Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Toledo Winter

In a couple of hours, we're leaving for "Christmas Part Two" in Toledo. We'll return home on Sunday.

The annual Christmas trip to Toledo has become our best opportunity to experience really cold weather. I like extreme weather conditions, just as long as I don't have to endure it for three months straight, so I actually relish the opportunity to experience a few days of 20°F weather and blowing snow. I know 20°F isn't really "extreme" at all, but by North Carolina standards it's pretty cold. And we don't plan on going to Winnipeg anytime soon, so in terms of cold weather this is the best we can do.

But really, it doesn't matter what the temperature in Toledo is going to be. The important question is this: will it snow? Right now, it looks like the answer is "yes, but not much". I guess we'll take what we can get.

As for the drives up and back - you knew I couldn't make it through the post without talking about the drive, right? - I don't expect much congestion today, but I do expect traffic issues Sunday. Granted, New Year's Sunday won't be as bad as Thanksgiving Sunday, but I would actually like to enjoy the drive, so I'd like to leave at 1:00 AM Sunday morning if circumstances allow it.

And since we're taking Amber's car, that means she'll probably do most of the driving, which means I'll have more time to taking dumb pictures and giving meaningless status updates on Facebook/Twitter along the way. Lucky you!

Celebrate the New Year, 40 Times Over

As you know, the year 2010 begins at midnight Thursday night / Friday morning. But thanks to time zones, of course, the entire world will not celebrate the arrival of the New Year at the same time. In my opinion, celebrating the New Year at just that one instant (midnight local time) is rather short-sighted. It's not all about us, you know! Unless you happen to live on Kiribati's Line Islands - and I'm assuming you don't - if you wait until midnight local time to party, you're late! As far as I'm concerned, the year 2010 starts at 5:00 AM Thursday morning. (The Line Islands are UTC+14, 19 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.)

But it's not all about the Line Islands, either. The Line Islands' New Year is only the beginning. Worldwide, we will have 26 consecutive hours of New Year celebrations. Factor in fractional time zones (e.g. Newfoundland), and you get 40 distinct "Happy New Year!" moments to celebrate across the globe. In the interest of world peace, why not grab some friends, hunker down for all 26 hours, and celebrate all 40 New Years? Sounds like a fun party to me! All I have to say is, "Drink Responsibly."

And so, I present to you, The Official Guide to Celebrating the New Year 40 Times Over (All Times Eastern). I'll list the time (EST) and a sample location or two for each of the world's 40 New Year celebrations, so that you can celebrate the New Year around the clock with the rest of the world. Wikipedia was my primary source, but I used other sources as necessary to verify things like Daylight Saving Time (which is currently in effect in parts of the Southern Hemisphere).

5:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Line Islands, Kiribati!
(UPDATE: Effective 2012, Samoa - but not American Samoa - now experiences the New Year at 5:00 AM on December 31st as well, following a move to the other side of the International Date Line.)
5:15 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Chatham Islands, New Zealand!
6:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, the rest of New Zealand!
7:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, eastern tip of Russia!
7:30 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Norfolk Island, Australia!
8:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Sydney and Melbourne, Australia!
8:30 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, South Australia!
9:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Queensland, Australia!
9:30 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Northern Territory, Australia!
10:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Japan and Korea!
10:15 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, Eucla, Australia!
11:00 AM Thursday: Happy New Year, China! (The entire country is on one time zone.)
12:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Thailand!
12:30 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Myanmar!
1:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Novosibirsk, Russia!
1:15 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Nepal!
1:30 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, India!
2:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Pakistan!
2:30 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Afghanistan!
3:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Dubai and Abu Dhabi!
3:30 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Iran! (What is it with these South Asia countries all wanting to have their own obscure time zone? Are they so hostile towards each other that they can't even stand being in the same time zone as their neighbors?)
4:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Moscow and Iraq!
5:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Istanbul!
6:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, most of Europe (including Spain, France, Germany, and Italy)!
7:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, England and Ireland!
8:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Cape Verde!
9:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Rio de Janeiro!
10:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Buenos Aires!
10:30 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Newfoundland! Getting closer...
11:00 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia!
11:30 PM Thursday: Happy New Year, Venezuela!
12:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Eastern Time Zone!
1:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Central Time Zone!
2:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Mountain Time Zone!
3:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Pacific Time Zone!
4:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Alaska!
4:30 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia!
5:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Hawaii!
6:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, American Samoa!
7:00 AM Friday: Happy New Year, Howland Island! (All islands inside this time zone are uninhabited. Based on the "if a tree falls in a forest" idea, you could argue that because nobody is there to keep time, this time zone doesn't actually exist. Your call.)

Have fun!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Restaurant Serving Times: Annual Champions

My restaurant serving time competition has been going on for 15 years now (5½ years since I started the tell-all spreadsheet), so at this point, it's not realistic to expect a record to be broken all that often. Last December, Stamey's BBQ of Greensboro put up an almost unbeatable serving time of 1:35. No other restaurant has even gotten under the four minute mark. (Serving time is the amount of time elapsed end of my order until I receive the main course on my plate.) Meanwhile, the longest time ever - 51:10 at Champs in State College, PA - has stood for over four years, because it's not every day when you have a party of 37. That's not very exciting, is it? But when you have 15 years of data to work with, you're going to get some seemingly unbeatable times. (For the record, I think 51:10 is very beatable, certainly much more so than the low mark.)

Well, anyway...last weekend while waiting for our food at Bob Evans, Erik gave me an idea. Since there isn't a whole lot of intrigue with this contest anymore, why not reset the contest on an annual basis? That way, we'd have a new "best" and a new "worst" every single year. I thought that was a good idea, so I went through the spreadsheet and posthumously declared annual champions for each of the last five years, plus the best and worst times from before I started the spreadsheet (which I still had memorized). Click here to see the winners and losers from each year.

2009 isn't over, so I'm not willing to declare Ed Boudreaux's of Brevard, NC the 2009 champion yet (or Tosca of Durham as the "loser"). Either record could fall Wednesday or Thursday, because I'm sure we'll go out to eat at least once more before the year is out. I think Ed Boudreaux's 5:10 mark is safe, but Tosca's 29:03 mark could easily be eclipsed, depending on where we go out to eat. Either way, I'll save my congratulations for another couple of days. If either mark goes down this week, I'll report it instantly on Twitter/Facebook and then next week on the blog.

As for previous years, I'm not surprised to see that Waffle Shop has two titles to its name. The other four annual champions (including the yet-to-be-crowned Ed Boudreaux's) are all barbecue restaurants. When it comes to speed, it's hard to compete with breakfast and barbecue. On the other end of the spectrum, all six of the "annual losers" (including the yet-to-be-crowned Tosca) involved parties of 7 or more.

So, hopefully this will add a little more intrigue when I go out to eat in 2010. Because, you know...anything to distract me from having to socialize with friends and family, right? (Kidding...)

Gas Station Tricks

(I know that the vast majority of my recent posts have all been road-trip related, but 'tis the season for driving, so that's just the way it is.)

As much driving as we do, I pay a lot of attention to gas prices, and to gas stations in general. Recently, I noticed a couple of "tricks" some gas stations seem to be doing in order to make more money.


You may be used to seeing plain old Regular on the far left of the pump. Ever start filling the tank, only to realize you grabbed a more expensive octane by mistake? I think that by putting Regular on the far right, they're trying to "trick", or at least subconsciously influence, people into putting Plus or Premium into their tanks instead of Regular, which on the pump above has been relegated to the far right. In fact, I bet there are some stations out there that regularly switch up the order in an effort to trick their regular customers into accidentally filling up with Premium.

Also, the last two times I've driven to Jacksonville over a holiday weekend, I've noticed that the cheapest station I see heading south isn't always the cheapest station when we head back north. I think some stations purposely set their prices extremely low before the weekend, in the hopes that drivers will see the low price and think, "Hey, we should stop there for gas on our way back home." Then, when coming back home a few days later...bam! The price is 10 or 15 cents higher than it was just a few days ago. Gotcha!

Monday, December 28, 2009

SeaWorld

First off, since I obsess over this sort of thing, "SeaWorld" is officially one word, not two. I know I'm not the first person to ever misspell something on Twitter, but when it comes to the correct spellings of various food and entertainment establishments, I expect more from myself. Also, "Popeyes" - as in, the chicken joint - does not have an apostrophe.

Well, anyway...last week, we left for Jacksonville a day earlier than originally planned, which gave us an opportunity for another day trip. And since the day trip to Southwestern Ontario was my decision more than anything else, and I've pretty much been everywhere in Florida already (well, almost), I gave Amber the option this time. I gave her the AAA Florida TourBook and told her we could do anything in Florida that she wanted, and she chose SeaWorld. Amber had never been to the Orlando SeaWorld before, but she had been to the one that used to be in the Cleveland area. But I mean, come on. SeaWorld in Ohio? That's not a real SeaWorld in my book.

What does one do at SeaWorld? Well, you see a few shows, see marine animals in tanks, and ride a few rides.

