Thursday, August 28, 2008

College Football Saturday: 8/30/08

I'm so excited about the start of college football, I'm writing this post 36 hours early! Wahoo!

But actually, it's important for me to keep my expectations in check for this weekend. First off, some teams (e.g. Florida State) don't open their season until next weekend. (Actually, based on their rather soft schedule, some could argue that they don't really open their season until late September.) On top of that, most of the games that are taking place this weekend are glorified fundraisers, so that schools from Ohio State to Coastal Carolina can help support their women's field hockey teams and whatnot. The home team gets fan revenue, and the visiting team gets a nice check just for showing up. Everybody wins, right? There's nothing wrong with that, but I don't think these games should count towards bowl eligibility. Then again, someone has to play in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Coastal Carolina at Penn State, 1200p, BTN (overflow): Speaking of glorified fundraisers... I'm not sure if I'll watch the entire game, but I'll at least start out that way. Big Ten Network note: The "master" Big Ten Network feed is showing a different game, but DirecTV is providing all of the BTN's broadcasts on overflow channels. I have verified this.
Game 2 - Virginia Tech at East Carolina, 1200p, ESPN: East Carolina always has a rather regionalized non-conference schedule, often playing teams like Virginia Tech, North Carolina, NC State, and Duke. So good for them. Maybe that's just because they can't afford to bring Eastern Washington into town.
Game 3 - Ohio at Wyoming, 200p, the mtn: Awwwwwwwwww yeeeeeeeeah. As previously mentioned, DirecTV began carrying the Mountain West Network (a.k.a. "the mtn.") on Sports Pack this week.
Game 4 - Bowling Green at Pittsburgh, 1200p, ESPNU: I've walked on Bowling Green's home field, which I believe is the only Division I-A (err, FBS) home field I've walked on. (We never rushed the field at Florida State or Penn State.)
Game 5 - Syracuse at Northwestern, 1200p, ESPN2: The quality of the noon games is dropping quickly...
Game 6 - Youngstown State at Ohio State, 1200p, BTN
Game 7 - Akron at Wisconsin, 1200p, BTN (overflow)
Game 8 - Maine at Iowa, 1200p, BTN (overflow): Maine fans everywhere are asking, "Is it hockey season yet?"
Game 9 - Western Kentucky at Indiana, 1200p, BTN (overflow)
Game 10 - Hawaii at Florida, 1200p, ESPN360: Now that the former BellSouth faction of AT&T has picked up ESPN360, I'll be including those games on this list as well, although I will rarely watch them. Especially in this case.
Game 11 - Georgia Southern at Georgia, 1230p, ESPN360

Time slot 2

Game 1 - USC at Virginia, 330p, ABC: At least, I'm assuming the local ABC affiliate will opt for the ACC team. (Since I wrote this post earlier today, ESPN.com posted coverage maps, confirming what I already knew.)
Game 2 - Utah at Michigan, 330p, ESPN2: Now, this doesn't affect me today, but in the future, the "national" ESPN2 game might be shown on my local ABC affiliate. When the ABC local affiliate and ESPN2 national broadcast show the same game, I'm assuming DirecTV will black out the DirecTV broadcast. But then what about the game that should be on ESPN2? Will that be on the ESPN2 "alternate" channel? I'm asking because this may affect next week's Penn State game.
Game 3 - Appalachian State at LSU, 500p, ESPN: Any other year, would this game be on ESPN? Probably not. I'm not getting my hopes up for a repeat.
Game 4 - Delaware at Maryland, 345p, ESPNU: I think an upset is far more likely in this game than in the App State/LSU game. Delaware was the I-AA (err, FCS) runner-up last year, after all. And rumor is, LSU is a little better than Maryland.
Game 5 - Oklahoma State at Washington State, 330p, FSN: Another DirecTV question. This game will be televised on about a dozen FSN affiliates, all of which I get on Sports Pack. Will this game be available to me on all of them, or will it be blacked out on all of them except the local FSN affiliate (FSN South)? Not that it makes any difference; I'm just curious.
Game 6 - TCU at New Mexico, 600p, Versus: Versus is your home for the Mountain West! But hey, don't make fun. Credit the Mountain West for giving is a conference matchup in the very first week. Speaking of Versus, there may be some games on obscure networks that I've missed on this list.
Game 7 - Northern Iowa at BYU, 600p, the mtn: Northern Iowa is another top-level I-AA (err, FCS) team. Watch out...
Game 8 - Villanova at West Virginia, 330p, MASN: Does this mean MASN is going to pick up all of this season's Big East regional telecasts? If so, that would be sweet.
Game 9 - Towson at Navy, 600p, CBS College: Yuck.

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Alabama at Clemson, 800p, ABC: I'm not too keen on Clemson's chances this year, to be honest you. But in all honesty, that's nothing more than a persistence forecast.
Game 2 - Illinois at Missouri, 830p, ESPN: I think this game would be much bigger if they had it later in the season.
Game 3 - Washington at Oregon, 1000p, FSN: Kudos to the Pac-10 for scheduling a conference game this week. Also, kudos to the Pac-10 for the 9-game conference schedule.
Game 4 - Boston College at Kent State, 730p, ESPNU: Boston College playing a road game against a MAC team? What happened there?
Game 5 - Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech, 645p, ESPN2: I'm just hoping this game ends early so that they can get to the NASCAR race. No, really.
Game 6 - Northern Illinois at Minnesota, 700p, BTN: If not for the Big Ten Network, Minnesota may never be on television.
Game 7 - Northern Arizona at Arizona State, 1000p, RSN (overflow): This game appears on the DirecTV program guide on channel 699, which is a generic Regional Sports Network (RSN) overflow channel. I think the deal is that FSN Arizona would show this game, but has a Diamondbacks baseball game instead. Or something. Note: I don't get the old FOX College Sports (FCS) channels anymore, because DirecTV doesn't need them; everything that would be on FCS is covered by DirecTV Sports Pack.
Game 8 - Tennessee-Martin at South Florida, 700p, ESPN360: Except in rare instances, I'm always going to put the ESPN360-only games at the bottom of the priority list. Saturday is for sitting in front of the television, not a computer screen.
Game 9 - Michigan State at California, 800p, ESPN360: This is an ABC reigonal broadcast, and I'm only assuming we'll get Alabama/Clemson instead. Which is a good thing. Note: the "every ABC Big Ten game is nationally televised" rule only applies to Big Ten home games, not this game.
Game 10 - Louisiana-Monroe at Auburn, 700p, ESPN360
Game 11 - Idaho State at Boise State, 800p, ESPN360

