Friday, February 27, 2009

My First Post (And Hopefully Last) About American Idol

Apparently, one of the "final twelve" American Idol contestants is named "Kris Allen". (h/t: Erik) What do I think of this?

First off, he spells his name wrong. If he goes onto stardom, then will everyone start spelling my name that way too by mistake? People already have enough trouble with my last name. I don't need everyone screwing up my first name, too.

Actually, that might be the least of my problems. I can see it now...

Co-worker: "Chris... Allen?"
Me: "That's me."
Co-worker: "Wow! Is that your real name?"
Me: "Yeah."
Co-worker: "So are you related to the singer guy?"
Me: "No, it's just a coincidence."
Co-worker #2: "Chris, there's nothing wrong with that name."
Me: "There was nothing wrong with it. Until I was about 26 years old and that no talent ass clown became famous and started winning Grammys."
Co-worker #2: "Why don't you just go by Christopher, instead of Chris?"
Me: "Why should I change? He's the one who sucks!"

(source)

So, in other words, I really hope he loses.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Store Brand Crystal Light

A while ago, I stopped drinking soda (again) and started drinking sugar-free Kool-Aid type stuff. Crystal Light is a popular name brand of said sugar-free Kool-Aid type stuff, but Kroger makes its own. And if you get the makes-64-quarts drink mix containers, it's super cheap, too!

There's actually two types of Kroger-brand Crystal Light. One gives you is the more traditional colored stuff, and one gives you a clear, slightly flavored, Propel-like "fitness" drink. The clear stuff has as much flavor as the colored stuff, won't stain your carpet after a spill, and is cheaper! So, that's what I've been getting lately.

Problem is, my favorite flavor of the clear Propel-like stuff ("wild berry") isn't sold at our new Kroger for some reason. Instead, I'm stuck with - you guessed it - Kiwi Strawberry. Oh well. At least I don't have to worry about staining the carpet.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Best Bed Ever?

I'm generally a frugal guy. I will only put down large sums of money on certain items, and only after intense deliberation. But one of the items I am willing to spend lots of money on is a bed. Given how much time we spend in bed, and how long a good bed will last, I think a bed is a reasonable thing to splurge on.

We've had our sights set on a queen-size memory foam mattress. You can apparently get one for not that much, but we didn't think this was the kind of thing we wanted to "go cheap" on. Yes, that bed has overwhelmingly high reviews, but how long will it last? Surely, almost all of those reviews were written within a month or two after purchase. And, on top of that, we wanted to try out the bed in person before buying, which you can't do online.

So, rather than "go cheap", we went to a store and got a Tempur-Pedic. I won't say specifically which mattress we bought, just so you won't know exactly how much we spent. (It's not the cheapest, and it's not the most expensive.) But either way, rest assured (no pun intended): it was money well spent. It may be the best $_,___.__ we ever spend.

Random Thoughts on '24': 2/23/09

I think that the least interesting episodes on this show are when major threats are resolved. This episode qualified. I was actually surprised how quickly everything was wrapped up. But, of course, I was not surprised that another terror threat magically appeared, just in time. After all, they still have another 14 hours to go. So, hopefully, a lot will go wrong between now and then.

I'm also hoping that the grieving handicapped sister will never be heard from again. Every season has to have an annoying character or two, I guess.

Maybe I missed something, but how did they know where to look inside Dubaku's body for "the list"? It looked to me like they just made one cut in his side, and magically, it was right there. How did they know it wasn't inside his butt or something?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Kiwi Is Lost Without Strawberry

"Kiwi Strawberry" is a fairly common flavor these days, particularly with drinks. As far as I've seen, it is the only such flavor incorporating 'kiwi' at all. Does this mean 'kiwi' as a flavor is absolutely disgusting unless it is paired with strawberry, and only strawberry? What about "kiwi raspberry" or "kiwi cherry"? Do those not work as well?

