Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Attention North Carolina Political Hopefuls!

If you follow the national news, you are probably aware that North Carolina's presidential primary is next Tuesday. But that isn't the only primary on the ballot next week. North Carolina is having all kinds of primaries! US Senator, State Senator, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Commissioner of Insurance, Commissioner of Labor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Treasurer, Auditor, Court of Appeals Judge, and District Court Judge - all those seats are up for grabs, primary-style. And in an attempt to be a responsible citizen, I did some research to figure out who else I want to vote for, other than just the overhyped Democratic presidential primary. (I forget if I've mentioned this here or not, but I changed my party affiliation from Republican to Democratic last year, even though I still don't consider myself a member of either party.)

Given that I already know who I'm voting for, I could go vote today if I wanted to. But I'm going to wait until the actual Election Day to vote, to give everyone I'm not voting for a chance for redemption. On Election Day 2006, I published who I was voting for, and why. Then, one of the candidates I said I wasn't going to vote for posted a comment on my blog, trying to convince me to vote for him...and it worked! So this time around, rather than wait until Election Day, I'm going to publish my choices six days in advance in order to give everyone a chance to speak up, if they so choose.

In alphabetical order, here are all of the people on next week's ballot that I am currently NOT voting for: (I'll update this list to reflect any changes between now and Election Day.)

Fred Aikens
Robin Anderson
Dan Beese
John C. Brooks
Hillary Clinton
Janet Cowell
Walter H. Dalton (**updated 5/2/08 2:46p**)
Eddie Davis
Sam J. Ervin, IV
Jewel Ann Farlow
Mike Gravel
Duskin C. Lassiter
Marty E. Miller
Richard H. Moore
Jim Neal
Dennis Nielsen
Mark A. Perry
Dean R. Poirier
Janet Pueschel (**updated 4/30/08 8:46p**)
Ty Richardson
Pat Smathers
David C. Smith
Mike Shea
Howard Staley
Josh Stein
John M. Tyson
Michael Weisel
Marcus W. Williams

If your name is on this list, it's your job (or your staff's job) to tell me why I should change my mind. Ready? Go!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Disc Golf Report: Valley Springs

Last weekend, I played disc golf at Valley Spring Park in Durham for the first time since last year. And apparently, they made some changes since then. Occasional new signs, new long tees, and four new holes! Wahoo!

Yeah, but those four new holes are beasts. Unlike the existing 18 holes which have three tees each, the new holes only have one tee. They're labeled "white" - the amateur tees, which I normally play - but I think they should be the blue tees instead. The new holes don't have distances posted yet, but I would guess that hole #19 is something in the neighborhood of 600 feet, through the woods, with a dogleg. I think they could easily split that hole up into two, or at least move the white tee up to the dogleg and make the existing tee the blue tee. That would be a little more consistent with the sometimes-absurd blue tee placements they have on other holes.

Just to make something clear: I'm not saying the holes are unfair. This is actually one of the better "championship caliber" courses out there. Some courses just stick a bunch of trees in the way and call it a "championship caliber" course. Other courses refuse to mow the grass, or make you throw 300 feet over a lake. But this course actually has legitimate fairways, no tall grass, no water hazards, and still manages to be quite challenging. Meanwhile, the beginner can still have fun if they play from the short tees (and skip those four extra holes at the end). It's tough but fair, and I like it. With the course's most recent improvements, I've moved it up from #17 to #12 in my course rankings. I'd move it higher, but on any given day, I'd still have more fun at an open course.

Maybe one time, I should play from the blue tees and see if I can break 100. Wish me luck!

The "Top Four" Disc Golf Courses

The top four courses in my disc golf rankings are all courses that I've played exactly once. Are these courses really that good, or was I just in a good mood that day?

Maybe it's time to re-evaluate these courses with a second visit. Unfortunately, none of the top four courses are in North Carolina, so this might take a bit of a driving. Let's look at them, in order from closest to furthest away, along with how much I would have to spend on gas to make a round trip there and back: (Round-trip prices are based on $3.61/gallon and 37 mpg, which comes out to just under 10 cents per mile.)

#3 - Crooked Creek Park, Chapin, SC (254 mi / $50): I haven't been to this course in almost four years. Is it still there? (Yes, it appears so.) I think this course's high ranking is partly due to the fact that I added it to the rankings back when I had only played at about 10 to 15 courses total. Back then, this course was #1. Then, as I added more and more courses to the list, I was reluctant to make a new course #1 (at least, until I visited Tyler State Park two years later). I don't think this course is anything special, really. But is it? That would be the purpose of a return visit. (Oh, and just to play disc golf.) I have considered making a day trip out here before, so I think it's only a matter of time.

#4 - Victor Ashe Park, Knoxville, TN (355 mi / $70): I remember this course being open, but with just enough trees in the way to make things interesting. That's how I like 'em! Better yet, there were many long, open holes on this course. I think that's what I liked about it - I had many opportunities to "let 'er rip". I doubt this course's ranking would change much after a second visit, but you never know. Maybe they stopped mowing the grass. Problem is, it's a bit of a stretch as a day trip.

#1 - Tyler State Park, Newtown, PA (451 mi / $88, or 209 mi / $41 from State College): Even though this course is ranked #1, I haven't even played the whole thing yet! When Walter and I played it two years ago, we ran out of sunlight after hole #21. (It's a 27-hole course.) Most of all, I liked this course's variety (mostly wooded, but some open) and signage (really nice tee signs, plus three tees per hole, all concrete I think). In my mind, this course was the "complete package". This is probably too far for a day trip from Raleigh (Cary)...but not from State College. Hmm...

#2 - Hudson Mills Metropark - Original Course, Dexter, MI (697 mi / $136, or 65 mi / $13 from Toledo): Yeah, I was just here four months ago, and I didn't have fun. But that's because there was ice everywhere. That probably wouldn't be a problem next time we go to Toledo, whether that be sometime this summer, or for the wedding in September. And, like Tyler, I haven't played this entire course, either (we quit after 11 holes due to the ice). How can I possibly rank these courses #1 and #2 if I haven't even played them in their entirety yet? That's dumb. That's why I need to go back. Sure, Hudson Mills Metropark isn't free - $4/car, plus $2/person on top of that for disc golf - but when you compare those prices to the price of gas, why should I let a matter of only $6 stop me?

One thing's for sure: if I were to make a dedicated trip to one of these courses, I better make sure they're not having a major tournament that day.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Curling Recap: 4/25/08

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Other team. 2030032- | 10
My team.... 0102200- | 05

(The 8th end was omitted due to time constraints, and because the match was practically over by then. When the other team steals two, twice, you're usually not going to win.)

