Monday, December 20, 2010

2010 Christmas Driving Extravaganza: Preview

Only two more days before we embark on the next great Chris and Amber road trip. Over the next two weeks, we will:
- sapend four nights in Toledo with Amber's side of the family;
- visit Mammoth Cave National Park;
- drive the Natchez Trace Parkway from beginning to end (or end to beginning?);
- spend four nights in Jacksonville with my side of the family;
- and put 2,700 miles on Amber's car. But compared to the 10,000 miles we put on my car over the summer, that's nothing!

View Larger Map

(Disclaimer: routes shown on that map won't necessarily be the routes we actually take. I'll save the detail for the recaps.)

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

The drive to Toledo: The plan is to leave for Toledo Wednesday afternoon after work. But unlike most road trips where we carpool and then leave straight from work (often an hour or two early) without making a stop at home afterwards, this time, we're doing it differently. We'll work a full day, meet up at home, and then check the traffic situation on Google Maps. If traffic looks good (I'm most concerned about I-77 in Virginia), we'll leave immediately, and likely arrive in Toledo around 1 AM Thursday morning, if all goes well. If traffic looks bad, we'll take a two- or three-hour nap, and then leave for Toledo. That would make an overnight drive of it: we'd leave after sunset and not arrive in Toledo until something ridiculous like 4 or 5 AM, making the entire drive at night. Wouldn't that be fun??? That might even be crazier than when what we did last Thanksgiving. Thankfully, it appears we won't have to negotiate a major snowstorm on our way up there. Light snow, maybe; travel-crippling snow, no.

Toledo: We'll be in Toledo for three days / four nights. We haven't been to Toledo since Memorial Day, so we're looking forward to it. Weather-wise, the temperature may not inch above freezing the entire time we're there, and there's a chance of a "White Christmas". Come on, White Christmas! (For it to be a "White Christmas", that just means there needs to be snow cover on Christmas Day, right? It doesn't have to actively snow on Christmas Day itself?) The cold and snow might bother me if we weren't immediately going to Mississippi and Florida afterwards, so I say, bring it on! Just as long as it doesn't affect our travel, of course.

The drive from Toledo to Mammoth Cave: We're making this drive the day after Christmas. Timing and routing specifics probably won't be decided until the day of, and will depending on weather, etc. It's only 400 miles from Toledo to Cave City, KY - that's a "half-day" by our driving standards - so we can afford to be flexible. We'll also gain an hour; Mammoth Cave National Park is in the Central Time Zone.

(Regarding Mammoth Cave National Park and the Natchez Trace Parkway, you can read more about our plans in this post from November. I'll try not to repeat myself here.)

Mammoth Cave: Really looking forward to this. I made our tour reservations a couple of weeks ago, even though I hardly expect any of these tours to fill up given the time of year. But this is Christmas week, so you never know? Also, I'd think that if there is one type of national park you should be able to visit year-round, it's a cave. I mean, it's underground! Who cares what the weather is like above ground? In the cave, it's a toasty 50-something all year. I doubt most people think in those terms when they plan vacations, though, so I do not expect a big crowd.

I'm actually hoping it does snow while we're there, because I think it would be really awesome to look out from the cave at the end of the tour and see snow. I've also never seen it snow while in a National Park. (I've seen snow on the ground plenty of times in national parks, most recently this summer, but I'm pretty sure it's never actively snowed while I've been in a national park.)

Natchez Trace Parkway: This should be a lot of fun too. A nice, relaxing drive through the Old South. I've done a lot of research regarding the best places to stop along the way - historical sites, swamps, waterfalls - so we'll be prepared to experience it as best we can. This will be a nice change of pace from the crazy schedule of the Alaska trip.

The drive from Natchez, MS to Jacksonville: The Gulf Coast doesn't make for the most exciting drives, so the highlight for me will be a stop in Tallahassee. I haven't visited Tallahassee in six years, and I don't think I've been on the Florida State campus since I graduated. There's also the stretch of I-10 from Tallahassee to Jacksonville, a road which I was once disturbingly familiar with but haven't driven in, well, six years. Is it as boring as it ever was? Probably.

Jacksonville, and the drive back home: Three days / four nights in Jacksonville, then we go home. Routine.

We're leaving this Wednesday, and we'll be gone until Sunday, January 2nd. So...Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and so on and so forth. See you in January! In the meantime, I'll be posting occasional trip updates - and probably a picture or two - on Twitter.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Sports Saturday: 12/18/10

In today's issue...

NFL - Can the Jaguars win the AFC South?
NHL - Are the Carolina Hurricanes making a move?
Plus college basketball, and even women's volleyball.

Oh, and in case you're wondering what I think of the new 12-team Big Ten's division names - the "Leaders" division, and the "Legends" division...ugh. They are awful on a number of levels. Besides their overly pomous and elitist tone - surely, these division names do wonders for the Big Ten's image - the thing that bugs me the most about them is that both division names are both two-syllable, seven-letter words that start with 'L' and end with 's'. I mean, are they TRYING to confuse us? I have a hard enough time remembering which teams are in the ACC Atlantic Division versus the ACC Coastal Division. What the Big Ten SHOULD have done is taken a lesson from the ACC and created divisions that were easy to remember. What they ended up doing is just terrible. Fortunately, they are reconsidering.


Sun 1:00p - Jacksonville at Indianapolis, WRAL 5:'s crunch time. If the Jacksonville Jaguars can beat their division rival, the Colts, this Sunday, they win the AFC South. That's right - win today, and it's over. Lose, and it's not over, but they instantly lose first place and no longer "control their own destiny". Kind of a big game, wouldn't you say? That said, I'm trying not to put too much emotional weight behind it. I've always thought this season would be a lost cause anyway, so the fact that the Jaguars have at least forced a match point...that's pretty good. It's a pretty exciting time to be a Jaguars fan. As far as whether or not I think they actually win today...I better not answer that. Why kill the mood?
Sun 1:00p - New Orleans at Baltimore, DirecTV 709: This is the time of year when I start looking at playoff clinching scenarios. Yeah, they can be kind of confusing (except in the case of Jacksonville, whose scenario for this week is about as simple as it gets), but confusing is what makes them fun! It also gives me a good guideline as for who to watch this weekend. Both the Saints and Ravens are featured prominently in the clinching scenarios.
Sun 1:00p - Detroit at Tampa Bay, DirecTV 713: I think it'd be interesting if they also posted scenarios for which teams might be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this week. Not sure if the Bucs can be eliminated this week, but...surely, they have to beat the Lions to have any realistic shot. I would think.
Sun 1:00p - Philadelphia at NY Giants, DirecTV 712: Another big game here, but its priority automatically gets downgraded because it's the NFC East.
Sun 1:00p - Kansas City at St. Louis, DirecTV 704: Two division leaders. Yup.
Sun 1:00p - Buffalo at Miami, DirecTV 706
Sun 1:00p - Cleveland at Cincinnati, DirecTV 707: And now, the "yuck" games between teams with little to no hope. Sorry, Browns...not today.
Sun 1:00p - Houston at Tennessee, DirecTV 708
Sun 1:00p - Arizona at Carolina, WRAZ 50
Sun 1:00p - Washington at Dallas, DirecTV 711
Sun 4:15p - NY Jets at Pittsburgh, WRAL 5: Not many late games today, but at least two of the three have potential.
Sun 4:05p - Atlanta at Seattle, DirecTV 714: Yes, this is one of the ones with potential. It seems like a game that even Atlanta might lose.
Sun 4:15p - Denver at Oakland, DirecTV 715
Sun 8:20p - Green Bay at New England, NBC


Sat 1:00p - NY Rangers at Philadelphia, MSG
Sat 7:00p - Anaheim at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas: It seems like the Hurricanes have been in 9th or 10th place in the conference standings since, say, the end of October. All this time, I've been waiting for them to go on a run, either good or bad, because I haven't really sensed the excitement so far. This week, though, they have three straight wins, including two dramatic come-from-behind victories against Florida and Atlanta this week, both of which I watched from beginning-to-end. Finally, something to get excited about! This recent hot streak is enough to move them up to...either 9th or 10th place in the conference standings, depending on if Ottawa won last night. Hey, what gives? Just what is it going to take, anyway? I guess three straight wins really isn't that much of a streak; the Hurricanes need a longer stretch of consistent, successful hockey - say, 15 points in 10 games - to break out of the 9th/10th place rut.
Sat 7:00p - Toronto at Vancouver, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - Dallas at Columbus, Fox Sports Ohio: In an effort to watch a wider variety of teams, I've been trying to catch a Columbus Blue Jackets game or two as of late.
Sat 7:00p - New Jersey at Atlanta, SportSouth
Sat 7:00p - Phoenix at NY Islanders, MSG Plus: I don't plan on watching this game, but it gives me an opportunity to comment on the fact that somebody is finally going to buy the Coyotes and keep them in Arizona. On one hand...darn, I was hoping for another Canadian team. But on another a fan of another "untraditional" market NHL team, maybe we should all stick together?
Sat 7:30p - Buffalo at Tampa Bay, MSG Buffalo: So, the Steven Stamkos goal scoring craziness has calmed down a bit, to the point where he's not even leading the league in goals in anymore. Who is? Sidney Crosby. Boooooooring. It'd be way less fun if Crosby was the next 76-goal scorer rather than Stamkos. (Neither is currently on pace for 76, by the way.)
Sun 7:00p - Los Angeles at Chicago, NHL Network
Sun 7:30p - Washington at Ottawa, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sun 8:00p - Montréal at Colorado, Altitude

College basketball usually winds down around Christmas, except for a few holiday tournaments. But there are a few interesting games this weekend; the ones in italics are the ones I plan on recording for possible DVR viewing later. (I can watch an entire college basketball game in one hour on the DVR, just by skipping commercials, timeouts, and free throws. It's pretty sweet.)

