Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Restaurant Serving Times: 6/30/09 Update

I've been keeping my spreadsheet of restaurant serving times for over five years now. Since the fastest time (1:35) and slowest time (51:10) are pretty well set, highly unlikely to be broken in any given trip to a restaurant, I think the most interesting aspect of this isn't the actual serving times anymore. I think just the fact that it's a log of every restaurant I've been to in the last five years is the most interesting thing. Looking down the list is a trip down memory lane for me. Every major road trip I've taken in the last five years is represented, along with many "major life events" and other fun things and good times I've had during that time. Ah, memories...

Well, enough sappy stuff. Let's get nerdy! How many interesting (and un-interesting) statistics can I get out of this thing? (I've compiled some of these statistics already, but that was almost three years ago.

First, average serving times broken down various ways:
- The overall average serving time is 16 minutes, 12 seconds. The median is 14 minutes, 35 seconds.
- Of the restaurants I have been to at least five times, Courtney's has the best average serving time (9:46), followed by Waffle Shop (10:33), Bob Evans (12:42), Applebee's (15:21), Cracker Barrel (15:44), Carolina Ale House (16:15), and Chili's (18:42). Both Courtney's (based in Raleigh) and Waffle Shop (based in State College, PA) specialize in breakfast.
- The average serving time is 10:23 for breakfast, 18:39 for lunch, and 17:38 for dinner.
- When nobody gets an appetizer, the average is 15:17. With an appetizer, the average is 26:31.
- When nobody gets a salad, the average is 14:32. With a salad, the average is 22:11.
- As a function of party size, the average serving time is 12:00 for two people, 16:42 for three people, 18:20 for four people, 21:26 for five to eight people, and 30:24 for nine or more people. How about that?
- The average serving time was 17:13 in 2004, 21:05 in 2005, 15:27 in 2006, 14:19 in 2007, 15:33 in 2008, and 16:40 thus far in 2009.

Now, some distribution and frequency statistics:
- 90 of the 185 restaurant visits have been within 45 minutes of home. ("Home" means where I lived at the time, not necessarily where I live now.)
- More than half of the serving times (107/185, or 58%) have been between 10 and 20 minutes. 20% (37/185) were under 10 minutes, 7% (13/185) were over 30 minutes, and only 3% (5/185) have been over 40 minutes.
- We visited 23 restaurants in 2004 (last seven months only), 24 in 2005, 41 in 2006, 51 in 2007, 37 in 2008, and 11 so far in 2009.
- Distribution by state/province: North Carolina 63, Pennsylvania 54, Florida 18, Ohio 15, Utah 8, Virginia 3, West Virginia 3, then several states and provinces with two (Maryland, Nevada, S.C., Manitoba, Ontario) or one (Colo., Maine, Mich., Minn., Neb., N.Y., Wisc., N.B., P.E.I.).
- The busiest month was the first month of record, June 2004, with 11 restaurant visits. Ten of those 11 were during a family vacation in Las Vegas and Utah. There have been six months with no restaurant visits in the spreadsheet's five years.
- The longest gap between restaurant visits was 61 days, from 4/29/2009 through yesterday's trip to Italian-style restaurant Johnny Carino's (which is decent, by the way). That doesn't count our trip to Waffle House on 5/9/2009 (Waffle House isn't eligible for this spreadsheet as a diner-style restaurant).
- Almost half of the restaurant visits (89/185, or 48%) were "party of two" trips. Amber was the second for most of those (76/89, or 85%).

Some people take pictures or make scrapbooks to help "capture the moment" and reminisce; I take stats. To each his own.

SuperTarget

One of the things I like about the location of our house is that the nearest Target is closer to home than the nearest Wal-Mart. Now we have NO REASON WHATSOEVER to ever go to Wal-Mart. Hooray!

On top of that, this Target is actually a SuperTarget. I've never lived within reasonable distance of a SuperTarget, so I've never considered the option of doing our grocery shopping there. Since we needed to go to Target anyway to get some stuff you can't get at Kroger, we figured we'd give it a shot.

Thus far, my only real experience with SuperTarget is going to the one in Grand Forks, North Dakota. My overall impression was not good, mostly because the bread was crummy and crumby. But we learned our lesson: don't get the Target-brand bread. So, let's try again!

I remember going to a SuperTarget a long time ago - I think it was the one in Orange Park, Florida - and thinking, "They don't have any store-brand stuff! If you're going to have a full grocery section, you should have lots of store-brand stuff." That problem has been fixed; their store brand is called "Market Pantry". We did buy a few Market Pantry-branded items, including their version of Cocoa Puffs (called "Cocoa Comets"). The verdict: not as good as Kroger's "Cocoa Crunchies". Strike one.

