Monday, March 31, 2008

Nebraska Trip: Day 1

We brought the camera with us, so I will have pictures...eventually. But for now, all you get is the standard, boring map:

Actually, I don't think we took any pictures the first day. There wasn't really a whole lot to it. Upon landing in Kansas City, we took a shuttle to Hertz, picked up our car, and drove north. (The rental car was a 2007 Kia Spectra; I'll talk about the car in another post.)

As chronicled in the preview, Nebraska wasn't the only destination we were considering. Basically, our choices were to drive north to Nebraska or south to Arkansas. I think we had actually decided on Nebraska the night before, so it wasn't a last-second decision or anything. In a way, that's too bad, because I was looking forward to those dramatic final moments of indecision.

Here's why we went to Nebraska instead of Arkansas:
1) Nebraska represents a more dramatic change in scenery than Arkansas. I imagine the Ozarks don't look that much different from the Appalachians. Meanwhile, parts of Nebraska are far more desolate and wide open than anything you can find in the Eastern Time Zone.
2) I had never been to Nebraska, while I had been to Arkansas (albeit 15 years ago). Amber had been to Nebraska, but like most people, only the boring part (I-80).
3) We could conceivably drive to Arkansas and back in one weekend. Nebraska? Not so much.

Really, the only interesting thing from the first day was our search for hotels. The original plan was to spend the night in Iowa just across the river from Nebraska City, but all of the reasonably-priced hotels in that area (at least with listings and phone numbers in the AAA TourBook) were full. What gives? This is rural Iowa and Nebraska we're talking about, and it's a Thursday night! Oh well. I think this area is just a popular place for truckers to stop for the night. Instead, we drove another 20 minutes west (away from the interstate) and stayed in a Sleep Inn. Based on that experience, we made sure our next two nights were spent away from the interstates. We had no problem finding available lodging the rest of the trip.

I think it would have been a little more dramatic to start off the next day by crossing into Nebraska, rather than by starting the day already in Nebraska, but oh well.

Nebraska Trip: Statistics

Now, some dumb statistics regarding our trip to Nebraska. (It's what I do best!)

I've made several updates to the "By the numbers" page. Included among those:
- I visited 39 new counties during the trip, including 21 in Nebraska. My national counties-visited total is now 977-of-3,098, or 31.5%. I've updated the county map website accordingly, although it usually takes a day or two for the national map to update.
- Nebraska was a completely new state for me, meaning Alaska is now the only state I have yet to visit. We went to 7 states during the trip - Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas.
- "Nights by county" has been updated, reflecting the three counties in which we stayed overnight during the trip. All three nights were spent in Nebraska.
- Two restaurants were added to the "Restaurant times" spreadsheet.
- Two-lane highways: We drove on a lot of two-lane highways, many of which were very easy to pass on, due to low traffic and high distance visibility. During the trip, I passed 21 cars, and was only passed once. Most of those transactions took place in Nebraska.

I also removed the Garmin driving statistics. Apparently, once you reach 100 hours of driving, it doesn't display the total driving time anymore, because the display is only configured to show 99 hours or less. After that happened, I hit the "reset trip" button, without realizing that would reset the total driving distance as well. I thought distance traveled was a permanent odometer, unable to be reset. Whoops! Oh well. So, the only "permanent" stat I still have left is maximum speed, which I don't feel like posting anymore, because it's starting to get out of hand.

Now, some other statistics. I timed both flights, take-off to touch-down. As anyone with a meteorology education would expect, the return flight was faster. The Raleigh -> Kansas City flight was 2h32m55s; the Kansas City -> Raleigh flight was 1h56m39s.

When we left the car rental place on Thursday, I reset one of the trip odometers so I could easily tell how many miles we drove last weekend. But when we turned the car in on Sunday, I forgot to write down the final number. Whoops! I think it was between 1,800 and 1,900 miles. (Hertz gave us unlimited miles, so no problem there.)
Along the way, I followed the lead of the car mileage log and wrote down where we were when the rental car reached a 1,000 multiple. I've considered adding these to the car mileage log workbook under a new tab called "Rental cars", but...nah. Instead, I'll just post them here:

- The car reached 16,000 miles on Thursday, March 27th. We were driving westbound on Nebraska 2 in Otoe County, near Nebraska City.
- The car reached 17,000 miles on Saturday, March 29th. We were driving southbound on US-287 in Larimer County, Colorado, near the town of Laporte.

I also had some fun with Nebraska license plates, but I'll save that for another post.

Fun Trip, But...

...it wasn't cheap. Between the plane tickets, rental car, hotels, and gas, the 4-day trip cost us approximately $1,100. That's not much less than last year's Nova Scotia trip cost ($1,500), and that was a 9-day trip. So, we won't do another trip like that for quite a while - certainly not before the honeymoon. But it was still worth it, of course.

By the way, we chose Nebraska over Arkansas. Once I have time, I'll write a few blog posts about it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Arkansas or Nebraska Trip: Preview

It's road trip time! I've written about this upcoming trip twice before (one, two), but those posts were several weeks ago, so I don't feel too bad about repeating myself.

After work on Thursday, Amber and I are flying direct to Kansas City, and renting a car. Then, we have 70 hours to get back to the Kansas City airport and fly back home Sunday night.