Sat 1:00p - Central Florida at Miami (FL), FSN: As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, UCF is good. They're undefeated, they beat Florida, and they have Michael Jordan's son. What's not to like? How did Michael Jordan's son end up at Central Florida, of all places, anyway?
Sat 2:00p - South Carolina at Ohio State, CBS (regional)
Sat 2:00p - Illinois at Illinois-Chicago, Big Ten Network
Sat 3:30p - Kansas State v. Florida, FSN
Sat 4:00p - Texas v. North Carolina, CBS: UNC has taken a few losses, sure. But according to the trusted kenpom ratings, none of the losses were "bad" losses, they're still the 28th-best team in the country, and they're projected to go 20-10 (9-7 in the ACC). That's probably much better than perceived, especially by the locals, who overreact after every single loss - "This team sucks, Roy Williams can't coach, etc" - as if anything less than an undefeated record is unacceptable.
Sat 4:00p - Indiana State v. Purdue, Big Ten Network
Sat 8:00p - Wake Forest at Xavier, CBS College: Wake Forest looks like a lock to finish last in the ACC this year.
Sat 11:00p - Florida State at Loyola Marymount, ESPNU: 11 PM, eh? If there was ever a time for the DVR, this was it. Florida State is playing in a holiday tournament in Hawaii next week, and I think their first game in that tournament is at 1 AM Eastern or something crazy like that, so at the very least, this will help the team adjust to the time change.
Sun 2:00p - UNC Greensboro at Clemson, Fox Sports South
Sun 4:00p - South Carolina State at Indiana, Big Ten Network
Sun 4:30p - Arizona at NC State, FSN

Women's volleyball - Yep, it's the one week every year in which I talk about NCAA women's volleyball. Every year, I pay no attention to women's volleyball whatsoever, that is until one of my friends posts a message on Facebook to the effect of "I'm watching Penn State's women's volleyball team in the Final Four RIGHT NOW!" Hey, that reminds me - how about that Penn State women's volleyball team??? They've won three straight national championships, and tonight, they go for their fourth straight. Yeah! Let's go State! Beat...whoever they're playing!

Sat 8:30p - Penn State v. some other team (NCAA Championship), ESPN2

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Italian Food: Fake or Real?

Here's a question. When it comes to Italian food, which is better: the overly Americanized "chain restaurant" version (a.k.a. the stuff widely available at restaurants like Olive Garden), or the real thing (as in, actual food in Italy, or prepared similarly to what you actually see in Italy)? I'm sure the consensus choice is the real thing, and the real thing is probably in fact "better", because that's how this sort of thing usually works. But since this is my blog (it has my name on it and everything!), I'm going to talk about what I like, and I like the fake, Americanized version.

At least, I'm assuming that what you get at a restaurant like Olive Garden, Carrabba's, or Carino's, is not "real" Italian food. Chances are, people who have actually been to Italy - or, better yet, actual Italians - loathe these so-called "Italian" chains. Is referring to Olive Garden food as "Italian" an insult to real Italian food? Probably. They may market it as "Italian", but that's not what it is. Maybe we should call it Italian-American. It's an American take on the Italian genre of food. Is that accurate? Or is Olive Garden not even "Italian-American"? Or, maybe when you say "Italian food" in this country, the Americanized, mass-produced version is implied? As in, in that context, the word Italian doesn't necessarily mean "originating in Italy" or "endorsed by Italy", it just means there is a heavy emphasis on pasta, tomato sauce, and garlic. People associate that with "Italian", even though the American version of it has evolved over the years to something that isn't really Italian anymore. Or something. Whatever. (Really, how should I know? I'm not a food expert, and I've never even been to Europe, let alone Italy. Amber has been to Sardinia, which is technically part of Italy, but the dominant food supply there was seafood rather than what we traditionally think of as "Italian", so that doesn't count.)

Well, anyway...back to the question at hand. I usually have a positive experience at Olive Garden and Carino's. Meanwhile, I've been to a few Italian non-chain restaurants lately (or independent restaurants with a selection of "Italian" food). I assume those restaurants veer closer to authentic Italian food than places like Olive Garden do. And, I've decided I don't like those kinds of places. Chain restaurants keep it simple (and, no doubt, more fattening): bread, sauce, meat, and you're done, if you like it that way, which I do. No need to add extra spices or chunks of vegetable or any of that crap if you don't want it, which I don't. All of these independent Italian-style restaurants, though, insist on messing with everything. Extra spices, extra vegetables in EVERYTHING...very little is simple at these kinds of places, and you pay for it, too. I don't want a "personal touch" when I order food. Don't add extra crap. Keep it simple.

Is this what the Italians do? Do they add a bunch of extra spices and such to their food? Or are these "extra touches" that independent Italian restaurants add to their food actually not Italian at all, and in fact veer farther away from true "Italian" than even Olive Garden? Like I said, I have no idea. I'm not an expert. All I know is that I usually don't like the extra stuff that independent restaurants do with their Italian-style food. I prefer my Italian food to be simple and predictable, so I'll take the chains.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Breaking news in my quest to find a bunch of North Carolina license plates starting with ZZ- and AA- as the state resets the alphabet. (Okay - this isn't really "breaking" news; this is actually a few days old.)

One of my holy grails, a ZZZ- plate, was spotted on December 2nd. I thought my first ZZZ plate sighting would be on the highway or maybe a quick glimpse, and that it may be challenging to get a picture of one. But instead, it was about as easy as it could have been. A car with a ZZZ plate parked right next to me in the parking lot at work. Do you believe in angels?

ZZZ was the 11th of 21 possible ZZ_ combinations I've spotted, but I had yet to see any proof that the North Carolina DMV had made it past all of the ZZZs and moved on to the AAAs...until last Saturday morning, when while riding my bike around the neighborhood, I spotted an AAB- plate in someone's driveway:'re going to have to take my word for it on this one. I spotted this in someone's driveway, and I thought it would have been weird to walk up someone's driveway, take a picture of the license plate, and leave. You never know what kind of people live in these houses. They might have guns. Or dogs.

So, that super blurry picture taken from a distance with my phone is the best I could do. I mean, it's not like I'm never going to see another A plate. This time next year, they'll be everywhere. But I do want a good picture of an AAA plate, just like this one, except for North Carolina. (Mo the Cow Puppet is optional.)

In other North Carolina license plate news, I still don't know what color the 2012 registration stickers are. I'm sure I could find out online somewhere, but I think it'd be more fun to just see one on the road or in a parking lot and find out that way.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Shorts: Packed For the Season

It seems like I write this every year, but once again, I've made an adjusment to my cold weather clothing scale. To recap the changes I've made over the last few years:

Winter of 2006-07: If the wind chill was higher than 20°F, I wore shorts. Yes, that's 20 Fahrenheit, not 20 Celsius.
Winter of 2008-09: Citing decreased cold weather tolerance, I raised my shorts threshold to 30°F.
Winter of 2009-10: In a major change, due to both decreased cold weather tolerance and my discovery that long pants aren't so bad after all, I raised my shorts threshold all the way up to 50°F.

Now that we're in (well, approaching) the Winter of 2010-11, it's time for another major change. This winter, except for when I ride my bicycle, I am not wearing shorts outside. At all. Period. Except for the bicycle shorts, I have packed all of my shorts away for the season, and I don't plan on bringing them back until the Spring. Even if we get a 70 degree day in January or something, I'll wear long pants. It'll just be easier that way. In fact, I might not even bring shorts when we go to Florida for the holidays. (Well, maybe. I haven't decided on that one.)

So...what's going on here? Decreased cold tolerance is definitely a factor - finally, my cold weather tolerance is approaching levels you would expect from a Florida native - but there's more to it than that. I think these days, I actually prefer wearing long pants over shorts.