Despite this being our team's "bye week", both Amber and I found openings on different teams this week, so we both played...and lost. Oh well. I'm now 0-2 this season when playing on a different team. Maybe other teams won't want me anymore? "No, that's okay, Chris...we can play with three."

One word about substituting: And, it's an unwritten Triangle Curling Club league rule that subs (also known as "spares") have to play lead, so that you can't bring in a "ringer" to play skip or vice. I guess that's fair. Besides, it's been a while since I've played lead. It was a nice change of pace to not be throwing take-outs the whole match.

Well, sort of. I've decided take-outs are my favorite throws to make. I don't have to worry about the weight; I just have to aim, and let 'er rip. I'm generally pretty good at it, too. Amber, on the other hand (by her own admission), is better with draws than take-outs. I guess that's why she's the lead and I'm the second, eh?

(I think that should another rule with my curling recaps. Rule 1 - Mention the name of the Triangle Curling Club at least once. Rule 2 - End at least one sentence with, "eh?")

Nothing special with the "diagrammed shot of the week". I just remember it because I fell down (a.k.a. "busted my ass") while trying to sweep it in: (our team = yellow)

(Note: from now on, in all of my diagrams, the shooter will be labeled as "S".)
The other rocks are purely there for demonstration purposes (as usual). Basically, my point is, sweeping isn't always easy. The shot in question was a "raise" (bumping your own rock forward into the house). We were sweeping the shooter until it bumped our guard head-on, at which point the protocol was to sweep the next rock too, because it might not have had enough "umph" to make it there otherwise. And while that goes on, you have to avoid kicking the other rocks. And don't forget, this game is played on ice. It takes a little coordination, something that I don't quite have, yet. But here are the keys to falling: 1) Land with your butt, not with your elbow or head. 2) Don't burn the rock! 3) Keep sweeping, if possible! (Yes, I kept sweeping, even after I fell down.) Now, I'd love to take the credit for scoring two that end, but first and foremost, Nick (the skip) made a good shot, and I didn't have much to do with it.

This Friday, Amber and I are back on our own team. That is, provided Amber's return flight from Italia doesn't get cancelled or something. Hopefully that won't happen.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Italians Don't Call It Italy

On Saturday, Amber is flying "across the pond" (as they say) for a work-related conference next week. Where, exactly? We call it the island of "Sardinia" in the country of "Italy", but they call it the island of "Sardegna" in the country of "Italia".

Why is that? Why can't we just call it Italia? Why is it "Rome" and not "Roma"? This is true across a lot of Europe. The English language has assigned its own name to cities in countries like Germany and Italy, that's sort of like the native name, but slightly different. A well-known example is Torino, site of the 2006 Winter Olympics. The "English" name is Turin, and up until the Olympics started, us Americans (and probably the British too) called it Turin. Then once the Olympics started, we realized how stupid that was, and started calling the city by its actual name, Torino.

I don't get it. What's the deal? We use the same freaking alphabet as the Germans and the Italians, so why do we have to call it "Rome" instead of "Roma"? Why "Munich" instead of "München"? What purpose does this serve, except to confuse people when they're watching a World Cup soccer match from a German city that they think they've never heard of before, but they actually have, just by its stupid English name instead? (That happened to me a few times during the last World Cup.)

At least France doesn't have this problem. As far as I know, the names of French cities are spelled the same in both English and French.

Work From Home, Save $4

I worked from home today, because I could. And so that I could put 38 fewer miles on my car, and thus save one gallon of gas.

If gas prices continue rising, then you'll probably see more of this from a lot more people, at least in cities like Raleigh (Cary) where there is no large-scale mass transit system, and you pretty much have to drive to work.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Made In Canada

From the "browsing through Wikipedia" file...

Recently, the US-1 / Cary Parkway interchange (the closest freeway interchange to our apartment) was reconfigured from a traditional diamond interchange design to something else. Basically, they added two additional on-ramps from Cary Parkway to US-1 so that nobody on Cary Parkway would have to turn left onto US-1, instead taking a right-exit loop ramp. This eliminates all left-hand turns from Cary Parkway to US-1, without the extra cost associated with designing a full cloverleaf (not to mention, the weaving). Smart, huh?

From browsing through Wikipedia articles on intersection design, I learned two things: 1) This new intersection design is called a Parclo A4. 2) It was invented in Canada! Man, those Canadians have thought of everything.

OOOOOOOVERTIME

In watching the NHL Playoffs, I was very happy to see the Washington Capitals lose in the most excrucitating way possible: Game 7 Overtime. Ouch! That had to hurt. (Yeah, I know...at least they, unlike the Hurricanes, made the playoffs.)

On the other hand, it might have been nice to have a (negative) rooting interest stick around for another round, because for the most part, I don't really care what happens now. There's only one Canadian team left, so I'll probably pull for them. But besides that? Penguins, Flyers, Rangers, Red Wings, Avalanche...eh. Whatever.

I guess that puts me in the minority, because those five teams probably make up a decent chunk of the United States hockey fan base. And that's probably good for the sport from an American standpoint, after three consecutive Stanley Cup finals featuring a "Sun Belt" team and a non-Toronto, non-Montréal Canadian team - two of which I found thoroughly enjoyable. Oh well. I guess it's good to have one of the "traditional" teams win every now and then.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Shopping Around Hillsborough

One thing that is nice about where we live is that we have a major shopping center nearby. As such, just about any store we ever need to go to is less than five minutes away.

Any such luck in Hillsborough? Not quite. Hillsborough has a Wal-Mart Supercenter, and some "small town" stores in the downtown area, and that's about it. If I wanted to go to Best Buy or Target, or Amber wanted to go to JoAnn Fabrics or Michaels, we'd have to drive 15 minutes to US-15/501 in Durham.

I guess that's the trade-off for wanting to live in a more rural environment, and that's a trade we're willing to make.

We'd also have to make a concession with respect to grocery stores. Hillsborough has two Food Lions and two Lowe's Foods, while the closest Kroger (in Durham near the afore-mentioned US-15/501) is too far away for a weekly trip, in my opinion. Or...is it? That's a decision we'll have to make.

That is, if we end up moving to Hillsborough at all. Let's not get ahead of ourselves...too much.

Smart & Final

Speaking of grocery stores, thanks to an advertisement on Will Power's car during a race last weekend, I was reminded of a former grocery store obsession of mine: Smart & Final.

