Monday, November 30, 2009

Posts Are Coming...I Promise

We did make it back home safely from Toledo yesterday, and I do have a few blog posts lined up. But, I haven't had any time to write any yet, so...this is all I've got for now. I should have some stuff tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Day Trip to Canada

Given how much Amber and I like Canada, I think it's reasonable to make an effort to cross the border at least once a year. The past two years, we've done that on a trip to Nova Scotia (2007) and our honeymoon (2008). But this year, so far we've come up empty. None of our major road trips this year - the western North Carolina camping trip, the US-50 trip, or the Watkins Glen trip - took us to Canada. Meanwhile, it's already November 24th. Time's running out!

Well...shoot. But the good news is that we're going to Toledo this week. Toledo must be pretty close enough to Canada, because the local cable company carries CBC. And we'll be there for four days and nights, so I'm sure we'll have some time to kill. Let's take a day trip to Canada! Yeah!


View Larger Map

We don't have a specific plan yet, but what we may end up doing is using the Ambassador Bridge (Detroit to Windsor) one way, and the Blue Water Bridge (Port Huron to Sarnia) the other way. In between, we'll do some driving in Southern Ontario, and maybe stop at a Canadian Tire or Tim Hortons or something definitively Canadian along the way. We really should take advantage of the fact that Amber's parents live so close to Canada; I'm surprised we haven't yet. (Actually, we might have, but we've never remembered to bring the proper documentation to Toledo with us.)

Side note: While Friday is often the busiest shopping day of the year in the United States, not so in Canada. (That would be Boxing Day, the day after Christmas.) Canadians still have to work this Friday. Suckers! (Well, technically, I would have to work on Friday too - Thanksgiving is a paid holiday, but the day after is not - but I'm obviously taking the day off anyway.)

On a map, Southern Ontario actually looks pretty boring. Sure, Windsor is technically part of Canada, but it's only "barely" Canada, right? And all the roads down there look straight and boring. I expect to see lots of farmland. Pretty much every scenic drive listed on this page is north and east of London. (London is 120 miles from Detroit and 70 miles from Port Huron, and is probably as deep into Ontario as we'll go.) Nonetheless, it will still be fun to drive on Canadian highways for a few hours, even if it is the most boring part of the country.

Curling Recap: 11/20/09

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
My team........ 03101021 | 08
Other team..... 10010100 | 03

The season was over for our team (bye week), but thanks to some folks on other teams who couldn't make it, Amber and I came out and curled anyway, although on separate teams. My team won 8-3; Amber's team won 11-5.

You could probably consider an 8-3 score a blowout, but it could have actually been a lot worse. With one shot remaining for the other team in the 6th end (or was it the 4th end?), we were lying five, with plenty of guards (a.k.a. crap) in front of the house. But they found a way: (our team = red)


(Disclaimer: My diagrams should only be considered "dramatizations" at best. I do remember the specific location of every stone before and after the shot.)

If you play pool, you probably know that when two balls are touching, and you hit one of them, it doesn't matter at what angle you hit the balls; the second ball will go in the same direction no matter what. The score would have been 10-2 if they missed the shot. But we ended up winning anyway, so no hard feelings.

But truthfully, I was actually more interested in the other games, because the other teams were all battling for the final "playoff spot" in our league. Coming into the week, four teams were tied at 4-3, and whichever one ended the night on top would move on to the league championship the week after Christmas. (The tie-breaker is point differential, which is points for minus points against over the course of the season.) So, yeah...I was probably watching the other games more than I was watching our own game. But that's okay, because it's not like I was skipping or anything.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Holiday Traffic: 2009 Edition

I've driven somewhere for Thanksgiving every year this decade, and I'm tired of dealing with the traffic. As much as I like road trips, I don't always enjoy driving Thanksgiving weekend.

So...what's our solution? Leave early! And I mean, really early. Our plan is to leave for Toledo at around 1:00 AM Wednesday morning. That will get us away from the holiday traffic for sure. It will also put is in Columbus during morning rushhour, but the most congested part of the Toledo drive is the southern half (south of Charleston, WV), and we'll be done with that before the sun comes up.

This will be sort of a trial run. Even though it will only save us about 30 minutes of drive time, it will reduce the stress of traffic significantly. But will that be offset by the impact leaving at 1 AM will have on our sleep schedules? We'll find out. The way I see it, we'll get to Toledo before noon, and we'll have the rest of the day to nap. Or, one of us could nap in the car when the other person is driving. We'll see how it works out. When I used to drive from State College to Jacksonville and back, I would often leave in the late morning rather than early in the morning, and arrive at my destination at 2 or 3 the next morning. Ah, college...

As for the return trip, we have a family obligation in Toledo Sunday morning, so...we'll be driving back Sunday afternoon and getting stuck in traffic just like everyone else! Yay! In this case, I know for a fact that I-77 southbound will be backed up between Wytheville and the Virginia/North Carolina border, so we'll be taking US-52 as a detour.


View Larger Map

Eventually, they are going to build I-73 north from Greensboro to Roanoke to Princeton, WV, where it will join I-77, which will make for a very handy and fast alternate route. That'll be really freaking awesome when it's done! Unfortunately, there is "no timetable for construction, so we're stuck with what we've got for the next 20 or 30 years, at least.


View Larger Map

(That's not the full I-73 corridor shown above; that's the route we would take. I-73 will continue south to Greensboro while we would zip on over to Danville and NC-86.)

The existing I-73 corridor from Princeton, WV to Greensboro (US-460 --> I-81 --> I-581 --> US-220) is already all four-lane highway (I think), but it's also 30 miles longer than the primary route, and likely to up an hour slower. But it might be more fun! Time is not our only consideration. Given that we like road trips, spending an extra hour in the car can be a good thing if it means we have more fun in the process. We'll have to think about that one.

Well, anyway, there's no need to get all crazy with alternate routes when you leave at 1 AM, so if it goes well, that'll be the Toledo Thanskgiving & Christmas road trip plan from now on.

Advertising By Smell

McDonald's has a distinctive smell. When you're downwind of a McDonald's, you know it. And in some cases, the smell may actually persuade you want to go there and get some.

So, I've always wondered. Does McDonald's purposely give their restaurants a strong, enticing smell that can be detected from a block or two away, purely for marketing purposes? Or did it just happen this way? Either way, it works. It's free advertising. Who needs a giant sign when you can have a giant smell? Not even the Town of Cary has a "smell ordinance". (Actually, I take that back. They probably do.)

I thought the same thing as I walked past a construction site on the first floor of our office building. "It smells like Home Depot down here," I thought to myself. Does Lowe's have a familiar smell? I don't think so. When you walk past a construction site and the smell reminds you of Home Depot - as opposed to a competitor - that's good for business. Is this on purpose? Does Home Depot go out of their way to make their stores smell like fresh wood, so that you're reminded of their store every time you encounter that smell in everyday life?

I think Subway needs to do a better job with their smell marketing. Subway restaurants have a very distinctive smell. You know it as soon as you walk through the door. But where else do you encounter the Subway smell, other than inside a Subway? It's not like McDonald's, where you can sometimes pick up the smell a few blocks away. The Subway smell does not leave the building. They need to work on that.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

College Football Saturday: 11/21/09

This is just about it for college football season. I'll be out of town next weekend (which means no blog post like this one), and then the week after that, there are only 12 games or so. (Ha..."only" 12 games. You have to pay $300 to watch that many NFL games in one day! With that perspective, I guess this really isn't the end after all.)

So, anyway...there is still a lot of good stuff today. Let's take advantage of it while we can!