I can hear it now, the voice of 20-Year-Old Chris echoing in my brain: "I don't even know who the @#$% you ARE anymore!" Yes, this is a major change in philosophy from even five years ago. But I guess this is the result of wearing long pants to work every day for the last 4½ years. For the first 23 years of my life, I almost never wore long pants. I didn't even own more than one or two pairs of pants until I moved to Pennsylvania for grad school. I wasn't used to them, and they felt weird, so I didn't like them. But my job dictates I wear long pants all the time now, and so it is now the shorts that feel weird. 28-Year-Old Chris almost feels naked in shorts. And given how skinny my legs have become, 28-Year-Old Chris also looks funny in them. Amber and I both agree: I look better in pants.

20-Year-Old Chris: "Since when did you give a @#$% about your appearance? Now I'm CONVINCED you've lost your mind." (Apparently, the 20-year-old version of me swore a lot.) Well, you'd be surprised what a little positive feedback can do. Occasional comments from your wife such as "nice pants!" and "you look really nice in those pants!" can go a long way. See, ladies? Men CAN change. The key is to not force it upon us. Just train us like you would a dolphin or whale at Sea World: with positive reinforcement only.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Curling Recap: 12/10/10

As some of you already know, Amber and I just won the Triangle Curling Club's Friday Fall League championship:

Career game #119: Fall League Championship - December 10, 2010
(our team: Scheck)

End......... 1234567 |TTL
Scheck...... 1210101 | 06
Chick....... 0001010 | 02

Woohoo! This was a good league to win, too. The two leagues earlier in the year - in which we were runners-up both times - were half-length leagues, so the winners only got certificates. This was a full-length league, so instead, we got fancy trophies:

Here's a close-up of the trophy; note the curling stone on top. Neat, eh? Amber and I took home two trophies (one each), so I gave mine to Mo the Cow Puppet:

So, the game. I should note that the other team wasn't there in full, but they had two more than capable substitutes, so I wouldn't say that gave us a huge advantage. Would the outcome have been any different had both teams completely been there? We'll never know, but I think it definitely made a difference on last rock. The ice was once again take-out friendly, resulting in a more open game; under those conditions, last rock is a much greater advantage, and it's more difficult to steal points. Had opposing skip Brian been there to make his usual last rock heroics, would we still have gotten that 4-0 lead without last rock advantage?

I do know that last rock absolutely helped us in the 5th end. We were up against three (maybe two?) with only our last rock remaining. Here's an approximate visual: (I'm VERY fuzzy on the details here because I was intensely focused on the game and not so much worrying about how I'd recap it afterwards. Yeah, that's it. Anyway, our team = red:)

Our skip Dan - who's been pretty much on fire the last two weeks - threw a clutch draw for one, so instead of giving up two or three (however many it was), we scored one and maintained our lead. If I remember correctly, our rock just touched the inside of yellow rock #1 and came to rest right there, beating it out for shot rock and the point. Whew! That shot had to be the biggest shot of the game. Dan is definitely the MVP; the rest of us have been playing well too, but not well enough to carry the team by ourselves.

That 5th end shot is the kind of pressure shot I'm not sure I could have made if I were Skip. I've never felt more pressure in curling than when I'm a Skip throwing last rock, am up against three or more opponent rocks, and have to draw to the button to prevent the other team from scoring big. Those are the most pivotal shots in curling, and I haven't done all that well under that kind of pressure so far in my curling career.

That's it for curling in 2010. It's fun every year, but Amber and I had a great year on the ice competitively as well. Here's how we've done this year: (Yes, I know it's pretty tacky to list one's own accomplishments, especially in a sport like curling where boasting is generally frowned upon. That's not my intent; I'm just doing this list as a statistical summary. So, I apologize if anyone takes this the wrong way.)
- We won our first "away bonspiel" game at the Chesapeake Funspiel in January
- We finished second in the Triangle Winter League
- We finished second in the Triangle Sunday Spring League
- We won a one-day tournament in June
- We were the runners-up in the main event of the Carolina Classic
- We lost all three games at Nutmeg's Blazing Leaves bonspiel in October, but just showing up is an accomplishment in my book
- We won the Triangle Friday Fall League championship, going 7-2
- Add in our six pick-up games (all wins), and our overall won-loss record in 2010 with Amber and I on the same team is 26 wins, 12 losses. When playing separately, Amber and I had a combined record of 2-5 this year, so I'd say playing together clearly makes a difference. Which is probably why the club won't let Amber and me play together again next season. Oh well.

Amber and I don't curl again for six weeks, so until then, I'll need to find something else to blog about on Mondays.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sports Saturday: 12/11/10's the thing. Normally, I put together a list of all televised games among all the sports that I follow, and provide completely forgettable commentary when inspired to do so, and that's that. This weekend, feels a bit forced. I have a busy weekend planned, and most it does not involve sports. I can't write inspired sports commentary with that mindset. Instead, I mostly just complain about scheduling. For instance...why do the Carolina Hurricanes only play on nights in which I have other plans? (Seriously, it's been like two weeks since I've been able to watch a Hurricanes game.) December isn't a very exciting month for most sports anyway, so...maybe this weekend is a good time for a "sports break".

As a result, I'm omitting every sport from today's post...except for the NFL. I'm a sucker for cold-weather football games, so this is when the NFL starts getting really interesting in my mind.


Sun 1:00p - Oakland at Jacksonville, DirecTV 707: I certainly picked a good season to buy NFL Sunday Ticket. The Jaguars are contenders, and they lead the AFC South by a half-game over Indianapolis. Next week, they play the Colts head-to-head in what will be a huge game (and one that I predict will be televised in North Carolina); the winner of that game is likely to win the AFC South. This week's game against the Raiders isn't as important - next week's game will be just as big either way - but I suppose it would be nice to have.
Sun 1:00p - Cleveland at Buffalo, DirecTV 705: Yes, this game has no playoff implications. But what it lacks in importance, it'll make up for with SNOW. I hope.
Sun 1:00p - Tampa Bay at Washington, DirecTV 708: The Bucs held tough last week against Atlanta, but...nope. Not quite. If there is any hope to be had, they have to win this one.
Sun 1:00p - Green Bay at Detroit, DirecTV 709: Every game today except CLE/BUF and DEN/ARZ involves a playoff-contending team. You can't go wrong today, really.
Sun 1:00p - Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, WRAL 5: Well, that's not true. Some of these games might end up being blowouts.
Sun 1:00p - Atlanta at Carolina, WRAZ 50: So, the two locally televised early games are CIN/PIT and ATL/CAR. Yuck.
Sun 1:00p - NY Giants at Minnesota, DirecTV 710
Sun 4:15p - New England at Chicago, WRAL 5: So, I look at the NFL Standings this morning, and I see that the Bears are 9-3. Wow! I need to start paying more attention.
Sun 4:15p - Miami at NY Jets, DirecTV 715: SIX late games today. Another reason to like the NFL this time of year. No bye weeks!
Sun 4:05p - St. Louis at New Orleans, DirecTV 712: I'm rooting for St. Louis to win the NFC West. Why? To artifically make games like one this more interesting.
Sun 4:15p - Kansas City at San Diego, DirecTV 716
Sun 4:05p - Seattle at San Francisco, DirecTV 713
Sun 4:15p - Denver at Arizona, DirecTV 714
Sun 8:20p - Philadelphia at Dallas, NBC

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Office Thermostat Politics

Over the years, I've had more than one argument with roommates or co-workers regarding the appropriate temperature setting for a thermostat. (Well, not all of them were really "arguments"...that sounds a little harsh. Try "discussions".) Just like with pizza toppings, this is one thing that you can't seem to get everyone to agree on. I also think it's worth discussing with your significant other before marriage. If he prefers 78° and she prefers 68°, then it wasn't meant to be.

So, anyway...there has to be a good compromise, right? What would you consider to be a "reasonable" temperature setting for a typical workplace? 68? 72? It has to be somewhere in that range, right? I think most workplaces are probably closer to 68 than 72, particularly those with a more strict dress code (i.e. suits). I think our office temperature hovers around 72 in summer and 68-70 in winter.

I think more important than the temperature itself is consistency. You go to the office every day, so as long as the temperature is consistent from day-to-day, you know what to expect and can dress accordingly. Some office buildings have a problem with consistency; school buildings in particular have a huge consistency problem. Walker Building, home of the Penn State Meteorology department, comes to mind: for some reason, the university would only change from heat to A/C, and vice-versa, once per season. So that bright, sunny day in April when it's 80° outside, yet the heat is still on inside the building? Not so good. I also remember a day in middle school where the in-classroom temperature was over 100 degrees. Why do school buildings have such a big problem with this? Is it because the central air systems found in most educational buildings are sorely outdated and inefficient?

