Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The All-Red Pack of Starburst

The makers of Starburst are catching on. At a gas station last weekend, I found a pack of Starburst I had never seen before: all red flavors. Cherry, strawberry, fruit punch, watermelon. Finally! What took you so long, Mars, Inc.? Perhaps they've finally realized that people don't like the lemons. But why aren't the "Fave Reds" (as they're called) available at my neighborhood grocery store yet?

The District: Recap

As stated last week, we had some time to kill in downtown Washington on Friday morning. What did we end up doing?

Nothing that interesting, sadly. The main downtown attractions were all within walking distance from where we were staying, so we just went there and walked around for a while. If nothing else, it was interesting to see the stuff that you see on television all the time in person. Those camera shots of the Lincoln Memorial and reflecting pond will all look a little differently to me now, because I'll have more visual perspective. And I must say, they did a very good job locating all of these attractions, from a geographical and visual standpoint. Everything goes very well together, and the views are among the most iconic American views there are. Then again, I had been here 18 years ago, and absolutely nothing looked familiar to me. I'd like to think I have a good photographic memory. I can go somewhere I haven't been in 15 to 20 years and recognize that I've been there on sight. But I did not recognize a thing from my previous visit, and I basically remember absolutely nothing about that Summer 1991 vacation. On the other hand, I remember a lot about the Summer 1992 trip to Bar Harbor and Montréal. To those of you who know me well, and the types of places I like to visit, that should come as no surprise.

Now...I did say that we would try to something a little off the mainstream, so we tried an attraction that neither Amber nor I had been to, and had heard good things about - Ford's Theatre. But by the time we got there (11:30a), they were already done giving tours for the day. Yikes! I guess I'm not the only one who likes taking an early Friday. And given our time constraints - we wanted to be out of the city by 1:00p - we didn't have time for much else. Which leads me to my next post...

The District: Road Geek Analysis

I appreciate good road design, especially in major cities. If you can get around the city fairly quickly and efficiently, that's obviously a good thing. Washington does have a good transportation infrastructure, but only because of public transportation (i.e. the Metro). The Washington-area roads? Not so much. They absolutely blow. And as someone who likes to drive, I would hate living in a place like this.

And it's not just Washington, either; it's pretty much the same for every city between Washington and Boston, inclusive. These places all have (for the most part) outstanding public transportation networks, and wholly inadequate road capacity. But that's the best these places can do, really. The stuff has already been built, so building more roads in congested areas is either impractical or expensive. On the other hand, mass transit is far more cost-effective when you have a tightly-packed million-plus ridership base to draw from. So, I can understand why they would prioritize a new Metro line over a fifth lane on the Capital Beltway. Generally speaking, the reason these large cities have mass transit is because they absolutely need it.

But for people like me, who like driving, Washington is an absolutely miserable place to be. So what we were thinking when we decided to stay downtown with friends during our weekend stay? Actually, I know what we were thinking: Free! But you see, Google Maps isn't kidding when it says "up to 50 mins in traffic". (Actually, it took 50 minutes even without traffic.) And don't even get me started on the parking situation. So, we didn't really think this through ahead of time. By the third night, we decided we had enough of DC traffic, and got a hotel in Laurel, a painless 10 minute drive from the curling facility.

By the way, I had no idea that some of these Washington-area suburbs have their own downtowns. And I'm not talking about the "historic" downtowns with mom-and-pop shops and brick buildings, like you see with southern suburbs such as Cary and Clearwater, FL. I'm talking about skyscrapers, mammoth parking garages, and insane traffic jams. I knew downtown Arlington was like that, but I had no idea that downtown Silver Spring, MD was like that. Is every Maryland suburb like this? If so, I feel sorry for anyone who lives there. Even once you get outside of the Washington city limits, you still have a long way to go. If I had to live in downtown Washington, I might just forget about dealing with a car. Fortunately, in a place like this, a car is not a necessity.

So, with all of this in mind, we're going to avoid driving through the District of Columbia at all costs. When we do the US-50 coast-to-coast trip, we will take the Capital Beltway around Washington instead of US-50 straight through. Not that the Capital Beltway will be that much better, but at least we can time it to avoid rushhour. We may also do the same with Cincinnati, taking I-275 around rather than US-50 straight through. And I know this means we won't have technically driven the entire length of US-50, but that's okay. This will be a far less stressful route. Besides, in my opinion, the point of taking a vacation is to get away from civilization, not towards it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Curling Recap: Cherry Blossom Bonspiel

We spent the weekend at the Potomac Curling Club's Cherry Blossom Bonspiel in Maryland. (Yes, I know I've mentioned this a time or six already, but I like to make these blog posts self-contained.) It was our first ever curling road trip, and also our first curling adventure on anything but our home hockey ice. Did we have fun? You betcha! Did we do well? Absolutely not! But, that's okay. As East Coast bonspiels go, this is one of the more competitive ones. We'll consider the level of competition when we decide where to go for our next curling road trip. We'll also consider the time of year. At most clubs, late March is near the end of the season, so everyone has been curling for months by now. Most clubs shut down over the summer, but ours does not, so we'll probably be more competitive in a late Summer, early Fall bonspiel than in a Spring bonspiel like this one. (On a related note, registration is open for the Triangle Curling Club's Second Annual Carolina Classic, to be held this coming August!)

