Wednesday, December 31, 2008

See You Next Year! Har dee har har

Chances are, someone - most likely a co-worker - has said "See you next year!" to you this week. Hilarious! Usually when someone says that, you're not going to see him/her again for a while, but in this case, it only means next week, or maybe even tomorrow! How clever!

Or...not. The "joke" has gotten old. I will no longer say "see you next year" in the month of December.

Actually, taken literally, "See you next year!" does not necessarily mean "Won't see you again before next year!" even though that's how it's generally interpreted. So really, I could tell someone "See you next year!" anytime of year and it would be accurate for most people.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The DUI Plate

I don't know how common this is across the country, but if you get convicted of a DUI in Ohio, you might have to drive with one of these license plates for a while. Bright yellow with bright red lettering, it really stands out. Personally, I like this idea. It's a "scarlet letter" for the 21st century! I think all states should do something like this. If a fine or license suspension isn't enough of a deterrent, maybe public humiliation is.

No word on whether or not these special plates have county stickers on them.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Driving Around Lowe's Motor Speedway

So, why did we drive to Charlotte a couple of Saturdays ago, anyway?

By buying tickets to the NASCAR All-Star race this year, Amber was placed on the speedway's email list. That week, she got an email advertising a special offer. Drive your personal car three laps around Lowe's Motor Speedway for $25! I'm sure that seems rather pricey to 99 out of 100 people (at least), especially considering that the speedway is a 2½-hour drive away. But for me, it was a day well spent. Besides, given current gas prices, driving to Charlotte and back is not a major expense ($15 round trip).

As you would expect, they didn't let you go around the track "unrestricted". There were two pace cars, one at the front, and one at the back. (They were sure to point out that the pace cars were Toyota Camrys.) I expected the pace to be somewhere around 55 mph, but it was actually much faster:

Weee! In retrospect, maybe I should have switched the display to kilometers per hour; 145 on the speedometer would have looked a lot more impressive. I didn't drive 90 mph the whole time, though. The actual pace car speed was around 75 or 80. But we were able to speed up, slow down, and even pass other cars as we pleased. I actually had a hard time keeping up at first. When you're driving around a high-banked turn at speed, you have to give it a lot of gas in order to maintain speed. You can also feel the downward G-forces in the turns, even at only 80 to 90 mph. I can only imagine what it's like going around those turns at 150 mph.

We had the Garmin GPS with us, but the Garmin map software did not have the speedway on the map itself. That's too bad, because it would have been nice to see "Driving on Lowe's Motor Speedway" on the display. Some race tracks actually do appear on Google Maps, for example, Pocono Raceway.

Now for the obligatory video game comparison...

Come to think of it, this would probably be even more fun at night. But I imagine powering the track lighting system isn't particularly cheap. $25/car might not cover it.

This qualifies as the type of activity that doesn't need to be done more than once. However, Amber says she might want to go back another time with her car. If so, I'd be more than happy to ride along.

Toledo Weather

When you drive north for Christmas, you never know what you're going to get. Here's the wide variety of weather we encountered during our trip to Toledo:

Wednesday (12/24): Rain for most of the northbound drive in West Virginia and Ohio
Thursday (12/25): Low of 15°F, high of 23°F
Friday (12/26): Freezing rain in the morning, causing widespread road closures and car accidents in the Toledo area
Saturday (12/27): A record high of 65°F; the previous record was 60°F
Sunday (12/28): Wind gusts of over 50 mph

Fun, eh? Here's guessing the weather won't be quite so interesting in Jacksonville this weekend.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays

In today's politcally correct world where people are too easily offended, I've decided to just say "Happy Holidays" to everyone rather than "Merry Christmas" - sometimes, even when I know people are Christian. Uh oh, but does this offend some Christians? I can't win.

Well, anyway, there won't be a whole lot of blogging this week or next. But there may not be zero blogging, either. We'll see how it goes. I don't expect much readership this week or next, so I won't make it a priority. January 5th, we'll be back to "normal".