As for my office itself...I don't know what our thermostat setting is. I don't even think we control it ourselves. (It's probably best that we don't anyway; we would probably debate it for hours.) But I do know that many of us - including me - have a space heater in our offices. I have my space heater running almost every day during the winter in order to get my in-office temperature up to around 75° or so. That's higher than most people would prefer at work, but I also wear short-sleeved shirts to work most days, and my hands get cold easily, and some of my co-workers' offices are even warmer than mine, so...yeah. The side effect of everyone having their own space heaters is that it's even colder in the rest of the office than it would be otherwise, which means more people feel the need to get their own space heater than would otherwise, which increases the in-office temperature gradient even more, and so on and so forth. It's a vicious cycle.

That sounds bad, but still, I think personal space heaters are the answer, at least in heating months. Set the baseline thermostat to something on the low end of the spectrum (say, 65), give everyone his own space heater, and let him run the heater as he sees fit in order to acclimate his office temperature to his ideal settings. Problem solved! Inefficient? Probably. But most workplaces are pretty inefficient to begin with, and it can't be much worse than leaving the lights on all night like they do in some buildings, so...meh.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Curling Recap: 12/3/10

Career game #118: Fall League Semifinals - December 3, 2010
(our team: Scheck)

End......... 1234567 |TTL
Scheck...... 1200113 | 08
Collins..... 0011000 | 02

First off: this was the fourth consecutive time our team had lost the opening coin flip. I stopped keeping a running total of coin flip results, but at one time, I think I was 20 coin flips under .500 for my career. (As in, I had lost 20 more than I had won.) I've since scrapped those numbers, and I never ran a formal hypothesis test on it, but I'm pretty sure that based on my career coin flip percentage, a hypothesis test would have concluded a biased coin with 95% confidence. Maybe it's time I start inspecting these "coins"... Actually, I shouldn't complain about this. It's just probability. Every now and then, an improbable trend will occur within the large sample space we call life. In fact, that outer 5% can be quite interesting when it does happen (which it tends to do about 5% of the time). And, my career curling record (now 70-48, or .593) doesn't seem to be affected by our "bad luck".

Okay, so enough about numbers. Let's talk curling! We finished 3rd in the "regular season", which was good enough to qualify for a four-team playoff to determine the League Champion. Our Semifinal opponent was a team that we beat 16-0 earlier in the season, but they didn't have the whole team there that night, and they are more than capable (they went 5-1 against everyone else in the league), so...I was expecting a close game. And it was, except for the last end, where the other team - to use a football metaphor - basically pulled the equivalent of going for it on 4th-and-20 from your own 10 yard line. (In other words, they attempted a couple of absolutely crazy shots, because that was the only way they could have scored 3, which they needed in order to tie. They could have easily held us to 1 if they wanted to.) Play to win! I respect that.

This wasn't necessarily the case just because this was the league "playoffs", but the ice was prepared differently this week than it has in previous weeks, in order to try to level out the ice and get the dreaded "zamboni lines" out. It sort of worked, and it was still a little tricky, but the ice was more take-out friendly than normal. I thought that would be to our disadvantage, because we throw far fewer take-outs than the other good teams; when we've been beaten, it's been because the game played out as a take-out game rather than a draw game. But this time, we went for the take-outs when we needed to, and we made them. I even had a double take-out. Yeah!

And all this sets up our (as in, Amber and I) third League Championship game of 2010. We haven't fared so well in games like this so far this year...

February 12th: Lost the championship game of the Winter League, 8-2.
May 2nd: Lost the championship game of the Sunday Spring League, 10-2.
June 12th: Lost the second game of a one-day "mini-spiel" where a win would have won us the tournament. We ended up winning the tournament anyway on points, but still.
August 8th: Played in the championship game of the Carolina Classic...and lost.

Sure, we've played well this year, but at crunch time, we've come up pretty lame. Will we reverse the trend this year and win our second League Championship, and our first since the Spring of 2008? Maybe...maybe not. Either way, it doesn't really matter, right? We're just out there to have fun! ... Still, it'd be nice to close the deal every now and then.

Monday, December 06, 2010

December Snow

It's that time of year again - time to obsess over every single snow event that could potentially impact Central North Carolina. Hooray! Durham gets less than the amount of annual snowfall I would consider "ideal". I think western or northern Virginia would be ideal; Central Pennsylvania snowfall is too much for me. But in North Carolina, I'll take all the snow I can get, because some winters, we get nothing.

Going into last Saturday, snow was kind of in the forecast, but...not really. Maybe a light accumulation, at best. Most likely, we'll get nothing, and even if we do get something, it'll occur during my beauty sleep.

Then, shortly after I got back home from a well-timed bike ride...boom!

Winter Weather Advisory! One to two inches possible! And I don't have to drive in it, either - I can just sit on my couch near the fireplace and enjoy it! Woohoo! (It wasn't enough to impact the roads too much, which was nice.)

For about an hour or so, it was coming down enough for the RDU Airport weather observations to report "snow", not just "light snow". ("Snow" is differentiated from "light snow" and "heavy snow" in the automatic obs based on the visibility; I think 1/4 mile visibility is the cutoff between "snow" and "light snow".) It was impressive. And it stuck around long enough for me to take a few more pictures the next morning:

I measured 1.1" in our backyard. Here is a map of state-wide snow accumulation from last weekend.

Now...snow is great and all, but every now and then, snow causes an inconvenience or two.

This was the wet, sticky kind of snow, the kind that sticks to surfaces such as satellite dishes and can disrupt television service. This was hardly the first time it's snowed since we bought the house and put a DirecTV dish on the roof, but it's the first time snow has affected our DirecTV signal. What was interesting is that I only lost high definition channels at first, and only late in the evening - well after the snow had stopped - did I start losing the standard def channels as well. (Just as looks like the Florida State game on Saturday night didn't go so well.) Full television service was back the next morning after the snow had melted a little. The above picture was taken the next morning after we regained reception.

Significant December snow is rare around here, so...yeah! And two days later, quite a bit of it is still hanging around, at least in shaded areas. What does the rest of winter hold in store for us?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sports Saturday: 12/4/10

I didn't have time to do any proofreading this week, so...sorry in advance. In today's issue:

College football: Florida State is in the ACC Championship Game. Woo!
NFL: With five games remaining, the Jaguars are leading the division.
Soccer: My thoughts on Qatar hosting the 2022 World Cup.
College basketball: Let's start actually watching games!

College football

Sat 12:00p - Western Illinois at Appalachian State (FCS Playoffs), MASN: It's playoff time! At least in the lower divisions of college football. Appalachian State is the #1 seed and is a perennial contender, so they're worth watching. Everyone else in the FCS Playoffs? Meh.
Sat 12:00p - SMU at Central Florida (C-USA Championship), ESPN2: A few other "meh" games just to fill out the early time slot.
Sat 12:00p - Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, ESPN
Sat 12:00p - Rutgers at West Virginia, ABC
Sat 3:30p - Oregon at Oregon State, ABC: Yes, the BCS stinks, but the fact remains: Oregon and Auburn are must-watch today. Win, and they get to play for the national championship. Lose, and...well, I assume they don't, but who knows?
Sat 4:00p - Auburn v. South Carolina (SEC Championship), CBS: I'm rooting for Oregon, but I'm rooting against Auburn, thanks to Cam Newton.
Sat 7:45p - Florida State v. Virginia Tech (ACC Championship), ESPN: I've been pretty cynical about the Seminoles this year. But it turns out, they've had a great year: 9-3, ACC Atlantic Division champions (or are they in the Coastal Division? I always forget), and dominating wins over BOTH Miami (FL) and Florida. Realistically, we can't expect much better than that anymore. Even if they lose tonight, it will still have been a successful season. Yay Noles!
Sat 8:00p - Connecticut at South Florida, ESPN2: If Connecticut wins, they win the Big East and earn the right to embarrass represent the conference in a BCS Bowl. Can USF play spoiler? My prediction: Yes.
Sat 8:00p - Nebraska v. Oklahoma (Big XII Championship), ABC


