Friday, June 27, 2008

Pig Thief

Amber had a Piggly Wiggly logo sticker on the back of her car. It was awesome. Then, someone stole it, right off her car in the apartment complex parking lot.

The sooner we can move into a house, the better.

New Summer Vacation Plans

The original plan was to make road trips on three consecutive weekends: last weekend to Jacksonville, this weekend to Tampa via Jacksonville, and next weekend to Toledo. Amber's bout with thrombosis forced a change of at least some of those plans, with no trip last weekend or this weekend.

We still plan on making the Fourth-of-July trip to Toledo next weekend, but we've rescheduled the Jacksonville trip for the last weekend in July. The Tampa via Jacksonville trip will not be rescheduled, since that was for a wedding.

When we went down to Jacksonville, my plan was to take a couple of hours to drive around town and check up on all of Jacksonville's major road construction projects. But now I won't have to do that, because AARoads did it for me! They pretty much covered everything. How nice of them.

We haven't left the state in almost three months! For us, that's unheard of. Maybe we'll make up for it with some extra trips in August.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The North Shore

I was recently reading a Minnesota-based road geek blog (h/t: Jared), and eventually found my way to an article about Minnesota's North Shore:

This is relevant because we could end up going there during our honeymoon.
Actually, probably not. If we go to Manitoba, it would be difficult to take the North Shore drive without backtracking at some point.

Well, regardless of whether we go there or not, I couldn't help but make a comparison to North Carolina's popular getaway, the Outer Banks. Seems as though the North Shore fills that role for people living in the Twin Cities.

So, my question is this. Are there a bunch of "NS" car stickers floating around in Minnesota?

UPDATE 6/27/08: Yesterday, we received a Lake Superior Circle Tour travel guide in the mail. Nothing against Minnesota, but I think the Ontario North Shore looks way more interesting.

The Honda Fit

My dad just bought a new Honda Fit, and I rode in it last weekend. Let the obligatory comparison to the Civic commence.

First off, the main reasons I bought a Civic instead of the Fit were to go with the "known quantity", and because I thought the Fit "looked weird". But really, it wouldn't have made much difference. And, I was thinking ahead to a time when I might like to have a little more back seat room and trunk space.

So, let's compare. The Fit is a little bit cheaper, and gets slightly better gas mileage (maybe 1 or 2 mpg difference), but also has less horsepower (109 instead of 140). The Fit is a hatchback, so you can fit larger stuff inside of it, but at the expense of folding down the rear seats. With the rear seats up, there isn't a whole lot of room back there.

That's pretty much it. Both cars have the same features, just in different places on the dashboard. I'm sure if I bought a Fit instead of a Civic, I'd be happy with it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Thrombosis and You

As mentioned yesterday, Amber is out of the hospital and resting at home. She's currently using a cane to walk, and she's having a rather unpleasant allergic reaction to the dye (a.k.a. constant contrast) they've been injecting in her in order to visualize her blood flow. (That's what the doctor says, at least.) But the good news is, she has no restrictions on physical activity beyond her own limitations. She'll be able to do whatever she wants, as long as she feels up for it. In the meantime, she'll be on the blood thinner Coumadin for about a year.

The vascular surgeon who performed all of the operations - he really knows his stuff, by the way - explained everything and even gave Amber some pictures to take home. I won't publish the pictures here, but here's a summary. The clot was freaking huge, going up from her knee to her thigh. She has apparently been vulnerable to clotting for some time, and there may have been some degree of clotting in her leg for a while now. Perhaps it was the wisdom tooth removal and subsequent bed rest that pushed the clot over the proverbial edge.

How can you prevent blood clots (a.k.a. thrombosis)? Well, they're apparently common in people who sit stationless for long periods of time. For instance, people with boring office jobs (that's me!), or frequent flyers. Blood clotting has been seen in people after cross-ocean flights. What can you do to prevent this from happening to you when you're going for a long flight or drive? Two things: 1) Walk around; don't just sit there. I take a 15-minute walk every day at work. When Amber and I take road trips from now on, we'll take a walk-around break every two hours, especially at first. 2) Wear compression tights to help promote blood circulation. Stylish!

The important thing is that Amber is okay and will make a full recovery. Wahoo! Hopefully, our next trip to the hospital will be for a pregnancy.

Zap: Part Two

You've heard the old adage: "lightning never strikes the same place twice". Or...does it?

11 days ago, I bought a new computer because a lightning strike (indirectly) zapped my computer. Then, two days ago, I got home from the hospital, only to find that my DSL modem wouldn't turn on anymore. After replacing the DSL modem, I discovered that the new router I bought over the weekend didn't work either, and neither did the ethernet card on my brand new computer.

Did I get zapped again? Probably. Didn't I learn my lesson? Well, yes, but I wasn't home when it happened. I was away from home from 6:30 that morning until 9:30 at night. I guess the lesson is, unplug the computer and all of the phone lines and internet connections, even if there's only a chance of a thunderstorm between the time you leave home and the time you plan on returning. (For the record, NWS Raleigh posted a 50% chance of thunderstorms on Monday.)

Replacing the modem, router, and ethernet card (including the ethernet card; lightning strikes are not covered by Dell's warranty) cost me another $120. Ugh. But I did learn something from this second strike. It seems as though the phone lines and DSL connections are most vulnerable to this sort of thing, perhaps even more so than the electrical outlets. All of those surge protectors are in the wrong place. Do they make surge protectors for phone lines?