Curling Recap: 2/20/09

BASEBALL FORMAT:
End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 000201-- | 03
Other team..... 312030-- | 09

CURLING CLUB FORMAT:
Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Other team. -46
Our team... --12-3--5

The hockey tournament they were having at the rink last Friday ran a little long, cutting about 30 minutes off our ice time, which is why we had to stop after six ends. On top of that, the extended period of hockey also did a number on ice, and the zamboni didn't have enough time to properly prepare the ice for our curling needs. So, the ice conditions were a little interesting. Depending on where you aimed, the ice was either super fast (as it normally is) or sandpaper-like. But that's not an excuse, of course.

I could talk more about the match, but instead, I'm going to talk about this bonspiel (curling-speak for "tournament") we're participating in a few weeks from now. The closest three curling clubs to ours are in Knoxville, Washington, and eastern Maryland. The Triangle Curling Club occasionally sends a decent contingent (two or three teams) to bonspiels from those three clubs, all three would make for a good first "out of town curling trip" for Amber and me. So, we're going to this one - the Cherry Blossom Bonspiel, hosted by the Potomac Curling Club - at the end of March.

I've noticed that bonspiels generally come with a "three game guarantee". Everyone starts in the primary single-elimination tournament, but it's not good for business for half of the teams to come all this way to attend your bonspiel only to be sent home after just one game. A double-elimination or triple-elimination format sounds good at first, but there isn't enough time in the weekend to fit all of the games necessary for a full triple-elimination tournament. Instead, the solution is to have three separate single-elimination tournaments. If you lose one of your first two matches in the first tournament, you're siphoned off to the second tournament. Then, first round losers from the second tournament, along with third round losers from the first tournament, end up in the third tournament. There's also a short fourth tournament, which serves two purposes: 1) it guarantees an extra game or two to semifinal losers from the first or second tournaments, and 2) the club has four sheets, and having four brackets allows the bonspiel to conclude with four simultaneous "championship matches". (By the way, this will also be our first experience on real dedicated curling ice, which is probably what I'm most excited about.)

So, how many games will we get to play, anyway? Well, from what I can tell based on last year's draw (which I can only assume will be similar to this year's draw), we get a fourth game if we win the first two games, or win the third game (regardless of how we did in the first two), or both. Three losses will obviously send us home, but one win and two losses will also send us home, unless the win came in the third game. If we make it to a fourth game, then we play until we lose, UNLESS we lose in the semifinals of the first or second tournaments, in which case we play in the exclusive fourth tournament, a four-team single elimination affair. Going undefeated gives you five games, but if you time your losses right, it's possible to play as many as seven. (How to get seven: split the first two games, win #3, win #4, lose #5, and win #6.)

We did okay in our home bonspiel last summer, but we had "home ice advantage". No such advantage here. And considering that Amber and I have never curled on regulation ice at regulation distance before, my goal is simple: win a game. (The third game, preferably, but I'm not picky.) But even if we "run the table in reverse" and lose all three matches, I'm sure we'll have a good time.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Map Room, v2.0


So, here we are, finally: pictures from the new "Map Room". It looks a lot like the old Map Room, actually, but that's okay.


These maps are all official state highway maps, usually issued by state Department of Transpotation or Tourism. They are always free, and often available at state Welcome Centers or online. We don't have a map for every state and Canadian province, but we had more than enough to fill up all of the room's visible wall space.


We could have gone to AAA and got all the maps we wanted, but then all the maps would look the same. But since all of these maps were produced by different people, they come in all kinds of different shapes, sizes, and styles. For instance, New Jersey has one of the largest maps.


Some maps, such as the Illinois map, have the northern half of the state on one side, and the southern half of the map on the other side, preventing us from posting the entire state on the wall. Instead of getting a second map, we placed the Illinois map so that the non-existent "southern half" would be "covered" by the desk. Clever, eh?


My computer monitor blocks most of the North Carolina map, so we took a picture of the missing portion and made it my desktop image. It doesn't quite line up perfectly in the picture, but from the perspective of my chair, it's pretty close.


We didn't put a map down below the desk, even though that part of the wall is technically visible. Oh well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

U.S. 50: Coast to (Almost) Coast

Our next "major road trip" ("major" meaning 7+ days) will likely be either the week before or the week of Labor Day. We haven't made a final decision about where we're going yet, but we've talked about the prospects of taking U.S. Route 50 from coast to coast. (Well, almost coast to coast. US-50 currently ends in Sacramento, well short of the Pacific Ocean.)

