Saturday, October 31, 2009

College Football Saturday: 10/31/09

Happy Halloween! We actually do have plans for tonight, and some pretty good costumes at that. But that's not until later tonight. Until then, today won't be unlike any other Fall Saturday, because I'll be watching college football.

Time slot 1
Game 1 - NC State at Florida State, 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): As I've stated previously, it's only fitting that this game is being played on Halloween, because given how each team has played this year, I think it will be a truly frightening game.
Game 2 - Missouri at Colorado, 1:30p, FSN: This seems like a really weak slate of opening games, BUT, that doesn't mean the games can't be entertaining.
Game 3 - Indiana at Iowa, 12:00p, ESPN: If Iowa is really the 6th (or whatever) best team in the country, they should breeze through this game and win big. Will they?
Game 4 - Cincinnati at Syracuse, 12:00p, ESPNU: Ditto, except replace "Iowa" with "Cincinnati".
Game 5 - Purdue at Wisconsin, 12:00p, ESPN2: At this point, I actually wouldn't mind getting a few games from mid-major conferences thrown in here. I'm starting to grow weary of the same teams every week.
Game 6 - Ole Miss at Auburn, 12:00p, MSG
Game 7 - Rutgers at Connecticut, 12:00p, MASN
Game 8 - New Mexico State at Ohio State, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Hey, at least they're playing an FBS (formerly Division I-A) opponent. As opposed to, say, Delaware State.

Time slot 2
Game 1 - Penn State at Northwestern, 4:30p, ESPN: This game should be just about over by the time it's time for us to head out. Good timing!
Game 2 - Miami (FL) at Wake Forest, 3:30p, ABC: Going back to what I said last week about Wake Forest, after losing to Navy, I fully expect Wake to embarass the conference once again by then beating one of its supposedly better teams. Except in this case, I'd be fine with that.
Game 3 - Florida vs Georgia, 3:30p, CBS: It's time to try the jinx again. THIS GAME WILL NOT EVEN BE CLOSE. GEORGIA HAS NO CHANCE.
Game 4 - Michigan at Illinois, 3:30p, ESPN2: Meh. Not a very interesting week in the Big Ten this week.
Game 5 - Air Force at Colorado State, 4:00p, the mtn.: In the interest of giving some other conferences some attention. (UNLV is playing TCU at the same time on Versus, but as I've mentioend a time or two before...you know, these posts are getting awfully repetitive, aren't they?)
Game 6 - Temple at Navy, 3:30p, CBS College
Game 7 - Central Michigan at Boston College, 3:30p, ESPNU: I know Central Michigan is a good team and all, but I'd still much rather ESPNU have picked up the Duke/Virginia game.
Game 8 - Louisiana Tech at Idaho, 5:00p, MASN (joined in progress)

Time slot 3
Game 1 - USC at Oregon, 8:00p, ESPN2: We won't be around in the evening, BUT, I do plan on recording this game and watching it the next morning.
Game 2 - Texas at Oklahoma State, 8:00p, ABC: So...why did I choose to record USC at Oregon instead of this game, considering that Texas is still undefeated while USC and Oregon are not? The main reason is variety. Aside from a few minutes of the USC v. Ohio State game from earlier in the season, and a few minutes of Oregon v. Boise State on the first Thursday night of the season, I have yet to watch a game featuring either team this season. The unfortunate thing is that due to how the regional telecasts work, the USC/Oregon game will not be available to me in high definition (which is ESPN's fault, not DirecTV's fault).
Game 3 - Washington State vs Notre Dame, 7:30p, NBC: This game is being played in San Antonio. Why is a team from Indiana playing a team from Washington in San Antonio in the middle of the season? Because Notre Dame is trying to "make its contests more accessible to fans around the country". In other words, they're trying to make more money. According to the linked article, Notre Dame will also be playing games in Orlando in 2011 and 2014.
Game 4 - Michigan State at Minnesota, 8:00p, Big Ten Network: Watching the end of the Iowa/Michigan State game last week, I just had that gut feeling that it would turn out just like Penn State/Michigan did in 2005, when Penn State took the lead late, then Michigan scored a last-second touchdown for the win.
Game 5 - South Carolina at Tennessee, 7:45, ESPN: Of course, the rankings are completely arbitrary at this point in the list, since we won't be at home. But I am going to complete the list for you, the reader.
Game 6 - Kansas State at Oklahoma, 7:00p, FSN: It's too bad that most of today's games are in the evening. Who planned that? (Television, I assume.)
Game 7 - Wyoming at Utah, 8:00p, the mtn.
Game 8 - UCLA at Oregon State, 6:30p, Prime Ticket
Game 9 - New Mexico at San Diego State, 7:30p, CBS College
Game 10 - Mississippi State at Kentucky, 7:00p, Fox Sports South: Yep, I am so sick of the SEC now, I'd rather watch New Mexico at San Diego STate.
Game 11 - Eastern Michigan at Arkansas, 7:00p, ESPNU: Alright, this SEC/ESPN mega-contract has now gone too far. Apologies to fans of the teams involved, but this game has NO business being on national television. NONE. It's one thing when the Big Ten Network televises a game like this, but the difference is that BTN often places duds like this one on alternate channels, of which they have more than enough, and thus do not take up a spot in the programming lineup that could otherwise be used to televise a far more interesting game, such as Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt. So why is Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt buried in the abyss of Comcast Sports Southeast and ESPN GamePlan while this dud gets a national television spot? Seems pretty stupid to me.

Time slot 4
No games this week. I guess everyone figured there was no use in scheduling any late night games on Halloween night.

Have fun!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pictures from Martinsville

It took me over two weeks to post pictures from the last NASCAR race we went to, so if you ask me, four days late is a vast improvement.


We liked this shot. By the way, parking was free.



Not every sponsor ponies up the extra bucks required to get its name on the windshield cover.



We actually saw Mark Martin up close after the race, being whisked away on a golf cart towards the helipad located just outside the track. Now...I knew he was a pretty small guy (5'6", 135 lbs), but man, up close he looks even smaller. (We also saw Kurt Busch heading towards the helipad, but I know none of you care about him.)



NASCAR races are one big exercise in patriotism.



Boogity boogity boogity! I don't know if this was mentioned on the telecast, but they gave every fan in the stands a "green flag" (sponsored by Tums) and encouraged us to wave it at the start of the race. I thought that was pretty cool, actually.



I think Amber wanted to get at least one picture of "her boy" Carl Edwards. Unfortunately, she had to look pretty far back in the pack to find him. (Now...Carl did make his way into the top 10 by the end of the race, but then he hit the wall and ended up 20th or something.)



I miss Jeff Gordon's old rainbow paint scheme. The NFL has embraced throwback uniforms; why doesn't NASCAR? (Actually, it's not up to NASCAR; it's up to the sponsors. Come on, DuPont!)



While Amber (the picture taker) was watching the leader, I was watching Jimmie Johnson seamlessly move up from 15th (or wherever he started) to the lead.



The scenery behind the track is pretty nice, especially this time of year.



The track has a fairly small seating capacity by NASCAR standards, but there were still empty seats. NASCAR is a sport in decline.



These guys (#12 David Stremme and #77 Sam Hornish, Jr.) wreck every week.



And now, Jimmie Johnson is leading. Shocker!



Martinsville's "scoring pylon" - if you can even call it that - isn't the greatest. I much prefer the really tall ones that show who's running where from 1st to 43rd all the time.



The Goodyear blimp, which can actually be useful when covering a NASCAR race. I never understood why they occasionally bring a blimp to an indoor sporting event. "And...here's what the arena looks like from the outside! Wooo!"



These guys - the drivers' spotters - have the best view.

And...that's it. We didn't take any pictures at the end of the race for some reason. Oh well. I guess Denny Hamlin winning a race isn't all that exciting.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Three's a Crowd

Proving once again that three dedicated sports talk radio stations is too many, at least for a market the size of the Triangle, starting on Monday we're back down to two. No big deal, right? Well...not quite. According to the user comments, this is a very unpopular decision.

