Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mercy Rule

In some college baseball games, the following "mercy rule" is in effect: when one team is leading by 10 runs after the 7th inning, the game is over. I'm not sure when this rule is in effect and when it isn't, but apparently it's not in effect during the NCAA tournament, because today's Florida State v. Ohio State tournament game went the distance. FSU led 32-2 after five innings, but Ohio State kicked a field goal in the bottom of the 9th to make the final score a respectable 37-6.

A 10-run mercy rule is one thing, but how about instituting a 30-run mercy rule?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Overkill

We're planning on going to the beach this weekend, to the same place we went last time. So, I won't need the help of our Garmin GPS (a.k.a. "Jill") to get us there. But that doesn't mean Jill won't come with us, along with exact coordinates for 11 public beach accesses loaded into the GPS, all of which I found via Google Earth and Google Street View. We had no problem finding public beach access last time, but to me, this makes it more fun. Neeeeeerd!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reusable Grocery Bags

Count us among those joining the "reusable grocery bag" revolution. Many grocery stores, including Kroger, are encouraging customers to buy reusable bags (they're cheap - $0.49 each) and then bring them to the store every week. The idea is to help eliminate those pesky plastic grocery bags, which many claim are an environmental hazard.

But my primary motivation isn't the environmental concern; it's that cloth bags are just better than plastic bags. They're easier to carry into the house, can hold more stuff, and don't result in us having even more plastic bags lying around the house. Plastic grocery bags come in handy around the house from time to time, but we've accumulated enough plastic bags to be set for at least a couple of years.

The trick, however, is remembering to bring the reusable bags to the store every week. We're still hit-or-miss on that front.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taste of Durham

We went to this thing called Taste of Durham for a couple hours last weekend. I have one question, and three observations.

The question. Who decided to have it in the middle of a blacktop parking lot in late May? Maybe they wanted to sell more ice cream. (Hey, it worked.)

Observation #1: They had plenty of "international" restaurants (meaning Durham restaurants serving international-style food) on hand, but which one had the longest line? The one serving barbecue and fried chicken, of course. Should that come as any surprise? I'm sure that everyone in that line - including me - only went because it was something to do, and had no interest whatsoever in sampling Cuban, Indian, or Mediterranean cuisine.

Observation #2: At least two of the foreign-style restaurants on hand had "Bistro" in their name.

Observation #3: I miss Wing Fest.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wussing Out

So...we were going to go to the ACC baseball championship game yesterday, played in Durham, between Florida State and some other team. Then, 10 minutes before we were to leave, I called it off due to weather. And of course, they ended up playing a full nine innings with no delays (although it did rain in the 9th inning). It was a pretty wussy decision on my part. Then again, tickets were $15/person, which is generally more than I like to spend for a baseball game that may not be played in full, on time, or at all. I don't mind sitting in the rain if they keep playing the game, but I do mind sitting in the rain watching nothing. So, maybe, it's the people who decided long ago that you can't play baseball in the rain. They're the true wusses.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Random Thoughts on Sports: 5/22/09

When in doubt...write about sports! I certainly watch enough of it, so here are some random thoughts. In order of personal importance:

Carolina Hurricanes: Yes, I stayed up for the Game 7 overtime win against the Boston Bruins last week. Time will tell if that game will go down as one of the most memorable hockey games I've ever watched. And, I don't see why not. (Currently, my "most memorable hockey game" is Game 3 of the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals, when Detroit beat Carolina in triple overtime. And I wasn't even a Hurricanes fan back then, technically.) Meanwhile, the Hurricanes' reward is to get beaten to a pulp by the Pittsburgh Penguins, which is what I expected to happen against Boston. But hey, 26 teams didn't make it this far, so anything they do at this point is a bonus. I'm not going to sweat too much if they don't break that painstakingly long three-year Stanley Cup drought.

Auto racing: Warm up the DVR, it's time to watch racing ALL DAY SUNDAY! Wahoo! Although I am working on Monday (by choice), so I may not make it to the end of the NASCAR race. We'll see. I do know that if not for the DVR, I definitely would not sit in front of the television for all 600 miles.