There are also games on Thursday, Friday, Sunday, and Monday, but this post is already long enough. Enjoy!

A List of AAA TourBooks

As a frequent domestic traveler, I occasionally visit the local AAA office to pick up an AAA TourBook or two. But one thing I haven't been able to find online is a complete list of the TourBooks, so that I know specifically which ones to ask for, rather than needlessly list a bunch of states at the AAA office when I only need one or two TourBooks that cover all of those states. For example, back in March, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Minnesota were all potential destinations. But as it turns out, all I needed were two TourBooks to cover all of those states. (Apparently, there isn't a whole lot of TourBook material in that part of the country.)

Well, anyway, in my attempt to contribute to the internet, here are the AAA TourBooks for all of the United States and Canada, in one nice, neat, complete list:

1) Florida
2) Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi
3) Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina
4) Kentucky and Tennessee
5) Mid-Atlantic (Delaware, DC, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia)
6) New Jersey and Pennsylvania
7) New York
8) Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
9) Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont
10) Illinois, Indiana, Ohio
11) Michigan and Wisconsin
12) North Central (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota)
13) Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma
14) Texas
15) Arizona and New Mexico
16) Colorado and Utah
17) Idaho, Montana, Wyoming
18) California and Nevada
19) Oregon and Washington
20) Hawaii
21) Atlantic Provinces and Qu├ębec (includes New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI, Newfoundland and Labrador)
22) Ontario
23) Alaska and Western Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Yukon, NW Territories, Nunavut)

Collect them all!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pay at the Pump

I usually let this website dictate which gas station I visit in town, looking for the cheapest gas within reasonable proximity of my work commute. Yesterday, this led me to a gas station I had never visited before, or even knew existed.

So, I was a little surprised to discover that this station's pumps were NOT "pay at the pump". I had to go inside to pay. Maybe that explains why this station's prices are 7 cents cheaper (per gallon) than the ones just down the street? I don't mind the occasional "pay inside", as long as I don't have to pre-pay. I don't want to have to go inside the store twice.

This station didn't advertise pre-pay, but I had to go inside beforehand anyway, because the pump didn't work. "Pump #4 isn't working. Is it pre-pay or something?" "No, that pump just doesn't work. Try another pump." Most gas stations put an "out of order" sign on the pump, or put a bag over the nozzle, when the pump isn't working. That's common courtesy to its customers, and to its employees, so they don't have to keep fielding questions from people like me asking why their pumps don't work, and whether or not they're pre-pay.

By the time I got back out to my car, the station's other three pumps were already in use, so I left and filled up at a more expensive gas station. I guess I decided it was worth the extra 77 cents to not have to wait. I also don't plan on visiting this particular station again. Invest in some card readers, and then we'll talk.

One more note on non-pay-at-the-pump gas pumps. The old school ones, with the non-digital "rolling" price display and the levers on the side - those are cool. But these pumps weren't like that. They looked just like regular, boring digital pumps, except without card readers. Booooo! Why bother?

Please Call To Confirm Your Appointment

Whether it's a visit to the doctor or cable television installation, companies generally call you the day before the scheduled appointment to remind you of it. In our case, this almost always involves them leaving a message on our home answering machine, because they always call during normal working hours, when neither Amber nor myself is home.

But the annoying thing is when they expect you to return the call, just to confirm that we plan on keeping our appointment. If they ask me to call back, I always do, but many times, they act like I'm stupid and didn't need to call back after all. "Yes, your appointment is on that day. Why is it you called? Would you like to reschedule?" NO, I'm just calling to confirm the appointment, like you asked me to. Do you not expect me to keep the appointment or something?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Nights By County Preview: 8/26/08

UPDATE 9/2/08: Made some corrections and updates.

Now that we've basically confirmed our honeymoon vacation destinations and likely locations of overnight stay, I'm going to project this trip's contribution to that Nights By County thing that I do (see By the numbers). In short, how many nights will I spend in each county along the way?

First, some logistics. Not all Canadian provinces have counties, but those that do not all have census divisions that are basically county-equivalent. Manitoba is one example of a province that has no counties, but does have census divisions. Unlike counties, these census divisions play no role in government. They are only used by Statistics Canada for, well, statistical purposes. Problem is, there are no real names for these census divisions, only numbers. But this Wikipedia page gives names to each of the census divisions, so we'll go with that. Meanwhile, Ontario has single-tier municipalities, regional municipalities, counties, and districts, all of which are considered census divisions. Why do you have to make this so complicated, Canada?