Why are we going to Kansas City? That's the general reaction we've received when telling people about our trip. One person asked, "Why not go to Indianapolis instead?" Well, the idea isn't to stay in Kansas City. Very little of the trip will actually be spent in Kansas City. The reason we're going there is because we found a relatively inexpensive, direct flight. And, it's in close proximity to two places we've talked about spending a weekend: Arkansas and Nebraska. But we still have a choice to make. When we land and grab our rental car, which way should we go?

Well, we're ruling out east or west, because neither St. Louis nor Kansas sounds very intriguing. "Oh, and I suppose Nebraska does sound intriguing, huh?" Actually, yes, it does. I've never been to Nebraska, for one thing. Also, I think the northern part of the state might be rather interesting, particularly up towards the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Or, maybe we'll decide to drive south to the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas. We haven't decided yet. We may not decide until we leave the airport and are faced with a difficult decision: North I-29, or South I-29?

Whether we end up in Russellville, Arkansas; Valentine, Nebraska; or somewhere else entirely, between the Garmin and our AAA TourBooks, we'll be covered.

Sometimes, I Just Want To Drive

Three weeks ago, the (Raleigh) News and Observer asked for volunteers to keep a detailed travel diary for a week, in terms of when we drive, where we drive, how far we drive, and how much money we spend on gasoline during that span. That sounds like something I would do, don't you think?

Articles based on everyone's travel diaries are appearing in the N&O this week. Today's article talks about people who go driving just for the sake of driving, including "Chris Allen, 25, an RTP programmer". Rather than regurgitate the article's contents here, I'll honor the newspaper's copyright restrictions and simply link you to the main article, and also to this article about me in particular.

Yes, I did really say some of our recreational driving was "wasteful". Things were different when gas prices were under $2.50, and I had a car that already had well over 100,000 miles on it. These days, I feel an obligation to keep my new car's mileage in check, at least for now. Hence my 2,000 miles/month limit. At that pace, I'll hit 200,000 miles in 8 years, which is the goal. (By the way, in reference to this post from last week, my March total is going to end up being about 1,040 miles. Hey, that gives me an extra 960-mile allowance for next month!)

I also told Peggy (the article's author) about all of those crazy driving statistics I keep, including the car mileage log; information about that may appear in the paper on Friday. We'll be out of town by then, but hopefully whatever hotel we find Thursday night will have internet access.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Buckhorn: The Return

Back in July 2006, I played disc golf at Harris Lake County Park, at a course more commonly known as "Buckhorn". As you can see from my July 2006 post, I said: "I'm never coming back here."

Well, as you may have figured out by now, when I say "never" on this blog, I don't really mean it. But at least I held out for 20 months. I just couldn't resist. This course can't be that bad, right? After all, part of the problem last time was that I played from the pro (blue) tees and not the amateur (white) tees. I'm no professional, so I deserve the right to play from the amateur tees.

But I'm glad I went back. I shot/threw a respectable 73, and didn't lose any discs! I did throw it in that disgusting water hazard again (after two layups, again), but it was close enough to the edge to be able to retrieve it with a stick. Now I know - that pond is deceivingly long.

I was harsh on this course the first time, but it does get a lot right. It's extremely well marked, and it's in a delightfully peaceful location. On my rankings, I moved it up from #46 to #38. The ranking would be a lot higher, but the main factor in my rankings is fun, and this course is too difficult to have fun. It's a "championship caliber" course, which means that there are a lot of trees, and many holes have little-to-no discernable fairway. I don't think that's fun, and isn't a fair test for someone of my skill level. But that's just my opinion. If I was a "pro", I'm sure I'd feel differently.

CBS Basketball Announcer Rankings

On another March Madness-related note, of CBS's eight announcing duos, here are my favorites (and least-favorites):

1) Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery
2) Tim Brando/Mike Gminski
3) Gus Johnson/Len Elmore
4) Craig Bolerjack/Bob Wenzel
5) Kevin Harlan/Dan Bonner
6) Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel
7) Jim Nantz/Billy Packer

8) Dick Enberg/Jay Bilas

If memory serves me right, #1, #3, #7, and #8 will cover the four regional sites this weekend. Which is too bad, because I think Enberg's time has passed. These days, every other word out of his mouth is "Oh, my!" Even so, he's still better than James Brown was last year.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Just Watching the Game...

Discontinuous Roads

On the way back from curling last Friday, I decided I didn't want to take Capital Blvd. I saw a sign for Old Wake Forest Road, and thought, "Hey, why don't I take that road? I've never gone this way before, but I'm pretty sure it goes all the way through to Falls of Neuse Road. Let's try it!"

Indeed, Old Wake Forest Road does intersect Falls of Neuse Road. But Old Wake Forest Road isn't continuous:

What the hell? It seems to me that if you see two roads with the same name in the same area of town, that they're the same road. Apparently not. Why don't they give one part of the road a new name? How dumb.

It's not just Raleigh, though; Jacksonville also has a some roads like this. I think there are three such instances in this area of town alone, bordered by Atlantic Blvd, St. John's Bluff Road, Beach Blvd, and Southside Blvd:

The three: Leon (two discontinuous sections), Bradley (three discontinuous sections), and Fraser (four discontinuous sections, some of which are dirt or gravel). Maybe they ran out of funding or something.

