Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hot Cheez-Its

By accident, I discovered that if you leave a box of Cheez-Its in a hot car, they actually taste quite good! Who knew hot Cheez-Its could be so fulfilling?

Maybe I should start microwaving them. You know, like Grape Nuts.

Yet Another Honda

Add another Honda purchase to the Allen Family: my mom purchased a new Honda Civic this week. (No, it's not the same color as mine.) We're taking over the world! Or, at least, my immediate family.

Hmm. If my parents' new Hondas turn out to be pieces of crap in five years, I'll feel responsible.

Cheeburger Cheeburger

This restaurant called Cheeburger Cheeburger, with locations in Jacksonville and other cities, claims to have really big burgers! "America's Biggest Burgers", it says on the wall. Well, sorry guys, but your largest burger is only 20 ounces. Denny's Beer Barrel Pub has you beat by 13 pounds, 12 ounces. Hey, we can't all be number one.

That's not to say the burgers aren't good, though. They also had very good french fries, reminiscent of The Varisty. In order to not hurt the feelings of anyone who may have recommended this place for dinner, I shall reiterate: the food was good.

Nonetheless, it still took them 10 minutes, 57 seconds longer to fill my order than it did at the afore-mentioned Denny's Beer Barrel Pub. As long as Cheeburger Cheeburger claims to have "really big burgers", they will continue to be the subject of comparisons to other restaurants with much bigger burgers. That's just the way it is.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hard Rock Park

On the way down to Florida last weekend, we saw lots of billboards for Hard Rock Park, a new music-themed amusement park. There might have even been as many Hard Rock Park billboards as South of the Border billboards. ... Okay, maybe not that many. But still.

Despite all of those billboards, not a single one bothered to tell us where this place was! A quick Google search answered that question: it's in Myrtle Beach. That makes sense, since the billboards magically disappeared once we got south of Florence.

So, that makes four theme parks within a four hour drive of Raleigh (Cary), the others being Carowinds in Charlotte, Kings Dominion near Richmond, and Busch Gardens in Williamsburg. We've already been to the other three. Surely, a trip to Hard Rock Park is in the cards. Right?

Hard Rock Park is more expensive, and has fewer roller coasters, than Carowinds or Kings Dominion. However, the same could also be said of Universal's Islands of Adventure, and that's one of the best theme parks around. HRP might just be that type of park. So, yes, we'll have to check it out.

Bugs Bunny

The promotion at the Durham Bulls games last weekend was an appearance by Bugs Bunny. (Meaning a guy in a Bugs Bunny suit, of course. The real Bugs Bunny was already booked.)

That got me thinking. Outside of Boomerang, classic Looney Tunes aren't on television. Do children under 10 even know who Bugs Bunny is anymore?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

NFL Sunday Ticket?

Now that I have DirecTV, should I get NFL Sunday Ticket? The only thing that's preventing me from pulling the trigger right now is the price.

This isn't like NHL Center Ice, where for $149 (early bird price) I get hockey on television every night for almost six months. At $269 (early bird price), NFL Sunday Ticket is much more expensive, even though it's for only one day a week for four months. It's a perfect case of price-gouging, if you ask me. Is it really worth it?

The main reason I would get NFL Sunday Ticket is, of course, for the Jacksonville Jaguars games. I suppose it would also be nice to not be stuck with the Carolina Panthers on FOX every week, but I don't really care about the rest of the NFL, so I'd be getting it exclusively for the Jaguars. And since I'll be out of town for a minimum of four Sundays during the season, and some Jaguars games are on local television anyway, I need to figure out exactly how many extra Jaguars games I would get to watch by purchasing NFL Sunday Ticket. Let's go game-by-game:
Week 1 - at Titans. There's a slight chance this game will be televised locally, but we'll probably be stuck with the Patriots instead. So, that's one.
Week 2 - v. Bills. Titans/Bengals or Colts/Vikings will probably get the nod. That's two.
Week 3 - at Colts. Steelers/Eagles is potentially stiff competition, but I think Colts/Jaguars will be more of a headline game and will air locally.
Week 4 - v. Texans. This is the day after the wedding, so we'll be spending the day at Cedar Point rather than watching football.
Week 5 - v. Steelers. Nationally televised on NBC (Sunday Night), but we'll be on our honeymoon anyway.
Week 6 - at Broncos. This is the day we get back from the honeymoon, and it's a 4:05 kickoff, so there's a very slight chance that we'll get back home before the game ends. But I doubt it.
Week 7 - Bye week. Why couldn't the NFL schedule their bye week during our honeymoon?
Week 8 - v. Browns. I think there's a 50/50 chance this game gets televised locally, the other possibility being Chargers/Saints. I'll count this as 3½.
Week 9 - at Bengals. Once again, the other CBS games aren't particularly strong candidates. I'll count this as another "half", bringing us up to four.
Week 10 - at Lions. That's five.
Week 11 - v. Titans. Possible, but given the competing CBS games, doubtful; that's six.
Week 12 - v. Vikings. This game's on FOX, where the Panthers are the priority. That's seven.
Week 13 - at Texans. Nationally televised on ESPN (Monday Night).
Week 14 - at Bears. This isn't a doubleheader day for CBS, and they have six other games, including Bengals/Colts. That's eight.
Week 15 - v. Packers. Another FOX game. Even though the Panthers are on CBS this week, that just means we'll get the Redskins instead. That's nine.
Week 16 - v. Colts. Nationally televised on NFL Network (Thursday Night).
Week 17 - at Ravens. This is Christmas weekend, so we won't be home.