I tried installing the ethernet card from my old computer into my new computer just to see if it would work. The result: the same orange light of doom I got with the old computer. Hmm...could it be that the first lightning strike also only damaged the ethernet card, and nothing else? Is fixing my old computer as simple as replacing the ethernet card? I'm almost afraid to find out.

I think here's the real lesson here: Don't get DSL. Get cable internet instead. Two years after choosing DSL over cable because of price, I regret my decision. Rather than pour money into another DSL modem, I should have just given Time Warner a call. I'm sure they'd love to hear from me.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Amber Update: 6/24/08

Amber is out of the hospital! Hooray! She was discharged at around 1100a this morning, and is doing well.

I'll have some "closing thoughts" on this episode later this week.

Don't Forget to Vote!

One of May's primary elections, North Carolina Commissioner of Labor, requires a run-off. That run-off is today.

Because of the obscurity of the run-off, and the fact that this is a run-off for a primary rather than a general election, turnout is expected to be abysmal. I didn't even know about the run-off until a chance visit to WRAL.com. (I don't watch local news or read the newspaper; I acquire almost all of my local news from the internet.)

Despite the obscurity, I took the time to vote. It only took about five minutes, and I didn't have to do any additional research, either. All I had to do was show up and vote for the same person I voted for last month. And besides, the low turnout means my vote will count that much more.

In the main primary (primary primary?) last month, I voted about 15 minutes after the polls opened, and I was voter #29 or so at my precinct. Today, I voted almost 3 hours after the polls opened, and I was voter #10. Wahoo!

Curling Recap: 6/20/08

In a classic example of "making the best of a bad situation", I went curling on Friday night with the Triangle Curling Club. We were originally going to miss out on last week's curling due to our trip to Jacksonville, but since we're stuck here, I figured, why not? Just as long as Amber was okay with it, which she was.

This was actually the first time I had gone to a Triangle Curling Club event without Amber since my first learn to curl over 18 months ago. Seeing only one of us there must have been strange. Hopefully, Amber will be well enough to go curling with us next time, on July 18th. Amber's blood clot was in her slide leg, not her push leg, which I would think is analogous to a quarterback suffering an injury in his "non-throwing hand".

As for the game itself...

End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Other team. 1300010- | 05
My team.... 0041203- | 10

(The 8th end was omitted due to time constraints.)

This curling session was advertised as a combination pickup and learning session. As such, about half of the 25-or-so attendees were new or inexperienced curlers. (By "inexperienced", I mean "only been curling once or twice before". I would imagine that by Canadian standards, I am still a very inexperienced curler.) This was great to see, because the only way we're going to make this club bigger and better is to recruit more people. Three weeks ago, we held the annual club meeting where issues such as these were discussed. If we can continue to grow the club, then we may be able to have two weekly curling sessions instead of just one, and even have our own ice! The good news is that another issue of the Winter Olympics is coming in less than two years, which should definitely pique more interest in the club from curious observers. The "dedicated ice" issue is very long-term, but every club has to start somewhere.

So, anyway, I was the vice-skip (a.k.a. third) on my team, as both teams had two new/inexperienced curlers. I tried my best to help out, but there were a few instances where I didn't exactly set a good example. I burned one of the new curlers' rocks in the first end while sweeping. Whoops! Sorry about that. My line was also off, usually to the right, but to be fair, this was the first time the club has held curling in five weeks.

But that doesn't mean everybody in the club hadn't curled in five weeks. Many club members participated in a bonspiel in Knoxville two weeks prior. Participating in an out-of-town bonspiel is definitely on our agenda for next year. You don't have to ask us twice to make a long drive somewhere, especially if curling is involved.

Next scheduled curling: Friday, July 18th.

Computer Update: 6/23/08

NOTE: This post was written on Monday. A lot has happened since then. More later in the week. Funny story about why I couldn't publish any blog posts yesterday...

In retrospect, I probably should have waited before writing this post, because there isn't much interesting stuff to report in the meantime. Whether it's a television series or a series of blog posts, it's supposed to climax with the last one, right?

Obviously, with Amber in the hospital, I haven't had a whole lot of time to play around with the new computer. But I did get all of the "important" stuff working, so I think things are back to "normal", at least from the computing end.

It's amazing how much stuff there is on a computer, much of which I kind of took for granted. I had a registered copy of WinZip, but it didn't transfer to the new computer. I don't have the registration code handy (whoops!), so this time around, I skipped WinZip altogether and went with WinRAR instead. (WinRAR, like WinZip, is "trial software", but my experience is that it will continue to work after the "trial period".)

While I was at it, I downloaded the latest version of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), too. I hadn't upgraded AIM in years. I saw no reason to. But this time around, I figured I might as well get with the times. Recently, I discovered that I'm starting to become one of those older people who refuses to update with today's technology. My old computer was six years old, and had old software and games on it. I don't have a picture cell phone. I don't know what's so great about a Blackberry. I also have an old video game system (PlayStation 2), and have no plans to buy a newer one. (We have thrown around the idea of adding a Wii to the wedding registry, though.) Anyway, before I drift too far off topic, downloading the latest version of AIM was the least I could do. And you know what? I think I like the old version better.

I also tried out the computer's video card (NVIDIA GeForce 8300 GS) with one of those old games that I still play, NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. As it turns out, my fear that the new card was actually worse than the old card were unsubstantiated. Even as a "low end" card, it's still a substantial improvement over my old card. I guess video cards have come a long way over the last few years. This discovery gave me the courage to plop down $50 on the latest hardcore stock car racing simulation. (More on that in a couple weeks or so, once I get the game in the mail and actually have the time to play it.)