First question: can we finish the entire trip using only five days of vacation? I think we can. Thanks to Labor Day, and our ability to work Saturday or Sunday in order to take the following Friday off, we can get 11 consecutive days off using five days vacation. I think 11 days would be plenty of time: six days out, one day in California, four days back. The day before, we could leave after work and spend the night in or near Ocean City, MD, the eastern end of US-50. The first third of the trip might be slow - US-50 passes directly through downtown Washington and downtown Cincinnati - but after that, it's pretty much clear sailing. (Washington and Cincinnati are the only major cities along the route where US-50 is not routed on a freeway bypass.) And then on the way back, we'd take interstates. Six days out, four days back, plus one day in California? I think that's reasonable.

And yes, we would be spending 12 to 15 hours in the car every day for the entire trip, but that's the point! We like driving, and the point of this trip is driving. This trip is still in the pre-planning stages, of course, and we may end up doing something entirely different. But the main idea is to get "quirky" road trips out of the way now, and to do more traditional trips (e.g. Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Orlando and points south) when there are kids involved.

Why US-50? Because it's probably the best coast-to-coast drive there is. (Well, in this country. I think taking the Trans-Canada from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island would be even better.) US-20 is likely also nice, but the eastern third is too urban and basically just follows I-90 all the way to Chicago. US-50 sort of follows I-70, but usually stays far enough away that you wouldn't even know it. And almost the entire road goes through places I have yet to visit.

Now, about that trip back. We'll likely be strapped for time when it's time to turn around, so interstates are the best options. The most direct routes involve some combination of I-40, I-70, and I-80. But we still have a little matter called Louisiana to resolve. Louisiana is one of three states (Alaska, Hawaii) Amber has yet to visit. So, rather than go the most direct way home, we're going to take I-10 or I-20 most of the way. And better yet, I'll accumulate all kinds of new counties!

Speaking of which...how many new counties are we talking about? US-50 goes through 100 counties; of those 100, I have visited 31 and have not visited 69. Add to that the counties I would accumulate on the return trip, and we're talking about adding 100 to 150 new counties on this trip alone. Yeah! (By comparison, the honeymoon only added 58 new counties. But most of that trip was spent in Canada, of course.)

Of course, we don't even know if we're doing this yet. But around Labor Day, we're going somewhere far. That is certain.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Travelogue: 2/14/09

What did Amber and I do for Valentine's Day? We went for a drive, of course:


View Larger Map

Actually, this drive had nothing to do with Valentine's Day. It was just a nice Saturday for a drive through the woods.

It's getting more difficult to find "new" drives. I feel like I've been everywhere within a one-hour radius. There's plenty out there for us; I just have to get creative. Unless I'm looking for a 4-5 hour drive, I can't just look at the county map and aim for the closest unvisited county, because I have already visited every county within a two-hour radius. (The closest two counties I haven't been to are Martinsville City, Virginia, and Franklin County, Virginia, which are between 2 and 2½ hours away.) The interstates driven table isn't much help, either; the closest stretch of untraveled interstate is I-64 in the Richmond area, three hours away. (I have driven on 100% of North Carolina's major interstate mileage.)

Does this mean I'll be doing more driving this year, in order to get to these harder-to-reach places? Or, will I be doing less driving this year, due to lack of motivation to go anywhere nearby, and also my shorter work commute (a savings of 8,000 miles per year)?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

NASCAR Needs a Meteorologist

Sunday's Daytona 500 ended early due to rain. That's fine; we can't change the weather (yet). But here's my problem.

NASCAR standard procedure for this sort of thing is to wait at least 10-15 minutes after the cars have stopped, and if the track is too wet at that point, then declare the race final. This makes for a very anti-climatic finish. Instead of "racing to the checkers", everybody stands around on pit road waiting for an official decision, and when it does come, it all seems very arbitrary.