Finally, I'm going to subtract one game to account for one of two things: either an extra unexpected game gets local television, or we go on an additional weekend out-of-town trip. That leaves eight games. Do I want to pay $269 to watch eight regular season football games on television? ..... No.

Yeah, I know, $269 is still a lot cheaper than season tickets. But here's the difference. When you buy season tickets, you're supporting your team directly. When you buy NFL Sunday Ticket, you're not supporting your team any more than you're supporting the other 31 teams. To me, that's very important. I would gladly pay the Jaguars $269 to watch eight of their games. But I'm not willing to pay the entire NFL that much. I'd rather spend $269 on five weeks' worth of gasoline.

(By the way, that DirecTV commercial advertising "4 months free when you buy NFL Sunday Ticket" doesn't apply to me. That offer would only apply if I had bought the "Premium" package, which includes all of those HBO, STARZ, SHOWTIME, and CINEMAX channels. That package costs over $100/month, and it's not what I purchased.)

Ript Revenge

Just to be clear...I said "no more disc golf course reviews", not "no more disc golf posts".

When you have a group of people playing with you, disc golf is more fun when you're playing a card game called Ript Revenge along with it. The basic idea behind the game is, you get cards at the beginning of the round, plus one card after every hole (unless you win the hole), and you get to play one card per hole. Generally, the cards are "offensive" against other players. Examples:
- Opponent has to throw his next disc side-arm.
- Opponent has to use a "mini" disc on his next throw.
- Opponent has to play next hole with his opposite hand (e.g. left-handed if player is right-handed).
- Opponent has to redo his/her last shot.
- Opponent has to tee off from the location designated by the player (but within 10 yards of the actual tee).
- Player gets to swap his/her lie with any opponent's lie after the first throw.
- Player gets to choose any disc from opponent's bag and use that disc for the remainder of the round.

I didn't win, but that's okay. Actually, despite playing the game, I posted a better 22-hole score (78) than the last time I played in Jacksonville (81).

On another disc golf note, I have now played 996 holes at Jacksonville's Fore Palms course, so my next round there will feature my 1,000th hole of disc golf at that course.

Monday, July 28, 2008

He's With Us

The guy who won the Tour de France - Carlos something-or-other - races for Team CSC. As in, the same CSC that I work for. Wahoo. Whoop-de-doo.

Well, I'm trying to get excited. I'd get more excited about it if CSC sponsored a Formula One team rather than a Tour de France entry.

I had to take a drug test a week before I started working for CSC, so I can only assume the same for Carlos.

More Dumb Driving Statistics

I've added yet another car-related statistic to By the Numbers. I've been keeping a gasoline log in my car for over a month now, so why not publish it?

Here are the statistics I've accumulated since June 13th:
Driven 2,537 miles on 66.302 gallons of gasoline (38.3 mpg)
Money spent on gasoline: $261.74 (10.3¢/mile)
Average price of gasoline: $3.948
- Highest price: $3.999 (Four occurrences, most recently 7/23/08 in Cary, NC)
- Lowest price: $3.659 (7/27/08 in Florence, SC)

Friday, July 25, 2008

I-95 Construction in Georgia

(On location in Jacksonville, FL.)

Just to have something new to post today...

It seems like they've been widening Interstate 95 in Georgia for at least a decade. Every time I come to Florida, I expect to see some progress. But they're still not done. Those sections of highway that were almost done seven months ago are still just that - almost done. Instead of completing work on such stretches of road, they're opting to begin work on new stretches. The result is that over 40 of Georgia's 110 I-95 miles are now part of a construction zone.