SeaWorld is all about the shows. They are the main attraction. And they're good shows, provided that you can get there in time before the stadium fills to capacity (which was an issue for us, given how crowded it was), and provided the animals are willing to cooperate. We missed the "Pets Ahoy" show because it filled up 20 minutes before showtime, and we missed the Shamu show because the whales didn't feel like acting.

Now...about that. No matter how well you train animals, sometimes they just don't feel like it. I mean, there's only so many fish you can feed them, right? The show MC said that "99.9% of the time", the show goes as planned. On the other hand, whenever someone uses the statistic "99.9%", chances are they're making it up. (In fact, one might say that there's a 99.9% chance that they're making it up.) If the show goes as planned 99.9% of the time, that means what happened to us - a cancelled show - has a 1-in-1,000 chance of happening at any given time. There were four Shamu shows that day; if there are four Shamu shows every day then according to his made-up statistic, this only happens once every eight months. So either we were really, really, really unlucky, or the real percentage of cancelled shows is more like 5% or 10%. That's my guess, anyway.

But on the bright side, we did see three shows (sea lions and/or otters, dolphins, and ice skating or something).


In between shows, there are a couple of things to do: see animals in large tanks, and ride a few rides.


(For a few more pictures from SeaWorld, including more from the dolphin show, visit my Flickr page.)

This is a more recent development - as in, this decade - but SeaWorld now has two excellent roller coasters, Kraken, and the seven-month-old flying coaster Manta. Manta is an excellent ride, one of the top ten - maybe even the top five - coasters I've ever ridden. And since everybody goes to SeaWorld for the shows and not the roller coasters, there was virtually no wait! If this coaster were at a park like Cedar Point, the wait would be over an hour for sure. But not here!

But the most important question is this: was SeaWorld worth the money? At nearly $80/person, I'd have to say probably not, at least not if it's as crowded as it was that day. Then again, it had been at least five years since I had gone to an Orlando area theme park, so I kind of forgot about how expensive parks are down there, as compared to theme parks farther north, like, say, Carowinds. But I'm not saying the price isn't justified. Orlando has such an outstanding vacation reputation, and the parks down there are so well polished, places like Disney World can pretty much name their price. I mean, what five-year-old doesn't want to go to Disney World? Disney does such a good job brainwashing marketing to young children, I'm sure it'll happen to our future children, too. Better start saving now!

I-95: The Adventure Continues


View Larger Map

I'm guessing almost everybody who lives near the Atlantic Ocean knows Interstate 95. Many probably consider I-95 the "worst road EVER". Is it? I consider myself an I-95 expert, at least when it comes to the stretch from Washington to Daytona Beach, and my least favorite interstate is actually I-4. I haven't had too many bad experiences with I-95. Our drives to and from Jacksonville last week went very smoothly. No traffic jams or other issues whatsoever, and we were able to make it in under 7 hours each way.



However, we probably wouldn't have been so lucky if we had left on Wednesday instead of Tuesday (Wednesday was expected to be a much busier travel day), or if we had to drive southbound on Sunday. Traffic heading in the other direction on Sunday was as bad as I've ever seen it, and we used to make a post-Christmas drive on southbound I-95 every year. It seems that once everybody has their "family obligations" out of the way, everybody wants to go to Florida. What recession?

I could be totally making this up, but I've noticed a couple of things about holiday driving. When you go driving on some random weekend in April, traffic is light, and the other drivers on the road probably also do a lot of driving, so things go smoothly. But around the holidays, you have a bunch of people on the interstates who don't necessarily do a whole lot of interstate driving. This means there are more "left lane riders" than normal, which can hold up faster cars and create traffic jams. Also, inexperienced interstate drivers drive fast. If you go on enough road trips and drive 80+ mph all the time, you're going to get pulled over sooner or later and learn your lesson. But if you only make one or two road trips a year, you may have gotten off the hook...so far. Left lane riders plus fast drivers equals relatively unsafe driving conditions.

Side comment: I actually think an argument could be made that increasing the speed limit on I-4 in Orlando from 50/55 to 65 would make the road safer, by lowering the speed variance among the traffic. On I-4 in Orlando, you have a mix of people observing the speed limit (driving 50 to 55 mph) and people who could care less about the speed limit (driving 80+ mph). It's not great. Interstates are safer when everybody is going close to the same speed.

So, anyway, the moral of the story is this: if you're driving to Florida on December 26th or 27th, either take US-301 instead, or buy a smartphone with Google Maps traffic updates and have your passenger check it regularly. Google Maps' traffic info won my seal of approval yesterday. I compared the southbound traffic jams against what Google Maps was reporting at the time, and it was almost dead-on. Have I mentioned I like my phone?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

To Jacksonville

It's that time of year again - time to drive to Jacksonville one week, and Toledo the other week, in one order or the other.

Now...in the past, when it's come time for the annual holiday driving excursions, I've normally just shut down the blog for a whole two weeks, given that I don't expect much readership these two weeks. But now that we're in the age where people have cell phones and look at their Twitter and Facebook stuff all the time anyway, even during holidays, I'm going to change the approach. I still don't expect to have many blog updates the next two weeks, but I will keep Twitter/Facebook running, because that's really easy and fast, and I know at least some of you won't put down the social networking this week or next. And if I see something interesting - which I almost always do on these trips, even though we keep going back to the same two cities every year - I may even post an instant picture! But at the same time...I don't feel obligated to provide any content this week, and may not.

We're leaving for Jacksonville today after work, which is a day earlier than originally planned. What are we going to do with that extra day? The ball's in Amber's court on that one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Snow in Virginia

I admit, I was a little bummed out that we didn't get much snow to speak of from last week's storm, especially since areas just north and west of us received several inches of the white stuff. So close, yet so far. (For those not familiar with our location, we're near the intersection of Durham, Wake, and Chatham counties. In terms of the snowfall map, that places us somewhere between 1" and Trace.)

Alright, so, we missed out. However, as shown on the snowfall map, they got several inches of snow just to our north. And, we have a car. Let's use it! We may not see snow again the rest of the season, so we better take advantage. Measurable snow is no guarantee in a Durham winter. What we got last week could be all we get for the season. (The average is 8" per year, but it does not snow every year.)

On Sunday afternoon - well after all major roads had been cleared - we drove an hour north to Danville, VA, just across the state line. Danville received 7.5" of snow from the storm.


(More evidence that my photography skills are still very much a work in progress. That's the Virginia state line sign in the distance with the cardinal on it, and my intent was to get the sign front, center, and legible. But my camera phone has no zoom, and I was too lazy to get close enough to the sign.)

We went to a city park we've been to before (Dan Daniel Memorial Park) to walk around and play in the snow a little bit.


That's Amber's snowman, complete with a snowdog (?) sidekick. (That's not the original picture I posted on Twitter/Facebook; that picture was taken before she added the snowdog and before the sun came out.) Note that I called it "Amber's" snowman rather than ours, because I don't think I can take credit for it. It was all her. Being a Florida native, I'm a tad inexperienced when it comes to playing in the snow. I don't know what to do with it. I just like looking at it. It's pretty.



Speaking as a weather geek, it would have been fun to get our own helping of snow. But speaking as a realist, it was also nice to not have to do any shoveling, snow driving, or deal with a two-day power outage.

Side note: I've been uploading phone pictures to Flickr, at least for now. Pictures that appear on Flickr will also appear in the blog (although not instantly), and the better picture uploads will be accompanied by an instant Twitter/Facebook update. So really, you have no reason to ever check the Flickr site separately - unless you're bored, of course.

60,000 Kilometers


This is kind of what I was talking about when I said I was going to start taking more pictures of "useless crap" now that I had my own camera phone.

One of the things I like about my car is that with the press of a button, I can change the odometer and speedometer from miles to kilometers. This means that I'll reach every significant odometer reading twice! Hooray! Normally, I switch the display to kilometers when I'm close to a 10,000-km mark - for example, 60,000 kilometers, which is pictured above. But after surpassing that mark, I immediately switched it back to miles, where the odometer reading was a boring 37,267.

I should mention that the speedometer in the picture is also in kilometers, so no, I was not going 112 mph. 112 km/h = a safe highway speed of 70 mph. (This was on I-40 near Chapel Hill.) Also note that even though passenger Amber took the picture instead of driver Chris, I still think taking a picture while driving is safer than texting while driving.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Winter Storm: Dud

I know this major winter storm working its way up the East Coast has brought and will continue to bring over a foot of snow to many areas. But I'm still calling it a dud, because from our perspective, it was a dud. While areas to our north and west got dumped on, I don't think we even got half an inch before it changed over to sleet and then rain. As of this morning, this is all that's left:



"So, let me get this straight. You got hardly any snow out of this, and you're COMPLAINING? You should consider yourself lucky! Some of us won't even be able to get out of the house today! If you wanted more snow, then why did you move to North Carolina? You could always have found a job in a place like Rochester or Duluth, you know." All valid points. I do like snow, and I wish Durham got more of it. But I do not like snow for four months straight. That's one reason why I got a job here and not somewhere farther north. Unfortunately, it appears I went a little too far south to meet my ideal winter weather balance. I think Roanoke, VA would probably give me just the right amount of winter weather - just enough to have fun with it, but not too much so that I'm sick of it by the end of February.