Now, the obligatory box scores! I'm going to forego the Curling Club scoreboards for this post, just to save space.

Match #1: Thursday, March 26th

End............ 12345678 TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 000000-- 00
Potomac #3..... 142123-- 13


Prior to then, I had never been involved on either side of a curling shutout. So, here are all the excuses I could come up with. 1) The other team was widely considered to be very, very good. Surely, I thought they would go all the way, or at least come close. However, they only finished the weekend with a 3-2 record. Even so, our best game ever would still not have been good enough to win. 2) It took Amber and I a while to get adjusted to the ice, this being our first time on this type of ice and all. But that's actually a lame excuse, considering that this ice is dedicated to curling and curling only, and thus is far more predictable and easier to read than anything we ever play on. 3) We lost the coin flip. Yeah, I know, we had last rock for five consecutive ends and still couldn't score. But our first end was our best end of the match, and we might have actually scored if we had last rock. So really, it was just bad timing. (By the way, we lost all three coin flips on the weekend.) 4) If we had played a full eight ends, maybe we would have had a chance to score. But at bonspiels like this, it's common courtesy to concede defeat early, as we did. Most people would have actually quit after four or five. One match (not ours) was actually conceded after three ends, with the score 10-0. Hey, at least we weren't trailing 10-0 until the 5th!

Match #2: Friday, March 27th

End............. 12345678 TTL
----------------------------
Our team........ 0002100i 03
Plainfield, NJ.. 1110022i 07


The 'i' in the 8th end means the end was not completed ('i' = incomplete). As soon as it was mathematically impossible for us to score four in the final end, we shook hands. (The bonspiel rules dictated that we are actually required to concede once it is mathematically impossible to win.) I'm not sure how this is scored officially, so I just ignored that end for the purposes of calculating the final score.

Well, anyway, I thought this was our best-played match of the weekend. We were tied after 5, and then we let it slip away. I forget how, exactly. I was only the second for this tournament, as opposed to vice skip (as I've been playing at home as of late), which means I don't pay as much attention to strategy.

On a side note, the curling facility as a whole was outstanding. It was built in 2002 or 2003 as a curling-only building, complete with a lounge, locker rooms, and of course, a part-time bar. They even had cameras set up over each of the sheets, connecting to TVs in the lounge, so that you could easily see the houses just like on television. Yeah!

Match #3: Saturday, March 28th

End............ 12345678 TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 1100100i 03
Pittsburgh #2.. 0043011i 09


We actually had the lead here, but from the 3rd end forward, didn't play so well. And I thought our opponent (who finished 1-3 on the weekend, with their only win against us, of course) played their best match of the weekend against us. And, I thought our strategy in the ill-fated 3rd end was a little questionable. But that's hindsight for ya. Oh well. Hooray excuses!

As for our next curling road trip, it will almost certainly be somewhere else, if only for variety. The short list of other clubs I'd like to visit is Great Smoky Mountains (Knoxville), Pittsburgh, Chesapeake (Easton, MD), and Bowling Green, Ohio. I'm sure we'll be back to Potomac at some point. But between allowed vacation time and financial concerns, one out-of-town bonspiel per year - maybe two if we're feeling ambitious - is probably our limit, so it'll probably take us a while to get to all of these places. But that's okay, right? We have years of good curling ahead of us!

The Middle Peninsula and the Northern Neck

We took the whole day off on Thursday, but we didn't have to get to Maryland until after 7:00p. Sounds like a good opportunity for a side trip, eh?

First, a side note. The speed limit on most of I-85 in Virginia is now 70 mph. Yeah! (Actually, from what I read, it has been that way for a couple of years now. It's just been a while since I've gone that way.) Virginia is one of those states who has long resisted raising their speed limits from 65 to 70, so to see them finally give in is big news in my mind. Unfortunately, based on my internet research, all other interstates in Virginia are 65 mph or lower. Maybe someday, we'll be able to (legally) go 70 on I-81. It is completely arbitrary to have a speed limit of 70 mph on I-77 and I-81 in West Virginia, but only 65 mph in Virginia, where the roads are actually more wide open.

Now, back on topic...


View Larger Map

This route was mostly dictated by my counties visited map (which has been updated after the trip). This route gave me 10 new counties in Virginia and 1 new county in Maryland. But more important than just visiting new counties is that I had never been to any of these places before. What is this region called, anyway? Eastern Virginia? Well, maybe, but we have two more specific geographical names for this area. The southernmost of the two peninsulas on the above map is called the "Middle Peninsula", and the peninsula just north of that is called the "Northern Neck".