Florida State baseball: FSU's football and basketball teams aren't always good, but as a Seminole fan, I can always count on the baseball team. The ACC Tournament is this weekend, in Durham. I probably won't go to any of the games, but I will watch many of FSU's games on DVR delay. This was never an issue before, but college baseball is almost never televised in high definition. The only college baseball games I've seen in HD are on the Big Ten Network. Which makes perfect sense, of course, because the Big Ten is a powerhouse baseball conference. But standard definition is better than no definition, and I'm curious to see if I'll be able to watch FSU's first few NCAA tournament games next weekend. If they're on Sun Sports or FS Florida, then thanks to DirecTV, I'll be all set. Wahoo!

Yes, Another Post About Twitter

I realize I haven't been doing as much blogging lately. And, not surprisingly, my readership stats have been in steady decline. But is that really my fault, or is everyone gravitating away from stand alone web sites such as this, and towards central meeting places where it's easy to collaborate and socialize (Facebook, Twitter)? Perhaps. And as I've stated a time or two, I don't like it. Both Facebook and Twitter have their own issues.

Facebook is not intended for online publishing. Anything you do on Facebook is only seen by your select circle of friends. And, I admit I still haven't quite got the hang of it. I guess those "What kind of ______ are you?" quizzes don't really appeal to me. Twitter is sort-of intended for publication, but only if you conform to their arbitrary length standard. I also don't know if "tweets" appear in Google searches. (I hope not.) But then again, who reads my blog? How do people find out about my blog, anyway? I'm not going to mention it in conversation, because I mean, that's kind of arrogant. It's fairly easy to find your friends in Facebook. Finding your friend's blog is not easy, and you're not exactly going to seek it out, either. Online networking as a whole is gravitating to a select few meeting places, while all those other independent web site links people used to click every day are becoming obsolete. You may not make the initiative to go to CNN.com every day, but following CNN on Twitter (whatever that means) is a win-win for most people: you get CNN "tweets" with virtually no effort from you (assuming you visit Twitter anyway), while CNN gets to appear on your computer screen as much as they please. While I have been decidedly anti-Twitter, I do see the value in receiving news updates via Twitter. It is probably the fastest and easiest way to stay informed in existence. Narrating your life on Twitter, on the other hand...that's not for me.

In other words, I'm coming to the realization that Facebook and Twitter might be the only way for me to maintain an online presence at all. Is my blog dying a slow death? Perhaps, but it's not dead yet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Random Thoughts on '24': 5/18/09

(SPOILER ALERT)

Normally, the 24 season finale is must-watch, same-day television for me. But the show hasn't really grabbed me late in the season, so I put the season finale on hold for a day to watch Game 1 of the Carolina Hurricanes v. Pittsburgh Penguins playoff series. Has my opinion of 24 fallen so far that I would rather listen to Joe Beninati for two hours than watch Jack Bauer?

So, what's the show's problem, anyway? First off, the way the previous episode ended did nothing to pique my interest. "Do as we say, Jack, or we'll kill your daughter." Ugh. Again? Actually, Elisha Cuthbert (the actress who plays Kim Bauer)'s acting this season has been so bad and so annoying, I was actually hoping for her to be killed. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Instead, a gunfight ensued in the airport, at which point she ran after the guy who was trying to kill her, which is absolutely ridiculous. On top of that, how did he get a gun into the airport terminal at one of the highest profile airports in the country? And given that there was a terrorist attack involving commercial aircraft the day before, and that the threat of additional attacks had not completely subsided, WHY IS THE FREAKING AIRPORT EVEN OPEN?!?!?! This absolutely drove me nuts.

More things that I didn't care for in the season finale were Renee Walker crying scene #3, and the season's last scene. "I'm not ready to lose you, daddy," or whatever she said. Lame. I guess that means one more season. And I'm not actually sure if I'm going to watch. The problem is, the format of the show - everything has to happen in 24 hours, and it has to be interesting thoroughout - places the writers in a box, to the point where in seven seasons, they've just about done everything they could do. I think this show has been played out. The writing has been lazy, thoughtless, and uninteresting.

I thought they were going to throw me a curveball at the very end, though, when Renee started going threatening Janis. Uh oh! Is Renee working for them? Is she going to let the ultra head conspirator Wilson go free? No, she's just being emotional. Boring. What a letdown. Speaking of which, if you want me to come back next season, the thing to do would be to let the ultra mass conspirator go free. Just as soon as we finally meet this Wilson guy, he gets arrested. Boring. I mean, do they want me to watch next season, or not? They had an opportunity to make Wilson a hard-to-get, mysterious, "Cigarette Smoking Man"-type character, and they totally blew it by only introducing us to him very late in the series, and then almost immediately putting him in custody.