I guess I am excited about the new computer now. Hooray!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Amber Update: 6/22/08

I promised another update on Amber before Sunday night, but there isn't a whole lot to report, other than steady improvement and no further developments. I guess that's good, right?

I'm willing to speculate that if it weren't the weekend, Amber may have been discharged by now, just because more discharges happen during the week than over the weekend, from what I've heard. Hopefully, Amber can get out of the hospital tomorrow. Rolo (the cat) misses her.

I know the "blog atmosphere" has been rather somber lately, so tomorrow, I'll talk about some more uplifting stuff. Like curling.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Amber Update: 6/20/08

Here's the latest on Amber...

Today, they had some more fun in her veins, placing two stents in one vein and an angioplasty balloon in another, in order to open up the veins more so they don't get blocked again. Apparently, Amber's veins in certain places are narrower than normal. There's even a name for this: May-Thurner Syndrome. (There's a name for everything these days, isn't there?) I can't find much information about it, but according to the doctor, it's due to a combination of genetics and scarring. In any event, they got most of the clot out of there, and the rest of the clot will be taken care of via blood thinners Heparin (what she's on now) and Coumadin (what she'll be on after she leaves the hospital for the next year or so). And that's good. But they're still going to keep her at the hospital until Monday.

So, in short, she's doing well. Next update: Saturday or Sunday.

Thanks to everyone for all the words of support we've received the last few days. It's been helpful.

Finally, let me dispel a common notion about hospital food. I've had some of the food at this hospital (Rex Hospital in Raleigh), and it was excellent! We had chicken fingers, fries, and macaroni and cheese (my favorites!), and they were outstanding. Far better than the common conception of hospital food.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Amber Update: 6/19/08

If I'm going to give an in-progress new computer update, then I should give an update on Amber's condition too.

First, let's start from the beginning. Over the weekend, she complained of pain and swelling in her left leg. On Monday afternoon, she visited her doctor, who forwarded her to Rex Hospital (in Raleigh) for a CT scan, which took place Tuesday morning. A few hours later on Tuesday, the hospital called her back in for more tests - I'm not sure what kind of tests, exactly - and that's when the found the blood clot. At that point, I left work and joined her in the hospital, just before an operation to remove as much of the clot as they could.

An hour or two later, they had removed about 50% of the clot. Apparently, this was one of the "worst kinds" of blood clots. The nurse couldn't feel her pulse in her left ankle, and apparently, no blood was getting out of her leg. The doctor estimated the clot was probably there in some form for about a week.

How do they go about moving a blood clot? I don't know much about medical science, but I think this is what happened, and what they're doing about it. Pay particular attention to the section about "Catheter-Directed Thrombolysis". I'm not sure if Amber had full-blown Deep Vein Thrombosis, but she could have.

As of noon Thursday, the plan is more in-bed anticoagulant medication between now and Friday. A stent placement, designed to widen the vein where the clot was/is, is scheduled for 3:00p Friday. We're not sure what the timetable is after that, but I'm preparing for Amber to remain in the hospital through Saturday. Needless to say, we've postponed this weekend's trip to Jacksonville.

In the meantime, Amber's doing okay. Last night, she was high on pain medication, and not really "with it". But it's better to be a little delirious than in pain, right? It's also better than being bored, I would imagine. Sitting in a hospital all day and all night has to be extremely boring, not to mention stressful.

I'll provide another update either Friday night or Saturday.

New Computer Update: 6/19/08

It's probably good that my new computer arrived early, while Amber is still in the hospital, in order to help me maintain my sanity while she's away from home.

I ordered the computer on Saturday; it shipped on the first business day (Monday), and arrived at Wednesday morning, using "3-5 day shipping" from DHL. Good job, guys! I wasn't planning on having this thing until next Monday. Wahoo!

Whoops - I haven't even said what kind of computer I bought yet! I don't blame Dell for the lightning strike, so I went with Dell once again. And I convinced myself that I didn't need that much of an upgrade over what I had before, so I bought a low-end computer:

Dell Inspiron 530
2.00 GHz dual-core Intel processor (old computer: 1.95 GHz)
1 GB RAM (old computer after upgrade: 768 MB)
225 GB hard drive (old computer after upgrade: 200 GB)
NVIDIA GeForce 8300 GS video card (old computer after upgrade: NVIDIA GeForce 5200 FX)
Total cost (including tax and shipping): $511

My computer is almost the bare minimum of what I could purchase new from Dell. The processor was a $10 upgrade over the minimum, and the video card was a $60 upgrade over the minimum, but everything else was the minimum. No monitor, since I just bought one two months ago. No new speakers. No floppy drive. No wireless internet card. No modem. No unnecessary pre-installed software. In retrospect, I should have probably spent more on a better computer, if nothing else to make things more exciting. I have to admit, this computer isn't very exciting. It's more of a replacement than an upgrade.

A word about the video card: that's the best video card Dell offered with the Inspiron 530. Apparently, it may not even be better than the one I had before, so chances are I'll be upgrading that sooner rather than later. And from what I've read, in order to support higher-end video cards, I may have to upgrade the power supply as well. These are all things I should have researched before I bought the thing.

At one point, I considered making my next computer a laptop. I even considered getting a MacBook. But that was contingent upon my desktop computer still working. I need a Windows-based desktop lying around in order to do what I want to do. At the very least, I needed a Windows-based computer in order to restore data from my old hard drives.