The problem isn't so much that they're dropping a station. It's that they're dropping certain radio programs - or at least parts of certain programs - in favor of crappy ones. I've tried listening to local sports talk radio, and with the exception of a Charlotte-based show called "Prime Time with the Pack Man" featuring Billy Packer's son, local sports talk radio absolutely blows. It's terribly boring, and rarely insightful. Unfortunately, Capitol Broadcasting - who now owns a monopoly on all local sports talk radio - insists on giving us four hours of "The Insiders" in the afternoon, which may just be the most boring sports talk radio show I have ever listened to. They will soon drop the Dan Patrick show in favor of an annoying and not very popular local host. The consensus best Triangle-based show is being moved from afternoon drive time to the less prestigious 12 to 3 slot. And finally, we lose the first hour of the popular "Prime Time with the Pack Man", and also the last hour of the popular Jim Rome Show. In their place, we instead get two hours of the Scott Van Pelt show, which has practically no following and I couldn't care less about. Even better, this affects the 2:00p to 4:00p time slot, which is when I am most likely to listen to Jim Rome or "Prime Time".

So, in short...I have another reason to listen to more NPR.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yahoo! Mail: Nice Try

I noticed something new on my Yahoo! Mail home page the other day: a prompt asking me "What are you doing right now?", and a sidebar encouraging me to follow "updates from friends and family". Hmm...that sounds awfully familiar. Where have I seen that before?

This is what Yahoo! Mail has been reduced to. Once something becomes popular on another website - whether it's instant messenging, "tweeting", or other applications or forms of social networking - Yahoo! puts it on their website, albeit several months (or years) late. Yahoo! never innovates anything anymore. They just copy what other websites do, and then somehow expect you to switch from AOL Instant Messenger or Twitter to Yahoo's new (but inferior) version of the same product that nobody else uses and is thus useless. Why do you even try, Yahoo?

Lots of people - including me - signed up for Yahoo! Mail back when there were only a few free web-based email services out there. Back then, Yahoo! Mail was the best out there. Now, other sites such as Google Mail have left Yahoo in the dust. If I was starting over, I would not sign up for a Yahoo email address. Why would I? Google Mail is a lot better.

Yahoo Mail's interface is now cluttered with all of the afore-mentioned crap that they copied from other websites and that I have no interest in using through Yahoo's interface. All of a sudden, I was receiving "spam" instant messages in Yahoo! Mail. I don't recall ever activating chat capability in my user preferences. Now, I'm getting dinged by complete strangers. Thanks, Yahoo! (I did eventually turn it off.) They're trying to be so much more than just mail, and they're trying to push all of this stuff on its users, even though 95% of their users - including me - are interested in only the email aspect of Yahoo! Mail. Do you want me to keep using your service or not? Keep the interface simple.

And yes, Yahoo! Mail does still let me use the "Classic" interface. But the Classic interface does not automatically refresh when I get a new email, and that makes it far inferior to the new interface, even with all the clutter.

Monday, October 26, 2009

NASCAR at Martinsville

Yesterday, Amber and I went to the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race in Martinsville, VA. (Isn't she great? She's even willing to go to a NASCAR race with me!) We have a few pictures, which I'll probably post tomorrow or Wednesday. We had a good time (or at least I did), but...I'm not going to be entirely complementary of the sport here.

But first, I will say this: if you're going to go see a NASCAR race, Martinsville is a pretty good place to go. Crowds are small - only 60,000 or so, compared to well over the 150,000 spectators you sometimes see in Charlotte. Despite the track's rural location away from any interstates, getting in and out of the track is pretty easy. It took less time to get home from Martinsville than it did just getting out of the parking lot at Charlotte. Tickets are on the cheap side. It's a short track, so visibility - at least near the top of the stands - is excellent. (Speaking of which, in terms of seat pricing, NASCAR is just the opposite of other sports. The highest seats are the most expensive, and the lowest seats are the cheapest.)

Martsinville is also completely and entirely redneck. That's probably true at just about every track, but I have a hard time believing the proportion of rednecks is as high at the race in, say, Sonoma, CA. It just wouldn't be the same if you weren't sitting between a guy with crooked teeth and a guy wearing overalls. (Yes, that was who we sat next to at the race. Didn't see any mullets, though.) I don't really look or sound like a redneck, but I tried my best to fit in. I think the best thing I could do to fit in was drink cheap American beer. As is the case at most other (if not all) NASCAR tracks, Martinsville Speedway lets you bring your own cooler into the track, and you can bring in as much food or drink into the track as will fit in your cooler. No wonder NASCAR is so popular - you can bring your own beer! Name another sport that lets you bring your own food and drink to the event.

Martinsville Speedway has famous hot dogs. Every time you watch a race at Martinsville on television, they mention the famous hot dogs. So, I had to have at least one while I was there. Unfortunately, it was virtually impossible for the hot dogs to live up to the hype. I mean, it's only a hot dog. It could be the best hot dog ever, and it still wouldn't taste that good. And actually, it wasn't even close to being the best hot dog ever, I thought. I've had better hot dogs at baseball games. But on the plus side, the dogs were only $2 each, a decent price for a sporting event.

As for the race itself...I need to get something off my chest here. NASCAR has implemented many new rules over the last decade, such as the "lucky dog" rule which allows cars to get a lap back more easily, and this year, the "shootout style" double-file restarts that bunch up the field after caution flags even more than they used to. Combine that with a documented increase in the number of caution flags per race - especially "debris cautions" (more on those later) - and it reveals a trend. NASCAR is doing everything they can to keep as many drivers in contention for as long as possible, and to make the end of the race as exciting as possible. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of the first two or three hours of the race. NASCAR has always been like that to a degree, but the first two hours of NASCAR races have never been more irrelevant than they are now.

When you're in the middle of a NASCAR race, you know for a fact that there will be a caution flag near the end of the race. If nobody wrecks, then they throw a caution flag for "debris". Many times, the television broadcast never actually shows the debris that brought out the caution flag, or when they do. Hmm...might these be fraudulent caution flags that NASCAR is just throwing to make the end of the race more exciting? Given that this happens every single race, you have to come to that conclusion. I absolutely hate this about NASCAR, for multiple reasons. One, it's a blatent attempt to manipulate the outcome, which is bad for the sport's integrity. Races are now decided not by what happens on the track, but by whatever NASCAR feels like doing. Two, NASCAR is lying to everybody by calling these "debris cautions", insulting the fans' intelligence in the process. We know the real reason why these caution flags come out. We're not all stupid bumbling redneck drunks, you know. Three, they claim that these cautions are being thrown for "safety", but by bunching up the field, "debris cautions" actually create more accidents than they prevent. The truly safe thing to do would be to keep the race under green as much as possible, and only throw the caution when it is absolutely necessary. Four, lots of position changes now happen at the very end of the race that are not covered on television because the broadcast focuses on the leaders at the end of the race. Let's say Driver X was running 10th or 11th most of the race, up until a debris caution comes out with 10 laps to go, after which point Driver X slips and finishes in 20th. How did that happen? Who knows! Why did I waste my time following Driver X's progress for three hours only to have it shuffled in a seemingly random fashion at the end of the race? Five, artificial debris cautions a sign of weakness. Ratings are down, and NASCAR is obviously desperate to artifically create as much excitement as they can. Six, while they may make the end of the race more exciting, they basically make the first 400 laps irrelevant. Which is why I never watch NASCAR live at home anymore. Instead, I DVR the race, skip the irrelevant parts (most of the first 75% of the race), and I'm done in an hour and a half. Maybe this is why ratings are down? The first half of the race is now a huge waste of time, more so now than it's ever been. I don't need a artificially-created exciting finish to enjoy the race. I watch Formula One, after all, and they do it right. The caution flag (which they call the "safety car") only comes out when absolutely necessary. If NASCAR did things this way, then the entire race would be more interesting from start to finish because of it. There would always be I don't need an exciting finish to enjoy a race.

Well, anyway, now that I have that off my chest...yesterday's race had a "debris caution" near the end, which I knew was coming all that time, but was still not to my liking. It also had two caution flags when NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr had a flat tire. When Martin Truex had a flat tire, NASCAR didn't throw the caution flag. But when Earnhardt Jr has a flat tire? Uh oh - better throw the caution! You know, for "safety". (NASCAR did not throw a caution for Earnhardt's third flat tire, which came about 20 laps after I said "we're about due for a Dale Junior flat tire caution flag". I guess NASCAR gave up on him by that point.)

I guess what I'm saying is that I am not happy with how NASCAR is being run at the moment, and unless they have a serious change in philosophy, I may never attend another race. But my NASCAR fandom goes in cycles and has gone up and down periodically for years, so chances are, I'll get over it eventually, maybe even by the time NASCAR comes back to Darlington, SC next May.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

College Football Saturday: 10/24/09

"Hey, Chris! Surely, you have been very interested in the last two Thursday night games (Cincinnati at South Florida, and Florida State at North Carolina). Why haven't you previewed those games? Why must you insist on only talking about college football on Saturdays?"