Oh well. Maybe we'll just have to drive north tomorrow.

Sports Saturday: 12/19/09

I came to three conclusions following last weekend's "Only watch sports by way of the DVR" experiment:

1) Recording over 10 sporting events in one weekend with the intent to watch all of them is a bad idea. After a while, it feels like a chore and an obligation to wade my way through all of the recordings.

2) I can't get as excited about other sports as I can a full day of college football. College Football Saturday is an event. Most other sports are just something to watch from time to time.

3) You probably don't care which NHL or college basketball games I plan on watching or recording, so I'm not going to go through my weekend itinerary again like I did last Saturday.

In terms of the blog, here's what I'm going to do going forward, at least until college football season ramps back up again in August. I'll have a blog post every Saturday - or most Saturdays - dedicated to general sports commentary. There are enough sports fans in my blog readership, I think I can make this work. I'll cover every sport I'm interested in, have some general comments (if I have any), and list the games that will be on television* Saturday and Sunday. (* - will only include games that I can watch, which means DirecTV Choice Xtra + Sports Pack, NHL Center Ice, and Raleigh/Durham local channels.)

In no particular order:

NHL - It seems like the Carolina Hurricanes have been doing better as of late. Then, I look at the standings and see that the Hurricanes are still waaaaay behind even the 29th-place team. Oh well - at this point, you might as well put in the young guys, lose a bunch of games, and get secure one of the top two draft picks. Pretty much every other team in the league is still in the hunt. Must be nice.

Sat 1:00p - NY Rangers at Philadelphia, MSG?
Sat 3:00p - Detroit at Dallas, Fox Sports Detroit
Sat 4:00p - Nashville at Calgary, Fox Sports Tennessee
Sat 7:00p - Florida at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 7:00p - New Jersey at Atlanta, MSG
Sat 7:00p - Pittsburgh at Buffalo, Fox Sports Pittsburgh
Sat 7:00p - Boston at Toronto, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - Montreal at NY Islanders, MSG Plus
Sat 7:00p - Minnesota at Ottawa, Fox Sports North
Sat 9:00p - Columbus at Colorado, Altitude
Sat 10:00p - Washington at Edmonton, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sun 7:00p - Detroit at Chicago, Fox Sports Detroit
Sun 10:00p - St. Louis at Vancouver, Fox Sports Midwest

College Basketball - College basketball in December is usually pretty boring, so I'm going to save my breath for later in the season.

Once again, to make this list shorter, I'm only including games featuring the ACC, Big Ten, Big East, or Atlantic 10. Otherwise, the list would be over 35 games long; even with that restriction it's still 28 games long.

Sat 12:00p - Michigan at Kansas, ESPN
Sat 12:00p - IPFW at Michigan State, Big Ten Network
Sat 2:00p - North Carolina at Texas, ESPN
Sat 2:00p - Xavier at Butler, ESPN2
Sat 2:00p - Stanford at Northwestern, Big Ten Network
Sat 2:00p - UCLA at Notre Dame, CBS
Sat 2:00p - Villanova at Fordham, YES
Sat 2:00p - West Virginia at Cleveland State, SNY
Sat 2:00p - Lipscomb at Cincinnati, Fox Sports Ohio
Sat 4:00p - Duke v. Gonzaga, CBS
Sat 4:00p - Western Kentucky at Louisville, ESPN2
Sat 4:00p - Ball State at Purdue, Big Ten Network
Sat 4:00p - Delaware State at Ohio State, ESPNU
Sat 4:00p - Miami (FL) at Florida Atlantic, Sun Sports
Sat 6:00p - Memphis at Massachusetts, ESPN2
Sat 6:30p - Drake at Iowa, Big Ten Network
Sat 6:30p - Florida at Richmond, Sun Sports
Sat 7:00p - Illinois at Georgia, ESPNU
Sat 7:00p - Old Dominion at Georgetown, MASN
Sat 7:00p - UNC Wilmington at Virginia, CSN Mid-Atlantic*
Sat 8:30p - NC Central at Indiana, Big Ten Network
Sat 9:00p - Gardner-Webb at Penn State, ESPNU
Sun 1:00p - Central Florida at Connecticut, MASN
Sun 2:00p - Hofstra at St. John's, MSG
Sun 5:30p - Florida State at Georgia Tech, FSN
Sun 6:30p - St. Bonaventure at Syracuse, SNY (tape-delayed from Saturday; this is the first telecast I could find on the program guide)
Sun 7:30p - NC State at Wake Forest, FSN

* - Sometimes games on CSN Mid-Atlantic are blacked out...not that it really matters.

College Football - Oh, right...the first two bowl games. Yawn.

Sat 11:00a - Division III Championship: Mount Union v. Wisconsin-Whitewater, ESPN2
Sat 4:30p - New Mexico Bowl: Fresno State v. Wyoming, ESPN
Sat 8:00p - St. Petersburg Bowl: Rutgers v. Central Florida, ESPN

NFL - I stayed up late to watch the Jaguars/Colts game on Thursday night, which is only the second time all season I've been able to watch the Jags. The first time was the Week 1 game, also Jaguars/Colts, and that was only because there was an NFL Sunday Ticket free preview that day. Meanwhile, the last two Jaguars games will not be televised here, either. Does this mean I should plunk down the money for NFL Sunday Ticket next season? Or maybe switch to DISH for the Red Zone channel?

Sat 8:15p - Dallas at New Orleans, NFL Network
Sun 1:00p - New England at Buffalo, CBS
Sun 1:00p - San Francisco at Philadelphia, FOX
Sun 4:15p - Green Bay at Pittsburgh, FOX
Sun 8:15p - Minnesota at Carolina, NBC

Women's College Volleyball - What is this about? It's about the Penn State women's volleyball team and their 6,540-game winning streak. ... Okay, their win streak isn't that high, but they have won an NCAA-record 101 consecutive games. Tonight, Penn State plays for its third consecutive national championship against Texas (Sat 8:00p, ESPN2), and I'll be watching.

Heading into the NCAA tournament, there was actually a real possibility of getting my dream matchup: Penn State v. Florida State in the national championship. That would have been the best thing ever - who cares if it's women's volleyball? FSU was ranked #3 heading into the tournament, but they lost in the regional final to Minnesota. Darn.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Fun With Sportypal

Among the many free applications I've downloaded to my new cell phone so far is one called Sportypal. Basically, you turn it on before you start a run, or walk, or bike ride, take it with you, and when you're done, it gives you a map of where you went, how fast you were going, and other detailed statistics - trap speeds, average pace, elevation, and so on - that you can upload to the web. Sounds like something I would enjoy, right?

So, I've had a little fun with Sportypal the last two days. I tracked my bike ride to work (here) and back (here) yesterday, as well as my 15-minute lunch time walk yesterday (here) and (here).

I don't plan on tracking every bike ride or walk I do, and all of this is entirely unnecessary...but so is just about everything I keep track of, right? Besides, I think it's pretty cool. At the same time, detailed output from my lunch time walk or work commute via bicycle probably isn't very interesting to you. So I won't link to Sportypal output from here very much, except perhaps for some of my more interesting bike rides. For example, I'd like to try it out on the "Marathon" bike ride this weekend, as long as the roads aren't covered in snow and ice by then.

On another bicycling-related note, along with the weekly update, today I added route symbols to my Bicycling Trip to Alaska page. For example: Yeah!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Map Room: Office Edition

Soon after we moved in, we covered the walls of one room in our new house with road maps. In fact, we pretty much completely covered the walls, to the point where we actually had maps left over.

Meanwhile, I changed offices at work this week. The new office is much quieter, but one of the walls in the office was completely blank, and actually kind of ugly. Hey - why don't I bring some of those leftover maps we have lying around the house?

So, that's what I did:



I couldn't quite squeeze the entire wall into one picture, but that's a Northwest Territories map in the upper right. (Yes, I know I could have taken two pictures instead of one, but I'm trying to be efficient with my picture taking. I'm still an amateur.) The Alabama, New Mexico, and Utah maps are brand new ones we picked up on our US-50 trip, but the other states were already on the home map room wall.

I've gotten multiple complements from my co-workers. Personally, I think it's only 1/4 as impressive as the home map room, since it's just one wall instead of all four. The other three walls already have stuff on them, but if I am able to acquire official state maps from Alaska, Hawaii, New York, or South Dakota - the only states missing from either map room, I think - or maybe some more Canadian provincial maps, I'll make room.