It's been a year since I ditched the standard "one post per day" format, and the result was more posts (303 last year; 414 so far this year), but probably less content. I think the blog is at its best when discussing our road trips to strange places, and there was a lot more of that last year than this year. And unfortunately, there probably won't be much more next year, either. But we will make a trip somewhere interesting next year. We just have to figure out where.

As for this week and next, it's off to - surprise! - Toledo and Jacksonville. It's a good thing we like driving so much.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The SAP Button

Occasionally, a television program will inform you that you can listen to the program in Spanish by pressing you SAP button on your remote. Cool, right? Except how many of you actually have an SAP button on your remote? I've never seen it.

Well, as it turns out, there is an SAP button on my DirecTV remote - sort of. It's the "green button", and I only discovered it by accident. Some programs advertise "secondary audio" on the program guide, and this secondary audio is often advertised as Spanish. (SAP stands for Secondary Audio Program.) However, on most of these programs, the secondary audio sounds just like the primary audio! Bummer. I have been able to pick up the Spanish feed from time to time, however, although this is very rare.

One time, a hockey game gave me the SAP button option. The secondary audio wasn't Spanish, but it wasn't English, either. Instead, the secondary audio had the announcers muted. No play-by-play, and no commentary, just the sounds of the game. Why don't all televised sporting events give you this option?

Mitchell County: You're Next

We were in the Charlotte area on Saturday (I'll divulge why we were there once we get some pictures organized). While we were there, I wanted to take advantage of our proximity to one of two North Carolina counties I had yet to visit: Lincoln County. And it was done.

I have now visited 99 of North Carolina's 100 counties; only Mitchell County remains. Mitchell County is a bit out of the way, so it won't be quite as easy. But we'll be there before the end of 2009. I can almost guarantee it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

One Minute, 35 Seconds

I've been doing this restaurant serving time business for a while now - over 14 years. But never have I witnessed a performance quite like yesterday at Stamey's BBQ in Greensboro. The record for "fastest serving time ever" used to be 4:00 at Waffle Shop in State College, but Stamey's obliterated the record, serving our food in 1:35. How did they do it?

Well, needless to say, the food at Stamey's isn't exactly "cooked to order". It's a traditional barbecue joint with a very short menu, so just about everything on the menu has already been prepared back in the kitchen. All they really need to do is plop it on a plate and bring it out. That said, Stamey's is hardly the only barbecue joint we've been to, and they've all taken longer in the past. Our first visit to Stamey's was over eight minutes. So, maybe we just got lucky this time around. Or, maybe the waitress noticed that I started my timer when she took my order. And just to clear the air, Stamey's BBQ is absolutely eligible for the competition. It is a traditional sit-down restaurant where patrons sit in an area completely separate from the kitchen, and where waiters and waitresses take your order and bring it out to you. One could claim that this place is "fast food in disguise", but nonetheless, they fit all of the criteria for a sit-down restaurant.

Either way, congratulations, Stamey's: you will be forever immortalized in Chris Allen statistical lore. There is no such thing as an unbreakable record, but this one is going to very, very, very tough for anyone to beat.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Quarter Collection Complete

With the addition of Alaska and Hawaii, I've completed my collection of all 50 state quarters. Hooray!

My grandmother deserves almost all of the credit, because over the past few years, she's been sending me the latest state quarters almost as soon as they're released. I guess she goes to the bank and gets them herself, or something. That's about the only reliable way to get the newest quarters, because rarely do I stumble across them in circulation. Sure, there are plenty of Connecticut and Virginia quarters in circulation, but I don't think I've seen any Oregon quarters floating around. I think collectors are keeping all the new quarters for themselves.

While my collection is now complete, I doubt it's worth much more than the $12.50 its 50 quarters represent, because my collection isn't exactly rare. How many people do you think have been collecting these quarters? Ten thousand? One million? Not even close. According to the U.S. Mint, the number of people collecting state quarters is 147 million. Yikes! Talk about being one of many...

But how many of those 147 million actually have a completed collection? Well, all I know is that I have one. And I can only assume my grandmother also has one.

Bandwagon Fan, or Dedicated Fan?