Hopefully, next season will be the last. I'm not even sure if I'm going to watch anymore. (For the record, I also thought The Simpsons had been played out and would end its run...nine years ago.)

And just so you know that I don't hate everything, I thought the Lost season finale was excellent, and I am definitely coming back for the final season of Lost.

The Lawn Mower

One of the things I figured we'd have to buy after moving into our house was a lawn mower. But, nope - the previous owners left their lawn mower behind. How nice of them! Then again, there's probably a good reason they left it behind. Let's just say it's a bit old and rusty. But hey, it works!

Now...we don't have much of a lawn to speak of right now. It's mostly just weeds. And, it only takes me 15 to 20 minutes to mow the whole thing, as opposed to the 40 to 45 minutes it takes to mow my parents' lawn. We might work on that next spring. But for now, I'll be moving the weeds every couple of weeks or so to keep them from growing too high.

How many mows will I get out of the old, rusty, and - most importantly - free lawn mower? So far, we're up to two! Will it make it through the summer? I'm optimistic.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Here, Garmin...Have Some More Money

I was feeling motivated to play around a little with my Garmin GPS (a.k.a. "Jill") yesterday. But one thing led to another, and I ended up spending $135. Money well spent, though. I hope.

The original plan was to just get a USB connection for the GPS to connect to my computer, so that I can give Jill some custom points of interest (POIs). These POIs do two things. They let you save a long list of potential destinations, but I can also set Jill up to "ding" with an "alert" message every time I pass a particular POI. Most people probably use this feature to download comprehensive lists of school zones, speed cameras, and other speed traps, but I have a different idea. Next time I drive to Jacksonville, I'm going to load every county line on the drive as a POI. This way, Jill will "ding" at each county line, so that I will always know what county I'm in for statistical purposes. Yay! (Yes, there are signs at most county lines, but I don't always see the signs.) This will also come in handy and help us find our way when we do our cross-country US-50 drive later this summer, from the standpoint of saving a long list of "destinations" across the country.

More sophisticated Garmins let you assign a specific .mp3 file to each POI, so that you can do an automatic tour guide, but Jill isn't that souped-up. I have noticed in the 17 months since I've had Jill that GPSs have gotten cheaper and more sophisticated. My particular model isn't even sold anymore. Is mine outdated already? I don't think so - I don't see a need to purchase a full GPS upgrade for a few more years, as long as I can keep the maps updated.

Speaking of which, at $70 each, Garmin's map updates aren't cheap. And given how many new roads have been built in North Carolina during Jill's lifetime - I-540, I-795, the Clayton Bypass, the Greensboro Outer Loop, and so on - I could use a map upgrade. But is it worth $70? Maybe. But Garmin has another option now. Rather than pay $70 for each upgrade, you can pay a one-time fee of $120 and get every map upgrade as soon as it's released for the life of your GPS. That's what I did. As a road geek, updated maps are important. Now, assuming I don't break the thing in the near future, I'll be set.

The only catch that I can see with this "Lifetime" map upgrade option is that each map upgrade gets progressively larger (disk-space wise), and Jill might run out of disk space a few upgrades from now. For example, Jill had 171 MB free memory prior to the upgrade; now she's down to 41 MB. There are two ways to get around this, however: 1) buy a memory card, or 2) only upload a portion of the continent. We'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, I'm happy that Jill won't think we're driving off-road next time we drive around Greensboro.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hammock Season


I got a hammock for my birthday. It's pretty awesome, as long as it's in season.

Problem is, as I've now learned, hammock season is only about one month long. The beginning of April is about when the weather starts getting very nice in North Carolina. From then until sometime in May, there aren't many better things to do at home than lie in the hammock.

But by now, all of the bugs in our wooded backyard have emerged from hibernation, and make lying in the hammock not so nice. So, I'm not sure how much more use the hammock is going to get this summer. Maybe we can find an effective way to keep the bugs away.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Game 7? Sure!

Let's talk hockey! Because there are three "Game 7s" in the next two days, and that's about as good as it gets, especially since none of them are starting later than 8:00p on any given night.