Here's the thing. When I was in college, I was a big fan of weeknight college football. When you go to a school like Florida State or Penn State, you immerse yourself in all things college football, so the more days there are to watch college football, the better. Also, I had a very college-like sleep schedule back then, so staying awake past midnight to watch the end of a Thursday night game was no big deal.

But now, I'm all grown up. I'm detached from the football-crazed college scene, and am usually in bed before 10. Now, I've decided that I don't like weeknight college football, the primary reason being the late starts. I'd much rather Florida State play all their games on Saturdays. But I can't have it both ways, because the reason teams schedule college football games for Thursday, Friday, and even Wednesday nights is so they can get on television. If you're the Big East, you're not going to crack the ESPN or ESPN2 lineup on Saturday. On Saturday, the best the Big East can hope for is ESPNU. But if you play on Thursday or Friday, you get an exclusive ESPN audience. So the ACC and Big East are doing what's best for them by agreeing to play weeknight games.

Regardless, that doesn't mean I have to like it. Which is why I focus 95% of my college football energy on one day: Saturday. Let's get to it!

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Georgia Tech at Virginia, 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): As an ACC fan, I'm really interested in this game. First off, Virginia is actually in first place in the ACC right now...but, they still have to play the ACC's three ranked teams - Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech. I'm assuming they'll fall flat on their face when they play the good teams...but will they? Meanwhile, I think it's a very real possibility that Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), and Virginia Tech will finish in a three-way tie for the division title at 7-1. They are clearly the best three teams in the conference. All three teams have already played the other two, each going 1-1 in the process. Will any of them slip up against lesser competition?
Game 2 - South Florida at Pittsburgh, 12:00p, MASN: I've been wrong before - in fact, I'm wrong most of the time - but USF looks like nothing more than a .500 team. But on the bright side, they have that FSU win to hang their hat on. And they have a very good defense, and a good defense will give you an upset victory every once in a while. So...I'm not completely ruling out a USF win here.
Game 3 - Iowa State at Nebraska, 12:30p, FSN: Seems like Nebraska games are usually either on pay per view, or are ABC regional telecasts that I can only watch on ESPN360.com (which I don't get) or via ESPN GamePlan (which isn't worth the money). That's the main reason why I have this game at #3.
Game 4 - Arkansas at Ole Miss, 12:00p, MSG: I missed the end of the Arkansas v. Florida game last week, and in retrospect, I'm glad I did. It wouldn't exactly have put me in a good mood, I don't think.
Game 5 - Minnesota at Ohio State, 12:00p, ESPN: Watching Ohio State lose at Purdue last week was pretty sweet. What are the odds they lose again today? ... Probably pretty slim.
Game 6 - Indiana at Northwestern, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: The Big Ten's traditional doormats face off! This could actually be entertaining, though. Games between two bad teams are usually close games. I'll keep an eye on it.
Game 7 - Connecticut at West Virginia, 12:00p, ESPNU
Game 8 - Illinois at Purdue, 12:00p, ESPN2
Game 9 - Colorado at Kansas State, 12:30p, Fox College Sports
Not Televised - Maryland at Duke, 1:30p, ESPN360.com: Awww, darn it! I'd watch this one if it was on television. Then again, even if I did get ESPN360, I probably wouldn't watch it anyway, given that the television and computer are on opposite sides of the house, and this game would only be the third most interesting game of the time slot.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Penn State at Michigan, 3:30p, ESPN: Needless to say, an important game for the Nittany Lions. "@ Michigan" hasn't really gone so well over the years, so here's hoping for a different outcome this time around.
Game 2 - Clemson at Miami (FL), 3:30p, ABC: Never know what to expect from Clemson.
Game 3 - Tennessee at Alabama, 3:30p, CBS: Not a competitive matchup on paper, right? Well...the thing with college football is that you never know when the massive upset will happen, and massive upsets are the most entertaining and memorable college football games to watch, in my opinion. So I have to at least monitor the score here.
Game 4 - Boston College at Notre Dame, 3:30p, NBC: The remainder of Notre Dame's schedule doesn't look all that difficult. They're right on track for a 10-2 record and subsequent blowout loss in a BCS bowl game.
Game 5 - Wake Forest at Navy, 3:30p, CBS College: As I've mentioned before, Wake Forest has a habit of beating the ACC's best teams while losing to mediocre non-conference opponents, making the conference look bad in the process. Which is why I think Navy will win.
Game 6 - Louisville at Cincinnati, 3:30p, ESPNU: Even if Cincinnati goes undefeated, something tells me they don't have a realistic chance of playing for a national championship. Chances are, the Big East champion will once again be stuck in the Orange Bowl with the ACC champion.
Game 7 - San Diego State at Colorado State, 4:00p, the mtn.: Now that a few games have been played and it's clear which teams are good, which are bad, and which still have something to play for, I can generally think of something to say about every game. This one, however...

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Iowa at Michigan State, 7:00p, Big Ten Network: I've been predicting Iowa's demise for weeks now. Why stop now? Go Spartans!
Game 2 - Florida at Mississippi State, 7:30p, ESPN: Florida definitely looks vulerable, so here's hoping a night road game against a team that's traditionally given them a bit of trouble finally tips the scales. Here's also hoping the referees are on board.
Game 3 - UCLA at Arizona, 6:30p, Fox Sports Arizona: Arizona is currently #22 in the BCS rankings. How did that happen? I should pay more attention to these West Coast games.
Game 4 - SMU at Houston, 7:30p, CBS College: Wait - a Conference USA game at #4? Sure! And it's in high definition, so why not?
Game 5 - Texas at Missouri, 8:00p, ABC: I watched Texas last week. Two weeks in a row? Nah. Will I stay awake for the end of this game? No chance.
Game 6 - Auburn at LSU, 7:30p, ESPN2: I don't think there's any question that with this new contract with ESPN, the SEC is now on television waaaaaay too much. There's only so much I can take.
Game 7 - Vanderbilt at South Carolina, 7:00p, ESPNU: See above.
Game 8 - Louisiana-Monroe at Kentucky, 7:00p, Fox Sports South: See above.
Game 9 - UNLV at New Mexico, 8:00p, the mtn.
Not Televised - TCU at BYU, 7:30p, Versus: This is a big game in the Mountain West. But hey, DirecTV does have the Mountain West Sports Network (a.k.a. "the mtn.")! Which means if you're a fan of the Mountain West and don't live out west somewhere (where "the mtn." is available on cable), in order to watch every game, you have to subscribe to DirecTV and DISH Network. (DISH does not carry "the mtn.")

Speaking of Versus, there actually is a scenario that would force me to switch to DISH Network, just for Versus, by February. Comcast is currently trying to buy a controlling share of NBC Universal. If so, that would put Versus in the same "family of networks" as NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, USA, plus a few other channels. Since NBC owns the rights to the 2010 Winter Olympics, this acquisition would almost certainly mean that Versus - being a sports channel and all - would have some Olympic coverage. What if Versus becomes the exclusive television home of all Olympic curling and all Olympic ice hockey? Given that the Winter Olympics only come around once every four years, I would have to switch to DISH Network immediately. Then again, if such an acquisition did take place, that would make Versus a more attractive product to DirecTV and would hopefully speed up negotiations and get the channel back on the air sooner than it would otherwise. Let's just hope I don't have to make a tough decision in a few months.

Oh, right...still have two more games to list.

Time slot 4 (a.k.a. bed time)

Game 1 - Arizona State at Stanford, 10:15p, FSN
Game 2 - Fresno State at New Mexico State, 10:15p, ESPNU

Friday, October 23, 2009

Will You Be My Neighbor?

When I came home yesterday, I noticed a giant "For Sale" sign in front of the house next door to ours. Geez...that didn't take long, did it? Are we really that unpleasant to live next to?

I'm pretty sure the people who were living there were only renting anyway. We never actually talked to them. We're not the type of people to knock on our neighbor's door to strike a conversation, so the only time we'd ever see our neighbors is when we both happened to be outside at the same time. That only happens when both of us happen to be doing yard work at the same time, and our neighbors never did any yard work. They never even mowed the lawn. I think they hired someone to mow the lawn once or twice in the nine months we've lived here. Maybe we'll get to know the new owners a little better.