Strike two was that they didn't have (or, at least, we couldn't find) Amber's Ritz sour cream and onion flavored Toasted Chips, or whatever they call them. But on the bright side, they did have the all-red pack of Starburst in mass quantity. Yeah! Way to go, SuperTarget!

In general, the grocery selection wasn't better or worse than Kroger, but just different. Prices are also about the same, so really, it's a wash. Kroger is closer to home, so until they build a Publix, Wegmans, or Meijer within driving distance of our house, Kroger is still our grocery store of choice.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Soccer? Exciting? Wow!

After the 2006 World Cup, I said that I wasn't going to pay any attention to soccer until the 2010 World Cup, 47 months later. Well, I was wrong. I've been following the United States team's progession through World Cup qualifying. And, I watched a match or two of this FIFA Confederations Cup tournament that I didn't even know existed until a couple of weeks ago, and culminated with yesterday's final between Brazil and the United States. Wait, what? The United States? Really?

After they lost the first two games against Italy and Brazil, I basically gave up on the USA's chances. I didn't watch or DVR the Egypt game. I didn't bother recording the Spain game - they have zero chance of beating the #1 team in the world and stopping their 35-game unbeaten streak, right? - but only turned it on in the 70th minute to "see how bad they were losing". (They were winning 2-0 and went on to win, of course.) So, I figured I'd give them a chance yesterday, and watched the game start-to-finish.

Side comment: I might have watched the soccer game live, but I was also interested in the NASCAR race. My solution was to DVR both and switch back and forth between them whenever I felt like it. But the thing was, I had to make sure I was farther ahead in the NASCAR race than the soccer game at all times, the reason being because ESPN would periodically display the NASCAR standings along their "BottomLine" news ticker. As someone who likes to DVR sporting events, I really hate the ESPN news ticker. I also hate the ESPN news ticker because about half of its content is either promotional ("The NBA Finals start Thursday on ABC"), self-promotional ("as reported by ESPN's Chris Mortensen", or rumor and gossip ("some NBA GM says he 'may or may not' re-sign one of his players in the offseason, according to sources close to the situation, including ESPN.com's Marc Stein, plus a few other people who work for ESPN; did we mention that the NBA Finals are on ABC this Thursday?").

Well, anyway, I thought the game was very exciting. It might have been the most exciting soccer game I've ever watched. One might consider losing a soccer game in which one had a 2-0 lead a major, epic collapse, but I don't see it that way. The USA probably had no business even being in this game, let alone keeping it interesting until the end. Even when the game was 2-0, I knew it wasn't over. (On the other hand, if Brazil had gone up 2-0, I would have given up on it.) Soccer isn't known for being very interesting or gratifying. The 2006 World Cup left a bad taste in my mouth. Why was yesterday's game exciting but the Italy v. France game a complete letdown? As someone who only casually watches soccer, this might be a completely off-base assessment, but I'm going to make this generalization: Europeans make soccer boring. Teams like Italy and Spain get a 1-0 lead in the first half and then play defense and possession. Boring. Both the USA and Brazil sides played a very fast-paced, non-defensive form of soccer. It made for a much more entertaining match than would have a 1-0 game between Germany and Portugal. Maybe that has more to do with the game's significance than the respective teams' style of play, I don't know.

Speaking of the game's significance, perhaps the reason I wasn't all that disappointed in the come-from-ahead loss was because I wasn't sure how significant this Confederations Cup was. Like I said, I had never even heard of this tournament before it started. Even if the USA won, my take might have been something like, "That's great, but this isn't the World Cup, so who cares?" In the grand scheme of things, does the Confederations Cup mean anything? As a casual follower of soccer, I have no idea.

Tribute to Billy Mays

I generally don't flinch when a celebrity dies. Lots of people die every day, sometimes in very tragic fashion. So I don't think it's fair to give celebrities and their families the majority of the attention when there are thousands of grieving families in the world every day that are just as deserving of prayer and sympathy - perhaps even more so - as those who happened to write a hit song or appear on television. But that's not going to stop me from giving Billy Mays his own blog post. He had a unique talent: he made me want to watch commercials!

Chances are, there is a law firm or car dealership - most likely a Toyota dealership - in your hometown that has really annoying commercials. When you're trying to sell something, it is very hard to not come across as annoying. Somehow, Billy Mays was able to be fun, not annoying. How did he do that? I don't know, but I guess there's a fine like between "enthusiastic and fun" and "really, really annoying". It takes talent to be on the "fun" side of that line. Most pitchmen can't do it. The "ShamWow" guy? Annoying. I knew Mays had made it big when I actually learned his name. No longer was he just the "OxiClean" guy. I don't know the name of the "ShamWow" guy, and I don't care, either.