Curling Recap: 3/21/08

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Our team... 01101102 | 06
Other team. 10020010 | 04

When you win the pre-game coin toss, you have two choices: 1) Last rock in the first end. 2) Choice of color. The choice is almost always #1, but this time, we won the coin toss and chose #2, because we felt there was a large discrepancy in "stone quality". Some stones are easier to play with than others, and we thought the yellow stones were, well, crappy. That's another thing you'll never see in a televised curling match. (Of course, I don't think they ever show the coin toss, either. I guess that's true in football, too. The only time they show the pre-game coin toss is before really big games - basically, championship games.) Whether we won the match purely on the basis of better rocks, well...who knows?

I'll be honest: it's getting harder and harder to get these shot diagrams together. I don't bring pad and paper with me, so I have to do it from memory. And with that, there's a tradeoff: the more interesting shots are harder to remember. Then again, even if my diagrams are a little bit off, that's okay. Unless you were there, you won't know the difference.

This was an attempted shot by the other team (key word: attempted): (other team = yellow)

If executed, and the shooter stayed, it would have gone from "1 red" to "4 yellow". Instead, it hit a guard before it got that far, and left the house undisturbed.

Although the match was close throughout, the 8th end wasn't all that dramatic, actually. Our team had last rock, which obviously makes things a lot easier. Here's a basic summary: our team's next-to-last throw was a draw to near the button, and the other team missed the take-out on their last throw, leaving us no incentive to throw last rock. A tie game heading into the 8th end probably isn't the most dramatic setup, actually. If the team with last rock trailed by one with one end remaining, then that could be a little more interesting, if nothing else because it could lead to a tie and an extra end. A tie game after 7 ends will is almost guaranteed to not be tied after 8 ends. Sure, the end could be blanked, but when both teams only need one to win, they're obviously not going to blank the end on purpose. Chances are, there will be at least one stone in the house.

Our team's season record is now 3-1, and the next Triangle Curling Club match is April 4th.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Passports Aren't Cheap

This week, I applied for an official United States passport.

"Hey, Chris! Why? You don't need a passport to get into Canada!" Well, that is true now, if you drive - all you need is a driver's license and a birth certificate. But the Department of State keeps talking about changing the rules and requiring passports for all Canadian travel, so I wanted to cover my bases, just in case. Total cost (including photos): $115.

Of course, now, , the website says "as early as June 1, 2009", meaning I don't need the passport after all. Oh well. Carrying around a passport is a lot easier than carrying around a birth certificate anyhow. And it will be nice to know I can fly to Winnipeg whenever I feel like it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

2008 Tim Hortons Brier: Recap

Last weekend, Amber and I sat in front of the computer and watched the Canadian national championship of curling, otherwise known as the Tim Hortons Brier. Here's a Canadian take on the event; what about my take?

Actually, I wasn't overly impressed. These guys are supposed to be the best curlers in the world, right? Well, listening to the CBC commentary, you'd think so. (Canadians are fairly arrogant about their status in the world with regards to curling.) But there were several missed shots. Now...they didn't miss any shots that I probably would have been able to make (at least consistently), but still. Worse yet, they all blamed it on the ice conditions. The losing skip, Glenn Howard, had this to say: "You just weren't sure what was going to happen. I didn't enjoy it that much. ... You just weren't sure about the ice conditions." Geez - talk about a sore loser! I thought Canadians were supposed to be friendly and gracious - especially Canadian curlers. I don't care how bad the ice conditions were, Glenn - you got beat. Nobody wants to hear you whine about it. How about just tipping your proverbial cap and moving on? I've never heard anyone complain about the ice conditions in our curling club, and we play on some rather questionable ice (which, honestly, makes the matches more fun).

Maybe I just don't appreciate how big of a deal this is in Canada. By winning the event, the Kevin Martin-led team gets to represent Canada in next month's world curling championships. Martin has skipped for Canada before, in the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. I've watched enough curling to this point, I'm starting to recognize all of these guys.

The format of the Tim Hortons Brier is this, in a nutshell: 12 teams, each representing one Canadian province. (Northern Ontario has their own team, and Yukon and Northwest Territories have a single team.) Each province has their own tournament to determine which team moves on to the Brier. It got me thinking - what if the United States had a similar tournament, where each state was represented with one team? Only the top 12 states would make the finals, because it's not really practical to have a full round-robin tournament involving more than 12 teams. Of course, you could have qualifiers to whittle the lineup down to 12 from however many states enter a team.

I think the 12 finalists would look something like this:

1) Minnesota
2) Wisconsin
3) North Dakota
4) New York
5) Massachusetts
6) Michigan
7) Illinois
8) Ohio
9) Alaska
10) California
11) Colorado
12) Washington

That's based partly on reputation, and partly a list of curling clubs across the United States. Ohio has five curling clubs, but honestly, I don't know what kind of a reputation Ohio curling has. Are they any good? Would they be better than, say, New Hampshire? If we had this tournament, we could find out! And as North Carolina's only curling club, the Triangle Curling Club could send their own team! We'd be completely out-classed, especially against teams from Minnesota and Wisconsin, but at least we'd have a chance.

Finally, Something for the East Coast

Generally speaking, when it comes to sports, I'd rather live on the West Coast. The Pacific Time Zone is a "bizzaro world" where college football begins during breakfast, and all those late sporting events are over before I go to bed, not after.