Well, anyway, here's the current projection:

County (City) - # of nights [note]
Lucas County, OH (Toledo) - 4 [A]
Muskegon County, MI (Muskegon) - 1 [B]
Emmet County, MI (Petoskey) - 1 [G]
Algoma District, ON (Wawa) - 1 [D]
Thunder Bay District, ON (Thunder Bay) - 2 [G]
Winnipeg, MB (Winnipeg) - 2 [G]
Thompson-North Central, MB (Thompson) - 1 [G]
Flin Flon-Northwest, MB (The Pas) - 1 [G]
Dauphin, MB (Wasagaming) - 2 [K]
Grand Forks County, ND (Grand Forks) - 1 [G]
Gogebic County, MI - 1 [G]
Sheboygan County, WI (Sheboygan) - 1 [G]

[A]: The plan is to arrive in Toledo on Wednesday, three days before the wedding. We're also staying in the Toledo area the night of the wedding.
[B]: The goal is to make it to Muskegon that night after leaving Cedar Point, but may stop early in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Ann Arbor, or anywhere in between. We're not getting a hotel reservation in advance, so this one is still up in the air.
[D]: We're camping in Lake Superior Provincial Park that night, and may actually be nowhere near the town of Wawa, but the park is addressed to Wawa nonetheless. Either way, we'll definitely be in Algoma District.
[G]: Already have the reservation.
[K]: Riding Mountain National Park isn't taking campground reservations, at least for the non-electrical, less-expensive sites, so we're not sure where we'll be. But we think all campgrounds within the park are on the Dauphin side of the Dauphin / Western Manitoba census division line.

VLTs

While looking at Canadian hotel guides, we've noticed that many hotels advertise "VLTs".

What's a VLT? Do these hotels have Very Large Telescopes? Do they support the Vermont Land Trust? Does each room have its own Virtual Learning Tool? (Those are the first three things that come up when entering VLT into Google.)

Surprisingly, it's none of those things. In this context, a VLT is a Video Lottery Terminal. At least, that's my assumption.

Monday, August 25, 2008

My Favorite Summer Olympics Sports - At Least This Year

I didn't watch as much of the Olympics as I have in years past - something about working 40 hours a week - but since I don't have much else to write about, I'm going to rank each of the Summer Olympic sports from "favorite" to "least favorite". I'm considering all sports listed along the left margin of NBCOlympics.com, excluding Modern Pentathlon and Triathlon, since those sports are just combinations of other sports. Note that my rankings are completely based on how much I enjoy watching the sports, and have nothing to do with how good the Americans are in them. That's why sports like swimming and basketball are lower on my list than they would be for most Americans.

#1: Table Tennis. And not just because Bill Clement was doing the play-by-play. I enjoyed watching table tennis far more than any other sport in these Olympics. Even though the men's singles gold medal final featured a couple of Chinese guys, it was still a lot of fun to watch. It makes me want to go out and buy a ping-pong table.

#2: Track & Field. The 50km walk excluded, I like the track and field events because they are the basics of human strength upon which the Olympics are based: running really fast and far, jumping really fast and far, throwing things far, and so on. The unfortunate thing is that almost all of the events were tape-delayed by NBC and put in primetime, and by then, I had already stumbled upon the results. My main regret of the Olympics is that I didn't watch more of this. (By the way, USA aired the entire 50km walk, start to finish, for almost four hours. I mean, give me a break.)

#3: Volleyball. Maybe it's just because I went to a volleyball school, or because volleyball was the only intramural sport I played as an undergrad at FSU (at 5'10", I was the shortest player on the team), or all of those volleyball tournaments in Boy Scouts. Not to be confused with beach volleyball, which I'm not particularly a fan of (see below).

#4: Cycling. Unfortunately, I missed out on the velodrome races (think "NASCAR on bikes", h/t Jeff [Frame]), but I did watch some of the mountain biking. Looks like fun!

#5: Canoeing/Kayaking. I'm indifferent towards the flatwater, but I really enjoyed the whitewater.

#6: Water Polo. The top 5 sports are really the only ones I watched (or wanted to watch) intently. I watched some water polo, but I had a hard time sitting down and watching an entire match.

#7: Handball. When else can you watch handball than in the Olympics? Note that obscurity helps many of these sports in these rankings. On any given day, I'd rather watch a random basketball game than a random handball match. But when it comes to the Olympics specifically, I'd rather watch handball. I can watch basketball any other time.

#8: Swimming. Let's be honest. If not for the Americans' prowess in swimming (particularly by one person), how much swimming would you have watched?

Now, a side comment. For many people, the Olympics are an exercise in national pride, to further affirm their belief that we're better than everyone else. They watch the Olympics to root for our country, and if our country's not involved, then who cares? I suppose there's nothing wrong with that, but that's not how I look at it. Sure, I generally rooted for our country to win, but that's not the only reason I watched. I watched for the international spectacle of it all. No other event brings the world together like the Olympics. Many countries less fortunate than ours have few Olympic athletes, and even fewer chances at Olympic medals. So when a country like Togo wins an Olympic medal, as they did for the first time ever these Olympics (in Men's Whitewater Kayak), that's a real "feel good" story. He's a national hero!

#9: Rowing. I was a little harsh on rowing at first, but I came around on it. I think the problem was that the first race I watched was one of the longest ones, and I got bored.

#10: Badminton. This sport has the same level of obscurity as table tennis, but isn't as fun to watch in my opinion, and it's harder to follow. It's easier to follow when the ball bounces.

#11: Gymnastics. Amber did gymnastics as a young'un, so she has interest in this sort of thing, which means we watched it. My main complaints about gymnastics are the women's floor exercise, and that it's judged. Other than that, it's not so bad.

#12: Weightlifting. Perhaps offering the best facial expressions of the Olympics.

#13: Basketball. If not for the Americans, I probably wouldn't have watched any basketball. But that's mostly because the games are too long. When it comes to the Olympics, there's just too much going on. So I don't want to spend two full hours on a single event, especially when the sport is televised ad nauseum from November to March.

