Friday, April 30, 2010

State College Road Trip #19

Time to hit the road again! And just like our last road trip, we're heading to State College, PA for a wedding. Yes, that is exactly the same reason we made our last road trip. But there are several differences between this trip and the last trip.

For one, let's talk about the wedding itself. This time, the bride and groom are Kerrie (Penn State meteorology graduate) and Dan (don't know him all that well, but apparently, he studies bugs). The ceremony will be at the same place as the last wedding, on the Penn State campus, in the same exact building. This wedding is expected to be much smaller in scope, however. This won't be the massive Penn State meteorology graduate reunion that the Vic/Lindsay wedding of six weeks ago was; this wedding will feature a much smaller guest list. I guess what I'm saying is that if you weren't invited to this one, don't take it personally. If not for Amber (she's good friends with Kerrie), I'm pretty sure I would not have received an invite.

This wedding is also a morning wedding: 10:30 AM start. I didn't know people still had morning weddings! I don't know if this was their first choice or not. We can always ask them, but I'm going to speculate that because their wedding plans only started rolling a few months ago, they did not get first choice of time. I'm guessing that Penn State's Eisenhower Chapel is a high demand wedding location, especially in the spring.

But the 10:30 AM start does mean a couple of things. One, we're spending Friday night in State College rather than Brookville. Two, we're heading back to Durham immediately after the reception (my estimate is back in Durham by 1:00 AM Sunday morning). Or, if we don't feel like going all the way back home, we'll get a hotel somewhere in Virginia. What's the rush? Well, not only do we have curling on Sunday afternoon, but we've been very busy the last few weeks. Amber has been especially busy, working frenzied 50-hour weeks, going to places like Green Bay, not to mention all of those kickball and curling commitments that I keep signing us up for. We are in need of some relaxed time at home, and coming back home Saturday night will give us at least a little of that. Any other weekend, we may have stuck around to socialize Saturday night, or maybe taken the scenic route back in order to pick up some new counties in Virginia or West Virginia, but not this weekend. We were just there six weeks ago, after all. (Speaking of which...if you're planning a wedding and intend on inviting Amber and me, could you please have the wedding somewhere other than State College? You know, for variety's sake? Did I just uninvite myself by asking?)

So, this will be a very quick State College trip. We'll be back in Durham less than 36 hours after we leave. This is also our last planned road trip to State College. When will we be back? Who knows? For all I know, this could be the last State College trip ever. I doubt it, but it's possible.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Time Zones and Television

Here's a question: given the choice, and ignoring geographical factors, which time zone would you rather live in? When I say "ignoring geographical factors", I mean ignoring the fact that if you want to live in the Pacific Time Zone, you have to live out west somewhere. This is a theoretical question, as if to say, if you could convert your home state to any time zone you wanted (and have sunrise and sunset times automatically adjust along with it), which time zone would it be?

"But Chris! Time is arbitrary. And if you're ignoring geographical factors, and also ignoring the influence time zones have on perceived sunrise and sunset times, what difference does it make what time zone you're in?" It doesn't, except for one thing: television. This discussion is purely about television. Not just sports, either, although sports are more impacted by time zones than anything else on television.

(Speaking of sports, there won't be a Sports Saturday post this weekend, because I'll be back in State College, PA for another wedding. More on that tomorrow. My heckling of Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the Washington Capitals will have to wait another week.)

So...let's look at the pros and cons of each time zone! I'm going to limit this discussion to the six primary United States time zones, but I will say this: living in the Atlantic Time Zone - or worse yet, Newfoundland Time Zone - would be miserable. On the other hand, that means you'd get to live in Canada, and that might - oh, right, we're ignoring geographical factors. Never mind, then.

Eastern Time: More Americans live in the Eastern Time Zone than in any other time zone, and it includes our largest city and national capital. So, naturally, everything caters to the Eastern Time Zone as much as possible. Any time you hear an advertisement for a television show or sporting event, you know the time they give you is Eastern Time. No arithmetic necessary, and no confusion, either. That is nice.

On the other hand...everything in the Central Time Zone happens an hour earlier. How is that fair? And most major sporting events are timed to end between 11:00 PM and 11:30 PM, because that is when national television ratings peak. If you're like me and are usually in bed by 10:00 PM, that stinks. But if you usually stay up past midnight, that's great, right? Back in my college days, the Eastern Time Zone was absolutely perfect for me. But now...I don't like it.

Central Time: So, yes, everything happens in Central Time one hour earlier. Your 8:00 PM shows are on at 7:00 PM. But is that too early? I don't think so. Sure, you have to subtract one hour from everything, but I imagine you'll get used to that, and eventually you'll automatically make that adjustment in your head without even realizing it.

Disclaimer: I have never lived outside the Eastern Time Zone, so I don't actually know what it's like on the "other side". With that in mind, I'm probably the last guy who should be conducting this debate, but I don't care. "The grass is always greener", right? I'm sure there are some downsides to living outside the Eastern Time Zone that I'm completely unaware of. That said...aside from the one hour mental adjustment, I see no downside to the Central Time Zone whatsoever. If I were to guess, I'd say that most Americans would prefer Central Time.

But is Central Time my favorite? Nope. That honor goes to...

Mountain Time: Now...Mountain Time is a bit confusing, and it's often completely ignored in the national discussion. When ABC says "Catch an all new 'Lost' at 9, 8 Central", what they won't say is that 'Lost' will also be on at 8 Mountain. I think. So, subtract one hour for network television. Or, if it's cable you're talking about, subtract two hours. I guess. The Mountain Time Zone kind of does its own thing with television, and it's probably confusing as hell when you first move there.