Sun 1:00p - Jacksonville at Tennessee, WRAL 5: This is the second consecutive week, and third time this year, that the local CBS affiliate has carried the Jaguars game. See? This is what happens when you win! I'm not sure they can keep it up, but the division title is there for the taking. They've had some luck (59 yard field goal, Hail Mary v. Houston) and have beaten all of the bad teams they've faced, and sometimes, that's all you need to do to make the playoffs in the NFL. Unfortunately for today, it looks like Kerry Collins will start for the Titans. He always kills the Jaguars. How come everyone else in the league gets to face Vince Young or Rusty Smith, but the Jaguars have to see Kerry Collins not once, but twice? No fair! When is this guy going to retire, anyway?
Sun 1:00p - Buffalo at Minnesota, DirecTV 706: The Bills make just about every game entertaining, even when they lose.
Sun 1:00p - Denver at Kansas City, DirecTV 704
Sun 1:00p - Cleveland at Miami, DirecTV 705
Sun 1:00p - San Francisco at Green Bay, DirecTV 710
Sun 1:00p - Washington at NY Giants, WRAZ 50
Sun 1:00p - New Orleans at Cincinnati, DirecTV 712
Sun 1:00p - Chicago at Detroit, DirecTV 709
Sun 4:15p - Atlanta at Tampa Bay, DirecTV 711: Sure, they're 7-4, but the Bucs are going to have to beat a good team sooner or later if they want to be taken seriously, right?
Sun 4:05p - Oakland at San Diego, DirecTV 713
Sun 4:15p - Dallas at Indianapolis, DirecTV 715: Wait, does this mean I have to root for the Cowboys this week? Guess so.
Sun 4:15p - Carolina at Seattle, WRAZ 50: Here's my chance to hear Chris Rose do play-by-play. Woo?
Sun 4:15p - St. Louis at Arizona, DirecTV 714: FIVE late games today. Awesome.
Sun 8:20p - Pittsburgh at Baltimore, NBC

Soccer - This week, FIFA announced the host countries for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups: 2018 in Russia, and 2022 in Qatar. The United States finished 2nd in voting for 2022, so the general sense among American media regarding Qatar has been rather condescending. "They're too small!" "It's too hot!" "They're high risk!" "Where the @#$% is Qatar, anyway?" But here's my take:

Sure, it would have been fun to have the World Cup in the United States again. Certainly, the game times would have been more US-friendly that way. But still...there's something intriguing about having a major sporting event in an obscure country. As a geography nerd, I take pride in the fact that I could find Qatar on a map, and could also pronounce it correctly, BEFORE this week's announcement. (It's right next to Bahrain! I mean, duh.) Obscure countries are way more interesting than non-obscure countries. (Qatar isn't one of my favorite obscure countries, though. Why can't we have the World Cup in, say, Equatorial Guinea?) But most of all, this has the potential to be a complete disaster, and wouldn't that be fun?

So, let's calm down a little. I just can't get too riled up about something that isn't going to happen until I'm 40 years old. That's right, 40. And, besides...this is just soccer we're talking about. At least they aren't playing the 2022 Super Bowl in Qatar. (On second thought...maybe I shouldn't rule that out.)

NHL - Nothing insightful to say this week on the hockey front.

Sat 1:00p - New Jersey at Philadelphia, MSG Plus
Sat 2:00p - San Jose at Montréal, CSN California
Sat 7:00p - Boston at Toronto, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - Buffalo at Ottawa, MSG Buffalo
Sat 7:00p - Atlanta at Washington, Fox Sports South
Sat 7:30p - Colorado at Tampa Bay, Sun Sports
Sat 8:00p - Carolina at Nashville, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 8:00p - Florida at Phoenix, Fox Sports Arizona
Sat 10:30p - Detroit at Los Angeles, Fox Sports Detroit
Sun 7:00p - Calgary at Chicago, NHL Network
Sun 9:00p - St. Louis at Vancouver, Fox Sports Midwest:

College basketball - The season started a few weeks ago, but only this week did I start watching. My thoughts so far:
- Florida State has potential, but so far, they look identical to last year: great defense, awful offense.
- Haven't watched Penn State yet.
- Watch out for Central Florida in March! If they earn a 12 seed, I'm taking them to the Sweet 16. Automatically.
- The excruciatingly-long last minute sequence of a basketball game is my least favorite thing about the sport, and it makes it watchable by DVR only.
- I wish college basketball was as fun to watch as it is to analyze numerically.

Last year, I included all ACC, Big Ten, Big East, and Atlantic 10 games on my schedule. This year? All ACC and all Big Ten remain (except for snoozers like Savannah State at Indiana), but the other two conferences get downgraded to "some" status; meanwhile, I'm also adding "some SEC". Visit for a complete TV schedule.

Sat 12:30p - Kentucky at North Carolina, CBS
Sat 1:00p - Harvard at Michigan, Big Ten Network
Sat 3:15p - Butler v. Duke, ESPN: The rematch! I'm thinking Duke wins this one handily.
Sat 3:30p - Alabama at Purdue, ESPN2:
Sat 4:00p - West Virginia at Miami (FL), Sun Sports
Sat 4:00p - Rhode Island at Providence, SNY
Sat 5:15p - Illinois v. Gonzaga, ESPN
Sat 5:30p - NC State at Syracuse, ESPN2
Sat 6:00p - Duquesne at Penn State, Big Ten Network
Sat 6:30p - Boston College v. Massachusetts, CSN New England
Sat 8:00p - Cornell at Minnesota, Big Ten Network
Sun 1:00p - Clemson at South Carolina, Fox Sports South
Sun 6:00p - Virginia at Virginia Tech, FSN
Sun 7:00p - Hartford at Florida State, Sun Sports
Sun 8:00p - Temple v. Maryland, MASN

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Kroger Citrus Punch

Back in the day, Publix sold a fake orange drink by the half-gallon or gallon (don't remember which) called Citrus Punch. It was awesome, and to this day, I've never had a more delicious citrus-y beverage than old school Publix Citrus Punch. Then, for some reason, Publix changed the formula, and the magic was gone. That left me no choice but switch to Sunny Delight.

I don't drink that type of stuff anymore; I long ago replaced those fake, high-calorie, not-all-that-good-for-you fruit concoctions with real orange juice, calorie-free drink mixes (e.g. Crystal Light), and water. But I haven't forgotten about our old friend Publix Citrus Punch. So, I couldn't help but be drawn to this...

This is Kroger's version of Citrus Punch. Not only does it have the same name, but the bold orange color was a dead ringer for the old Publix drink. Even though I knew there was ZERO chance that this Kroger version would taste anything like the old Publix version, at $1.19 a gallon, I had to at least try it, right?

So, I did...and it was awful. Yuck. The first sip wasn't bad, but it left an awful aftertaste that took me a very long time to get rid of. One glass was more than enough; I had no desire to finish off the full gallon, so Amber took it to work and let her co-workers take care of the rest.

Just as well, because the only reason to drink something that bad for you is if it's got alcohol in it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Old Welcome Centers's another road trip post. Sorry.

View Larger Map

So, back before there was such a thing as Interstate 95, travelers took roads like this one (US 301) to Florida and back. When you take roads like this - roads that used to be a big deal, but are pretty much forgotten abot these days - you tend to see a lot of old things. For example, this welcome center (tipped to me by Adam P.), just on the Georgia side of the Georgia/South Carolina state line:

For one, I really like the sign. It's "old school", is it not? (And yes, that's Mo the Cow Puppet in the bushes. He's been sorely missing from my road trip pictures as of late, and it was time to bring him back.)

Even though this welcome center is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, along a road that hardly anybody takes anymore, amazingly, it's still open. Inside, you'll find a state employee or two who is VERY, VERY EXCITED to see you (and adamant that you sign the guestbook), along with the usual travel information, maps, and - get this - free soda. (Well, limited to 8 ounce cups.) I didn't get a picture of the building itself, but here's Google Street View:

View Larger Map

Outside, there is a very well-maintained picnic area, complete with swinging benches!

It was pretty awesome. I think this welcome center definitely qualifies as a "hidden gem". The South Carolina welcome center just across the river is no longer open, but Georgia has kept theirs up and running. To be honest, I'm not sure why it's still open, given how little traffic this road gets even on a busy travel day such as Thanksgiving Sunday. Maybe they want to reward people like us who aren't contributing to interstate congestion, and are willing to support the local economies of towns like Jesup and Statesboro that only see a very small fraction of the travelers they did 50 years ago. Or, maybe Georgia folks are just nice people.

The welcome center is only open from 8:30 to 5:30, Thursday through Monday, so plan accordingly. And, yeah, it's kind of out of the way, too.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010 Traffic Report

It seems to be common knowledge that Thanksgiving Wednesday is the "busiest travel day of the year". But is it really? Because I saw a LOT more traffic on Thanksgiving Sunday this year than I did on Thanksgiving Wednesday.

Of course, they're just talking about travel in general, including air travel. The focus of most news stories last week was air travel rather than ground travel, thanks to those TSA full-body scanners, pat-downs, and such. I bet airports are in fact busier on Thanksgiving Wednesday than on Thanksgiving Sunday. But in terms of ground travel, I'm not so sure. Last Wednesday's drive from Durham to Jacksonville was surprisingly easy: only a couple of brief delays in North Carolina, and smooth sailing all the way down I-95 to Jacksonville. Even with the delays, it was several minutes shorter this time than it was when we carried the bikes with us in August.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, we left I-95 at Brunswick and took U.S. routes from there to Durham (I'll talk more about that drive tomorrow), but I kept an eye on Google Maps traffic info just out of curiosity. And according to Google, there were scattered delays on I-95 in South Carolina, and extensive delays on I-95 in North Carolina (especially around Lumberton). Nothing like what we saw on Wednesday. I-95 in Georgia was already fairly busy when we exited, even in the morning. Later in the day, I noticed a much larger than normal amount of traffic coming from US-74 in Rockingham, suggesting that a lot of I-95 travelers had their fill and were seeking an alternate route.