I think there's a better way. NASCAR should hire a meteorologist to make these decisions. Any halfway decent meteorologist could have looked at the radar, and told NASCAR in advance that they wouldn't have been able to restart the race once the rain arrived. The meteorologist could tell NASCAR that the race needs to end at a certain time. This could be announced to the teams and on television at least 15 minutes in advance. Then, they could have actually raced to a checkered flag, resulting in a more exciting and TV-compatible finish.

Come on, NASCAR! What are you waiting for? Put a meteorologist on the payroll!

Random Thoughts on '24': 2/16/09

(SPOILER ALERT)

Recently, Amber and I watched Season 1 of this show on DVD. In that season a plot line featured a woman dating a bad guy, unbeknownst to her, of course. But Jack et al. finds her, and asks her to work undercover in order to bring him down. Hey, sound familiar? See, this is what I mean when I say they're running out of ideas. Yes, Season 1 was seven years ago, and the only reason I remembered that was because we just watched it, but still.

Speaking of repeating and predictable plot lines, how long before Janis is accused of being the "mole" (falsely, we can only assume at this point)? I think Janeane Garofalo would make a funny "bad guy", but watching her as the torturee will likely be more painful than anything else, so I really hope they go in a different direction with this.

It's good to see Aaron Pierce reprise his role as "the only non-Jack character to appear in every season".

Monday, February 16, 2009

Gas Station Statistics

I've been keeping track of all gas purchases for my car over the last eight months. The numbers are summarized in By the Numbers. But other than the cheapest and most expensive gas I've purchased thus far, you won't find anything about which stations I use most often. Instead, let's do that here!

So, here are the numbers reflecting where I have filled up. Over the last eight months, all trips to Toledo, and the wedding/honeymoon, were taken in Amber's car and are not reflected in these stats (this is for my car only). The only overnight trips I've taken in my car over the last eight months were to Jacksonville (three times) and State College (once), so these stats aren't particularly interesting, yet.

--BY BRAND--

Shell: 8
Sheetz: 6
Kangaroo: 5
Exxon: 3
Sunoco: 2
BP: 2
Flying J: 2
9 others tied with 1

--BY STATE--

North Carolina: 24
South Carolina: 6
Georgia: 3
Virginia: 2
Florida: 1
Pennsylvania: 1

--BY CITY--

Cary, NC: 11
Durham, NC: 7
Raleigh, NC: 2
Columbia, SC: 2
15 others tied with 1

--BY STATION--

Shell, NC-54 near I-40, Cary: 4
Sheetz, Miami Blvd / Alexander Dr, Durham: 4
Kangaroo, Cary Parkway / Tryon Rd, Cary: 2
Shell, Walnut St / Buck Jones Rd, Cary: 2
Kangaroo, Holly Springs Rd / Ten Ten Rd, Cary: 2
23 others tied with 1

I've driven I-95 from here to Jacksonville lots of times, and the cheapest gas can't always be found at the same station or in the same area. The same goes for just about every drive, really. Some cities or stations will almost always give you reasonably-priced gas, but not always the absolute cheapest gas you can find. The station with the cheapest gas is always changing, no matter where you are. So that's why all of my "repeat stations" are close to home - because I'm obsessed with saving as many pennies as I can.

Curling Recap: 2/13/09

BASEBALL FORMAT:
End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Other team..... 30000020 | 05
Our team....... 02211101 | 08

CURLING CLUB FORMAT:
Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Other team. --1-7
Our team... -2-34568

In the past, I've talked a lot about how I don't play particularly well after playing the week before. For now, I seem to have gotten over that, but the real test will be the next two weeks.

This match came down to the final throw, so...it's diagram time! Here's the setup with only one throw, ours, remaining: (our team = red)


Heading into the final end, our lead was two. If the final throw did nothing, the game is tied. All we had to do was get our rock closer to the button than rock #2, which would give us a one-point win. Simple enough, right? Well...thing is, the ice was really really fast, so unlike at the Olympic level, it wasn't a guaranteed win. The call was to try for the draw, but if we're too heavy, make sure we hit rock #1. And sure enough, that's what happened. If I were the skip, I would have never thought of that. I would have just said "let's aim for the button and hope it's right". And that's why my career record as a skip is 0-1.