It's kind of like a kid who has 10 almost-finished boxes of cereal in the cabinet, but opens a brand new box of cereal instead because he really wants Lucky Charms.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Wet, But Not Particularly Wild

It's been a while since I've been to a water park. In fact, I think I've only ever been to one (Summer Waves in Jekyll Island, GA), and it was a long time ago, so it was pretty much impossible for Wet n' Wild in Greensboro to live up to the billing.

Actually, my only beefs are with the lazy river and the wave pool. The lazy river was perhaps my favorite thing about Summer Waves. You'd grab a tube from various places around the park, get in the river, and float around for as long as you felt like. But at Wet n' Wild, all of the tubes were already in the river, and you had to wait in line to get one. There were far too many double tubes (as opposed to single tubes) in the river, making it quite congested. It made the "lazy river" more like rushhour on I-40. And, the river was far shorter than I think it should have been, adding to the congestion. It was lame. As for the wave pool, it had one two-foot wave every five or ten minutes, and that's it. Super lame. Maybe all this stuff just seems bigger and better when you're a kid than when you're 26 years old. Uh oh...do I feel a mid-life crisis coming?

That said, I did manage to find my water-park niche: slides. Not so much the ones where you slide down on tubes, but the ones where you lie down directly on the slide. And if the slide dumps you into a big pool, even better. The shorter slides usually had the shortest waits. Some of them had a tension-inducing green light that tells you when it's safe to go. And since you're free-floating, it's going to be a little bit different each time you ride. Wee!

Actually, we have water slides right down the street. Why bother driving to Greensboro?

Oil Change #2

Quickly...

I've added another section to By the Numbers, dedicated to oil changes and other car repairs. So far, I've had two oil changes, and have spent $50.82 on car repairs and maintenance since purchasing my new Honda last November, including one tire repair and one oil change. (The first oil change was free.) Yesterday's oil change was rather pricey at $37.02, but that's what I get for taking it to a dealer.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

DirecTV: Success!

The DirecTV technician came on Sunday, installed DirecTV, and everything is grand. Yippee!

My first impression is that satellite television is far more complicated than cable. With cable, you hook up your stuff to the wall outlets, and you're set. You can pretty much do everything yourself once the cable guy "flips the switch". With satellite, not so much; you're better off leaving it to the professionals. First, you have to position the dish in a very specific way in order to get a signal. Then, you have to connect the dish to the receivers inside the apartment. There are now wires all over the apartment, although they're fairly well hidden. All this means that when there's a problem, figuring out what the problem is can get rather complicated. The technician already had to come back once, four hours after the initial installation, to repair one of the wires. But it's been smooth sailing since then, so far.

That said, DirecTV is pretty sweet. I'm highly looking forward to football season, when I'll be able to reap the full benefits of the dish. The Big Ten Network was one primary reason for the switch. Instantly, the Big Ten Network has gone from "annoying" to "awesome". (I guess that all depends on whether you get it or not.) From a sports perspective, DirecTV also offers the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (the only local sports channel with regional major league baseball broadcasts), access to FSU basketball and baseball games on FSN Florida, and the opportunity to purchase NFL Sunday Ticket. I'm still undecided on that last one, though. $269 is a steep price for just 17 Sundays, especially since we'll only be home for 12 of those 17. (More on that in a future post.) And apparently, the Mountain West network (a.k.a. "the mtn.") will be available on August 27th, just in time for football season. Wahoo! Now I can rekindle my secondary interest in the Utah Utes!

More motivation for the switch came from frustration with the Time Warner DVR software. I had to reboot the cable box approximately once a week because the program guide wouldn't come up, or something. It's too early to tell if I'll have any such problems with the DirecTV DVR, but so far, I'm impressed. The DirecTV DVR has a much more polished look and feel. And, it comes with a written user guide! Time Warner didn't give me a user guide. I basically had to figure it out myself. (Now they have on-screen tutorials, but I prefer it in writing; that way you don't have to memorize all of the steps.)

I actually felt like kind of a jerk calling Time Warner customer service and saying "I'd like to cancel my service." "Well, I'm very sorry to hear that," they said. But from then on, it was all business. I guess Time Warner is used to this sort of thing. And when I told them I was switching to satellite (they asked why I was cancelling), they didn't give me the dog-and-pony show about everything that's wrong with satellite television. I appreciate that. Besides, the nicer they are to me now, the more likely I am to go back to cable in the future, right? (Actually, not really. But thanks anyway.)