Tonight offers a true test regarding what kind of sports fan I am. Am I a bandwagon fan, who follows whichever team is "hot"? Or am I dedicated fan, who sticks with my team no matter how bad the team is? We'll find out tonight, based on which sporting event I choose to watch. I can either watch the Jacksonville Jaguars play a meaningless game (for them) against Indianapolis, or I can watch the Penn State women's volleyball team in the NCAA national semifinals. Watching the Jaguars would make me a dedicated fan; watching Penn State volleyball would make me a bandwagon fan.

My allegiance to the Jaguars is the strongest of all of my non-collegiate sports allegiances. No matter how bad the team gets, I would never claim any other NFL team as my favorite. Nonetheless, the team is 5-9 and out of the running for any kind of a playoff spot, so there isn't a whole lot of "buzz" surrounding tonight's game. Sure, they could "play spoiler" and slightly decrease the Colts' playoff chances, but that's nothing more than a lame consolation prize that will be forgotten as soon as the season is over. Which, one could say the Jaguars' season is already over. Does it really matter whether they win or lose tonight? Not really. But if I claim to be a dedicated Jaguars fan, I should watch, right?

Meanwhile, the only reason I know anything about Penn State women's volleyball is because they're good. They're very good, in fact. They're the defending national champions, and they haven't lost a single game (or even a single set) all season. But it's not like I'm just now jumping on the bandwagon. I've been following the team's progress periodically all season. And tonight's national semifinal would be the third, not the first, Penn State volleyball game I've watched this season. And, of course, I actually went to the school. So why would watching Penn State's match against Nebraska make me a bandwagon fan? Because let's face it. If the team wasn't good, I would pay as much attention to Penn State volleyball as I do Florida State volleyball: zero. (Side comment: we can't call this the women's volleyball "Final Four"; the NCAA has that term reserved for basketball only. During last week's regional final broadcast, the announcers resisted even mentioning the words "Final Four".)

So, which will it be? Meaningless football involving my favorite professional sports team, or a national semifinal featuring a team I only care about because they're good? Well, here's your answer: I'm watching the volleyball game. Let's go State! Beat the Cornhuskers! Hooray bandwagon fandom!

UPDATE 9:55p: The volleyball game isn't even going to start until 10:05, which is ridiculous, so I'm over it. I guess I don't care about volleyball that much after all. Oh well.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Downsizing at the Cheez-It Factory

I buy at least one box of Cheez-Its almost every week. And unless one of the smaller boxes is on sale, it's always the one-pound box (a.k.a. "the pounder"). The standard non-sale Kroger price for Cheez-Its is $3.00/box. Not too unreasonable.

Well, anyway, this week at the store, I reached for the Cheez-It boxes at the same shelf location as always, with the same price tag as always ($3/box). But when I got home, I noticed something was wrong. These weren't one pound boxes. These were 13.7 ounce boxes! I guess you could say they're "downsizing".

Actually, it's smart business. Instead of increasing the price of "the pounder" and risk losing customers, they reduced the size of the box by 2.3 ounces, kept the price the same, and hoped nobody would notice. Well, the gig is up, Sunshine. We're on to you.

"Two Men and a Truck": Catchy AND Accurate

In preparation for next month's move, yesterday we booked a moving company to help us move the large, bulky stuff (bookshelves, washing machines, etc) that we don't have big enough cars or muscles to move ourselves. So, naturally, we chose the moving company with the best logo: Two Men and a Truck.

Actually, the logo isn't the only reason we chose them. They have a good reputation. Except that each location is independently owned and operated, which means you never know what you're going to get from location to location. You know, kind of like with Best Westerns and Super 8 Motels.

Anyway, you'd never guess that they're going to provide us with, well, two men and a truck. Duh. Of course they would. If we needed three men and a truck, or two men and no truck, we'd go hire someone else.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Time To Start Packing, Again

Perhaps I should change the name of the house-related tag from "housing search" to something else that doesn't imply that we haven't found a house yet. But that would be a lot of work. At this point, we're pretty much set, and there's no turning back. One month from today, we'll be homeowners! And as long as we have the job security that we think we do, we'll be able to pay for it, too!