So...anyone want to buy a house? It's in a nice neighborhood, and you get to live next to us! The address of the for sale house is [address removed for security purposes]. It's so fresh on the market, it's not even listed online yet! I was curious how much they were asking for the house, so I called the phone number on the For Sale sign yesterday, entered the appropriate four-digit code, and it gave me information for a completely different house. You'd think they would take care of that before they posted the sign? In any event, it's a two story house, 3 bed 2 bath (I think), 1,500 to 1,750 square feet (approximately), at the end of a cul-de-sac. If I were to make a wild guess, I'd say they're asking the asking price is in the $145K to $160K range. Assuming it gets listed online eventually, here's the listing agent's web site. And if you need a REALTOR(TM) of your own, our agent Dawn Grasty is an excellent choice.

Alright...enough advertisements. Back to reality. Riding my bike through the neighborhood yesterday, I noticed a lot of houses for sale. Sales and prices picked up a lot over the summer in our neighborhood, no doubt helped by the $8,000 first time homebuyer tax credit, but lately sales have leveled off and inventory has risen. That has me a little concerned about the value of our house - lots of nearby houses for sale means dwindling property values - but that doesn't really matter until we're planning to sell, which is still at least 10 years down the road. In the meantime, no need to obsess over every rise and drop in the market value of our house. In fact, in the short term, it could be a good thing if it means we pay lower property taxes. And of course, that means it's a great time for you to buy! Don't live in boring Wake County like everyone else. Live in Durham! We're fun people, too!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Stuck Pixel

Lately when I've been watching television on our six-month old LCD HDTV, I've noticed this constant, bright green dot on the screen. It's not noticeable all the time; only when it's against a dark background. It's a little distracting.

First off...what is it? The green dot is called a stuck pixel. It's a fairly common problem among LCD televisions and computer monitors. The good news is that it's (supposedly) not permanent, and there are (supposedly) lots of ways to fix them on your own. Let's try them!

Solution #1: Using a cloth and a pencil eraser, apply pressure to the location of the stuck pixel. Turn the television on, release the pressure, and it should be gone. We tried this multiple times with no success.

Solution #2: With the television on, use a Sharpie and tap the stuck pixel a bunch of times until it goes away. This method seems a little crude, and can potentially damage the television. But we tried it anyway. It didn't work, either.

Solution #3: Use a computer program like JScreenFix that flashes bright colors repeatedly on your screen. The web site claims that most stuck pixels can be fixed in 20 minutes. So, we hooked up the computer to the television and ran the program for much longer than 20 minutes, with no effect on the stuck pixel.

Solution #4: Call the manufacturer. But here's the thing. Even though the television is still under warranty, Samsung won't replace it for just one defective pixel. There have to be many bad pixels, at least 10 or 15. When you have over two million pixels, you're very likely to have one or two of them go bad, even in the short term.

And that's the problem with being on the cutting edge of technology. The more complex things are, the more things can go wrong. I'm thinking it will be at least another 15 or 20 years before high definition televisions become as reliable as their standard definition counterparts. But I'm sure HDTVs are much better now than they were a few years ago, when the technology was fresh and the televisions cost thousands of dollars. I'm glad I waited until now to get one. It's a good rule of thumb to follow, I think. Whenever some kind of brand new technology comes out, be patient. Wait for the price to go down and the reliability to go up. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of money, which can lead to missed credit card payments, missed car payments, missed house payments, foreclosure...hey, maybe faulty HDTVs are to blame for the recession!

That said, watching television in high definition with one stuck pixel is still a lot more enjoyable than watching television with a standard definition set. And on top of that, the green dot isn't that noticeable when I'm watching sports, due to the bright lighting present during most sporting events, and the constant movement. That leads me to the final solution to the stuck pixel:

Solution #5: Give it time and eventually the stuck pixel will go away. Solution #5 it is!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Separate Laundry

When you get married, couples combine all their stuff into group ownership. No longer is it "his couch" or "her silverware". So why do Amber and I still keep our laundry separate?

Well, the system works. I have my own hamper, and Amber has her own hamper. When I start running out of clean clothes, I take my hamper and do laundry. When Amber starts running out of clean clothes, she does the same. There's no need for "Honey, could you do the laundry?" in our house, and we're both perfectly capable of doing our own laundry, so that's what we've continued to do. And we're flexible with it, too. I generally take care of non-clothes items like sheets and towels, but we always have the option of lumping something like that in with the next person's laundry, whoever's load it happens to be. We can also wash some of the other's clothes if there's some extra room in one of our loads, if necessary.

Now...when there are kids involved, we'll need to change the system some. But for now, we see no need to mess up the system.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It Pays To Be Obsessive

I've always wondered whether my obsessive timing of restaurant food service has ever had an effect on the service itself. Does the waiter or waitress ever hear the beep of the stopwatch? If so, does he/she make the connection that I'm timing how long it takes them to prepare my meal? And does that ever encourage the restaurant to prepare my meal any faster than they would otherwise? Or will they be more apologetic than normal if it takes too long, knowing that their infamous time will go down in the record books? That may have happened last weekend.

We went to Bob Evans last weekend, as we do from time to time (17 times in the last three years, in fact). Bob Evans is usually pretty quick; their average serving time - from the end of my order to when I receive my main course - is 12 minutes, 42 seconds. Last weekend's trip to Bob Evans was much slower than that, at 23 minutes, 50 seconds. Even though that's the slowest Bob Evans has ever been, I didn't think it was unreasonable. Nobody in our party of five raised a fuss. Nonetheless, the waitress was very frustrated by how long it was taking. The manager come out and apologized to us. And, we even got a 20% discount on our check, even though none of us ever complained.

Why did the waitress feel so compelled to give us a discount? 24 minutes to cook dinner for a party of five isn't that bad. That's par for the course at a lot of restaurants. Either Bob Evans has set a really high standard for themselves (doubtful), or the waitress noticed that I was timing her. I mean, she had to have noticed. Why else would she have been so apologetic? Am I giving myself too much credit here?

Will it ever get to the point where every restaurant in the Triangle knows who I am, and where I trigger a reaction the minute they see me walk through the door? I can see it now...

"Code red! Code red! It's that guy with the blog who times everything! This is what we've been training for, everybody! This is our chance for the record! Let's give him our best possible service! Put an order of chicken fingers in the oven NOW NOW NOW!!!"

That would be pretty sweet.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Danville, VA

As implied by my grand bicycling aspirations, I'm going to be riding my bike more - a lot more - from now on. But where? Sure, I could ride my bike on judt about any road I want to, but I don't like dealing with traffic, so I'd rather ride on one of those "mixed-use" pedestrian/bike paths. While searching for examples of such paths in the area, I found an 8-mile path in Danville, VA called the Riverwalk Trail. It was a really nice ride.

Well, anyway...now it's time for general commentary. Lots of cities, most notably San Antonio, have something called a "river walk". Jacksonville has a "river walk". Seems like pretty much any city with a river passing through its downtown has a "river walk". Even Danville, Virginia!

If you Google "river walk", which river walks appear at the top of the list? Obviously, San Antonio comes up first. And second. And third. Anyway, here's the list, with duplicates and things that aren't "river walks" (e.g. golf courses or casinos) removed:

Most prominent "river walks", according to Google
1) San Antonio
2) Detroit (actually called the "riverfront"; wasn't sure if that counted or not)
3) Fort Lauderdale
4) New Orleans (although it's more of a mall than an outdoor walk, but nonetheless is commonly referred to as the "Riverwalk")
5) Pueblo, CO
6) Tulsa (really, the suburb of Jenks)
7) Naperville, IL
8) Westchester County, NY
9) Tampa
10) Springfield, MA

Sorry, Jacksonville...you're not even in the top ten.

Finally, a little more about Danville. The Riverwalk Trail goes along the Dan River, and can be accessed from Dan Daniel Memorial Park. So...one would think that the city and the river were both named for this Dan Daniel guy, right? Nope! From what I can tell, the river and the city were named first, and is a biblical reference. Dan Daniel came much, much later. Under the assumption that the city and river were named for him, I thought he must have been from Colonial Times or something. But he's actually a 20th Century politican from the area whose real name was Wilbur Clarence Daniel. I guess they nicknamed him "Dan" since he was from Danville? I'm actually having a hard time finding information on this Dan Daniel guy. Maybe we should have actually looked at his memorial when we were there.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

College Football Saturday: 10/17/09

The best thing about today's lineup of games, at least for me: Florida State won't lose! But only because their next game isn't until next Thursday against North Carolina, where they probably will lose. Yes - I've officially given up on the Noles' season. But it could be worse; see "NC State" below.