One thing I like about DirecTV is that when a new channel debuts, DirecTV is often one of the first channels to broadcast it. There are a lot of channels in my channel lineup that I had never heard of, and had to look up to decide whether or not to put it amongst my "favorites". For instance:

The 101: A DirecTV-exclusive channel that we'll probably never watch.
Current TV: An independent news channel founded by Al Gore.
Daystar: A religious channel.
Fine Living: From Wikipedia: "Fine Living's programs are dedicated to inspiring and empowering people to live better and help maximize their time and get the most out of their money." Whatever...
Link TV: A network designed to provide diverse global perspectives on important news and issues.
The N: Programming geared towards teenagers and young adults - for example, reruns of Dawson's Creek and Saved by the Bell.
NRB: National Religious Broadcasters.
REELZ Channel: From what I understand, they don't air movies, but they air shows about movies. They also air reruns of The Critic.
RFD-TV: Rural Free Delivery television, focusing on rural issues and topics of interest. According to Wikipedia, its content is similar to the old TNN (now Spike TV). No reruns of Hee Haw, though.
TV One: Programming for African-Americans.
Chiller: Horror programming.
DIY Network: Focuses on Do It Yourself home projects.
Investigation Discovery: Crime-related shows; formerly known as Discovery Times.
Logo: Programming for the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community.
OvationTV: Fine Arts programming.

Aside from The Critic reruns, I probably won't be watching any of those channels. But that's okay. I have plenty of other stuff to watch.

What If...

Recall that the main reason I bought a new car back on November 2nd was because I hit a deer with the old Saturn, breaking the left front headlight assembly, and I didn't feel like fixing it, or dealing with any of the car's other issues. But what if I didn't hit that deer?

Well, the original plan was to buy a new car this month. The Saturn was due for its next state inspection in July, so the plan was to limp the car along until then, get as many miles out of it as I could, and then get a new car.

If I kept the car that long, how many miles would it have accumulated? Assuming I would have done the same amount of driving in that car as I've done in the Honda, the old car would currently be sitting between 180,000 and 181,000 miles. That's still nowhere near the goal of 200,000, but I doubt I would have given that car another year. Who knows what other problems would have come up?
But with the Honda, the goal is clear: 200,000 or bust. That's why I bought a Honda in the first place.

At my current driving pace, I'll reach 200,000 miles in January 2018. Of course, by then, I may have to buy a new car for reasons other than the car's reliability. For example, what if the price of gas increases to $10/gal, and the 2017 Honda Civic (or other car make) gets 100 mpg? But I'm not going to worry about that yet.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Curling Recap: 7/18/08

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
My team....... 1012200- | 06
Amber's team.. 0100011- | 03

Much like on the 4th-grade playground, "captains" (skips) picked the teams for this pickup curling session. So to make things interesting, they split up Amber and me. I now have 4 wins and 2 losses when going head-to-head against Amber. (Not that I'm keeping track or anything.) But to be fair, this game wasn't entirely competitive. Much like last time, the main idea was to get some new curlers in the mix.

I played second most of the match, but was the vice in the last end, so it was up to me to call the last shot. Here's the setup: (my team = red)

I had no clue what to do. That yellow stone was pretty well in there. I think we ended up trying a double take-out. Perhaps, we should have tried a draw to the button, which was definitely possible considering how much the stones were curling towards that side. The shot would have had to be perfect, but just about anything we tried on that last throw would have had to be perfect, so it was worth a try.

In any event, I think I still have a lot to learn before I should try skipping. My general tendency is to call the least risky shot, not the shot with the most upside. In other words, I'm a pussy.

In case you're wondering how Amber's leg held up, she made it through the first six ends before sitting out the 7th as a pre-emptive measure. I guess you could say this was a "rehab start".
In three weeks is the first-ever "Carolina Classic", a weekend-long bonspiel (curling tournament) featuring as many as 20 teams, including several from out of town. Last year's bonspiel was just a one-day thing with half-length games, but this year, we're going all the way, baby! Two games on Saturday, and one on Sunday. This is the real deal, and even warrants a new name. I wasn't sure if you could refer to something as a "Classic" the first time through, but apparently, you can. Especially when there's an opportunity for alliteration.

And/Or

Here's something that's always bothered me about the ingredients list on some food and drink products. Occasionally, you may find something like this listed: "HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP AND/OR SUGAR".

What do you mean, "and/or"? Shouldn't you know what's in your product?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mile #14,000

In reference to my Car mileage log, one thing I've wondered is what I would put in the "road" column if I hit a milestone in a parking lot, rather than on an actual road. Well, guess what happened today?

My car odometer reached 14,000 miles right when I was pulling into my parking spot at home. As my car sits in the parking lot, it probably has exactly 14,000.01 miles on it. If I parked in a closer parking spot, I would probably still be at 13,999.