#14: Wrestling. I tried watching wrestling, but then discovered that I didn't know the rules, and didn't feel like trying to figure it out.

#15: Field Hockey. I watched the men's gold medal final, and soon discovered that field hockey is even more low-scoring than soccer! At least, that's the impression that I got. The final score was 1-0 on a penalty shot. Actually, wait, that's just like soccer! Never mind.

#16: Archery. I didn't watch any archery this time around - never found it on the dial - but I would have if given the opportunity.

Side comment. In past Olympics, NBC and its "sister networks" has occasionally scrolled television schedules across the bottom of the screen. That way, you knew which event was coming on when, and on what network. They didn't do that this time around. Why not? I don't know if this information was available online, but I never found it. I also didn't look particularly hard. Instead, I just recorded 8-to-10 hour blocks of coverage and fast-forwarded through the stuff I didn't want to watch.

#17: Tennis. Many sports are in the Olympics, but they aren't always the top international event in that sport. In my opinion, that takes away from the appeal of the Olympics for that sport. If it's not as important, it's not as much fun to watch. Roger Federer will be known as one of the greatest players of all time, regardless of what he's done in the Olympics. So what if he's never won the gold in men's singles? Who cares?

#18: Beach Volleyball. Alright. I like volleyball. So what's wrong with beach volleyball? To me, it just seems like a "side show", like people screwing around on the beach, rather than an Olympic event. When you watch beach volleyball, does it seem anything like an Olympic event?

#19: Soccer. Much like tennis, the Olympic soccer tournament just doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. The World Cup is where it's at.

#20: Synchronized Swimming. In the past, I've always just blown this off. Yuck, I say! But this time, I actually appreciated the athletic ability it takes to pull off some of the stuff that they do. For a little while.

#21: Softball. I'm ranking this ahead of baseball? Why? Because the best players are there. In baseball, the best players are all in Major League Baseball, or wherever. That's why Cuba always does so well in Olympic baseball, right? I don't even know what significance the Olympic baseball tournament has. At least softball is more legitimate in that way.

#22: Taekwondo. Never had the chance to watch, so I can't really offer an opinion. I'm guessing that since the Americans aren't really good at this, that the television coverage was minimal.

#23: Judo. See taekwondo.

#24: Fencing. See judo. I think I watched fencing briefly in 2004, and had no idea what was going on.

#25: Sailing. Another sport I didn't have the chance to watch this year. I don't think it makes particularly good television anyway.

#26: Trampoline. Sounds cool, until you realize it's another judged event.

#27: Baseball. See softball for my comments on Olympic baseball.

#28: Shooting. Didn't watch any shooting, but I don't place this in the same category as archery. Archery seems a little less mechanical, even as the bows get increasingly high-tech.

#29: Boxing. Boxing just isn't my thing.

#30: Equestrian. Didn't watch any equestrian this time around, but have in the past. Eh. Actually, maybe this ranking is a little too low. (Trivia: Equestrian is the only Olympic event where gender is irrelevant.)

#31: Diving. First, it's judged. Second, I can't tell the difference between a "good" dive and a "bad" dive. They all look the same to me. At least with other judged sports like gymnastics and figure skating, it's obvious when they screw up.

#32: Rhythmic Gymnastics. This is just dumb. End of story.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Housing Update: 8/22/08

It's been almost three months since my last housing search post, and that's because we haven't really done a whole lot on that front since then. But now, it's time to ramp this back up again.

First off, we've decided that the Parkwood neighborhood, featured on the afore-mentioned post from three months ago, is our #1 choice. It's close to work, and the homes are "our style" and in our price range. And, we already know some people who live there. Hillsborough is nice, but houses aren't any cheaper way out there, and who knows how much gas will cost 20 years from now?

But before we go any further, perhaps we should inquire as to whether or not we would qualify for a mortgage. One trip and two phone calls to Wachovia later, we found out that we're "pre-qualified" (whatever that means) for a sufficient loan at a reasonable interest rate. That's good to know. Now, we can actually start looking at specific houses, and then get involved in the midst of housing purchase logistics. Fun! Our lease doesn't run out for six more months, but it'll probably take that long to work everything out.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Brought To You By The Letter 'Q'

California is the only state I've seen that uses the letter 'Q' on its regular (i.e. non-personalized) license plates. Do any other states use 'Q'?

On another license plate note, this morning I saw a Nebraska license plate for a county that I did NOT see back in March: #44 Nemaha. I believe that's the first new one I've seen in the almost five months since then. And that's why I'm not keeping track of this long term like I am with Ohio.

Rain-X and the Honda Civic

I've always been a big fan of Rain-X. However, I've found that it doesn't work as well with my Honda Civic.

I think the Civic's abnormally horizontal windshield is the problem. Rain-X needs a strong perpendicular wind component to effectively bead water off of the windshield, but because of the orientation of the Civic's windshield, the Rain-X isn't quite as effective. Apparently, the Civic is too aerodynamic.

Oh well - it's still better than nothing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Hurricane Days

In the north, schools have "Snow Days". In the south, schools have "Hurricane Days".

The Duval County (Jacksonville, FL) public school calendar didn't actually put "hurricane days" into the schedule until after all of those hurricanes moved through in 2004. Since then, they haven't had to use one - that is, until this week, when Tropical Storm Fay moved in. Duval County public schools are closed today and tomorrow, even though the weather isn't all that bad today. Apparently, my dad tried to play golf today, but the course was closed. Wimps!

Actually, that reminds me of my senior year of high school. In 1999, Hurricane Floyd threatened pretty much the entire southeast U.S. coast. As a result, we got four days off from school. The first such day, my dad and I tried playing golf, but couldn't get to the golf course because of the evacuation traffic. Darn it.