But now begins the painful process of packing. (Unintended alliteration!) So far, packing has been as much "getting rid of stuff" as it has been actual "packing". Obviously, the only stuff we can pack now are things that we don't use on a regular basis, or at all. This would include the vast majority of our books (including this gem - yes, we still have all of our grad school textbooks), and anything else that isn't doing much more than sitting on our bookshelves. So, now, we have a bunch of very heavy boxes.

The next packing step might be taking down decorations, including the map room. The plan is to construct a new map room in our new house, including some new maps and replacements for maps that Rolo (the cat) liked to play with, such as the Florida map. I'm sure Rolo doesn't hold any anti-Florida grudge; the Florida map is just in a very vulnerable position. Maybe next time, we'll put a different state in the most vulnerable position. Any recommendations?

We still have a long way to go, but that's why we started packing a month in advance. And even after we move, we still won't be done. Since our apartment lease doesn't run out for another six weeks after we move, the plan is to postpone all cleaning until after all of our stuff is out of there. It will be much easier that way, after all.

Curling Recap: 12/12/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Their team..... 00003321 | 09
Our team....... 11120000 | 05

After closing out the season with five consecutive losses, I think it's fair to say that we didn't play so well. I think the biggest problem was our tendency to give up a high-scoring end or two. And, when we scored, it was often only one or two. I'm not sure why that is, but perhaps that's what happens when you miss a lot of take-outs. I'm not thrilled about finishing the season in 8th place out of ten teams, but at least we got a lot of free drinks out of it.

The next league season begins in next January, with possibly as many as twelve teams. Until then, it's time to advertise!

The Triangle Curling Club is hosting a "Learn To Curl" session on Friday, January 9th. If you're in the Raleigh-Durham area, and would like to try your hand at curling before the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, come on out! Click here for more information. It's only $10, all you have to bring are warm clothes, and you'll be experienced enough for full league participation as soon as the session is over.

As you might expect, the Winter Olympics always increase interest in curling, and the club usually sees a spike in interest and "Learn To Curl" attendance shortly after each Winter Olympics. But given how much the club has grown, even in these past non-Olympic years, can a second night of weekly curling be far away?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another Boring Post About Insurance

Earlier in the week, I said that I wouldn't even ask State Farm for a quote on homeowners insurance, almost assured they would be more expensive than the rest, even with the discount we would get from already having auto insurance with them. Well, I lied. I asked them or a quote, and - surprise! - they were the cheapest. No kidding. Hey, it works for us. I'm glad I didn't have to resort to NASCAR sponsorship to decide which insurance company to go with.

I'm glad we got most of of the house purchase logistics out of the way before Christmas. That was the plan, after all.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Dropping Sporting News Radio Like It's Hot

Back in January, I talked about Raleigh's newest sports talk radio station (99.9 FM), and how they picked up Sporting News Radio only because ESPN and FOX were already taken. (That post also featured an uncapitalized, incomplete sentence. Hooray proofreading!) I'm sure every radio station stuck with Sporting News Radio would switch to ESPN or Fox Sports if they could.

"Lo and behold", as soon as ESPN Radio became available in Raleigh, 99.9 started broadcasting it the very next day. (Well, the very next business day.) That leaves me to wonder what's going to happen to 620. "The Bull" has plenty of programming to replace ESPN on weekday mornings and afternoons, but what about nights and weekends? Surely, there aren't enough independent sports radio programs or live sporting events to fill 168 hours of air time every week. Does 620 have to resort to Sporting News Radio to fill those hours? If so, I wish them the best of luck.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

NASCAR HotPass? Nope

Last week, I mentioned that I was considering getting NASCAR HotPass next season. I've never considered it in the past, my rationale being, "I can already watch the races end-to-end as it is. Why would I want to pay extra for a few extra camera angles and in-car camera shots?" Thing is, though, if you really like NASCAR (as I do), then there is a lot of appeal to having dedicated in-car camera and radio feeds featuring various drivers, along with additional race commentators, and no commercials (I think - don't know that for sure), as opposed to just the same old race broadcast, which I almost always record in advance, and then fast-forward through much of in an effort to get to the final 50 laps as quickly as possible. I would think that NASCAR HotPass makes the first two-thirds of the race a lot more interesting. So, I was actually considering buying it next year. That is, until it was cancelled.