(And just to rehash: They have to be the official state DoT issued maps, as in the ones you can usually pick up for free at state Welcome Centers. Those maps have a lot more personality than, say, AAA maps. If we just put 20 AAA maps on our wall, it would all look rather plain.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

New Phone: For Real This Time

Before we get started, let me run through some things I said back in April about the cell phone I had at the time. "I'm a minimalist when it comes to phones. I get the cheapest plan available, with no features whatsoever beyond the basic plan. ... I don't use my phone to surf the web or check email, and I'm getting by just fine, so I'd like to keep it that way."

Well, everyone has a right to change their mind, right? I've done a complete 180 on my opinion of cell phones since then. On many occasions over the last few months, I've said to myself, "Gee, it would be nice if I had a phone that could [insert something cool here]. It would really come in handy." That, and the cheap-o phone I was using wasn't working properly anymore, which the AT&T rep chalked up to "water damage", for which the only recourse was, of course, buying another phone. At that point, I decided a couple of things: 1) I wasn't giving AT&T any more money. Except for the early termination fee, of course. (I'm still under contract.) 2) When I switched companies, I was going to get a good phone. You know, the kind you can actually do stuff with besides talk and text.

So, we decided to both switch to T-Mobile, and that I would get the G1. My brother James has had the G1 for about a year now and has let me know many times how cool it is. Welcome to the 21st Century, Chris! Now, I'll be able to do things like take and upload pictures whenever I want, check live radar and traffic info when we're on the road, Facebook/Twitter while on vacation (and I'll actually be able to read replies now, rather than just send them blindly via text message), and all kinds of other cool things I don't even know about yet. Of course, if you have a phone like that (iPhone, etc.), you've been doing stuff like this for the last two or three years now. I'm a little late in the game. (I should note that Amber still has a bare bones phone. Unlike me, she is still a phone minimalist. And that's fine with me - it's cheaper!)

Meanwhile, the initial price of new fancy phone + AT&T early termination (I was under contract but Amber was not) was a bit steep. But even with an unlimited data/web plan, our monthly bill isn't going to go up that much from what we were paying AT&T already. We had been paying AT&T between $90 and $100 a month on separate plans; now we're on a combined plan and will pay around $110 a month (so I've been told). I think the upgrade in service is worth an extra $15 a month, don't you? That also includes an insurance plan, since I seem to have a hard time keeping my phone in functioning order.

So if you're of the opinion that my blog needs more pictures and less words, you're in luck! I will definitely have more pictures in my blog from now on, and will post many of them immediately on Facebook/Twitter and soon thereafter on the blog. For instance...



This was posted at Kroger yesterday and was the first picture I took with the new phone. I just thought the idea of a nationwide Eggo shortage was kind of funny. So, anyway, you can look forward to seeing more pictures of useless crap on this blog. Hooray! Useless crap!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas Parades

I can't remember ever attending a Christmas Parade before, but this year, I attended two: one in Maumee, OH (a suburb of Toledo) the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and one in Wake Forest last weekend. So...here's my take on this sort of thing.

First off, the idea wasn't that we just felt like going to a parade. Our niece was in the Maumee parade; as soon as she passed, we left. Meanwhile, we were in the Wake Forest parade, manning the Triangle Curling Club float. I'm curious how many people who attend a parade don't know anyone who's actually in the parade. Do people come to a parade just to see and/or support people they know, or are they actually going for the experience of watching a bunch of advertisements stroll by for an hour or two while standing outside in the cold? It really doesn't seem like all that fun an activity. Nonetheless, there are small-town "Christmas Parades" everywhere, and if they weren't popular enough, they obviously wouldn't exist. My only question is whether or not "family and friend support" makes up the majority of parade attendance. In Wake Forest, it sure seemed like there were just as many people in the parade as there were watching. But on the other hand, it does give families who have a hard time thinking of a good, cheap, all-family-inclusive activity on a Saturday afternoon something to do.

But from the perspective of the parade participant, it's actually kind of fun. You get to promote whatever it is you're trying to promote - our curling club handed out hundreds of flyers, advertising the next "Learn to Curl" session (Friday, January 8th), and you get to be the center of attention for a little while while everyone looks on in awe and bewilderment.

So, in summary, I see three reasons to attend a Christmas Parade:
- You know someone in the parade.
- You're in the parade.
- You have one or more young children and need a cheap, family-friendly weekend afternoon activity.

And, that's pretty much it.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

DVR Sports Weekend: 12/12/09

Every Saturday I've spent at home since September has been spent watching almost exclusively college football. So before I continue, I think I need to close the book on college football season and provide some closing thoughts.

Yes, I'm calling the season over, bowl games or not. It seems like I complain about the bowl system every year, so I'm going to try (and ultimately fail) to keep it short this year. Except for the major bowls, winning or losing your bowl game really doesn't have any lasting impact on how "good" or "bad" a season you had. Fans are more likely to remember which bowl game their favorite team went to, rather than whether or not their favorite team actually won or lost the game. Bowl game placement is far more important than winning the bowl game itself, which is why for most teams, the most important part of the season has come and gone, and all that's left is an exhibition game. Like most fans, I would much rather have a playoff, but we're only going to get one if the bowl system ceases to be profitable, which is only going to happen if you - yes, you - stop watching and buying tickets to bowl games. Fans are almost always pissed off at the BCS and the bowl system in general this time of year. But fortunately for the bowl system, most bowl games don't take place for another three or four weeks, which allows plenty of time for the anger to subside and for most fans to forget what they were so angry about in the first place. So, before I make any bold statements like "I'm watching the NHL Winter Classic on New Year's Day, even though my two favorite teams' bowl games will be on at the same time", we'll see if cooler heads prevail by then.

Alrighty! Now that I have that off my chest, let's move on to this weekend. Rather than flip channels all day long, this weekend I'm taking a different approach to my sports watching. I'm going to look through the program guide for various football, college basketball, and hockey games, record the ones I want to watch, after I return from the Wake Forest Christmas Parade late Saturday afternoon (I'll discuss what that's all about next week), I'll work my way through all of the sporting events I recorded, starting at the top. The benefit to watching sports this way is that I get to skip all commercials and timeouts along the way, which really comes in handy at the end of a close college basketball game. The downside is that if one of the games I record becomes a blowout, I'm stuck with it - I can't switch to another game halfway through.

To figure out which games to record, I have a few factors to consider:
- My DVR can record two things at once, so I can't record everything, of course.
- My general practice is to record one extra hour after the scheduled end of the broadcast, in case the game runs late (which they almost always do). This obviously decreases the number of games I can record in one day, although nothing says I can't start a recording at halftime.
- I have to take the necessary precautions to make sure the game I'm watching doesn't show the score of another game I've recorded but have yet to watch. By now, I generally know what to expect with each channel and broadcast.

Here are the recording choices I decided to make for this weekend:

Saturday: Time slot 1

There isn't a whole lot to start with on Saturday; my only real choices are a couple of college basketball games: Ohio State at Butler (12:00p, ESPN), and Kentucky at Indiana (12:00p, CBS). I can't record both because of the "spoiler" rule, so I chose the first game, because I'm curious to see how good Butler (ranked #22) is.

Saturday: Time slot 2

While I am ready to move on from college football season, I am excited about one football game today: the Appalachian State at Montana FCS semifinal (4:00p, ESPN). They actually have playoffs over there! And it should be a fun game to watch. But since I am ready to move on from college football, that means skipping the Army/Navy game, and instead recording another college basketball game: St. Joseph's at Minnesota (4:00p, Big Ten Network).

Saturday: Time slot 3

I try to watch all of Florida State's and Penn State's basketball games when I can, so that means today's Virginia Tech at Penn State college basketball game (7:00p, ESPN2) gets added to the DVR's "To Do List". Meanwhile, I'd like to record a hockey game during this time slot as well, but I have to wait until 8:30p to give time for the Appalachian State/Montana recording to finish, so I'm going to record the Hurricanes at Senators NHL game (7:00p, Fox Sports Carolinas) starting at 8:30p, which means only getting the third period.

Saturday: Time slot 4

Normally, time slot 4 is completely irrelevant, because it means bed time. But not in the DVR world! I'm recording two late NHL games: Wild at Canucks (10:00p), and Stars at Kings (10:30p). I should mention that the plan isn't to necessarily watch everything I record; I'm just recording more than I think I'll want to watch just in case some of the games end up being blowouts.

Sunday: Time slot 1

Most Sundays, I'll watch whichever of the two locally televised 1:00p NFL games I find more interesting; this week that's Bengals at Vikings (1:00p, CBS). I was actually holding out hope that Dolphins at Jaguars would be an important enough game to warrant wider national coverage, but instead, that game will barely be seen anywhere. Due to the "spoiler rule", I can't record both 1:00p NFL games, of course.

Sunday: Time slot 2

I'm not sure I'll make it this far down the list - I'm usually burned out on sports by Sunday afternoon - but I might as well keep the DVR working. I mean, why not? That means recording the Chargers at Cowboys NFL game (4:15p, CBS), and also the Villanova at Temple college basketball game (3:00p, CBS College). There are quite a few college basketball games on Sunday, but most of them are duds; Villanova/Temple is the only one I decided to record.