Wegmans

While in State College, we made a stop at Wegmans, which I still think is a better grocery store than anything in North Carolina. And hey, they're getting closer! They recently opened a store in Woodbridge, VA, and next summer will be opening a store farther south in Fredericksburg, VA. At this rate, they should make it down to Raleigh (Cary) in about 30 years or so - in other words, about the same time Publix makes it here too.

Given that most of the items I buy are cheaper at Wegmans than at my neighborhood Kroger, I made sure to pick up some items when I was there. Included amongst those items was a pack of Wegmans O's, still the best generic Oreos on the market.

The IRL on Versus? Uh Oh

Recently, the Indy Racing League (a.k.a. IndyCar, a.k.a. the IRL, a.k.a. those guys who run the Indianapolis 500) signed a television deal with Versus. I'm assuming the IRL didn't ask the NHL for advice about this beforehand? Outside of the month of May, IndyCar racing is already rather obscure as it is, even for race fans like myself. By putting the bulk of the schedule on Versus, it's only going to get worse.

But personally, I don't care if the IRL races are on ESPN, Versus, or some other channel - just as long as they don't put Joe Beninati in the broadcast booth.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Breakfast or Lunch?

I had a decision to make last weekend with respect to the restaurant serving times log. We went to Waffle Shop at around noon, and ate breakfast-type food. Do I classify that as breakfast, based on the food, or lunch, based on the time?

I chose lunch. The reason? Because I had a bowl of cereal three hours earlier that day. That was breakfast. This was my second meal of the day, which we traditionally call lunch. The fact that I was eating breakfast-style food is irrelevant. Sometimes, I eat breakfast-style food for dinner sometimes. Does that count as breakfast? No. So why should this?

Not that it really matters, anyway. I keep that column in the spreadsheet so that I can calculate average serving times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I did this calculation two years ago, and haven't really been motivated to calculate it again since then.

Travelogue: 8/17/08


We had some time on our hands when returning from State College on Sunday, so we took some scenic routes. But I was a little too ambitious in that regard.

The original plan was to take US-220 south all the way through the Appalachians to I-64 in Virginia. Normally, if I were to take that route, I would take I-99 to get there. But given all of the construction plaguing I-99, I wanted to completely avoid that road, so we took the scenic route just to get to US-220. That was the mistake. Trying to lump multiple scenic routes into a single trip significantly increases the travel time. As such, we decided we already had enough by the time we got to Moorefield, WV (point A on the map), and bailed out back to the normal route so that we could get home before sunset. So, in other words, I wimped out.

But hey, let's look at the bright side. Taking this route allowed me to travel on the only remaining portion of I-68 that I had yet to drive, making I-68 the 5th interstate I have traveled from end-to-end. (The others: 16, 84[eastern], 88[eastern], 99.) I also got to travel a portion of the unsigned US-48 in West Virginia (signed as WV-55), which is actually a very nice road. I also visited three new counties in eastern West Virginia.

We'll have to try US-220 again, with a little more planning next time.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Travelogue: 8/15/08

BREAKING NEWS: PennDOT likes construction.

Actually, let me clarify that. They like closing lanes on interstate highways. They don't necessarily like doing actual construction.

On the way to State College last Friday, we took a mostly-interstate route through Pennsylvania. There were lane closures almost the whole way, from the Maryland border north:


(NOTE #1: Construction zones are approximate and based on memory.)
(NOTE #2: We took US-30 instead of the turnpike, and there was a brief lane closure on US-30 near Everett.)

The first lane closure on I-70 caused a 20-minute delay. The others caused no such delays, other than to force us to drive 15 mph slower than normal. Hey, maybe that's why I've been getting such awesome gas mileage!

What gets me, though, is that there was no reason for many of these lane closures. None of the work zones were "active". In most cases, there was no reason why we couldn't drive in the closed-off lane. These were all simple repaving jobs that looked just about done. Why are these lanes still blocked off? In other states, like North Carolina, they only close lanes on interstates when absolutely necessary - you know, when they're actually doing work. Not so in Pennsylvania. They don't really care what impact their construction might have on traffic. It's just more convenient for them to keep the lane closed. No state makes routine repaving more complicated than Pennsylvania does.

But what really gets me about PennDOT "work zones" are the stop signs at the end of interstate on-ramps. I have yet to see this in any state other than Pennsylvania. Whose idea was this?

Well, at least they weren't already repaving the section of I-99 that just opened eight months ago.

Drive Slow or Fast?

Lately, in an effort to save a little more gas, I've often been driving the speed limit on the interstate, rather than my usual 5 mph over the speed limit. But how much money does that save me? Is it really worth it?

Well, that depends. It isn't always worth it on long road trips, because that extra 5 mph might save you over 30 minutes of drive time. That's especially meaningful to me when driving late at night, or when the drive isn't "fun" (e.g. I-95 to/from Jacksonville).

But when it comes to driving to work and back, I'd definitely rather just save a little bit of gas. Over a 19-mile commute, driving 65 instead of 70 isn't going to make a difference of more than one minute. I know those minutes add up over time, but it's not like I'm going to get much more out of life by spending one or two extra minutes watching television every day.

Also, driving slower is easier. On the way to State College last weekend, I would sometimes just drive the speed limit on two-lane highways, just because I didn't see the point in passing someone going 57 mph. On the way to work, I can sometimes get away with using cruise control at 65 mph. At 70 mph, cruise control is nearly impossible.