Fortunately, my interest in college football goes well beyond just one or two teams. Today, I have a season-high 35 games available to me. Who needs NFL Sunday Ticket?

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Oklahoma vs Texas, 12:00p, ABC: Can't go wrong with this game.
Game 2 - Iowa at Wisconsin, 12:00p, ESPN: In the past, as it relates to college basketball, I've talked about how fans who rush the court after a win only serve to make a general statement about the fans' low expectations and the overall pathetic state of the program. I think the same applies to rushing the field after a big win in college football, as Iowa fans did after beating Michigan - unranked Michigan - last week. Iowa is SCREWED. By storming the field, the fans just told the team, "We didn't expect you to win this game, and we certainly don't expect you to win the next one, so wooooooo! Our team is never going to do anything this good ever again!" Iowa is destined to trip up either this week or next week (at Michigan State).
Game 3 - Wake Forest at Clemson, 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): Wake Forest is at it again. They lost at home to Baylor, and now all of a sudden, they're leading the ACC Atlantic division. And as they've done in seasons past, they'll probably coast to the ACC Championship Game, all while nobody notices or cares. Way to make the conference look bad, Deacs!
Game 4 - Northwestern at Michigan State, 12:00p, ESPN2: Important game for the Spartans if they want a chance to play in one of the Big Ten's eight New Year's Day bowl games. Okay, they don't have that many, but it seems like it. Especially now that the Gator Bowl has joined pretty much every other New Year's Day bowl by pairing an SEC team with a Big Ten team starting next season.
Game 5 - Ohio State at Purdue, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Purdue is 1-5 on the season. Good luck!
Game 6 - Louisville at Connecticut, 12:00p, MASN: Speaking of the Big East, Cincinnati looked like a really good team on Thursday night...then their quarterback injured his arm. I didn't stay up to watch the second half, so I don't know how good the backup is, but if the backup is anywhere near as good as the starter, Cincinnati has a legimitate chance to go undefeated this season (which still won't be good enough for a BCS Championship Game appearance, unfortunately).
Game 7 - Georgia at Vanderbilt, 12:00p, MSG: Not a particularly inspiring SEC Network game this week, but even Vanderbilt has to get on television sooner or later.
Game 8 - Wyoming at Air Force, 2:00p, the mtn.: Who needs Versus when you have the Mountain West Sports Network (or whatever its long name is)?
Game 9 - Mississippi State at Middle Tennessee, 12:30p, ESPNU
Game 10 - Delaware State at Michigan, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: WTF?

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Minnesota at Penn State, 3:30p, ESPN: State College got over four inches of snow this week, the earliest measurable snow ever recorded in State College. As for today's game? Rain, and 38°F. Happy Homecoming!
Game 2 - USC at Notre Dame, 3:30p, NBC: I rag on Notre Dame a lot - it's fun! - but this is obviously a big game. Too bad it's during the Penn State game. Aww, shucks.
Game 3 - Virginia at Maryland, 4:00p, ESPNU: I'm tabbing this game to be more interesting game than the other ACC game during this time slot...
Game 4 - NC State at Boston College, 3:30p, ABC: Last week, Florida State gave up 49 points at home and lost. That was bad. But NC State also gave up 49 points at home and lost. The difference? NC State gave up 49 points and lost to Duke. Duke! It doesn't get any lower than that. It's only fitting that Florida State and NC State play each other on Halloween this season, because it will truly be a frightening game to watch.
Game 5 - Arkansas at Florida, 3:30p, CBS: Arkansas this year = Ole Miss last year? Sorry, don't see it happening. Moving on...
Game 6 - Houston at Tulane, 3:30p, CBS College: Houston has managed to stay in the rankings longer than I thought they would. I will now stop predicting their inevitable demise on a week-to-week basis.
Game 7 - Marshall at West Virginia. 3:30p,. SNY: It could happen...right?
Game 8 - Rice at East Carolina, 3:30p, MASN
Game 9 - Hawaii at Idaho, 5:00p, Altitude 2: Altitude 2? I didn't know there was such a thing. Altitude 1 must be airing a Colorado Avalanche game or something. Nice to know they can make room in the schedule for Hawaii at Idaho.
Game 10 - Akron at Buffalo, 3:30p, Fox Sports Ohio: There are a lot of lower-conference games on during the middle time slot, if you're into that sort of thing.
Game 11 - Central Michigan at Western Michigan, 3:30p, Fox Sports Detroit Plus: The rivalry!
Game 12 - Nevada at Utah State, 3:00p, CSN California: Yep.

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, 6:00p, ESPN2: Huge game in the ACC, and possibly Virginia Tech's toughest test the rest of the way. But the fact that it's on ESPN2 and not ABC or ESPN tells you all you need to know about the current state of the ACC.
Game 2 - Miami (FL) at Central Florida, 7:30p, CBS College: Woohoo! I wasn't sure this game would be televised. Let's go Knights!
Game 3 - South Carolina at Alabama, 7:45p, ESPN: The end of the VT/GT game will probably mean bed time. I want to get a long bike ride in the next morning.
Game 4 - Illinois at Indiana, 7:00p, Big Ten Network: Seems like whenever there's a late game on the Big Ten Network, it's always _______ at Indiana. Maybe this is the only way Indiana can get anyone to notice that they're even playing a game at all?
Game 5 - Kansas at Colorado, 7:00p, FSN: Colorado kept it close for a while last week against Texas, so...maybe?
Game 6 - BYU at San Diego State, 6:00p, the mtn.
Game 7 - Kentucky at Auburn, 7:30p, ESPNU: I think I'm all SEC'd out after last week.
Game 8 - UAB at Ole Miss, 7:00p, Fox Sports South: See above.
Game 9 - Navy at SMU, 8:00p, MASN: Whether or not a game is available in High Definition does affect where I place it in the priority. This game is not in HD.
Game 10 - Texas A&M at Kansas State, 7:00p, Fox College Sports: Neither is this one.

Time slot 4 (a.k.a. bed time)

Game 1 - Missouri at Oklahoma State, 9:15p, ESPN2: There is no ABC game tonight. Why not? NASCAR.
Game 2 - Utah at UNLV, 10:00p, the mtn.: Full slate of games on "the mtn" today.
Game 3 - Washington at Arizona State, 10:15p, FSN

Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cracker Barrel Is America

Amber takes one or two international business trips each year. Her most recent trip to Switzerland was, I think, her third such trip. (There was one to Cagliari, Italy and one to Monterrey, Mexico. Am I missing any?) In the meantime, I've started a tradition.

I know that the biggest problem I would have with international travel (which aside from Canada I've never done myself, I should point out) would be the food. I like my chicken fingers and burgers. But in many other countries, that's not exactly readily available cuisine. So I know that if I ever went overseas, I would probably return with a deep craving for American food and would make a bee line for the first American restaurant I saw.

Assuming that Amber feels the same way when she returns (to some extent), I've started a tradition following each of her overseas trips. After I pick her up at the airport, we immediately head for Cracker Barrel. It's close to the airport, and I can't think of a more American restaurant (fast food excluded) than Cracker Barrel.

By the way, did you know that Bojangles' has five locations in Honduras? I figure it's only a matter of time before they franchise in Europe, Japan, and Australia, too. First, Honduras...then the world!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

National Park Rankings

Inspired by that Ken Burns documentary that aired on PBS a couple of weeks ago (which we are very slowly making our way through on the DVR), let's talk National Parks!

I'm a big fan of the National Parks. I'm also a fan of arbitrary rankings, so I'm going to rank all of the National Parks. But since I haven't been to all of them, I'm putting together two separate lists of rankings - one for the 28 National Parks I've been to, and one for the 30 National Parks I haven't been to. Wee!

I'm using Wikipedia's list of the 58 National Parks for reference. Some of the parks I haven't been to, I didn't even know existed.

National Parks I've Been To, ranked by how much I liked them

(This list was updated after our 2010 Alaska trip, which gave me two new national parks. As of January 2014, I have not visited any other new national parks since then.)

1) Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
2) Arches National Park (Utah)
3) Yosemite National Park (California)
4) Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah)
5) Death Valley National Park (California)
6) Denali National Park (Alaska)
7) Zion National Park (Utah)
8) Canyonlands National Park (Utah)
9) Acadia National Park (Maine)
10) Glacier National Park (Montana)
11) Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona)
12) Sequoia National Park (California)
13) Crater Lake National Park (Oregon)
14) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii)
15) Olympic National Park (Washington)
16) Kenai Fjords National Park (Alaska)
17) Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)
18) Mammoth Cave National Park (Kentucky)
19) Wind Cave National Park (South Dakota)
20) Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)
21) North Cascades National Park (Washington)
22) Lassen Volcanic National Park (California)
23) Badlands National Park (South Dakota)
24) Redwood National Park (California)
25) Kings Canyon National Park (California)
26) Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina / Tennessee)
27) Shenandoah National Park (Virginia)
28) Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona)
29) Everglades National Park (Florida)
30) Hot Springs National Park (Arkansas)

Some thoughts and explanation...
- Yellowstone is easily the best. There is more "neat stuff" in Yellowstone than anywhere else.
- In general, you can't go wrong with Utah.
- The Grand Canyon is amazing...BUT, it's crowded, and I don't think the Utah parks are any less spectacular.
- Nothing against Great Smoky Mountains or Shenandoah, but it's just tough to compete with the Western parks. Just to make this clear...there are no "losers" on this list. Even Hot Springs, Arkansas is nice, despite being ranked at the "bottom". Someone had to be last. I enjoyed them all.
- After our 2010 Alaska trip, I ranked Denali 6th (really awesome, but I still prefer Yellowstone and some of the Utah parks) and Kenai Fjords 16th (really not a whole lot to it, but hey, it's in Alaska).

National Parks I Haven't Been To, ranked by how much I want to visit them

1) Grand Teton National Park (Wyoming)
2) Big Bend National Park (Texas)
3) Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)
4) Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado)
5) Mesa Verde National Park (Colorado)
6) Haleakala National Park (Hawaii)
7) Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (Colorado)
8) Theodore Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota)
9) Joshua Tree National Park (California)
10) Isle Royale National Park (Michigan)
11) Saguaro National Park (Arizona)
12) Great Basin National Park (Nevada)
13) Great Sand Dunes National Park (Colorado)
14) Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (Alaska)
15) Voyageurs National Park (Minnesota)
16) Congaree National Park (South Carolina)
17) Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)
18) Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio)
19) Guadalupe Mountains National Park (Texas)
20) Channel Islands National Park (California)
21) Biscayne National Park (Florida)
22) Virgin Islands National Park
23) National Park of American Samoa

Then, there are five more National Parks in Alaska that are probably really awesome, but are a real pain in the ass to get to in terms of time and/or money (air or sea access only), so the odds of ever actually going to any of these hard-to-reach parks are pretty slim. But I couldn't rank them at the bottom of the list - this is Alaska we're talking about - so I gave them their own list. (The other Alaskan parks are accessible by car, and I visited two of them in 2010.)
1) Gates of the Arctic National Park
2) Glacier Bay National Park
3) Katmai National Park
4) Kobuk Valley National Park
5) Lake Clark National Park

More discussion...
- The biggest problem facing Grand Teton is that it's right next to Yellowstone. You'd have to schedule a really long vacation to have enough time for both.
- I'm missing a lot of the Southwest. I think a future trip to Big Bend, Carlsbad Caverns, and Guadalupe Mountains (if we have time) is warranted.
- They even have a National Park in Ohio!
- I think I can rule out any visits to the Virgin Islands or American Samoa in my lifetime.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boneless Wings

A few restaurants - for example, KFC - are selling a type of chicken called "boneless wings". I think boneless wings are stupid.

First off, there is no such thing as a "boneless wing". Wings have bones in them. When you get real wings at a place that does them right, they have bones. That's part of the fun! Eating the meat off the bone, getting the sauce all over your face, and ending up with a plate full of bones at the end is part of the experience and fun of eating wings. If you can easily eat it with a knife and fork and not make a mess in the process, it's not a wing. They should call "boneless wings" something else. For example...oh, how about calling them "chicken nuggets?"

That's what "boneless wings" are, after all. They're chicken nuggets made from breast meat, shaped like wings, and usually dipped in a Buffalo-style sauce normally associated with real, actual wings. More restaurants are doing this now because chicken breast meat is now cheaper than chicken wing meat (New York Times). But that doesn't make it right. It's false advertising. "Boneless wings" are not wings at all, not by any stretch of the definition. Why does the FDA allow this? The FDA usually has strict rules and regulations regarding what food can be called. If it isn't made from real oranges, you can't call it orange juice. If they aren't made from real potatoes, you can't call them potato chips. Why are "boneless wings" getting a free pass?

Swiss Cheese

Amber got back from Switzerland last night. While she was there, she didn't have a whole lot of time for sightseeing or souvenir shopping, but she did have some.

Just out of curiosity, I asked Amber if she could get some "Swiss Cheese" while in Switzerland. You know, the kind with all of the holes in it. Mainly, I was curious about one thing. Is "Swiss Cheese" considered the cheese in Switzerland, widely available to anyone who enters the country? Or is "Swiss Cheese" just a dumb name the Americans have attached to it, even though it really isn't that big in Switzerland itself?

Based on Amber's findings, it appears that not surprisingly, the latter is the correct answer. Switzerland is not all about their holey cheese. (They call it Emmental, by the way.) On the other hand, I suppose any kind of cheese you buy in Switzerland could be considered "Swiss Cheese".

Meanwhile, it appears the food that Switzerland is trying to push on tourists the most is the chocolate. I bet the Swiss are sick and tired of always being associated with that dumb cheese. "We're not all about cheese and neutrality, you know. We also have really awesome chocolate. Have some chocolate!"

On her way out there, Amber also had a long layover in Brussels, Belgium, during which she checked out the gift shop. Belgium isn't really known for anything, except perhaps for waffles, and they're probably just as sick and tired of that association as Switzerland is about the cheese. So if you walk into a Brussels gift shop and want to get something emblematic of the city and/or country, what do you get? Apparently, that means getting something with an image of Brussels's most famous statue on it. Brussels's most famous statue - at least if the gift shop is any indication - is something called Manneken Pis. Basically, it's a statue of a urinating boy - complete with a fountain, of course.

If a statue of a peeing boy is the best thing Belgium has to offer, then that means if you're planning a European vacation, you can pretty much skip Belgium and not miss anything.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Curling Recap: 9/25/09 - 10/9/09

Amber in Europe = boredom in Durham, so with nothing else to talk about...let's go curling! Normally I'm ready and eager to talk about my curling adventures, but this time...

Friday, September 25th

End............ 1234567 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 2012000 | 05
Other team..... 0100115 | 08

So...I'm pretty sure that last end was the worst end ever, at least from my perspective. It takes a lot of cooperation from both teams to put together a five-point end. But when you have a two point lead heading into the final end, with last rock, and manage to give up five...ouch. Worst end ever. No doubt about it. (Note: going into the 7th end, we knew that it would be the last end of the game due to time constraints. Generally speaking, once there are less than 20 minutes remaining in the session, the next end is the last end.)

Friday, October 9th

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Other team..... 10100000 | 02
Our team....... 01022221 | 10

On many prior occasions, I've talked about how I normally play my best games after an off week. So what happened here?

Well, for one, I had to play skip. Despite the fact that I was 2-1 all-time as a skip going into this game, both wins were against other part-time skips. I have yet to beat any of Triangle Curling Club's established skips head-to-head. And, needless to say, I still haven't. Yes, curling is a team sport, and it's not all about the skip. But the skip has to make a clutch game-changing shot or two at some point, and that didn't happen. Not once. And, my shot calling was pretty bad, too - not so much the strategy, but the judgment calls regarding line and weight. Just a bad game all around.

My curling self-esteem is pretty low at the moment, but there's always next week. Except that our next game is against the league's only undefeated team, who has won its first four matches by a combined score of 38-17. And I totally think we can win. Woooo! Positive thinking!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

College Football Saturday: 10/10/09

Being on mini-vacation, last Saturday was not a "College Football Saturday". Sometimes when I'll be away from home and think I'll be able to avoid the results, I'll record the Florida State and/or Penn State games on the DVR and watch them when I get home. But I didn't do that last weekend. Instead, I recorded NASCAR, and the first two Carolina Hurricanes games.