So, does this mean Thanksgiving Sunday is a busier driving day than Thanksgiving Wednesday? Maybe, maybe not. Here's my main conclusion: a higher proportion of people leave for their Thanksgiving destination earlier in the week (say, Tuesday), or the previous weekend, than they used to. Thanksgiving Wednesday used to be a regular school day and a regular work day, and everyone treated it as such. Not anymore. The sports column "Tuesday Morning Quarterback" calls this "The Unified Field Theory of Creep": it expands on the "Christmas Creep" theory that Christmas-related events and activites start earlier every year: for instance, Christmas parades in November, radio stations playing holiday music in October, and holiday decorations in September (all of which are absolutely ridiculous, if you ask me). I think the same applies to Thanksgiving. People are starting their Thanksgiving vacations earlier than ever before.

Here are some other possible explanations:
- During the recession, a lot of people drove instead of flew, right? Well, the recession's over, so I think the balance is shifting back away from the interstates and towards the airports.
- In my experience, the end of a holiday weekend is ALWAYS a busier travel day than the last work day before the weekend. Like us, most people probably wait until the last possible day to head back home.
- Speaking specifically about the drive to Jacksonville, the I-95 construction in Georgia that has been going on for what seems like 20 years is almost done. There are now only seven miles of I-95 in Georgia that are not three lanes in each direction, and that's a huge help in terms of traffic. The Georgia portion of I-95 used to be the primary bottleneck, but now it isn't.

In any case...I think we just got lucky last Wednesday. Our next Thanksgiving Wednesday drive to be "back to normal", but at least now we know that we shouldn't necessarily avoid the interstates entirely like on Thanksgiving Sunday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mass Statistical Updates: 11/29/10

Many of the statistics I keep track of in By the Numbers are related to driving and road trips. So whenever we go on a road trip, even when it's as routine as last weekend's trip to Jacksonville, there are always plenty of updates to be made. Let's discuss! Starting with one that has nothing to do with driving...

Restaurant serving times - James invited us to a local breakfast joint called University Diner on Sunday morning. Not only was the food excellent (watch your back, Waffle Shop!), but it was fast: 11 minutes and 14 seconds for a party of 7. Because it was a party of 7, it was eligible for the Top Ten Fastest Restaurants, party of 7 or more table, where it ended up in 2nd place all time*, only seven seconds off the record. Well done! And to think, it would have been even faster were I not the first one at the table to order, as well as one of the last ones at the table to get my food. (* - When I say "all time", I mean over the life of the serving times spreadsheet, which goes back through June 2004.)

County visitation - There aren't many new counties to be had between here and Jacksonville; I've pretty much got all the ones I can get without going really far out of the way. But after I got home last night, I discovered that US 301 (the road we took through much of South Carolina on Sunday) passes within 1½ miles of Barnwell County, SC; Barnwell is among the 6 South Carolina counties I have yet to visit. Missed opportunity! If only I had known, I would have made a little detour yesterday. But I did pick up 8 new counties for my car, at least.

Car mileage log - My car odometer is now over 57,000 miles, having reached that mark on I-95 in extreme northern Jacksonville (two miles south of the Nassau County line) Sunday morning on our way back home. The thing that I find most interesting about keeping track of when/where all of these "milestones" happen (a "milestone" being when the odometer in my car or Amber's car reaches a multiple of 1,000) is the frequencies page. This page provides a crude approximate for when and where we do most of our driving. For example, according to that page...
- ...we drive most on Sunday, Saturday, and Friday (in that order), and drive least on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Monday (in that order, with Tuesday being the least). Makes sense to me.
- ...we put in a lot of miles on I-40, I-95, I-77, and I-540. Again...makes sense, although I'm surprised I-77 has as many milestones as it does.
- ...over the last few years, we've put in more miles in Wake County than in Durham County, even though we've lived in Durham County for the last two years. That's probably still the case even now. Amber works in Wake County, curling is in Wake County, kickball is in Wake County, and most of the social things we do are in Wake County. We're also very close to the Wake County line. I'd be curious to see how many days out of the year I cross into Wake County. Hmm...
- ...other than North Carolina, we drive more in Virginia than we do in any other state, by far. Now that I think about it, I agree. Not only do we make a lot of day trips to Virginia, but when we go up to Maryland, Pennsylvania, or anywhere farther north, we get a lot of miles in Virginia.
- ...the four biggest car mileage contributors are work, curling, and trips to see family in Toledo and Jacksonville. Sounds right to me, although the work commute is much shorter now than it used to be, so I don't expect work to stay at #1 on that list forever.
I also find it interesting that...
- ...Toledo is a frequent destination, but no milestones have occurred within Toledo city limits. (Lucas County, which includes Toledo, has one milestone.) We don't do that much driving around Toledo itself when we go up there, though, so that makes sense.
- ...of the five counties that border Durham County, Wake County has 44 milestones, but the other four counties (Orange, Chatham, Granville, Person) have a combined total of one.
- ...Wythe County, VA (along I-77 and I-81) has three milestones, but none of those were credited to its county seat, Wytheville, even though Wytheville is directly on our route.

Two-lane passing - I noticed a lot of aggressive driving on I-95 on Wednesday. I'd say the proportion of drivers going more than 10 mph above the speed limit was much higher than normal. Was that also the case away from the interstates? Maybe...maybe not. On two-lane roads on Sunday, I passed 8 cars, and was passed by 6 cars. That's lower than my usual passed/passed by ratio, but not by much. (On average, I pass 10.7 cars for every 6 cars that pass me; in GA/NC/SC, it's 8.9 cars passed for every 6 that pass me.) So...inconclusive.

Nights by County - Unless our Christmas and New Year's plans change, Duval County, FL (Jacksonville) will finish ahead of Lucas County, OH (Toledo) in 2010. I will have spent 10 nights in Duval County this year, compared to 9 nights in Lucas County. (Right now, Duval leads 7 to 5.) This will be the first year since 2006 in which I've spent more nights in Jacksonville than in Toledo. (Lucas County won 11 to 8 in both 2007 and 2008, and they tied last year.)

North Carolina ZZ- license plates - Finally, there's this. I spotted a ZZB- plate and a ZZV- plate on I-95 during our travels, meaning I've now spotted almost half (10 of 21) of the ZZ_ combinations. Alphabetically speaking, ZZV- is the latest plate I've seen so far, and I have yet to see any AA_ plates. But according to an anonymous commenter, the ZZZ- plates are out there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Holiday Traffic: 2010 Edition

It's that time of year once again: time to hit the road and see the family for Thanksgiving. This year, we're spending the weekend in Jacksonville; we're leaving Wednesda yafternoon and returning on Sunday.

While we are really looking forward to the trip, we're not so much looking forward to the drive on I-95. Every time we go to Jacksonville for the holidays, we're faced with the same decision: do we stick with the interstates, or do we get creative?

There are a lot of ways to avoid all or part of I-95. The last two Thanksgiving Wednesday drives to Florida (2006 and 2008), we took US 501 through North Carolina and picked up I-95 at South of the Border, which we took the rest of the way:

View Larger Map

That's worked out pretty well, resulting in a total trip time of 45 to 60 minutes longer than average; on Thanksgiving Wednesday, I'll take that. Whether we take that route again, keep farther west through South Carolina or even Georgia, or just take I-95 the whole way, will depend on what Google Maps traffic tells us. This fancy phone really does come in handy sometimes...but I have a feeling that we'll end up taking the same route we've taken the last two Thanksgiving Wednesday drives to Florida.

As for Thanksgiving Sunday...we've gotten a little creative the last two times, taking US 1 the whole way in 2006, and a similar route in 2008. We'll probably do something like that again, in order to avoid traffic and have some fun along the way. Right now, I'm thinking US 301 to US 601 to US 1, which is the route that Google Maps gives you if you select "Avoid Highways" and is probably the most direct non-interstate route.

View Larger Map

I'll be live tweeting the drive in both directions, in part so that interested family can keep tabs on our progress and know when to expect us, and in part to annoy the rest of you.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Curling Recap: 11/19-11/21/10

Career game #116: Fall League Week 7 - November 19, 2010
(our team: Scheck)

End......... 12345678 |TTL
Scheck...... 12304020 | 12
Mitchell..., 00010103 | 05

We had already clinched a playoff spot in the league, so this game was basically meaningless, at least as far as our League Championship aspirations were concerned. I always do really well in so-called "meaningless" games, as evidenced by my 14-3 all-time record in pick-up games. Does that mean I'm at my best when the pressure is off? I don't know, but we just got lucky in this game. Early on, we were the beneficiary of a few lucky bounces - specifically, the other team promoting our rocks into the house. Throw those shots out, and the game would have been much closer than the final score indicates.

