Friday, February 29, 2008

Leap Year

I love leap year. Why? Because it's quirky. It's a quirky adjustment to our calendar system necessary every few years because the the length of Earth's revolution around the Sun is not evenly divisible by the length of a day. So, they just tack on an extra day as a correction every four years. Even more quirky are the further corrections beyond that (no leap year when the year is divisible by 100, except when the year is divisible by 400).

When I was a kid, I didn't like leap year. "It's an extra day of school! Waah!" Little did I know at the time, that because the school year is a fixed 180 days, that leap year actually means an extra day of summer vacation! Or, does it? School calendars often begin and end on the same day of the week every year. But every now and then, you get an extra week of summer vacation, because 365 does not evenly divide 52. A leap year means you get that extra week one year sooner than you would otherwise. So on a leap year, you won't get an extra day of vacation that year. It just means you might get that extra week a little sooner than you would otherwise. But, on average, yes - leap year gives you an extra day of vacation.

At least, that's how it is in school. In the workplace, leap year doesn't mean a thing, because we work all year round. In fact, when it comes to most jobs, the calendar is really quite irrelevant. But I still like that today's date is "February 29th". Take advantage of it while you can - it won't be around again for four more years!

(For the record, I wrote this post yesterday, but "broke format" and waited until this morning to post it, just so that the "day of posting" would be February 29th and not February 28th. It would be a shame if I didn't publish at least one post on February 29th.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This Blog Post Is All New

"An ALL NEW 'Lost', tonight on ABC!"

All new, eh? Why do television networks feel compelled to advertise new episodes as all new? They all do it. Why can't they just say "new"? Was there a time when television programs aired with some portions new and some portions old, thus requiring the distinction of "all new", guaranteeing that the entire episode is, in fact, new? Or does saying "A NEW 'Lost', tonight on ABC!" just not sound right?

Actually, there is such a thing as a "clip show". "The Simpsons" likes to air clip shows from time to time. While the episode itself is "new" and contains some new portions, the majority of the episode is spent airing memorable clips from old episodes. What if the next new "Simpsons" episode was a clip show? Would FOX still advertise it as "ALL NEW"? If so, then that's false advertising? Or, do they simply call it "new" rather than "all new" and hope nobody notices?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Moratorium On New Hats

Over the years, I've gathered an impressive collection of cheap college hats from gas stations and such. But I've recently decided to stop buying new hats. My closet is pretty full, and let's be honest - I have more hats than I'll ever need. How many do I have, anyway? Well, let's see...

In no particular order: I have two Penn State hats, a Florida State hat, a Virginia Tech hat, a California hat, a Georgia hat, an Ohio hat, a Michigan State hat, a Northwestern hat, an Auburn hat, a Texas A&M hat, a Memphis hat, a Tennessee hat, a Wake Forest hat, an NC State hat, a Duke hat, a Clemson hat, an Arkansas hat, a Mississippi State hat, an Iowa State hat, a South Carolina hat, a Boise State hat, a Colby-Sawyer College hat, a West Virginia hat, a Notre Dame hat, an Oklahoma hat, an Arizona hat, a Utah hat, a Nebraska hat, a Vanderbilt hat, a Southern Mississippi hat, a Jacksonville Jaguars hat, a Florida Marlins hat, a Carolina Hurricanes hat, a Canada hat, and a Piggly Wiggly hat.

That's 36 hats - plenty, especially considering I don't wear hats to work. Back in college, when I wore a hat every day, I could have justified having 36 hats. (Well, maybe.)

But this moratorium doesn't mean I won't buy a really awesome hat if I see one. I just won't buy hats purely for the sake of buying hats. That's all.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Girl Scout-Brand Cookies

It's that time of year again...time for Girl Scout-brand cookies! And, time to debate which kind of Girl Scout-brand cookie is the best!

Personally, I've always been a Thin Mints guy. Those other kinds? Eh - I can do without them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The North Carolina Zoo

Last weekend, Amber and I went to the North Carolina Zoo. Now, some thoughts.

The biggest difference between this zoo and the other zoos that I have been to (not too many, I must say) is that this zoo was not located in the middle of a city. Rather than putting the "North Carolina Zoo" in one of the state's three major metropolitan areas, they put it a few miles outside of Asheboro. That's smart thinking, for a couple of reasons. First, Asheboro is, for all intents and purposes, the geographical center of the Raleigh/Greensboro/Charlotte triangle. (Not to be confused with the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill triangle.) Second, by not putting the, you can have a big zoo. The zoo isn't that spectacular in terms of animal variety (at least according to Amber, who is more zoo-savvy than I am), but it's very spread out. In some areas of the zoo, you don't feel like you're in a zoo - you feel like you're on a trail in the middle of the woods. I like that. (It also helped that this isn't "peak season", and thus, was not nearly as crowded as it would be on a Saturday in May. Hey, works for us - we got $2 off admission!) And, the animals get more land area than they do in some other zoos. The elephants, rhinos, and bison, for example, each have a huge area to graze. Beforehand, I was wondering if the zoo was good enough to have the name of an entire state (rather than just a city) attached to it, and my verdict is, yes - if nothing else because the alternative is calling it the Randolph County Zoo. Would you rather go to the Randolph County Zoo, or the North Carolina Zoo?

And, of course, no visit to the zoo would be complete without seeing an animal going "number two". A chimpanzee did it literally right in front of the viewing glass. I wonder if they do that on purpose...

The Danica Patrick Racing League

At least one person (James) thought it was appropriate for me to comment on this here. So, here we go.

Once upon a time, IndyCar racing (the American brand-name for open wheel racing) was the most popular form of auto racing in the United States. Then, NASCAR drivers started getting in fights, and foreigners starting having the most success in IndyCar. Finally, in 1994, the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (Tony George) decided there were too many Brazilians winning the Indy 500, and formed his own racing league (and took the Indy 500 with him) in an effort to give it back to the Americans. So over the last 13 years, there have been two competing "IndyCar" series, neither of which is particularly interesting, and both of which have lost fans (and drivers) to NASCAR. Good job, Tony! NASCAR thanks you.