According to the linked article (from The Daly Planet), the problem with NASCAR HotPass was that it wasn't profitable. Unlike in other sports packages, where regional sports networks do all of the work, NASCAR HotPass was a bunch of extra stuff that wouldn't exist otherwise. And that extra stuff isn't free. Hey, NASCAR, here's an idea. If you wanted more subscriptions, then why did you give DirecTV the exclusive rights? You're not the NFL; people are not going to switch from cable to DirecTV just for you. Especially since - like I said - the races are already on TV anwyay.

Oh well. I'll save my $99 and buy something else I don't need.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Radio Gimmicks That Actually Work

The local rock station is playing every single song on their playlist in alphabetical order, from A to Z. Hey, that's like something I would do! And it's actually gotten me to listen to their station once again, at least until they're done. It's taking them a few days, but it might take substantially less time if there wasn't so much mindless, uninteresting chatter between songs, which is one reason I switched to other stations in the first place. Another reason is because mainstream rock stations keep playing the same music over and over; at least during this alphabetic exercise, you get to hear some songs that don't get played very often.

One thing is bothering me, though. They played "No More" after "No More Mr. Nice Guy". Shouldn't "No More" have come first?


Whose idea was it to put the question mark and exclamation point on opposite ends of the keyboard? Seems to me they should be right next to each other.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Curling Recap: 12/5/08

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Their team..... 04321000 | 10
Our team....... 10000111 | 04

This was the last game of the "regular season", and it didn't go so well. After starting out 3-1, we've now lost our last four, so we'll be in the 7th-place game next week. (The league has 10 teams.) But hey, that's better than being in the 9th-place game, which I believe is taking place in a nearby bar.

Here's a fun stat. Since we've gotten married, Amber and I have yet to win a game together, going 0-4. Uh oh...

Actually, let me attribute our streaks to a couple of things. Two of our three wins were against the eventual 9th and 10th place teams, which we played during the first half of the season. During the losing streak, two of the games were against teams that had two skip-caliber players, due to normal team members (usually the lead or second, or both) being unavailable. Let's face it - replacing an inexperienced lead with an experienced skip makes your team a lot better. The third loss was when I was the skip, and it was against the eventual 2nd-place team. In the fourth loss, we lost by two after leading with two ends to play. So we haven't been playing that poorly, really. And, my all-time record is still 10 games over .500. And unlike in hockey, .500 actually means .500.

In other Triangle Curling Club news (I've slacked off on getting the name of the club in these posts), the club just purchased some used curling stones from a now-defunct club near Ottawa. Yes, the stones are used, but they're a substantial improvement over some of the mix-and-match stones we've been using. After all, that's how the pecking order of curling stones goes: Canada, then North Carolina. And given the current US -> CAN exchange rate, now is the time to buy Canadian curling stones! As for the old stones, I think the club is going to sell them to whoever would like to decorate their living room with a curling stone or two. Hmm...

Housing Update: 12/8/08

It's been a month since the last update, so you might think that everything is going smoothly, considering that most of my blog space is spent complaining about things. You would be correct. The home inspection did not yield any serious problems, and most of the problems that were found, the current owners agreed to fix between now and closing, which is on January 15th. I think that date is pretty well set by now.

Following the inspection, the next step was to get all of the loan paperwork taken care of. We've filled out all the forms and given the lender all that they need (at least as far as we know), so we're all set there. And we've already secured what we think is an excellent interest rate (5.25% for a 30-year fixed mortgage). Hooray recession! There's a chance we could have gotten an even lower interest rate if we held out longer, but there is no guarantee interest rates will keep going down. Over the past year, interest rates really haven't changed much over the long term, and there continues to be up-and-down fluctuation. It's like looking for the cheapest gas on an interstate. You see a sign for reasonably cheap gas at the next exit. Do you stop, or do you try holding out for even cheaper gas? Except with mortgage rates, you stand to gain or lose thousands of dollars based on when you "fill up", as opposed to just a dollar or two.