As for how all of this impacts my driving statistics, my fuel mileage over the last three weeks was 3 mpg higher than it was previously (41.3 compared to 38.3 mpg). Wahoo! I was also passed 10 times on two-lane highways in last weekend alone, but that's okay.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Car Mileage Update: 8/15/08

(This was actually supposed to be posted this morning, so use your imagination.)

We've decided to take Amber's car (a 2008 Mazda 3) on the honeymoon. Renting a car for the wedding/honeymoon trip would have cost over $600, which is more than the theoretical cost of putting 6,000 miles on a $16,000 car that you plan on driving 200,000 miles. Yes, car value depreciates more quickly at the beginning of the car's life than at the end, but as long as you plan on keeping the car a long time anyway, does it really matter whether that extra 6,000 miles gets tacked on at the end, or near the beginning? And besides, Amber's car is well below the 200,000 mile/8 year pace, and will still be below that pace even after the trip.

Also, Amber's car will be more fun than a rental (especially if we get stuck with a Kia Spectra again). Finally, the oil change timing will work out such that we won't need to get an oil change during the trip. Amber is about 1,000 miles away from her next oil change, so we'll get that a week or two before the trip, followed by another oil change right after the trip.

Normally, Amber and I alternate which car we take on a long road trip. Even though my car made the Jacksonville trip three weeks ago, we're once again taking my car to State College, in order to "save" Amber's car for the honeymoon. Hopefully, there won't be any snow this time.

This weekend's trip will give my car its 16,000th mile, and will likely result in a second consecutive 2,000-mile month.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sources Close to the Situation

This probably applies to news media in general, but I'm specifically talking about sports media, since that's what I spend most of my time reading.

These days, most "news" articles on websites like ESPN.com say "according to sources" - or, my favorite phrase, "sources close to the situation". These stories are unconfirmed reports of any number of things - for instance, which team Brett Favre is going to be traded to, or which NASCAR team Ryan Newman is going to drive for next season. Sometimes, these "according to sources" stories are later proven false. Remember when ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit "reported" live on ESPN College Gameday that "according to sources", LSU head coach Les Miles had taken the job at Michigan? Cue the buzzer sound...

Well, here's my opinion on all of this: IT NEEDS TO STOP. People need to stop reporting speculation, and instead focus on reporting confirmed, hard news, rather than reporting whatever some anonymous "sources close to the situation" happen to think. Problem is, these 24-hour networks and websites need something to publish. NASCAR Now needs something to talk about on its Wednesday show. I've noticed that ESPN's NASCAR-related "according to sources" stories always get published on Wednesday afternoon, when NASCAR Now generally doesn't have much else to discuss. Hmm...coincidence?

Also, the news media is too competitive these days. Many "according to sources" news stories include the name of the person and organization that broke the story. "According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Brett Favre went to the grocery store today." Who cares who broke the story? I don't. The people who are reporting the news shouldn't be the ones making the news. Just tell me what happened. If it's not common knowledge, confirmed by the sources, it shouldn't be news.

Unfortunately, as long as each news organization is a private business in a capitalist economy, whose primary goal is profit and publicity rather than accuracy, we're going to have to put up with this.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

This Weekend

This is easier than writing an email or making a bunch of phone calls...

So, Amber and I are visiting State College this weekend. The plan is to get there in time for Friday night trivia at 7:00p. We'll see how that goes.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Thank Goodness for the DVR

Only a few days into the Olympics, and I've found that if not for my DVR, I might not watch ANY of it.

One issue I have with the NBC primetime coverage is the "human interest" stories. Yuck. Another issue is all of the coverage for sports I don't care about (diving, gymnastics, beach volleyball, etc). Not to mention all of the dead time surrounding each two-minute swimming race. Recording the events on the DVR solves all of those problems. If the DVR could get rid of NBC's American bias, or pick up the CBC feed, I'd be set.

As for the stuff that's been siphoned off to the cable networks (i.e. the sports I actually want to watch), that's all on in the middle of night and during the day, when I'm either sleeping or at work. Hooray for the DVR! Today, I recorded USA non-stop from 2:00a all the way until noon. The plan is to fast-forward through most of it, and stop and watch the sports I'm interested in (e.g. badminton, whitewater). By the way, the DirecTV DVR is much better than the Time Warner Cable DVR. The DirecTV DVR's hard drive is about 2-3 times larger, and has a super duper fast-forward setting that can skip an entire hour of programming in under a minute. Sweet. And have I mentioned the Big Ten Network?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Curling Recap: 8/9/08 - 8/10/08

This post will assume you know nothing about how a weekend-long bonspiel (curling tournament) is run. So, where do I start?

(First off, for documentation purposes: this is regarding the first annual Carolina Classic, hosted by the Triangle Curling Club).

Let's start with the bonspiel format. Twenty teams were entered, and each team played three games total between Saturday and Sunday, regardless of how many times they win or lose. Rather an an elimination-style tournament with a clear-cut championship match, teams accumulated points in each match, as such:
- 20 points for a win
- 10 points for a tie
- 2 points for a loss (why this was necessary, I have no idea)
- 4 points for each end scored in
- 2 points for each blank end
- 1 point for each point scored during the match
(Example: In our first match, we won 8-5, and scored in five of the match's eight ends; 20 + 5*4 + 8*1 = 48 points.)
Add up the points for the entire tournament, and the team with the most points wins.

I guess that when you have 20 teams, you can't do an elimination-style tournament in three games. Other bonspiels do have a single-elimination tournaments because they take place over three or four full days, rather than just a day and a half. Single-elimination bonspiels often also have second-chance and third-chance brackets such that each team has a "three game guarantee", because nobody wants to drive 500 miles just to play one game and lose, right? Besides, the longer each team sticks around, the better chance you'll participate in the various club fund-raising activities! Speaking of which...