I didn't want to mess with Windows Vista, so I got another XP-based computer. Yesterday was actually the last day you could order a computer with Windows XP from Dell, as Microsoft will only sell/provide Vista starting next month. The fact that Dell was advertising this fact tells you all you need to know about Windows Vista. I have no personal experience with Vista, but I'd like to keep it that way.

About the data restore: I haven't opened the tower yet, but I believe SATA-interface hard drives and not the IDE hard drives from my old computer. So, how am I supposed to copy my data over? With one of these guys. Sweet.

The only catch to the data transfer was, some of the data on my old hard drives wasn't accessible due to file permissions - the old computer's Admin was the owner of the files, not the new computer's Admin - but I figured out how to fix that. I think that's the first time I've ever had a reason to use Windows Safe Mode.

Now, onto the new computer setup. I spent about four hours with the new computer last night, 8:00p until midnight. Staying up until midnight wasn't the original plan, but that's how it goes. The first 30 minutes was actually spent not with the new computer, but trying unsuccessfully to get the ethernet hub I purchased last year to work with one computer, let alone two. Looks like I'll have to get another one. Maybe the lightning strike fried the hub as well.

Once I gave up on the hub and connected my computer directly, the first thing I did upon booting was perform all Windows Updates. Then, I uninstalled some programs I didn't want (namely MusicMatch, Google Desktop, and some Dell Support nonsense), installed Mozilla Firefox, tried restoring as much of my data that I wanted at first, went through the whole Safe Mode file permissions mess, got my music player and playlist set up, and went to bed. All that kept me up until midnight, and I still have a ways to go.

Exciting? Not really. I'm just trying to get everything back to normal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Clayton Bypass

A new expressway opened up in the Raleigh area a week ago. As you'd expect from me, I drove over there and checked it out within a few days. Normally, I would post a map from Microsoft Streets & Trips of the new road, but my computer's out of commission, so I made a Google Map instead:

View Larger Map

The idea behind the road is to give US-70 travelers an alternative to the traffic-light filled US-70 Business in Clayton. According to my stopwatch, taken during non-peak traffic hours (Friday 7:30p), the new bypass is five minutes faster than the old highway. Wahoo!

Unfortunately, it's not all good. Used to be, all of the US-70 traffic would exit I-40 at the northernmost exit. I-40 is three lanes wide (each way) all the way down to US-70 Business. However, I-40 is only two lanes wide from there to the start of the bypass, meaning all of that US-70 traffic has to squeeze in. Whoops! If I worked for NCDOT, I probably would have pointed this out ahead of time. Sometimes, I wish I was a civil engineer.

Whether or not the new bypass actually is making I-40 traffic worse is still up for debate. Fortunately, the I-40 backups in that area don't really affect me that much. But it is nice to know that places like Smithfield, Goldsboro, and New Bern are now all five minutes closer to home. Yay!

What Happened?

Why didn't I post anything yesterday? Well...I spent most of yesterday at the hospital with Amber. I'll write about this adventure once the "story" has "closure", which hasn't happened yet. In the meantime, don't worry - she's okay. (Short version: blood clot in leg, admitted to hospital yesterday afternoon, approximate two-day stay in hospital to remove it. This likely means we won't be going to Jacksonville this weekend as previously planned.)

On a brigher note, my new computer was delivered this morning, so I'll probably have that to write about too, eventually. Once I get around to it, you know.

Monday, June 16, 2008

AT&T Makes Internet Difficult

Elaborating on a point from yesterday, even though Amber's computer was unharmed by the lightning strike, why did it still take two hours to get back on the internet?

Here's how AT&T (formerly BellSouth) DSL works. You can't just plug it into the wall and be ready to go. Your computer has to "open" the connection itself using a username/password. Previously, this was done through my computer; Amber's computer could plug into the same connection using a bus and use the internet with no further work required.

Now that my computer is toast, Amber's computer couldn't tap into the already-established internet connection; we had to "unlock" it from her computer. It took me about 30 minutes to figure that out. Most of that time was spent disconnecting and reconnecting wires over and over again.

Apparently, there's an easier way to do the password thing than to go through the entire "install" procedure, but I didn't know that at the time. That took another 30 minutes.

Once I got to the end of that, I realized I didn't remember my AT&T password, and my password reminder was - you guessed it - on my computer. So, AT&T directed me to their "Password Change" website. After another 30 minutes and at least one computer reboot, the AT&T website told me that they couldn't change the password for me, and that I needed to call the help line.

The help line was another 30 minutes, because those things are always slow, and they assume you're stupid (probably a good assumption in general), so they take you through all of these password-reset steps one at a time. But eventually they reset my password, and I could finally go online to find out what that orange light means.

I think this whole procedure is pretty stupid. Why is a password even necessary? Is Time Warner cable internet any easier?

Hot Tubs

Hot tubs lose their effect when the air temperature is already 95°F.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Zap

Yesterday during a thunderstorm, lightning struck very close to our apartment. And because my computer was plugged in, now it won't turn on.

The normally-green "on" light on my computer, which apparently means there is some kind of electrical problem. It could be the motherboard, power supply, BIOS, or something. Or, it could be all three! I really have no way of finding out without doing one of two things:

1) Buy new parts, and keep swapping them out until it works. Unless I get lucky, this is a possibly expensive and time-consuming proposition, with no guarantee of success. I can generally fix a software problem myself, but hardware problems like this are a little more difficult to diagnose.