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Maryland at Florida State, 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): Last week, I said I wasn't really that interested in whether the Seminoles became "bowl eligible" or not and kept their 27-year bowl streak alive. Well, after a win over Wake Forest, now all that FSU needs to do to extend the streak is to beat the worst team in the ACC at home. Easy, right? Well...Florida State hasn't made anything look easy this season. But I am optimistic, and now that they're only one win away, I actually do care about it now. Many traditional powers have had at least one losing season this decade, including Nebraska, Michigan, Miami (FL), and Notre Dame; Florida State has avoided that fate thus far. I'm not saying the goal should be 6-6 every year, but it would be nice to be able to do something those schools couldn't. I know I'm probably grasping at straws here, but I don't care. Let me be entertained!
Game 2 - North Carolina at Boston College, 12:00p, ESPN2: I'm devoting the early time slot to the ACC, in part because unlike most weeks, every ACC game is on television today. No ESPN360.com this week! As for this game, Boston College loss puts Clemson in the ACC Championship game, which would be alright with me, so...go Tar Heels!
Game 3 - Duke at Miami (FL), 12:00p, ESPNU: Duke must win out to become bowl eligible. Their record is 5-5, but the win over crosstown "rival" North Carolina Central doesn't count towards bowl eligibility because NC Central is only a "provisional" member of Division I, or something. That week one loss to FCS school Richmond, however, would have counted if they had won. Darn it...after all that, Duke might be home for the holidays once again. Here's hoping Miami (FL) isn't prepared for this one.
Game 4 - Louisville at South Florida, 12:00p, MASN: Louisville is one of the worst teams in the Big East this year, so USF should win. Should. (The italics means I'm not entirely confident.)
Game 5 - Ohio State at Michigan, 12:00p, ABC: So...yeah. I don't like either team, so usually I root for the team that's having the better season - in this case, Ohio State - to lose. Yes, I know Michigan becomes bowl eligible with a win, but in my opinion, playing in a crappy bowl game is more humiliating for a program like Michigan than playing in no bowl game at all.
Game 6 - Minnesota at Iowa, 12:00p, ESPN: Now that Iowa has lost a couple of games...who cares?
Game 7 - Oklahoma at Texas Tech, 12:30p, FSN: It's been nice to see Oklahoma reduced to pseudo-mediocrity this season.
Game 8 - Chattanooga at Alabama, 12:00p, CSN California: There are two "SEC Network" games this afternoon, but for some reason, CSN California (and also Fox Sports Detroit) has chosen to show the one that's guaranteed to be a boring blowout. Do you want people to watch, or not? I know Alabama is undefeated and ranked in the top 3, but come on. Are there really that many 'Bama fans in California?
Might be televised - Mississippi State at Arkansas, 12:00p, SEC Network: This is the other "SEC Network" game. Now...sometimes the local NBC affiliate will televise the noon SEC Network game. Today, they are airing a "college football" game on over-the-air 17.2, but as of Friday morning they don't say which game. Is it this one? Or, is it a lower-division game of local interest, similar to the CIAA Championship game (Fayetteville State v. Bowie State) that 17.2 aired a couple of weeks ago? Just as long as it isn't Chattanooga v. Alabama...

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Penn State at Michigan State, 3:30p, ESPN: It's the annual Big Ten "leftovers" rivalry game! Regardless of whether or not this can really be considered a rivalry, my mom went to Michigan State, so this is a friendly family rivalry.
Game 2 - Virginia at Clemson, 3:30p, ABC: Even if BC wins their game today, Clemson can still clinch a spot in the ACC Championship game with a win here. That means the result of the UNC/BC game will affect how important this game is - and therefore, how interested I am in it. If UNC wins, this game will drop a few spots on the priority.
Game 3 - NC State at Virginia Tech, 3:30p, ESPNU: Sorry, Wolfpack fans...the season isn't over yet.
Game 4 - LSU at "Ole Miss", 3:30p, CBS: I decided Mississippi (a.k.a. "Ole Miss") was too long of a name, so I'm just going to use "Ole Miss" - with the quotes - from now on.
Game 5 - Connecticut at Notre Dame, 2:30p, NBC: Sorry, Irish fans...the season isn't over yet. (Yeah, I know 6-4 isn't all that bad, but most Notre Dame fans think it is.)
Game 6 - Purdue at Indiana, 3:30p, Big Ten Network: Rivalry games between two bad teams can sometimes be the most entertaining.
Game 7 - TCU at Wyoming, 2:00p, the mtn.: So, TCU's last two games are this one, and one against New Mexico. Pencil this team in as "undefeated". Personally, I think there are too many undefeated teams - we could finish the regular season with five. I think college football is more interesting when the best teams lose, and this year, that hasn't happened. Boring.
Game 8 - Air Force at BYU, 3:30p, CBS College
Game 9 - Wisconsin at Northwestern, 3:30p, Big Ten Network: What happened to the Big Ten tradition of having all rivalry games in the last week of the season?
Game 10 - UAB at East Carolina, 3:30p, MASN
Game 11 - Arizona State at UCLA, 4:00p, FSN: I'm not going to bother fooling myself into putting these lower-tier Pac 10 games higher on the list "for variety" this week. I never flip to them anyway.

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Kansas State at Nebraska, 7:45p, ESPN: The winner of this game wins the Big XII North. Who will earn the right to be blown out by Texas in the Big XII Championship?
Game 2 - Oregon at Arizona, 8:00p, ABC: Thank goodness - I was afraid ABC would saddle this part of the country with the Kansas / Texas blowout. This game has much more excitement potential.
Game 3 - Kentucky at Georgia, 7:45p, ESPN2: This has been a very boring season in the SEC. By running the table, Florida and Alabama have sucked the life out of the rest of these games.
Game 4 - Vanderbilt at Tennessee, 7:00p, ESPNU: The rivalry!
Game 5 - Tulsa at Southern Miss, 7:30p, CBS College: Yep...there aren't many good games on tonight.
Game 6 - Colorado State at New Mexico, 6:00p, the mtn.
Not Televised - California at Stanford, 7:30p, Versus: Darn it, this one could actually be entertaining. It looks like my initial prediction - that the DirecTV/Versus dispute would last "several months, if not longer" - is coming true. There is no end in sight.

Time slot 4

Nevada at New Mexico State, 10:30p, ESPNU

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Holiday Rotation

It's time for holiday road trips again! Well, almost.

Thanksgiving will be spent with Amber's family in Toledo; Christmas will be spent with my family in Jacksonville; and New Year's will be spent once again in Toledo. This is the exact opposite of last year's plan (Jacksonville, Toledo, Jacksonville) and is the same as what we did two years ago. Hmm, you would almost think that was on purpose...

Indeed, the idea is to be as fair as possible to both families. Christmas is the "best" holiday, which is why the family that misses out on Christmas gets both Thanksgiving and New Year's. And as long as both sides of the family stay on the same rotation (ahem), everything works out perfectly and we get to see everyone we want to see every time we go.

If you're interested in specific dates we'll be in each place, here's the current plan:
Toledo Thanksgiving: arrive Wed 11/25 12:00p, leave Sun 11/29
Jacksonville Christmas: arrive Wed 12/23 11:00p, leave Sun 12/27
Toledo New Year's: arrive Wed 12/30 11:00p, leave Sun 1/3

As for the driving...I'll talk about that next week before we go, including how - and why - we plan on getting to Toledo at noon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Drought Monitor

Here's yet another thing I obsess over. I check the United States Drought Monitor website every Thursday, sometimes within the first two hours of the weekly update. (It's updated every Thursday at 8:30 AM.)

This week, I was especially looking forward to the update to see what kind of drought relief Ida's remnants brought to the Carolinas. Our area hasn't gotten a good soaking in quite some time, and as a result has been in "Moderate Drought" for a few weeks now. But the storm formerly known as Ida gave us over four inches of rain, and that completely extinguished the "drought". Hooray!

Why do I care about drought, anyway? I don't farm. I don't care if the "grass" in our "lawn" doesn't grow - in fact, a drought means I don't have to mow the lawn! (I haven't mowed in weeks.) We never water our lawn. We don't have a well or anything. The only impact the major drought from a couple of years ago had on our lives was that it prompted the building I work in to install waterless urinals. So why should I care if half of North Carolina is classified as being in "extreme drought"? Easy: because I'm a nerd. I like maps, I like weather, I like statistics, and the drought monitor combines all three!

I don't really follow what drought conditions are like elsewhere in the country, but I obsessively follow drought conditions in the Carolinas, because I like seeing how they quantify our conditions. For example, I was very interested in the post-Ida analysis. Was that enough to get rid of all the "moderate drought" in North Carolina? What about the "severe drought" in South Carolina? Would the storm completely eliminate the drought, or would it simply reduce the drought by one category, from "severe drought" to "moderate drought"? (It eliminated all of the drought, including the "severe drought". Now all that remains in the Carolinas are "abnormally dry" conditions. "Abnormally dry" means "you're not in drought, but you're close". I call it the "danger zone".)