"So, Chris...let me get this straight. You went out of your way to record NASCAR and hockey, but not college football? What's wrong with you?" College football has been my #1 sport since my freshman year at FSU. But based on last weekend, maybe it isn't #1 anymore? These days I think it's pretty close between my "big three". But there are two main reasons I didn't bother record either the FSU or PSU games last weekend. For one, both teams were coming off tough losses, making me less motivated to watch the next game. I don't feel compelled to watch every second of every game when the teams are mediocre. Also, both teams were playing rather bland opponents in Boston College and Illinois, respectively. Had the next games been against NC State and Michigan, for example, I probably would have recorded both.

But there's no need to record anything today. Once I drop Amber off at the airport, I won't have anything better to do than sit on the new sofa and watch football.

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Boston College at Virginia Tech, 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): Now that Virginia Tech is ranked 5th in the country, I fully expect them to live up to the proud ACC tradition and lose to a team they have no business losing to. This is a great opportunity! If not this week, then some other time. Regardless of how bad the rest of the ACC is, I still don't expect the Hokies to win out.
Game 2 - Eastern Illinois at Penn State, 12:00p, ESPN Classic: If I thought Illinois was a "bland" opponent, what do I think of Eastern Illinois? Well...the reason this game is #2 is because I'm not going watch the first half, but will move it up to #1 in the second half if the outcome is in doubt. Games against teams like Eastern Illinois are like preseason games to me.
Game 3 - Michigan State at Illinois, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Last week's Michigan State v. Michigan game would have been fun to watch. Oh well.
Game 4 - Georgia at Tennessee, 12:00p, MSG: This used to be a huge game. Not so much anymore.
Game 5 - Auburn at Arkansas, 12:00p, ESPN
Game 6 - West Virginia at Syracuse, 12:00p, MASN: Now that baseball's regular season is over, MASN has room in its schedule to show college football again. Yay!
Game 7 - Houston at Mississippi State, 12:30p, ESPNU: Houston still needs to lose one more game to fulfill my prediction and descend back into mediocrity.
Game 8 - Kentucky at South Carolina, 12:30p, FSN South
Game 9 - Oklahoma State at Texas A&M, 12:30p, FSN (National)
Game 10 - Vanderbilt at Army, 12:00p, CBS College
Game 11 - New Mexico at Wyoming, 2:00p, the mtn.
Game 12 - Miami (OH) at Northwestern, 12:00p, Big Ten Network

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Alabama at Mississippi, 3:30p, CBS: I have far more interest in the late games than the midday games, so this will probably end up being nap time, at least for the first half.
Game 2 - Duke at NC State, 4:00p, ESPNU: NC State quarterback Russell Wilson is all the rage around here. Too bad they keep losing.
Game 3 - Wisconsin at Ohio State, 3:30p, ABC: It would be nice to see the Buckeyes lose another game or two this season.
Game 4 - Utah at Colorado State, 6:00p, the mtn.: I think my minor interest in Utah has completely worn off. It was fun while it lasted.
Game 5 - Connecticut at Pittsburgh, 3:30p, ESPN: As Big East games go, I'll be far more interested in next Thursday's Cincinnati v. South Florida game. That's a big game. This one? Nah.
Game 6 - Bowling Green at Kent State, 3:30p, FSN Ohio
Game 7 - Navy at Rice, 3:30p, CBS College

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Georgia Tech at Florida State, 8:00p, ESPN2: Alright, so...the season looks to be in the crapper for FSU. Everyone's calling for Bobby Bowden to retire already. They lost to South Florida and Boston College in consecutive weeks. But despite all that, they're still favored to win this game, and given how bad the ACC Atlantic division is - no Virginia Tech, no Miami (FL) - a 5-3 record might be all it takes to get to the ACC Championship. Can FSU go 5-1 in conference the rest of the way? Sure! The season isn't over yet, folks.
Game 2 - Florida at LSU, 8:00p, CBS: Pretty much the only time I'll watch the Gators is when they have a chance to lose. A night game at LSU with a woozy and/or backup quarterback is as tough as it's going to get for the Gators this season.
Game 3 - Michigan at Iowa, 8:00p, ABC: I'm really intrigued by this one. This is normally the kind of game that these "up and coming" Big Ten teams lose, often in painful fashion. We'll see...
Game 4 - Stanford at Oregon State, 7:00p, FSN: Could be fun. Haven't watched a game featuring either team yet this season.
Game 5 - East Carolina at SMU, 8:00p, MASN: MASN - the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network - broadcasts a few football and basketball games each year featuring North Carolina teams, isn't available on Time Warner Cable in North Carolina. This dispute has been going on for three years now. Here's hoping DirecTV and Versus don't take this long...
Game 6 - Colorado at Texas, 7:15p, ESPN: Dud. But the last five games aren't of high interest.
Game 7 - TCU at Air Force, 7:30p, CBS College
Game 8 - Kansas State at Texas Tech, 7:00p, FSN Southwest
Game 9 - Southern Miss at Louisville, 7:30p, ESPNU
Game 10 - Utah State at New Mexico State, 8:00p, Altitude

Time slot 4 (a.k.a. bedtime)

Game 1 - Arizona at Washington, 10:15p, FSN Arizona
Game 2 - BYU at UNLV, 10:00p, the mtn.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Amber Goes to Switzerland

Last week, I said that every weekend in October was booked. What's going on this weekend, you ask?

Tomorrow, Amber is flying to Geneva, Switzerland for a conference, or meeting, or something, and she's coming back on Tuesday. Quick overseas trip, eh? That might not even be enough time to adjust to the time zone change.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

New Sofa Smell

Our new sofa was delivered yesterday. Now we have enough furniture in our "den", maybe we can call it a "living room" now! No more forcing guests to sit in the bean bag chair!

Furniture stores have a distinct smell about them. I've never really thought about it before. But when the sofa arrived, the smell was strong enough, it was like I was back in the store shopping again. Is this like "new car smell", where they artifically apply a scent to the sofa to make it "smell" new?

So, yes, the sofa is nice. If there is a downside to the new sofa, it's that I am now 50% more likely to fall asleep during a NASCAR race.

The Semi-Annual Haircut

Every time I've gotten a haircut over the life of this blog, I've written about it (6/4/07, 5/22/08, 4/21/09). Why stop now?

The obvious question - or, at least, obvious to someone who would take note of when he got his last three haircuts - is why I waited less than six months for my next haircut this time. Over the last few years, I've only gotten one haircut per year. It was kind of like a badge of honor, and I was actually proud of it. "Look at me! I only get one haircut a year! I'm special!"

But, here's the thing. For one, Amber cuts my hair now, so haircuts are free. But mostly, as male pattern baldness sets in at an ever increasing rate, my hair looks more and more ridiculous the longer it gets. (Yes, it's always looked ridiculous when long, but now it looks extremely ridiculous.) So as I continue to lose hair, I'll need more frequent haircuts. Anyone else find that ironic?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Adirondacks

As nice as Watkins Glen was, the main attraction of last weekend's trip, at least for Fall foliage, was the Adirondacks. Scenic drive time!


View Larger Map

Foliage was supposed to be at or near peak when we were there. So...was it?


Well, as someone born and raised in Florida and currently living in North Carolina, I actually have no idea what "peak foliage" means. Is it when most trees are yellow? Or red? Or a somewhere in between? I'll let you be the judge as to whether it was peak or not. All I know is that it was nice.


This was my first time ever in the Adirondacks. (I've been to Lake George, but I'm not sure if that counts.) As overdeveloped a state as New York is, the Adirondacks are anything but.


Google Maps doesn't do this, but on some maps (e.g. MapQuest, and our GPS), the entire region is colored in "recreation area green". And in our road atlas, pretty much every road in the Adirondacks is labeled as a scenic road. So, we can't lose, right?


Well...the gigantic green area is something called "Adirondack Park", which is "publicly protected land", whatever that means. Does that just mean they're not allowed to build any Walmarts here or something? Personally, I think they just wanted to overpromote themselves by making the park unnecessarily huge and prominent on maps. Vermont could make their entire state a "park" and have Rand McNally color the whole thing green if they wanted to. But did they? No. They don't need to. Only in New York.

I actually think the Adirondacks are a little overrated. They're no more scenic than the rest of the Appalachians. In fact, on the basis of the mountains and the views alone, I would rank the Adirondacks behind the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and even upstate South Carolina. But that's okay, because we went here strictly for the color, and the color was excellent.

Don't take my opinion of the Adirondacks' prominence the wrong way. We had a great time. It was a really nice drive. It just isn't among the best drives we've ever done. I guess what I'm saying is, if you're going to come this far north, go to Vermont.