On the other hand...whereas major sporting events end between 11:00 PM and 11:30 PM in the Eastern Time Zone, in the Mountain Time Zone they end between 9:00 PM and 9:30 PM. For me, that's perfect. In terms of sports, the Mountain Time Zone would be ideal for my sleep schedule. And I'd be willing to deal with the confusion that comes with living there. I'm a smart guy; I could figure it out.

Pacific Time: I think Pacific Time would be too much of a change. In terms of sports, having NFL games start at 10:00 AM, and college football games start at 9:00 AM...that's a little much. Having most sporting events end by 8:30 PM, or even as early as 7:00 PM, would be too early. Having things end early is great, but only to a point. I think Mountain Time is good enough in that regard. terms of network television, and also cable channels which have split East and West feeds, shows are on at the same time as they are in the Eastern Time. When ABC says "9, 8 Central", that means "9 Pacific". That's convenient, but the problem is this. If you're in the Eastern Time Zone, and you want to talk to your friend who lives in Oregon about that show you just watched...guess what? They won't get to see it for another three hours! And that means if you live out there, you better stay off Twitter and Facebook in the meantime, too, or else you expose yourself to the possibility of spoilers. At least with Mountain Time, the lag is only one hour; in the Pacific Time Zone, it's three hours.

Central and Mountain both leave Pacific in the dust, but I'm not sure where I would rank Pacific against Eastern. I'd have to live there first before I could judge.

Alaska and Hawaii Time: Two more time zones to go. Based on a little bit of research, "9, 8 Central" means "8 Alaska" as well as "8 Hawaii". I think that proves that Central is better than Eastern: Mountain and Hawaii time zones could air these network shows whenever they want, and they've chosen to air them in line with Central Time. On the other hand, Indiana used to be in the Central Time Zone, but now they're in the Eastern Time Zone. Now...why would they want to do that?

For sports, however...Alaska and Hawaii aren't great places to be. If you live in Hawaii, most sporting events are over before dinner. I lived there, I'd have to DVR almost everything.

There's also the issue of Daylight Saving Time, which Hawaii and Arizona do not observe. Does "9, 8 Central" mean "8 Hawaii" all year, regardless of whether Hawaii is 5 or 6 hours behind New York? Or does "9, 8 Central" actually mean "9 Hawaii" during Winter months? I would hope it's "8 Hawaii" year-round, because it would be confusing otherwise. Same goes for Arizona - I think "9, 8 Central" means "8 Arizona Time" year-round.

Finally, I'll close with this: if any of you live (or have lived) in a time zone other than the Eastern Time Zone and would like to shed any light on what it's like to live in another time zone, or would like to correct anything I said about those other time zones, please comment.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Xbox 360: Week Three

First, a recap: I got an Xbox 360 three weeks ago, but didn't have a way to connect it to the internet, so I came up with three potential solutions: really long wire, another hole in the wall courtesy Time Warner, or wireless internet. Eventually, I decided on the most practical solution with the most benefits: wireless internet. This was also the solution with the highest cost, of course, when you include the price of the wireless adapter that you need to hook up to the Xbox 360. I got a used adapter online for about $60 (retail is $99). Add to that the cost of the wireless router ($35), a 12-month Xbox 360 Live membership so that I can play against friends online ($40 - gamertag is "caiman48", in case any of you actually care), a USB flash drive upon which to store Xbox 360 downloaded content ($15 - this wasn't absolutely necessary, but was if I wanted to download any demos or games), and of course, the games ($65 spent on games so far, my latest purchase being a multiplayer arcade game called Castle Crashers that is popular among some of my friends), and you can start to see why I dragged my feet on this for so long. I knew the cost of the Xbox 360 console itself would only be the beginning.

But now that I've spent the money, it's time to get the most out of my Xbox 360, darn it. That means doing more than just playing hockey, football, and/or Rock Band (which I don't have yet...I'm saving that for the summer) on my own. If that's all I wanted to do with the 360, I wouldn't have bothered with the wireless internet, and I certainly wouldn't have gotten that darn "Xbox Live" membership. Part of the reason I got this thing was an attempt to "relive my college years" by playing games online against my friends from high school and/or college. (Yes, Erik had a slight hand in convincing me to get one of these things.) Haven't really had a whole lot of time to do that so far, but once curling and kickball wind down (curling ends for the most part next week, kickball the week after that), I'll have more time for fun and games. I promise.

Here's my take on online gaming. I'm not all that big on playing against complete strangers. In general, complete strangers are either jerks, about ten times better at said game than I am, or both. I used to do a lot of online racing (NASCAR, etc.) against complete strangers, and I was fairly decent at that. But for various reasons, I stopped and focused on "offline" racing. The three primary things that steered me away (no pun intended) from online racing: earlier bed times (online participation doesn't peak until well after 9 PM Eastern), impatience (most of the time, you log onto a race server, then wait around for 15 to 30 minutes for the race to start - boooring), and of course, people who are completely full of themselves. So, basically, I prefer my video gaming to be in a controlled environment - either going solo, or with at least one person I actually know outside the video game world.

One thing you can do with the Xbox 360 is get a headset/microphone sort of deal - oh, right, that was another $10 - and talk to your friends while they beat you at whatever video game you happen to be playing. We gave this a go last week. Cool? Yes. But given that my on-the-phone conversation skills aren't all that great, and that's basically what this amounts to...still a little awkward. Should I say something? Is someone else about to speak? Does everyone else think I'm talking too much? Am I saying too many dumb things? And Amber has fun distracting me sometimes. And if I say something to her, everyone hears it! I guess what I'm saying is that the whole headset thing is going to take some getting used to. I might also have to adjust my timing a little. Most of the video gaming I do now takes place before 7 PM (it's usually an after work, before dinner activity), but just like with the racing games, most online gaming takes place after 9 PM.