I think the Drought Monitor's classifications are a little extreme. Once you get past the "danger zone", the first category of drought is called "moderate". Umm, shouldn't moderate be in the middle somewhere? After "moderate", the next two classifications of drought are "severe" and "extreme", followed by the worst classification, "exceptional". So in case you were wondering where the words "severe", "extreme", and "exceptional" ranked on the hyperbole scale, now you know. Seems a little over the top, don't you think? "Extreme drought" seems bad enough. But you're telling me that's not even the worst possible category? And how severe is "severe drought", really? If it's necessary to have not one, but two classifications of drought that are worse than "severe drought", then it can't be all that severe in my book. The National Weather Service does not issue "Extreme Thunderstorm Warnings" or "Exceptional Thunderstorm Warnings" on top of Severe Thunderstorm Warnings. Severe warnings are good enough, right? I think the Drought Monitor is guilty of a little fear mongering.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Curling Recap: 11/12-11/13/09

There were actually two nights of curling last week...sort of. Friday was a normal game, but Thursday was a class.

The Thursday class wasn't really a "help you become a better curler" class; instead it was a "help you become better at teaching first-time curlers how to curl so that we can grow the Triangle Curling Club's membership as much as possible when the 'Olympic rush' comes in a few months" class. The basic idea was how to make it fun enough for the newbies during the "Learn to Curl" sessions in order to make them want to come back again. Or something like that.

The class did motivate me a little to improve my own curling delivery. If I had pictures of "the correct delivery" and "my incorrect, but somewhat effective delivery" to show side-by-side, I would, but instead let's just say my technique isn't exactly textbook. There are two main reasons (read: excuses) why I've been using an unconventional delivery:

1) The "correct" curling delivery requires flexibility, which I don't have a whole lot of. Remember doing something called the "V-sit" in elementary and middle school gym class? (It's where you sit on the floor, spread your legs in a 'V' flat on the floor, and reach forward as far as you can.) Every year, I was consistently among the worst in my class in the V-sit. In other words, flexibility isn't exactly one of my God-given strengths, so it's much easier for me to do the quirky delivery.

2) We rarely get to practice. If I could practice a couple of hours every week (for a reasonable price), I probably would. And I do realize that I can work on my flexibility any time of day, and that it would improve over time, but...well, I don't have a good excuse for not doing that already.

When we came back the next night for a league game, I decided to try the "correct" curling delivery.

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 04110201 | 09
Other team..... 10001020 | 04

I'd say an accurate description of the match was that we won despite my play. The correct delivery never felt right, and I ended up switching back by the end of the night.

The season isn't over, but that was actually our last game of the season (the last week is our bye week). My pre-season objective of finishing 4-4 came to fruition, so...yay? At least one of us (Amber or me) will be curling this Friday for other teams, though.

Monday, November 16, 2009

DirecTV Customer Service

Over the last month and a half, it seems like I've spent a lot of time on the phone with DirecTV for various reasons, to the point where I now have DirecTV's customer service number saved in my cell phone. But how much, exactly? Sounds like an opportunity new statistic! And thus, I've made another addition to my ever-growing By the Numbers: amount of time spent on the phone with DirecTV.

To get the stat started, I looked back through my cell phone records. It turns out that since the beginning of October, I've called DirecTV three times, and spent a total of 36 minutes on the phone with them.

What has been the reason for each of the calls?

October 7th (7 minutes): I had heard online that DirecTV was giving discounts on NHL Center Ice to people who called and complained about DirecTV dropping Versus from its lineup. To take advantage of that, I waited until I was in a bad mood (I figured the more pissed off I sounded, the more likely I was to score a discount), called DirecTV, and scored a $50 discount on NHL Center Ice, which I had already purchased anyway. Sweet. Some people have reported getting an $80 discount, or even getting NHL Center Ice for free, but I guess I wasn't angry, persistent, or threatening enough for that. I probably needed to threaten cancellation and a switch to DISH in order to get the full discount. Given how bad I am at this sort of thing, I was just happy to get the $50.

October 26th (3 minutes): This was another NHL Center Ice-related call. Those of us who didn't buy Center Ice got a three-week free preview. A day or two after the free preview expired, I was no longer getting Center Ice's high definition channels. I was getting the standard definition channels, but not the HD ones. I called DirecTV, and was directed through their automated voice system. DirecTV resent the channel authorizations to my receiver, and it was resolved quickly and without ever having to speak to a representative. How often does that happen? 90% of the time, all the automated voice system does is waste our time, right? I guess the reason they have the automated voice system is to filter out the "stupid people" - you know, the ones who can't figure out why their receiver won't turn on and immediately call DirecTV. "Is the receiver plugged in?" "Oh..."

November 14th (26 minutes): Just after noon on this Fall Saturday, I turned on one of the Big Ten Network alternate channels expecting to watch the Indiana v. Penn State game in high definition...but nope. I was only getting the standard definition feed of the game. This time, the automated voice system did not fix the problem. Rebooting the system - which takes several minutes - also did not fix it. Eventually I reached a representative, and it took me another 10 minutes to convince the agent that this game actually was supposed to be in high definition. Then, he pressed a couple of buttons, and it was done...26 minutes after I called. Not so good.

Nonetheless, in the 16 months since I got DirecTV, I've had far fewer technical issues with them than I had in my two years with Time Warner Cable. Not even close.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

College Football Saturday: 11/14/09

We're coming down the stretch in this season of college football, which means we've made it to the point in the season where a lot of teams don't really have much to play for anymore. Case in point, the two teams I follow the most, Florida State and Penn State.

Now, I know what you're thinking. "What do you mean, the season is already over for those teams?!?! Florida State still needs two more wins to become bowl eligible and keep their streak alive (27 consecutive bowl game appearances)! Penn State needs two more wins to get to a New Year's Day bowl game! These teams still have plenty to play for, you moron! What kind of fan are you, anyway?"

Put simply, I'm an FSU fan that doesn't really care about the bowl streak. There are so many bowl games these days, just "going to a bowl game" does not a successful season make. (Unless you're Duke, of course; more on that later.) Florida State's quarterback Christian Ponder is injured for the rest of the season, so I'm not high on their chances the rest of the way. Assuming they lose to Florida - I'm really going out on a limb here, aren't I? - they need to beat Wake Forest and Maryland to finish with a "bowl eligible" record of 6-6. Woohoo, 6-6! Pop the champagne! Let's party! (I'm being sarcastic here, in case you can't tell. Given the success FSU has had over the years, I just can't get all that excited about a 6-6 season.)

As for Penn State: yes, the Outback Bowl is better than the Alamo Bowl. But the goal was a Big Ten championship, and the games against Iowa and Ohio State - both home games, mind you - were complete duds and letdowns. A win today against Indiana won't exactly salvage the season. But hey - at least they're not as bad as FSU! I admit, I should be more positive about Penn State. They're better than a lot of teams, and they're still having a "pretty good" season. So...yeah! Go team! Beat the Hoosiers! We are...Penn State! (There. Is that better?)

As for the other 29 games on TV today that don't involve the Seminoles or Nittany Lions? Let's see...

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Indiana at Penn State, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: See above.
Game 2 - Florida State at Wake Forest, 12:00p, ESPNU: See above. (In other words, it's not a bad week to have a PSU/FSU conflict.)
Game 3 - Georgia Tech at Duke, 12:00p, ESPN2: Now that we have the obligation teams out of the way, let's talk about the rest! I've been rooting for "lovable loser" Duke all season long. (Needless to say, the "lovable loser" moniker only applies to football.) But today, I'm really torn. Duke needs to finish 2-1 to become bowl eligible, which for Duke would be a tremendous accomplishent. (Speaking of which, merely having a home game televised on ESPN2 is a tremendous accomplishment unto itself.) However, a Georgia Tech loss could clear the way for Miami (FL) to win the ACC, and we can't have that. But I shouldn't let disdain for Miami (FL) dictate all of my rooting interests, right? So...I'm torn. I have no idea who to root for.
Game 4 - Clemson at NC State, 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): I'm rooting for Clemson here, because I'd much rather Clemson win the ACC Atlantic division than boring Boston College. I'm sure the folks who sell tickets to the ACC Championship game agree.
Game 5 - Houston at Central Florida, 12:00p, CBS College: I haven't watched a lot of Houston this season - and probably won't today, either, given how full the early time slot is today - but apparently they score a lot of points, and the games are usually close, so they're probably fun to watch.
Game 6 - Michigan State at Purdue, 12:00p, ESPN: Now, back to the Big Ten. The early time slot is loaded. Keep the remote handy!
Game 7 - Michigan at Wisconsin, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Michigan could go 2-6 in the Big Ten and still make a bowl game. And you wonder why I think "bowl eligiblity" is overrated?
Game 8 - Texas at Baylor, 12:00p, FSN: Probably not going to happen, but "Game 8" is a good spot for "I'll keep an eye on the score" games.
Game 9 - Northwestern at Illinois, 12:00p, ESPN Classic: The rivalry!
Game 10 - Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 12:00p, CSN California: Of all the regional sports networks televising this game on DirecTV, I decided to pick the most obscure.
Game 11 - Syracuse at Louisville, 12:00p, MASN
Game 12 - South Dakota State at Minnesota, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Two years ago, Minnesota lost at home to North Dakota State. The solution? Schedule South Dakota State instead! I think this is hilarious.
Not Televised - Tennessee at Ole Miss, 12:00p, CBS: This game is on CBS nationally, but the local CBS affiliate (WRAL) is pre-empting this game to air the Clemson at NC State game. Usually when there's a conflict between Raycom and the CBS national feed, one or the other gets bumped to an alternate over-the-air channel (5.2). Why they're not doing that today is beyond me. Maybe the Tennessee/Ole Miss game is on some other local channel and I can't find it? Personally, I don't really care, but unless they rework the schedule, expect WRAL to get an angry phone call or two about this one.