Finally, this year, the two series (IRL and CART) decided to join back up again - probably a move of desperation more than anything else. But does it really matter? Am I more likely to watch an IndyCar race this year than I was last year? I'd say, no. But this "merger" does mean a few things for the IRL: 1) A few more races on road courses and street circuits, 2) the arrival of the best name in auto racing since Dick Trickle: Will Power, and 3) more drivers to compete against (and finish ahead of) Danica Patrick. Hey, wait a second - that's not good for the IRL! Oh well.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Curling Recap: 2/22/08

Here's a special Sunday edition of the curling recap! Because, well, I'm bored.

Here's the "box score":

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Our team... 00122500 | 10
Other team. 42000012 | 09

(I'm not sure how this should actually work, but in my box scores, the team that had last rock in the first end will be listed second - the "home team", if you will.)

By the time we were losing 6-0, I was thinking a couple of things: 1) Let's not lose 15-2 again. 2) What kind of free drink do I want afterwards? Needless to say, we got off to a bad start. It's hard to go 10 weeks without curling and make accurate throws right away. But probably the strongest indication that I hadn't done this in a while was how winded I was afterwards. Maybe next time we go on a long curling break, we should do some "sweeping drills" to keep us in curling shape.

For the "diagrammed shot of the week", why not look at that 5-spot we scored in the 6th end? The best shot you can make in curling (and also the hardest to make) is a "freeze" - a precise draw weight shot where a delivered stone comes to rest against a stationary stone, making it nearly impossible to knock out (source). But leave a little bit of room, even if it's only an inch, and it's still possible:
(Yellow = us, Red = them)

(Disclaimer: I don't remember exactly what happened to the shooter, or to our other yellow rock, but what's important is that after the throw, we were lying five.)

That was our last shot of the end, but we didn't have last rock. Now, scoring 5 is one thing; scoring 5 without last rock is another thing entirely. Pretty much the only way that can happen is if the other team screws up:

The ever-so-crucial 6th end strikes again! Those last two throws represented a 6-point swing, and decided the match.

Hey, you know what? We get to go curling again next week! And the week after that! Wahoo!

(Oh, I almost forgot: Triangle Curling Club.)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Memphis v. Tennessee

And now, a word about college basketball. Tonight, the #1-ranked team in the country (Memphis) plays the #2-ranked team in the country (Tennessee). Biggest game of the year, right? I don't think so. Here's why.

First off, this is Tennessee's first week ranked at #2. The week prior, they were #4, and then two teams that play in conferences other than the SEC lost, so Tennessee moved up by default. I think Tennessee is highly overrated - they play in the weakest of the six "power" conferences, thus inflating their record, and they're #16 in the Pomeroy Ratings. #16! I don't think tonight's game will even be close.

But regardless of my opinion of the actual quality of Tennessee's basketball team, no matter who wins this game, these two teams will probably not still be ranked #1 and #2 next week. That seems kind of dumb, doesn't it? If the #1 team beats the #2 team, why should the #2 team not still be ranked #2 next week? (That is, unless the game is a blowout.) Then again, if Tennessee beats Memphis in a close game (say, overtime), they could still be ranked #1 and #2 (except in reverse order) next week. But given the fickle nature of most poll voters, I would be surprised if they kept Memphis at #2, even under the close-game scenario - and that's dumb. (In case you can't tell, I don't think very highly of these polls.)

Fortunately, this isn't college football, and the rankings don't matter.

UPDATE: Tennessee 66, Memphis 62. See, this is why I don't talk about sports that much anymore...

Friday, February 22, 2008

I Guess I Don't Like Disc Golf THAT Much

Just for the sake of posting something today (because otherwise, I've got nothing)...

I had a "half day" of sorts at work today, and the plan was to go disc golfing afterwards. But due to the weather - 35° with "Fog/Mist" (a.k.a. BR), with rain on the way - I decided against it. Last time I played disc golf with the temperature in the 30s and raining, I didn't have fun, and I quit early. I decided to save myself the trouble this time.

In regular golf, a day like this would be a great day to play golf, because the course wouldn't be crowded. One of the more memorable days I had on the Penn State golf course was an overcast, drizzly, 40° day in April. I played twice that day - there was nobody else on the course!

But disc golfers are a different breed, it seems. That afore mentioned cold, rainy day when I played disc golf and quit early? Tournaments excluded, I've never seen that particular course as crowded as it was that day. That day, I learned my lesson - unlike with regular golf, the weather has no bearing on how crowded a disc golf course will be. Disc golfers are weird.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Curling: The Return

Tomorrow night, the Triangle Curling Club's "Winter" curling league begins. Wahoo! (I use "Winter" in quotes because the majority of the league will actually take place during Spring, not Winter. February 22nd seems to be a little late to be starting a "Winter" league.)

The biggest change from the Fall League to the "Winter" League is the amount of participation. Three weeks ago, the club held a Learn To Curl session, one that apparently had a huge turnout. And a few of the attendees have apparently decided to stick around, because there are several names on the "Winter" League roster that I don't recognize. So instead of having eight teams (some of which only had three members), the "Winter" League will have nine full-size teams. Just like in the Fall, my personal goal is to not finish in last place. Especially because this time around, due to the presence of a ninth team, the last place team has to sit out the final week. We didn't really need extra motivation to finish out of the cellar, but now, we have it.

A couple of questions going into the league:
- Are the new league participants actually new curlers, or are they recently displaced Canadians disguising themselves as new curlers? Because of this uncertainty, even though I think we have a good team, I'm not going to get my hopes up.
- How will Amber and I perform after more than two months of curling inactivity? Even the people who just started three weeks ago have more recent experience than I do. I know I usually perform better after an off week or two, but what about eight consecutive off weeks?