This Xbox 360 story is far from over, but for'll have to wait. Kickball Wednesday, curling Thursday, out of town Friday and Saturday, curling again Sunday.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bicycling on the Sidewalk

Over the weekend, I completed a personal goal of mine: ride my bicycle from our house in Durham to our old apartment in Cary and back. Total round trip distance (including a couple of quick side trips) = 38.3 miles.

View Larger Map's the thing. Unless I really want to go out of my way, it's basically impossible to get from here to there without riding on some rather busy roads. While some roads in Cary do have dedicated bike lanes or wide shoulders, most do not. I think it's kind of scary to ride my bike on a road with heavy traffic, even if Cary has labeled several major roads as "bike routes". (Those "bike route" designations seem completely arbitrary, at least to me.) So what's the solution? Ride on the sidewalk instead!

I know that as a bicyclist, I'm not supposed to be riding on the sidewalk. Sidewalks are for foot traffic, not bike traffic. Bicycle traffic is supposed to take the roads. But, you know, I don't care. I feel safer, and I am not endangering the small amount of pedestrian traffic that actually does use the sidewalk, because I slow down, call out, and give plenty of room as I pass, all the while not hindering car traffic one bit. It all makes sense in my head, even if it's not what I'm "supposed" to be doing. Besides, how else was I going to get this picture?

Here is the background if you're curious what this is all about. Given how image conscious the Town of Cary is, I think it's amusing (and a bit ironic) that this message is still there, nine months later.

So, anyway...bicycling on the sidewalk isn't really fun; it's just a way to get where you want to go without getting in the way. So while Cary does have some nice greenways (including one with its own bridge over US-1/64, from which the above picture was taken - that was the highlight of the ride), you still have to get there somehow, and that's why I probably won't be doing too much biking in Cary anymore.

In other news, my Bicycling Trip to Alaska is now in Wisconsin. Yay!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Amber Goes to Green Bay

Fresh off her week long trip to India, Amber is traveling once again - this time to the far less exotic locale of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Again, this is for work, for something called the AgSTAR National Conference. The AgSTAR program "encourages the use of methane recovery technologies at confined animal feeding operations that manage manure as liquids or slurries." Yum! (Here is the science behind it, for those interested.)

Amber left this morning and returns Wednesday evening, hopefully in time for our 9:00 PM kickball game. Green Bay isn't all that noteworthy, but I normally publish all of Amber's work travels here, so why stop now?

Curling Recap: 4/22-4/25/10

We're now in week three of our 8 games in 4 weeks stretch. You'd think that at this point, we probably know what we're doing, right? Especially considering that Amber and I are curling as frequently as anyone else in the Triangle Curling Club is right now?

Thursday, April 22nd

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Mitchell..... 10000000 | 01
Allen........ 01122122 | 11

First, a little background: the Thursday games are one-time "pick-up" games only. This particular session featured 8 regular skips (including me - I'm now considered a regular skip, ha!), 23 brand-new (or almost brand-new) curlers, and...Amber. So, whichever team Amber played on would have a distinct advantage. Amber's team would have two experienced curlers, while the other team would only have one. And, of course, I was able to play with Amber. Combine that with the fact that I've been curling almost nonstop the last four weeks, while opposing skip Sue hasn't curled with the Triangle Curling Club since January, and, well...

A word about Sue: she's the club president, and has been doing a lot of behind the scenes work the last few months promoting the club before, during, and after the Olympics. She's also been helping newly formed curling clubs in Charlotte, Richmond, and Greenville, SC get up and running. Meanwhile, she basically "took one for the team" and sat out the club's Spring Leagues so that another new curler could join. So, I feel kind of bad, especially since I kind of ran up the score...but hey, at least she got a free beer out of it. Her teammates did, too, and despite my team's best efforts to ruin it for them, they had a great time. These pick-up games are much more about growing the club's membership than they are winning and losing.

I think this box score, and the Sunday box score, reveal something about my strategy. Between these two games, my teams scored in 12 out of 16 ends, but not once did we score more than two at a time. Without even realizing it, my general strategy is apparently to get in position to score two, then once I have position, guard the heck out of it. That strategy seems to be working out pretty well, at least lately. I'm almost afraid to mention this out of fear that it will jinx us, but through Sunday, I've won 8 out of my last 9 games as skip, and my all-time record as skip is now 10-4. There is a perfectly good explanation for that, of course: Amber has been on my team for all 10 of those wins.

Sunday, April 25th

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Wallace...... 10000104 | 06
Allen........ 02121010 | 07

I don't have any awesome shots to diagram this week. Just numbers and strategy discussion. Yeah, I know...booooring.

But before I get to the numbers, I'm going to talk the strategy in the 8th and final end. How did they end up scoring four? Simple, really. We had a five-point lead going into the 8th end, and I started out by calling take-outs, in order to "run them out of rocks". Once it became mathematically impossible for the other team to score five (i.e. we had removed four of their rocks from play), then I started playing it as if it were a normal end, meaning I quit the take-outs and started trying to draw into the house. From that point on, we missed our draws, and they hit pretty much all of theirs. End result: four. By calling more take-outs, I could have easily cut them down to two or at most three, but once the game was basically "over", I quit playing the scoreboard. We could have used some of those points, too. We may need them if the league championship comes down to the point differential tie-breaker. Oh well.

Now, the shot percentages:

--Team Allen--
Sherri F.: 40% (40% on 10 draws, no take-outs)*
Tabby V.: 24% (24% on 19 draws, no take-outs)
Amber Allen: 50% (52% on 13 draws, 46% on 6 take-outs)
Chris Allen: 38% (33% on 15 draws, 100% on 1 take-out)
Team total: 38% (36% on 57 draws, 54% on 7 take-outs)

(* - Sherri had to leave after the 5th end.)