2) Take the computer to a repair technician or some such thing. But I don't want to do that either, because that is also pricey, and it's not in the technician's best interest to fix your computer as quickly as possible. If it takes longer, he gets paid more. If you have to take it in again a week later, he gets paid more. And the computer's old enough, it's probably at the point where the repairs would cost more than the computer is worth. You know, like an old car.

So, what's the solution? Use that $600 stimulus check and buy a new computer. I've already sent in an order, and should get it in less than two weeks. And as long as my old computer's hard drives didn't get zapped too, I'll be up and running again just like before. But if I can't recover anything from the hard drives, then...well...

I'll talk about the computer purchase in another post, because this is pretty much all the material I have to go on this week. And in case you're wondering, Amber's computer still works, so that will still allow me to publish blog posts from home. After the thunderstorm, it took us two hours to get the internet to work again, but that's another story altogether.

Let this be a lesson to you: when a thunderstorm moves into the area, even if you use a so-called "surge protector", UNPLUG THE DAMN COMPUTER.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Silver Alert!

You've probably heard of Amber Alerts. But did you know there's also such a thing as a Silver Alert?

The official definition of a Silver Alert says it applies to missing "endangered" persons. As an example, a Silver Alert was issued today for a 72-year-old man believed to be suffering from "dementia or some other cognitive impairment", according to the official announcement.

This is my favorite part of the announcement:

"Possible Destination: Mr. Stephens left on foot and stated he wanted to go to Oklahoma or Jacksonville, Florida."

We'll keep an eye out next time we're in Jacksonville.

By the Numbers: 6/13/08

It's been pretty boring on the By the Numbers front. But I think the primary focus of this blog was supposed to be statistics, so let's see what I can come up with today...

Car odometer reading: Right now, it's somewhere between 12,300 and 12,400 miles. I actually don't know exactly where, because right now, I have the odometer set on kilometers, because I'm quickly approaching 20,000 kilometers. That should happen today or tomorrow, at which point I'll switch back to miles.

My last three monthly totals have all been under 2,000 miles. June, however, will likely be over 2,000.

My second oil change will probably happen in early July, between 14,000 and 14,500 miles.

Two-lane highway passing: This week, I was passed illegally by a car passing in the middle left-turn lane. Does that count for this stat? It sure does - any time a pass takes place on a road with no passing lane, it counts, whether legal or illegal.

Have I ever executed any illegal passes? Well, yes, but not of the middle left turn lane variety. One time in rural Pennsylvania, a car was traveling about 25 mph in a 45 mph zone. The road had a double yellow line, but I could see far enough ahead to make a safe and quick pass. Technically illegal, I guess, but I haven't lost any sleep over it.

County statistics: Nothing exciting has happened on the drives-by-county front lately. I haven't visited any new counties since the Nebraska trip in late March, and may not visit any more new counties until the honeymoon. Even though the majority of the honeymoon will be spent in Canada, I still expect to pick up dozens of new counties in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota.

As for my car, every now and then I drive my car through a part of North Carolina that I haven't driven it to yet - the most recent example being the drive to Charlotte four weeks ago - but I haven't taken my car across state lines since the first weekend in February. Boring!

I think our plan is to rent a car for the honeymoon. If so, it won't have any impact on my car's county statistics.

Money spent at Bojangles': I used to mention Bojangles' every couple of weeks on this blog. What happened? Don't I still enjoy it? Of course I do. Over the past 16 months, I've maintained an average of one visit every 3.4 weeks. Lately, it's probably been a little closer to once every four weeks.

Times I've stalled my car: This has officially become a boring statistic. My new car took some getting used to, and I think I stalled it three times in the first week, but I haven't stalled it once since January 4th, a streak of 161 days and counting. The statistic is boring, yes, but I see no reason to remove it from the lineup, because unlike in the AOL Instant Messenger days, Google Docs doesn't greatly limit my space.

Soda cans collected: I actually went almost two weeks without soda (a.k.a. pop), but I'm back to the carbonated beverages. However, I am trying to limit it to a maximum of two per day.

Disc golf statistics: Now, some comments on my disc golf statistics.

The Hornets' Nest course in Charlotte was my 50th career disc golf course. Though, to be fair, I've only played a complete round at 42 of those 50.

At my current pace of around three rounds per month, I'll play my 4,000th hole of disc golf before the end of the year. I'm currently up to 3,615 holes played since May 2004, when I started keeping track. (If I were to guess, I'd say I've only played about 100 holes prior to then, all in Tallahassee.)

With two more rounds at the Jacksonville (FL) course, I'll have played 1,000 holes at there. No other course is even close to that, and won't be for quite a while. The State College course is at 448, but I obviously won't ever get up to 1,000 holes there.

The next challenger might be the Valley Springs course in Durham, currently in 4th place with 170 holes. It's my favorite Triangle-area course (not including Burlington), and depending on where we buy a house, it may be the closest disc golf course to home after we move.

I might also play the Burlington course more after we move, too. The Burlington course is currently in 3rd place with 192 holes, despite being an hour's drive away from Raleigh (Cary). However, it's only 30 minutes away from Hillsborough, closer than any of the Raleigh courses.

Nights by County: This stat will be far more interesting after the honeymoon, but for now, it's pretty boring. So far in 2008, I've only spent five nights away from home - two in State College, and three on the Nebraska trip. On the By the Numbers page, I've posted predictions through early July, accounting for our three upcoming weekend trips (one to Jacksonville, one to St. Petersburg via Jacksonville, and one to Toledo). I spent 51 nights away from home in 2007, and I seriously doubt I'll reach that mark in 2008.