And, to be fair, there's plenty to do in the Adirondacks that we didn't have time for. We didn't hike, or rent a "cottage", or hunt, or ski, or snowmobile, or go boating or fishing. The Adirondacks are great for fishing. They even have natural lakes here! (Natural lakes are pretty much unheard of in North Carolina. Every lake here is man-made, or at least man-embellished.) And like I said, I think we hit the jackpot with the foliage. That's why we came, after all. (Well, that, and the fact that we like driving.)

Monday, October 05, 2009

Watkins Glen and Taughannock Falls

With another road trip in the books, it's recap time! I've already talked about the drive to State College multiple times (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven), so I'm going to skip ahead to Friday morning, where we met some friends at Waffle Shop. Oh, wait...I've already talked about Waffle Shop, too (one, two). It certainly looks as though over the history of my blog, I've already said everything that can possibly be said about State College.

Moving on to the rest of Friday...


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Watkins Glen State Park would serve as our campground for two nights, and we got there early (before noon) so we could set up camp before the rain came. The rain didn't actually arrive in earnest until 4 or 5 PM, so we had plenty of time to see stuff without getting soaked.

I've been to Watkins Glen State Park before. I forget when, but I was probably pretty young. Usually when you go somewhere as a kid, everything looks huge, and then when you come back as an adult, everything suddenly looks much smaller than you remember. But Watkins Glen was actually the exact opposite. The gorge was much bigger than I remembered.






(We brought Mo the cow puppet on the trip, but forgot to bring him into the gorge. Darn it!)

I can see why this place is so popular. Great place to go for a walk/hike. It's 1.5 miles from one end of the gorge to the other, which isn't really that long of a "hike", even if you do gain a few hundred feet in elevation in the process. It didn't take away from the scenery by any means, but it's hard to consider it a hike when the path is entirely laid in concrete and there are stairs most of the way. But Watkins Glen State Park was probably founded back in a time where people were more interested in "showing off" and making places tourist attractions than just preserving nature as it has appeared for hundreds or thousands of years. That's the thing with New York. Everything has been around for a while.

Now...the main reason for doing the trip was to see fall foliage. The foliage in Watkins Glen and surrounding areas was still a week or two away from peak, but given the Finger Lakes' relatively low elevation, we expected that, which is why we planned on going up into the Adirondacks the next day. But I bet the gorge will look absolutely amazing in a couple of weeks.

The next stop was a place called Taughannock Falls, northwest of Ithaca, and recommended by fellow curler Joe. There are two ways to see the falls: from above, and from below. The overlook is easily accessible by road, while the view from below is a 3/4-mile hike. We didn't know better, so we did the two in the wrong order: overlook, then hike. It would have been better to do the hike first, so that our first view of the falls would be up close from below after a 20-minute walk. Instead, we stumbled upon the overlook first, which required virtually no effort to get to, and was completely anticlimactic and ruined the surprise when we got to the end of the hike. Oh well. So, my recommendation for anyone going to Taughannock Falls is to do the hike first, THEN the overlook.

Despite eating our dessert before the main course, it was still pretty neat. And we actually remembered to bring Mo this time.




Amber will post additional pictures on Facebook this week from both Watkins Glen and Taughannock.

The final stop was to see another friend - Jeff [Frame] - in Geneva. Jeff wanted a picture with Mo.


Geneva is one of approximately 15,000 small towns in New York with its own small college. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration (I think), but there are a LOT of small, expensive colleges in this state. Back in the 1800s, I guess small colleges were the thing rather than the huge, 30,000-student universities that dominate the South, Midwest, and West. The towns they reside in are all pretty old, too. Going to New York is almost like going back in time. (Has the internet caught on here yet?) But despite the aged appearance of the New York State, and the cold weather, and the high taxes, lots of people live here, even in the rural Finger Lakes. And the folks seem pretty happy. Maybe we should come back in March to see how happy people are then.

Next up: the Adirondacks. Hooray mountain driving!

Bye Bye Warranty

We're still putting together the pictures from the trip - maybe tonight or tomorrow on those - so for now...it's time for more useless statistics!

Well, this first one actually isn't useless. My car hit 36,000 miles on our way home yesterday, which means my car warranty is now expired. Or did it expire at 36,027 miles? Does the standard 36,000-mile warranty that came with my Honda Civic mean 36,000 miles total, or 36,000 miles after I drove it off the lot with the odometer already at 27? Thankfully, it doesn't matter, because the car did not break down at 36,015. I've heard stories of cars having problems just as soon as the warranty expires, but I bought a historically reliable car, so I'm hopeful that won't happen. Still, it wouldn't surprise me if the "check engine" light came on this week.

Alright, that's enough meaningful statistics. Let's get useless! Some notable statistics from last weekend's trip...

- We took my car on this weekend's trip, and put over 1,800 miles on it this weekend alone. But that's fine, because I didn't even put 500 miles on my car in September. For me, that's almost unheard of.
- I visited 11 new counties on the trip, bringing my national total of counties visited over 40% (1,261-of-3,142). Hooray! The counties are getting harder to come by, so my lifetime goal of 50% is still a ways away. Meanwhile, I only have nine counties remaining in Pennsylvania, and I've now visited over two-thirds of New York.
- We had breakfast at one of our long time favorites, Waffle Shop in State College, PA. Waffle Shop is historically fast, but Friday's visit to Waffle Shop was uncharacteristically slow (by Waffle Shop standards) at 16 minutes, 31 seconds. That's the second-slowest Waffle Shop time to date. Only a visit to the Bellefonte location was slower, and that was for lunch rather than breakfast.
- I have now spent at least one night in Centre County, PA (State College) for six consecutive years. Only Duval County, FL (Jacksonville) has a longer streak.
- I have revisited State College 17 times since graduating from Penn State. Meanwhile, after graduating from Florida State, I have only revisited Tallahassee once.
- The completion of I-99 makes the drive to State College about five minutes faster.
- We paid $1.60 in tolls on 16 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Meanwhile, we paid $3.70 in tolls on 81 miles of the New York Thruway, which makes the Pennsylvania Turnpike more than twice as expensive per mile. I guess they need to pay for all that silly construction somehow, right?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Watkins Glen / Adirondacks Trip: Preview

It's time to go on another road trip!

"But Chris! Didn't you just take a long road trip? I would have thought you'd be all road tripped out for a couple of months!" I would have thought so too, but here's the thing.

We're fall foliage geeks. Amber especially. We wanted to do a fall foliage drive this year, somewhere north. Regardless of where we go, if we want to see peak foliage, we need to make the trip in October. Every weekend in October is booked except for this weekend, which means if we're going to make this trip at all, it has to be now. And since we're still very early in Fall, if we want to see peak foliage, that means we have to go pretty far north, all the way to the Finger Lakes and Adirondacks in New York.


View Larger Map

So, here's the plan:

Thursday afternoon/evening: Drive to State College, PA. It seems like a logical place to stop for the night. The original plan was to stay in State College all weekend and make it the centerpoint of the entire trip, but we need to go farther north if we want peak foliage this early in October.

Friday morning: Eat breakfast at Waffle Shop, a must stop if we're going to be in State College, in my book. (By the way, it's not just the Waffle Shop, it's the ORIGINAL Waffle Shop. I didn't realize that the area's four Waffle Shops weren't all under the same ownership.)

Friday midday: Drive up to Watkins Glen State Park, where we'll camp Friday and Saturday night. Time is important, because rain is forecast for much of the afternoon, and it would be nice to set up camp before it starts raining. (By the way, our choice of venue has nothing to do with the race track. I'm saving all of the NASCAR stuff for later in October.)

Friday afternoon/evening: Weather pending, do recreational stuff in the Watkins Glen, Ithaca, and Geneva areas. We're also planning on catching up with some friends in both State College that morning and in Geneva in the evening.

Saturday: Drive up to the Adirondacks for the day, see pretty stuff, and get wet some more. The rain that's going to be moving through Watkins Glen on Friday is going to be in the Adirondacks on Saturday. I shouldn't complain about the weather too much, though, because our last camping trip - a four night, five day affair - had no rain whatsoever. I put a fresh coat of Rain-X on my car's windshield yesterday in preparation (even though it's not all that effective on my car).

Sunday: Drive home. I'm thinking 10-11 hours from Watkins Glen home.

All weekend: Amber will take lots of pictures, and I may make a few Facebook/Twitter updates if the trip is interesting enough. We'll see.

So...that's it. Recap next week. Bye!