I don't really care who wins two of the three - either way, one of two annoying superstars will be eliminated, along with one of the last two teams to win the Stanley Cup - but I obviously do care about the Carolina Hurricanes v. Boston Bruins series. You would think that a Game 7 loss would absolutely devastate me like it devastated New Jersey Devils fans, but really, my pessimistic self is already prepared for the worst. Going into this series, I was thinking, "Hmm...well, if the Hurricanes win one game, that'll be good enough, I guess." Boston won all four regular-season meetings and was the clearly superior team. But then Carolina had to ruin it by going out and winning three games, which is nice, but isn't enough. Even when the Hurricanes had a 3-1 series lead, I wasn't convinced they had it in the bag. No way. I knew Game 5 would be a whitewash in the Bruins' favor. (Well, I didn't know, of course, but I had that gut feeling.) I thought Game 6 was 50/50, which may have actually been a little generous in the Hurricanes' favor. As for Game 7, I'm giving Boston an 80/20 edge. I'm not "giving up on my team" here; I'm just being realistic. And if the game goes into overtime, I will stay awake until the end, no matter how long it takes. Guaranteed.

Who Needs E-ZPass, Anyway?

Last week, I was browsing the Indiana Toll Road web page to find out how much toll we'd have to pay on our trip last weekend, and read a little bit about Indiana's version of E-ZPass, which they call "i-Zoom". It's compatible with E-ZPass, and every other state calls it E-ZPass, so why don't they just call it E-ZPass, too?

Anyway, the web site lists all 12 Eastern and Midwestern states with which i-Zoom is compatible. I can't link to the list, but there is one notable exception: Ohio. This is silly, because the Indiana Toll Road and the Ohio Turnpike are the same freaking road. It would be too convenient if you could use the same automatic payment method on each, wouldn't it?

But this isn't Indiana's fault; it's Ohio's fault. They still do their tolls the old-fashioned way. No E-ZPass, no i-Zoom, no automatic transponders here whatsoever. Get with the times, Ohio!

As for me, I don't have E-ZPass. Despite our frequent trips up and down the West Virginia Turnpike, it's hard to justify it when there are no toll roads anywhere in North Carolina. But that's going to change in the next year or two, so maybe when it does, I'll be an E-ZPass user as well. I can only hope that it works in all these other states, too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Youth Soccer

During our brief stay in Toledo, we watched our 7-year-old nephew play in a youth soccer game.

Now...this wasn't an overly competitive game. In this particular "recreational" league, they don't keep score. But I keep score, so I know that our nephew's team lost by a score of 16-3. Maybe that's why they don't keep score? Actually, they didn't need to keep score, because it was very obvious to even the most casual observer which team scored more goals. But that's okay. It actually reminded me of my brief time playing youth basketball. I always ended up on the "leftovers" team, while other teams stuck together for many years and were actually quite good. My teams didn't win too many games.

I found a soccer match between young children, most of whom aren't all that skilled, to be far more entertaining than a match between, say, Manchester United and Chelsea. So, this gave me an idea for an awesome video game. In most sports video games, you play as highly-skilled, adult superstar players. But what if the video game featured not-so-skilled children instead? I think that would be a blast. What if EA Sports (or whoever) published a sports game featuring today's superstars as young children? I think it would be a lot of fun to play a game of pee wee football featuring Tom Brady as a 6-year-old against Brian Urlacher as a 7-year-old, or a game of Little League featuring various MLB stars as young children (you know, before they started taking steroids). And I'm not talking about miniature versions of superstars; I'm talking about superstars as children with diminished skills. Has this been done?

But back to youth soccer, here's something I've always wondered. Youth soccer is very popular. And yet, our national soccer team doesn't exactly stack up against most European teams. Why is that? Surely, out of the thousands of kids playing soccer, there must be some gems in there somewhere. But I think there are two issues here. For one, most of the kids who play soccer don't stick with it through high school. Also, I imagine most of the kids who play youth soccer aren't particularly good athletes. That's why they play soccer, right? It's the default sport for parents with non-athletic children. It's an easy game to learn, and all you have to do to be halfway decent is run fast and kick a ball. Meanwhile, all the athletic kids are playing the "glamour" sports, eyeing a career one of the "big four" North American sports, even though you can make an equally good living playing professional soccer (if you go to Europe). Ah, well, I guess that's just the culture of America. The most athletic kids are drawn to the most popular sports.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Yet Another Road Trip: Recap

Hmm...I'm coming up a little empty on blog material coming off last weekend's quickie trip to northeastern Indiana by way of Toledo. I could reel off a bunch of statistics, but those interested can go to "By the Numbers" for that. We did end up taking the long way to get to the wedding in order to visit more counties.