Sunday: Time slot 3

Finally, I'm recording the Lightning at Blackhawks NHL game (7:00p), just in case all the other games I recorded this weekend are major disappointments.

So...how is this going to work in practice? Even though I'm recording 35½ hours of programming this weekend, how much of it am I actually going to watch, and how long will it take me? I'm fairly liberal with my fast-forwarding - I don't need to see every second of game action in every game - so I'm thinking that 8 to 10 hours will be the maximum.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Baby Name Rules

First off, before you start getting any ideas...NO, Amber is NOT pregnant. The plan is to wait until we come back from next summer's Alaska trip before we, err, "pull the goalie". (That's my favorite hockey analogy ever, by the way.)

In the meantime...it's never too early to talk about potential baby names, right? We've found it makes for good family conversation. People love talking about babies. However, we already have the rules down pat for what we will and will not name our future children.

Here are our rules:

- There will not be a Chris Allen, Jr.

- No names with multiple or common alternate spellings or pronounciations. We would like people to be able to spell and pronounce our children's names correctly. This means names like Lindsay/Lindsey, Eric/Erik/Erick, and Cathy/Kathy/Kathi/Kathie are out.

- No names that are commonly used for both boys and girls - for example, Alex and Sam. We don't want there to be any confusion.

- No names ending in the 'E' sound (e.g. Holly, Ashley, Katie). This includes names that commonly shortened to nicknames ending in the 'E' sound (e.g. Robert --> Bobby, Daniel --> Danny). Amber thinks these names sound too "cutesy". Also, a name like this would violate the "no alternate spelling rule", especially for girls. Anything that ends in 'y' could also end in 'ey', 'ie', 'i', or...you get the idea.

- No names of close relatives - we don't want any repeats within the family. By "close relatives", I basically mean anyone in the family who came to our wedding. Also, no names of our former boyfriends/girlfriends, for obvious reasons.

- Nothing overly common among recent newborns, which means basically anything in the top 10 of this list is out. (Isabella was #2 last year? Really?) I know what it's like to be referred to as "Chris A." instead of just "Chris" in elementary school. We're trying to avoid that.

- But at the same time, we don't want to name our kid anything overly obscure, either. I think Amber likes the name Zebulon ("Zeb" for short), but...nah. If you want to know what makes an "overly obscure" name, basically it's one that you've never heard of before, or that sounds dumb - for example, most celebrity baby names (e.g. Suri Cruise). Also, anything with an apostrophe is out (e.g. D'Brickashaw).

- No names of other famous Allens, which means names like Ethan, Steve, and Woody are out.

- No common nouns, especially inspirational nouns. No offense to anyone with those names or who have children with those names, but...well, I'll just say that names like Grace and Hope aren't our style, and leave it at that.

- If we have two children (as is the plan), the two names must start with a different letter. This way, if they both become NASCAR drivers, ESPN won't have to spell out their entire first names on the scoring crawler at the top of the screen, ala Kurt and Kyle Busch. (Kidding aside...we do have our reasons for this rule.)

- No names of famous destructive Atlantic hurricanes. We are weather nerds and both have degrees in Meteorology, so I suppose it would be fitting - and perhaps predictable - to consult the list of retired Atlantic hurricane names for inspiration. If someone found out our children were named "Andrew" and "Katrina", they may think, "Oh, their parents must be meteorologists or something". Part of me thinks that would be kind of cool. But at the same time, we don't want to do that to our children. Our children's names will not be the subject of ridicule.

Speaking of which, here's a link to a fun quiz: How many retired Atlantic hurricane names can you name? Hat tip to Jeff [Frame]. My score (24/73) was embarrassingly low for a self-proclaimed weather geek, especially considering that I was born and raised in Florida. And for the record, we're not excluding all of the retired Atlantic hurricane names from consideration, only the really famous ones. On a related note, in case you're wondering what effect the 2005 hurricane had on the popularity of the name "Katrina"...according to the previously-linked baby name ranking site, Katrina was the 246th most popular baby name in 2005. But after the hurricane of the same name struck the Gulf Coast, the name started plummeting down the rankings: 381st in 2006, 603rd in 2007, and 717th last year, the name's lowest ranking in 60 years.

Actually, you know what? I may have to rethink Katrina. The name doesn't break any of our other rules. It's dropping in popularity, big time. And thanks in part to the famous hurricane, everyone will spell it correctly! On the other hand, how would you feel if your parents named you after one of the worst natural disasters in American history? A boy might think it was cool, but a girl...maybe not so much. We'll get back with you on that one.

I think that just about covers it. This eliminates a heck of a lot of names, but that's okay, because ultimately we only need two. We actually have two boy names and two girl names in mind that fit all of the criteria, but we're keeping them to ourselves for now so that you don't steal them. (Here's a hint: one of the four names is on the list of retired Atlantic hurricane names. And no, it's not Katrina.)

And for the record, I don't expect you to follow these rules for yourself, and I won't think any less of you if your baby's name violates our rules. These are our rules, not a suggestion for general practice. In fact, I encourage you to violate our rules. The more names that are out there that don't follow our rules, the less common our children's names will be. So if you want to name your kid "John", "Katie", or "Faith"...please do. Knock yourself out!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Transaction Registers

One of the few things I don't do by computer these days is balance my checkbook. For that, I still use those things called "transaction registers" and "pens". I'm not sure why I haven't computerized this yet; maybe I just like the occasional math exercise. (Actually, the main reason is so that I can balance my checkbook while I'm on vacation, so that I can make sure I don't run out of money while I'm away.)

The bank normally gives you a blank transaction register when you order a new set of checks. In the old days, that was sufficient, because people used a lot of checks back then and had to reorder checks more frequently than they ran out of space in their transaction register. But today, we use these things called "debit cards", and I rarely write checks - usually never more than one per month. As a result, I haven't had to reorder checks once since I moved here 3½ years ago. (All of my checks still have my original Cary address on them.) But since I have a lot of debit card and other non-check transactions to keep track of, I've gone through more than one transaction register during that time.

So, anyway, here's the question. How do you obtain a blank transaction register when you don't want to reorder checks? We looked for them in stores, but couldn't find them anywhere, not even at a place like Walmart. What gives? Am I actually being forced to computerize this aspect of my life?

It turns out that all you have to do is to go your local bank and ask for one, and they'll give you one (or two), no questions asked, no cost. That's probably why they don't sell them in stores, don't you think?

Nevertheless, it's probably only a matter of time before my checkbook balancing also goes the way of the spreadsheet.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Marathon

My fictional bicycling trip to Alaska gives me plenty of incentive to get some exercise every week, but there's still plenty of room for me to shoot for other arbitrary goals. So, here's one I came up with: bike a "marathon" (26.2 miles) faster than the on-foot marathon world record.

At first, this sounds easy. Surely, I can go faster on a bicycle than even the world's best runners can run, right? Nope. The marathon world record is currently 2:03:59 (the source for all world record information is this Wikipedia page), for an average speed of 12.7 mph. Including breaks, my average speed during my longer rides (20+ miles) thus far has been less than 12 mph. I'm sure most serious bicyclists could easily ride 26.2 miles in under two hours, but I'm not there yet. A Tour de France-caliber rider could complete the distance in under one hour, but besides the obvious athletic advantage, they have the following other advantages over me: drafting, no car traffic, really expensive bikes, and of course, performance-enhancing drugs.

Despite being almost certain I couldn't beat the time on the first crack, I wanted to try it anyway. Here's the route I came up with:


View Larger Map

Google Maps says this route is 26.5 miles, but my experience is that actual bicycling distance - measured by my bike odometer - is often less than what Google Maps suggests. Indeed, it ended up being a 26.1-mile route on bike. Eh...close enough. This is a completely arbitrary goal to begin with, so I'm not going to sweat a tenth of a mile.

I should point out that this route is not the fastest 26.2-mile route I could have come up with. Rather than take the flatest, straightest road or trail I could find down and back, I wanted a route with some complexity to it, had a bit of challenge, stayed mostly in residential areas (off major roads), and didn't loop back on itself too much. I think this route does all of those things pretty well. Residential neighborhoods in this area can be quite hilly. The only problem with a route like this is that I have to deal with stop signs and traffic lights, which will slow me down, but I need an occasional break anyway, so that's fine.

So, anyway...Sunday morning, I decided to give it a shot. My time: 2:21:37. That's much slower than the men's world record, and is even slower than the women's world record (2:15:25). So, there are men and women in the world who can run 26.2 miles faster than I can bike it. Crazy!

Athleticism has never been my strongsuit anyway. Maybe I should start doping.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Curling Recap: 12/4/09

The regular season of the Triangle Curling Club Fall League ended before Thanksgiving, but we still had some unfinished business to attend to. Last Friday, while the two best teams competed for the league title, the rest of us played a "fun" version of curling with various quirky rule modifications. And since it was my job to organize the league this season, that means I got to make up the rules! Muwhahaha...