See, I can make fun of the ShamWow guy because he's not dead. For some reason, it's okay for me to ridicule people when they're alive. But after they die? Oh, no...no, no, no! Saying anything negative about the recently deceased is BAD BAD BAD, you insensitive person, you! Doesn't this seem backwards? Shouldn't we be nice to people when they're alive instead of right after they die?

I'm assuming lots of radio stations across the country have been playing endless Michael Jackson music over the last few days. Is any cable channel out there doing a Billy Mays commercial marathon? I'd watch that.

Friday, June 26, 2009

50,000 Kilometers

So, we're driving on down to Jacksonville last weekend, and I realize that my car odometer is less than an hour away from reaching 50,000 kilometers. So, I switched the display from miles to kilometers, watched it happen, and snapped two pictures of it with Amber's cell phone, which was the only camera available at the time. The intent was to then upload at least one of those pictures online for all to enjoy, like a few other people do.

Problem is, being as technologically deficient as we are when it comes to cell phones, we don't currently have a way to transfer the pictures from Amber's cell phone to the computer. There are ways to do it, but given the tools we currently have, none of them are free. Bah! So, you'll just have to take my word for it. Next time, we'll just be sure to keep Amber's digital camera handy. After all, my car odometer is going to reach 50,000 again (in miles instead of kilometers) in another year or so.

On another car odometer statistical note, my car odometer hit 32,000 miles on the exit ramp from I-95 North to I-40 West. So, it wasn't technically on I-95 or I-40. But for the purposes of the car mileage log, I have to count it as one or the other. The unofficial rule I've been following for expressway on- and off-ramps is that when I hit a milestone on such a ramp (which has happened once before), the road of record is whichever road is closer at that moment, either in terms of perpendicular distance or by dividing the length of the ramp in half, whichever I decide is more appropriate given the orientation of the ramp. The odometer hit 32,000 miles right about here:


View Larger Map

Well, that looks pretty easy to me. Not only was it physically closer to I-95 than I-40, it was also during the first half of the ramp. So, I-95 it is. Barely.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

DVDs: Obsolete Already?

We have a high definition television. It's nice. Standard definition is inferior now, which is a problem if you have a lot of standard-definition DVDs.

Now...we don't have a lot of DVDs, and we rarely watch the ones we do have. But it doesn't now matter anyway, because they're now all part of obsolete, dated technology, at least when compared to our television. Bah! So, it's a good thing we didn't buy more DVDs than we have now.

The long term solution is, of course, to buy a Blu-Ray player and start another modest collection. But given how infrequently we rent or buy movies - Netflix customers, we are not - I can't justify plunking over another few hundred dollars right now.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Ohio County Sticker Update: Three To Go

To recap: All Ohio license plates have a numbered sticker in the lower left corner. The number, from 01 to 88, corresponds to one of Ohio's 88 counties, in alphabetical order from #01 (Adams County) to #88 (Wyandot County). (See examples here, near the bottom of the page). I've been doing this for a while now, and I've talked about this so much in my blog that when you Google "ohio county stickers", my blog comes up third among websites and first among images. That's impressive, considering that I haven't blogged on this topic in almost a full year.

Well, anyway, it's been a long time coming. I had narrowed it down to 12 counties by last July, but it has taken me almost a full year to get from 12 to 3. The only county stickers I have yet to spot are #36 Highland, #38 Holmes, and #58 Morgan.

I always thought that Ohio's least populous county - #82 Vinton County - was the favorite to be the last one. But it wasn't meant to be, because we spotted a #82 sticker last weekend in, of all places, South Carolina. It was surprising, but not as surpring as spotting a rare #63 Paulding County sticker in a hotel parking lot in Winnipeg. I don't think anything is going to top that.

Now that we got Vinton County out of the way, which county is the favorite to be last? Well, we're driving through Highland County when we go on our US-50 trip, so we're almost certain to see at least one #36 sticker. Beyond that, I have no clue which sticker, between #38 and #58, I'm more likely to see first.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Nocatee: Not a Real Town

Every time we make a trip to Jacksonville, there's something new for road geeks like me to check out. But new overpasses and highway intersections are one thing; brand new cities are something else completely. This has been in the works for a while now, but they're building a brand new town called "Nocatee" southeast of Jacksonville. We checked it out during our weekend visit, and I have some opinions on all this.

First off, is "Nocatee" an actual, real, town? Or are they just calling it "Town of Nocatee" for branding and promotional purposes, even though it's not technically a town? I'd have to go with the latter. I'm going to use the USPS website as the official word. The zip code for the "new" Nocatee is 32081. If you go here and type in 32081, it will show you all officially recognized city names within that zip code, including that the actual city name is "Ponte Vedra", NOT Nocatee, although "Town of Nocatee" is "acceptable". That couldn't have been the original plan, right? Wasn't the idea for this to be a real, actual, brand new town that you could send letters to? Perhaps the problem is that there is already a town in Florida named "Nocatee". If you search Google Maps for "Nocatee, FL", it takes you somewhere else entirely. Why did they have to use a duplicate town name? If you're going to market it as a "town" instead of a neighborhood of an existing town, you should come up with your own damn name! Instead, they have to qualify this place as "Ponte Vedra" on the town website. Note that "Ponte Vedra" and "Ponte Vedra Beach" are two separate entities. Besides, when I think "town", I think Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, local police, fire department, all that stuff. Nocatee doesn't seem to have any of this. "Town of Cary"? That is a town. Nocatee is not a town.