Career game #117: Fall League Week 7 - November 21, 2010
(Amber and I both spared on Team Wright in the Sunday league)

End......... 1234567 |TTL
Wallace..... 1500054 | 15
Wright...... 0031200 | 06

Our Friday league skip Dan and our Sunday skip of the day Lance are basically polar opposites in terms of strategy. Dan almost never calls take-outs; I've thrown fewer take-outs this season than I think I ever have. Meanwhile, Lance calls lots of take-outs. It's definitely more fun to play that way (and how!)...but is it more effective?

It depends, of course. I think the biggest factor might be, simply, which kind of shots your team is better at making. For example, if somebody is struggling with their draw weight but has the correct line every time, the skip might be inclined to ask for the take-out. Sometimes, when I'm the skip, I'll ask the shooter: "Hey, would you rather throw a draw, or a take-out?" It's all about giving your team the best opportunity to succeed.

But let's get back to the original question. On our ice, a draw strategy is the safe strategy. A take-out strategy has the potential to be more effective, but is high risk, high reward. If you miss two or three take-outs in a row (which happens quite a bit on our ice), then you leave yourself vulnerable to the "big end". As you can see in the box score above, that was our downfall on Sunday. I am proud that we were able to come back from 6-0 to tie it up, though.

The Friday League playoffs begin a week from Friday; will we play in our third consecutive league championship?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sports Saturday: 11/20/10

In today's issue:

College football - The season's almost over? I guess so.
NFL - That Hail Mary was awesome.
Auto racing - The last NASCAR race of the season. I'm rooting for Jimmie.
NHL - I have a "blowout rule" when I watch hockey games, but I'm currently re-thinking it. Also...Steven Stamkos!
College basketball - Yes, the season has started, but...

College football - Only two and a half weeks left to go! Championship Week is only a half-week, really, and I don't watch many bowl games anymore, so college football season is almost over. Maybe that's why it's so popular: unlike other sports, college football ends before you get sick of it.

Sat 12:00p - Indiana v. Penn State, Big Ten Network: I think this is supposed to be an Indiana home game, but instead, it's being played at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. I guess the rationale is that the DC area has a lot of Penn State alums, so let's bring a game to them! A long time ago, I think I remember Duke playing a "home game" or two against Florida State in Orlando. I guess this is similar. I haven't done any research, but I assume Indiana is getting a check for this?
Sat 12:00p - NC State at North Carolina, WRAL (ACC Network): Locally, this is THE college football game of the year. And with NC State "controlling their own destiny" in the ACC, this is a big game for them regardless. And for Florida State, too, because they need NC State to lose at least once. I'll be watching.
Sat 12:00p - Pittsburgh at South Florida, ESPN2: The BCS dream is still alive for the USF Bulls, I think. And even if that doesn't work out, they're already bowl eligible, so there's always the St. Petersburg Bowl. Yeah! (That is, if the St. Petersburg Bowl still exists, and if it accepts a Big East team. Yes, I admit, I've gotten really lazy with these sports posts as of late and haven't been doing my research. If you're looking for in-depth sports analysis, discussion, and information, this ain't the place to find it. All I'm interested in doing is adding a few dumb sports-related thoughts to the blogosphere.)
Sat 12:00p - Purdue at Michigan State, Big Ten Network: I don't know whether this game or the Penn State game is the "national" Big Ten Network game, but it doesn't matter for me, because DirecTV gives me both anyway.
Sat 12:00p - Wisconsin at Michigan, ESPN: The early time slot is loaded today, at least if you're me.
Sat 12:00p - Virginia at Boston College, ESPNU: Must be a slow day in the ACC, because this matchup has "" written all over it.
Sat 12:00p - West Virginia at Louisville, MASN: I think it's time to pay more attention to the Big East. Their schedule is very much back-loaded towards the end of the season.
Sat 12:00p - Yale at Harvard, Versus: Why not?
Sat 3:30p - Virginia Tech at Miami (FL), ESPN: This game could be fun, but the middle time slot is probably when I'll get errands done today.
Sat 3:30p - Ohio State at Iowa, ABC
Sat 3:30p - Illinois v. Northwestern, ESPNU: Live from Wrigley Field. I find football games in baseball stadiums to be oddly intriguing. Especially when they're only using one end zone.
Sat 7:00p - Army v. Notre Dame, NBC: Live from Yankee Stadium. Ditto, except for the whole "one end zone" thing.
Sat 7:00p - Arkansas at Mississippi State, ESPN: The SEC is mostly taking the week off today, but this game has potential.
Sat 8:00p - Florida State at Maryland, ABC: I was going to complain about all the late night games Florida State has been getting lately, but it's better than, so...I won't complain. Any TV is better than no TV. Haven't seen much of Maryland this year, but apparently they have a good turnover margin. That means Christian Ponder will probably be good for...oh, two fumbles and three interceptions.
Sat 10:00p - Utah at San Diego State, the mtn.: Looks like that #5 ranking Utah had a couple of weeks ago was, shall we say, a bit lofty. I don't know if they're still ranked, but they shouldn't be.


Sun 1:00p - Cleveland at Jacksonville, DirecTV 707: So...the Jaguars' Hail Mary pass for the win last week was pretty awesome. The thrill of watching that play live is why NFL Sunday Ticket might, just might, be worth the money. (Still haven't made a sure decision on that, by the way.) But in case I decide it's not worth the money next year, I will always have that play saved on my DVR. I've watched it about a dozen times, and I'm not tired of it yet. And how awesome was it that Gus Johnson happened to be the play-by-play guy that day? ... Oh, you mean the Jaguars are playing another game this weekend? Darn, I was hoping we could end the season on that note.
Sun 1:00p - Oakland at Pittsburgh, DirecTV 708: Oakland is 5-4 and tied for the AFC West lead. But can they beat the Steelers? Up-and-coming team v. estabilshed team makes for good TV, so...gooo Raiders!
Sun 1:00p - Buffalo at Cincinnati, DirecTV 706: Now that the Bills have won a game, I don't think they're as interesting to watch anymore. There's a big difference between 0 wins and 1 win, but that 2nd win? Meh. Doesn't matter.
Sun 1:00p - Washington at Tennessee, WRAZ 50: Kind of a weak slate of early games this week, to be honest. Or, maybe I'm just not feeling it this week. I'm actually considering flipping to NASCAR (see below) instead of other NFL games during Jaguars' commercial breaks this week.
Sun 1:00p - Houston at NY Jets, DirecTV 705
Sun 1:00p - Arizona at Kansas City, DirecTV 712
Sun 1:00p - Green Bay at Minnesota, DirecTV 709
Sun 1:00p - Baltimore at Carolina, WRAL 5
Sun 1:00p - Detroit at Dallas, DirecTV 710: I'll get more than my fill of these two teams on Thanksgiving Day. No need to watch them today.
Sun 4:05p - Tampa Bay at San Francisco, DirecTV 715: Sure, Tampa is 6-3, but...I still don't take them seriously. It's going to take a win against a good team to do it, and San Francisco ain't it.
Sun 4:05p - Atlanta at St. Louis, DirecTV 714: Atlanta might be the best team in the NFC. But does anyone without NFL Sunday Ticket ever get to watch them? Nope.
Sun 4:15p - Indianapolis at New England, WRAL 5: Ah, the annual Colts v. Patriots "rivalry" game. Is the rivalry still strong? I don't know, because I try to ignore it, and I want both teams to lose.
Sun 4:05p - Seattle at New Orleans, DirecTV 713
Sun 8:20p - NY Giants at Philadelphia, NBC: I never talk about Fantasy Football, because generally, nobody cares about anyone else's fantasy football team. I kind of hold fantasy football stories in the same category as poker "bad beat" stories. But I'm glad I had Michael Vick in my lineup last weekend. Six touchdowns!

Auto racing

Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead, ESPN: The final race of the 2010 NASCAR season. Three drivers have a shot, and a realistic shot at that, at the Sprint Cup championship. I'm really looking forward to it, so much so that I'm even going to make time during the NFL window for it.

So...yeah, Jimmie Johnson has won the last four championships. Given that I usually take an anti-establishment stance in sports, you'd think I'd be rooting against Jimmie here, but...nope. I don't like Kevin Harvick (arrogant), and I don't really like Denny Hamlin, either (dumb). So, come on, Jimmie! I'm looking forward to seeing what the #48 team brings to the table in the final race of the season, given that they actually have to race hard for the championship this time, as opposed to just riding around in 9th place like he usually has to.