Smart & Final isn't really a grocery store; it's more like a smaller-scale Sam's Club or Costco place with no membership required. Or at least that's how it was when I went to one, six years ago in Key West, FL. They used to have a few locations in South Florida, but it appears they've all been closed or bought, because Smart & Final is now exclusive to the West Coast and Mexico. In fact, based on a little internet research, the Smart & Final I went to in Key West is now a GFS Marketplace.

The only thing I remember buying at Smart & Final was generic strawberry soda (another former obsession), and it wasn't even that good. So what's the big deal, anyway? Why am I even talking about this? Actually, I just like the name "Smart & Final". What does "Smart & Final" mean? "Smart" and "Final" don't seem like two words that should go together. How can something be "smart", and at the same time, be "final"?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Driving Around Hillsborough

As mentioned previously, we're planning to buy a house within the next 11 months, and one of the places we'll consider is Hillsborough. So, last Saturday, we took the car around the Hillsborough area and looked around. What did we find? Did we like it?

Yes, we did like it - both the downtown area (old, but not too old), and the surrounding areas. Both are places Amber and I could see ourselves living. It's not overly congested, urbanized or rich (yet), there's easy access to I-40 and I-85, and there are plenty of "ranch" houses that seem to suit our style. No townhomes or cookie cutter houses for us!

I timed the would-be work commute at approximately 23 minutes, which is just fine with me. Amber's commute from this direction would be about 5 minutes longer than my commute, and she would like her commute to remain at 30 minutes or less, so that works for her, too. Better yet, we wouldn't encounter any traffic problems on our work commutes either, or so we've been told.

We saw a lot of houses for sale, too! But let's not get too excited yet, because we still have several more months to go before we can actually begin a serious search for a house. And we owe it to ourselves to look in some other areas, too. In the meantime, a good first step might be to figure out exactly what we can afford. Consulting with an area real estate agent within the next two months might not be a bad idea.

Bowling Stats Now Online!

After our most recent visit to the bowling alley, I've added our bowling stats to "by the numbers". Basically, it's the same stuff that I published here in November, except continuously up-to-date. (But don't get your hopes up: last weekend was the first time we went bowling in three months.)

I think it's amazing how close my stats and Amber's stats are. Competitive games guaranteed! It's also nice to see that both my average and Amber's average have gone up since the post in November.

On a related note, upon going bowling last weekend, we realized that we haven't been to the closest bowling alley to our apartment yet (South Hills Lanes in Cary). Now we have, and now we know not to go there again, because they charge $5.50/game on weekends. Yikes! I guess this is Cary, after all. Instead, we walked out and went to the same alley we always go to, where the weekend afternoon price is a more reasonable $3.70/game.

And we still haven't been to supposedly old-school Western Lanes, either. I keep forgetting about that place.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Curling Recap: 4/18/08

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Our team... 20100012 | 06
Other team. 01011100 | 04

Next time I go curling, I might bring a pen and a pad of paper with me to help with my blog diagrams. With the game tied, the last four shots of the match presented an interesting sequence of events, one that would make for great material. Unfortunately, I can't remember most of it to the detail I would like. But enough excuses, right? The match came down to the other team's final throw, and I remember that one well enough. It went something like this: (our team = yellow)

The shooter (the red stone in front) hit the guard, knocking the guard into the house instead. Whoops! I think the intent was a draw, but the line was a little off, so we were a little fortunate to win. One thing I'm missing in my diagram is why the take-out wasn't a viable option. Maybe there was some traffic behind our rock that would have prevented it, or something. Or maybe our rock was actually hidden behind the guard. Then again, I thought I remembered the button being fairly wide open on the last throw, except for the guard. See why I need to bring paper next time?

Now, some generic curling notes that had relevance to that final game-deciding end. At some point, we had shot rock, and our choice was to try to throw another one in the house to give the other team two rocks to deal with, or guard the existing throw. With several throws remaining, I guess it's a good idea to get as many rocks in there as you can, because chances are, they're not all going to make it to the end. But the flip side is that you don't want to set up for a double take-out. Well, that can be accomplished by lining up your rocks horizontally, like this:

In the "real" curling matches I've watched recently, I've seen this done a lot. That was our strategy until our last throw, when we threw that guard in front. (I think that's how it happened, anyway.)

Another thing I've learned from watching curling on television is that to help with my line, I should get low on the ice and line up right behind the stone so that I can be sure I'm aiming it towards the target. That definitely helped. Hopefully I'll remember that for next time, because from a "shot making" perspective, I thought that was one of my better showings.

Lately, it seems like most of my throws have been take-outs, because Murray (our skip) likes to play an aggressive match, rarely throwing guards. If the other team has shot rock, and a take-out is in play, go for it. If we already have shot rock, why not throw another one in the house? You're never going to win 17-4 by throwing guards all night, right?

This coming Friday is our team's bye week, so whether Amber and I curl this week depends on whether or not anyone else needs a sub.

Attack of the Babies

Maybe this is what happens when a lot of the people you work with are in the 25-35 age bracket, but it seems like everyone is having a baby. Someone, somewhere, is expecting, or has a one-year old, or has a two-year old and is expecting, or something. It's non-stop!

I guess that's just what working professionals in our age bracket do. They have kids. But where are all the 8-year olds and the teenagers? All we hear about are the babies. It seems like there are five times as many children between age 0 and age 5 as there are between age 5 and age 15. Do older parents just not talk about their children as much? Or are we actually in the midst of a baby boom, one that will continue to overcrowd Wake County's already overcrowded schools?

Surely, children are in our plans too...but not for a while.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

10,000 Miles

My car passed 10,000 miles today. Unfortunately, I'm not as cool as some of you, so I don't have a picture of it.

Right after my car reached 10,000 miles, I switched the display over to the metric system, which read precisely 16,100 kilometers. Hey, wait a second! It should be 16,093 kilometers, right? It appears Honda was lazy and simply used a conversion factor of 1.61. Come on, Honda - how hard is it to add another one or two decimal places?

Because 10,000 miles does not equal 16,100 kilometers, that means one or the other is inaccurate. So which one is it? Actually, it's probably both - odometers aren't 100% accurate anyway, so maybe that's why Honda didn't bother dealing with a few extra decimal places.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

This Game Has A Real Playoff Atmosphere To It

I was going to write a post about the NHL playoffs sooner, but I was still bitter about how the Carolina Hurricanes didn't make the playoffs and the Washington Capitals did. But I've gotten over it. Besides, as long as the Washington Capitals are alive, that means Joe Beninati won't be announcing games on Versus!