As for what goes in the mileage log, I'm officially recording this as driving eastbound on Ribbon Lane, the name of the road in front of my apartment building. I guess that's technically what I was doing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

ARCA Sim Racing

I don't buy many video games anymore, but I recently bought a computer game called ARCA Sim Racing. It's a "realistic stock car racing simulation", geared to people like me who watch NASCAR on television and think, "Hey, I could do that". EA Sports owns the exclusive NASCAR license, and they have no interest in creating a NASCAR game that appeals to someone like me (even though they've tried, and failed, in the past), so it's up for other software developers to create such a game without using the NASCAR license. And that's fine, because ARCA is basically the same thing as NASCAR.

I bought the game for one reason: online racing. It's a lot more fun to race real people than computer-controlled cars, and a lot more gratifying when you do well, especially when the race results are published online.

So, this is how I've spending my free time lately.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Presorted Standard

Here's something I learned from Amber.

If you get something in the mail, and the envelope says "PRESORTED STANDARD" where the stamp usually goes, it's junk mail. You can throw it out. You don't even need to open it.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The 2008 Honda Civic: The Choice of Chris Allens Everywhere

I called Auto Park Honda in Cary (not the dealer I bought the car from) to schedule my next oil change. It went something like this...

Her: "Last name?"
Me: "Allen. A-L-L-E-N."
Her: "First name?"
Me: "Chris."
Her: "And, what kind of car do you have?"
Me: "A 2008 Civic."
--pause--
Her: "98 Woodhill Court?"
Me: "Huh?"
Her: "You live at 98 Woodhill Court?"
Me: "Oh, no...that's not me. I've never been [to Auto Park Honda] before."

(NOTE: I changed the address in order to protect the innocent.)

You see, not only is there another Chris Allen in their database, but he also drives a 2008 Honda Civic! Scary.

I wonder what color it is.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Walgreens

First, some particulars, because I pay attention to this sort of thing. Unlike Eckerd, the name of the store actually does have an 's' on the end. It is "Walgreens", with no apostrophe.

Why am I writing about Walgreens? Because I didn't want the only post of the day to be about disc golf. Why did I tag this as a "grocery stores" post? Because I don't know how else to classify it. Some people do a portion of their grocery shopping at Walgreens, because in some cases, you can get certain products cheaper at Walgreens than you can at the grocery store. For instance, my parents buy their milk at Walgreens, because it's cheaper there than at Publix. However, I checked over the weekend, and milk at Walgreens ($3.99/gal) is more expensive than it is at Kroger (usually between $3.50/gal and $3.75/gal). Then again, from what I've heard, milk at Publix is now well over $4/gal. (Side comment: milk is now cheaper than gasoline!)

What about other stuff at Walgreens? I walked up and down the aisles, and didn't see anything that's cheaper than at Kroger. Oh well. So, what's Walgreens good for, anyway?

Prescriptions. That's pretty much it.

No More Disc Golf Reviews...At Least Here

I've been writing a lot about disc golf lately, for a couple of reasons. 1) Why not? 2) I haven't had much else to write about lately. But the thing is, most of you probably don't care about disc golf courses in eastern North Carolina, so I'm putting a stop to this. Instead, I'm going to publish my half-assed "course reviews" at dgcoursereview.com.

I've already written a few reviews on that site, and recorded all of the courses that I've played so far in my profile. I really like the Map View of the courses I've played. Not surprisingly, I've played four distinct clusters of courses: a small one in north Florida, a medium-sized one in Pennsylvania, a very large one around North Carolina, and a small one around Toledo.

The reviews and course ratings I post for that site won't necessarily agree with my personal course rankings. The primary difference is that I like open, lightly-wooded courses, while the majority of the serious disc golf community - in particular, the type of people who would frequent a website such as dgcoursereview.com - prefer more heavily wooded courses.

I'll still write about disc golf in general here from time to time, but not about specific courses.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Independence Day in Bowling Green, OH

Oh, right...totally forgot about this. Last weekend, we went to Bowling Green, Ohio for Fourth of July fireworks. It was the next-best option to Toledo, which apparently is very crowded. And, I have to admit, I'm also warming up a little bit to Bowling Green. I wouldn't mind living there. Besides, any town with a curling club has to be pretty cool.

The fireworks were set up on the campus of Bowling Green State University next to the football stadium, which they had open for people like me to go play around on the field. I mention this for two reasons. First, this was the first time I've ever been on a field made out of artifical FieldTurf. So, now I can cross that off my list, I suppose. I also took the opportunity to run my own 40-yard dash. My time was 5.68 seconds, which is officially classified by the NFL as pretty freaking slow.