So, naming conventions aside, what do they have in this "town"? Right now, not a whole lot. There are plenty of roads that lead to nowhere, which made for some interesting driving. There are also some already-built gated communities that we couldn't go to because they're, of course, gated. We saw one unmarked office building; no clue what might have been in there or what it is used for. (Hey, here's an idea: make it "city hall"! Were they planning on having a city hall for this "new town"?) And, construction is ongoing for their own shopping center, which I can only assume will include at least one Publix. But my favorite thing about this "town" is that they're also planning on building their own water park.

So, about those gated communities. House prices aren't as bad as you may think, at least according to the town website. But unless you want to live in an overpriced condominium, Nocatee isn't for most people. Just about everything that's "new" these days is for rich folks, right? Is there a way to build new stuff and new cities so that middle-class Americans can afford to live there instead of just rich people? Apparently not. I guess it's more cost-effective to build a bunch of condos than a few reasonably-priced, detached single-family houses. If it was, maybe we wouldn't be in this housing slump. Speaking of which, the housing slump can't be good for brand new communities like the "Town" of Nocatee. Maybe that's why Nocatee isn't more developed than it is.

Curling Recap: 6/22/09

End............ 123456 |TTL
--------------------------
Our team....... 131300 | 08
Other team..... 000011 | 02

I have noticed that these summer "pick-up" curling matches aren't as competitive as a typical league sesson. Miss a shot? Who cares? Knock one of the other team's rocks into the house? Oh well! Then again, it's easy for me to say when I'm on the winning side.

A local television stations was at the rink filming the curling, so we might end up on the local news sometime soon. Our curling club has been featured on local news broadcasts before, so...eh. I don't know when, or in what capacity, this will end up on the local news. How many people still watch the local news? Or are most people like me and get their local news from the internet?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bye Bye, Abrams and Bettes

As a quasi-meteorologist, I watch a lot of the Weather Channel. But I don't watch for forecasts; I can get current conditions and forecasts - better forecasts - via the internet much more quickly than I can on TWC. Instead, I watch the Weather Channel for real-time weather excitement. Is there flooding in Illinois? What about that severe thunderstorm warning in New Mexico? Add Stephanie Abrams, Mike Bettes, and Dr. Greg Forbes to the mix, and you have some great television. The VORTEX2 coverage was especially good.

But now, Abrams and Bettes must have hit the big time or something. Because instead of being on TWC in the evenings, now they're doing mornings, when a) I never watch the Weather Channel, and b) there usually isn't any interesting weather going on. Early evening is "prime time" for interesting weather. Mornings are boring. But I'm in the minority, because the rest of the world actually does watch television in the morning, and I guess there is a market for "school day" and "travel" forecasts on morning television.

Here's my question. Do more people watch the Weather Channel in the morning or in primetime? Are Abrams and Bettes increasing or decreasing their exposure by moving to mornings? Is this an upgrade or a downgrade? This has to be an upgrade, right? If you were a Weather Channel on-camera meteorologist, wouldn't you rather work mornings than evenings? I would.

So, it's been fun, Abrams and Bettes...but we probably won't be seeing much of each other anymore. Instead, we get Jim Cantore (eh) and Alexandra Steele (ugh) in the evenings from now on. Oh well. At least we won't see Dr. Greg Forbes working mornings.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jacksonville Trip #10

We're off to Jacksonville this weekend, conveniently when the weather in Florida is least hospitable. But hey, it's not like it will be any cooler in Durham. And, I suppose if a hurricane were coming, that would be less hospitable than 97°F with humidity. And, last summer, we had to postpone our Jacksonville trip due to an unplanned hospital visit. So really, things are looking up!

How many blog posts have I written about the drive from North Carolina to Jacksonville? Not enough, apparently, because here's another one! Have some random statistics:

- This is my 10th round-trip to Jacksonville since moving to North Carolina. Amber has come with me on all but the first three.
- All but one of the 10 visits have taken place during the three summer months (June/July/August) or the three holiday months (November/December/January).
- The drive from NC to Jacksonville always takes less than 7 hours, unless we take an alternate route, or we encounter holiday traffic.
- The fastest we've ever done the drive is 6 hours, 22 minutes, but that was driving straight to Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (or whatever they're calling it now) instead of my parents' house, which made the drive about 5 minutes shorter.
- The longest drive took 10 hours, 13 minutes, but that was taking the scenic route.
- Living in Durham instead of Raleigh (Cary) makes the drive 15 minutes longer.
- This is entirely unrelated to Jacksonville, but Friday marks my three-year anniversary of being a North Carolina resident. Let's celebrate by spending it somewhere else!