But I will say that the topic of Daylight Saving Time didn't come up at the wedding. Clearly, I'm the only one who would have thought of that. On a side note, I obviously don't know this for sure, but even though the wedding was in Indiana, it's possible that nobody at the wedding was actually from Indiana. Exotic-location weddings aside (e.g. Las Vegas, some obscure beach), how often does a wedding and its guests consist entirely of people from out of state? (Note that I do not consider Pokagon State Park to be an "exotic location".)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Yet Another Road Trip

Sure enough, we're going on another road trip this weekend, to a wedding in Indiana, and spending two nights in Toledo in the process. And, of course, we're driving.

And now, the statistical implications of this trip. We're spending two nights in Toledo, our first visit to Toledo in 2009, and my 11th and 12th nights away from home this year. I'll be on the lookout once again for one of the remaining 6 Ohio county stickers. My car odometer will pass 29,000 miles on the northbound drive, likely around Beckley, WV. The odometer will pass 30,000 miles on the return trip home, in either Virginia or West Virginia, depending on how much side tripping we do this weekend. Sunday evening, we'll get home 15 minutes earlier than we have in the past, because we only have to drive to Durham as opposed to Raleigh (Cary). The wedding is in a county I've never been to before (Steuben County, Indiana), so that'll be at least one new county; we'll need to side trip for me to get any more than that. That'll depend on how much spare time we have before the wedding, which starts at 4:30p Saturday afternoon.

Speaking of which...it seems like everybody's wedding starts at 4:00p or later these days. Why is that? My experience is that, at least for the groom, wedding morning is rather boring. And our wedding started at 2:00p. What on earth would I have done with another 2½ hours? The correct answer is, of course, "watch football", a luxury that is not available to grooms this time of year.

It just occurred to me that most of Indiana has historically not followed Daylight Saving Time. So is this 4:30p wedding actually at 4:30p EST (5:30p EDT)? Thankfully, no, because Indiana started following Daylight Saving Time in April 2006. As in, three years ago. Why did it take me three years to find this out? I should have been all over that. At least they're not having the wedding in northwestern Indiana near the ever-changing time zone boundary. That would have just confused people. Let this be a lesson to you. If you're going to have your wedding in Indiana, especially northwestern or southwestern Indiana, specify the time zone on the invitations. Otherwise, your guests might show up an hour early...or an hour late. But I guess in this case, it isn't an issue, because people who live in Indiana already know better, and everyone else from out of state is going to (correctly) assume that Indiana's "Eastern Time Zone" is the same as the Eastern Time in Michigan and Ohio. I hope. Hopefully, nobody will arrive an hour late because they over-thought the whole Daylight Saving Time thing like I almost did.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ingles IS Asheville

(This is the 1,000th post in the history of this blog.)

When I make a trip to Western North Carolina, or even Upstate South Carolina, that can only mean one thing. I'll be doing my grocery shopping at Ingles.

What do I think of when I think of Ingles? A few things...

- Asheville. I can't think of any other chain grocery store that is so specifically tied to one metropolitan area. Why? Asheville itself, and the surrounding areas, are completely dominated by Ingles. But drive two hours to Charlotte, and Ingles is nowhere to be found. Maybe Ingles has tried to expand, and failed, but I think sticking with the Asheville market from here on out is a good business strategy. Asheville belongs to Ingles.
- I've had an Ingles Advantage (TM) card (what they call their discount card) for five years now. But I forgot to bring it on the camping trip. Bah! So, now I have two Ingles Advantage (TM) cards.
- Laura Lynn, the name given to all of their store brand products. Named after the founder's daughter, I think it's one of the best store brand product names out there. All I know is it beats the crap out of "Great Value".
- "We're nacho average grocery store!" Last week, I was relieved to find that this slogan still adorned their grocery bags, complete with the anthropomorphic nacho.