To clarify that point, because I pay attention to this stuff: the first two rounds of the NHL playoffs are also broadcast on each team's local channel in the United States, in addition to any national broadcast on Versus. That means that all announcers whose teams are still in the playoffs aren't available to broadcast games on Versus, because they are still committed to their own team's game broadcasts. (Exception: Mike Emrick always broadcasts the NBC games, no matter what.) So, that means the interolable Joe Beninati won't be broadcasting games on Versus, because he'll be broadcasting the Capitals' games on Comcast SportsNet instead. Wahoo! This is true until the conference finals start, at which point Versus and NBC have exclusive broadcast rights, and Joe Beninati will likely, unfortunately, resume his role as Versus' #2 announcer. (Feel free to correct me on any of these points if I missed something.) In the meantime, Versus has been primarily using three announcers from teams that didn't make the playoffs: John Forslund (Carolina), Dave Strader (Phoenix), and Rick Peckham (Tampa Bay).

Can you tell I've been watching a lot of this stuff? I think it's great. And there's nothing better than NHL playoff overtime. But I'm not going to talk about the "intensity" of the games, because I'm not really sure what that means. I don't think the games are being played any harder; it just seems like it because the crowd is louder, the announcers are more energetic, and there's no chance the game will end in an anticlimactic shootout. "Intensity" is just one of those useless buzz words announcers like Joe Beninati like to throw out there during the game.

Speaking of which, just about NHL every game I watched during the last two months of the regular season, at some point, one of the announcers would say something to the effect of: "You know, this game has a real playoff atmosphere to it!" Every game! Ugh. It's kind of like a weatherman saying the weather is "summer-like" in early April, even though the temperatures are still only in the low 80s. If you think this is "summer-like", then what do you think of early August?

Getting back to hockey: last year, I ranked all 16 playoff teams in order from the ones I wanted to win the most, to the ones I wanted to win the least. I'm not doing that this year, because I don't really care that much. Just as long as the Capitals don't win.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Taxes?! Isn't this the line for Metallica?

It seems like whenever there's a "slow news week", all I do is complain about stuff, and categorize every post under the tag "society". Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Continuing with that theme, on Monday, I stopped by the post office to pick up an important package that they didn't want to drop off at my house. (I'm assuming it's my birth certificate, which I sent in as part of my passport application.) Problem is, I forgot Monday was April 14th, the day before "tax day", so there was a very long line. I didn't even bother trying again on Tuesday.

Haven't these people heard of E-filing? And why does everyone wait until the last minute? The sooner you file, the sooner you get your refund, right? Or do all of these people actually owe money? No doubt, I could probably find a story online somewhere where a local reporter interviews people in line at the post office on April 15th, asking them why they waited until the last minute to file their taxes, but...eh.

Actually, maybe all those people were in line for Metallica tickets.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Former Student

I saw this displayed on someone's car the other day: "Former Student - Texas A&M University".

"Former Student", eh? Does that mean you didn't graduate? If you did graduate, why wouldn't you get one that said "Alumni" like the rest of us?

And Now, Some Blog

It might be wrong of me to criticize college students, but I'm only trying to help.

Just about every DJ (or whatever they want to be called) on the NC State radio station (WKNC, 88.1 FM) introduces songs this way (emphasis is mine): "Here's some [insert name of band], with..." "Coming up, I'll play some [insert name of band]..."

Why is the word "some" even necessary? It sounds amateur to me. Yet, for the most part, they all do it. Maybe they think it makes it sound more "hip". Maybe I'm just getting old.

Monday, April 14, 2008

TV Stations in Valentine, Nebraska

Wow. I have practically nothing to talk about this week. So, I guess this is what you get.

When we were at the hotel in Valentine, Nebraska on the Nebraska trip, I turned on CBS to watch some of the NCAA Tournament. Except that there were two CBS affiliates, and they were showing different games! Lucky me! One was showing Texas v. Stanford, and the other was showing Wisconsin v. Davidson. So, I wondered, where are these CBS stations coming from?

I didn't answer my inquisition until yesterday. Valentine gets one CBS affiliate from Lincoln, Nebraska, and one CBS affiliate from Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I can't verify this, but my guess is that the Lincoln affiliate was showing Texas v. Stanford, because of Nebraska's Big XII conference affiliation. Meanwhile, I would guess that Sioux Falls would favor showing Wisconsin, due to its proximity to Minnesota and the Big Ten.

Besides CBS, Valentine gets its NBC, ABC, and FOX stations from Denver. After all, Valentine is part of the Denver DMA. So why doesn't Valentine also get the Denver CBS station? Why is Valentine even in the Denver DMA? Who decides this stuff?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The 2008 Men's World Curling Championship

I guess I'm a little late on this, since the 2008 Men's World Curling Championship is already in its final weekend...but it's not over yet, so I guess it's not too late, right?

The championship match is tomorrow at 230p. At press time, one team has already clinched a spot in the championship...and it's not Canada! Scotland beat Canada 7-6 in the first game of the Page Playoff to get a bye to the final. And from what I've seen and read, Canada totally blew it. They were leading 6-2, and lost 7-6. Scotland scored two with the hammer in the 6th, stole one in the 7th, blanked the 8th, and then stole one in the 9th and 10th (due in part to missed shots by Canadian skip Kevin Martin). Fortunately, Canada gets another chance - if they beat Norway today, they advance to the final for a rematch.

Tomorrow, some members of the Triangle Curling Club are hosting a party-slash-get-together to watch the final through their Canadian satellite dish. I hope Canada makes it, because a curling world championship match just wouldn't be the same if Canada wasn't involved. Come on, guys! Nothing against Norway, of course, but with Scotland being the birthplace of curling, and Canada being the curling hotbed of the world, Canada v. Scotland would be a most appropriate final.

As for the rest of you, today's semifinal and tomorrow's final can both be viewed online here.

On Goes the Air Conditioner

It's official: April 11th was the first "air conditioner" day of the season. Despite having the apartment windows open overnight, and closing all blinds throughout the day, the indoor temperature still reached almost 80° late yesterday, thus prompting me to turn on the air conditioner.

Now, with low temperatures forecast back in the 30s this coming week, can I make it through the week without having to go back to the heater?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Considering DirecTV, Again

I've considered getting DirecTV ever since I moved to Raleigh (Cary). In fact, that was my first choice, until I found out that my first apartment was on the wrong side of the building.

Then I moved into an apartment that faces the correct side of the building. Why do I still have Time Warner? Because I'm lazy. Then, when I purchased NHL Center Ice, that basically "locked me in" with Time Warner through end of the Center Ice package (after the second round of the NHL playoffs). But since that time is soon approaching, I'm thinking about it once again.

Here are the "pros" and "cons" of getting DirecTV:

PRO: The Big Ten Network and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network.