Now, it's time to get quotes for homeowners insurance. There are a lot of insurance companies out there. How do we choose? Well, we could start with our auto insurance company, but everyone says State Farm will be more expensive. (It's also more expensive for car insurance, but customer service - State Farm's strength - is more important for auto insurance than home insurance, since auto accidents are far more frequent than fires and tree collapses.) So, they're out. Now, we could always "break the tie" the same way I break the tie with home improvement warehouses. (NASCAR sponsorship works, folks!) But something about Nationwide makes me a little uneasy, so maybe we should just do like everyone suggests and get as many quotes as we can, starting with insurance companies that people we know use, and go with the lowest bidder. We're starting that process today.

As far as I know, the only other thing we have to do between now and January is pack up our stuff. Not really looking forward to that. But at least this will be our last move for a while. Hopefully.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Neutral...Reverse...Same Thing, Right?

I've been keeping track of how many times I stall my car, going back to when I bought it 13 months ago. (My car is manual transmission.) I stalled it quite frequently at first, since it requires a little more gas and/or less clutch to get going than my previous car. But once I figured it out, I stopped stalling altogether. Until Wednesday morning, that is.

But it wasn't first gear acceleration that was the problem. I was sitting in the parking lot with the car idling, waiting for another car to pass before I backed out of my parking space. I thought I was in neutral, so I popped the clutch. But...I was in reverse. Whoops! I'm actually surprised that hasn't happened more often.

So, I went 334 days without stalling the car. No small feat if you ask me. Oh well, time to begin a new streak...

College Football Saturday: 12/6/08

The last one of the season! This week, to artifically increase the apparent number of games, I'm including lower division playoff games on this list.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - ACC Championship, Boston College v. Virginia Tech, 100p, ABC: In my book, Boston College sucks all the life out of the ACC and the ACC Championship. If this game was between two real ACC teams, this would be a lot more interesting. Who down here cares about Boston College? And how many fans are going to make the trip from Boston to Tampa for this game? The ACC Championship was not very well attended when it was played in Jacksonville, and I doubt that's going to change much this year.
Game 2 - Albany v. Jacksonville, 130p, YES: The Ivy League and the SWAC are not the only conferences in I-AA/FCS football who do not send their conference champion to the NCAA Tournament. Upon hearing that Jacksonville University won the Pioneer League, I was excited! And then, disappointed to learn that their only reward for their conference championship was an extra game against Albany. Oh well, at least it'll be on television, somewhere.
Game 3 - Army v. Navy, 1200p, CBS: Classic.
Game 4 - Conference USA Championship, East Carolina at Tulsa, 1200p, ESPN2: Even though it's Conference USA, this game might still prove entertaining, because it's the conference championship.
Game 5 - Weber State at Montana, 200p, Altitude: I'm disappointed that the Appalachian State playoff game is not televised this week. (It's on ESPN GamePlan,
Game 6 - Minnesota-Duluth at California (PA), 1200p, ESPN Classic: This is a Division II semifinal. If only Indiana (PA) was also involved...
Game 7 - Pittsburgh at Connecticut, 1200p, ESPN: Less interesting to me than lower-division playoffs.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - SEC Championship, Alabama v. Florida, 400p, CBS: Roll tide! But you know, regardless of who ends up in the national championship, I'm not sure if I'll watch, because I don't care to see any of these teams win. You know, I think I've said this every year since the last time Florida State was in the national championship game.
Game 2 - USC at UCLA, 430p, ABC: I'd just like to remind everyone that USC has NOT clinched a spot in the Rose Bowl yet.
Game 3 - Washington at California, 300p, FSN: Oh, I thought Washington's season was already done for some reason. Hey, one more chance to win!
Game 4 - Northern Alabama at Northwest Missouri State, 400p, ESPN2

Time slot 3

Game 1 - South Florida at West Virginia, 800p, ESPN2: With all due respect to USF's final game of the season, and the Big XII Championship, I will probably not spend the evening watching football.
Game 2 - Big XII Championship, Missouri v. Oklahoma, 800p, ABC
Game 3 - New Hampshire at Northern Iowa, 700p, MASN
Game 4 - Arizona State at Arizona, 900p, ESPN
Game 5 - Cincinnati at Hawaii, 1130p, ESPN2: Definitely won't be up this late.