As for the store itself, it's pretty average. I'd place it below Kroger, equal to Lowe's Foods, slightly above Weis, and well above Food Lion and Winn-Dixie. Consumer Reports has Ingles ranked well above Kroger, but I think that's because the Midwestern Krogers are probably a bit lower quality than the newer ones in the Triangle.

Apple Chips

I forget where or why this came up, but recently on some radio station, someone mentioned "apple chips". Ah, apple chips...that takes me back. Specifically, it takes me back to my freshman year at Florida State. My lone year on a meal plan featured lots of Chick-Fil-A, Powerade, and the occasional apple chips.

The idea makes sense to me. If you can make potato chips, why not apple chips? College campuses aren't a bad place to market such a strange food product, either. Whether it's substance abuse, sexual orientation, or food, college is the time for experimentation, right? For the record, I didn't do much experimentation with any of those three areas while in college, including food. But I did try the apple chips, if nothing else out of necessity. They were okay.

But after my freshman year was done, apple chips were never heard from again, that is until the other day on the radio. Why did "apple chips" come up in a random radio conversation? I obviously wasn't paying that much attention, but the phrase "apple chips" stuck out like a sore thumb. Funny how that happens sometimes.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Largest _____ East of the Mississippi

We didn't do a whole lot on day two of the three-day camping trip. ... Well, we did, but I don't have much to say about the disc golf course in Black Mountain, or the swimming area at the campsite. The swimming area was so full on Sunday that they actually had to turn people away, but on Monday, we had it to ourselves. Hooray paid vacation!

Moving on to day three...


View Larger Map

We made three stops of note:

1) Linville Caverns. I've probably touched on this before, but there are a lot of caves across the country, and the vast majority of them are privately owned rather than by the National Park Service. Why is that? Are places like Linville Caverns so plentiful or generic that they're "below" government funding? Perhaps. There wasn't much to Linville Caverns - a 30-minute tour, and that was it - but there were some neat formations.

2) Linville Gorge. I actually have a couple of pictures of this place, even though they don't really show how deep the cliffs were:



(I just noticed that the second picture looks a lot like this one from Wikipedia. This is one reason why we like to put the cow puppet in our pictures.)

These gorges/canyons seem to come out of nowhere, just like that one in Northern Ontario we went to.

I recall a billboard describing Linville Gorge as either "The Grand Canyon of North Carolina", the deepest canyon/gorge east of the Mississippi River, or both. That's what places in this part of the country have to do to make themselves sound important. Any geographical feature in the eastern half of the United States pales in comparison to anything out west. Geologically speaking, the East Coast doesn't have the best anything in the country, only the best east of the Mississippi River. But we can't drive to Utah in a weekend, so the Appalachians will have to do. And they do quite nicely, actually. (We could fly non-stop to Las Vegas, but those weekend airplane trips aren't cheap.)

3) Mount Mitchell, the highest point...east of the Mississippi River. A stop here wasn't originally in the plans, but the Blue Ridge Parkway was closed west of Mount Mitchell, so we figured we might as well stop, even though we had been there before. (I don't think I've actually mentioned this yet, but for the duration of the camping trip, "we" = Amber and I, plus Keith from Jacksonville, and Jeremiah originally from Jacksonville, currently from Charleston, SC. For Jeremiah and Keith, a camping trip in the North Carolina mountains is an almost-annual occurrence and is basically their primary vacation of the year.)

For those wishing to get from Mount Mitchell to Asheville, the Blue Ridge Parkway is, by far, the most direct route. But what to do when it's closed? You have to go the long way, heading back east, and then south on NC-80. If you like extremely curvy mountain roads that seem to go on forever, then NC-80 is for you! I haven't been on many well-maintained roads (well, east of the Mississippi, of course) that are as intense as NC-80. Maybe it just seemed like it because it was near the end of the day.

So, that's it for the camping trip. Fun was had by all. Many hot dogs and cheese balls were eaten.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Dupont State Forest

So, about this camping trip...

First off, we spent four nights at a campground near Asheville called Lake Powhatan Recreation Area. I would recommend it for those of you, like us, who like camping within walking distance of an indoor shower and within 10 minutes of a grocery store.