CON: Every TV that I want to have DirecTV costs extra. It is nice If I were to get DirecTV, I would probably only get two receivers, compared to the three TVs I currently have receiving cable. Whether I would put both DirecTV receivers in the same room or in different rooms remains to be seen.

PRO: The ability to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket. I may not actually get it, because I think it's absurdly overpriced when compared to other sports league packages, which are cheaper, and give you games every day of the week for a longer season than the NFL. But as my dad rationalized, NFL Sunday Ticket is still cheaper than his Jaguars season tickets. And if I lived in Jacksonville, I would almost certainly have season tickets. But since I don't, why not use that money on Sunday Ticket instead?

CON: When we buy a new house, we might not be able to keep DirecTV if there are too many trees in the way. (That's a problem for a lot of people in the Raleigh area. They don't just let you cut down trees, either.)

PRO: Time Warner doesn't really have any channels that you can't get on DirecTV.

CON: ...except the extra WRAL channels, which show additional ACC basketball games (sometimes involving Florida State), and all NCAA tournament games. There's also "News 14 Carolina", a local 24-hour news channel owned and operated by Time Warner, but...eh. I can do without.

PRO: Sometimes, the Time Warner DVR doesn't work right, with respect to the program guide and my ability to record programs. (This is normally fixed by unplugging the box for a few seconds and then rebooting, but it's annoying.)

Potential CON: Who says the DirecTV DVR will be any better? Also, the DVR I have through Time Warner lets you record one show while watching another show. Would the DirecTV DVR let you do the same? I'm not sure. This is very important, because if not, it would almost break the deal.

Meanwhile, the cost is a wash. DirecTV would be cheaper for the first twelve months (isn't everything?), but given the package I would get (Choice XTRA plus Sports Pack), DirecTV would cost about the same as what I pay now for Time Warner in the long run.

So, what should I do?

Some People Like To Run

Every now and then, I'll see a car on the road with one of these stickers. They're aren't nearly as trendy as THESE stickers, but there are still a lot of people who like to run exactly 26.2 miles. It's almost as if these people are part of some secret club, and 26.2 is their "code" or something, and we either know what it means, or we don't.

But my question is this. In Canada, do people have stickers that say "42.2"?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Two Upgrades In One Day

I guess when I get an idea in my head, I want to follow through with it immediately. So, yesterday, I got that new hard drive.

But that's not all. I also got one of these - a 19" flat panel monitor. Goodbye 1024x768, hello 1440x900!

Surely, there was nothing wrong with my old monitor. I just wanted to get with the times, because flat panel monitors are a lot easier on the eyes. And now I have more space on my computer desk than I know what to do with. Back when I bought my computer (2002), 17" flat panel monitors were going for $600. Now, I can buy a 19" widescreen flat panel for much less. (For the record, I paid less than it would have been through the Dell website.)

Actually, my first choice was a fullscreen monitor, not a widescreen. But it appears they don't really make those anymore. Widescreen is now "the thing", whether it's a monitor or a television. I've never really been a fan of the widescreen craze, but I admit, my new monitor is already growing on me. The extra resolution is really nice, too. But still, I think "widescreen" is just a way to make the monitor sound bigger than it actually is. A 19" widescreen monitor isn't as large as a 19" fullscreen monitor. But hey - doesn't "widescreen" just sound cooler?

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

One Minor Upgrade Every Two Years

My home computer (a Dell Dimension 8200 desktop) is now more than six years old. Time to think about getting a new computer?

Nope! After all those years, my computer is still running great, and it does everything I need it to do. I have no plans to purchase a new computer anytime soon. With any luck, this computer will last me another six years.

I haven't even had to make many upgrades in the last six years, either. The only hardware components I've had to purchase within the last six years are a new video card, a DVD drive, and (most recently) a RAM upgrade. I could probably also use a new hard drive, but at this rate, that probably won't happen for another two years.

Actually, it might happen this weekend. Or maybe even today!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Eleven Months To GET OUT!

As much as Amber and I love living in Cary [/sarcasm], we now have an exit plan. We recently renewed our lease through February 28th, 2009, and the current plan is to then move into a house somewhere. We actually considered getting a shorter lease and finding a house sooner, but we figured we should probably get the wedding done first, rather than try to do everything at once. In terms of the weather, February will also be a much better time to move than, say, August.

"So, where are you going to move? What kind of houses are you going to look for? Tell me!" Well...in the interest of cheaper housing and lighter traffic, we've pretty much ruled out all of Wake County, including Raleigh, Cary, and - yes - Fuquay-Varina. F-V isn't necessarily expensive; it would just be too long of a commute (45 minutes) on a congested two-lane highway that squeezes through downtown Apex. The commute from F-V will improve drastically once they build the next segment of I-540, but who knows when that will be done.

Instead, we'll probably try to find a house in either Durham or Hillsborough. Sure, Durham is about 50% ghetto, but that means it's also 50% acceptable living quarters. Meanwhile, Hillsborough is a smallish, "rural" town that seems like it would be an ideal place to live. And it's only 25 minutes from work! It's probably only a matter of time before Hillsborough becomes the next Apex, which means that (in theory) the value of our house is sure to go up in the years after we buy it. Or, maybe not - either way, we'll be sure to find a good real estate agent. (Raleigh is one of the few places nationwide where housing costs are actually increasing. If we lived somewhere else where that wasn't the case, and housing was dirt cheap - say, Fort Wayne, Indiana - we would have probably bought a house already.)

Once we get back from the honeymoon in October, it will be an immediate transition into "look for a house" mode. Hopefully, by then, the economy will be just good enough to allow us to do that.

NCAA Tournament Closing Thoughts

I have some things to say about the NCAA Tournament and the NHL Playoffs, neither of which really warranted a separate post (and none of which are particularly interesting, actually). I guess I just want closure on some things.

First, about the NCAA Tournament: let's revisit my "semi-random" bracket predictions from before the tournament. Since three of the five simulations predicted the correct winner , and Yahoo gives the full 32-point bonus for picking the champion, those brackets did well. My "official" bracket of the five was 88th percentile nationwide, and most importantly, first among the "Allen family" brackets. One of my other simulations finished 97th percentile, because it accurately prediced Kansas-over-Memphis in the championship game. The other two brackets, however, were worse than 10th percentile. I think I learned through all of this that computer rankings and random simulations have their place, but you can't completely rely on them and expect to do well. Next year, I may modify the system such that any team with a 75% or higher chance of winning gets an automatic win, but still leave a little room for one or two "gut feeling" upset picks, because correctly picking an upset or two (i.e. Davidson) is what makes this fun.