--Team Wallace--
Patrick D.: 41% (54% on 12 draws, 0% on 4 take-outs)
Matthew P.: 42% (50% on 11 draws, 25% on 5 take-outs)
Mark F.: 17% (20% on 11 draws, 10% on 5 take-outs)
Rich Wallace: 45% (48% on 10 draws, 42% on 6 take-outs)
Team total: 36% (43% on 44 draws, 21% on 20 take-outs)

Game total: 37% (39% on 101 draws, 30% on 27 take-outs)

I know having these game stats is awesome, but once Cliff's shoulder is ready, you had better believe he's not going to be sitting on the sidelines anymore. So, enjoy the numbers while you can.

The percentages between the two teams were pretty close, but they did reveal a couple of things - for one, strategy. My strategy is typically to throw a minimal number of take-outs, especially considering that this game was played on the sheet where take-outs are most difficult, the notoriously slanted "Sheet 1". During the game, it felt like I was calling a lot of take-outs, but I only ended up calling 7 the entire game. I guess it just seemed like a lot because almost always, Amber was the one throwing them. But Team Wallace attempted almost three times as many take-outs as my team did.

Also...Amber cracked the elusive 50% barrier. Woohoo! She's the first 50% curler we've had in the four games scored by Cliff or me. The overall percentages were also higher than they were in the first game I scored on Sheet 1, which I attribute to this being the fourth game of the season. The first game I scored was the season opener, and for the players involved was either their first full-length curling game ever, or their first full-length game in two months.

So...what's this league championship I talked about? Well, if we win next Sunday's game, our team wins the Sunday League championship. Even if we lose by one, we still win the championship. (If we lose by two, we don't.) No pressure or anything, right, Chris? This is just curling, after all. Let's not take any of this too seriously.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sports Saturday: 4/24/10

In today's issue: NFL, NHL, NASCAR, MLB.

NFL: I'm leading off with the NFL because it's the most popular sport, not because it's the sport I'm most interested in this weekend. I'm surprised I've never really talked about this at length before, but I think the NFL Draft is boring. I haven't watched it in years.

I know the NFL Draft is very popular, and many fans have spent the last few weeks analyzing value boards, mock drafts, trade scenarios, scouting reports, and so on. If you enjoy that sort of thing, then more power to you. But if you're like me and have spent the last two or three months basically ignoring all things NFL (as I do all sports during their respective offseasons), then the Draft is kind of boring and dumb. Here's my take on all of this.

First off, the Draft is boring to watch, especially if you're like me and don't know who most of these players are. Lots of people sitting around talking. Then...oh, my goodness, the next team is about to pick! "With the 6th selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, the Seattle Seahawks select Russell Okung, offensive tackle, Oklahoma State." Meh. Whatever. As much college football as I watch, I don't know who most of these players are. I guess that's part of the appeal of the draft for many hardcore fans: they've been following this for months, they know who all the top college football prospects, and it's neat to see who goes to which team. But I don't know who Russell Okung is, so I don't care. As far as I'm concerned, the Seahawks may as well have drafted Glenn Beck.

But here's the thing that bugs me the most about the Draft. When the Draft is over, there are no winners or losers. Sure, so-called "experts" will try to give each team a "grade" based on how "well" they drafted. But how will we know how well each team drafted until the players actually get into a game? The fact is, we have no idea how well any of these players are going to do in the NFL, and it will be a few years before we find out for sure. Any present draft analysis is simply meaningless speculation and guesswork, and I can do without all that. I have a similar opinion about college football recruiting, which I pay even less attention to. Having the so-called "number one recruiting class" means nothing. NOTHING. I watch sports because I like watching opposing forces fight for a common goal, a goal only one side can achieve. And if the manner in which a victor is determined is fair, interesting, and pleasing to the eye (which football and hockey most certainly are), bonus! But with the Draft, there are no winners or losers. Boring. What else is on?

NHL: Ah, here we go. This is the time of the year in which I watch the most hockey: the end of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. I try to catch every elimination game that I can, and in the first round, there are obviously lots of elimination games to be played. Hockey overload! Shoot, I even stayed up for the end of Thursday's triple overtime game between the Penguins and Senators. (Well, sort of. We got home from curling just as the third overtime started at about 11:30. I figured it was already late, so what harm is there in staying awake for another 15-20 minutes or so? I would not have stayed awake for a fourth overtime, however.)

Once the second round starts, I'll probably dial it down a bit...but until then, I'll try to catch at least some of all five of this weekend's games. (Except the Sunday night game, which will end well past my bedtime.)

Sat 3:00p - Nashville at Chicago (Game 5 - tied 2-2), NBC
Sat 7:00p - Pittsburgh at Ottawa (Game 6 - PIT 3-2), Versus
Sat 10:00p - San Jose at Colorado (Game 6 - SJ 3-2), Versus
Sun 2:00p - Phoenix at Detroit (Game 6 - DET 3-2), NBC
Sun 9:00p - Vancouver at Los Angeles (Game 6 - TBD* 3-2), Versus

(* - I recorded this game last night and don't know the result yet. Not sure if I'm actually going to watch it, though.)

NASCAR: So, last week, I talked about how dumb it is to watch a four hour NASCAR race from start to finish when the first three hours of the race are basically meaningless. Last week's Sprint Cup race at Texas held true to form, and no other track follows suit as much as this week's venue, Talladega. With tight packs, frequent passing, and frenzied finishes, at no other track is the first half of the race as meaningless as it is at Talladega. So, more of the same, right?

Actually...I have a completely different take on Talladega. In this case, I have two good reasons to watch the entire race. One, unlike at a track like Texas where everybody gets strung out, every stays in the same pack at Talladega. Even if you know in the back of your mind that what happens on lap 30 has no bearing whatsoever on who will finish where, it's still fun to watch everybody race door-to-door, nose-to-tail for 500 miles. At least, I think so. But the biggest reason to watch from the green flag onward is because a huge crash can break out at any time. The ever-present threat of a major accident is enough to keep me on the edge of my seat for the entire race. Yes, I admit it: I like the crashes. If the "Big One" doesn't happen this Sunday, I'll be very disappointed.