Durham's Beggar Industry

Here's one difference between Raleigh/Cary and Durham. In Raleigh/Cary, standing around on the side of the road begging for money is against the law. But in Durham, it's legal. And it's quite abundant, too.

I wonder how much money these folks get on a daily basis. Is it enough to make a decent living? Probably not, but the beggars don't look all that bad. Many of them even have reflective vests. Now...I can't tell you for certain that these people aren't hurting for money as much as they claim to be. But I would think that if you want people to have sympathy for you and give you pity money, that you should look as dirty and unorganized as possible. But of course, you don't want to look too dirty and creepy, or else people won't want you anywhere near their cars. Why is it that all of the beggars are men, anyway? Might women be more successful at this? And what about children? Don't you think "Pig-Pen" would make a good beggar? If you saw "Pig-Pen" on the side of the road asking for money, wouldn't you give him a dollar?

Actually, I bet that not even Durham would allow children to do this sort of thing.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hockey at Company Expense

Amber's employer, Eastern Research Group, is celebrating its 25th anniversary. So what better way to celebrate than by going to a hockey game? You know I'm on board with that idea.

As part of the celebration, the company is providing Amber and me the following: two tickets to tonight's Florida Panthers v. Carolina Hurricanes game, a parking pass, food and drink (two per person) before the game, and a $20 gift card to use at any in-arena concession stand, all at company expense. Wahoo! I think they should celebrate their 25th anniversary every year. (And for the record, ERG is not receiving, nor will receive, a government bailout. So they can spend their money as they wish.)

It's an important game, too, as Florida and Carolina are battling for the final playoff spot. Sure, there are still two months of regular season hockey left to play, but surely that won't stop the announcers from talking about the "playoff atmosphere". And if the Hurricanes win, color analyst Tripp Tracy will almost certainly say it is the Hurricanes' "biggest win of the season", a phrase he has already used after about 5 or 6 other games so far this season.

Then again, does it really matter? Chances are, all the #8 seed will get you is a four-game sweep at the hands of the league-leading Boston Bruins. But that would still be better than missing the playoffs altogether.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The 7 mph Stop

When I first started driving, I was "by the book" when it came to stop signs: complete stop, then go. Now, not so much. A typical "stop" for me is "slowing down to 7 mph and then accelerating through".

Is this safe? I think so; I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't safe. Obviously, if there are other cars in the intersection, or other cars with the right-of-way, I will make a complete stop. I also make a complete stop at high-speed intersections. Slowing down to 7 mph gives me plenty of time to scan the situation at the low-traffic, low-speed intersections found in my new neighborhood, especially the four-way stops.

The neighborhood around my high school is full of stop signs. They are EVERYWHERE. As such, pretty much everyone there follows the same "7 mph stop" policy (called "the beach roll" by some in that area) that I now follow in my neighborhood. I didn't give in at the time, but I guess my time has come.

Random Thoughts on '24': 2/9/09

(SPOILER ALERT)

Apparently, episodes of '24' air one week later in the United Kingdom than they do in the United States. So that means if you live in the UK, heed the "spoiler alert"! (I don't have any regular blog visitors from Europe, but thanks to the magic of Google, people from all over the world manage to find a random post or two on my blog, for whatever reason.)

So...if they were going to kill off Henry Taylor, at least this early in the season, surely his death would have been confirmed before the end of the episode, right? In other words, he's not dead. He might be hospitalized for a few hours, maybe longer than that, but he's not dead. It's going to take more than a bullet to the chest to take this guy down. (Which is pretty silly, but this show is pretty silly these days anyway.)

The economic "crisis" (or whatever you want to call it) has appeared to affect this show as well. When the "bad guys" blew up the limo allegedly carrying Prime Minister Matobo, the show cut away to a satellite image of the explosion, which is much cheaper than showing the explosion at the scene. Booooooooo!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Curling Recap: 2/6/09

First off, I realize that I've been recklessly throwing curling terminology around as of late, assuming you've been reading all of these curling recaps and already know what all of these terms mean. So, that's why I've added a permanent link to Wikipedia's Glossary of Curling to the right side of the page.