I didn't stay up to watch the championship game last night. Instead, I recorded the game and went to bed at 9:45. Then, as I ate breakfast this morning, I fast-forwarded and watched the final two minutes of regulation (and then the final two minutes of overtime), without knowing the eventual result beforehand. That's the way to do it. No sitting through commercial timeouts, no staying up until midnight on a Monday night, no lost sleep - all while keeping most of the excitement intact.

Now that basketball season is done, it's time for the NHL Playoffs! What impeccable timing!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Facebook: Over It

I have a Facebook account, and have for quite a while (3 or 4 years, I think). It used to be a "cute little thing" for college students. Now, it's just another MySpace. And I don't mean that as a compliment.

I think I log onto Facebook once every four months. And when I do, I'm greeted with all kinds of requests. Some from are friends, and are legitimate. For example, "please verify that you went to college with this guy so that it will say so on his profile". Alright. That's fine. Then, there are all those "please join my group!" requests. No thanks. I think I'm in a couple groups on Facebook. I don't remember what they are. I don't particularly care, either. What's the point of a group, anyway? Why join a group called "[Candidate name] for president"? Is it to promote your political beliefs? If so, then writing "[Candidate name] for president" in your profile accomplishes the same thing. Is it so that you can talk with other people who share a common belief? If so, those must be pretty boring conversations. "Here's my opinion!" "I agree!" "I agree too!" "I agree as well!" "Hooray!" Or, is being in as many Facebook groups as possible just a status thing? If that's the case, then I want no part of it.

Then, there are all those requests from people I've never heard of. Who are all of you people? Last time I logged onto Facebook (last week), I think I just hit "ignore all requests". It was just easier that way.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if you sent me a "note" on Facebook, and I never replied to it, don't be offended. It's nothing personal. I wouldn't say that Facebook is a bad thing. The thing is, I just don't get it. I am, like, sooooo uncool.

Actually, one thing Facebook is good for is birthday reminders. Hey, funny I should mention that...

Curling Recap: 4/4/08

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
My team.... 00202002 | 06
Other team. 41020210 | 10

A lot of people couldn't curl this week, and some teams only had one or two people show up. So, to help out, I played on another team in a different game. And, lost. Meanwhile, my normal team (with Amber) won 17-4. So either the teams weren't even, or I'm just not a very good curler.

The main issue our team had was figuring out where to aim. Arena ice is almost never flat, so the stone is always going to sway one way or the other, generally. Usually, the sway is towards the center of the rink. But sometimes, a "zamboni line" falls right in the middle of your lane, and that creates some smaller-scale dips in the ice in addition to the overall dip in the center. I think it took us a while to figure this out. (As the "vice" on a three-person team, I was somewhat involved in the strategy.)

Throw the stone left of the zamboni line, and it won't curl back, even if you give it the appropriate turn. Throw the stone right of the zamboni line, and it will probably curl too much. Throw the "opposite turn", and...well, I don't rememeber exactly what happened when we tried that, but it must not have been good. If the ice is tilted enough, not even the opposite turn will be able to overcome the tilt. This is usually more of an issue on the "end" lanes on the outside of the rink. On those lanes, throwing the "opposite turn" to counter the ice tilt might result in a straight rock. I don't think the ice was tilted enough in this instance to result in straight rocks, but apparently, there weren't many instances during the match where it would have been advantageous to throw the other turn. And by the time we figured out the zamboni line, it was just as well to use it.

You know, if I stay with this curling thing long enough, I think I would have a lot of fun being a skip. Figuring out the ice is part of the game, and I think that's something I could be good at, with enough experience. Maybe in 20 years...

(Obligatory club reference: Triangle Curling Club)

On another curling note, my recap of the Tim Hortons Brier was linked from the Curling News blog, and was thus read by lots of people who know a lot more about curling than I do (a.k.a. Canadians). And not a single person called me a dumb American who doesn't know anything about the sport! I think that's a major accomplishment on my part.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Nebraska Trip: Day 4


On the last day of the trip, I thought we should get to the Kansas City airport by 400p (Central). Our flight wasn't until 610p (Central), but I usually like to get to the airport earlier than I need to. The way the Kansas City Airport is designed, we probably could have gotten there as late as 530p (Central) and still been okay.

On top of that, we woke up much earlier than we needed to in order to make my 400p deadline, which I'll take responsibility for. I guess I just like to be early or something. But that did give us time to see a sculpture of a giant shuttlecock:

That's located on the grounds of Kansas City's art museum. Art museums aren't really my thing, but they are Amber's thing, so it's only fair. Besides, we had an hour or two to kill in Kansas City, neither one of us could think anything better to do.

The drive across Kansas on Day 4 wasn't all that exciting. But we did plan our route to go through Cawker City, Kansas, home of the world's largest ball of twine:

As we drove eastward in Kansas, it gradually became more and more civilized. Once we got to Manhattan, we officially entered the "civilized" portion of the state. I think the line of demarcation between "civilization" and "not much" goes through Manhattan.

Yeah, pretty much all we have to show for our last day is a large ball of twine and an even larger shuttlecock. So, let me talk about something from the day before: tumbleweed. Day 3 was a very windy day in Nebraska, and that made the drive through western Nebraska rather interesting. I can't say I've ever seen that much tumbleweed. We probably hit about 30 pieces of tumbleweed as we drove down the road. And when we parked at Carhenge, some pieces were still stuck to the front of our car. During the "excitement" of Carhenge, we forgot to take a picture of our car beforehand, but we did "stage" a photo later on:

It wasn't quite like that, but that's all we had to work with for a photo opportunity after the fact.

That's it for the Nebraska trip. So now what do I talk about?

85 Octane? Huh?

We saw two interesting variations in gasoline when we stopped for gas during our Nebraska trip.

1) At most gas stations in Nebraska, 89-octane ("plus") is cheaper than 87-octane ("regular"), usually by 8 cents. Huh?

Possible explanation: Unlike the 87-octane gas, the 89-octane gas is actually 10% ethanol (E10). Rumor is, they grow a lot of corn in Nebraska, so I guess it makes sense that they want to encourage you to get E10 instead of E0. But why not make 87-octane E10 also? Perhaps because ethanol already has a naturally higher octane rating than normal gasoline.

2) When we stopped for gas in Cheyenne, Wyoming, "regular" gas was 85-octane instead of 87, and "plus" was 87-octane instead of 89. Huh?

Wikipedia's explaination: Due to the higher altitude, you can get by with 85-octane in the Rocky Mountains. If your car normally takes 87-octane, it's okay to refuel with 85-octane at high altitude. So, we filled the rental car with 85-octane in Wyoming...and then drove east. Whoops!