I'll be recapping all of our matches throughout the season, probably on Monday afternoons. Soon, I'll also add a curling section to "By the numbers" with all-time win/loss records and such. (Yes, I've been keeping track of my win/loss record from the very beginning.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Hey, That's My Car!

Always on the cutting edge of internet innovation, Google Maps has launched something called Street View in cities across the country, including Raleigh (Cary). (h/t: newsobserver.com) Do you think those detailed satellite snapshots are intrusive on your privacy? Well, check this out!

Go to Google Maps, search for "146 Ribbon Lane, Cary, NC", click on "Street View", and you can see a surprisingly detailed picture of the apartment building that Amber and I call home. (146 isn't our actual address, but it directs Street View to the proper building.) Rotate the camera shot to get a full 360° view, or move up and down the street and view the entire complex!

I looked up and down Ribbon Lane to see if I could find my car (new or old) or Amber's car (new or old) in the parking lot, but no such luck. But I do think these pictures were taken after Amber and I moved into our current apartment last April/May, because I zoomed in on our balcony, and I think I can make out some of Amber's decorations.

Street View has been implemented in approximately 30 cities nationwide; click here for a map of all Street View-enabled cities. Is your city on the list? Probably not, but if you're from Detroit or Portland, then lucky you!

Manager's Special

Every now and then, a food item at Kroger will be labeled with a "Manager's Special" sticker, cutting the price of said food item in half (or more).

But why? Is there something wrong with that sliced turkey or those hot dog buns? Why else would they reduce the price? Sure, the expiration date is good, but I must be missing something.

Maybe next time I see a Manager's Special, I should go talk directly to the manager. It is, after all, his special.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Tell Us What You Really Think

This week, I received a survey in the mail. Here's the gist of it: what do you think of your new 2008 Honda Civic? Is there anything wrong with it? Rate us!

Well, it's hard to tell what you really think about a car after only three months, but so far, I like it. I did put two complaints on the form, however:
- When I open the rear side windows, I hear a really loud vibration inside the car.
- The headlights' span isn't wide enough. As a result, I can't see very well around turns.

Crap - I forgot to mention the parking brake! I really don't like where they put the parking brake. I sit close to the steering wheel, so my knee rests on the parking brake. It's not comfortable. They should have put the parking brake further back.

Another thing I regret regarding my already-mailed-in form - my truthful answers to these two questions:
"I would have bought a competitor's car if it cost 5% less." Answer: No
"I would have bought a competitor's car if it cost 10% less." Answer: No

So, thanks to me, the price of the 2009 Honda Civic might go up. Whoops! Sorry about that. That's what I get for telling the truth.

The Words "Roger Clemens" Have Lost All Meaning

Lately, I've been listening to ESPN Radio's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" on my way to work (if nothing else, just to get the Brian LeBlanc traffic report on 620 AM). However, the last two weeks, I've considered other options. Every day this week and last week, when I turn the radio on in the morning, Mike and Mike are talking about Roger Clemens, or something related. Every day! That's not an exaggeration.

Do people really care about this story that much? Personally, I couldn't care less, and I'm sick of hearing about it. To me, the most uninteresting sports stories of all are those that take place off the field, during the off-season, and have no bearing whatsoever on the coming season's play. That's exactly what this story is.

On a somewhat-related note, I'm still not watching "Pardon the Interruption". Or anything else on ESPN, for that matter - other than actual sporting events, of course.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Travelogue: 2/16/08

I wouldn't call Saturday's drive a disappointment, but it fell short of expectations. Here's the obligatory map:

(Not shown on the map: the Jacksonville bypass, incorporating portions of US-17 and NC-24.)

Just like I said I would, I played disc golf at the courses in Richlands and Jacksonville (NC). I picked the right weekend to go, because apparently, there's a big tournament at the Richlands course next weekend. Here's a conversation I had with someone at the course:

Him: "Are you going to be here next weekend?"
Me: "What's next weekend?"
Him: "There's a big tournament here next weekend."
Me: "Nah...I don't do tournaments. I try not to take disc golf too seriously."

(I wasn't lying - I actually do try to not take disc golf too seriously. The key word is "try".)

One word about Jacksonville (NC). It's a much bigger deal than I thought. I thought it worked like this - Jacksonville (NC) is just like State College, and Camp Lejeune (a nearby Marine Corps Base) is just like Penn State University, in that each is the only reason each town exists - but upon further inspection, Jacksonville (NC) actually has almost 70,000 people, which is twice that of State College, and about the same as Asheville. Who knew?

Just to get my bearings straight on how big some of these Eastern North Carolina cities are, I looked up their 2006-estimate Census populations:

Wilmington: 95,944
Greenville: 72,052
Jacksonville: 69,688
Rocky Mount: 57,057
Wilson: 47,380
Goldsboro: 38,203
New Bern: 27,650
Kinston: 22,729

Of those cities, only Goldsboro and Kinston are losing population. Meanwhile, Greenville is growing rapidly, which seems to be the case for a lot of college towns. (Greenville is the home of East Carolina University.)

Back on topic...after Jacksonville (NC), I had time for one more course: Kinston, New Bern, or Wilmington? (Sadly, the "Farm Life" course with the trash pile was a little too far away to make it worth it.) I chose Wilmington, because I've already played Kinston, and going to New Bern would have added significant time, as opposed to taking super-fast I-40 back from Wilmington to Raleigh (Cary).

Whoops! Wilmington didn't work out - they have a tournament at 100p every Saturday. Oh well. I could have played if I really wanted to, but it might have taken two hours. And, I wanted Bojangles'. (See next post.)

Jill Doesn't Know Bojangles'

One thing that's very useful about the Garmin (perhaps, it's most useful feature) is that it can tell you where the closest gas station, restaurant, or hotel is directly along your route. You can also limit your search to a specific brand of restaurant, such as...oh, I don't know, Bojangles'? I took advantage of this on my way back from Wilmington on Saturday.