To help raise money for the club, they held a raffle, and various on-ice games, just like last year, except I actually participated this year. One of the games was "puck to the button": with a hockey stick and puck, "shoot" the puck all the way down the ice and try to get it as close to the button (center of the target) as possible. There were other games as well, but the reason I'm only mentioning this game and not the others is because by shooting the puck within 16" of the button, I won a puck autographed by former Carolina Hurricane / current Florida Panther Cory Stillman. Sweet.

Now, the curling itself. Amber played lead, and I played second. The first game was first thing Saturday morning at 8:00a:


End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 01201310 | 08
Columbus, OH... 10020002 | 05

Huge sigh of relief after this game. The way the schedule worked, if we lost our first two games, our third game would be Saturday night at 9:00p, rather than on Sunday. Win at least one game, and we're done for the day at 5:00p, and we can spend the rest of the day eating food and drinking beer, and can participate in the on-ice games, which took place during the unfortunate Saturday night draw. Now that's motivation!

Side comment on the food. Dinner, provided by the club, was southern-themed and featured Eastern North Carolina barbecue. (The bonspiel program called it "Southern-style", but I take objection to that. Barbecue styles vary all across the south. Whether you go to a barbecue joint in Raleigh, Asheville, or Columbia, you'll get something different. (By the way, here's my opinion of Eastern NC barbecue.) But that's okay, because the vast majority of the bonspiel's out-of-town guests came from farther north.


Match #2:

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Laurel, MD... 12300204 | 12
Our team..... 00023010 | 06
(Note: the opposition was actually 50% Potomac CC, and 50% Triangle CC.)

I think most of the out-of-town teams did quite well in this tournament, negating our "home ice advantage". There is actually such a thing as home ice advantage, because we know the ice, and we're generally used to dealing with all of the quirks of arena ice. But this time, the playing conditions were as good as they've ever been, because the club put more effort into the ice preparation than ever before. The stones were also fast right from the get-go, unlike a normal weekly curling session, where it takes the rocks half the game to cool down to ice temperature. (The colder the rock, the faster it travels.) Also improving matters, the Chesapeake Curling Club loaned us a set of rocks for the bonspiel, allowing us to hide our club's worst rocks from the public, kind of like when Principal Skinner hid Bart, Nelson, and others in the basement of Springfield Elementary while Superintendent Chalmers visited. Which episode was that?

I think this is starting to lose some steam, so let's wrap this up quick...

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team..... 01101302 | 08
Other team... 20030010 | 06
(Note: opposition was another local Triangle CC team.)

Our record of 2-1 was good enough for 9th place, which is too bad, because only the top 8 teams got prizes. Oh well.


The final verdict: bonspiels are a lot of fun, if you like curling. But they're also a lot of work for the host club, so we'll have to attend a bonspiel somewhere else one of these days. Hooray freeloading!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Garmin Update: 8/8/08

The other day, we went over to a friend's house. We've been there before. Normally, I need to bring directions to find a house the first time, but every time thereafter, I can generally find it from memory. That is, unless I used my Garmin to find it the first time.

When I have to think about the directions to a certain place, and write down and carry out the directions myself, it usually sticks. But when I have a computerized voice tell me how to get somewhere, it doesn't stick. So, I'm getting dumber. Thanks, Garmin.

The Garmin is nice, though. I've found that it is especially useful for:
- Finding residential addresses. No more "third house on the right, look for the brown mailbox".
- Estimating arrival times on long-distance trips. It's surprisingly accurate.
- Finding restaurants, gas stations, hotels, and other things when you're far away from home.

The Garmin's side effect, of course, is overall "road savvy", which I'd still like to think is one of my strengths. Maybe from now on, I'll use the Garmin the first time I need to find a new address. Then, I'll try to find it "the old fashioned way" from that point on.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Curling Preview: 8/9/08 - 8/10/08

Are you ready for an entire weekend of curling? We are!

This weekend, the Triangle Curling Club is hosting its first multi-day bonspiel (tournament), at least that I know of. We're calling it the "Carolina Classic". Rather than repeat myself, let's move along to the details.

It's a weekend-long event with a full 20 curling teams, at least half of whom are coming in from out of town. On Friday, we hang out at the bar and help set up the ice. On Saturday, curling starts at 800a and goes on all day, until a "banquet" type thing later in the day featuring, probably, barbeque, followed by more curling on Sunday. Each team plays (at least?) three games. I haven't seen the draw yet, so I don't know if we have that 800a start. If we have an 800a draw, and our opponents are hanging out at the bar with us on Friday night, maybe can try some...err...strategy?

So, that's what we'll be doing this weekend. It's going to be awesome.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Not To Be Confused With the Honda Fit

Thanks to Nintendo's Wii Fit, now you can play video games and exercise at the same time! Oh, wait, you could already do that. Never mind.

I think perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the Wii Fit is how insulting it is. You're overweight! You're 61 years old! Ha! (For the record, I wasn't overweight, nor was I 61 years old.) I guess that's the game's way of motivating you to exercise more. Or maybe Japan is just trying to insult our country as a whole. We do live in a fat country, after all.

Actually, though, I did enjoy my brief experience with it a couple of weeks ago. But is it enough to get me to go out and buy that Wii? Nah...not quite. I have a feeling I'd use the Wii Fit for the first couple of weeks, and then it would collect dust.

The Jump

Many blogs don't show every word of every blog post on the front page. Instead, they give you the first paragraph or so of every post, and then make you follow a link to read the rest of the post.
My official take on that: annoying. I'd much rather all of the words I want to read already be in front of me. No clicks required.

I suppose one advantage of having these links is that you're not interested in a particular post, you don't have to scroll very far to get to the next one. But I think it's easier to scroll past the posts I don't want to read rather than click to read the posts I do want to read. And today, almost everyone has a high speed internet connection, so load time isn't an issue either.