Other clubs (e.g. Potomac Curling Club) do something like this, and I had access to many of Potomac's quirky rules from years' past, so I used some of those rules - along with some rules I made up myself - to come up with the following set of wacky curling rules. Basically, there is one unique rule per end, along with an extra twist thrown from time to time. Former league coordinator Sherri ran a similar deal after the Spring season, but for some reason I didn't blog about it. Why didn't I?

Well, anyway, here were the rules I came up with:

1st END: The team closest to the button gets two points, regardless of how many rocks the scoring team has in position. This is a fairly tame rule variation, which I put at the top of the list just to get everyone "warmed up". I also wanted to keep one team from dominating the first end and getting a huge lead before we even got started.

This rule greatly simplifies the strategy, because you never have to decide between guarding your best shot, or going for more points by putting another one in the house. Not all that exciting, really, but like I said...this was just a "warm-up".

2nd END: Scoring is "inside-out". Rocks that are FARTHEST from the button - but still in the house - are considered "best". Here's an example:


Normally, with this setup, red would score one point for rock #6. But under the "inside-out" rule, yellow scores two points for rocks #1 and #2. Red's rock X is close, but doesn't count.

The strategy with such a rule is simple, but it makes for a completely different game.

3rd END: Each team gets two "do-overs". For each "do-over", your team can re-do a bad shot, OR you can force your opponent to re-do a good shot. This was my favorite rule, and was actually inspired by some friendly games of disc golf in Jacksonville with Erik, Jeremiah, and Keith. Do you use your "do-over" to help yourself, or to screw over the other team? Do you use them up early, or do you save them in case they're needed later on?

I also added a rule where at least one of the two "do-overs" had to be used prior to the skip's rocks, so that teams couldn't save both of them for the last shot.

Then, after the 3rd end, I added a twist. Normally, the team that just scored has to give the "hammer" (last rock) advantage to the other team for the next end. But this time, I gave the scoring team a choice. The scoring team could have the hammer in the next end if they gave up one of the points they just scored. Or, they could keep all of their points and give up hammer to the other team.

In our games, hammer isn't as important as it is at higher levels of curling, so I think taking the point was the right call. But at the higher levels, where the team with last rock would rather have a scoreless end and retain hammer instead of scoring one and giving up hammer, I imagine most teams would give up the point.

4th END: Any rock that comes to rest touching the four-foot circle must be removed from play immediately. The four-foot circle is colored in red:


Any rock completely inside the circle could stay, but if a rock came to rest right on top of the edge of circle, it was to be removed.

The goal in curling is to get as close to the button as possible, of course...but in this case, you either wanted to be really, really close (entirely inside the four-foot), or just outside of the ring of death. I think this was the most evil rule I came up with. Sweeping can help, but it was still kind of a crapshoot whether your shot would come to rest touching the ring of death or not.

Potomac's version of the rule stipulated the eight foot ring (the next one farther out) as the ring of death; I thought placing the ring of death closer to the button would be a little more devious.

5th END: No talking. The penalty for talking is a burned rock. Communication is very important in curling, so when you can't talk, what do you do? Hand motions! I think every team was very happy when this rule was no longer in effect. Personally, I think the eerie silence that comes about during this end is kind of neat.

Normally, the team that just scored has to give up hammer, but I decided that in these games, from the 6th end onward, the team that was trailing would get hammer, no matter who had scored in the previous end. Since these games don't really count - and I don't count them as part of my official statistics - why not try to make the games as close as possible?

(By the way, I don't know if I made this clear, but the league championship game was being played by normal rules. The wacky rules were only in effect for everyone else.)

Given the wacky rules, I figured we wouldn't have time to complete a full eight end game in two hours. (We didn't.) I had a rule I absolutely wanted to come last, no matter how many ends were played, so I mandated that the "FINAL END" rule should come last. If there wasn't enough time for eight ends, then the following two rules could be skipped:

6th END (time permitting): The rock sitting closest to the button does not count for scoring. For example, if yellow would normally score four, instead yellow scores three. If yellow would normally score one, and red has the next three closest rocks, red scores three.

I thought this was the most complicated of the rules. Amber said it made her brain hurt.

7th END (time permitting): No take-outs allowed. None of the games made it this far, so I don't know how this would work out.

Now, the FINAL END. First, for non-curlers: note that each of the eight rocks has a number, and that we throw the rocks in order. Rock #1 is each team's first rock of the end, and rock #8 is each team's last rock of the end. With that in mind, here's the final end rule: Odd-numbered rocks are worth two points each instead of one. Rock #6 is worth 1,000 points. In other words, if rock #6 scores, you win!

So no matter how badly you're losing - and my team was losing 11-0 going into the final end - if your sixth shot in the final end is a money shot, you win! None of the teams were able to get rock #6 in scoring position and pick up the 1,000-point bonus, however, but one team in another game did take advantage of the odd-numbered-rocks-count-double rule and made up a four-point deficit in the final end to win. (The trailing team had two odd rocks and one even rock in scoring position for a total of five points; under normal rules they would have only scored three.)

I wanted this rule to come last so that the trailing team was still in the game all the way until the end - or, at least until it throws rock #6 all the way through the house, as I did. Whoops! I believe that can be considered a "choke". Good thing it doesn't count!

So...now the season really is over, and our next curling isn't until mid-January. Until then, we need to find something else to do on Friday night.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

College Football Saturday (plus other stuff): 12/5/09

So, this is it. I don't really care about most bowl games, and even the traditionally not-so-crappy bowl games are losing some credibility with me. I know bowl games are about money and money alone. But even if it is Bobby Bowden's last game, there is no way you can convince me that Florida State deserves to play in the Gator Bowl. This is proof of how silly and unfair the bowl system is. The BCS bowl games are usually good, but unfortunately, all of them except one will end well past my bedtime.

But, anyway...that's not an issue today. No more complaining today. I promise. There aren't as many games today as normal, so I'm going to artifically increase the load by including playoff games from Division I FCS as well as Division II, to bring today's total to a more-than-enough 17 games. After that, I'll also list games from college basketball and the NHL. Yeah!

Time slot 1

Game 1 - Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 12:00p, ABC: Winner takes the Big East. Isn't it nice when a conference without an outright championship game lucks out and get a winner-take-all game in the final week of the season? Same thing happened in the Pac-10 this season, too.
Game 2 - East Carolina v. Houston, 12:00p, ESPN2: Conference USA championship. This game actually has a lot of potential: a ranked, high-scoring team against a team of local interest.
Game 3 - West Virginia at Rutgers, 12:00p, ESPN: The Big East knows that playing a full slate of games in the last week of the season is a surefire way to get all four of its games on national television. Smart thinking!
Game 4 - Fresno State at Illinois, 12:30p, Big Ten Network: And, that's it for the early slot.
Game 5 - Stephen F. Austin at Montana, 2:00p, Altitude: FCS quarterfinal. Montana
Game 6 - William & Mary at Southern Illinois, 12:00p, MASN: FCS quarterfinal.
Game 7 - San Jose State at Louisiana Tech, 2:00p, CSN California

Normally, the Army v. Navy game is also today. But not this year! Instead, Army/Navy is scheduled for next Saturday, after Chris will have already closed the book on college football season. The SEC Championship doesn't start until 4:00p, so what is CBS showing today that is so important that the Army/Navy game has to wait another week? I'll get to that.

Time slot 2

Game 1 - Alabama v. Florida, 4:00p, CBS: SEC Championship, and a defacto national semifinal. Roll tide!
Game 2 - Arizona at USC, 3:30p, ABC: Meh.
Game 3 - New Hampshire at Villanova, 3:30p, CSN New England: FCS quarterfinal. All four quarterfinals are on television somewhere today, if you have DirecTV's Sports Pack (or the equivalent on DISH, whatever they call it).
Game 4 - Grand Valley State at Carson-Newman, 3:30p, ESPN: Division II semifinal.

Time slot 3

Game 1 - Clemson v. Georgia Tech, 8:00p, ESPN: ACC Championship. I'm really disappointed in the ACC after last week. Florida State lost to Florida, Georgia Tech lost to Georgia, and Clemson lost to South Carolina. Buh. That definitely takes some of the luster away from this game...unless you're a
Game 2 - Nebraska v. Texas, 8:00p, ABC: Big XII Championship. In general, this season has been a disappointment to me, mostly because the best teams keep on winning. College football is more interesting when the best teams keep losing and there is chaos at the top of the rankings. For example, the season in which South Florida and Boston College were once ranked #2 in the country? Highly entertaining. This season? Boring. When are these freaking undefeated teams going to lose to a team they're not supposed to lose to? This is the last chance for that to happen this season. So, go Huskers!
Game 3 - Appalachian State at Richmond, 7:00p, MASN: FCS quarterfinal, and by far the one I'm most interested in. Perennial FCS powerhouse Appalachian State against defending champion Richmond. Awww yeah.
Game 4 - South Florida at Connecticut, 8:00p, ESPN2: Normally I rank USF games higher on the list, but USF's season is kind of sputtering to a disappointing end, so...not this week, I'm afraid.
Game 5 - California of Pennsylvania at NW Missouri State, 8:30p, CBS College: Division II semifinal. California of Pennsylvania is nowhere near as cool as Indiana of Pennsylvania, but I'll root for them anyway.
Game 6 - California at Washington, 6:30p, Fox Sports Northwest: Yes, this week, I've decided I'd rather watch California of Pennsylvania than California of California.