However, the NCAA Tournament is one exception to the rule. When I got home from work today, the second group of today's games still had a long way to go. If I lived in the Pacific Time Zone, I could forget about watching any of the afternoon games.

By the way, WRAL-TV (the local CBS affiliate), in cooperation with Time Warner Digital Cable, is showing all of the NCAA Tournament games. Lucky me! Good thing, too, because otherwise I'd be stuck watching Duke v. Belmont tonight.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Less Than 1,000 Miles in a Month: Is It Possible?

This month is more than half over, almost two-thirds over. And so far this March, I've only driven 705 miles. That's very small by my standards, especially compared to last March's total (4,465 miles). In the past, I've said that given my work commute and recreational driving, it's virtually impossible for me to drive my car less than 1,000 miles in a month.

Or...is it? We probably won't make any long trips this weekend, and next weekend will be spent in Kansas City with a rental car. Can I make it from now to April 1st on 295 miles or less? Let's do the math.

Between now and March 31st (inclusive), I have seven days of work. (I'm taking next Friday off.) It's a 38-mile round-trip commute, so that's 38*7 = 266 miles. There's also curling on Friday night, which Amber or me could drive to - that would put me over 1,000 if we took my car. But there's also the possibility that I won't drive to work next Thursday. That day, Amber and I will carpool and then go to the airport; if we take her car that day instead of mine, then that would put me back under 1,000, independent of whether I drive to curling or not. Besides those factors, there's also the chance I'll make a 60-to-100 mile (round-trip) disc golf journey this weekend.

So, it could happen. Not that it really matters anyway, right? "Less than 1,000 in a month" isn't really a goal of mine. My primary goal is simply to keep the monthly average under 2,000, so that my car will reach 200,000 miles in no less than eight years. So who cares about the difference between 995 miles and 1,015 miles?

Well, I guess I do, or else I wouldn't be talking about it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Not To Put Together An NCAA Tournament Bracket, Part 2

I haven't done so well with my NCAA Tournament bracket predictions the last few years. So this year, I've decided to not trust my instincts.

The way I see it, a lot of games come down to just a few points, or a final-minute sequence. You can't possibly predict what will happen when it comes down to that. It's quite random. Will he make that buzzer-beating three-pointer? Maybe, maybe not. You can call it "clutch" if you want; I call it "luck". Nobody can make every shot.

So, why not just flip a coin a bunch of times, except make it a weighted coin in favor of the better teams? Well, with Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings and the log5 method, we can do just that!

I used those computer rankings and the log5 formula to produce five "random" tournament results, each of which I've entered online, just in case "the stars align" and one of them actually happens. After all, isn't this just a glorified lottery? Sure, knowledge of college basketball helps, but for the most part, the NCAA has done the work for you by seeding the teams. You basically just have to get lucky. And when it comes to the lottery, they say you're better off picking six random numbers than picking six "favorite" numbers. Based on what statistical knowledge I have, I'm inclined to agree.

So, I simulated the tournament results five times. What happened?
- Kansas won the tournament three times. The computer rankings really like Kansas (and the Big XII in general).
- In the two tournaments that Kansas did not win, no #1 seeds made the Final Four either time. One tournament gave me an all-Big East Final Four (Louisville, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Connecticut).
- In one tournament, two #15 seeds won in the first round, and American won two games.
- Oral Roberts (a 13 seed) beat Pittsburgh (a 4 seed) three times. The numbers say their chance of winning is only 21%, so that's just a fluke - ORU's expected value out of five games is, of course, one win. But let's not get all crazy and say "that's a sign!" or anything.

See why this is so random? Pittsburgh can just as easily lose in the first round, or advance to the Final Four. Who knows? Why bother doing any "research" or sweating over tough decisions when it's just going to be a quasi-random result anyway?

For "pools" and such where I can only enter one bracket, I chose the bracket I liked most out of the five, and then made some tweaks in the first two rounds as I saw fit. So I guess I didn't completely rely on chance. I picked the result that made the most sense to me, and then changed a few of the first-round results, because those first-round games aren't going to affect my bracket that much anyway.

And, just for good measure, I picked Oral Roberts to beat Pittsburgh.

The Search For Good North Carolina Barbecue Continues

Thus far, I haven't been overly impressed with North Carolina barbecue. But maybe I'm just not going to the right places. So, it's time to start looking.

First, off a tip from Petters, we went to Old Time Barbecue. One problem - we went at 400p on a Saturday afternoon, and they close at 200p on Saturdays. Maybe some other time, eh?

Then, last weekend, we received another tip - Stamey's in Greensboro. That's the real reason we went to Greensboro last weekend. Of course, we made sure they would be open beforehand.

Like Smithfield's, Stamey's also puts cole slaw on their pulled pork sandwiches. What is with these people? At least now I know, when I'm in North Carolina and I want a pulled pork sandwich, make sure I specify "no slaw".

Also like Smithfield's, Stamey's also didn't have much barbecue sauce to speak of. The only "sauce" they had was a spicy type of sauce, one that you applied sparingly to the pulled pork, rather than in heaping amounts. Again - what is with these people? To me, barbecue sauce is the key ingredient, and pulled pork is simply a tasty medium to hold it. I want my pulled pork smothered and covered (like my Waffle House hash browns). Obviously, North Carolina disagrees with this notion. Maurice's (Columbia, SC) isn't known for the meat as much as they are for the sauce. And when you go to Bono's (Jacksonville), they give you multiple varieties of barbecue sauce to choose from. What does North Carolina have against barbecue sauce?