I expected this region to be a little reminiscent of Pamlico County, NC. And, that was fairly accurate. These areas have lots of small towns and privately owned (and expensive) waterfront property, and not much in the way of public recreational opportunities. But unlike Pamlico County, many of these areas actually had significant development, at least by rural standards. When US-17 was a major through road, this area was probably booming. But then they built I-95. Now, the MP and NN are just kind of sticking out there, out of everyone's way, and also out of everyone's mind. So, add the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck to the long list of regions doomed by the interstate highway system. And because of the high concentration of small towns, these areas don't make for particularly fun rural driving, either. So is there any reason for us to go back here ever again? I doubt it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The District

Friday morning, we'll have some time to kill. It's safe to assume that after Thursday's drive (which is looking to be rather wet), we won't feel like driving again the next day. And since we'll be staying in downtown Washington, why not hang out there? What is there do see and do in Washington, anyway?

That's easy. From memorials to museums to monuments, everyone knows what's in Washington. But I've already seen and done just about everything there, albeit 18 years ago. (18? Holy crap!) What's worth seeing again? A statue of Lincoln in a chair? The "Spirit of St. Louis"? A five-sided building? A very long and shallow pond? Hmm...

We'll have our trusty AAA Tourbook with us, so maybe we'll find something not mainstream to see in Washington that I didn't even know existed. There's got to be something, right?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Curling Recap: 3/23/09

What's this? Curling on Monday? You betcha. We're curling each of five Mondays, including last night. This is in addition to the ongoing Friday league. (Apparently, the Friday league only has two games remaining. Where does the time go?) Due to ice time limitations, the Monday matches will be abbreviated to no more than 6 ends, at least for now.

End............ 123456 |TTL
--------------------------
Other team..... 00130- | 04
Our team....... 21002- | 05

Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Other team. 3--4
Our team... -12-5

First off, having last rock in the first end is really nice. Amber and I had lost four consecutive coin flips going into last night. How much of a difference does the coin flip make? Over the last 32 games, my teams are 10-3 when we win the coin flip, and 8-11 when we lose the coin flip.

As I've mentioned a time or three, we're going to Maryland for the Cherry Blossom Bonspiel this weekend. (And now that they've posted the team rosters, I have proof!) Our weekend is going to go something like this...
- Thursday morning: Leave Durham whenever we feel like waking up. Something tells me we won't be waking up at 6:30a like on a normal Thursday.
- Thursday afternoon: On the way to Maryland, pick up a bunch of new counties in eastern Virginia. Yes, no matter what the occasion, I'm always obsessing over my county map.
- Thursday evening: Get to the curling rink in time for the 7:00p draw, so we can watch, learn, and eat. (Customary at most bonspiels, all meals are provided. Yeah!)
- Thursday night: Match #1.
- Friday morning: Our second match won't be until late Friday afternoon or evening. So, shall we do some DC sightseeing? Or should I consult the Maryland county map?
- Friday afternoon/evening: Match #2.
- Saturday: NO idea. When and how often we curl depends on how well we do up to this point, but we'll have a minimum of one Saturday match.
- Sunday: Twelve of the 32 teams get a prestigious Sunday match. Will we be among the fortunate 12? Probably not, so realistically, we'll be hitting the road first thing Sunday morning. But don't get me wrong. While I may not have high expectations for our performance (this is a very competitive bonspiel from what we've been told), we're almost guaranteed to have a good time, and it beats the hell out of staying home and watching teams other than Florida State and Penn State play in the NCAA Tournament.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Yard

Yet another benefit of home ownership: your own yard. I never new how nice it would be to just sit outside in your backyard and do absolutely nothing. Sure, you can do the same thing on an apartment balcony, but it's not the same.

We might get a hammock in the not-too-distant future. Then we'll really be generic American homeowners. All this house stuff is still a little surreal.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Curling Recap: 3/20/09

BASEBALL FORMAT:
End............ 12345678 TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 0200010- 03
Other team..... 2031101- 08


CURLING CLUB FORMAT:
Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Our team... -26
Other team. -1--3457


So...why do we keep losing? I don't know, but I'm starting to second-guess whether I'm good enough to play third (a.k.a. vice-skip). Then again, I still have an 11-8 all-time record as a third, which is pretty good. And, we've also lost four consecutive coin flips. (A coin flip determines who gets last rock in the first end. I didn't know this, but in major competitions such as the Tim Hortons Brier, the skips make one shot before the game, and whoever is closest to the button gets last rock in the first end. That may be more common at the club level in Canada, but our ice time is limited, so that's not practical for us.)