Speaking of Ole Miss, I'm still not quite sure whether I should call them "Ole Miss" or "Mississippi". The moniker "Ole Miss" has always bugged me - it is not called the University of Ole Miss, it is called the University of Mississippi - but "Ole Miss" is what everyone calls them, including their own fans. Maybe I should come up with a quirky name, such as "Mississippi (a.k.a. 'Ole Miss')". Actually, I like that. That's the name from now on, complete with parantheses. And no, calling them "Ole Miss" is NOT the same as referring to The Pennsylvania State University as "Penn State" for short. "Penn State" is an abbreviation or shortname. "Ole Miss" is a nickname. The word "Ole" does not abbreviate any part of "The University of Mississippi". Big difference.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Iowa at Ohio State, 3:30p, ESPN2: Last week, I said I might actually root for the Buckeyes this week. But after the events of last week (Iowa loss, Ohio State win), now I am pulling really, really, really hard for Iowa. For the love of God, Hawkeyes...whatever you do, please do NOT let Ohio State win the freaking Big Ten again.
Game 2 - Miami (FL) at North Carolina, 3:30p, ABC: I almost never say this, but...go Tar Heels! Yuck...I really didn't like the way that sounded. I need to go wash out my mouth now. (Actually, the Tar Heels aren't all that bad. On the whole, their fans - combined with the local media's obsession with them - are only about 5% as annoying as with the Gators.)
Game 3 - Stanford at USC, 3:30p, FSN: Not a particular strong middle time slot today, but this matchup has provided some exciting moments in the past.
Game 4 - Washington at Oregon State, 3:30p, Fox Sports Northwest: Every week, it seems like I put Oregon State near the top of the priority list "for variety", but I have yet to actually watch more than 30 seconds of one of their games. Maybe this week? That'll all depend on late game excitement.
Game 5 - BYU at New Mexico, 2:00p, the mtn.: Games on "the mtn." are almost never in high definition, but they are today! Yeah! (Side note: whether I classify a 2:00p game in "time slot 1" or "time slot 2" depends on how likely I am to watch a game in either time slot. Time slot 1 is loaded today, so I moved this game to time slot 2.)
Game 6 - Idaho at Boise State, 3:30p, ESPNU: The rivalry!
Game 7 - Florida at South Carolina, 3:30p, CBS: I'm not actually counting down the days until the Gator Quarterback Whom Shall Not Be Named is forever out of college football, but...I can't wait! (To be clear, I am not rooting for an injury. That's not what I do. I wish him the best of luck when he's playing in the pros next year. And by "the pros", I mean the Canadian Football League, of course.) Really, the reason this game is so low on the priority list is because Florida can probably lose this game and still make the BCS Championship game as long as they win the SEC Championship. This is basically the only game the Gators have left until then. (Their last two regular season games are against local cupcakes Florida International and Florida State. Yes, I am allowed to make fun of my own team. In case you can't tell already, I am really, really NOT looking forward to that game.)
Game 8 - UCLA at Washington State, 5:00p, Fox College Sports: Washington State is really, really bad this year.
Game 9 - Delaware at Navy, 3:30p, CBS College: Delaware, eh? Delaware is one of the better lower division teams, and I think they've actually beaten Navy in recent memory.
Game 10 - Fresno State at Nevada, 4:00p, CSN California: Wait, another game on this wacky Comcast Sportsnet California channel (DirecTV 698)? Wow!

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, 8:00p, ABC: Good news, Amber - you can watch Notre Dame this week! (To be clear, I always offer her the chance to watch Notre Dame, but she's only a casual fan and usually declines.) By the way, here's a fun game to play when watching Notre Dame. Count how many times coach Charlie Weis is shown on screen, versus how many times an announcer says "Golden Tate", and see which one comes out on top!
Game 2 - Utah at TCU, 7:30p, CBS College: Hooray, an important game in the Mountain West that isn't televised on Versus! Better take advantage of it.
Game 3 - Alabama at Mississippi State, 7:00p, ESPN: The late time slot is the least interesting of the three today. In the interest of time, I'm just going to breeze through the rest of these...
Game 4 - Auburn at Georgia, 7:00p, ESPN2
Game 5 - UNLV at Air Force, 6:00p, the mtn.
Game 6 - Texas A&M at Oklahoma, 7:00p, FSN
Game 7 - Louisiana Tech at LSU, 7:00p, ESPNU

Time slot 4

Game 1 - Arizona State at Oregon, 10:15p, ESPN
Game 2 - Wyoming at San Diego State, 10:00p, the mtn.

Enjoy!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Other, Shorter U.S. Routes

Our US-50 cross-country road trip was a lot of fun. But, we don't have the time or the money to do trips like that very often. For the most part, when it comes to road trips, we have to stay close to home. So while we don't plan on taking any other cross-country U.S. Routes from end to end any time soon, I have been looking into other U.S. Routes that we can drive from end-to-end just for fun. These routes are all short enough and close enough to home such that we can take them from beginning to end in a simple day trip.

So...given the length and proximity restrictions, where does that leave us? It turns out there are 13 U.S. Routes we can take from end-to-end in a one-day trip.


View U.S. Routes close to home in a larger map

In numerical order:

U.S. Route 117 - Wilmington to Wilson in Eastern North Carolina
This is probably the easiest one that's worth doing - the entire round trip would take around six hours. On the other hand, it's probably pretty boring, so...meh.

(Note: When I say "round trip", that includes the time it takes us to drive from home to the beginning of the route, and the time it takes to drive home after finishing the route, not just time spent on the route itself.)

U.S. Route 158 - Mocksville (west of Winston-Salem) to the Outer Banks along the NC/VA border

This one might be interesting. It's almost entirely rural (Winston-Salem is the only major city it goes through), it's long enough to make it seem like it's worth it (350 miles or so), and it's kind of obscure. This one is a candidate.

U.S. Route 176 - Goose Creek, SC (north of Charleston) to Hendersonville, NC

This route follows I-26 pretty closely almost the whole way. Too bad. The idea is to get away from the interstates.

U.S. Route 178 - Dorchester, SC (near the I-95 and I-26 junction) to Rosman, NC (south of Asheville)

The most interesting choice thus far. To me, "interesting" means "changing scenery", and this route starts in the lowlands of South Carolina and ends in the North Carolina mountains just across the state line. And, it goes through two counties I haven't visited yet! Cha-ching!

U.S. Route 258 - Jacksonville, NC to Hampton, VA

Now this is an obscure U.S. Route. It passes through some very rural sections of North Carolina as it makes its way up to the Hampton Roads area. Put this one in the "maybe" pile.

U.S. Route 264 - Raleigh to the Outer Banks

Already done.

U.S. Route 276 - Greenville (ish), SC to Cove Creek, NC (I-40 west of Asheville)

This one goes straight through the mountains. Looks like fun! Problem is, it's only 108 miles long, and the beginning and end are both several hours away from home, so we would spend most of the day on I-85 and I-40 just getting there and back.

U.S. Route 311 - Randleman to Eden in Central North Carolina

This route is less than 100 miles long, and the northernmost parts of it aren't even signed. I think this route is pretty dumb. Why does it still exist? Next...

U.S. Route 378 - Conway, SC (near Myrtle Beach) to Washington, GA (northwest of Augusta)

This is pushing the limits of what can be considered a "day trip" (13-14 hour round trip), but this route does go straight through the heart of South Carolina, which is kind of neat.

U.S. Route 401 - Sumter, SC to NC/VA line near I-85

The northern half of this route passes through downtown Raleigh, and I've already done it. So...there are probably better options out there.