Sat 3:00p - NASCAR Nationwide at Talladega, ABC
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega, FOX

MLB: I've watched bits and pieces of a couple of Washington Nationals games this past week: Sunday's game against Milwaukee in which they trailed 10-0 in the first inning, and Tuesday's game against Colorado in which they trailed 10-0 in the third inning. Gooooo Nats!

But despite those two efforts, they're still a respectable 9-8. I'll take that.

Sat 1:00p - LA Dodgers at Washington, MASN
Sat 4:00p - NY Yankees at LA Angels, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - Baltimore at Boston, MASN
Sat 7:00p - Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee, WGN America
Sat 9:00p - Seattle at Chicago White Sox, MLB Network
Sun 1:30p - Baltimore at Boston, MASN
Sun 1:30p - LA Dodgers at Washington, MASN2
Sun 2:00p - Chicago Cubs at Milwaukee, TBS
Sun 2:00p - Seattle at Chicago White Sox, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - Atlanta at NY Mets, ESPN

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Our front yard isn't much of a yard. It's mostly trees, stuff that falls from trees, and bushes. There isn't a whole lot in the way of "grass". Personally, I don't really care so much. Amber, on the other hand...she wants grass, darn it! And she's determined to make it happen.

Amber's done the necessary work, which I guess means planting the seeds and regular watering - she's the lawn expert, not me. Apparently, some of our the neighbors have tried this in the past, and failed. Not enough sunlight and too much tree junk, I guess. But where others have failed, Amber will succeed!

But here's something we've never really had to think about before. Tuesday afternoon, Amber turned on a recently bought sprinkler and started watering our future lawn. That got me thinking: "Hmm...doesn't Durham have some kind of restrictions regarding when you can water your lawn and when you can't?" Yep, they sure do: we're only allowed to water our future lawn on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, and only before 10:00 AM or after 6:00 PM. So, Amber was breaking a city ordinance by watering our future lawn at 4:30 PM on a Tuesday. She had no idea, of course. Being the responsible citizen that I am, I immediately ran outside and told her. I guess water restrictions aren't really commonplace in a place like Toledo where there's this huge lake right over there. But here in the South, we have hot weather and occasional water shortages. Woo! "But to start a lawn, you're supposed to water every day," Amber says. Not in the South, you don't.

I think the deck is stacked against us, but if anyone can get grass to grow in our front yard, Amber can.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Alaska Trip Preview #4: Anchorage and Fairbanks

From my last Alaska trip preview post: "The two most pressing issues remaining on our itinerary are 'What do we do on our half-day in Anchorage?' and 'What do we do on our two-thirds day in Fairbanks'?" Six weeks after writing that post, I now have answers to those questions. Sort of. Let's start with Anchorage.

Let's look at the timing of our brief Anchorage visit. We're driving through Anchorage on Day 8 of the trip (Thu 7/1), but that will be part of a 14-15 hour driving day, so that doesn't count. We're returning to Anchorage on Day 10 (Sat 7/3), but I don't expect to get there until late evening, so again, we won't have time to do much of anything that day, either. Day 11 (Sun 7/4) will be Anchorage day, and even then, we'll only have the morning. After doing [whatever], we'd like to meet up with some old college friends for lunch*, and then we'll go straight from there to our accomodations for the night near Denali National Park.

(* - I think it's unreasonable to expect anyone to know whether they'll be available for lunch 11 Sundays from now. Most people don't even know what they're doing this Sunday, let alone a Sunday in July, and especially on the Fourth of July. So, we haven't worked out the specifics with Craig and Rachael as of yet. There will be plenty of time for that.)

I guess the point of the previous paranthetical paragraph is that it's important to be flexible with our Day 11 Anchorage plans. No reservations. know, wouldn't it be fitting if part of the fictional Bicycling Trip to Alaska included some actual bicycling in Alaska? Even besides that, it would still be kind of nice to rent some bicycles and go for a short bike ride one at some point during the trip. Sunday morning in Anchorage is a perfect opportunity to do that. Apparently, Anchorage has over 120 miles of paved bicycle trails. Wow!

The plan is to rent a bike at Downtown Bicycle Rental in the morning (assuming they'll be open on July 4th - we'll check before we leave), and then ride the Coastal Trail, which begins five blocks from the rental shop. Sweet. Or, if it's raining, we'll find something else to do. You know...whatever.

Now...Fairbanks. I've gathered during my trip planning that there really isn't a whole lot to do in Fairbanks. So, it'll be a good place to get that oil change, along with any other necessary car repair.

However, most likely, we'll still have plenty of time to kill in Fairbanks, especially consdering that "sunset" won't happen until after midnight. So, what to do? I've come up with a few options, most of which actually involve leaving Fairbanks (albeit only temporarily):
- The University of Alaska "Museum of the North", one of the few things that actually is in Fairbanks, is apparently a good place to go. Especially if it's raining, and especially if we want a day with minimal driving and mosquitoes.
- Chena Hot Springs, 60 miles east of Fairbanks, has potential. Hope we can make it in time for the "Geothermal Renewable Energy Tour"! Yeah!
- Or, we can just head in the general direction of the Dalton Highway (which goes all the way to Deadhorse, near the Arctic Ocean) and see how far we feel like going (most likely, to the place where the pavement ends and the Dalton Highway begins). As much as I would love to get a picture of Mo the Cow Puppet next to this sign, I don't think that's very realistic, nor a good idea.

Apparently, there are other things to do up here (gold panning, dog sledding or something, etc), but I think we can entertain ourselves just as easily by sticking with the above three options. Which of those options we take will depend on time, weather, and desire.