Even without sufficient barbecue sauce, Stamey's was still pretty good. Cheap, too!

Monday, March 17, 2008

St. Patrick's Day? Eh

Today is St. Patrick's Day. I remember when that used to actually mean something. From elementary school all the way up through college, St. Patrick's Day at least had some significance.

Now? It's completely meaningless. As far as I'm concerned, they might as well take it off the calendar at this point.

Road Geek Report: Greensboro

While in Greensboro last weekend, I drove the new portion of the Greensboro Outer Loop, now I-40.

Last week, I talked about the milemarker discrepancy that results from extending I-40 four miles on the new alignment, and how the milemarkers on the new segment are actually 1.1 to 1.6 miles apart to make up for it. I had to see this for myself. Are they really up to 1.6 miles apart? Actually, no - every milemarker I saw on the new segment was exactly 1.0 mile from the last one.

So, where do those extra four miles get lost? Last week, I wondered why they didn't just "hide" them in the existing milemarker discontinuity when I-40 is co-signed with I-85. It looks like that's what happened. When I-40 and I-85 join up south of Greensboro on the new highway, the exit numbers are 120 for I-85 and 219 for I-40 (I think), implying that when the roads split up again, I-40's mileage should be 99 higher than I-85's mileage. But at the split west of Durham, the intersection is I-85 exit 163, and I-40 exit 259 - a difference of only 96! There's the answer, I think.

Either way, coordinating a new I-40 alignment is more complicated than just putting up a bunch of new signs. You also have to change all of the old signs on the old I-40 alignment, from "I-40" to "Business I-40". And NCDOT hasn't gotten that far yet. Almost all of the signs on the old I-40 still say I-40, including the "To I-40" signs that exist throughout Greensboro. Basically, the only signs that they changed are the ones at the eastern and western end of the new alignment, and not even those have been completely changed. For example, this sign on the new I-40 should be changed to say "Business I-40", because you're already on I-40 (albeit East I-40). Hey, NCDOT - thanks for opening the new road, but you still have a lot of work to do.

I guess nobody's perfect.

Disc Golf Report: Greensboro

Amber and I went disc golfing last weekend (for the first time in four weeks!) in Greensboro. The Triad doesn't have as many courses as the Triangle, and Greensboro itself has only one course: Barber Park.

Overall course impression: eh. First off, the park also sports an indoor gym and a baseball/softball field, and both were in use on Saturday. A volleyball tournament was occupying the gym, and all the parking spaces near the first tee. So, we had to park relatively far away, and instead started play on hole #8 (the first target we saw). In retrospect, that was probably a mistake. This was the kind of course where you either need to know where the holes are, or you need a map. They had printed scorecards with maps at the first tee, but of course, we didn't know that until we played half the course already. Instead, we had to rely on these really-hard-to-see tee markers implanted in the ground. There were no tee signs, and most targets didn't have the hole number on them. We found everything we needed to, but still. Does anybody care about this course? It doesn't have its own web page, and the Triad Disc Golf website refers to it as "Barbara Park".

Aside from all that, it's actually an okay course. We might play it again - but not until after they re-open all 18 holes.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

College Basketball v. Curling

I haven't talked that much about college basketball this season, mostly because I don't know what I'm talking about. But with the NCAA Tournament coming up, it will certainly be a topic of discussion this coming week.

As for today, it's "Selection Sunday". I'm normally glued to the television (figuratively speaking) during the selection show, because Florida State is always "on the bubble". No such bubble talk for Florida State this year, or for Penn State, or for any other team I have a remote interest in. So I don't really care to watch. Instead, I have my TLD set up to record the NIT Selection Show, on ESPNU at 900p. (No, really. True story.)

Meanwhile, rather than watch the selection show, tonight will be spent watching the championship match of this year's Tim Hortons Brier, live online. It's curling at its best!

Friday, March 14, 2008

When To Buy Curling Supplies?

Amber and I are taking this curling thing kind of seriously. So when is it time to buy our own curling shoes and brooms?

We had such a discussion with some people last week, and they all agree that having your own curling shoes (instead of a strap-on slider) dramatically helps your game. And real, newer curling brooms (instead of old-style "hair" brooms) are more effective and better for the ice. So if we keep at it, we should definitely make the plunge.

But when? Is it too soon to do it now? Probably not, but after all, we are going to Canada in a few months. I think the plan is to stop by the Asham Curling Supplies headquarters in Winnipeg. It's open year-round! That way, we won't have to pay for international shipping.

Hooray For Formula One!

The 2008 Formula One season begins this weekend in Australia, and I'm excited. More excited than I am about the NASCAR race at Bristol, even. It's just too bad they only race 18 times a year instead of 36 like NASCAR. (Plus 35 Busch Nationwide Series races, and 25 Truck Series races.) Maybe I should start watching GP2 races instead of the Nationwide Series...

I expect this season to be a lot like last season, except with less complaining (and less winning) by Fernando Alonso. Hopefully, Lewis Hamilton will finish off the championship this time around.