I guess Amber and I don't have a whole lot of "momentum" going into next weekend's Cherry Blossom Bonspiel, so it's a good thing "momentum" is a meaningless term when applied to sports. (And yet, almost every sports broadcaster does it!) Besides, Amber and I are playing lead and second rather than second and third next weekend, which is probably a little more like it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How Not to Put Together an NCAA Tournament Bracket, Part 3

Actually, on second thought...there are probably several thousand "this is how I put together my NCAA Tournament bracket, and why" blog posts. And none of those blog posts are any more credible than any other. So, forget that. Instead, let's talk about things in general, random thought style...

One of the benefits of having Time Warner Cable (well, digital cable) instead of DirecTV is, with the cooperation of local CBS affiliate WRAL, you get every NCAA Tournament game for free. (Actually, that's the ONLY benefit I can think of to having cable.) DirecTV makes you pay $69 if you want all of the tournament games. If the price was significantly lower - say, $19.95 - I would do it. But I can't justify paying $69, especially considering that I still get one additional tournament game per time slot via over-the-air digital channel 5.2. And, of course, all the games are streamed online anyway. Why would anyone want to pay $69 for something you can get online for free? Picture quality, I'm assuming. The $69 package gives you every game in HD. Of course, I don't have an HDTV, so whatever.

Florida State is in the tournament for the first time in 11 years. I have been waiting so long for this. So, I'll be watching, right? One way or the other, yes. The game is supposed to start right after curling finishes up, so I'm hoping the traditional post-curling bar stop paid for all of the tournament games. If not, it may be a quick trip home.

Meanwhile...Penn State is in the NIT. And, let's be honest: they didn't deserve a tournament bid. It was very remisicent of a Florida State season a few years ago: barely over .500 conference record + cupcake non-conference schedule = NIT bid. Hey, it's better than nothing. And at this point, there's a good chance their season will last longer than the Seminoles' season. While I don't really care about an NIT game against George Mason or Rhode Island, their next NIT game will be either against Miami (FL) or Florida, which will be very interesting for someone like me. You better win, Lions!

In case Penn State's next NIT game is a home game, here's a memo to the fans. If they win, please, for goodness sake, DO NOT RUSH THE COURT like you did after beating Siena in the NIT, whenever that was. You'd only be embarrassing yourselves. Like that message from Budweiser says, "How you celebrate says a lot about you and your school." Rushing the court after an NIT quarterfinal win certainly would say a lot about you and your school, or at least the expectations you have for your basketball program. Yeah, I know. I'm a big party pooper. But here's the thing. Florida State fans rushed the court a lot when I was there, and they never made the NCAA Tournament. This season, the fans didn't rush the court at all, and they made the tournament. Penn State fans rushed the court after beating Illinois, and only made the NIT. Clemson fans rushed the court after beating Duke this season, and then proceeded to lose 7 of their remaining 11 games, including a first round tournament loss to Michigan. I think every time you rush the court, it sets your basketball program back a little. Basically, you're telling the team, "We didn't expect you to win this game, and we certainly don't expect you to win the next one, so wooooooooo! Our team is never going to do anything this good ever again! Hooray NIT!" Penn State had a good season, and next season could be even better, so I think it's time to keep the celebrations off the court.

So, I ended up talking about the NIT more than the NCAA Tournament. Whoops! Well, at least I didn't spend two paragraphs talking about the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

ZIP + 4: Why?

The United States Postal Service is, of course, only human. So I won't fault them for accidentally giving us someone else's mail, given that the addresses kind of look alike. It happens. No big deal.

But here's my question. The piece of mail in question had the ZIP+4 on it, and our ZIP+4s were different. Isn't the idea behind the ZIP+4 to make mail delivery more efficient and accurate? If the USPS is just as likely to make a mistake with or without a ZIP+4, then what's the point? Why even bother with the ZIP+4?

The (Durham) Herald-Sun

Speaking of misdelivered mail...

We don't subscribe to any newspaper. I get the vast majority of my news from the internet, often from newspaper websites. But that didn't stop us from getting a copy of the (Durham) Herald-Sun on our driveway this morning! Was it meant for someone else? Unlike with misdelivered mail, there's no way for us to tell.

The name of the newspaper isn't the Durham Herald-Sun; it's just "The Herald-Sun". Just like the Raleigh's "The News & Observer". I think all newspapers should have a geographical name in their title. What is it with these people? What is so bad about calling it the "Durham Herald-Sun"? I would even settle for the "Carolina Herald-Sun", although that name still makes me cringe. (On a side note, I come from a city whose newspaper's title will acknowledge the state they're in, but not the city. Where is the hometown pride?)

Also, the (Raleigh) News & Observer website has all of their online content available to everyone, but the (Durham) Herald-Sun website has it restricted to "registered users". So, guess which website I go to? You're missing out on a lot of online advertising revenue, (Durham) Herald-Sun.