As for the rest of the time, we played 56 holes of disc golf (which I won't talk about too much), did a little bit of hiking, and took a few pictures of everyone's favorite cow puppet, "Mo":





View Larger Map

Point "D" is the campground, point "B" is a disc golf course on the campus of Brevard College, and point "C" is in Dupont State Forest, where we took some obligatory waterfall pictures...



This area was supposed to be "off the beaten path" and "not as popular", but that was very much not the case. Then again, it was a warm Sunday afternoon, and these waterfalls aren't hard to find. But I imagine almost all of the people who come to Dupont State Forest are locals who actually know this place exists. Your family-of-four from Baltimore probably won't be coming here.

After that...what trip to Western North Carolina would be complete without taking some of the Blue Ridge Parkway? It was a little out of the way, and we had to wait out a road-blocking wreck, but it was worth the side trip.

Amber and I are going to take the Blue Ridge Parkway end-to-end one of these days. Unfortunately, it won't be this year, because a portion of the Parkway is closed through November 2009. Dang. It just wouldn't mean as much if we had to take a detour in the middle of it.

Trader Joe's

An issue of Consumer Reports from a month or two ago ranked grocery stores from across the country. And I can't say I argue with the ratings, as my two favorite non-pig grocery stores were ranked in the top three: Wegmans #1, Publix #3. But sandwiched in between Wegmans and Publix at #2 was a store I had never been to before: Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's has a location in Raleigh (Cary), and yet, I never went there, even to investigate. In fact, I had no idea that Trader Joe's was a grocery store. I didn't know what I thought it was, actually.

In Consumer Reports we trust, so it's worth a shot, right? Off to Trader Joe's we go! (But to the Chapel Hill location, not the Raleigh (Cary) location.) My first impression upon driving up to the store was, "Hmm, this place isn't very big." But that's okay, right? The Publix near my parents' house wasn't very big, either, so it can still work. (That Publix was eventually relocated to a much larger building.) Then once we walked in, my next thought was, "Oh...this is one of those grocery stores." I've never been to a Whole Foods, but I imagine that's what Trader Joe's is like. If you like "organic" and/or foreign foods, then Trader Joe's is for you!

Apparently, Trader Joe's prices are good for this type of stuff, if you're into that sort of thing. The key is that almost everything in the store is "store brand", including the beer. We were originally hoping to do all of our shopping for the week here, but once we realized that was impossible, we just bought milk, orange juice, and a bag of "Reduced Guilt Multi-grain Chips" (a.k.a. store-brand Sun Chips). The chips aren't very good, though. Sun Chips are far superior, even with the increased "guilt".

So...in short, while Trader Joe's fits in very well in a place like Chapel Hill, it isn't really our thing. Actually, that's kind of a relief. I was afraid I was turning into a hippie. If I don't like Trader Joe's, then clearly, I am not a hippie. Not even close.

Friday, May 01, 2009

New Television: Part Two

Pictures from the camping trip aren't ready yet, so I'm going to hold off on that for now, and instead talk more about our new television. I didn't wait long before I called DirecTV to schedule our upgrade to HD service. I called before the trip, and scheduled it for this afternoon. As for being able to get a discount by waffling back and forth on the phone with my decision making...well, let's just say I didn't sell it very well. I really don't want to go back to cable.

Now...DirecTV was a little late last time they came to our house. Will they show up on time today? We shall see. I hope so, because I'd really like to watch tonight's Carolina Hurricanes v. Boston Bruins game(s) in high definition. Especially since those of us lucky enough to live in Fox Sports Carolinas territory will not see Games 3, 4, 6, or 7 in HD.

UPDATE 5/2/09 10:00a: HD is up and running, and was just in time for last night's hockey games. And we never saw Chris again.

New Phone: Part Two

I think I actually sold my new phone a little short. It was a good phone. Emphasis on "was". Now, after accidentally slamming a car door on the phone as it fell out of my pocket a perfectly inopportune time, it's a useless piece of circuitry.

So, now what? I just got the phone less than a month ago, so surely, I don't qualify for another free phone + two year commitment deal. How much would it cost to get the same phone at retail? Try over $200. Needless to say, I did not buy the same phone again.

Unlike before, now it's really time to go cheap. And I'm certainly not going to tell you what phone I got this time around. Here's a hint: same manufacturer, but about $170 cheaper. After seeing how easy it is to break these things, now I'm really glad I didn't spend a lot of money on a phone.