I was happy with the fireworks show itself. The thing I liked the most about it is that they didn't play music. I don't need music. I just want to hear the sound of the fireworks. That's "music" enough. I am proud to say that I made it through an entire Fourth of July without ever having to listen to Lee Greenwood. That's quite an accomplishment, if you ask me. For that, I'll forgive the Bowling Green fireworks for malfunctioning mid-show, causing a five-to-ten minute delay.

One of these days, we'll have to go to Canada on Canada Day and see how they do it.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

DirecTV: Let's Try This Again

The time has come for me to try DirecTV again. My original intent upon moving here two years ago was to get DirecTV, only to find out that old apartment was on the wrong side of the building, pointing away from the satellite signal. Our new apartment is on the correct side of the building. But even though we've lived here for almost 15 months now, just now did I finally decide to go to directv.com and place another order. Why did it take so long? Procrastination and laziness; nothing more. I guess what finally did it is that my Time Warner DVR isn't 100% functional anymore. For example, even though I have it programmed to record "Wind Tunnel with Dave Despain" automatically every Sunday at 900p, it only gets recorded about half the time. And, for some reason, it isn't recording "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" this week at all, even though I have it set up to record repeats as well as new episodes. Maybe Time Warner has something against long show names.

What does DirecTV offer that Time Warner Cable doesn't? Actually, I've already written about that, so let's move on.

The earliest convenient installation date I could get is the morning of Sunday, July 20th. Even though we're on the correct side of the building, I'm still not 100% sure it will work. A large tree in the parking lot may or may not be blocking the signal. Also, the angle of the building may still prevent access to the signal, as it's not perfectly perpendicular to the signal. But I'm cautiously optimistic. (Generally, "cautiously optimistic" is about as optimistic as I get.)

If DirecTV still doesn't work this time around, I'll try again when we get a house. One of these days...

Y no A?

I've been anxiously been waiting for this moment for weeks: I saw my first Y-series North Carolina license plate today. Wahoo!

Now, I expected the first to be a YAA- or YAB- plate, but instead, it was YNB-. Huh? Actually, come to think of it, I've never seen any XA- license plates, either. Hmm...

Well, as it turns out, the NC DMV has been skipping to N for quite a while. I searched the parking lot at work, and could not find a single North Carolina license plate anywhere in the parking lot where the second letter was between A and M. It is always between N and Z. (Personalized plates excluded, of course.)

So... uh... WTF?

Severe Thunderstorm Warnings

Maybe I'm just paying more attention to this stuff than I did ten years ago, but is the National Weather Service issuing more and more Severe Thunderstorm Warnings? It seems like every thunderstorm that moves through the Raleigh (Cary) area is "severe" these days. Can't we just get a "normal" thunderstorm?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Contact Your Local Post Office ... Or Not

Apparently, the U.S. Postal Service doesn't want you to call individual post offices.

If you go to the USPS website and search for post offices in your area, you'll find that every post office's phone number is 1-800-ASK-USPS. Select a particular post office, and you may see a local phone number on the next screen. But try calling that number, and you may get a recording that says the phone number has been changed to - you guessed it - 1-800-ASK-USPS.

I don't know if this is true for every post office, but it was true for the one I tried calling last week. 1-800-ASK-USPS was completely useless; it was entirely recording-based. Surely, this post office must have a land line of some kind. Why does USPS make it so hard to find?

Through a little Google sleuthing, I was able to find the post office's actual phone number and get exactly the information I needed, but it was more difficult than it needed to be.

Disc Golf Report: Dexter, MI, Part Two

Six months ago, we played disc golf at Hudson Mills Metropark outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. We quit early due to icy conditions, but I still ranked the course the 2nd-best course I've ever played. Last weekend, I played a complete round at the course in not-so-icy conditions. Is the course ranking deserved?

I'd say, yes. I have two things to add from that last post. First, in the summer, they let the "rough" grow, but mow the fairways. It's actually kind of neat to see an actual "fairway". It's almost like playing real golf, even though the only penalty associated with the rough is spending an extra minute or two to find your disc. Second, the second half of the course is much more wooded than the first half, which is fairly open. Hooray for variety!

The course is "pay to play" ($2/person, plus $4/car to enter the park), and it's clear they use the money to take care of the course. It's in excellent shape. From that standpoint, it's the best course I've been to. But I'm still not ranking it #1, because despite the amenities, the #1 course (Tyler State Park in Newtown, PA) is still more fun to play. But it's close.