Now, a discussion about car numbers. Car numbers in Formula One are re-assigned on an annual basis based on last season's results. And since McLaren was disqualified from the constructor's championship last season, Lewis Hamilton has to drive car #22 this season. That's pretty sweet, because it's highly unusual for anyone with a double-digit car number to contend for a championship in Formula One. Come on, Lewis - make number 22 proud!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Washington Capitals: Boo!

I'm not sure who my most-hated NHL team was up to this point (it's varied over the years), but I know who it is now: the Washington Capitals.

"Hey, what happened to that 'Southeast Division Fandom'? I thought you liked all of the Southeast Division teams!" Well...I guess not. If the Capitals finished in last place every year, that would be fine with me.

What's my problem with the Capitals? Well...

1) They're chasing the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division title, and many NHL journalists think the Capitals will win it. Well, Carolina still has a seven point lead in the division, you know. And I don't want to hear about your "games in hand".
2) I'm sick of hearing about Alex Ovechkin. Blah blah blah, he's so great. Blah blah blah, he just had another 15-goal game. Blah blah blah, he's the second coming of Jesus Christ. Basically, he's the hockey version of Tim Tebow. Thankfully, Tebow only has two years of eligiblity left. Ovechkin, on the other hand, just signed a 10-year contract with the Capitals. Splendid!
3) The Capitals have crappy announcers, and the most obnoxious arena goal celebration in the NHL (a foghorn and a siren). So not only are the games unbearable to watch on television, they're also unbearable to watch in person!
4) I don't know anyone who cares about the Capitals, so that makes them easier to hate.

So, in other words: Boooooooooo!

Last Year: Week of 3/10/08

One year ago, this week, Amber and I were in Canada. Good times. If you think my blog posts were much better last year than this year (or, at the very least, more interesting), I invite you to check out the archives: the week before, the week after, the second week after.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Golf Is Hard

I haven't played a round of golf in about 12 months, primarily because I don't have the time or the patience. I've probably said this several times here before, but in an effort to make my blog posts more "self-contained": The only time I can play golf is either on weekends (when golf courses are most crowded, often resulting in four- to five-hour rounds), or immediately after work on weekdays (in which case, I wouldn't get home until 800p or 900p). Not very practical, especially when I can go to the disc golf course and play 18 holes in an hour or less for free.

But, last weekend, I decided to go to the local driving range and hit some balls to see how I could do. My first few shots were actually pretty good, but as soon as I tried hitting woods, it only got worse. My arms and shoulders are certainly not in golfing shape, and I have little-to-no control of my swing. It was extremely frustrating, and hardly fun. And I didn't even get a chance to work on my short game, which is supposed to be the first thing to go.

The days of being able to shoot in the 90s (and sometimes 80s) consistently are long gone. I don't think I could enjoy golfing if my average score was 110-something. If I practiced and played regularly, I could probably get back into form eventually. But is it worth it? Is it worth the time, effort, and money? Golf isn't cheap, you know. The way I see it, there are only two options: 1) Dedicate myself and try to get better, playing or practicing at least once every two weeks. 2) Give up the game altogether. Anything in between those two options, and I'll only be torturing myself.

What should I do? I can't decide.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Exit 293 Is Now 297 Miles From Tennessee

Here's something from the "making something out of nothing" department.

Two or three weeks ago, a new segment of the Greensboro Outer Loop opened to traffic, completing the southern half of the loop around the city, and providing a southern bypass for travelers who don't want to deal with downtown Greensboro traffic. In addition, I-40 has been re-routed into the new road, while the old I-40 is now Business I-40. I may just have to check it out this weekend.

But here's an issue with the I-40 re-routing. The new route, being a suburban loop, is four miles longer than the old alignment through town. Shouldn't DOT have to change all of the milemarkers and exit numbers on I-40 from Greensboro east to Wilmington? Shouldn't all exit numbers on I-40 east of Greensboro increase by four? Technically, yes, but predictably, the DOT decided to do something else and hope nobody would notice. According to the [Raleigh] News and Observer, DOT simply "spread out" the milemarkers on the new portion of I-40, so that each milemarker is 1.1 to 1.6 miles apart, in order to artifically make up that extra four mile difference. Which is silly, because the I-40 exit numbers and milemarkers aren't continuous anyway. (I-40 is co-signed with I-85 between Greensboro and Durham, and that portion uses I-85-based milemarkers and exit numbers.)

Yeah, I know, that's probably the best solution. Who cares, right? Is it really worth the time, effort, money, and confusion to change all of those exit numbers? Probably not, particularly from a logistical standpoint. But changing exit numbers is not unprecedented. Many states (including Florida and Pennsylvania) have recently changed from incremental exit numbers to mileage-based exit numbers. And, a few years ago, the exit numbers on I-26 in North Carolina were renumbered because I-26 was extended "west" (north) into Tennessee, meaning all existing I-26 exit numbers from I-40 to South Carolina were increased by 31 or 32. But that was a drastic, noticeable change. Increasing the exit numbers by four would cause a little bit of confusion, assuming that billboards wouldn't change them right away. Let's say you saw a billboard for a Bojangles' at exit 303. Is that the new exit 303, or the old exit 303? A change of four isn't enough to make that clear. Personally, I think that's a bigger issue than confusing "the locals". I don't use the exit numbers in the Raleigh (Cary) area anymore, or even look at the signs. I just know what exits to use. Most people probably don't even know what exit number they use to get to work. The people it would affect the most are the visiting out-of-townies, and DOT could set the record straight with signs posting the old exit number, just like they did with I-26, and other states like Florida and Pennsylvania have done.