Also, from now on, I will be displaying the final "box scores" in both the "baseball" format you see in televised curling, and the "club" format you see at curling clubs such as our Triangle Curling Club:

BASEBALL FORMAT:
End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Our team... 22202010 | 09
Other team. 00020202 | 06

CURLING CLUB FORMAT:
Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Our team... _1_2_3_57
Other team. _4_6_8

In the "baseball" format, columns correspond to ends, and each team's score in each end is shown in each column. In the "club" format, columns correspond to the cumulative score, and the numbers placed in the table correspond to ends. For example, we scored two points in the first end, so we placed the 1 (corresponding to the first end) under column 2 (corresponding to two points). Then, we scored two more in the second end, so we put the 2 under column 4, corresponding to our running total of four points. The "club" format is what is displayed on the ice during our games, and is more practical for our purposes because you only need one of each number 1 through 8, instead of lots of 1's, lots of 2's, lots of 3's, and so on.

Here's a strategy question. When you have a five-point cushion heading into the final end, what do you do with your first two rocks? Do you a) throw guards, b) throw into the house, or c) throw through the house?

Actually, it depends on your opponent, specifically your opponent's lead (the player who throws the first two rocks, not to be confused with "a five-point lead"). Generally speaking, I would think the best option is a). By putting rocks in the way, you make it harder for the other team to get five into the house. If your opponent's lead is good at take-outs, then option a) is definitely best, thanks to the free guard rule. However, if you're not too worried about your first two rocks being taken out right away, then option b) might be the way to go. Putting rocks in the house will make it hard for the other team to score five if they can't remove them from play. The rationale behind option c) is to keep the house clear, because for many curlers, a draw is a more difficult shot than a take-out. Option a) also keeps the house clear, but could backfire if the shot is too heavy. Personally, I don't like option c). I think it's a little too "prevent defense", which any football fan will tell you does not work. Option b) was our choice (well, our skip's choice) in this match. But, again, it all depends on your opponent's strengths and weaknesses. At the Olympic level, you would always see option a), possibly c).

Actually, at the Olympic level, the losing team would concede the match at this point. It is common curling courtesy to concede the match when there is basically no chance of a comeback. At the Olympic level, you would never see a five-point comeback in the final end. (Olympic matches will have a five-point end every now and then, but only early in the match. Once a good team goes on "defense", the chance of the losing team scoring five is basically nil.) However, in our club, we do not concede matches early. At our level, a five-point lead with one end to play is not a done deal. Also, point differential is the tie-breaker in the league standings, so there is still something "at stake" at the end of a lopsided match. But most of all, our ice time is valuable. Why would we want to quit early?

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Krispy Kreme Challenge

Tomorrow, something called the Krispy Kreme Challenge is taking place on the NC State campus. What is the Krispy Kreme Challenge, you ask? The challenge is to run two miles, eat a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and then run two more miles, all in under an hour.

College kids don't know how to have any fun, do they?

And in case you're wondering, a dozen Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts has 2,400 calories and 144 grams of fat. BUT...no trans fat! Woohoo! (source)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Darts

We now have at least one use for this big empty room: darts! We (well, Amber) set up a dartboard on the wall at the regulation height with the regulation distance marked off. (The entire "playing field" is actually out of the camera's view in that shot, but oh well.)

Amber's always trying to find competitive events where she's better than me. She's better than me at a lot of things, but the problem is, most of them aren't competitive. (For example, she's a far superior artist, but I'm a better disc golfer. I guess games like Pictionary are forms of "competitive drawing", but I don't think you can play Pictionary with two people.) But I think with darts, we found one. Our first game was not close. Amber's darting skills are apparently superior to mine.

Maybe I'll have to practice in secret when she's not home...

Florida Panthers Fans

During many televised hockey games, when the visiting team scores a goal, the camera will pan towards some of the visiting team's fans celebrating in the stands. For some teams with large followings, such as the Detroit Red Wings, fans are easy to find. For teams with limited followings, such as the Carolina Hurricanes, it's a little more difficult, but somehow they manage. (How does a Carolina Hurricanes fan end up in Vancouver, anyway?) But for teams like the Florida Panthers, the team with the fewest fans in the entire league, it's virtually impossible.