While I've only spent five nights away from home this year, Amber has an additional two in Toledo, four in Italy, and one more on a plane to Italy, for a total of 12.

Ohio county stickers: There are a decent number of Ohio cars on the roads in North Carolina, so every now and then, I'll get lucky and spot a sticker I haven't seen before. This has happened four times since my last visit to Ohio (January 1st), bringing up my total from 60/88 to 64/88. We're going to Ohio again soon, but this is only going to get tougher...

Curling statistics: Our next night of curling probably won't be until July 18th. The club is curling next Friday, but we'll be out of town. Apparently, a lot of clubs have no curling all summer, so I guess any curling between June and August is good curling.

Bowling statistics: I don't really have anything new to add here.

I think I need a new stat, you know, to keep it fresh. But what? Hmm...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Euro 2008, or the College World Series?

There are a couple of non-NASCAR sporting events going on this month that I find at least mildly interesting: the Euro 2008 soccer tournament, and the College World Series.

I'm probably going to watch far more of the College World Series than Euro 2008. Euro 2008 has been going on for a week now (I think), and I haven't watched much of it yet. I think it's just on at a bad time. If it were on in the evening, I'd probably watch more of it. Blasted time zones! Maybe when we get to the elimination rounds, I'll start recording games.

Actually, I am impressed that the ESPN networks are showing every single game, live. Do they always do this for the Euro tournament? I know they do it for the World Cup, but didn't realize Euro got that kind of billing. The Euro is a big deal over there, but doesn't really have much relevance over here, because it's all European teams, of course. Then again, it's not like the World Cup doesn't always come down to a bunch of European teams, either (plus Brazil). I guess ESPN doesn't have anything better to air on a weekday afternoon.

ESPN is also airing all of the games of the College World Series, which really isn't that impressive, considering that there are far fewer games. Unless you count the first few rounds of the NCAA tournament. They did a decent job last weekend with the Super Regionals, but hardly any of the first round was televised. ESPNU only bothered paying attention to two of the sixteen Regionals, and I couldn't find anything on any other network. What gives?

Why isn't college baseball as popular as the other college sports? I have a theory: "Northeast Bias". College baseball is mostly a Southern and a West Coast thing, as evidenced by the eight teams making it to the CWS (Florida State, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Georgia, LSU, Rice, Stanford, Fresno State). College baseball doesn't have much of a footprint in the Northeast. And since that's where the epicenter of national media is, they pretty much ignore the sport. Then again, I suppose the same argument could be made about college football, which gets plenty of national attention, so I don't know what the problem is. Maybe it's not just "Northeast" bias; it's "Northeast and Big Ten" bias. The Big Ten isn't exactly a baseball conference, but it's not their fault. It's too cold. College baseball season starts in February, but it's not warm enough to play home games up there until the season's already half over. Besides, if you're a top caliber college baseball player, would you rather play in Florida, California, or Indiana? Also, some major universities don't even have a baseball team (e.g. Wisconsin, Oregon, Colorado).

(I think the main point to take from that paragraph is this: the reason college baseball isn't as popular is because it's a regional sport rather than a national sport.)

By the way, I don't really know where I'm going with this post. I just needed something to write about today.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Political Bumper Stickers

I pride myself in interesting and uncommon bumper stickers. Perhaps that's why I don't have, and will never put, any political bumper stickers on my car.

Over the last few weeks, I've seen quite a few bumper stickers trumpeting one presidential candidate or the other, including one car in the parking lot at work with three Obama stickers, all identical. Seems like overkill to me. And what are you going to do after the election, particularly if your candidate loses? Bumper stickers aren't easy to remove. I still see a few "Kerry/Edwards" bumper stickers floating around.

Actually, come to think of it, a "Dukakis '88" bumper sticker would be pretty sweet.

Bad Advice

I saw this vanity license plate on the road the other day: GO2SLEEP

Seems to me, that's not what you want to be telling the person driving behind you?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Do You Know the Rules of College Football?

Sports fans (in particular, Penn State football fans) have a habit of complaining about the officiating. Well, could you do any better?

Hey, let's find out! USA Football has put together a 100-question online test about the rules of college football. It's primary purpose is to test college football gameday officials, but anyone can take the test - including you! Go here to take the test, and register as a "Non-Staff Official" to participate. (h/t: Orlando Sentinel, via ACC Now - News & Observer)

But before you take the test, here's a warning. There are no easy questions. No "how many points for a safety" or "how many players on the line of scrimmage at the snap". Instead, here's what to expect:

4th and 5 at Team B's 16-yd line. Team A's field goal attempt is blocked by Team B. THe ball then touches another Team B player on the 5-yd line and rolls into the end zone. Team B recovers the ball, then fumbles while still in the end zone. The ball finally rolls out of bounds at the 2-yd line.

A) 2 points for Team A (safety).
B) Team B possession, 1st and 10 at the 20-yd line (touchback).
C) Team B possession, 1st and 10 at the 2-yd line.


I took the test, and scored 53/100. I thought I knew some of the more obscure rules fairly well, particularly in relation to the operation of the game clock, but clearly I don't. I was hoping to learn a thing or two, but at the end of the test, they only tell you which questions you got wrong, and they don't tell you what the correct answer was, or why. Instead, they refer you to a specific rule in the rulebook. I guess they don't want to publish the answers verbatim (at least yet), because they're using this test to grade game-day officials.

Now...this test has nothing to do with grading the "quality" of officials; only their knowledge of the rules. Questionable pass interference penalties are another issue altogether.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Which Beach?