Unfortunately, Jill (the Garmin) told me the first Bojangles' I would come to along I-40 wasn't until I got to NC-42 in Johnston County, 100 miles from Wilmington, and almost back in Raleigh anyway. Bah. I don't want to wait that long! I'm hungry!

So, I widened my search, and just looked for any Bojangles' between Wilmington and Raleigh, regardless of whether it was along I-40 or not. The best bets were Clinton and Dunn, but it might have taken me just as long to get to the Dunn Bojangles' as it would have taken to get to the NC-42 Bojangles'. So, I stayed the course.

Well, as it turns out, Jill doesn't know about every Bojangles' in North Carolina. At Exit 364 (NC-24, Warsaw/Clinton), I saw a sign for Bojangles', located right next to the interstate. Wahoo! So, the moral of the story is, don't completely rely on the Garmin. It's still important to know where you're going and keep your eyes open. Of course, I already knew that.

You know, using the Garmin to tell you where to go is a lot like using to numerical models forecast the weather. They're great tools - but you still need to know what you're doing.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Disc Golf Tomorrow, Probably

This weekend, Amber is flying to Toledo to take care of wedding stuff. I am staying behind in Raleigh (Cary). Whatever shall I do to pass the time?

Well, besides watching a lot of NASCAR, I think I'm going to go on a disc golf journey through Eastern North Carolina. Central NC (which I define as "the area between I-77 and I-95") has many more playable courses (29) than Eastern NC does (12), but Eastern NC is a lot more fun to drive through. I don't know exactly which courses I'm going to play, but I'm going to take the Garmin with me, and a list of course locations (some addresses, some street intersections, some lat/lon coordinates).

The two courses in Onslow County (in Jacksonville and Richlands) are among my favorites, so maybe I'll start there. After that, one course I'm looking at is in Williamston, NC called Farm Life Disc Golf: "Tight, wooded course with many hazards (swamps, pond, and trash pile)." Trash pile?!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

NBC Must Be Out Of Ideas

My opinion on reality television has been well-documented. (In a nutshell: it blows.) But how would I feel about a reality show devoted to curling? Well, we're about to find out!

No kidding. Apparently, NBC is going to begin airing a show called Rockstar Curling. (h/t: Triangle Curling Club)

Sounds cool? Well...I'm a little skeptical. First off, I don't know what I think about someone like Bruce Springsteen or John Bon Jovi hosting the show. That just seems like a desperate attempt for ratings. And whether they take the sport seriously, or make it into "America's Funniest Home Videos: Curling Edition", remains to be seen. Of course, the show might not even air at all; NBC just has the option to air it. Well, whatever. Even if it is bad, it's still about curling, that automatically makes it "the best reality show ever" (for what that's worth).

Either way, the Triangle Curling Club "Winter" League starts next Friday, and it's about freaking time!

Odometer Battle Update

The odometer battle between Amber and me is on! And I definitely have the advantage to this point, if by "advantage", I mean "is putting more miles on his/her car".

Obviously, I have more miles on my Honda than she does on her Mazda, because I got a one-month head start. So, I'm actually using these metrics to compare:

# of days per 1,000 miles: Chris 14.6 days, Amber 17.5 days
# of miles per 365 days: Chris 25,049 miles, Amber 20,857 miles
# of miles after 8 years: Chris 200,529 miles, Amber 166,971 miles

(All of these metrics are basically equivalent; they're all based on miles per day.)

Amber went a whole month between her 3,000th mile (1/11/08) and her 4,000th mile (2/11/08). Absurd! I don't think I could do that.

That three-day difference doesn't sound like much, but if you spread it out over eight years (the length of time I'd like to keep my car), it adds up. At the current pace, it will take me 8 years to drive 200,000 miles, but it will take Amber 9 to 10 years.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Oil Change #1

Yesterday was my car's first oil change, at 7,034 miles. Is that too many miles to go between oil changes? Not according to my car!

To recap my Honda Civic's "oil life" feature, basically, it tells you when to get an oil change, using a percentage of "oil life". It starts at 100%, and goes down in 10% intervals every 750 miles (approximately - it's not mileage-based; it's based on driving conditions and total engine revolutions), and eventually 5% intervals. On my way back from State College, the oil life hit 15%, which was displayed on my control panel along with the service light (which goes out once you press a display button).

Should I change the oil as soon as i hit 15%? Not according to the manual - it says the 15% warning is just to inform you that the time is approaching, and that you don't really need to change it until you get down to 5%. But I didn't wait that long; I took it in for an oil change yesterday at 10%. I would have waited until next week, but I could put over 500 miles on my car this coming weekend, and that could have put me all the way down to 0%. And God forbid I let that happen!

Back when I was considering buying the car, Matt the car salesman first told me about the oil life feature: "You know those stickers they put on your windshield to remind you when to get an oil change? Well, with the 2008 Honda Civic, those days are over!" So what does the Honda dealer do after my oil change? They put a sticker on my windshield! I guess sales and service don't talk much.

[Insert Name] Goes To Washington

Yesterday, Amber flew to Washington and back for a meeting, same day. The weather up and down the East Coast wasn't exactly stellar yesterday, so between her northbound and southbound flights, she experienced over 2½ hours of delays, which is longer than the flights themselves (one hour each way). Include the fact that you have to get to the airport one to two hours early to catch the flight, and the transit time on the Metro while in Washington, and she might have actually saved time by driving. Flying is supposed to be faster, not slower, right?

It was a nice reminder of why I like to drive rather than fly, if possible. When you drive, you're in control of whether you make it there on time. When you fly, you have no control whatsoever. I'm just hoping that by taking a nonstop flight to Kansas City next month, and by taking ExpressJet instead of a larger chronically-delayed airline, that I've minimized the likelihood of airport delays.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

50 Consecutive Hours of Trivia

Last weekend, KVSC-FM of St. Cloud, MN (the college radio station for St. Cloud State University) held a trivia contest, lasting non-stop from 500p Friday until 700p Sunday. That's 50 hours, with no break. I guess if anyone's going to participate in such a thing, it would be college students.