So, here's my idea. I have a Florida Panthers jersey in my closet. And, we plan on attending the Carolina v. Florida game next Thursday night in Raleigh. Should I pose as a Florida Panthers fan in an attempt to get on television? You would think my odds of getting on television would be pretty good, given that there might only be two, maybe three Panthers fans in the entire arena that night. Of course, I wouldn't just be able to show up. I would have to stand up and cheer loudly when the Panthers scored a goal. I don't think I could do that with a straight face. But the biggest hinderance is that our seats are in the upper deck, which drastically reduces my likelihood of getting on television. I don't think the TV cameras even bother looking in the upper deck. Maybe when the Panthers are in town, they do, but probably not.

So, I'm going to wuss out on this one. Maybe next year.

(Full disclosure: I used to be an actual Florida Panthers fan - one of the few - but switched allegiances upon moving to Raleigh. Professional sports allegiances are completely arbitrary, after all.)

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Kalawao County, Hawai'i

Of the 2,070 counties I have yet to visit, one of the most intriguing is Kalawao County, Hawai'i. The main reason is that it's hard to get to, and I expect that very few people ever go there. (Side note: I am using the 'okina where appropriate for the spelling of all Hawaiian place names, because that's what they do.)

When people go to Hawai'i, they generally spend all of their time on four islands: O'ahu, Maui, Kaua'i, and Hawai'i (the Big Island). By visiting these four islands, you will visit four of Hawaii's five counties. The fifth county, Kalawao, is on the lesser traveled island of Moloka'i. And it's not the entire island, either. It is a very small portion of Moloka'i, one that is not accessible by roads, and is surrounded by 1,000-foot tall cliffs and shark-infested waters.

So, what's the deal, anyway? Why is this even a separate county? Apparently, until 1969, Kalawao County was a leper colony. Its isolated location made it an ideal place for quarantine. After the quarantine status was removed, many people asked to stay, and the state of Hawai'i told them they could. Today, the county accepts no new residents; the vast majority of the county's current residents are elderly. (As of the 2000 census, Kalawao was the second-least populous county in the United States; my guess is that it will be the least-populous in 2010.) Any visitors to the county must receive prior government permission, and visitors under the age of 16 must be invited by a resident. The reason it exists as a separate county is because Maui County did not want jurisdiction over it.

Actually, the county isn't that hard to get to. Probably the best way to get there is to take a mule ride, which currently costs $175/person. And they'll take care of the whole "government permission" thing. So, really, all it takes is time and money, which is also true about every other county in the United States. But it's still harder to get to than most counties. And it's very isolated. That's the appeal.

(Source credit: hawaiihighways.com)

Random Thoughts on '24': 2/2/09

(SPOILER ALERT)

I thought this episode was outstanding, even if I did fully expect the terrorist plot on quasi-fictional Kidron, Ohio to be foiled, and also expect Dubaku to get away. There are still 17 hours to go, after all. We can't catch everyone yet!

And if the president didn't tell Ethan about her "secret meeting" with Matobo, word that will undoubtedly find its way to the "bad guys", that wouldn't be very interesting, either. I keep expecting them to reveal Ethan as a "mole" any minute now, which probably means he's not in on the Massive Government Conspiracy. But I don't want to be the type of show-watcher who is constantly trying to figure out who the "mole" is, either. I think it's a lazy plot device. So I'll (try to) stop thinking about that.

It seems like the "bad guys" are always hiding out in very dark rooms. Is Dubaku environmentally conscious and trying to conserve energy by not turning on the lights?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Groundhog Day 2009: Steelers Fans Only

Amber and I went to Groundhog Day last year. (The real one in Punxsutawney, not the fake one in downtown Raleigh.) And I'm glad we went last year, as opposed to this year.

Punxsutawney is deep in western Pennsylvania, where people generally care a lot about the Pittsburgh Steelers, and not much about anything else. So, I can only imagine what it was like in Punxsutawney less than 10 hours after the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Standing around in the cold for four hours watching bad on-stage entertainment is bad enough. But also having to endure four hours of "Here We Go, Steelers" chants and Terrible Towels? That may very well be my personal Hell.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Giving Facebook Another Try

I've been on Facebook going all the way back to when it was a college-only website. I wanted to be one of the first, and I was. Yippee! Being among the first to join a dominant social trend is very satisfying.