Given the dire straits that the newspaper business in general is in these days, I wouldn't be surprised if the (Durham) Herald-Sun bites the dust within the next few years. A metropolitan area the size of the Triangle does not need more than one newspaper.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Travelogue: Myrtle Beach


View Larger Map

As stated previously, the main idea behind Saturday's plans was to go somewhere away from the rain. A Myrtle Beach trip had been "on the radar" (no pun intended...or is it?) for a while now, so this seemed like a good time to go there. I've never been there before, but I pretty much knew what to expect: hotels, surf shops, a Ripley's Believe It or Not museum, and lots of miniature golf courses. (See separate post about the mini-golf courses.)

Based on license plates, we also saw a lot of Canadian visitors, many more than I expected. Why? Because Saturday was the first day of this year's Canadian-American Days in Myrtle Beach. Yeah! I wonder if anyone saw my Canadian flag car sticker and curling club bumper sticker and thought we were part of the celebration, too. But, nope - it was just a coincidence. And although Amber and I are big fans of our northern neighbors, we're not actual Canadian-Americans, so I don't feel I'm worthy enough to participate in the celebration anyway. On a side note, I have seen online evidence that there once existed, at least for a time, a curling club in Myrtle Beach. I have not found any proof, however, that the club still exists. It appears as if this club has suffered the same fate as the Florida Curling Club.

Is Myrtle Beach a vacation destination on the decline? It's hard to say, but I do know that the new Hard Rock Park was a complete failure. I don't know how the rest of Myrtle Beach is doing financially, so Myrtle Beach as a whole might be doing very well as far as I know. But I think, long term, the deck is stacked against Myrtle Beach. South Carolina is not a wealthy or populous state, so relying on in-state dollars alone isn't going to cut it. If North Carolinians want to go to the beach, they're more likely to go to the Outer Banks. Everyone from farther north is just as likely to keep on driving down to Florida. Myrtle Beach has a lot of golf courses, but so do a lot of other places. Myrtle Beach is an hour away from the nearest interstate (for now), and has the potential to be completely devastated by a major hurricane. So, really, I'm amazed Myrtle Beach has even gotten this far. They must be doing something right. What's their secret?

Oh, right: they have a Canadian-American festival. That must be it.

Pirates and Mini-Golf: Why?

If you go to a touristy location, chances are, you'll see a lot of opportunities to play miniature golf. Why is that? Do families drive hours upon hours just to do something they can do in their hometown? They must, because we counted 14 miniature golf courses in the Myrtle Beach area (including North Myrtle Beach). And we didn't even go everywhere, either! I'm guessing there are at least a dozen more on top of that.

At least half of the 14 mini-golf courses we saw had a "pirate", or at least an "adventure", theme. But why? Is this just a matter of trying to distinguish yourself amongst all of the other mini-golf courses in Myrtle Beach? If so, then why are you using the same theme as everyone else? What is the connection between pirates and mini-golf? Was mini-golf a popular pirate pastime? Would pirates create their own mini-golf courses on their ships? Is there a history there that I don't know about?

Now...we did not drive all the way to Myrtle Beach to play miniature golf, but while we were there, we did play at one that looked interesting called "Mount Atlanticus". We were impressed. Whoever designed these holes really knew what they were doing, because many holes looked very complicated and difficult, but many times, your ball would magically end up in the hole! Out of our first 18 holes, Amber got six holes-in-one! (I only got two, for the record. She pretty much owned me in that round.) A course like this is great for the kids.

But as it turns out, we didn't look hard enough for interesting mini-golf. Apparently, there is a NASCAR-themed mini-golf course in Myrtle Beach. That's it - we're going back!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Curling Recap: 3/13/09

BASEBALL FORMAT:
End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 00200003 | 05
Other team..... 12011110 | 07

CURLING CLUB FORMAT:
Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Our team... -3--8
Other team. 1-24567

I didn't think we played that badly, we just didn't get any breaks or "timely shots". Luck plays at least a partial role in many of our matches, which is why I think it's amazing that the same teams always do well in something like the Tim Hortons Brier. (Hooray segway!)

So, we watched the final of the Brier last night, and it wasn't particularly interesting. Alberta's Kevin Martin-led team, who went undefeated last year, finished off another undefeated Brier in dominating fashion. They got a big lead early, and at this level of curling, once a team gets a big lead early, they go into defense, so it's not particularly interesting to watch from that point on. To make a football analogy, it's like a team with a big lead calling running play after running play to run down the clock.

But on the other hand, it was fun to watch the best curling team in the world (sure, why not?) show everyone how it's done. If I were to guess what Canadian sports talk shows were talking about this morning, I'd say they were discussing whether Kevin Martin's team is a "dynasty", and whether they're the "best team ever", or at least how they would stack up against some of the great teams from decades ago. You know, kind of like how American sports talk radio does with every other sport. (By the way, apparently, the Brier final was carried live on the radio in Canada. I think it would be hard to follow curling without the visual.) If one of our Triangle Curling Club teams played against Kevin Martin, what would the final score be?