U.S. Route 521 - Charlotte, NC to Georgetown, SC
U.S. Route 701 - Georgetown, SC to Four Oaks, NC (near Smithfield)

I'm listing these two together because it would be very easy to do both in the same day trip, since they both start in North Carolina and end at practically the same intersection along the South Carolina coast. Sounds great, right? Problem is, I think I've already driven on a lot of both roads, so none of it would seem very "new" and "exciting". Then again, I've already been almost everywhere in the Carolinas, so "new" and "exciting" can't be done in one day. (We'll still do our best to make it "exciting", though. I mean the good kind of "exciting", not the oops-I-hit-a-deer kind of "exciting".)

U.S. Route 601 - Tarboro, SC (in the southern tip of South Carolina) to Mount Airy, NC

Hmm...for some reason, I just can't get all that excited about this one. How many branch routes does US-1 need, anyway?

So, we have a few options. I think 158, 178, and the 521/701 combo are the best options. If you know me, then you already know it's not a matter of "if", but "how many".

Chance of Death

Now that I'm married and have a house, I decided that it might be a good idea to get a little extra life insurance. No big deal, right? Except that being a math and probability geek, I couldn't help but use the cost of my life insurance to calculate the probability that I will die next year, at least according to my insurance company.

For various reasons, I'm not going to post the actual monetary numbers here. But in a nutshell, I took the amount that the life insurance would cost me next year, assumed that 20% of that was going to profit for the insurance company and that 80% was to offset the chance that I would die next year and that the insurance company would pay up. The theory is that if the insurance company's calculated "chance of death" - which they use to determine the cost of my life insurance - is correct, then over the long run the insurance company would break even between any life insurance payouts they'd have to make and the 80% portion of our premiums, keeping the other 20% for profit. I really have no idea whether 20%/80% is a realistic ratio, but nonetheless, it was good enough for this calculation.

I crunched the numbers based on my insurance premium and the payout Amber would receive to determine what the insurance company thinks is the chance I will die next year. The result: there is a 1-in-525 chance I will die next year.

So...what does that mean? I think it means I should be more careful driving my car and riding my bicycle around town. At age 27, those two things are probably the most likely things that could kill me. But even besides that, there are a lot of fluke ways you can die. Given that, I don't think 1-in-525 is all that bad.

I think it's amazing that most people live as long as they do, quite honestly. If this were the 14th century, my odds of dying next year would probably be closer to, say, 1-in-50. (Total guess.) Despite what various cable news networks may try to tell you, we are fortunate to live in the time that we do.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Pedestrians v. Bicyclists v. Drivers

As I've ridden my bicycle more and more, on both roads and on multi-use trails, I've put myself right smack dab in the middle of the eternal struggle between pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers. Unless I go mountain biking (which I don't have any real interest in), I'm always going to be sharing the road or trail with something, whether it be cars or pedestrians. So, I'm going to analyze these three separate "battles"...

Bicyclists v. Drivers: Over the summer, a bicyclist named Bruce Rosar was killed after a collision with a car in nearby Apex. Rosar was known for being a "bicycling safety advocate", but a police investigation concluded that Rosar turned into the path of an oncoming car and that the accident was actually his fault.

So...cue the hateful reader comments! Bicyclists: "There has to be more to the story. No responsible bicyclist would just turn in front of a car. Drivers are inconsiderate of bicyclists, and always get off easy in these situations. Share the road!" Drivers: "Most bicyclists are irresponsible and rude, they don't follow the rules of the road even though they're supposed to, and these accidents are almost always their fault. And why do they get to use the roads for free while car drivers pay taxes and registration fees? Tax the bicyclists too!"

Alright, so...here's my take. First off, very few roads in the Triangle have a dedicated bike lane. At the same time, most Triangle roads can be very busy at times. That is a problem. That said, both sides have some consessions to make. Drivers: give bicyclists a little more room, and be a little more patient with them. Bicyclists: there isn't a whole lot you can do on the roads themselves, but at intersections, make "staying out of the cars' way" your #1 priority and be really, really, patient. I have found that as I've ridden more, my tendency has been to get a little lazy and quick with traffic negotiation, which is something I have been trying really hard to fight. The safest way to ride a bicycle on public roads is to be "scared as hell" of car traffic. Once you start getting comfortable riding your bike out there, you're in trouble. Even safety advocates like Bruce Rosar can get a little too comfortable on their bike, and all it takes is one mistake.

As for the "bicyclists should pay additional taxes" comment...I will not dignify that with a response.

Pedestrians v. Bicyclists:

So, you're a bicyclist, and you're tired of dealing with car traffic. What's the solution? Take a trail!

Problem is, almost every paved bike trail that exists anywhere is also heavily used by runners and walkers, and this can cause some issues as well. Bicyclist: "Get out of the way!" Runner/walker: "Slow down! Be more considerate! This is our trail too!" Hmm...sound familiar? Bicyclists have the unique position on being on both sides of the "share the road/trail" concept.

I don't think this debate is as heated as the bicyclist v. driver debate, but nonetheless, both sides have similar responsibilities. Pedestrians: keep to the right and don't block the trail. Bicyclists: call out when passing and give plenty of room. I've had a lot of experience with this on the American Tobacco Trail, a mixed-use trail that runs from downtown Durham to south of Apex (in two discontinuous segments). Some runners and walkers like to fan out and block the path, prompting a "On Your Left" call from bicyclists like me. I try not to sound rude when I do it, but that's hard to do. I've also learned that trying to ride your bike on the ATT when the Apex High School cross-country team is practicing on it is a bad idea.

Pedestrians v. Drivers:

I don't have a whole lot of experience with this anymore, since the only areas around here with any measure of pedestrian traffic are downtowns. But I recently read that both Raleigh and Jacksonville were named among the most dangerous cities in the country for pedestrians. Yay team!

That's just the mindset in the South. Almost everyone drives a car everywhere, public transportation is used by very few, and pedestrian traffic is viewed as an obstable and a novelty rather than a commonplace occurrence. Drivers aren't used to handling pedestrian traffic down here, so when they do encounter it, they don't really know how to handle it, or don't know the "pedestrians already in the crosswalk have the right-of-way" law, or are just impatient. It's no coincidence that New York and Boston were determined to be among the safest cities for pedestrians. Those cities are built not around car transport, but around public transportation and walking.

Well, anyway...my most experience with the pedestrian v. driver clash probably comes from driving and walking around the Penn State campus in State College. I think the keys to pedestrian safety are as follows:

- Drivers: Always assume that the pedestrian that's standing on the corner is going to walk out in front of you. Or, at least be prepared for it.
- Pedestrians: Don't be stupid. That's basically it.
- City engineers: Either time the traffic lights so that pedestrians get a head start, or give pedestrians their own set of lights. In downtown State College, the crosswalk signal turns to "Walk" three seconds before the light turns green. I'm not sure if downtown Raleigh does that. State College also has a few pedestrian-only traffic signals, such as the one between Walker Building and the bus station on Atherton Street. That's just a function of the mindset. State College, along with most college campuses, are pedestrian-heavy areas where the pedestrian comes first. Most southern cities center around the automobile and are not like that at all.

So, yeah...I'm done preaching. Can't we all just get along?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Z

I've followed the progression of North Carolina license plates since I moved here. My license plate, acquired in July 2006, is a "V" plate, meaning the first letter is a V. Then V became W, then the letter color changed from blue to red, then W led to X and eventually Y, then it was announced that the letter color was going back to blue.

Now, 16 months after getting to Y, we're up to Z. I saw my first Z license plate in a parking lot last Friday. Hooray! And, this plate also happened to be the first new blue-lettered plate I've seen since the decision was made to switch back to the blue lettering. Double hooray! I always did like the blue more than the red. I've been wondering for quite a while now when I'd finally see a Z plate, and also how long it would be before new blue-letter plates started appearing once again. So, there you have it: the red-letter plates started with WTF- (no, really) and apparently ended with YZZ-. Will we ever see them again?

The next bit of license plate excitement is what color the 2011 registration stickers will be, but eventually, I'm looking forward to finding out what letter and number combination North Carolina will go with once they reach the end of the alphabet. It took 16 months to get through the Ys, so one might expect another 16 months before we're done with the Zs. However, I think it could take a full two years to get to that point. Over the last few years, the state has been systematically replacing old license plates, and that used up all of the Ws and Xs fairly quickly. But based on how long we were stuck at YZ, the old plate replacement has either finished up or has slowed down dramatically. So, it looks like we'll have to rely on brand new registrations alone from this point forward.