Road Construction: Still Going

Road construction is always going on somewhere, right? Well, you wouldn't know it driving around Durham, where I've only seen road construction project I've seen happening at all (US-15/501), and that's been going on basically since I moved to North Carolina, or so it seems. Meanwhile, all of the new roads they were building when I moved here (e.g. I-540, the Clayton Bypass, the southern Greensboro Outer Loop) are done, and they haven't started new roads yet. Does the state of the economy and the associated "budget crunch" mean "no new road construction for a while"?

One drive to Raleigh (Cary) quickly answered that question: No. Rest assured, they are still doing all kinds of construction in Cary, from road work to new housing developments to you-name-it. It looks different every time I go back over there. Well, you can have your lane closures and your orange barrels, Cary. Durham's roads are doing just fine. That is, as long as you're good at avoiding potholes.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The "Mean Fee"

The following sign was posted in the waiting room at my doctor's office:

If you are grouchy, irritable, or just plain mean, there will be a $10.00 charge for putting up with you.

I think this has late-night talk show skit written all over it. Where do they draw the line? What it does it take to get that $10.00 fee? Exactly how mean or grouchy do you have to be?

I'm going to guess that ever since they posted that notice, they haven't tacked the $10 'mean fee' onto anyone's co-pay yet. Except, perhaps, for people over 60.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Goode Family

In an effort to watch something other than sports this summer, we started watching a new show on ABC called The Goode Family. It's an animated show about an ultra-liberal, environmentally conscious family from Mike Judge of King of the Hill / Beavis and Butthead / Office Space fame. Sounds promising, right? Well...

The show isn't that bad. But the problem is, nobody's watching. To put it in perspective, five times as many "peak demographic" people - including me - were watching Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on NBC than were watching The Goode Family (source). Given how putrid NBC's hockey ratings have been the last few years, to lose by that much to a hockey game means your show has NO chance.

I think I can draw a few conclusions from this...

- Animated sitcoms don't work on any network except FOX.
- Animated sitcoms aren't funny unless the patriarch is stupid.
- Nobody cares about a family of responsible, educated, environmentally-friendly people.
- Every time I watch a show from the beginning, it flops. Most of the time, it flops in epic fashion. Greg the Bunny comes to mind.

So, once again, network television has let me down. Looks like I'll be watching more of the Weather Channel, Discovery, and National Geographic this summer.

Printer Ink

Back in "the day" - you know, five or six years ago - cartridges of printer ink cost over $30 each, even for the black/white ones. Now, they're only $15 or $20 each, or at least the ones I get are. Both then and now, I owned an HP printer.

So, why are the cartridges cheaper now? Has technological inflation made my printer obsolete, to the point where my ink is now cheaper? Or, do they now put half as much ink in each cartridge to fool you into thinking that printer ink is now cheaper, when really, it isn't? It does seem like I've been going through black cartridges more frequently than I used to. Conspiracy?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Facebook Usernames

Facebook recently allowed you to create your own username, so that someone can visit you at "facebook.com/[username]". Whoopee.

As someone who only kind of, sort of uses Facebook, this doesn't do a whole lot for me. That said, it still would have been nice to get "facebook.com/chrisallen" or "facebook.com/caiman". It didn't actually occur to me that I could have logged on the minute Facebook put this into motion and been among the first to get a username. Instead, I just thought of it later that morning, after all of the "premium" names had already been taken. So, I grabbed "actionallen" for consistency. But my Facebook page isn't any better than what I have here or anywhere else on the internet, and there's nothing there for me to be particularly "proud" of, so I'm not linking to it.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

America's Top Public High Schools

Newsweek has a list of "America's Top Public High Schools". My high school (Fletcher HS) is ranked 133rd nationally. Yeah! Take that, Sandalwood! Up yours, Wolfson! #133 out of over 27,000 is pretty good, right? Well...

I also happened to notice that Stanton and Paxon, Jacksonville's two academic magnets, are ranked #4 and #6 in the country. Now, wait a second. You're telling me that two of the United States' six best public high schools are in Jacksonville, Florida? No freaking way. Where do these rankings come from, anyway?

Well, if you read the FAQ, you'll find that the rankings are derived from a simple formula: A.P. tests taken plus I.B. tests taken, divided by total number of students. So in other words, the more students taking AP and IB tests at the school, and the more tests each student takes, the higher the school is ranked. And that is the ONLY criterion reflected in these rankings. It doesn't matter how well the students do on the tests, either.