With winning the Brier goes the privilege of representing Canada at next month's curling world championships. That's certainly a different way to do it than is done in other sports. In other Olympic-like sports (e.g. basketball), individual players try out for teams, and coaches or managers pick and choose the best players from across the country. But in curling, at least in Canada, rather than put together an "all-star team" made up of different curlers from across the country, teams stick together all the way from the individual clubs to the world championships. Perhaps that means "team chemistry" is far more important in curling than in other team sports. Or, maybe Canadians think that their country's best club team can beat any other country's all-star team. And they're probably right.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Camping? Nope

Our original plan was to go camping somewhere this weekend. But we've canned those plans, because this weekend is supposed to be a complete washout all the way from South Carolina to Virginia. You could say we wussed out, but I'd rather say we're being "smart".

But I don't want to sit around the house all weekend, either, no matter how much basketball (or curling) is on television this weekend. Driving won't be as enjoyable in the rain as it would be in nice weather, but it may be preferable to sitting at home all weekend, again. Surely, it won't be raining everywhere within driving distance all at once (right?), so the plan is to look at the radar tomorrow, see where it isn't raining (or at least where it won't be raining by the time we get there), and go there. Where is that going to be?

UPDATE 3/14/09 9:46a: The weather looks good along the South Carolina coast (for now), so we're going to Myrtle Beach. Not to actually go to the beach, of course, but because I've never been to Myrtle Beach, at least officially. And yes, my DVR is taking care of the North Carolina v. Florida State game.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Opening a New Dentist Office

A new dentist is opening just down the street from home. But we're not going there; we're sticking with the Raleigh (Cary) dentist. (By the way, as I said I might, I switched to Amber's dentist, which literally right across the street from my old dentist.)

Anyway, here's something I was wondering. Most dentists seem to have their schedules booked solid with appointments. (At least, it seems that way, given how far in advance you have to get an appointment.) How does a new dentist get started? Surely, a new dentist can't instantly have wall-to-wall appointments booked the day they open for business. Do new dentist offices spend their first few months twiddling their thumbs waiting for new patients to call?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Canadian March Madness

March is a big month for college basketball...at least in this country. Chances are, most Canadians don't give a crap about American college basketball. So what do many Canadians obsess over this time of year? Why, curling, of course!

There are two curling events I have paid serious attention to over the last few years: the Olympics, and the Canadian men's national championship, otherwise known as the Tim Hortons Brier. Due to the depth of high-caliber curlers in Canada, the quality of play in a Brier may actually exceed the quality of play you see in an Olympic tournament. As far as I'm concerned, the Brier is the curling event of the year.

I've watched the final the last two years, and will do so again this year. But this year, I've also been watching a preliminary match or two online. (TSN isn't streaming all matches live online, but they are available on demand after the fact.)

But I'm certainly not going to watch all of it. I mean, that's a lot of curling. TSN is basically showing curling all day, all week this week. Sound crazy? Well, not really, when you compare it to college basketball in this country, which will also be on television almost nonstop this week and next. So, if you're wondering how Canadians can sit there and watch hours upon hours of curling, keep in mind that they probably wonder the same thing about us and college basketball.

Anyway, back to the Brier. My rooting interests are the Manitoba team and the Newfoundland and Labrador team. ("Newfoundland and Labrador" is the official name of the province, not just "Newfoundland".) But really, I'm just hoping we don't get another Kevin Martin (Alberta) v. Glenn Howard (Ontario) final. So far, it's not looking good. As of last night, both teams are still undefeated. Boooo!

Back In Blue

For over 20 years, North Carolina license plates had blue letters. Then, about 18 months ago, they changed to red letters. Now, we're changing back to blue again.

I much prefer the blue letter plates to the red letter plates, but part of me is a little disappointed by this, because I already have a blue letter plate. If the NC DMV had stuck with red, then my superior blue letter plate would be more of a novelty. My license plate would have been special. Instead, Amber's red letter plate will become the novelty oddity. Bah! Oh well. I still like my license plate better.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Florida State and/or Penn State Basketball: Are You In?

I've only written one blog post on Florida State basketball this season, and it wasn't the most positive. So it's time to change the tone a little bit. This has been the best season Florida State basketball has had in years, certainly since before my freshman year (2000-01). Here we are in March, and not only is Florida State a "lock" to make the NCAA Tournament, they have a bye in the first round of the ACC Tournament! WOW! It'll be a much different feeling on Selection Sunday knowing that I will hear Florida State's name mentioned. I've been waiting a long time for this.

Meanwhile, Penn State has been doing well too, but they don't have the privelege of being a "lock". However, at least two "bracketologists" have Penn State in the field...for now. But that's assuming they don't lose to Indiana, of course.

ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi (not my favorite "bracketologist"- I generally prefer these guys) currently has Florida State as a 5-seed, and Penn State as a 12-seed. Hmm...is there a chance my two teams could play each other in the first round of the NCAA Tournament? Uh oh! It's a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. Actually, I'd love to see it, because it's the only way to guarantee at least one of the two would advance to the second round. If not, then it's bound to happen in the ACC/Big Ten challenge one of these days.

If the two do end up playing each other, what do I think would happen? I might be more qualified to analyze an FSU/PSU matchup than anyone else in the world, given that I watch almost every game for both teams. With that in mind, I think if Penn State has a chance, they have to protect the basketball, shoot well from 3-point range, and get FSU's big men in foul trouble. Penn State can do the first two things well. But they don't draw a whole lot of fouls (245th in FTA/FGA), and have practically no inside presence on the defensive end (325th in block rate). Because of that, Florida State would likely dominate the game inside, and I like the Seminoles to win. Of course, this is only a hypothetical matchup at this point. But it could happen...

Random Thoughts on '24':3/9/09

(SPOILER ALERT)

I think Jonas Hodges (the Jon Voight character) might be one of the more entertaining bad guys this show is had. It seems like this guy will stick around until the season finale; I can only hope so.

On the super-high-tech map of potential targets, I noticed one called Oil City, which is a real city in Pennsylvania. However, the map had Oil City located in southwestern Pennsylvania, which is NOT where Oil City is located. Uniontown? Yes. Oil City? No! Why do they insist on screwing up U.S. geography?

Meanwhile...I think the President's daughter has a point. How could the administration allow the Massive Government Conspiracy to get as (allegedly) deep as it did? I would call that an Epic Failure.

Why didn't the "bad guys" just kill Jack? That might have been a better play than framing him for Burnett's death. An alive Jack Bauer will get revenge. And the "bad guys" never learn that until it's too late.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Starburst

And now, a few random thoughts on Starburst.

Other than the classic lemon/cherry/strawberry/orange, the special flavors always seem to be changing. It seems like every time I get "tropical fruits", the four flavors are different. After all these years, have they still not settled on the best four "tropical" flavors? If not, then they do they insist on never having more than four flavors in a single bag? And why does a bag of "tropical fruits" contain two extra ounces (16 oz) compared to the classic flavors (14 oz) at the same price? (At least, that's how it was at Kroger last week.)

Getting back to the classic flavors: I don't like lemon so much. When I get a "fun size" pack of Starburst (a pack of two), my greatest fear is that the two are both lemon. And there's no way to tell until you open it, either.

When I was a kid, I used to put a Starburst in my mouth, take a sip of milk, and then finish chewing the Starburst. I found that the milk enhanced the Starburst's flavor. Is there anything to that?

Even though every bag of Starburst ever created (as far as I know) has exactly four flavors, they do not give you equal amounts of each. Maybe it's just because I don't like lemon, but it always seems like I get more lemons than other flavors. The "yellow" phenomenon seems to apply to tropical fruits, also. With my most recent bag of tropical Starburst, I would always take them in groups of four, with equal numbers of each flavor, to see which color was most represented in the bag. And, of course, the yellow flavor ("pina colada") had the most, with seven more than any other flavor in the bag. Conspiracy!

Consumer Reports

My parents have already given me an early birthday present: a subscription to Consumer Reports. That may not sound exciting to you, but I'm very excited. Hooray for completely unbiased, thorough, not-for-profit reviews of products I may or may not buy! Sure, you can find reviews on just about anything in the internet age, but none of those half-assed "user reviews" will ever replace Consumer Reports. At least, I hope not.

Why doesn't anybody advertise that their products are recommended by Consumer Reports? Because Consumer Reports won't let them, thus helping preserve the unbiased, not-for-profit mystique. Consumers Digest, on the other hand...they can suck it.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bistro

(If the Twitter sensation has taught me one thing, it's that I need to get back to more of the "random thoughts" that this blog was based on two years ago. But I'm not going to limit myself to 140 characters.)

In general, if any restaurant has the name "bistro" in its name, I avoid. To me, "bistro" means "expensive" and "snobby". What does "bistro" even mean, anyway? I think restaurants just add "bistro" to their name in order to make the restaurant sound "sophisticated". When I want dinner, I generally don't want "sophisticated". I guess I'm not the demographic they're after.

Now...the restaurant where we had the wedding rehearsal dinner was the "Navy Bistro". It was good, but it was also expensive. For a rehearsal dinner, that's fine. But for a random Friday night, no thanks.

Extreme Weather...Sort Of

Unlike most people, I think I would like living in a place like Kansas City, where you get triple-digit heat in the summer and 20" of snow in the winter. Places like Kansas City can also have large shifts in weather on a week-to-week or even daily basis, not just a seasonal basis. Being a weather nerd, I like extremes, and I like changing weather.