Here's the format:
- 9 questions per hour, with varying difficulty and point value.
- Teams call the "trivia hotline" to submit answers.
- Outside of conferring with other teams, or "invading" the KVSC during the contest, you can get your answers however you want. Google, here we come!

I helped out the eventual 56th-place team, although only for about four hours (1000p to 1200a, Friday and Saturday night). So, for 92% of the contest's duration, I was useless. And I probably would have been far more useful to the team's effort during "non-peak hours" - say, 800a on Sunday. I was awake then, but I decided to play disc golf instead.

Personally, I think this kind of thing would be most enjoyed in a room with a large group of people with laptops, as opposed to being in an apartment in Raleigh (Cary), for instance. Oh well...it's my own fault. It's not like I had to leave the college scene.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Crossroads v. Brier Creek

Brier Creek is another one of those massive shopping centers in the Raleigh (Cary) area, which I had never been to prior to Sunday. Brier Creek (20 minutes away) is just like nearby Crossroads in Cary (5 minutes away), and it has basically the same stuff as Crossroads, so there's no reason to ever go there again, actually.

Among the (approximately) thousands of stores at Brier Creek is a Target. But this no ordinary Target - it's a Target Greatland. What the hell is that? I've never heard of such a thing. It looked like a larger-than-normal Target, but not quite a SuperTarget, because it didn't have a full grocery section. (The Wikipedia article confirmed that.) My biggest problem with the store was that this was one of the few times I could actually justify using the self-checkout (I only bought one item), and they didn't even have it! Ugh.

(A side note about self-checkout: generally, I hate it, and avoid at all costs. It almost never saves time - even at Wal-Mart, home of the slowest cashiers in the business - and doesn't work properly half of the time. I only use it when I have one or two items.)

Back on the intended topic: Brier Creek is a lot like Crossroads, in that they're both "outdoor shopping malls". They're all the rage these days, at least in areas where you can justify shopping outdoors in February. Are they building any more indoor malls in the South? Or has that era passed is by, in favor of the outdoor mall format? Personally, I think the outdoor mall is better, because I can usually park closer to the store I want to visit, and I've never been a "mall hopper". My mall visits usually consist of me walking in to a specific store, getting what I want, and immediately leaving. You can do this much more efficiently at an outdoor mall than at a traditional indoor mall. I don't want to have to walk through a department store that smells like perfume just to get to EB Games.

Problem is, with the outdoor mall format comes traffic problems. At an indoor mall, "mall hoppers" park their car once, do all of their shopping, and then come back to their car. At an outdoor mall, "mall hoppers" park multiple times, because it's more efficient that way. But that means there are cars constantly driving through the complex, and it takes the rest of us that much longer to get to the Target parking lot. This is one area where Crossroads and Brier Creek are not alike - the traffic patter. Brier Creek has two main roads that go by, and from there, you can turn into whatever section of the shopping center you want at a traffic light with a long backup. At Crossroads, there are more roads within the complex, but the roads are smaller (two lanes, sometimes four lanes), and are thus subject to absurd traffic delays. Actually, both setups are kind of a pain. It was much better when Target and Best Buy were located away from these centralized shopping centers, and in their own, separate location - still in the general vicinity of the mall, but away from all of the traffic.

You know, come to think of it, I don't like outdoor malls.

Cliffs of the Neuse State Park

This post is just for the sake of documentation, if nothing else.

On Saturday, Amber and I went to Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, southeast of Goldsboro (just over an hour away from Raleigh (Cary)). Basically, we decided to drive southeast, and ask the Garmin (a.k.a. Jill) where the closest parks were. I don't have any interesting stuff to say about the park, so don't get your hopes up for the remainder of this post.

Unlike some state parks (particularly in other states), it's free! But like many places, human influence is taking its toll on the "cliffs", in the form of erosion. (Hurricanes have also played a role, apparently.) Could the edge of the "cliff" eventually reach as far back as the parking lot? (I'm placing the word "cliff" in quotation marks because anyone who has been to the Rocky Mountains would not call it a cliff.)

We don't need to drive over an hour to find a state park. In fact, we pass by one on the way to work every day. But has either one of us ever been there? Nope. State parks just don't have the same appeal when they're in the middle of a major metropolitan area.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Breakfast Cutoff

Here's a rule I have. Whenever I wake up after 1000a, I don't eat breakfast. I used to apply this rule all the time, but these days, not so much.

Well, I applied the rule this morning. Sorry, Kellogg's...not today.

Hockey Day In Canada

It's Hockey Day In Canada on CBC! 13½ hours of hockey programming! And I get the whole thing on NHL Center Ice! Wahoo!

Not that I'm going to watch the whole thing, or even most of it (especially with a certain type of auto racing starting back up this weekend), but I am intrigued by the first three hours. The first game doesn't start until 300p. Until then, what are they going to do? They're broadcasting live from the small town of Winkler, Manitoba, so whatever they do until the first game starts, it has to be good, right?

Friday, February 08, 2008

This Blog Has No Trans Fat (Per Serving)

A few years ago, food products everywhere were advertising "Low Carb". Hey, if it's "low carb", it must be healthy, right? Seemingly everyone joined the "low carb" bandwagon, even Hardee's. Only 5 grams of carbs! WOW!

Well, now the buzz phrase is "No Trans Fat". Who cares how much Saturated Fat your food has - as long as it has No Trans Fat, it must be okay! Even products that have little-to-no fat to begin with (pretzels, for instance) have slapped on the "No Trans Fat" label. Why can't you just say "Fat Free"? Are consumers not smart enough to realize that "Fat Free" implies "No Trans Fat"? What is Trans Fat, anyway?