Time slot 4

Game 1 - Wisconsin at Hawaii, 11:30p, ESPN2

Before I move on to other sports, I wanted to make a few comments about the Canadian Football League. I was able to find CFL games on my various sports channels this season, and throughout July and August, I watched quite a few. Then once American football season started, the CFL ceased to exist...that is, until last week's CFL championship game, more affectionally known as the Grey Cup. I watched the Grey Cup from start to finish on tape delay, and it was a fantastic game. Based on the CFL games I've watched this year, I think the case could be made the Canadian football is more exciting than American football. Here's why:
- You only get three downs, which means you better produce.
- The rules favor the offense, even more so than in the NFL.
- It's more complicated. You can score single points, almost every missed field goal is returned (otherwise you give up the afore-mentioned single point), and punting is far more important owing to only having three downs.
- Most of all...it's Canadian! And you know how much I like Canada.

I also like that on the Grey Cup champion Montréal Alouettes, former Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson is listed ahead of former Florida quarterback Chris Leak on the depth chart. Ha - take that, Gators!

Since this is the last day of the college football regular season (for all intents and purposes), I'm going to start transitioning to other sports that I watch. For example...

College basketball

Over the last decade, my interest in college basketball has varied greatly from season to season, anywhere from "Wake me up in March" to "Sweet, the Lipscomb at Belmont game is on tonight!" This season, it's something like this: "I'll watch a game if it involves a team or conference I'm interested in, but I don't really care about the rest of the country." With that in mind, I'm only going to list games featuring teams from the ACC, Big Ten, Big East, or Atlantic 10 (just for you, Dad). So if your favorite team is Stony Brook, Drexel, or James Madison...sorry! Your team is on today, but you'll have to find the game on your own.

Note that these games are only listed in order of game time, not priority.

Game 1 - Eastern Michigan at Ohio State, 12:00p, ESPNU
Game 2 - North Carolina at Kentucky, 12:30p, CBS [7/10] This is what CBS is showing in the usual Army/Navy time slot, by the way.
Game 3 - NC State at Marquette, 3:00p, SNY [6/10]
Game 4 - St. John's at Duke, 3:30p, ESPN2 [5/10]
Game 5 - Buffalo at Purdue, 5:00p, Big Ten Network [2/10]
Game 6 - Wake Forest at Gonzaga, 5:30p, ESPN2 [6/10]
Game 7 - USC at Georgia Tech, 6:00p, Fox Sports South [7/10]
Game 8 - Charlotte at Louisville, 7:00p, ESPNU [3/10]
Game 9 - Maine at Syracuse, 7:00p, SNY [0/10]
Game 10 - Boise State at Illinois, 7:30p, Big Ten Network [1/10]

National Hockey League

The end of college football season means I'll probably watch more hockey on Saturdays. So, let's add those games to this list, too! Again, these are not listed in order of priority.

Game 1 - Vancouver at Carolina, 1:30p, Fox Sports Carolinas: Just to give you an idea of how badly the Hurricanes' season is going, they're 29th in goals scored (out of 30 teams), 30th in goals allowed (out of 30 teams), and are a full four games behind the 29th best team in the standings. This team got real old, real fast. Hello, high draft pick!
Game 2 - Edmonton at Dallas, 2:00p, Fox Sports Southwest: CBC has exclusive broadcast rights in Canada from 7:00p forward on Saturday, so that's why you'll often see a mid-afternoon Saturday game featuring at least one Canadian team.
Game 3 - St. Louis at Los Angeles, 4:00p, Fox Sports Midwest: I've actually watched quite a few Kings games this season - they're an exciting, young, up-and-coming team without an annoying fan base - so this one isn't out of the question.
Game 4 - Atlanta at Florida, 7:00p, Fox Sports Florida: I've also watched more Panthers games this season than I'm willing to admit.
Game 5 - Detroit at New Jersey, 7:00p, Fox Sports Detroit: This game is also on MSG+, but due to a dispute, MSG and MSG+ games are only available on standard definition on NHL Center Ice, so I almost always watch the other team's feed if it's in high definition.
Game 6 - Colorado at Columbus, 7:00p, Fox Sports Ohio: Colorado is another young, "exciting" team whom I've watched quite a bit of.
Game 7 - Toronto at Boston, 7:00p, NHL Network: Hockey Night in Canada's Jim Hughson is a terrific announcer; it's a shame he's stuck with the 29th-place Leafs every week.
Game 8 - Washington at Philadelphia, 7:00p, CSN Mid-Atlantic: This officially makes too many games to keep track at once, especially opposite college football, so...not going to happen.
Game 9 - NY Rangers at Buffalo, 7:00p, MSG Buffalo: Ditto.
Game 10 - NY Islanders at Tampa Bay, 7:30p, Sun Sports
Game 11 - Chicago at Pittsburgh, 7:30p, Fox Sports Pittsburgh: Penguins games are always in high definition, which is nice. It's unfortunate that their announcers blow. If only there was a way to watch the video from one broadcast and the audio from the other...
Game 12 - Minnesota at Nashville, 8:00p, Fox Sports North: I'm pretty sure I have watched exactly zero minutes of the Nashville Predators so far this season.
Game 13 - Calgary at San Jose, 10:00p, CSN California: This is a marquee game in the West; too bad it's late.
Game 14 - Ottawa at Phoenix, 10:00p, ?: I'm actually not sure if this one is televised, but I don't care enough to find out. I'm sure you don't either. And for those keeping track at home, the only two NHL teams not in action today are Montréal and Anaheim. I guess with the Olympics coming up, they really have to cram the schedule in tight, don't they?

Enjoy!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Holiday Traffic: Thanksgiving 2009 Edition

I'm going to follow up on last week's post about our plans to circumvent the Thanksgiving traffic crunch on our way to Toledo and back last week.

Northbound, the plan was to leave very early in the morning. We ended up leaving just before 1:00 AM Wednesday, and that worked like a charm. There were no traffic issues whatsoever, and we made it in near record time (9 hours, 16 minutes, excluding stops; our record is 9:12). We traded driving duty when necessary, and by taking a four to five hour nap immediately after arriving in Toledo, I was able to maintain a normal sleep schedule. Hooray!

However, we weren't able to do the same thing southbound, since we had to stay in Toledo through Sunday morning for our nephew's baptism. So for those of you who are wondering what it's like to drive the interstates on Thanksgiving Sunday, here's a detailed recap of what we had to deal with:


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Point B - We first hit stop and go traffic just south of Charleston on I-77/64, just after 2:00 PM. I assumed the cause of the backup was the first West Virginia Turnpike tollbooth, so we asked our Garmin (a.k.a. "Jill") to give us a short alternate route around the congestion (Cabin Creek Road between exits 85 and 79), and not only did that work out great, we saved $2!

Side note: The West Virginia Turnpike tolls had recently gone up from $1.25 to $2. It used to be that if you drove from Charleston to Bluefield and wanted exact change the whole way, you needed three dollar bills and three quarters. Now, you need six dollar bills. I've always made sure I had the three dollar bills and quarters ready to go before entering West Virginia, but seeing the toll rate change threw me a curveball. It probably threw a bunch of other people off, too. I imagine not many people have six dollar bills in their wallet at any one time, and thus had to break a larger bill at least once along the way. Maybe that's why it was so backed up?

Side note #2: I know for a fact that the alternate route saved us time, because after getting back on the interstate, I recognized two cars that whizzed by us over an hour ago. With one car, you never really know - maybe they stopped for gas in between? - but two cars is enough evidence for me.

Point C - Another backup south of Beckley. Unfortunately for us, this backup in the middle of a long stretch between exits, so we couldn't bail. The cause of the backup? A disabled vehicle blocking the left lane. Ugh. Get off the freaking road! This backup put is another 15 minutes behind, for a total of 30 minutes of delays so far (approximately).

Point D - We flirted with the idea of taking US-460 and US-220 by way of Roanoke to avoid the rest of I-77, but I decided against it, because I just wanted to get some as soon as possible. Our reward: more congestion! The entire seven-mile stretch of I-77 and I-81 was stop and go, I assume due to congestion only. We did eventually get on a side road, but not before we were delayed another 20 minutes.

Point E - Anticipating more congestion on I-77 south to the North Carolina border, the plan all along was to take US-52 from here all the way to Winston-Salem. It's possible that this part of I-77 was actually moving along well, based on the fact that traffic flow leading into this area was restricted by the traffic jam upstream on I-81, but I wasn't about to take that chance. I was done with I-77. US-52 is fine, but it's about 15 minutes slower than a delay-free ride on I-77 and I-74.