NHL - The Carolina Hurricanes aren't on TV this weekend, so I'll put my Hurricanes random thought here. They've had a lot of blowout wins and losses lately, so much so that I've had to rethink my "blowout rule". Typically, when I'm watching an NHL game, and one team gets a lead of three or more goals, I'll change the channel. I get enough hockey games with my TV package, there's no need to waste time watching a blowout when I can watch a close game instead.

However, scoring is up this season (or at least it seems up; I don't know if it actually is), so three-goal margins are becoming quite common, especially with the Hurricanes. Lately, the "blowout rule" has meant missing a lot of Hurricanes hockey. I don't know if three-goal comebacks have been more common this season, but I'm starting to wonder whether I should change the "blowout rule" to four goals. Or, how about this: four goals in the first two periods, three goals in the third period. I think I'll try that. (I also have a "blowout rule" for football: 24 points for college, 21 points for NFL. That's worked pretty well.)

Finally, in the interest of time, laziness, and clarity, I'm no longer going to list every NHL game here. Only ones I might actually watch will make the list, along with nationally televised (NHL Network) games. I'll run through unlisted games at the end in short form.

Sat 7:00p - Tampa Bay at Buffalo, MSG Buffalo: Steven Stamkos is part of this recent scoring explosion, and he's turned the Lightning into the must-watch team of the season. I caught the end of their 8-7 win over the Flyers on Thursday night; that's a game I kind of wish I had watched from the beginning. Ever since I got into hockey, I've been waiting for someone to score 76 goals in a season, ala Mogilny and Selanne in 1992-93. Stamkos is currently on pace for 82 (one goal per game); is this the year?
Sat 7:00p - Toronto at Montréal, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - Los Angeles at Boston, NESN: The Kings have been one of those early hot surprises; better take advantage while they're on the East Coast, or else I'll never see them. (Side note: I like the Kings' uniforms. I kind of hope they keep the purple, instead of going back to the classic black/gray look.)
Sat 7:00p - Philadelphia at Washington, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sat 8:00p - New Jersey at St. Louis, Fox Sports Midwest
Sat 8:00p - NY Rangers at Minnesota, MSG
Not listed: NSH/CAR (no TV), FLA/NYI, COL/DAL, CHI/VAN, CBJ/SJ, and all four Sunday games. I can watch hockey any day of the week; why watch it on an NFL Sunday?

College basketball - So, it appears college basketball season has started. I tried watching a game this week, but I couldn't get into it, so I don't think I'm ready for it yet. I think the ACC/Big Ten Challenge the week after Thanksgiving is a good time for me to start paying attention. (Side comment: when Nebraska joins the Big Ten, will there now be 12 ACC/Big Ten Challenge games? If so, what'll happen in the event of a 6-6 tie? Will it be like the Ryder Cup, where the defending champion keeps the title in the event of a tie? Or will it simply be a tie, since there isn't actually a trophy or anything anyway [at least not that I'm aware of]?)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Top Gear Ruined?

One of my favorite shows is "Top Gear", a goofy BBC show (aired domestically on BBC America) about cars. Given the massive worldwide popularity of the show, I figured it was only a matter of time before an American version surfaced. There actually have been a few failed attempts at an American version before, but only now is one making it to the air. This Sunday, at 10 PM (9 Central), the History Channel presents...the premiere of the American version of "Top Gear"!

As a fan of the BBC version, I'm not sure if I should be excited or frightened about this. "Top Gear" is a British show, and it works because it caters to a British television audience, which is notably different from an American television audience. My biggest fear is that History will ruin the show by making it too loud, "in your face", arrogant, and obnoxious...or, in other words, too American. The three presenters they've chosen (Tanner Foust, Adam Ferrara, Rutledge Wood) do nothing to quell that fear. I admit I don't know a lot about those three, but I'm afraid that they basically chose three Jeremy Clarksons to host the show, rather than three people with different personalities. Who's going to be the "Captain Slow" of the group? Anyone?

I admit, not every segment on the BBC "Top Gear" works. Sometimes, the car reviews are boring. And, we typically skip the celebrity interviews, otherwise known as the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment. We don't know who these British celebrities are, and we don't really care, either. (Apparently, the U.S. version will call the celebrity interviews "Big Star in a Small Car". Ugh. See what I mean by "Americanizing" the show? Is "reasonably" too big of a word for an American audience? Are we going to have to limit ourselves to one-syllable words from now on?) The most entertaining segments on the BBC version are their "challenges", and they're entertaining because they're funny and often humiliate the presenters, not because they contain a lot of crashes and explosions. Sure, explosions and destruction are great, but...I'm afraid that the American version will have too much of that, without putting any real thought or effort behind it. It may not be fair to judge the U.S. version by subjecting it to constant comparisons with the BBC version, but when you use the same logo and everything, that's the way it's going to be.

In summary...the U.S. version of "Top Gear" could be anything from excruciatingly painful to watch and a massive failure, to almost as good as the BBC version. (I don't foresee a scenario in which the History version is actually better.) I owe it to myself to at least watch the premiere, even though I may regret doing so.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Competitive Flossing

The other day, I asked Amber if she had flossed her teeth that day; she said "Yes, but it wasn't the most spectacular flossing job ever". That got me thinking. How would one judge the most spectacular flossing job ever?

So...that gave me an idea: competitive dental floss competitions. Floss all you can in a fixed amount of time - say, two minutes - and whoever removes the most tartar/plaque/whatever buildup wins! Wouldn't that be fun? They have competitions for the strangest things these days; why can't we compete to become the best flosser?

I was thinking that there are a couple of ways to do this:
- Prior to the competition, everyone bites into a mouthpiece or something that transfers a certain amount of fake, harmless buildup into their teeth. Each contestant will then attempt to floss as much of that fake bad stuff out of their teeth as possible. Then, somehow, we'll measure how much fake stuff is still left on the teeth afterwards. (I'm not sure how that last part could be done, but I'm sure there's a way. I don't think measuring how much was transferred onto the floss itself is a legitimate test, because some gets swallowed.)
- Or, to eliminate some of the variables or complications, administer the competition "dentist style" and have contestants floss somebody else's teeth - a dummy, of course - like at the dentist. That way, the test subjects, fake plaque, and so on could be more fairly distributed and prepared, and measuring the amount left over afterwards would be easier, too. This would, however, give a distinct advantage to professional dentists and hygenists, as they floss other people's teeth on a daily basis, while the rest of us never do. (Dentists would probably have the advantage either way, since they no doubt take care of their own teeth better than us muggles do, and can likely be considered "expert flossers".)

So...whaddya think? Do you have what it takes to be America's Next Top Dental Flosser?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Curling Recap: 11/12/10

Sometimes, I think that Curling Recaps and Sports Saturdays make up too large a percentage of my blog content, and that I don't really need to write a recap after every single curling game I play. Other times, I think...why the hell not?

Career game #115: Fall League Week 6 - November 12, 2010
(our team: Scheck)

End......... 12345678 |TTL
Scheck...... 00201221 | 08
Witcraft.... 21020000 | 05

This one didn't come easy. Here's an overly simplistic recap: on the first half of the game, opposing skip Nick made several excellent draws early in the game to help build a gap. In the second half, we started making more shots and getting a few lucky raises (bumping rocks that had been left short into the house on prior shots). The 7th end was the pivotal end here; I'll diagram the last rock from that end shortly, after I explain something.

The ice conditions - a huge fall towards the center of the rink - dictated that there were really only two options: draws into the house, or very light take-outs. If you try to guard, the fall will carry the rock well inside of the primary line, and you'll end up not blocking anything at all. Throw a heavy take-out, and you're likely to miss completely and waste a throw, because attempting take-outs on ice with a lot of side-to-side movement is like trying to hit a moving target. At least with a light take-out, even if you miss the target rock completely, you might still end up in the house. We're hoping that the folks we rent the ice from will level out the ice in the coming weeks, but until then, this is the way to play on the two outer sheets.

This meant that unlike in our last couple of matches, due to the lack of effective guards, there were always shots available for the skips. Here was the approximate setup prior to the opposing team's final rock of the pivotal 7th end, with the game tied: (our team = red)

(Or something like that. All I really remember is the location of the two red rocks.)

One shot remaining for yellow. If they hit either of the red rocks and stick, or simply draw to the button, they'll score one...but that's not as easy as it sounds, given the huge right-to-left fall. (To give curlers from other clubs some perspective, we were putting the broom 6 to 12 feet outside the house, to the right.) The key to this shot is to absolutely not be light; if you're a little heavy, you might hit and stick, but if you're light, you have no chance. So, opposing skip Nick erred on the side of heavy, and it ended up going directly between and behind the two red rocks. Two points for the red team. That was basically the game, and we got a little lucky there.

Our team's two-game losing streak (if that can be called a streak) is over, and we've now clinched a spot in the league playoffs, which take place after Thanksgiving. Will Amber and I finish 2010 as league runners-up for the third consecutive season? Or will something else happen?