Some of the labels even say "No Trans Fat (per serving)". Umm, if something has No Trans Fat per serving, doesn't that mean No Trans Fat, period? Actually, no, it doesn't: "No Trans Fat (per serving)" actually means "less than 0.5 grams of Trans Fat per serving". So you better not have more than one serving!

So, I'm sure you'll be happy to hear that this blog has NO TRANS FAT (per serving). And, even better, neither does the computer you're reading it on.

Our Next Weekend Getaway: Part 2

Well, we made a decision...sort of. We booked a non-stop flight on ExpressJet Airlines to Kansas City (MCI) for the last weekend in March. This varies from my usual policy of always flying Southwest, but ExpressJet to MCI was cheaper than anything I could find there. (And, Southwest has no non-stop flights from RDU to anywhere between the Mississippi River and Phoenix.)

But this means we still haven't decided where we're going, exactly. This rules out Texas, but Nebraska and Arkansas are still possible destinations. After we land, should we drive north on I-29, or south on US-71? We're not making any hotel reservations, so we don't have to decide until we get there. Who knows - maybe we'll go somewhere else entirely.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Our Next Weekend Getaway

I always like to have at least one future weekend road trip in the works. So, right now, we're planning to go somewhere the last weekend of March. It's an off-week for the "Winter" curling league (which begins in two weeks), and I'll probably be able to make a three-day weekend out of it.

But this time, we're going to kick it up a notch. We're flying somewhere and renting a car. I'm not crazy about flying, and driving somewhere far away is much more gratifying (and fun!), but flying is the only way we can make it to the Central Time Zone in a weekend and still have time to do anything while we're there. So far, we've come up with three destination options, neither of which is a "traditional" weekend getaway destination, because "traditional" vacations aren't our style:

1) Nebraska. It's one of two states I've never been to. Why not fly to Omaha and explore the greatness that is the Cornhusker State? I've heard that while I-80 in Nebraska is boring, the rest of the state is surprisingly scenic. And I think the only way we would get to see the rest of the state is if we specifically made a trip to Nebraska.

2) Arkansas. We enjoy mountain driving, and believe it or not, Arkansas has mountains, and lots of scenic routes. We could easily spend an entire weekend exploring the Ozarks. Theoretically, Arkansas is within weekend driving distance (it's only two states away!), but if we drove there, we wouldn't have time to do much more than get there, turn around, and come back.

3) Texas. From a "county map" perspective, I was thinking - if I wanted to visit as many new counties as possible in one weekend, where should I go? There are still 247 counties in Texas that I've never been to, so that's the obvious choice. How many of the 247 could we visit in one weekend? While we're down there, we could also stop by Louisiana, which is one of four states Amber has never been to.

So, where should we go? A lot of it could be determined by where we can get cheap airfare. That might give the nod to Texas, because we're more likely to find a cheap flight to Houston or Dallas than to Omaha or Little Rock. But we haven't really investigated that yet, so who knows?

Jill Knows Backroads (Sometimes)

Last weekend was Jill (the Garmin)'s first trip to State College. How would it route us? Oh, the excitement!

(Side comment: even though I have personified the Garmin as "Jill", I have decided to refer to the Garmin with the "it" pronoun from now on, rather than "she" or "her".)

I expected Jill to stick with the interstates, and for the most part, it did - but not so in Pennsylvania. It didn't quite take us on the back way we've been taking, but close. Instead, it gave us a shortcut around Huntingdon:

Did the shortcut save us any time? It's hard to say, because the State College-to-Hagerstown segment times have a high standard deviation as it is. (And, our starting/ending point in State College keeps changing.) But it was faster than average (although not the fastest-ever), so maybe there's something to it. We're going to try the shortcut again when snow isn't an issue. (The shortcut wasn't as fast as it could have been, because there was snow on the road in some places.)

By the way, I forgot to mention a couple things on the I-99 post. First off, being a new road, Jill obviously does not know about the new segment of I-99. Taking roads unbeknownst to Jill is nothing new, but this time, Jill really didn't like it, because it crashed. We had to unplug Jill and reboot. That's a first. Also, because of the snow, the new I-99 segment didn't save us any time whatsoever. Maybe next time...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Interstate 99: 15 New Miles (Approximately)!


Sadly, I didn't get to experience the new segment of I-99 "to the fullest" when driving up to State College last weekend. After entering Centre County, the left lane was covered in snow (perhaps they aren't budgeted to plow both lanes of an interstate highway?), visibility was poor, and traffic was moving slowly. So, I had to concentrate on the driving, and not the scenery. That's too bad. And we didn't take I-99 on the way back, because half of the new I-99 segment (Port Matilda to Skytop) is only open in the northbound direction, and we decided to follow the Garmin's advice and take some back roads (more on that in a future post).

In true PennDOT fashion, the northern half of the new segment (going over Skytop) is speed limit 55. Pennsylvania likes to implement low speed limits, possibly because they don't trust their drivers (or their roads). For instance, on the stretch of I-70 between Hancock, MD (I-68) and Breezewood, PA (the PA Turnpike), there are a couple of turns where it would be dangerous for large trucks to go faster than 55 mph. But apparently, that's enough to make the entire 25-mile stretch speed limit 55, for all traffic. Why can't they trust the rest of us to slow down for those two turns? I can't justify making the entire stretch speed limit 55. Contrast that to West Virginia, where they let you drive 70 mph on interstates (60 on the really curvy parts).

But enough PennDOT bitching; I don't live there anymore. And it's not like NCDOT doesn't have its own problems.

Join the County Map Craze!

I'm not the only person obsessed with keeping track of every county I've visited. In fact, there's a website devoted to just that. Why did it take me so long to find it?

Yesterday, I entered all of my county visitation information into the website. Now, I can perma-link my scoreboard and my map! (I'm only going to perma-link the map, though, because the map shows the by-state statistics.)