Well, that's it for college football. Now what?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Too Much Sports?

DirecTV provides a lot of sports programming on television. That's part of the reason (okay, the reason) I switched to DirecTV. But is it too much?

Right now, I have subscriptions to DirecTV's Sports Pack NHL Center Ice. NHL Center Ice gives me a handful of hockey games every night. That's fine. But between all those regional sports channels, Sports Pack gives me a lot of college basketball games on top of that. And I mean, a lot. And I feel obligated to watch as much of it as possible, simply because I feel privileged in being able to do so. Sure, Penn State and Florida State both played basketball games last night on easy-access ESPN2. So why did I feel compelled to repeatedly flip between the Oregon/Utah, Auburn/Xavier, Richmond/Old Dominion, Towson/UMBC, Alabama State/Nebraska, and UNC-Asheville/Tennessee games? Because, dammit, I could. If you were paying an extra $12/month for all of those regional sports channels, wouldn't you?

And the scary thing is, this is still far from the maximum. I could spend a lot more money on sports programming if I wanted to. There's still NFL Sunday Ticket (maybe someday), MLB Extra Innings (probably never), NBA League Pass (definitely never), NASCAR HotPass (thinking about it), and Setanta Sports (no single channel is worth $15/month, even if they do show Aussie Rules).

You could spend a fortune on this stuff if you really wanted to. But, I think I've reached (or crossed) my threshold. The more things there are on television, the harder it is to choose, focus on, and enjoy a single event. Or, maybe that's just my problem. I probably have a mild form of ADD. As soon as one team gets a double-digit lead in football or basketball, or a hockey team gets a 3-goal lead, I turn the channel. Sometimes, I'll change the channel during a 30-second timeout, and then forget about the game I was watching originally only to find that the game had already ended by the time I remember to flip back.

I would imagine people with ADD have a hard time dealing with expanded television packages. I can relate.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Travelogue: 11/30/08

When it comes to driving on Thanksgiving Wednesday or Thanksgiving Sunday, I've learned that you can't win. The best way to avoid traffic and frustration is to spend as little time on the interstates as possible. So, here's how we went home on Sunday:

This route isn't that much different than when I took US-1 all the way back, except that we took a different route through Georgia to pick up three new counties (Pierce, Jenkins, and Burke), and that I took I-20 rather than drive through Augusta and Columbia. I didn't think that I-20 would be too bad, and I was right. The problem was getting onto I-20.

Congratulations, Pennsylvania! You are no longer the only state dumb enough to have stop signs at the end of interstate on-ramps! I-20 in Augusta is under construction, and every on-ramp leading onto the interstate has a stop sign right at the merge point, including the on-ramp from I-520. The line of cars waiting to turn from I-520 onto I-20 was a 30-minute wait. Who thought this was a good idea? I would think that making people stop before turning peeling out onto a high speed interstate would result in a lot of accidents. Is that not the case, or are PennDOT and GDOT just trying to help out the local car repair business?

And by the way, the I-95 widening in Georgia isn't much farther along than it was four months ago. I think GDOT's motto is, "If it's not in Atlanta, who gives a crap?"

But other than that, it was a nice drive home. You know, I really like complaining about construction, don't I? It's not the fact that there is construction at all. I understand that work needs to and should get done. It's how some states deal with construction that bothers me. Why didn't I become a civil engineer? Apparently they make good money.

R.I.P.: Krackel and Mr. Goodbar?

Hershey's bag of assorted chocolate candy is a staple. Regular Hershey's, Hershey's Special Dark, Krackel, and Mr. Goodbar. Unlike the proverbial "box of chocolates", you know exactly what you're going to get with this American classic.