North Carolina takes much less time to get through a letter than other states that use the ABC-1234 license plate format - e.g. Pennsylvania - because North Carolina doesn't use the entire alphabet. Excluding personalized plates, the second letter of the license plate is always one of only ten letters: N, P, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y, or Z. Pennsylvania, on the other hand, uses all 26 letters (or at least most of them), which is one reason they've been stuck on H for so long despite having around two million more registered vehicles than North Carolina. (Another reason is that trucks in Pennsylvania all get Y plates rather than alphabetically ordered H plates.)

Why North Carolina doesn't use the entire alphabet is beyond me, but it does make things more interesting. What will come after Z? I can't wait to find out.

Curling Recap: 11/6/09

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Our team....... 00323101 | 10
Other team..... 11000010 | 03

Our team played really well from top to bottom - it was easily our best game of the season - but to be fair, the other team was missing its top two players, forcing them to throw a "mixed bag" team together. They had a second playing lead, a skip playing second, a lead playing third, and a second playing skip. Triangle Curling Club League Rules say that all spares must play the at the front end, which is why the skip - who was a spare - had to play second rather than skip. This is so that teams can't bring in a "ringer" (e.g. a Canadian) and put him or her in the more important positions to give themselves an advantage. This is why I've played skip a couple of times this season; when our skip can't be there, since I'm the third (vice-skip), the duty of skip falls to me.

So, anyway...I think part of the reason I played well is because the ice was fast. When I don't have to throw the rocks as hard, I can control them more easily. Makes sense, right? Clubs with dedicated curling facilities and well-maintained ice always have fast ice, but ours depends on the zamboni job and the weather. Friday night was the first cold, dry night of the season, which probably contributed to having the fastest ice of the season. When it's warmer and/or more humid, it takes the ice longer to freeze after the zamboni finishes, the pebbling we do to speed up the ice isn't as effective (because it doesn't freeze on impact as quickly when it's warm and/or humid), and the curling stones are more damp (a wet stone = a slow stone). So, even though we curl inside, the outside conditions do have an impact on the inside temperature and humidity, and it sure seems like cold weather = better curling conditions. (It is possible to have good curling ice in the summer, it just takes a lot more effort on our part.)

Our team (Hartman) is now 3-4, and is mathematically eliminated from the possibility of finishing in last place. Yay! Our final game of the season is on Friday.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

College Football Saturday: 11/7/09

Other than Thanksgiving weekend, we don't have any big weekend trips planned the rest of the college football season (not counting bowls), so I'll be parked in front of the television for the duration. Hooray!

Here's hoping for some excitement. When you have 30 games to choose from - as I do today - at least one or two of them is bound to be an exciting game, right? That's one reason why I put most of my football watching energy towards Saturday. On Sunday, since I didn't feel like paying for NFL Sunday Ticket, I'm stuck with only one or two games at a time, and there is no guarantee either will be interesting or entertaining. Speaking of which, before the season, I said that this year I would be watching less college football and more NFL. Has that panned out? Technically, yes...but barely. I still watch far more football on Saturdays than Sundays.

There are some big games with potential today - Ohio State at Penn State, LSU at Alabama, plus one other game of local interest I'm really looking forward to - but unfortunately, all of those games are at 3:30. But I can't complain about the scheduling, because the only time Penn State and Florida State have had a conflict all season (to date) was the week we were out of town in Watkins Glen and the Adirondacks. I think that's amazing. On the other hand, Penn State and Notre Dame have a conflict almost every week. Sorry, Amber!

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Purdue at Michigan, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: If you don't like the Big Ten, the early time slot is a dud. But if you do like the Big Ten, as I kind of do, then look what we have in store for you: four (and a half) Big Ten games to start your day! I put this game at the top because I think it has the most excitement potential. (Side comment: I'm planning on skipping the first quarter of the early games today to help save my stamina for the more interesting games later.)
Game 2 - Northwestern at Iowa, 12:00p, ESPN: If Iowa needed 4th quarter heroics to beat Indiana, then maybe they'll need some to beat Northwestern too? You never know with these guys. All I know is I'm tired of them, and I'm looking forward to them losing. I may even root for Ohio State to beat them next week. (But only if Penn State beats them today. I would still much rather Iowa win the Big Ten than Ohio State.)
Game 3 - Illinois at Minnesota, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Sure, why not? It's Big Ten hour!
Game 4 - Wisconsin at Indiana, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: Yay Big Ten!
Game 5 - Syracuse at Pittsburgh, 12:00p, ESPNU: Penn State graduates aren't particularly fond of Pittsburgh, but if Pitt and Cincinnati win out, it would set up a huge game the last week of the season (12/5) between the two of them, which would be kind of fun.
Game 6 - South Carolina at Arkansas, 12:00p, MSG: Oh, right, the SEC game. Almost left this one off the list.
Game 7 - Virginia at Miami (FL), 12:00p, Local TV (Raycom): I'm mad at Miami (FL) for squeaking out a win last week against Wake Forest, so I'm not entirely sure I feel like watching them again. I'll tune in late if it looks like they might lose.
Game 8 - Louisville at West Virginia, 12:00p, MASN
Game 9 - Texas A&M at Colorado, 1:30p, Fox College Sports: There's virtually zero chance I'll make it this far down the list, in part because of the later start times, and the fact that there are a lot of good games at 3:30.
Game 10 - BYU at Wyoming, 2:00p, the mtn.
Game 11 - Central Florida at Texas, 12:00p, FSN: I'll give Texas some credit, because they did play a road game at UCF last season. I think that was last season, anyway. I've been following college football for so long, I can't remember which season was which anymore. Pretty much everything from 2006 on is a blur.
Game 12 - Western Michigan at Michigan State, 12:00p, Big Ten Network: I guess the upset could happen here, but Western is not Central.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Ohio State at Penn State, 3:30p, ESPN2: The biggest game of the year for Penn State. Don't really need to say more.
Game 2 - Duke at North Carolina, 3:30p, ESPNU: Don't laugh. This game is huge. Sure, neither team will sniff the ACC Championship, but both teams need to go 2-2 the rest of the way to become bowl eligible. Duke is having its best season in years - 3-1 in the ACC! - and it would get even better with a win. I honestly am really looking forward to this one. Let's go Duke! (By the way, ESPN's original plan was to air this game on ESPN360.com and put Maryland v. NC State on television. I'm glad they reconsidered. Sorry, Wolfpack and Terrapin fans.)
Game 3 - Navy at Notre Dame, 2:30p, NBC: Family interest only.
Game 4 - LSU at Alabama, 3:30p, CBS: I really wish this game was in a different time slot.
Game 5 - Wake Forest at Georgia Tech, 3:30p, ABC: You really let me down last week, Wake...
Game 6 - Army at Air Force, 3:30p, CBS College: Service academy games can be fun.
Game 7 - Oregon at Stanford, 3:30p, FSN
Game 8 - Washington at UCLA, 3:30p, Prime Ticket
Game 9 - Kent State at Akron, 3:30p, Fox Sports Ohio

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Florida State at Clemson, 7:45p, ESPN: Longtime FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews announced his retirement this week, effective after the season. Smart guy! While Bobby Bowden has taken most of the heat for the team's lack of success this season, I've been surprised that Mickey Andrews has been getting a free pass during all of this, considering the defense is clearly the team's weakest link. And now by announcing his retirement, he's basically guaranteed to be free from criticism the rest of the way. And the week after a win was the perfect time to announce it. I really have to give him credit. Brilliant move!
Game 2 - Oregon State at California, 7:00p, FSN: For variety's sake. Actually, I'm probably more likely to flip to hockey during the FSU/Clemson commercials than I am other football games.
Game 3 - Connecticut at Cincinnati, 8:00p, ABC: ABC has regional coverage during the 8:00p time slot, the other two games being USC v. Arizona State and Oklahoma v. Nebraska. So...why do we get stuck with this game? This isn't Big East territory. Big East territory stops just north of Tampa and then starts back up again in Kentucky and West Virginia. The Charlotte ABC affiliate is showing Oklahoma and Nebraska, but the Triad and Triangle affiliates are showing this game. If WTVD really thinks they'll get better ratings with this game than with the other two games, then whatever.
Game 4 - New Mexico at Utah, 6:00p, the mtn.: Haven't watched enough Utah games this season.
Game 5 - Houston at Tulsa, 7:30p, CBS College: Houston scores a lot of points, so this could be fun.
Game 6 - Vanderbilt at Florida, 7:15p, ESPN2: I'm about 90% sure I'm not even going to try to watch the Florida v. Florida State game later this season. Why put myself through that again?
Game 7 - Memphis at Tennessee, 7:00p, ESPNU: Meh.