Well, no wonder Stanton and Paxon are ranked so high! Not only do their schools consist almost entirely of the type of students that would be taking A.P. classes, but such classes make up the vast majority of these schools' junior/senior curriculum, and I think students that take such classes are actually required to take the A.P. test. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) Another thing that would explain why there are so many Duval County schools on this list is that the students don't have to pay the A.P. test fees themselves, which will obviously encourage more students to take the tests. (That is still the case, right?) That's not true everywhere.

Yeah, so, I guess my original intention wasn't to poo-poo all over the Duval County school system. The fact is, I wish Durham County public schools were half as good as Duval County's schools. But there's more to it than just how many A.P. tests get taken. I think the criteria for these school rankings should include what percentage of your school's faculty is named "Mr. Allen" or "Mrs. Allen". Fletcher #1, baby!

bit.ly

I've been using the website bit.ly to insert links to my blog posts into Twitter/Facebook updates, in order to shorten the URLs to fit within Twitter's 140-character limit. And I'm far from alone. So, I wonder...how long before all of bit.ly's shorter URLs get used up and they have to resort to 10-character URLs, helping defeat their website's primary purpose?

When I started just a few days ago, my first URL was a five-character URL (http://bit.ly/YLVvR). Now, they're up to 6-character URLs (http://bit.ly/19CpT6). This begs the question, how many 6-character URLs are there? The answer: over 56 billion. (There are 62 letters and numbers - 0-9, a-z, and A-Z - and 62^6 = 56,800,235,584.) Now, that sounds like a lot, except that bit.ly is susceptible to bots because it doesn't have one of those "you must type in this distorted word in order to shorten your URL" things. I actually find that surprising. Then again, tinyurl.com has been around longer (to my knowledge), also doesn't have a "type this distorted word" thing, and they're only boasting 240 million URLs. So, I think bit.ly has a ways to go. And even if this sort of thing experiences "exponential growth", another website will come along and take their place. There are already a handful of sites that do basically the same thing.

By the way, if you've been clicking my bit.ly links, it means you trust me. I appreciate that, because there's no way for you to know what the link actually points to until you click it. But rest assured, any short URL appearing in my Twitter or Facebook updates is safe.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Star Trek-Sponsored Cheez-Its

The amount of advertising you see for blockbuster movies - for example, Star Trek and Terminator: Salvation (or whatever it's called) - has always bugged be a little, especially when they manage to find their way onto my fast food cups or cereal boxes. But I can live with that. How much time do I actually spend looking at the box, anyway?

But after four or five consecutive weeks of Star Trek-sponsored Cheez-Its, and now Star Trek-sponsored Crispix, I guess I finally reached my breaking point. I refused to buy a Star Trek-sponsored box of Cheez-Its. Instead, I bought a different variety of Cheez-Its that had no such advertising. This wasn't really a protest - Sunshine still got my money, after all. I don't know what it was, but I was NOT buying another box of Star Trek cheese-flavored crackers.

By the way, I've forgiven Sunshine for making the Cheez-It boxes smaller but keeping the price the same, because just about everybody's been doing that this year. Even the makers of Girl Scout Cookies.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

A New Bathing Suit, or Whatever They're Called

Is "bathing suit" still the proper term for "what you wear to the beach or the pool"? I like that better than "swimsuit", because when I think "swimsuit", I think "what women wear to the beach or the pool". Using that definition, I do not own a swimsuit. "Trunks" could also mean "bathing suit", but it could also mean "underwear", so that's no good. So unless there's a "more hip" term out there these days that I don't know even exists, "bathing suit" it is.

And speaking of which, I need a new one. My current one goes back some seven or eight years. At some point, I tied a super-tight knot in draw string so that my pants wouldn't fall down in the water. Since then, I've lost weight, so that super-tight knot - which absolutely, positively, can NOT be undone - isn't good enough anymore. So you can imagine what it was like hanging out in semi-powerful 6-foot-tall waves the other weekend at the beach. Fortunately, I kept my lower body under water, and my pants never actually came all the way off.

So, yes, time for a new bathing suit. I browsed the appropriate section at Target the other day, and came away empty-handed and disappointed in the selection. (But at least my pants stayed on.) Sure, Target had plenty of men's bathing suits, but all that's left at this point are the ones I would not consider wearing: the really short ones, the really bright and/or flourescent ones, and the...umm..."outgoing" ones. There's a reason this is all I could find: these are the ones nobody wants! All the plain, long, standard shorts that 90% of the male population wants have already been sold out, at least at Target.

Clearly, I'm too late. The trend of department stores of late has been to focus on what you'll need three months from now, not what you need right now. Isn't it about time for jackets and long johns to return to the shelves, followed shortly thereafter by Christmas items? It appears I have two choices: 1) Wait until next February, when Target restocks the bathing suits, or 2) go to a - gasp - specialty store in the mall. Noooo!