But, ten months ago, I said I was basically over it. Facebook has gotten too big, too complex, and too much like MySpace (which I have not and will not join). Every time I log on, I am just overwhelmed. There is too much stuff going on. What am I supposed to do here, anyway?

Last year, I took pride in the fact that I only logged onto Facebook three times all year. This year, however, I'm doing it more often, in an effort to be the type of person who logs onto Facebook "sometimes", but not every day. That would be a definite upgrade from "logs on once every four months and might as well not even have an account". But so far, I've only restricted my Facebook use to updating my "status message" (which hasn't been updated in two weeks, I think), acknowledging friend requests, and joining the Triangle Curling Club group. I could comment on other people's messages, but I have trouble making the "first comment" on someone's page. For some reason, I think people's reactions to my comments will be something like, "What's this loser doing responding to something I said?" There's no logical reason for me to think that. I'm sure lots of people would generally be happy to hear from me, especially since in most cases, they requested me as a friend, not the other way around. So, I'm going to try to be a little more sociable in Facebook form from now on (in moderation), and not just keep my online presence confined within the boundaries of this little bubble I call "Chris Allen's Spectacularly Mediocre Blog".

I'd love to somehow integrate my blog and my Facebook page, but I don't really know if there's a way to do that, other than post a link to the blog from my profile (which has already been done). And I don't want to overpromote my blog, either. Because, as the title implies, this blog isn't that great. In fact, it's mediocre at best.

Bicycling

One thing I wanted to do soon after moving to the house was buy a bicycle, ride it regularly, and bike to work semi-regularly. I live three miles from work, so biking to work is realistic. Or is it?

Well, we'll see on that one. But I've already completed "step one", buying a bike. I didn't need a super-duper mountain bike, just one that can get me around the neighborhood. And I was afraid that if I bought a super-duper bike, that I'd stop riding it at all in a few months. So, I went to Wal-Mart and got the cheapest bike I could ($70).

(Sidebar: Wal-Mart is, without a doubt, the least enjoyable place to go shopping, ever. The only reason we went there was because we had a gift card. Fortunately, Target is much closer to home than Wal-Mart, so I don't see any reason to do any more shopping at Wal-Mart, ever. And I know the commercials are rebranding it as "Walmart", without the dash, but it still says "WAL-MART" on the outside of the store.)

Then, I rode it around the neighborhood. This was the first time I had ridden a non-stationary bike in possibly 8 years. But as the old saying goes, "You never forget how to ride a bike." However, your body does lose the ability to ride a bike uphill in a timely fashion. I had a lot of trouble with the hills. But that will improve with time, as long as I keep riding. But on the other hand, I biked for over four miles without even realizing it, which is longer than the work commute would be. So, in theory, I can do it. In theory.

But, I still have a ways to go before I'm comfortable doing it twice a day on two-lane roads without bike lanes. We'll see if I even get to that point. Actually, maybe the next step should be to buy a bike odometer so I can keep more useless statistics...

Sunday, February 01, 2009

No Commercials, No Halftime

I'm not going to a Super Bowl (TM) party today or anything, so I'll just be watching the game at home. And rather than watch it live, I'm going to do like I do with many sporting events: record it on the DVR, start watching it an hour or two after the actual starting time, and fast-forward through the commercials and halftime.

"But Chris! What about the Super Bowl commercials? And what about the halftime show? What kind of American are you, anyway?" For many people, the commercials and the halftime show are more entertaining than the game itself. But I have noticed a steady decline in the quality of Super Bowl commercials over the last few years. Most of the commercials these days try really hard to be funny, and fail miserably. Besides, the good commercials (and there will be a few good ones) will be available on YouTube anyway, or will be aired ad nauseum on other television shows for the next few months until we get sick of them. And as for the halftime show, I've never really been interested in the halftime show.

So for many people, the Super Bowl (TM) is a full event: pre-game, commercials, halftime entertainment, and the game itself. But I'm only interested in the game itself, and that's all I'm going to watch.