But, could change be on the way? I noticed in a bag recently purchased by a co-worker that Krackel and Mr. Goodbar had become "Hershey's with rice" and "Hershey's with almonds". Upon further inspection, I discovered that these candies were all special dark and not regular milk chocolate. But still, it got me thinking. It's only a matter of time before Hershey's phases out the names Krackel and Mr. Goodbar, and starts referring to those products as mere variations of the classic Hershey's bar. That is the trend these days, to use name and/or company recognition. Hershey's is already doing it with the Reese's brand. How many new types of Reese's candy bars are there? Does Mountain Dew Code Red really taste anything like regular Mountain Dew? No, but if they tried giving it a completely new name, it might not sell as well. Given that Krackel and Mr. Goodbar aren't really sold on their own anymore, I think it might be time to drop their individual names and start emphasizing the Hershey's brand name.

Monday, December 01, 2008

How To Break a Three-Way Tie

If you follow college football, you already know that the Big XII South ended in a three-way tie between Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma. All three teams went 1-1 in games against each other, and undefeated against everybody else - the worst possible situation for a tie-breaker - so the Big XII reverted to the BCS standings and awarded Oklahoma the division title. Fair or foul?

Actually, I think it's as fair as it can get. Not so much because human opinion played a role in the outcome, but because Oklahoma has a decided edge in the computer rankings. I've always been a proponent of computer rankings, so if an objective formula says Oklahoma is most deserving, then so be it. Then again, this basically means the tiebreaker was decided by each team's non-conference strength-of-schedule. Texas Tech, this is what you get for scheduling UMass, Eastern Washington, SMU, and Nevada. At least Oklahoma played a ranked team (TCU) and an eventual BCS conference champion (Cincinnati). In a perfect world, non-conference games should not decide a conference championship, but college football is hardly a perfect world.

How else could the Big XII have broken the tie? Let's investigate the possibilities...

- Point differential. Whether you consider the three games these teams played against each other, common opponents in the rest of the conference, or the entire conference schedule, it's entirely fair. But it's politically incorrect in college sports to run up the score, so it's not practical.
- Away games. Many soccer leagues use "away goals" - most goals scored away from home - to break a two-game aggregate tie. Could the same principle be applied to the Big XII South? Well, if you ignore points scored for the reasons stated above and focus on where the games in the round-robin were played, then yes. Oklahoma/Texas was at a neutral site; Texas played at Texas Tech, and Texas Tech played at Oklahoma. This would give the tie-breaker to Texas, having played one road game and one neutral game.
- Conference strength-of-schedule. Not every team plays the same conference schedule with respect to the Big XII North. This tiebreaker would be luck of the draw, but isn't basically any three-way tiebreaker completely arbitrary? (This wouldn't work anyway, since Oklahoma and Texas Tech both played the same conference schedule.)
- The team that has gone the longest without winning the division or conference title. This is the tie-breaker the Rose Bowl uses, I think. Personally, I think it's dumb, because prior seasons should have no bearing on what happens this season.
- Flip a coin a few times. Hey, why not?

This looks messy, but it's not a "worst case scenario" with respect to tie-breakers. All Oklahoma, Texas, or Texas Tech had to do to avoid controversy was not lose any games. A worse scenario would have been if two Big Ten teams who don't play each other during the season both went undefeated. Then what? Do we have an all-Big Ten national championship? Now that is a worst-case scenario.

1,000 Holes of Disc Golf At One Course

While in Jacksonville last weekend, I played my 1,000th hole of disc golf at the local course (Fore Palms DGC at Ed Austin Park). And having recently played my 4,000th hole of disc golf total, I guess that means one out of every four holes of disc golf I've played is at one course.

How long before another course reaches the 1,000 hole mark? Well, considering that no North Carolina course has even reached 200 holes - 192 is the highest - it'll be a while. There are too many courses in the Triangle for me to justify playing at the same course every time. But in Jacksonville, Fore Palms is the only 18-hole course in town.