Actually, I think we were okay. Our next 87-octane refill was at 2,500 feet. Close enough, right?

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Nebraska Trip: Day 3


The first destination on Day #3 was something called "Carhenge", found in Alliance, Nebraska. Basically, it's a replica of Stonehenge, except with cars:

I guess the people of Alliance felt that they needed to give people a reason to go there. Well, it was reason enough for us! And while we were in Alliance, we stopped at a Safeway and bought some peanut butter, so we even left a little bit of our hard-earned money behind, too.

(Grocery store sidebar: I've always thought of Safeway as more of a West Coast thing; I didn't know they existed this far east, but they actually go as far east as New Jersey. Huh? While I was there, I signed up for a Safeway discount card to add to my keychain collection, but they only gave me a wallet card, not a keychain card. Bah! Get with the times, Safeway!)

(Another sidebar: Wait a second - didn't we just get peanut butter the day before at Hy-Vee? Yes we did, but since then, the peanut butter "mysteriously disappeared", only to "mysteriously reappear" once again in the car's back seat the next day. So, we brought two nearly-full jars of peanut butter back with us. Other than pictures, that's the only souvenir we have to show for. Peanut butter.)

On the way to Carhenge, we passed by a rather humorous "rest area":

By the time we were done with Alliance, it was only 1100a (Central Time), so we had some time on our hands. Where should we go? Just out of curiosity, I asked the Garmin how far away we were from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The answer: less than four hours. Hey, we can do that! Let's go!

(Time zone sidebar: I changed my watch to Central Time for the duration of the trip, but I don't think our bodies ever adjusted. Which is fine, because on a trip like this, we want to be awake during daylight as much as possible, so waking up at 800a Eastern / 700a Central - just before sunrise - was ideal. It was kind of like being on DOUBLE Daylight Saving Time. So why did I even bother changing my watch? Two reasons: 1) so I knew when to expect sunset; 2) because that's part of the fun of a road trip! Most of Day 3 was actually spent in the Mountain Time Zone, but the day started and ended in Central Time...barely.)

I guess we decided we had enough of the plains, at least for now. So, we decided to drive to Colorado. But we couldn't be too carefree, because afterwards, we had drive far enough east so that we could comfortably make it back to Kansas City by 400p (Central) the next day for our flight home. Since time was of the essence, this was the only portion of the trip that featured any significant amount of interstate driving. I did want to do some interstate driving on this trip, if nothing else to take advantage of a 75 mph speed limit.

We took the first available "mountain road" in Colorado, CO-14. Amber said this was the "rockiest" she had ever seen of the Rocky Mountains:


Once entering the mountains, we stayed on CO-14 for about 20 minutes, before my watch alarm went off, telling us to turn around and head back in the general direction of Kansas City.

Some commentary on Colorado. I think the vast majority of Colorado's population lies with a 50-mile-wide strip from Wyoming to New Mexico - basically, the I-25 corridor. West of there, it's just like the rest of the rural Intermountain West. East of there, it's just like Nebraska and Kansas. The I-25 corridor of Colorado is just this massive conglomerate of civilization located in the middle of nothing. Why are there so many people in this area? How did this civilization get started? Did the first settlers, trying to get to the Pacific Ocean, give up upon the first sight of the Rocky Mountains? That's my theory.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Nebraska Trip: Day 2


Here is the complete set of worthy pictures from the trip, posted by Amber on flickr. I'll be showing a few of the highlights here as well.

Here's a sequence of events for Day 2 of the trip (Friday, March 28th), as labeled on the map:

2) We needed a grocery store run to get bread and peanut butter so that we could make sandwiches for lunch. Lincoln was the most logical place to find a grocery store, so we asked the Garmin (a.k.a. Jill) to find a grocery store along our route, and we ended up at a place called Hy-Vee. Hy-Vee is the premier grocery store of this area, so it was a good choice. Hy-Vee is one of the few grocery stores that does not have a discount card. That's normally a good thing, but I was actually disappointed by that, because I wanted to add to my keychain grocery store discount card collection, and Hy-Vee would have been a fine addition.

3) Wahoo, Nebraska. Basically, we went here just so we could take a picture of the welcome sign:

Besides that, this side trip did get us away from I-80, allowing us to take a road other than I-80 to get across the state. We ultimately chose NE-92.

4) We stopped for lunch here. Nebraska's definition of a "state park" differs from that of other states. State parks in other states are kind of a big deal. But in Nebraska, a "state park" could mean nothing more than a few picnic tables on the side of the road. I guess everything's relative.

Side note: throughout the trip, we were spoiled with high speed limits that we weren't used to. 75 mph on the interstates (in some states), and 65 mph speed limits on two-lane highways. It was really nice. In North Carolina, the speed limit never goes higher than 55 on a two-lane road. Even most four-lane roads in the state (excluding expressways) have 55 mph speed limits. I might have a hard time going that slow next time we make a local road trip.

5) The ultimate destination for the day was Valentine, Nebraska. Being the only place with hotels in the whole area, we decided it would be good to call and reserve a room ahead of time, so we did, while we still had phone reception. The route to Valentine (NE-2 and US-83), in an area called the Sandhills, was quite nice:



See? Nebraska isn't all cornfields and cow poop. But I can understand why driving through Nebraska has such a negative reputation. Nebraska is hardly a destination for people. Instead, it's usually just in the way, and people are more interested in getting to Yellowstone, or perhaps California. And Nebraska is a long state - 454 miles from one end to the other on I-80. And the scenery doesn't change much from one end to the other. But from our perspective, Nebraska was the destination, and it was great. If someone tells you Nebraska is boring, chances are, they haven't been anywhere other than I-80. All of the interesting stuff is in the northern half of the state.

6) We got to Valentine before 300p, so we had some time to kill. Rather than just hang out there, we went for another drive, first to a wildlife refuge, where we saw a small helping of bison, elk, and prairie dogs.

7) After the wildlife refuge visit, we drove east, north, west, and then back south again through South Dakota. Maybe it was just me, but South Dakota seemed a lot less yellow and a little more hilly than Nebraska. In the town of Winner, South Dakota, we saw a department store called Pamida. In the age of Wal-Mart and Target, there isn't much room for the regionally-based department store anymore. I guess Wal-Mart hasn't made it up here yet. That's another thing that was nice about this area: no Wal-Mart Supercenters!

5) Back in Valentine, we took an evening stroll around town. We saw the same car drive up and down the road about 8 times during our walk. I guess there isn't much to do in Valentine, is there?