Recycling: It's the Law

I missed one small detail when I mentioned that super large recycling bin the City of Durham was giving us. The thing is, recycling isn't just recommended or encouraged. It's required. From durhamnc.gov: (underlining is mine)

By law, you are required to recycle at a minimum: aluminum cans; steel cans; glass bottles and jars; newspaper; plastic bottles; and corrugated cardboard. With the larger container, in addition to the items that must be recycled, you will have room to recycle many other items, including: magazines; cereal boxes; paper bags; cardboard egg containers; phone books; junk mail; plastic milk jugs; detergent containers; and office paper.

Now, I'm all for recycling, but this seems a little extreme. Are the authorities going to be thumbing through our trash looking for forbidden items? Does this also apply when we're away from home? Gas stations don't have recycle bins, but maybe they should, considering most beverages you can buy at a gas station come in containers that must be recycled (aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles). If they're going to force the general population to recycle, seems to me they should also force convenience stores to provide recycle bins.

Monday, June 08, 2009

US-50 Trip Itinerary

I've kind of alluded to this already, but that US-50 coast-to-coast trip idea will definitely be our vacation of choice this year. We're leaving in 11½ weeks. That's still a long ways away, but it's never too early to start planning the specifics! At least, not when you're a road geek like me.

Here's the plan:

Day 1: After a full day of work, drive from here to Salisbury, MD, about 30 miles from the beginning of US-50 in Ocean City. (Why not just go straight to Ocean City? See below.)
Days 2-7: Drive the length of US-50 from Ocean City to Sacramento. Originally, I thought we would have to drive for 12-15 hours per day every day to get this drive done in six days, but now it looks like it can be done with "only" 9-10 hours per day. Child's play!
Day 8: Have some fun in California somewhere. If that's possible.
Days 9-12: Drive home via interstates, which can be done with 10-11 hours of driving per day for four days.

Along the way, we'll be well-prepared, with AAA TourBooks, maps, detailed driving directions, and our trusty GPS. Does planning everything too much in advance take some of the fun out of the trip? Perhaps. But it will be worth it, because planning these things in advance in excrucitating detail and looking ahead way more than I need to is part of the fun.

For example, where will we stay overnight on Day 1? The original plan was to stay as close to the beginning of US-50 in Ocean City as possible. But, we conveniently scheduled our trip during peak tourist season, when it's very difficult to find a hotel for anything less than $150/night. So, we're staying 30 miles away in Salisbury in order to save $80. We already have our hotel reservation. (This is the only hotel reservation we'll be making in advance. We're going to "wing it" the rest of the way.) Next question: should we drive straight to Salisbury on Day 1, or to Ocean City then Salisbury? If we take the first option, we'll have a shorter drive on Day 1, but will end up backtracking on Day 2 as we drive out to the beginning of US-50 and then turn around and come back to Salisbury again before continuing on US-50 westbound. There's no backtracking in the second option, but we'll be starting US-50 at night, probably after 10:00p, and I'd like to see the beginning of the drive in daylight. See, this is the stuff I think about during my spare time. Planning road trips is fun!


View Larger Map

To provide closure, we're taking the first option, which means taking the above portion of US-50 twice (once eastbound, then immediately westbound). It's hard to justify spending Ocean City-sized money on a hotel given that we'll only be there for 9 hours or so. If we're feeling really ambitious, we might wake up really early on Day 2 and catch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. How absolutely generic would that be, to watch the ocean sunrise and then immediately begin our cross-country quest? How about if we also watch the Pacific Ocean sunset at the end of the trip?

So, in other words, I've been spending a lot of time thinking all of this through. All to squeeze as much fun and enjoyment into a 12-day vacation as possible. Such is life on two weeks vacation.

Amber's New Bicycle

A few months ago, I bought a new bicycle, the cheapest bike I could find. Four months later, it's still in one piece, sort of. One of the pedals cracked a little over the weekend, but that's fixable.

(Side note: I'm using the word "bicycle" instead of "bike" so that you don't think I'm talking about motorcycles.)

Meanwhile, Amber bought herself a new bicycle last weekend. Unlike me, she did not go the cheap route. She actually wanted a good bicycle from a reputable dealer who will give her exactly what she needs to participate in some kind of weird run/bike/canoe race later this summer. And, I can only assume she'll use it for general recreation as well. But unlike me, she asked for advice, found a bicycle for her exact size, and actually have a bicycle or two a test ride. Me? I found the cheapest bicycle on the rack and wheeled it to the register.