The website basically has the same rules that I have been following, except that most other people are probably counting airport layovers (I am not). I'm not going to worry about that, because I'm not on this website to "compete" with the hundreds of others; I'm just doing it for my own sake. But there is one significant difference between the website's system and my system: they count independent cities (ICs; these are cities that are not in any county). To this point, I have been excluding ICs, under the argument that they're not actual counties, and that the whole reason they exist is to be separate from counties. This mostly affects Virginia (which has 39 ICs), but Maryland, Missouri, and Nevada also have one IC each (Baltimore, St. Louis, and Carson City, respectively). But including ICs actually helps me. I've been to 25 of Virginia's 39 ICs, plus the St. Louis IC, and thus, counting ICs increases my percentage. This will make it harder to get 100% visitation in Virginia, but that's okay, because every IC in Virginia is a short day-trip away. Also increasing my percentage was the realization (discovered as I was uploading everything to the website) that for some reason, my map and my numbers disagreed by 8 counties in New York, in my favor. Whoops! So, I guess I'm above 30% after all, even without ICs. (I'm still keeping no-IC totals in "by the numbers", life-total and Honda-only, just to be consistent with how I counted counties for the Saturn. It's also a good backup in case I make a mistake, or if the website crashes.)

Even though I said I wasn't doing this to "compete", I still wanted to see where I stood on the overall leaderboard. It's hard to say precisely, but based on the position of the scroll bar, I'd put myself between the 80th and 85th percentiles. That's behind the folks from aaroads.com (where I discovered the website's existence), but ahead of traffic reporter extraordinare Brian LeBlanc. One person on the website claims to have visited every county in the United States. Sure, it can be done, but some of those Alaska counties are in really remote places. You can't exactly drive to Bristol Bay or Aleutians West, for instance. I guess all it takes is time and money.

To join the website yourself, simply email the guy your information (name, location, and a username/password). Join us...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Something About Penn State Basketball

While in State College, I attended a Penn State basketball game. The opponent: #7 Michigan State. According to Ken Pomeroy's statistics, Penn State had a 19% chance of winning the game. I actually thought that was a little generous, because that doesn't account for Geary Claxton's season-ending injury a few games ago.

Well, Penn State defied the odds and won the game. (I don't like it when sports media types use the cliché "defied the odds", but I'm using it here in a mathematical sense. But at least that expression isn't as bad as "shocked the world". Ugh. Nothing anybody ever does in sports "shocks the world".)

This prompted Penn State's fans to storm the court. Was it warranted? I'd say, sure. Fans are usually a little too quick to storm the court - for example, Florida State stormed the court four times when I was a student there, including a game against Wake Forest, after just storming the court again four days ago - but I think Penn State fans had the right to do it in this case. I think storming the court should only be allowed in extreme circumstances, for major upsets that only happen once every few years.

The only thing ruining the end-of-game moment was the music playing - Zombie Nation, of course. Why can't the band just play the fight song or something? That would certainly be more school-spirited than playing the same song every other college team (and many professional teams) play. But I've already talked about that. The college students still get into it, so maybe I'm just too old for this.

How did Penn State win the game, anyway? I'm not sure, but Michigan State freshman guard Chris Allen might have had something to do with it. He didn't have a particularly stellar game: 0 points on 0-4 FG, including a brutal missed lay-up in the final minutes. As the second half transpired, it was my duty as a pessimistic fan to doubt whether Penn State could hold on. But when Michigan State players started fouling out, forcing Chris Allen to come back into the game, I knew Penn State could do it. Good job, Chris! You've done my namesake proud.

Restaurant Serving Times: Now Online!

By popular demand, and through the magic of Google Docs & Spreadsheets, I am now publishing my records of restaurant serving times, which goes back through June 2004. (I started the "competiton" 10 years prior to that, but only in 2004 did I start the spreadsheet.) You can find the link in the right column, along with all of the other statistical links.

Now, to specify the general rules in one nice, neat little package: (I've discussed the rules before, but I'm going to make it clearer and more concise this time.

When I go to a sit-down restaurant, I time how long it takes for my food to be served. I start the timer as soon as I finish making my order (only my order, not the entire party's order; defined as when the waiter/waitress finishes writing it down). Then, I stop the timer as soon as I receive the main course (defined as when the plate hits the table).

Only traditional sit-down restaurants are eligible. Basically, for a restaurant to be eligible, the waiter has to take your order while you're seated at a separate booth or table. Then, the waiter has to bring the food to you. If you give your order upon walking into the restaurant (fast food, Golden Corral, etc), the restaurant is ineligible. The restaurant is also ineligible if they cook the food directly in front of you (e.g. Waffle House).

So, by viewing the spreadsheet, you can see every sit-down restaurant I've visited in the last 3½ years. The spreadsheet is sorted by date, with the most recent restaurants first; that way, you don't have to scroll down to the bottom to see the most recent updates. Unfortunately, Google Docs won't let the public viewer sort by any of the other columns (e.g. restaurant name, time, location); only I can do that from the edit screen. Oh well.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Groundhog Day Report

I went to this year's Groundhog Day fesitivies with several other Penn State Meteorology students. Jealous? You shouldn't be. (I say "other" as if I'm still at Penn State, but you know what I mean. Before I continue, if you need another perspective on this, here's what Jacob wrote in his blog.)

First off, it has come to my attention that there are many other "Groundhog Day" celebrations across the country with their own groundhogs. There is even one here in Raleigh, with a groundhog named Sir Walter Wally. Raleigh may do as they please, but they're only kidding themselves, because there is only one Groundhog Day. These other groundhogs are all imitators. Why does Raleigh even need something like this? It doesn't get that cold here. (Speaking of which, tomorrow's high is supposed to be in the 70s.)