Sure, it would be confusing at first, but we all might be able to sleep a little better at night knowing that exit 293 was actually 293 miles from the Tennessee border, and not 297 miles.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Curling Recap: 3/7/08

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Other team. 01020000 | 03
Our team... 10203211 | 10

I know it's completely anti-climactic to lead off with the box score, but it's not like my recaps are very "edge of your seat" anyway.

Due to a few league participants playing in a bonspiel in Plainfield, New Jersey last weekend, I played vice-skip (third) this week. (To recap: the vice serves as the "skip" for the skip's two throws, showing the skip where to aim, and calling the sweeps. In addition, the vices are in charge of "officiating" - they must agree on each end's score and the final score.) I actually could have gone to (and participated in) said bonspiel if I wanted to, but most of these bonspiels are three- and four-day events, meaning I have to take off work, which isn't particularly convenient on two weeks vacation (especially with a honeymoon coming up).

In addition to me playing third, Amber played second, which was the first time she had played a position other than lead. As I pointed out to her after the match, second might actually be easier than lead, because it's a lot easier to make a lucky shot when you play second than when you have an empty house in front of you. Of course, it's also easier to make a disastrous shot, but those aren't as common, because the skip generally avoids calling shots where a slight miss will result in disaster. Well-planned shots always have a margin for error built in.

Speaking of which, here's this week's "featured shot". This an attempted draw to the button of mine: (our team = yellow)

I missed to the left (just like I had done many times last week), but ended up with a quasi-take-out. It didn't have enough weight to knock the red stone all the way out, but that's because it was supposed to be a draw - it hardly had take-out weight. The only reason it knocked the red stone as far as it did was because the stone was swept vigorously. Once it became clear that I missed the shot, and was heading toward the red stone, it was time to "hurry, hurry hard". As the skip, it's always good to have a "Plan B" floating around in the back of your head on every shot, because chances are, the shot won't be perfect. What if it's missed to the left? What if it's heavy?

As the vice-skip, I couldn't even get to "Plan B". Judging the weight, and determining whether or not to call "sweep", isn't something I'm particularly good at. But that just comes with experience.

The Triangle Curling Club "Winter" League takes this week off, we'll have to think of something else to do this weekend. Whatever it is, I hope I can write a blog post about it.

(Yes, it's my goal to weave the name of the club into each one of these posts. Much like a NASCAR driver inserting the name of his sponsor into his post-race interview.)

Friday, March 07, 2008

Daylight Saving Time? Already?

Yes. Already. I don't like this new Daylight Saving Time calendar. This is too early. I've finally started to see some daylight on my way to work, but now, we're going to put my morning commute back in the dark again for a few more weeks. Ugh.

The rationale behind the change is that it saves energy, because more people use artifical lights in the evening than the early morning. The idea is to ease the dreaded "dependence on foreign oil", right? But this is nothing more than a patch - it's by no means a long term solution. How about some real solutions?

Good News! I Just Saved A Bunch Of Money On Car Insurance...

Good news - the Geico "caveman" commercials are back on the air!

Even better news - that means ABC must have cancelled that sitcom based on them! Gee, never saw that coming...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

I AM NOT A NUMBER! I AM A FREE MAN!

Watching this episode of "The Simpsons" this week reminded me of the greatness that was: "The Prisoner". "The Prisoner" was a British TV show from the late 1960s, which I remember watching and enjoying during my childhood (reruns, of course). The series only lasted 17 episodes, but perhaps the show wouldn't be as memorable or popular if it had lasted longer. Instead, they quit early, leaving its fans wanting more, more, more! Personally, I think that was the key to the ongoing popularity of "Star Trek". If the original "Star Trek" produced over 200 episodes (as opposed to 73, or 74, or however many it was), would it still be as popular? I doubt it.

I'm not sure if any networks are airing "The Prisoner" reruns today, which is too bad, because I'd like to touch base with the short-lived series once again. Anyone know?

A Dumb Post About My Work Commute

Here's something fun that I just discovered this week: my drive to work is 19.3 miles, but my drive from work is only 18.6 miles! Where did those extra 0.7 miles go?

Here's where - the morning commute has two of these, while the afternoon commute has none:

Does this mean that the morning commute takes longer than the afternoon commute? Nope - the afternoon commute's median time is actually a few seconds longer than the morning commute's median. The afternoon commute features three left turns at traffic lights, while the morning commute has none.

(In case you can't tell, it's been kind of a slow week.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

We Stand On Guard For Thee

I've heard "The Star Spangled Banner" a lot during my lifetime. In fact, I'm tired of it. When I'm watching a sporting event where they sing the national anthem, I either change the channel, or (if the event was recorded) fast-forward. Does that make me a bad American citizen?

On the other hand, watching as much hockey as I have this season (particularly Hockey Night In Canada), I've also heard "O Canada" several times. And, not only has "O Canada" not gotten old yet, I look forward to hearing it. In hockey games where both national anthems are sung, I'll usually fast-forward through "The Star Spangled Banner", and then listen to "O Canada" in its entirety. I'll also go tell Amber: "Hey, want to hear 'O Canada'?" Often times, the answer is an enthusastic "Yes!"