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

Game 1 - Colorado State at UNLV, 10:00p, the mtn.
Game 2 - Fresno State at Idaho, 10:30p, ESPNU: Idaho in a nationally televised game? Wow!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Not Enough Time For Both

First, on a related note, just a reminder that I've been updating my progress weekly in my fictional bicycling trip to Alaska. Four weeks in, and I've biked 126 miles - almost enough to make it to the Virginia state line. Go here for the latest update.

So, yes, I've been biking a lot lately. But the time I devote to bicycling has to be taking away from something, right? Yes, and that would be disc golf. The time I used to spend disc golfing - weekend mornings - is now spent on my bicycle. My discs haven't made it out of the bag in seven weeks now.

Why the shift? First, playing disc golf solo isn't fun anymore. It's now only enjoyable as a social activity. Also, my disc golf ability has "peaked", and the only way I'm going to get any better is if I start playing two or three times a week. I don't like disc golf that much. Besides, what do I get out of being a good disc golfer? Anything? As long as I stay away from disc golf tournaments and leagues, I see no upside. It's still too obscure a sport to really matter to anyone.

On the other hand, bicycling is good exercise. Physically, I feel better now than I have in years. Fitness motivates me to bike more, along with my bicycling trip to Alaska, and my continual improvement, and the fact that it's fun. (Running, on the other hand, is definitely NOT fun. Just my opinion.)

It's inevitable that my bicycling ability will eventually peak as well, and that I won't find it fun anymore, at which point I'll find something else to do. Hopefully when that happens, I'll have already made it to Alaska, or at least Canada. Until then, I guess I'll just enjoy the ride! (ha ha.)

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Carolina Hurricanes: Not So Good

While most of you were among the millions of people watching the World Series last night, I was among the 5 or 6 people watching a hockey game between two of the worst teams in the NHL: the Carolina Hurricanes and the Florida Panthers. Why? Because I'm a devoted fan. Or something.

But now it's time to really test my devotion as a proclaimed Carolina Hurricanes fan, because the team stinks. Last night's 3-0 loss - that's right, a shutout loss to Florida - was the Hurricanes' 10th consecutive loss (including three overtime/shootout losses), bringing the team's season record to 2-9-3, the worst in the league. In the process, they've given up almost twice as many goals as they've scored, and their only two wins are against the afore-mentioned Panthers and the better-but-still-not-that-great Tampa Bay Lightning. Thank goodness for the Southeast Division! Sure, the Toronto Maple Leafs are pretty bad too, but the Hurricanes might be even worse. (We get to settle that argument on Friday. Canes v. Leafs. Hide the children.)

Last season was fun, but this season is probably already a lost cause, and the future doesn't look all that great. The team is old - the oldest in the NHL, in terms of average age - and they basically have one up-and-coming player on the team right now (Brandon Sutter). (UPDATE: Right after I wrote this, they called up last year's first round pick, Zach Boychuk. Progress!) Surely every Hurricanes fan - believe it or not, there are a few of us out there - has his or her own "solution", and mine is no better than anyone else's, but I think it's time to blow up the roster and start young again, accumulate a few high draft picks, and then maybe in two or three seasons we'll be like the Chicago Blackhawks and (at least this season) Colorado Avalanche are now: successful and stocked with young talent. Unfortunately, I think it's more realistic that the team will end up like the Tampa Bay Lightning, in that the Hurricanes now have two non-superstar players under long term, superstar-caliber contracts (Eric Staal and Cam Ward) that could single-handedly kill the franchise's cash flow and winning percentage over the next few years. Sure, Staal and Ward have been the franchise's best players, but let's be honest - this isn't Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin we're talking about. Staal and Ward have been inconsistent over the years and are never considered elite players by anyone objective, and both have probably already reached their potential and have been huge disappointments so far this season, so...in other words, we're screwed. Time to get rid of the old guys and start drafting. (Yeah, I know there are still 68 games left to play this season, and things could turn around, but I'm an overly pessimistic sports fan.)

Well, anyway, one, two, or even ten bad seasons isn't going to make me jump ship like I did when I moved here. (I was a Florida Panthers fan before 2006, then jumped to the Hurricanes when I moved here.) It's a lot easier to stick with a team when they're the "home team". Let's just hope they don't turn into the Panthers.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Curling Recap: 10/23/09 - 10/30/09

From the "better late than never" department - which has to include at least half of my blog content, wouldn't you say? - here are quick recaps of our last two curling matches, all part of the Triangle Curling Club Fall League:

Friday, October 23rd

End............ 12345678 |TTL
-----------------------------
Our team....... 10021022 | 08
Other team..... 02100100 | 04

This match was close throughout. But towards the end, we figured it out, made some great shots, and closed the deal. Given that this was only my second game in a month, it took me a lot longer than normal to warm up.

Now...I used to write these recaps the Monday immediately after the games, while they were still fresh in my mind. Needless to say, I've gotten a little lazy on that front, because I don't remember anything else about that one, other than that this was the first game all season where we had a full four-person team (woo!). I'll try to do better from now on.

Instead, it's time for some nerdy math stuff! Each of the eight ends counts equally, of course, but I've always maintained that the 5th and 6th ends were the most important. Or, at least, success in the 5th and 6th ends most strongly correlated with a win. Perhaps that's because by the 5th end, the ice conditions have stabilized, and you can finally start making more precise shots by that point in the game. Therefore, the best teams generally do best in those ends, as opposed to the first four ends (where ice conditions are variable and the results don't have quite as much to do with skill yet) or the last two ends (where strategy changes and a team will play differently if they have a big lead).

Do the numbers back that up? To find out, I went back through my last 20 box scores, and calculated the correlation of each end's result (e.g. scored two points, gave up one point) to the final margin (e.g. won by four, lost by five) in an effort to determine the "most important end". Here are the results:

7th end - 0.66 correlation ("most important" end)
5th end - 0.46
2nd end - 0.45
3rd end - 0.41
6th end - 0.37
1st end - 0.19
4th end - 0.18
8th end - 0.15 ("least important" end)

So, I have no idea what all of this means, or if it means anything at all. It probably means nothing. I just needed a space filler.

Friday, October 30th

End............ 12345678 |TTL
-----------------------------
Other team..... 20002203 | 09
Our team....... 01110030 | 06

This match was my 5th career match playing as skip, and in general, I'm completely outmatched against any other full-time skip in the club. So the fact that I was able to take a tie game into the 8th end, I'd say that's pretty good! So what if we gave up three in the 8th?

Then again, the ice was really sloped to one side, which means you could only make one kind of shot. That simplified strategy a lot, to the point where it was almost mindless. Very early on, we knew that the only way to get the rocks to end up in the house - or anywhere near - was to line up the shot waaaaaaay over on one side of the house. (Games like this happen a lot in our club, but that night the ice was really slanted, perhaps the worst I've seen to date.) And when the rocks are curving as much as they were due to the ice, take-outs are really, really hard to make, so I tried to avoid them as much as possible. So, the strategy was generally just to get as many rocks as close to the button as possible. And we had so much trouble with that, take-outs usually weren't ever necessary, and only happened by dumb luck.

In my limited experience as skip, I've learned the toughest thing for me is getting the weight right on my shots. When I'm playing one of the other positions and sweep, I'm walking with each of the stones as they make their way down the ice, and that gives me a feel for how hard I need to throw my own stones. But when I'm at the other end of the ice holding the broom and thinking about strategy, it's almost like a shot in the dark when it comes to be my turn. And that's a problem when you're the skip, and the entire team is counting on you to make that game-changing shot!

I did have some good shots, though. My realistic goal was to hit at least one shot in each end. The 8th end was one notable instance where I did not meet that objective.

Now, our team is 2-4 and pretty much out of the running for a league championship. Or...are we? According to sportsclubstats.com, the odds of our team (Hartman) making the championship game are 1-in-250,000. Not bad! (Yes, sportsclubstats.com - a great website for someone like me who likes sports and math - now lets people add their own leagues to the site. Pretty sweet, eh? Tell me that isn't the coolest thing ever.)

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Durham Politics

It's Election Day! Which, as a resident of Durham, means I get to vote for our next mayor and three city councilmen! Sounds exciting, right? Well...