Just 64 more days until we leave! Not that I'm counting or anything.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Mazda 3 Air Filter

Changing the air filter is one of the easiest car maintenance tasks there is. Even I can do it! Although with Amber's Mazda 3, it was a little more complicated than I expected. Usually, you just pop the trunk hood, see the air filter compartment in plain site, pop the top off the compartment, take out the old air filter, and put the new one in, right? If memory serves me right, that's how it was with my Honda Civic. But the Mazda 3? Nooo...

First off, I would think that "how to change the air filter" would be a good thing to put in the car manual. However, no references to the air filter can be found in either the Civic manual or the Mazda 3 manual. I guess they want you to pay a "qualified technican" at the dealer to do it rather than try it yourself? They must, because the Mazda 3 air filter is well hidden.

I had to consult this YouTube video to figure out how to change the Mazda 3 air filter. Apparently, you have to remove the battery cover and the battery air duct first, and then the air filter compartment is visible...but that doesn't come all the way off, either, so you have to slide the old air filter out and finesse the new one in, all the while hoping that you don't bend one of those car pieces too far and break something important. Amber's car is still running five days later, so I think I did it correctly. But when it comes to air filter replacement, score one for the Honda.

On another car-related note, we also had to replace the windshield on the Mazda 3 recently, due to a crack caused by random road debris. How much does this cost? In some states (Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, South Carolina - source), car insurance companies are required by law to replace a cracked windshield at no cost to the insured (zero deductible). The idea is to encourage drivers to replace a cracked windshield, since it is a safety concern. But North Carolina isn't one of those states, so our deductible was $100. On the flip side, auto insurance in North Carolina is a lot cheaper than auto insurance in Florida (at least based on my experience - my premium went down by almost 50% when I moved here), so I guess you can't have it both ways.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Curling Recap: 4/16-4/18/10

I'm now in week two of my "eight games in four weeks" stretch of curling. How did I do this week?

Friday, April 16th

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Witcraft....... 11003000 | 05
Schoolman...... 00310411 | 10

I played Vice for Team Witcraft, which means I'm now 0-2 when playing as a substitute in the Friday League. Bad luck? Or, am I just not a very good vice-skip? Yes, my all-time record as vice is still a healthy 27-21, but a funny thing happened once I started playing skip. Now that I have 12 games as skip under my belt, all of a sudden, I think I know what I'm doing. I can't help but interject my opinion regarding strategy and where I think we should aim, especially late in the end. And when I'm not the skip, that's bad for the team. The skip is the one spending the whole time analyzing the ice, watching the game play out, and thinking about the next shot. Who am I to speak up? I'm just the Vice. I ultimately think that my strategy opinions hurt the team both this week and last week. So, my apologies to skips Chris Jaun and Nick Witcraft. I think I ruined your teams' respective chances, and I'm sorry I questioned you. Next time I play Vice, I'll keep my mouth shut and just let the skip handle the strategy.

That said...the opposing skip, Brian Schoolman, made a couple of perfect last rock take-outs, one to score three in the 3rd end (we were lying one prior to the shot), and another to score four in the 6th (I forget what the situation was prior to that shot, but it was another big point swing). Those two shots decided the match. It was especially impressive considering that this game was being played on infamous Sheet 1, the same sheet where the take-out success rate was only 6% two weeks prior.

Meanwhile, Amber also played as a sub on Friday night, but in a different game, ultimately losing in a one rock tie-breaker. Maybe that's why I'm 0-2 on Fridays this season: I didn't have Amber on my team! Never take your spouse for granted, folks.

Sunday, April 18th

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Franklin...... 1010010 | 03
Allen......... 0301103 | 08

Last week, I diagrammed Amber's double take-out and declared it the best shot ever made by Amber or me. the risk of sounding too cocky, one week later, I think I did one better. I'm going to do my best to go through the last four shots of the 7th end. Here's the situation with only skip rocks (two each) remaining: (Our team = red. Disclaimer: rock positions are completely derived from memory and are approximate at best, and I make no guarantees with regard to accuracy.)

Opposing skip Lea's first shot: a perfect take-out of our #1 rock, giving yellow the top two rocks, which would tie the game. Great shot. Now what do I do? Well, blast away! I threw hard, and missed everything, although I'm not sure how, exactly. (Note that I do not remember exactly where rock #6 was at this point.)

If memory serves me right, Lea's second throw was a guard attempt that was a little heavy, and actually opened things up a bit. Here is the layout with only my last rock remaining:

If memory serves me right, #6 was moved just a little bit to the right, which helped us a bit. (In case you haven't grasped it by now, I'm really fuzzy on the details here.) What now? Well, let's blast away again! I didn't know this was going to be the last end at this point, but regardless, I was willing to give up one at this point, so even if we only hit one rock out, I would still consider it a successful shot. So, I threw hard, and...

The shooter wicked off #6 and hit both #1 and #2 out of the house, leaving three red rocks in the house. Pretty sweet, eh? My first ever double take-out, and it was For The Win. Instead of giving up two, we scored three, and we shook hands. (I'm not sure whether the shooter stayed and counted as one of the three, or if there were already three in the house and the shooter spilled out.) So what if it got a fortunate bounce off a guard? It was still awesome.

Alright, so...enough about me. It was a team effort, and we were only in a position to win because of that. Let's do player shot percentages! (Thanks again to Cliff for keeping game stats from the sidelines.)