Anyway, this will give us a good opportunity to find out if you get what you pay for when it comes to bicycles. Hers was six to seven times more expensive than mine. Is it that much better? Probably. My bicycle has already started to wear down. And, the brakes suck. It's actually a little unsafe. Amber's bicycle has disc brakes, which might actually help you stop when riding down a hill, unlike my brakes which aren't much more effective than spreading out your arms. Amber's bicycle also shifts much more smoothly, and is supposed to handle "mountain" trails much more elegantly. (But to be fair, I didn't get my bicycle for mountain biking; I got it for exercise. I don't really care how fast it will go as long as it helps burn off Little Debbies.)

Assuming Amber's bicycle works out, it's probably only a matter of time before I get my own "good" bicycle. Or, I could always do like professional bicyclers do and start doping. Which do you think is cheaper?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

You Win, Twitter

As anti-Twitter as I've been over the last couple of months, you had to know it was only a matter of time before I came around and actually embraced Twitter, didn't you?

Well, you see, here's the thing. I guess my main issue with the Twitter revolution was that I felt the Twitter medium was a competitor to the blog medium, and would eventually lead to the end blogs as we know them. I need a lot more than 140 characters to say what I want to say on the internet, so I'd like to keep this blog going. So, rather than try and fight Twitter, I've decided to use Twitter as an accessory to this blog. Now, whenever I post on my blog, I'll also post an update on Twitter with a link to the blog post. These updates will also appear on my Facebook status page.

I'm not thinking of this as if I've "given in" to Twitter. Instead, I feel that I'm just getting with the times. For many people, internet surfing begins and ends with the Twitter and/or Facebook status pages, and it's a lot to expect out of people to go out of their way to visit my blog. So instead of asking you to come to me, now I'm coming to you. Really, it's all about trying to interfere with your daily lives as much as possible. As I said on day one, my goal is to waste as much of your free time as possible.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Super Large Recycling Bins

In terms of volume, we might generate more recyclable waste than regular garbage. Every week when we put our trash curbside, our large garbage bin is nearly empty, while our tiny recycling bin is overflowing. Wouldn't it be nice if they gave us a recycling bin that was as large as the regular garbage bin?

Well, here we go. Hooray recycling! They'll only do recycling pickup every other week now, but given how little we accumulate, we only have to put our regular garbage on the street every other week as it is.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

200,000 Miles? Not Looking Good

When I bought my new car (a 2008 Honda Civic) in November 2007, I had a simple goal. Keep the car for eight years, and get the odometer up to 200,000 miles. That's a pace of 25,000 miles/year. Back when I was making 40-mile round trip work commutes every day and 1,000-mile round trips to State College every month, it was easy to drive that much. Now? I just don't see it happening. I think I'm going to have to keep my car 10, 11, maybe even 12 years to rack up that kind of mileage.

Yes, I drove over 2,000 miles last month, but 1,500 of those 2,000 miles came in one weekend (Indiana via Toledo), and another 300 came driving to the beach and back last weekend. On a day to day basis, I'm just not driving that much anymore. And by the time 2018 rolls around, chances are, I'll want a new car. I'm hoping that reasonably-priced vehicles will be cracking 60-75 mpg by then. Gas prices will certainly reach $4/gallon again someday, making me want to drive less. We could take my car on a really long trip - say, the US-50 coast-to-coast trip - but from a financial standpoint, it just doesn't make sense to put 7,000 miles on my car in 10 days when I can do the same with a rental car. Taking personal cars on really long trips makes more sense later in the car's life, once the car depreciation levels out. (I know we took Amber's car on the honeymoon, but in retrospect, we should have rented.)

So, this pipe dream of 200,000 miles just isn't going to happen, it looks like. Oh well.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Curling Recap: 5/30/09

End............ 123456789012 |TTL
----------------------------
Other team..... 010122110210 | 11
Our team....... 301000001001 | 06

What's this? A twelve-end game? Yes, but with an asterisk - we only played six rocks per end instead of the usual eight. But this was still a longer game than normal, with 72 rocks thrown per team instead of the typical 64, all within the mandated two-hour time frame? How did we manage to get so much curling in? Two main reasons: 1) the game didn't have any first-time curlers, and 2) there wasn't much strategy. Early in the game, the ice was extremely slow (love that summertime curling!), and the strategy wasn't more complicated than just trying to get it all the way to the house. That meant lots of sweeping, and combine that with the game's rapid pace and the fact that we hadn't curled in five weeks, and we were pretty winded afterwards.

Waves

Did we have fun at the beach last weekend? Sure! My ability to have fun for long periods of time at swimming pools or beaches has waned over the years, but Saturday was a particularly interesting day to be in the water, with lots of 6-foot tall waves. It was much more fun than any wave pool, as long as you don't mind getting a mouth full of salt water every now and then.

The water temperature was reasonable, too. One advantage the southern NC beaches have over the Outer Banks is warmer water. Take that, OBX!