no longer count Boulder County.

So, in short, when a new county is formed, then I have to reconsider all counties (new and old) whose boundaries changed as a result. I think that seems fair. Besides, the county map is designed to be a reflection of the places I've been to throughout the country, and a good way to determine that is at the county level.

(By the way, 929-of-3,098 is still less than 30%.)

Car Mileage

After our holiday road trips, my car is over 4,000 miles, and Amber's car is over 2,000 miles. (See the "car mileage log" for more details.) To this point, we're both averaging about 1,000 miles every two weeks, which equates to 26,000 miles per year. That's right about where I want to be, at least with my car. At the current pace, if I keep the car for exactly eight years, it will have between 210,000 and 215,000 miles when I give it up.

I drove a total of 1,902 miles in December. The last time I had a monthly total of less than 2,000 miles was in April, when the Saturn spent the first half of the month in a State College repair shop. The 2007 total was 32,209 miles, up from 27,190 in 2006 and 15,800 in 2005.

Nights By County

Here is my final nights-by-county tally for 2007:
Wake NC - 314
Centre PA - 17
Lucas OH - 11
Duval FL - 8
Westmorland NB - 2
Halifax NS - 2
Dare NC - 1
Harrisonburg city VA - 1
Somerset MD - 1
Cherokee SC - 1
Fannin GA - 1
Athens OH - 1
Pinellas FL - 1
Cumberland ME - 1
Aroostook ME - 1
Queens PE - 1
Cape Breton NS - 1

The only new addition to the list since the last update was Athens, OH, which is where we spent New Year's Eve. Not necessarily to celebrate, but because Toledo was supposed to be in the midst of a major winter storm about the time we'd be hitting the road, and we decided the smart thing to do was to leave the area before the storm hit. In actuality, Toledo only received 0.8" of snow from the storm. Typical winter overprediction... (Isolated areas north of Detroit received over a foot, however.)

I spent 86.0% of the nights in Wake County, which is pretty low for a primary residence, I think. But given our affinity for road trips, it's probably going to be in the 85-90% range every year. Since I moved here in June 2006, I've spent 478-of-561 nights in Wake County (85.2%). (My lifetime Wake County total is 479, including one night for my job interview before the move.)

And since I have it, here is Amber's final 2007 tally:
Wake NC - 204
Centre PA - 118
Lucas OH - 16
Duval FL - 8
Macon NC - 2
Westmorland NB - 2
Halifax NS - 2
District of Columbia - 2
Dare NC - 1
Harrisonburg city VA - 1
Somerset MD - 1
Cherokee SC - 1
Fannin GA - 1
Athens OH - 1
Pinellas FL - 1
Cumberland ME - 1
Aroostook ME - 1
Queens PE - 1
Cape Breton NS - 1

I'm not keeping Amber's totals separately this year, because they're probably going to look a lot like mine. The main reason I did it last year was to track the battle for first place between Wake and Centre, which ended up being not close at all, because Amber moved here in May rather than in June or July.

Ohio County Stickers

In my quest to see Ohio license plates from all of its 88 counties, the trip to Toledo wasn't exactly ideal. The best place to see new county stickers is in Ohio (duh), and most of the driving we did to and from Ohio was at night, when the county stickers are very hard to see. Driving around Toledo didn't help a whole lot, either, because I've already taken care of the Toledo area counties. But I did manage to check off 9 new counties, to bring my total to 60-of-88. Here's an updated map, with the 9 new counties in red:

I'm still missing a lot of southwest Ohio, but a single drive down I-75 during daylight hours should take care of that. But I think the best place to find a large variety of county representation across all of Ohio would be the parking lot at Cedar Point. Hey, now there's an idea!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Last Year: Week of 12/31/07

While the "new format" has meant the demise of the "Tomorrow" feature of each blog post, I'll still keep the "Last Year" posts going. Why not?

Wed 1/3/07: "Interstate 95 Holiday Traffic". It was good to read this before I made the drive down to Jacksonville, just to refresh my memory.
Thu 1/4/07: "New Year's Eve in Port Clinton, OH". There's no better way to "reel in the new year" than with a giant fish. Haha, get it?
Fri 1/5/07: "Nights By County: 2006 Final". I'll post this year's final totals within the next few days. Originally, I wasn't going to, but the new "more plentiful and shorter posts" format gives me the freedom to post more stat updates than ever before!
Sat 1/6/07: "College Basketball Weekend #2". I'm not getting ESPN Full Court this season, for the same reason I didn't get ESPN GamePlan.