So, you'll never see any "jumps" like that here. Those old "Skip to the random thought" links might make a comeback, reincarnated as "Skip this post" links, but those links keep you on the same page and only assist in scrolling.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Resisting the Temptation To Visit ESPN.com

So, the Summer Olympics are starting this weekend. Although nowhere near as interesting as the Winter Olympics (in my opinion), I'm still going to watch.

But because of that time zone thing, I'll have to watch which web sites I visit during the day. Surely, sports sites such as ESPN.com will publish Olympics results as they happen, several hours before it airs in primetime on NBC, or on some other NBC channel during the day. For many people who visit internet sports sites on daily basis, watching NBC primetime Olympics coverage will probably be an exercise in what you already know.

I guess the same might apply to ESPN, the television network. Are they going to discuss Olympic results on Pardon the Interruption before the events air on NBC later that night? I think they have in the past.

Then again, the Olympic sports I'll be most likely to watch are NOT what will make the front page of ESPN.com, the 6:00p edition of SportsCenter, or NBC's primetime coverage. For instance: badminton, kayaking, handball, and table tennis. Sure, swimming and track/field will interest me somewhat, but...eh. Besides, it might be fun to watch the primetime coverage with Amber, knowing that while she doesn't know what's going to happen, I do.

Huh?

I think my memory has gotten significantly worse over the last two years. I'm basically living off to-do lists these days. Pretty soon, I'll need a list to keep track of all of my to-do lists.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A Possible Honeymoon

I guess I haven't talked about out upcoming wedding in a while. "So, Chris, how are the plans going?" And now, the typical male response: "Well...uh...it's going okay. I'm actually thinking more about the honeymoon."

(For the sake of self-contained posts, Amber and I are getting married on September 27th near Toledo, OH.)

The honeymoon details haven't quite been worked out yet, but here's a possible trip map, with details below:

1) We're leaving Raleigh (Cary) either Tuesday, September 23rd, or Wednesday, September 24th, I think.
2) The wedding and reception, on Saturday, September 27th, are in this general area.
3) The day after the wedding will be spent at Cedar Point, in nearby Sandusky, OH. Considered by us to be the the best theme park around, we haven't been to Cedar Point in over two years. For Amber, a former Cedar Point employee, that is completely unacceptable! And, yes, the park will be open that day. We've checked.
4) Next stop: the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. Amber's done this drive before and says it's really nice, especially when you get up towards Sleeping Bear Dunes.
5) The main destination of the trip is, of course, Canada. Plans are to cross the Canadian border at Sault Ste. Marie on Tuesday, September 30th. Even though they pushed back the "all border crossings need passports" deadline, again, I went ahead and got a passport anyway. If nothing else, it's a lot more convenient than carrying around a birth certificate. I think we're planning on camping at Lake Superior Provincial Park that night.
6) The north shore of Lake Superior is supposed to be pretty neat. As such, we're planning on spending two nights in Thunder Bay. Other than specific overnight destinations, we don't really have a whole lot in terms of specific plans yet, but that's why we sent away for all of those vacation guides! This trip will probably be mostly "drive around, hike around", which will be nice.
7) After two nights in Thunder Bay, we'll spend two nights in Winnipeg...
8) ...then we'll drive up to Thompson on Sunday, October 5th...
9) ...then we're really not sure yet. Plans are to re-enter the United States on Thursday, October 9th, so we have three more nights to spend in Canada to do as we feel like. One option is camping in Riding Mountain National Park (denoted by the "9"). We might also go by way of Saskatchewan, or something. Or, maybe we'll have car trouble, and will have to spend an extra day somewhere that we didn't plan for. Maybe it's a good idea to work an extra day into your vacation plans.
10) Once re-entering the United States, there are two main routes we'd like to take: US-2 in northern Minnesota, and portions of the western shore of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. Perhaps, we'll spend one night in Grand Forks...
11) ...one night in northern Wisconsin somewhere...
12) ...and one night in Green Bay or Sheboygan. Then, we'll drive all the way back home. Green Bay to Raleigh (Cary) is 1,012 miles. Could we drive that far in one day? Sure! If not, we're not going back to work the next day anyway.

By the way, the trip mileage is likely to fall in the 5,500 to 6,000 mile range. As exciting as it would be to take my car to Canada, maybe we should just rent instead.

For a lot of people, a vacation is driving to one place and staying there for a week. In case you haven't noticed, that's not us. We don't like to stay in the same place for long. But we would like to slow it down on this trip and spend more time outside and less time in the car, at least by our standards.

Friday, August 01, 2008

How Curling Clubs Raise Money

I got a letter in the mail this week from the Pittsburgh Curling Club. The gist of it: they're looking for donations to build or purchase their own building for curling.

Like the Triangle Curling Club, the PCC plays on arena ice. But their club is much bigger than ours, with over 100 members and three draws per week. Basically, they've "outgrown" their arena ice and feel the time is now to pursue their own ice. After all, the dream of private ice is the dream of every curling club in America.

Amber and I won't be donating, particularly since our home club is sure to be in the same position in a decade or two (hopefully), so we'll set aside whatever money we would have donated for our own club. (And, Amber recently donated to the Levenia Adom Memorial Graduate Award, which is probably a more worthy cause.) But as for you....the PCC is the closest curling club to Penn State, after all. And the PCC is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, which means your donation would be tax deductable.

According to the letter we received, you can buy naming rights to the curling rink for one million dollars. So if any of you have a million dollars lying around somewhere, and would like a curling rink named after you (or your dog), please contact the Pittsburgh Curling Club.