We've lived in Durham for 9½ months now, and I do feel a sense of hometown pride - we're way better than all of you Wake County losers - but I don't really feel connected with what's going on downtown. It seems as though the main focus of city leadership is based in and around downtown. I guess that's fine, because crime has been a problem in Durham in the past (although the crime rate has gone down as of late), and a lot of the neighborhoods in and around downtown are a tad dilapated, poor, and crime-ridden. (If you've ever driven to the Duke campus, you know what I'm talking about.) So I guess it's only fair that those areas get the most attention from city leadership.

As for us? Well, I call the area we live in "barely Durham". We're about nine miles south of downtown Durham, but only about one or two miles from the Wake County line. So, I feel like we're kind of forgotten about. Which is fine, because I guess that means our neighborhood doesn't have any serious problems! Here's hoping that our neighborhood won't be in 40 years what other parts of Durham are now.

Well, anyway, as for today's elections...meh. As far as I can tell, all four incumbents are strong candidates to win their seats once again, likely in landslides. Boooooooooring! I'm actually tempted to vote for the challenger in each of the races in an effort to narrow the margin of victory, which I think would help motivate the incumbent to stay on his or her toes. We don't want our elected officials to get too comfortable over there. Basically, it's my way of saying, "Yes, you guys are doing a good job, but...we're watching you. Don't slip up, or you're out the door." On the other hand, being lazy and assuming the favorite will win without your help can backfire (e.g. Bart Simpson for class president), so instead I only voted for one of the four challengers.

Halloween on Franklin Street: Pictures

The main draw of going to Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill on Halloween is, of course, seeing what kind of silly costumes other people come up with. Here are the pictures we took, at least before the camera's batteries ran out (darn it):



The full-body penguin suit was fairly popular.


So, this is generally what it looks like. Lots of people, but still enough room to get around.


Some people walked up and down the street, while others - like picture frame guy - stayed in one place and chatted with folks as they walked by.


As always, Amber did the picture taking, so...not sure what this is about.


I think this was supposed to be a picture of someone taking a picture of us, if that makes any sense. As I mentioned on Sunday, we had a lot of people take pictures of us - 27, only counting the ones I noticed. We're probably on two dozen other Facebook pages by now. It gives me a sense of accomplishment, actually. It's competitive out there.


It's one thing to go as a set of Scooby Doo characters, but to have the entire mystery van with you as well is a plus.


Staying with the Pixar theme, there were also three people dressed as the house from the movie Up.



Now it's starting to get a little more crowded out here.


A "duck". Pretty lazy effort if you ask me.


Is that guy in black laughing at us? Maybe I'm giving ourselves too much credit. But perhaps I should point out that not everybody on Franklin Street was in costume. About one-fifth of the crowd was in street clothes. Party poopers!


The advantage to getting a cow costume for Halloween is that if you keep the costume, you can get a free chicken sandwich on Chick-Fil-A Cow Appreciation Day. It's win-win! Also, credit to these guys for including the Jack In The Box mascot in their ensemble.

After the camera batteries ran out, we saw two other costumes we would have liked a picture of: the money you be saving with Geico, the other male Little Red Riding Hood, and a Venus Flytrap, complete with a "fly" on his head and the flaps on either of his arms, allowing the wearer to easily "trap" the "fly". Woo. (You can see the Geico money on this gallery from WRAL.com, slide #34).

And in case you missed it, here is commentary on the Franklin Street experience, and pictures of our costumes (***proceed with caution***).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween on Franklin Street: Commentary

I don't care for big crowds. That's one reason why we haven't been back to the State Fair. So why did we decide to go to the Franklin Street Halloween party in downtown Chapel Hill, where the estimated attendance was 50,000 people, all crammed onto a small downtown street?

Here's the difference. When you go to something like the State Fair, the crowd is a nuisance. Everyone is just in the way, and the large crowd only serves to make your experience more inconvenient. But with something like this, the crowd itself is the attraction. If you want to see a large collection of silly and creative costumes - or, just need a place where you can be totally comfortable wearing a skimpy dress in public - there is no better place to go than Franklin Street on Halloween. (Don't worry...I'm not going to subject you to any more pictures of my legs. However, I will have pictures of other costumed people coming up in another post.)

The problem is, with such an event like this, the logistics are a nightmare. Having this event costs the town around $200,000 each year, and local businesses don't like it, which is why the Mayor of Chapel Hill doesn't want you to come. Any parking available? Nope. Any public transportation options? Nope. Basically, the only way to get there is either if you live there, know someone who lives there, know someone who can drop you off and pick you up afterwards, or do what we did and take a taxi. (We parked about three miles away and took a taxi the rest of the way and back. We then learned that on a high-demand night, taxi companies aren't exactly reliable, but we got there eventually.) With the logistics in mind, I'm not actually sure how that many people made it there.

So...why doesn't the Town of Chapel Hill try to make money off of this? As recently as two years ago, before the town decided to try and scale down the celebration, they did have free park-and-ride shuttles. Even if they charged $5 each way for them, I'm sure people would still use them. If 20,000 people used the shuttles there and back, that's your $200,000 right there. Surely, there has to be a way for the town to make money off of this, right? The town's goal is to eventually scale the party down to the 10,000 to 15,000 range, but that's only going to happen if UNC packs up its campus and moves to Fayetteville. The party is driven by the college students, and they're not going anywhere. So...good luck with that, Chapel Hill. By making it "hard to get to", you're only making it a more lucrative Halloween destination. You can restrict parking all you want, but it's still "the place to be" on Halloween around here. People will find a way to come, so you might as well embrace it and try to profit from it. It's the American way!

Well, anyway, we had a good time. It really wasn't all that crazy, and I didn't see anyone visibly intoxicated; just a bunch of people walking around taking pictures and having a good time. We were down there for about an hour and a half, which was plenty of time to see what we came to see. We're not sure if we're going back next year, though. It may very well be just one of those "good to do just once" things. Given that Halloween fell on a Saturday this year, it seemed like a good opportunity.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf

I've never really been that enthusiastic about Halloween in the past. But, Amber loves Halloween, and I think that's rubbed off on me a little bit, because I was actually excited about it this year. So, we decided to get costumes and go down to the downtown Chapel Hill / Franklin Street Halloween street party.

As far as the costumes go, I'll just cut to the chase: we decided to go with Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf ("disguised" as Grandma, of course). Not exactly creative...but, we added a twist: I would be Little Red Riding Hood, and Amber would be the wolf. At least, I'm assuming the vast majority of couples who do this for Halloween have the woman in the Little Red Riding Hood costume. When you're going to a giant street party with tens of thousands of people, it's important to try and stick out.

Now...there were a couple of ways I could do this. First, I could just throw the red dress on and make no effort to conceal my manly bodily hair or any of my other male features, going for the "really hairy guy in a dress" look. Or, I could make a serious effort to look as feminine as possible, and go for the "That's a man?! Holy crap!" reaction. There is no in-between. It has to be one extreme or the other.

I thought it would be more fun and adventurous to take the second option. That basically meant wearing a wig, covering up my chest and neck hair, shaving my legs, wearing high heels, and putting on a lot - and I mean, a lot - of makeup.

Brace yourselves, because here's the result:



It's my personal opinion that at least half of the young male population would like to do something like this for Halloween, but most are either too afraid to admit it, or don't have a wife or girlfriend who would support it. I would never have even considered trying this on my own. I also wouldn't have tried this if I was overweight. Being skinny - and having long, slender legs - definitely worked in my advantage.

As for Franklin Street...I was definitely not the only Little Red Riding Hood. We weren't the only Little Red Riding Hood / Wolf couple. I wasn't even the only male Little Red Riding Hood to be found. But, at the risk of sounding cocky or arrogant, we were the best. No question. We had 27 people stop us on the street and ask for our picture. (Yes, I counted. Would you expect anything less?) I also got several complements on my nice legs.



Actually, I was hoping for at least one butt squeeze. That would have been the ultimate indication that we did a good job with my appearance. But I think the moral of the story is that no matter how much makeup Amber puts on me, or how sexy my legs might be, or how uncomfortable my shoes are - five-inch heels, in case you're wondering - I'm not really fooling anyone. But that's fine, because I think once everyone who walked by realized what the deal was, that only made our group effort that much more entertaining and impressive.

So...yeah. Our costume was a big hit. But it was also a lot of work, and now I have to wait for my leg hair to grow back in. Next year I'll probably just be a cow or something.

We took a bunch of pictures of other costumed people from Franklin Street, and I'll have those - plus some general commentary on what this party is all about - tomorrow.