With temperatures hovering around 100°F, we figured Saturday was a good day to drive to the beach. But which beach should we go to?

A) Wrightsville Beach, the closest beach to Raleigh (Cary), at least in terms of driving time.

B) Topsail Island, a little further than Wrightsville, but probably less crowded.

C) The Outer Banks, which are an extra hour away (3-3½ instead of 2-2½), but that's part of their charm, right? We would go to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches rather than the urbanized beaches, which are probably the state's best beaches (I can only guess, having never been there).

Well, there was (and still is) a large wildfire brewing out towards the Outer Banks, so we ruled out option C), even though that was probably our first choice. Instead, we chose B), which turned out to be just fine.

Now, some "random thoughts" about beaches in general. Just about everything I said last summer about swimming pools applies to the beach. When you're a kid, you can spend the entire day there, and still not want to leave. Now, three or four hours is more than enough.

Probably the best thing about Topsail Island in particular was that we didn't see any OBX car stickers. Instead, you see a bunch of "TI" stickers. Are beaches the only places worthy of these trendy stickers? Is there some kind of war going on between "OBX" people and "TI" people that we don't know about?

I've always thought swimming in the ocean is far more interesting than a pool. Sure, it's the world's largest public toilet, but the water moves! It's also easier to float.

Amber and I have arguments about what constitutes a "beach". She's from the Midwest, and the Great Lakes happen to have many "beaches" along their shorelines. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and they can call those things anything they want to, but those aren't real beaches. In my opinion, for something to be called a "beach", there must be salt water, and it must be on the edge of a continent (excluding the Europe/Asia border) or island. No inland lakes allowed. I guess that's the "Florida native" in me.

We're probably going to the beach again in Jacksonville (FL) in two weeks, as part of our resolution to go to the beach at least twice this summer.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

"Wheel of Fortune" Contestants

I have a theory about the contestants on "Wheel of Fortune": I think they purposely put stupid people on the show. After watching people continuously buy vowels long after I've already solved the puzzle, I'm convinced.

The rationale behind my theory? I think it makes for a better show if the contestants aren't as smart. If somebody solves the puzzle after three letters, what fun is that? It's more entertaining when it takes longer to solve the puzzle, allowing the television audience to play along and try to solve the puzzle themselves. People feel good about themselves when they solve the puzzle before the actual contestants do.

Expanding on this theory: "Jeopardy!" and "Wheel of Fortune" are owned and operated by the same company. As I understand it, in order to get on "Jeopardy!", you have to take a written test. While the highest scores get to appear on "Jeopardy!" (or however they do it), do the lowest scores get to appear on "Wheel of Fortune"?

Maybe I should take the "Jeopardy!" test, purposely flunk it, and see what happens.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

It's Hot - Unlike in South Florida

The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the upper 90s to near 100 (°F) for the next week in Raleigh (Cary). Sounds like fun, eh?

But I won't complain. I don't like to complain about the weather, for two reasons: 1) I don't have to live here. 2) No matter how unpleasant the weather is, it's probably even more unpleasant somewhere else. But one thing does bug me about this story:

"The Triangle will feel like south Florida on Thursday as extreme heat dominates the area."

Uh, South Florida usually doesn't get this hot. The Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico keep South Florida temperatures in the upper 80s and lower 90s throughout most of the summer. In fact, Miami has never reached 100°F in the month of June (source). Even when you factor in the humidity, which is only slightly higher in Miami than Raleigh at the moment, South Florida heat indices will still be well lower than Raleigh's heat indices this week.

So, will the Triangle feel like South Florida this week? No. Not even close. South Texas would have been a more appropriate comparison.

Amber's Wisdom Teeth

I had my wisdom teeth yanked out over seven years ago, but Amber's still got hers...until tomorrow.

It's always been my understanding that the reason most dentists recommend you get your wisdom teeth removed post-haste is because they're hard to clean, and you don't really need them, so you're better off without them. I don't miss my wisdom teeth, that's for sure.

Actually, I have fond memories (sort of) of getting my teeth removed. Full anesthesia was highly enjoyable. I'm looking forward to Amber's post-operation loopiness. It's going to be fun!

Of course, that's when the fun stops, because the few days that follow are kind of a pain (figuratively and literally). But that's okay. I don't remember much suffering involved on my part. But I do remember my first post-operation meal: a cup of yogurt (no teeth required). I don't think that's the only time I've ever eaten yogurt, but it could be. I think my second meal was macaroni and cheese. I forget how long I had to wait before I could eat the kind of stuff they talk about in Super Poli-Grip commercials.

I also remember getting a little squirting device that I could use to flush out anything that gets stuck in the missing-tooth holes. With that in mind, maybe we should keep the pretzels away from her for a little while. Pretzels always get stuck in my teeth.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Fun With Google Maps

I was bored, so I went to Google Maps and created a map of the Monaco Grand Prix street circuit.

Top Loading or Front Loading? Lowe's or Home Depot?

(Just warning you ahead of time: this is a rather boring post.)

Amber and I bought a new washing machine and dryer recently.

First off...why? Up until now, we had been renting a washer/dryer from the apartment complex for $40/month, but the complex informed us they couldn't do that anymore starting with our next lease (which started on Sunday). Private companies offer a similar rental service, but we decided we might as well just buy our own. When we buy a house, we're going to need to buy a new washer/dryer then, so why not buy it now and save a few hundred dollars? In retrospect, we should have done this sooner. Since I moved here, I've paid $920 in washer/dryer monthly rental fees, which is only slightly less than what our new washer/dryer cost. The only question was whether the people we eventually buy a house from are going to leave their existing washer/dryer there as "part of the package", but after talking to older people with know-how, we decided to buy our own now. Apparently, that's not too common.