The idea behind this trip, and the routes we took, were not influenced by my desire to visit as many counties as possible. Otherwise, we might not have gone to Valentine, located in by far the largest county in Nebraska, Cherry County. In terms of visiting as many counties as possible, Cherry County wasn't an efficient place to go. But that wasn't the point of the trip. Cherry County isn't even that big, really; it's only one-third the size of San Bernadino County, California.

I think we have some more interesting (or at least entertaining) pictures for tomorrow. Of course, you could jump the gun and go to Amber's website today and see them all now, but what fun would that be?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April Fools' Day

I have one question about April Fools' Day.

Did Google's employees get paid for the time they spent on this?

The Kansas City Airport: Sweet

Amber's working on getting the Nebraska pictures posted online, so I'm going to wait until that's done before continuing on with the trip recap. In the meantime, here are some related posts that don't have impending photo illustration.

After this weekend's trip, I can now add Kansas City International Airport (MCI) to my airport history. On the shuttle from Hertz to the terminal, I overheard some other people trying to figure out why the airport code was "MCI" and not "KCI". According to Wikipedia, the airport was originally named "Mid-Continent International Airport". There's your answer.

KCI has a rather unique design. Instead of traditional "linear terminals", the three main terminals are circular, and roads lead you almost right to your gate. (Of course, you can't park right next to your gate, but the shuttle will drop you off there.) No long walks or people movers required. And since everything isn't centralized, each group of two to five gates has its own security checkpoint, which means shorter lines. All this means it doesn't take you long to get to your gate. For that reason, I think it's a terrific design. Of course, this does have some flaws - once you pass through security, you're "isolated" from all of the food courts and such - but that's okay, because you don't really need to pass through security until 30-45 minutes before your flight anyway. Until then, you can hang out at the airport sports bar and watch the Kansas v. Davidson game, for instance. (There was quite a pro-Kansas crowd watching the game, as you'd expect in Kansas City. Even after we passed through security, I could still hear the cheers from the gate.)

So, I think Kansas City is my favorite airport of all-time, at least among the 17 that I've been to.

The 2007 Kia Spectra: Meh

As previously mentioned, our rental car was a 2007 Kia Spectra. The Spectra is basically in the same class as my Honda Civic and Amber's Mazda3, so obviously, I'm going to compare the cars.

(Side note: like most rental car places, Hertz rents by category, not by specific model. Depending on what they had in stock, we were just as likely to get a Honda Civic or Mazda3, or Ford Focus or Toyota Corolla. Another side note: the rental car had Minnesota plates, which I thought was cool.)

Certainly, there's nothing bad about the car, but...meh. There's not really anything to get excited about.

And, as we found out with assistance from the Garmin, the speedometer was 5 mph too fast. Maybe that's to discourage fast speeds, because the Spectra didn't really like to go fast. It took multiple attempts to break the Garmin "max speed" of 99 mph on the desolate roads of north central Nebraska. And once I did, I never went faster than 80 the rest of the trip. Meanwhile, when Amber made a run at the max speed a few weeks ago, her Mazda3 approached 100 mph with relative ease.

(Just for the record, I only drove that fast just that once, purely to take advantage of the open road and see how fast I could go for an instant. The vast majority of my driving on the trip was spent at my standard five-over-the-limit.)

Being a rental car, the Spectra was also an automatic transmission. This was the first time I had ever driven an automatic transmission for more than a few minutes. So, there were a few times where I tried to hit the non-existent clutch, and accidentally caught some of the oversized brake pedal instead. Whoops! It also took me a while to figure out that I had to press the brake pedal really hard in order to shift out of Park. Automatic transmissions are nice for some things, especially stop-and-go driving and out-of-turn acceleration, but they're too boring for my taste. It was fun at first, but I was happy to come home to my stick shift, where I have Ultimate Control of my transmission.

I imagine the Spectra is cheaper than either the Civic or Mazda3, so I think that's the only way anyone can justify getting one, other than just to be different. (After all, there are a lot of 2008 Honda Civics out there.) The Spectra gets slightly less gas mileage, and isn't as much fun to drive. So, why bother?

XM Radio: Probably Not Worth It

ExpressJet offers free XM satellite radio during all flights. So, I took advantage.

I've considered satellite radio in the past, but I can't justify it, even if it is only $10 to $15 per month, and even if they are merging with Sirius. Satellite radio is nice for a few things:
- If you live in an area with limited terrestial radio. We certainly do not.
- If you like to listen to a non-mainstream form of music that could be found on satellite radio. I did enjoy listening to the "90's alternative" station for a little while, but it didn't have much lasting potential. It's not something I would listen to every day. 88.1 FM and my MP3 CDs work just fine.
- Sports play-by-play. The only sports play-by-play that would prove particularly useful for me is the NFL (the Jaguars, specifically), and I could get that online if I really wanted to. On the plane ride back, only because I could, I listened to part of a hockey game and part of a baseball game. (Side note: baseball is much easier to follow on radio than hockey, because it's slow-paced, and it's structured. Balls, strikes, hits, outs. When listening to a hockey broadcast, all I can do is wait for the announcer to yell "SCORE!!!")

So, in summary, satellite radio is nice, but...eh. I can't justify a purchase.

Nebraska License Plates: Wahoo!

My obsession with Ohio license plate county stickers has been well documented. Many states have county names on their plates, but for some reason, I'm more intrigured by the numbering system. However, the stickers are hard to see. Is there a state out there that uses county numbers as part of the plate number itself, making them much easier to see? You betcha: Nebraska!

(Note: the linked picture isn't the current plate design, but I couldn't find an image with the current design and the county prefix.)

From Wikipedia: "The license plate prefix sequence is derived from the number of vehicles registered in each county in 1922." So, Douglas County (Omaha) is #1, and Lancaster County (Lincoln) is #2, all the way down to #93, Hooker County. However, in three counties (#1 Douglas, #2 Lancaster, and #59 Sarpy, which today is the 3rd-most populous county in the state), they've started to get away from this concept and go with more traditional plates. But that's okay - there are still 90 other counties! And, some old-style plates are still floating around in those three counties.

Much like my "game" with Ohio, I decided to keep track of all the county prefixes I could find during our visit. By the end of the trip, I found 60 out of 93:

I was hoping to find at least one of the 90s, but it wasn't meant to be. But unlike with Ohio, I won't be continuing this game with Nebraska. Nebraska license plates aren't particularly common in these parts, and who knows if/when we'll be back there again.

Like Ohio, Kansas also has county stickers on their license plates, but they use two-letter abbreviations instead of numbers. That's not as much fun, if you ask me. I'm a numbers guy. Still, it's better than nothing.