Why is that? I think the main factor is this: at most American sporting events, when "The Star Spangled Banner" is performed, it is often performed by a popular singer of the American Idol-type. On the other hand, at Canadian sporting events, "O Canada" is often performed by someone of the male opera singer type. And those guys can sing. It's so much better that way. It's kind of like that guy who sings "God Bless America" at Yankee Stadium. I'll listen to that.

Maybe "O Canada" is just a better national anthem. For some reason, "The Star Spangled Banner" doesn't sound right when performed by an opera singer.

(Fun fact about "O Canada": There's an English version and a French version, but they have completely different translations!)

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

North Carolina Barbecue: Not Impressed

On the way back from Pamlico County, Amber and I stopped for dinner at Smithfield's Chicken N' Bar-B-Q. I've been there before, but in my previous visits, I've always had the chicken. Why not try a BBQ sandwich this time? Generally, pulled pork sandwiches are a good thing.

Well, not so much. The sandwich was spicy, had cole slaw on it, and had little-to-no barbeque sauce to speak of. What the hell? It was the worst BBQ sandwich I have ever had.

Clearly, I had a misconception on what "barbecue" actually is in this state. Everywhere you go, the term "barbecue" means something slightly different. Apparently, in North Carolina, it means putting cole slaw on a BBQ sandwich instead of barbecue sauce. When I want a pulled pork sandwich, I don't want freaking cole slaw. Give me a break. Whose idea was that?

Now, I admit, I haven't really sampled all of the barbecue North Carolina has to offer. But why should I? If it's going to be anything like Smithfield's, then I'm not going to like it more than Maurice's (based in South Carolina), Bono's (based in Jacksonville, FL), or Clem's (Port Matilda, PA). Give me barbecue from those places any day of the week.

Pamlico County: Recap

(So as to not sound redundant, this post is written as if you've already read the preview.)

First, the obligatory route map, zoomed in on Pamlico County:

What does Pamlico County have to offer? Well, to the average passer-by, not much. With several private marinas, Pamlico is a great place to keep a sailboat. With several youth summer camps, Pamlico is also a great place for kids to spend the summer. But for people like us who are just visiting for the day, there is absolutely nothing to do in Pamlico County. Besides, if you're going to make it this far east, why not keep going? The Outer Banks aren't that much farther.

But that's okay. It was a nice drive through rural North Carolina. And, Pamlico County has a Piggly Wiggly, so at least we had something to do while we were there.

I haven't even lived here two years, and already, these drives are starting to get repetitive. There aren't many places within a two-hour radius that I haven't been yet. So, if we want to go anywhere new, we have to drive on the same old roads for a couple of hours before we get there. That's unfortunate. But the way I see it, now's the time to make these random road trips, because weekend getaways won't be so easy once there are children involved.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Curling Recap: 2/29/08

The box score from Friday's match:

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Our team... 10121010 | 06
Other team. 03000103 | 07

(Also, the official Triangle Curling Club League Standings are now online. Our team is "team #1" - but 5th in the standings.)

Even though we lost the match in the 8th end (on the last throw), I wouldn't call it a choke. We just got beat. (Losing a two-point lead with one end remaining, without last rock, hardly qualifies as a choke in my book.) Personally, I think we were fortunate to make it as close as it was, given that our opponent won 13-1 the previous week.

As I've chronicled in the past, I play better after an off week than I do playing in consecutive weeks, and this week was no exception. My main problem wasn't my weight, it was my line - I kept missing to the left. Surely, it was a problem with technique. But it might not have been as big of a deal if I wasn't throwing take-outs. In terms of precision, while weight is more important than line with draws, line is more important than weight with take-outs.

But that doesn't mean I didn't get lucky every once in a while. Here's an attempted take-out of mine from the 8th end:
(our team: red)

I was aiming for the yellow stone and the take-out, but I missed to the left - and "made" the take-out anyway. I may have overheard someone on the other team say, "That's what you call a 'bad beat'." Hey, a poker analogy! It's been a while since I heard one of those. (Well, sort of. The phrase "all in" is used so much these days, it doesn't qualify as a poker analogy anymore.)

Now, about that technique. Ideally, you want your eyes, the stone, and the target to be linear. I think my problem was that I wasn't holding the stone directly in front of me; I was holding it slightly to the right of center (which, being right-handed, is my natural tendency). As a result, when I released it "towards the target", I released the stone across my body - to the left. My aim wasn't way off, but when you're trying to make a take-out, you have to be pretty accurate. I'll have to work on that a little this week. Of course, knowing how things generally go, my aim will probably be perfect this week, and my weight will be off.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Pamlico County: Preview

Today, Amber and I are going to Pamlico County, North Carolina. Pamlico is one of three counties in North Carolina I have yet to visit. Why haven't I been there yet? Well, let's just look at a map:

Pamlico is just kind of out there. No major highways go through it, and in fact, it's almost impossible to "drive through" Pamlico. The only way you can end up there is if you're specifically trying to. And they don't really have any beaches - sure, they have a lot of "coastline", but it's all on the Pamlico Sound and the Neuse River, so it's probably a lot like coastal Georgia.

So, what does Pamlico County have to offer? We're going to find out! We'll be sure to stop in the town of Oriental when we're there. According to its website, it's the "Sailing Capital of North Carolina", and it's a good place to go "if you're in need of a new witness protection location". Good to know...