There are two 24-hole courses on site, the second course being called the "Monster" course. Might a third visit be in order?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Travelogue: 7/6/08

Here's the route we took on the way back home from Toledo on Sunday:

View Larger Map

Why? Well, it was the last remaining "official" route on our quest to find the fastest route from Raleigh (Cary) to Toledo. We knew this wouldn't be the fastest route - not even close - but we thought it might be fun. Was it?

Some parts, yes. I-40 between Knoxville and Asheville is about as fun as interstate driving gets (east of the Mississippi River), driving through the Great Smoky Mountains. As for the rest, not so much. Too much traffic. The main problem areas are in downtown Dayton and Cincinnati on I-75, southern Kentucky on I-75, and just west of Asheville on I-40. Dayton's problems are construction-related. Cincinnati is just a mess. Southern Kentucky probably isn't that bad most of the time, but this was the last day of a holiday weekend.

But, the I-40 can be chalked up to NCDOT getting a little behind on road improvements. We've been stuck in traffic here before, so I wasn't surprised. The problem is that there is only one lane leading from eastbound I-40 to eastbound I-26, and that isn't enough given that most I-40 traffic wants to take that route. NCDOT does have ongoing construction there, but I'm not sure what it is. Personally, I think they should make the I-26 exit two lanes wide, and widen I-40 to three lanes in each direction all the way back to the US-74 exit near Waynesville. But I don't anticipate the latter happening for at least 30 years, given that it's a little more difficult to do road widening in the mountains.

The total trip time was 11 hours, 57 minutes, the longest Raleigh (Cary) <--> Toledo trip to date, even including other long scenic routes.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Ohio County Stickers: The Final Twelve

The first thing I'm going to talk about after last weekend's trip to Toledo is...Ohio County Stickers! That means two things: 1) Last weekend's trip wasn't overly eventful, and 2) I'm still rather obsessed with this.

A quick recap, in order to make this blog post self-sufficient. Ohio used to put county names on their license plates, but that's been replaced with a numbered sticker in the lower-left corner of the plate. Each county has its own number, from 01 to 88 (Wyandot). (example)

Over the last several months, I've been taking my checklist every time we go to Ohio, and crossing off counties one-by-one as I spot a license plate sticker for each county. Every now and then, I'll even get lucky and spot a new sticker here in North Carolina; this happened most recently in a hospital parking lot. But I'm not likely to be so lucky anymore, because I only have 12 counties remaining:

#01 Adams (population rank: 78th / 88)
#08 Brown (population rank: 54th)
#10 Carroll (population rank: 76th)
#24 Fayette (population rank: 79th)
#34 Harrison (population rank: 84th)
#36 Highland (population rank: 57th)
#38 Holmes (population rank: 59th)
#58 Morgan (population rank: 85th)
#59 Morrow (population rank: 70th)
#63 Paulding (population rank: 83rd)
#81 Van Wert (population rank: 75th)
#82 Vinton (population rank: 88th)



So...which county will be last? Given that most of these counties are "off the beaten path", it might be a while before we find out.

Friday, July 04, 2008

By the Numbers: 7/4/08

(On location in Toledo, OH.)

I'm not sure how many of you frequent By the Numbers, but just in case, I've tried to make it a little more user-friendly by putting all recent updates at the top. For example, all of yesterday's updates are currently listed first, followed by the main section.

That's about all I've got today. Happy Independence Day!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Vote Twice!

I am a registered voter in Wake County, North Carolina. But apparently, I'm also still a registered voter in Duval County, Florida. My parents just received my "updated" Florida voter registration card in the mail. Whoops!

Since there are laws against this sort of thing, I mailed a signed letter to the Duval County Supervisor of Elections this morning to cancel my Florida registration. (Such requests must be made in writing.)

I have to wonder. If I voted in both Florida and North Carolina this November, would I get caught? Regardless, I'm not going to test the system, no matter how important Florida may be in the presidental contest.

More Gas Price-Related Stuff

You've probably seen the commercials for Chrysler's latest promotion. Buy a new Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep, and pay $2.99/gal for gas for three years, guaranteed! But...

All of the vehicles eligible for the $2.99/gal program get 24 mpg or less. Driving a car with 24 mpg at $2.99/gal costs the same as driving a car with 36 mpg at $4.49/gal, which is probably a decent estimate for the average price of gas over the next three years. So, really, you're not gaining a thing compared with buying a higher-mileage car from another manufacturer. Then, once your three years are up, you're stuck with a low-mileage car. The program also limits you to 12,000 miles per year, after which you have to pay the same price as the rest of us.