--Team Allen--
Tabby V. (Lead): 30% (all draws, no take-outs)
Justin V. (Second): 38% (35% on 12 draws, 50% on 2 take-outs)
Amber Allen (Vice): 39% (48% on 11 draws, 8% on 3 take-outs)
Chris Allen (Skip): 27% (28% on 10 draws, 25% on 4 take-outs)
Team total: 33% (35% on 47 draws, 25% on 9 take-outs)

--Team Franklin--
Timothy G. (Lead): 36% (all draws, no take-outs)
Jackson F. (Second): 27% (23% on 10 draws, 38% on 4 take-outs)
Liz S. (Vice): 14% (18% on 11 draws, 0% on 3 take-outs)
Lea Franklin (Skip): 18% (10% on 10 draws, 38% on 4 take-outs)
Team total: 24% (23% on 45 draws, 27% on 11 take-outs)

Game total: 29% (29% on 92 draws, 26% on 20 take-outs)

The game-wide draw percentage was the same as last week, but the take-out percentage was much lower, which we can attribute that to the ice conditions. Last week's sheet had a "convergence line" which many rocks fell towards, making take-outs much easier. This week's sheet didn't have that, which made for a more interesting game. But how about Amber's draw percentage? Wow!

Our front end, Tabby and Justin, just got new curling shoes and brooms, so they're committed now. Awesome. And their sweeping is now more effective than ever! That came in handy on my last shot of the 2nd end, which likely would have came up short if not for excellent sweeping.

So, our team is now in first place in the league with two games to go. But I'm trying not to worry about that yet, because under similar circumstances last season, I kind of folded under the pressure.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Sports Saturday: 4/17/10

In today's issue: NHL, Auto Racing, MLB. (I feel compelled to list the topics at hand up top, for those of you who like baseball but don't like racing, for example. Don't just stop reading as soon as you see the word "NASCAR"!)

NHL - Let's talk Stanley Cup Playoffs! I love the playoffs, and I've long maintained that NHL playoff overtime is the most exciting thing in sports. I'll be watching plenty of hockey the next two months.

My favorite team, the Carolina Hurricanes, did not make the playoffs. Neither did my primary backup teams (Florida and Tampa Bay). Does this mean I'm any less interested in the playoffs? Sure, a little...but I'm still going to watch. And I do still have rooting interests. I've separated the 16 playoff teams into various rooting interest categories:

Teams I would like to see win the Stanley Cup this year, if I were given the choice: the three remaining Canadian teams (Montréal, Ottawa, Vancouver), and also the Buffalo Sabres. Canada loves hockey far more than we do, yet it's been 17 years since a Canadian team won the Stanley Cup. Does that seem right to you? As for Buffalo, I know a lot of Sabres fans, and it's not like Buffalo has anything else going for it, right?

Teams I'm undecided on: Phoenix. Do I root for Phoenix as the "underdog story" (even if they're not really an underdog), or do I root against Phoenix based on the idea that a deep playoff run would make the franchise less likely to move back to Winnipeg in the near future? (I strongly favor a return to Winnipeg.) Either way, this I know: I certainly can't bring myself to root for the mighty Red Wings to beat the Coyotes. So, Go Coyotes! For now.

Teams I don't really care about either way: Boston, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, San Jose, Colorado, Los Angeles. If one of these teams wins the Stanley Cup this year, my official reaction will be "meh".

Teams I REALLY, REALLY don't want to win: Washington. I do not care for the Capitals. They're a Hurricanes division rival, for one thing. They also have Alex Ovechkin, the most annoying player in the NHL. (Yes, even more so than Sidney Crosby. At least Crosby is Canadian.) And, well, the Capitals just plain suck. Booooooooo!!! (Interesting how the Capitals are my least favorite NHL team but that the Nationals are now my favorite MLB team.)

So, while I may have created four separate rooting interest categories, really, there are only two: 1) the Washington Capitals, and 2) everybody else. Let's go, everybody else!

Sat 1:00p - Boston at Buffalo, NBC
Sat 7:00p - Montréal at Washington, Versus
Sat 10:00p - Los Angeles at Vancouver, Versus
Sun 3:00p - Phoenix at Detroit, NBC
Sun 6:00p - New Jersey at Philadelphia, MSG Plus
Sun 6:30p - Pittsburgh at Ottawa, Versus
Sun 8:30p - Nashville at Chicago, CSN Chicago / Versus JIP*
Sun 9:30p - San Jose at Colorado, CSN California / Versus JIP*

* - "Versus JIP" games are broadcast in their entirety on NHL Center Ice, and are joined in progress by Versus once the previous Versus game ends.

Auto racing - My interest in and satisfaction with NASCAR has gone up and down many times over the last few years. And,'s a little down again. While I have set up the DVR accordingly, watching this weekend's NASCAR races isn't really a priority.

Why? Well, let's talk about last week's race at Phoenix. The caution flag came out with three laps to go (somewhat legimitately). Everyone had old tires, so everyone pitted. Ryan Newman (who had been buried in mediocrity most of the race) was one of four cars who took two tires, and thus came off pit road in 2nd place. Newman then had a better restart than the "leader" (Jeff Gordon) and won the race. Great pit road strategy call? Sure. Well executed restart? Sure. Unsatisfying result? Absolutely. Can't honestly say that I feel Ryan Newman "earned it". Seemed pretty cheap and lucky to me. Yes, pit strategy is part of racing, and I have no problem with somebody who ran 8th all day going to Victory Lane thanks to pit strategy. My main problem is with double-file restarts. In my opinion, the 2nd place car should have to earn it, not be given a free shot at the lead as he is with the current rules.

I'm not big on the whole double-file restart thing. When Driver X passes Driver Y for 5th place halfway through the race, my reaction isn't "well, how about that", it's "whatever, everything's going to be shuffled around again on the next restart, so who cares?". And at some tracks (for example, Bristol, where the outside lane is faster on restarts), it's actually better to restart 4th than it is to restart 3rd. Does that seem right to you? It is my opinion that in racing, positions should be earned, not given. The 2nd place driver should have to earn his way along side of the leader. Drivers having to fight for every position throughout the race makes for good racing. On the other hand...if NASCAR wants to turn their races into 3 hour qualifying sessions followed by a 30 minute race, and if that's what the majority of the fan base wants, who am I to complain?