That said, attending Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, PA for the real Groundhog Day isn't really something I'd like to do again. Here's the timeline:

1145p: Wake up from a two-hour nap. (Comments regarding my weekend sleep pattern are in a separate post.)
1245a: Leave the Wegmans parking lot for Punxsutawney (approximately a two-hour drive). We brought the Garmin with us, and on the way (or the way back), Caren (the driver) set the max speed - 88 mph! And she said her car couldn't go faster than 85...
300a: Arrive at the Punxsutawney Wal-Mart and ride a shuttle bus to Gobbler's Knob.
330a-630a: Stand around in the amphitheater watching bad on-stage "entertainment". This wasn't fun. Not so much because of the weather (wind chills were hovering around 15° - not bad, all things considered), but because of the standing and the boredom. To help pass the time, Amber and I played a long game of Rock Paper Scissors (first one to 50), which she won, 50-47. Included in the on-stage "entertainment" were three on-stage marriage proposals. (Comments on public marriage proposals are in a separate post.) Let's just say that the entertainment wasn't very engaging.
630a-645a: Watch an average fireworks display. It wasn't great, but they were better than the fireworks at Port Clinton.
645a-715a: More standing around. Let's get on with it already!
725a: Contrary to my prediction, I actually did get to see the groundhog. He saw his shadow. (At least, that's what we were told. I guess we have to take their word for it.)
730a-930a: Walk back downtown and eat a poorly-made pancake breakfast. Fortunately, we went to Waffle Shop the next day to make up for it.
1000a: Head back to State College.

I'd say this fits into the "I didn't have fun most of the time, but I'm glad I did it" category. I can't justify standing around in the cold with a big crowd for that long just to see a groundhog (maybe) for a few minutes. Speaking of which, I thought the before-ceremony entertainment kind of did the whole experience a disservice. I always thought of Groundhog Day as a traditional, old-fashioned sort of deal in a rural Pennsylvania town with a family-friendly atmosphere. Instead, over 10,000 people showed up, most of which were college-age students, and we got music and "dancers" for three hours. Clearly, my preconceived notions were inaccurate. I didn't come to "party". I came for the tradition, and I don't think there's any tradition left. Not just because of the "entertainment", but because of the "main event" itself - whether or not Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow. The event is held on an amphitheater stage, with lights! Doesn't the presence of artificial light present a bias that would make it far more likely for Phil to see his shadow? There were no lights 120 years ago! If not for the lights, Phil probably would not have seen his shadow, because it was a gloomy, overcast day. I think Groundhog Day has completely "sold out", with little-to-no tradition left to speak of. I know the whole thing is silly, and that's the point, but I think tradition is the only reason for this to even exist anymore. I think it would be a lot better if there was no pre-event entertainment whatsoever, and they just had the event on a stage with no artificial lighting, with no "frills" or anything. Then again, that's not good for business, and local Punxsutawney businesses want as many people to show up as possible.

Oh well - now I can check this off my "to-do" list.

Sleep Schedules

Attending the Groundhog Day festivities threw a curveball at my weekend sleep patterns. It required me to be awake between midnight and noon. What's that going to do to my sleep?

At first, I considered staying up all night and making a run at my all-time consecutive hours awake record: 31 hours. The circumstances surrounding that record are simple: we took the "red eye" flight back from Hawaii, and I didn't sleep on the plane. Basically, I decided it was easier to adjust my body clock backwards 18 hours than forwards 6 hours. And, I was right! I have a hard time even adjusting 1 hour forward, let alone 6. The only way to go forward is to wake up to an alarm clock, and who wants that, especially in the summer? But going backwards, all I had to do is stay up. The day after getting back in Jacksonville, I just stayed up the rest of the day, and went to bed at a normal time. I forget the actual hours I woke up and went to sleep, but with the six hour time change, it would have been equivalent to waking up at 900a in Hawaii, and going to bed at 1000p in Florida the following day.

I decided against making a run at my record last weekend primarily because the motivation wasn't there. Why bother? Besides, the numbers just wouldn't have worked out. I woke up at 715a on Friday morning, so I would have had to stay up until at least 215p on Saturday. The key to staying awake is having something to do. We got back from State College before noon, so it would have been very difficult to stay awake for another two or three hours, especially with everyone else going back to sleep, too.

Instead, I took a two-hour nap the night before leaving for Punxsutawney. Then, when we got back to State College (after briefly falling asleep in the car), I slept for five hours (until appoximately 500p). Six hours after that, at a "normal bed time" (1100p), I went to sleep again, and slept all the way until morning. I wasn't sure if I would be able to do that, having recently slept for five hours. Often times, when I take a two- or three-hour nap after work, I can't fall asleep again until after midnight. But I didn't have a problem this time. I got 16 hours of sleep over the weekend, and by the time Sunday night came around, my sleep schedule was back on schedule.

Public Marriage Proposals

As mentioned in my Groundhog Day post, during the pre-event entertainment, there were three on-stage marriage proposals. As you would expect, they all said "yes". I wish them the best. I feel bad for the third guy, though. By then, nobody in the audience cared anymore, and she had to know it was coming.

Personally, I would never make a public marriage proposal. Never. Ever. First, I don't want to embarrass her (or me). Second, something is far more likely to go wrong when you get public entities involved. At the last Jaguars game I attended, a "Will you marry me?" message appeared on the Jumbotron, and disappeared after about three seconds. Chances are, she missed it, or questioned whether or not it was for her or someone else in the stadium named "Ashley".

Third, it seems to me like a cheap way to pressure the girl into saying "yes". You can't say "no" in front of thousands of people. Who has the stones to do that? The girl has to say "yes". Or, at the very least, say "yes", get the guy's hopes up, and say "no" in private later that day.

I guess the idea behind a public marriage proposal is to make it a "memorable moment". But keep in mind that once you have the wedding, the wedding will take precedence over the engagement in the memory bank. So why bother going through an elaborate public proposal? Nothing good can come out of it that you can't accomplish by making the proposal in private. Just take her to a nice semi-private location (a beach, park, or other "special place") and tell her what she means to you and that you want to spend the rest of your life with her. That's all she wants.

(By the way, this is my male-oriented perspective. If the female perspective is different, feel free to comment.)