Chrysler is going about this completely the wrong way. Most other car manufacturers are producing and advertising high-mileage cars. Chrysler? Nope. Have you ever seen a commercial for a Chrysler, Dodge, or Jeep where they advertised the gas mileage? Instead, rather than addressing the real problem, they're just trying to get us to buy more gas. Would it kill them to build at least one 30-mpg car? Really, Chrysler is just trying to make up for the fact that their cars get poor gas mileage.

If Chrysler doesn't get with the times, then they won't be around much longer.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Crevé!

Perhaps the best thing about owning a new car is that you don't have to put hundreds of dollars of maintenance into it every few months. Basically, all you have to do is change the oil. That is, unless you run over a nail.

Driving to work yesterday morning, the "low tire pressure" warning light came on before I could even get out of the parking lot. The culprit: a nail, or screw, or something stuck in the now-flat right rear tire. If not for the low pressure warning light, how long would I have driven before I discovered there was a problem?

How did I get something stuck in my tire? My theory is that it's from nearby road construction at Tryon Road and Cary Parkway. NCDOT (or whoever's in charge) is kind of making a mess over there. Every time I drive through that intersection, I'm greeted with the "clanking" sound of small debris rattling underneath the car. Let's less than comforting.

Atlantic Tire was able to repair the puncture so that I didn't have to buy a brand-new tire. Good thing, too, because I don't want to give up my Bridgestone if I don't have to. Those tires ain't cheap.

Disc Golf Report: Rocky Mount and Greenville

With an itch to drive somewhere outside of the Triangle, I decided to add two more North Carolina disc golf courses to my collection: Englewood Park in Rocky Mount, and West Meadowbrook Park in Greenville. Englewood Park is practically right next to Farmington Park, another Rocky Mount course that I played back in December, but evidently never wrote about. So, let's lump it in with this post!

Farmington Park (Rocky Mount, NC): My opinion of this course was favorable, until I played hole #15. This hole is a 400-foot (approximately) dogleg left, with deep shrubbery woods on the right, and a creek on the left, which not much landing room in between. That wasn't a fun hole. I thought the rest of the course was okay, but apparently not. Ranking: 37th out of the 52 courses I have played.

Englewood Park (Rocky Mount, NC): We drove by this course on the way to Farmington, saw several targets deep amongst the woods, and said "no thanks". But this course isn't actually that bad. There are some holes deep amongst the trees with no discernable fairways, but the back nine is fairly open, and the course is well-marked. Ranking: 30th out of 52.

West Meadowbrook Park: (Greenville, NC): Easily the best course of the three. Very well marked, top-notch tee pads and targets, benches on every hole, and a just-about perfect amount of trees. One problem, though: the rough is rather, well, rough. If you throw it in the woods, expect to have a few cuts upon your return. It's not kind. Ranking: 13th out of 52. It could have been a top 10 course if I didn't happen to find the thorny shrubbery on #17. Whoops!

With this weekend's trip to Toledo, could a return to the 2nd-ranked Hudson Mills course be in order?

Véhicule Prioritaire

(Just a warning...it's going to be a slow blog week.)

Last weekend, to get out and go for a leisurely drive, we drove the Jordan Lake Circle Tour. Along the way, we saw a lot of bicyclists. A lot of bicyclists.

Personally, I don't know how comfortable I'd be riding a bike on a rural two-lane highway with a 55 mph speed limit. I'd feel like I was in everyone's away and creating a safety hazard. But that's what happens when there aren't any bike paths in the immediate area, and the roads have no shoulders to speak of. Slowing down a little in order to pass a bicylist or two isn't a big deal. I have no problem with bicyclists using rural two-lane highways, just as long as they are considerate of vehicular traffic.

I've read lots of stories in local papers websites about conflicts between car traffic, bicycle traffic, and foot traffic. Basically, the problem is that everyone feels like they have the right of way. Can't we all just get along, people?

Here's how I think this should work. Bikes are more than welcome to travel on vehicular highways, but should travel in the right half of the lane (i.e. not in the middle of the road) so that cars can pass as easily as possible. Cars should slow down and wait when passing a bicyclist isn't safe, and then give the bicyclist plenty of room when passing. Pedestrians can also walk on these roads, but on the left side (the law) so that they can see oncoming traffic and clear the roadway when traffic approaches. As for "no motor vehicle" bike/foot paths, oncoming bicyclists should be equipped with a horn or something to alert pedestrians of their approach. Then, the pedestrians should clear the way.

Seems simple enough, right? Well...maybe I'm just being too idealistic.