Point F - We thought we were done with delays by now, but...nope! One final traffic jam stopped traffic on I-40/85, delaying us another 25 minutes. An accident blocked three of the interstate's four eastbound lanes, but we never got to even see it, because as soon as we got there, the police cars and ambulances drove away and re-opened all lanes. Dammit! We didn't get to see anything, and we had to sit in traffic the whole time anyway.

That's a total of 90 minutes of delays, for those keeping track. I think that settles it: from now on, when traveling to or from Toledo on a busy holiday traffic day, we're leaving at 1:00 AM.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Generic Windshield Wipers: Not So Good

My car now has two years and 37,000 miles on it, so it's come time to start replacing stuff. For example: the windshield wipers. The original wipers don't wipe so well anymore, so it was time to get some new ones.

Now...when you need something car-related, the obvious choice is an auto parts store, right? There's an Auto Zone not far from home and work, so that's where I went, only to find that windshield wipers now cost a lot more than they used to. The last time I bought new wipers - probably three or four years ago - I was able to get good, name-brand wipers for under $20. Here at Auto Zone, all $20 would get me was the store-brand "Duralast" wipers. So I figured, why not? This isn't Wal-Mart brand; this is Auto Zone brand. Perhaps store brand products from an auto parts store are alright, I thought.

Nope! They got the job done, but they were loud. Really loud. Loud and screeching enough to be an unsafe distraction. I felt I had no choice but to go back to the store - a different store - and get a better pair of wipers. While we were in Toledo, we went to one of my favorite stores - Meijer - and bought good, name brand wipers for about the same price that the "Duralast" wipers cost at Auto Zone.

So, anyway, I learned three things from this episode: 1) Name brand windshield wipers are the way to go. 2) If you need something car-related and they sell it at a place like Walmart, Target, or Meijer, it will be a lot cheaper there than it is at a dedicated auto parts store. 3) I should have consulted Consumer Reports first. (I don't even know if they cover windshield wipers in CR, but they cover a lot of random stuff, so they probably do.)

Bobby Bowden

Over the last couple of years as a Florida State fan, my official opinion on the coaching situation was that it was probably time for head football coach Bobby Bowden to retire. The team hasn't done all that well as of late, and is now only the 4th best team in the state. When I've watched the team the last few years, it hasn't looked like a well-coached, well-disciplined team. Everybody gets old sooner or later, to the point where they're not as effective at what they do as they used to be, and that time probably came two or three years ago for Coach Bowden. But he's had a hard time letting go, and certainly the school isn't going to outright fire one of the most successful coaches in college football history. And that brings us to today. Now that Bobby Bowden has retired, am I happy?

Bobby Bowden is a legend in college football, and is obviously the main reason Florida State football is even relevant. As such, I don't think it's too much to ask to have a ceremonious retirement announcement and some fanfare when he decides to hang it up. Instead, when the announcement became official yesterday, all we got was lots of awkward silence. Bobby Bowden was only seen or heard via a printed statement and a brief, pre-recorded camera interview. FSU president T.K. Wetherell? No comment. Athletic director Randy Spetman? No comment. All we got were lame, scripted, brief statements, while everyone involved did their best to hide as much as they could. I think Coach Bowden deserved better. How about showing some gratitude and respect for the guy who has his own statue in front of the stadium and had the field named after him in his honor? (By the way, I think adding the name "Bobby Bowden Field" to "Doak Campbell Stadium" while Bobby Bowden was still the coach was a mistake. That should have waited until his retirement. But that's another story.) Instead, the awkward silence suggests that Bobby Bowden was pushed out the door. I'm sure that's what happened behind the scenes. If this was really on Bowden's terms, he would have held the press conference himself (and it surely would have been a very memorable press conference), the folks in charge would be answering the media's questions with smiles on their faces, and everyone would be happy. Instead, we get something like this.

Anyway, it's too bad it's come to this. When you have a guy who's clearly well past his prime, whom you can't really fire but isn't going to quit on his own, what do you do? There is no easy way out. I guess this is how it had to happen. And that's a shame. Hopefully we can forget about how this all went down in the coming weeks and get the focus back to where it needs to be: one of the greatest college football coaches ever, the face of Florida State University, is retiring.

Meanwhile...as someone who went to grad school at another place with a really old football coach, I have some advice for Joe Paterno. Quit while you're ahead. Or, wait for a bad season, announce your retirement halfway through the year, and enjoy the tributes on your way out. Don't let it come to this. Leave on your own terms, while you still can.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Southwestern Ontario

(UPDATED 12/1/09 8:58 PM with a few pictures.)

Thanksgiving was nice, and it's good to see the family, and dinner was yummy, but...that's not really what I blog about. Instead, I'm going to talk about our day trip to Canada.


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Let's tackle this step-by-step...

Part 1: Toledo to Windsor

Before we even left Toledo, we filled the gas tank. Gas is (usually) cheaper in Ohio than in Michigan, and United States gas is much cheaper than Canadian gas. But when we got to the Ambassador Bridge (Detroit <--> Windsor), we saw a duty-free gas station right at the bridge, and noticed that the gas was cheaper there than where we filled up in Toledo. D'oh! Lesson learned - if you're going to take the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, there's no need to fill up the tank until the last minute.

Cross-border bridges like the Ambassador are almost always toll bridges, and since they're cross-border bridges, they accept both Canadian and American money. We had both types of money on hand - we still had about $40 CAD left over from the honeymoon - so I compared the toll rates for each currency, and based on the current exchange rate determined which currency was the better deal. Totally unnecessary, especially considering that we already had Canadian money, but I had fun with that exercise anyway.

Part 2: Chatham

So...we're in Canada. Now what? I have to admit, we didn't really have a plan. But we wanted to spend more time on the Lake Huron side of Ontario rather than the Lake Erie side of Ontario, so we hopped on the 401 freeway to start. Once we got far enough east, the plan was to head north towards Lake Huron.


Along the way, we drove through the town of Chatham, and stopped at two definitively Canadian stores: Canadian Tire and Zellers. We didn't buy anything, but one thing I was curious about that drew me to these stores was whether or not road atlases sold in Canada place more emphasis on Canada than the United States. Rand McNally road atlases don't really give Canada their due. The maps are small and cramped, and don't really give you much detail. Having large fold-out maps of Ontario and Manitoba on our honeymoon proved to be a huge help, as opposed to just having the Rand McNally atlas. Canadian Tire and Zellers did not answer that question, however; we needed to go to a Barnes and Noble-type bookstore for that. We didn't really see that many giant shopping centers along the way on this drive - Sarnia was pretty much it - otherwise I might have stopped at one.

On a cramped map like Rand McNally, southwestern Ontario looks very congested. Roads and towns everywhere! But, it isn't. There are very few towns in this area. Inside the Windsor/Sarnia/London triangle, there's not much traffic, and lots of farmland. It's also very boring. Horribly flat, and horribly straight. But it's not like Kansas, either, where you can see for miles and miles; there are also too many trees for that. It's the worst combination of terrain and foliage. Lots of trees can be nice, and no trees can also be nice. In between comes across as boring, at least for me. If this wasn't Canada, I would put this among the most boring areas I've ever been to. But I can't do that to my favo(u)rite country.

Part 3: Lake Huron

We stopped at Pinery Provincial Park along Lake Huron, where we took a short trail, got sleeted upon (lake-effect sleet?), saw the lake, and then quickly scurried on back to our warm car. (Temperatures were around 38°F, but with the very stiff lakeshore wind, the wind chill had to be in the 20s. And yes, I was wearing shorts.) Fun fact: if the east side of the Mackinac Bridge doesn't count as part of Lake Huron - I'm not sure if it does - then this was the first time I had ever seen Lake Huron.



To this point, we still hadn't spent any money in Canada on the trip. Since we had that Canadian money sitting around, we figured we might as well buy dinner before we leave, even though it's more expensive in Canada. That Canadian money isn't going to spend itself! So, we stopped at an A&W, a fast food restaurant that exists in the United States but has a much larger market share in Canada. Among the items on the menu was something called "poutine". It looks really gross, but it's supposed to be good (judging from some of the Facebook comments I received), and best of all, it's definitely Canadian! Then again, this was just an A&W. I don't regret not trying it, because if I'm ever going to have poutine, I want good, real poutine, and I'm not going to get that at an A&W in Sarnia. We need to go to Québec, where there are non-chain restaurants known specifically for poutine, to get the good stuff.

Part 4: Sarnia to Toledo

Passing through customs always feels like a test. Where are you from? Where are you going? Why are you going there? Do you know anyone who lives there? How long will you be there? Do you have any alcohol in your car? What's your occupation? Aaaaahhhhh! I had an especially hard time coming up with good answers on a trip like this with no destination or clear objective other than "go to Canada". I don't like going through customs, but it's a necessary step to Canada, so I'm willing to deal with it.

So, that's our obligatory Canadian trip for the year. Hooray! Southwestern Ontario isn't very exciting, but it's still Canada, and it's the best we could do this year.