You can get a washer/dryer combo for less than $600 if you want to, but we didn't want to go down that route. We're going to have these appliances for many years (and hopefully, decades) to come, so let's not "go cheap". First, after doing some online research, we decided to get a "front loading" washer rather than a "top loading" washer. "Front loading" washers are more expensive, but are more efficient and use much less water, so we decided to get with the times and get a front loader. As for the dryer, I don't see much difference between top-end dryers and low-end dryers, so we got the cheapest dryer we could while qualifying for Lowe's 10% off, free delivery special, which only applied to appliances $397 or higher. In total, we paid about $1,000 for the two (after rebate), well below my $1,500 limit. Wahoo!

Next question - where should be buy it? Oh, wait, I guess I already answered that question: Lowe's. The two places we considered were Lowe's and Sears. The week before our purchase, we visited both and did price comparisons.

Home Depot also sells appliances, so why we didn't go there, too? Here's my take on the Lowe's v. Home Depot battle royale. They're pretty much the same store. It doesn't matter which one you go to. But when I need to go to a home improvement warehouse, I go to Lowe's every time. Why? Brace yourselves: because of NASCAR sponsorship. Lowe's sponsors Jimmie Johnson, one of my favorite drivers. Home Depot sponsors Tony Stewart, whom I don't particularly care for. (The secondary reason is because Lowe's is one traffic light closer to home than Home Depot, but the official reason is because of NASCAR.)

Best Buy also sells appliances, but I refuse to buy an appliance from Best Buy. They should stick to electronics.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Churchill, Manitoba

Looking at our Manitoba visitor information guide to figure out what to do there, we learned a couple of things. First, the road north to Thompson has some interesting stuff on it, and is definitely worth the drive. Second, the pavement ends in Thompson, but the railroad keeps going - all the way up to the Hudson Bay port of Churchill.

Churchill actually has a decent tourism business, mainly for people wishing to see polar bears and beluga whales. Besides that, our go on a tour that takes you to the least-accessible of all provinces, Nunavut, and gives you a view of the Hudson Bay, which isn't exactly just down the road, either.

Sounds like fun, eh? Problem is, the logistics aren't really in our favor. Our trip schedule, and the infrequency of train departures (three times a week) means we would have to devote four nights to it, and Churchill isn't really worth it, I guess. What would we do there for three days, anyway?

So, I think Thompson is as far north as we're going to get on the honeymoon. At 55°45'N, Thompson is still pretty far up there, albeit nowhere near as far north as most of Alaska. But I've never even been north of the 49th parallel, so merely entering Manitoba at all would set a personal best.

(A little more on that: I estimate that the farthest north I've ever been is approximately 48°51'N, near Glacier National Park in Montana. The northernmost reach of last year's Nova Scotia trip was only 46°53'N.)

Monday, June 02, 2008

The ESPN Bottom Line

The "Bottom Line" that the ESPN networks display is usually a good thing. It would keep you posted on other sports scores while you watched whatever it is you were watching. It's particularly useful during college football season.

However, this weekend, ESPN was using the Bottom Line primarily to promote the NBA Finals rather than cycle sports scores. Sure, they I don't know about you, but I don't want to see non-stop promotion for the NBA when I'm watching a college baseball game on ESPNU. Isn't ESPNU supposed to be a college sports station? And if you're watching a college baseball game, chances are you're interested in other college baseball scores, too. Shouldn't that be the focus of the Bottom Line, and not another sport that doesn't even play a game until Thursday?

Worse yet, the NBA Finals don't begin for a few more days, so expect more of the same on ESPN this week, and also expect them to start with that annoying to-the-second countdown soon.

Fortunately, I have a solution:

All-Star Race Pictures

Over two weeks late, here are some pictures from our trip to the NASCAR All-Star Race.

Jimmie Johnson in the pre-race burnout competition, showing utter disdain for the rules.

Jimmie Johnson, having blown out both rear tires.

The Lowe's Motor Speedway mascot.

Before the first race (the "Sprint Showdown").

Boogity boogity boogity!

Driver introductions. Who's this guy?

Amber says she likes Carl Edwards.

They're not saying "Boo", they're saying "Boo-usch!"


Pace laps.

Amber says it's easier to get good pictures during the day.

This is why we don't have many pictures of actual racing.

Disc Golf Report: Antarctica

Recently, I was browsing the PDGA Disc Golf Course directory to see if there were any courses in semi-exotic locations in Ontario or Manitoba, where we will likely spend the majority of the honeymoon. Instead, I was drawn to a course in Antarctica.

Antarctica? A disc golf course? You're kidding, right? Nope. All indications are that this is the real deal. This isn't a lame object course, either - they have DISCatcher(R) targets and everything! Of course, these pictures could have been taken somewhere in Montana for all we know, but I trust them. Besides, if it says it in Wikipedia, it has to be true.

For anyone thinking about going, just remember that their seasons are opposite ours.

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On an unrelated disc golf note: to provide some closure from this post, I played Valley Springs from the absurdly difficult blue tees last weekend with the goal of breaking 100 in 22 holes, but didn't quite do it. My 22-hole score was 102, with an 18-hole score of 86. Needless to say, it's a little difficult from back there.