Well, this week might be as close to "Kansas City"-like weather as we're going to get in Durham. Monday morning, we woke up to 3" of snow, and temperatures stayed below 40°F for over 72 hours. Now, this weekend, we get temperatures in the upper 70s. Hooray for change! Snow to 70°F in four days is pretty sweet.

But chances are, by the time next week rolls around, I'll be ready for another cold snap.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Twitter: Why?

So, Twitter is sweeping the virtual nation. Everybody's doing it! If you're not Twittering, you're not cool! Well, then I guess I'm not cool, because I just don't understand it. Not only that, I am opposed to its existence.

Twitter limits your "posts" or "updates" (I would rather not call them "tweets" - ugh) to 140 characters. I have a hard time keeping my thoughts within that constraint. That's why I generally write long form blogs. I don't find it sufficient to just say what I think. I like to say what I think, and why. Twitter, on the other hand, limits you greatly, to the point where you can't really say anything profound at all.

Why is Twitter so popular? It used to be that a "blog" was the shorter, more concise, more accessible alternative to the full-length article. Have we now gotten to the point that blog posts are also too long? Are people's collective attention spans growing so short that anything longer than 140 characters isn't worth the trouble? Don't people have enough time or desire to read or write anything insightful or thought-provoking anymore? Have people given up trying to think in general?

Apparently, this recession we're in also applies to our intelligence. Nobody is thinking anymore. All they do is "tweet".

(Disclaimer #1: I do not think any less of you if you use Twitter. My intent was not to say, "If you use Twitter, you're stupid." I am not targeting specific people. I am only talking about a general social trend.)

(Disclaimer #2: I had this opinion of Twitter long before The Daily Show with Jon Stewart discussed the topic.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Running Up the Odometer

I drove 664 miles in February, the lowest total since moving to North Carolina. That's not surprising, given that I now live 3 miles from work instead of 19 miles. Sure, that sounds great, and it is nice to not have to deal with rushhour traffic every day, but...

The thing is, my goal is to drive my car up to at least 200,000 miles. At my current pace, that will happen in December 2017, ten years and one month after buying the car. That's fine, but that pace - which includes 14 months of a 38-mile round-trip commute - will only slow down over time. Chances are, by the 12th year, I'll be getting the "new car itch". And I'd like to be close to or over 200,000 miles when that happens. After all, part of the reason I bought a Honda was because of its alleged ability to get that far.

This means if I want to reach my goal, I should start doing more pleasure driving than I have been. And I should probably start now given that gas is still (relatively) cheap. But I'm not going to just go on the Raleigh Beltline and make laps. I need places to go. And there are only so many places to go around here.

Or...I could cheat and change the display to kilometers. Then, I would only need to drive 124,224 miles to reach 200,000. Yeah!

Random Thoughts on '24': 3/2/09

(SPOILER ALERT)

Last night seemed like a good place in the season for two episodes; it was kind of like a "season premiere" all over again. And episodes like this are usually the best the series has to offer. I've found that whenever things don't go well - and just about everything went poorly for Jack and company in the last two hours - the show is more entertaining. But it can't always be like that, of course, because things have to work out eventually.

A couple of questions, though. First off, as far as the Massive Government Conspiracy goes, what was everyone's motivation or incentive? It can't just be money. It's always money, or some kind of "shipment". I'm not sure they'll ever touch on that. Also, why does anybody in the show's United States want to be president? The show has a very high presidential turnover rate, often because something bad happens to the sitting president. (That's not a complaint, by the way.) And once the vice-president makes his first appearance on the show, that's usually bad news for the fate of the sitting president. But we'll see.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Curling Recap: 2/27/09

BASEBALL FORMAT:
End........ 12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Our team... 1000110- | 03
Other team. 0212006- | 11

CURLING CLUB FORMAT:
Score...... 123456789012
------------------------
Our team... 156
Other team. _23_4_____7

Our usual league team was on bye, so Amber and I subbed on another team. Our opponent was the team that we beat 12-3 in the first game of the season. Were they seeking revenge on us? Nah. The other team has two first-time curlers, and they've gotten a lot better over the last few weeks. And, the game was more competitive than the final score indicates; it was 5-3 with one end to play. (Time constraints forced us to cut the match short once again.) In the 7th (and final) end, the other team placed multiple rocks near the button early in the end. To have any hope of scoring two or more points, we had to throw take-outs, because you're not going to score two if the other team has a rock close to the button. When you miss all of your take-outs, and the other team keeps putting more rocks in the house, you get a recipe for a "six-ender". But at least we went down swinging. Play to win!

The club has gained many new members since Amber and I joined the club almost two years ago. Several of them have gotten very good, very quickly, which means the club matches are going only going to get more and more competitive as we go forward. It might be tough for me to maintain my 10-games-over-.500 career record (28-18).