So...yeah. This weekend, I'm watching hockey instead. (I do plan on watching Formula One, however.)

Sat 3:30p - NASCAR Nationwide at Texas, ESPN2
Sun 3:00a - Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, SPEED
Sun 3:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Texas, FOX
(By the way, I think it's really lame that Texas Motor Speedway was able to classify itself as a "West Coast Venue" even though they're in the Central Time Zone, and thus get a 3:00p ET start time instead of a 1:00p ET start time. Boooo! Now I'm definitely not watching the entire race.)
Sun 3:30p - IndyCar at Long Beach, Versus

MLB - My MLB discussion throughout the season will be almost exclusively about my newly adopted team, the Washington Nationals. I explain why at the end of the next paragraph.

The Nationals had to play six of their first nine games againat the defining National League champions (Philadelphia), and they're 4-5. Not bad! They're not even in last place! As of Friday afternoon, at least, when this was written. I didn't feel like updating this morning after Friday's games were played. That's the problem with baseball: too many games! It's hard to take everything in and really know what's going on unless you really devote yourself to it. This is why I've decided to pay virtually no attention to the other 29 MLB teams. I don't care about baseball enough, and I don't have the brain capacity for it. I have a hard enough time following just one team as it is. I can't possibly watch every pitch of every game, so to really know what's going on with the team, I need to rely on internet blogs more so than actually watching the games.

I have watched bits and pieces of a few Nationals games so far, and here's what I've learned: 1) Ryan Zimmerman is easily their best player; 2) their pitching isn't so good; 3) Adam Dunn is big; and 4) I like their broadcasting team of Bob Carpenter and Rob Dibble. I feel bad for Bob and Rob; they have to sit through every pitch of every game of what is probably going to be a bad season. As for me, I can't really justify watching a Nationals game over pretty much any NHL Playoff game. And therein lies the problem: if I wait until June to start following baseball, the Nationals will probably be out of it by then! Oh well.

While I personally don't care about the other 29 MLB teams, I will still list all FOX, TBS, ESPN, WGN America, MLB Network, and MASN games below:

Sat 1:00p: Milwaukee at Washington, MASN
Sat 4:00p: NY Mets at St. Louis, FOX
Sat 9:00p: Detroit at Seattle, MLB Network
Sun 1:30p: Milwaukee at Washington, MASN
Sun 1:30p: Tampa Bay at Boston, TBS
Sun 2:00p: Houston at Chicago Cubs, WGN America
Sun 4:00p: Baltimore at Oakland, MASN2
Sun 8:00p: NY Mets at St. Louis, ESPN

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Depositing Checks

In the age of debit cards and direct deposit, there really isn't much use for checks anymore. Pretty much the only physical checks I write anymore all go to the Triangle Curling Club. Back when we rented, we also paid the monthly rent via paper check, but now we have house payments, and that can be done electronically. I still haven't used up the initial stash of checks that I started with after I opened my Wachovia account four years ago. The address on my checks is sorely out of date (it still says "Cary"), but that's okay.

Even though our paychecks are direct deposited, we still do get checks every now and then that we have to physically go to the bank and deposit. And each time, I have a choice. Do I deposit the checks at an ATM, via the drive-through teller, or at the counter inside the bank? Hmm...

Well, the ATM is easiest. The bank doesn't have to be open, and you don't need a deposit slip. You do need an envelope, however (at some ATMs), and sometimes the ATM in question is out of envelopes. Then what do you do? You can also only deposit into accounts associated with your debit card, and while it doesn't take long to deposit the check, it takes a while for the check to be processed. (I'm rarely in a position where I absolutely positively must have that money right now, but I know a lot of people are from time to time.) And, there is that peace of mind that comes with giving your checks to a person rather than a machine. What if there's a problem?

Meanwhile, for peace of mind, there's the drive through teller! You don't even have to get out of your car. (I recommend turning off the car while you wait in the drive through line to save gas and to pollute less.) Drive through tellers used to scare me because I didn't really know what to do ("Yeah, uhhh, I need to deposit a couple of checks...umm...yeah...I guess I need a deposit slip or something?"), but I've gotten over that fear, and now I'm okay with using them. For example, I used one yesterday when I deposited a couple of checks for Amber into Amber's account. I couldn't have deposited checks into Amber's account at an ATM.

On that note, let's shift gears and talk about how married couples handle their bank accounts. Before Amber and I got married, we had separate bank accounts - both with Wachovia - and that worked out just fine. We each keep track of our own finances, transfer funds between them when necessary, and all is well. Then, after we got married, we decided not to mess up the system and combine our checking accounts into a single, joint account. We simply added both names to all three accounts (two checking, one savings) so that we could freely transfer funds between the accounts at any time online, all while keeping our personal finances separate. This helps avoid conversations like this:
Disgruntled Husband: "Why the hell did you spend $300 on that thing yesterday? I needed that money for some other thing!"
Disgruntled Wife: "What about all those things you spend money on every week? I never question those! Dammit, husband, it's my money too!"

Money is a leading cause of martial discord, and I think keeping separate accounts helps avoid that. If one of us wants to buy a $300 whatever, and we have the money in our checking account, do it! No argument required. Of course, it's easy for me to say, because both Amber and I have about the same salary. If only one of us had a job, or if one of us made significantly more than the other, then we would have to handle things differently. We're also fairly conservative spenders to begin with, and that helps, too.

To finish up the "where to deposit checks" thread, I think the only time I would go inside the bank just to deposit checks anymore is if the transaction was "complicated" - for example, lots of checks, or multiple deposits into multiple accounts.

Finally, about Wachovia. I was happy with PNC when I was at Penn State, but PNC doesn't make it south of Virginia, so I had to find a new bank when I moved here. The reason I chose Wachovia is because I wanted a large bank without a bad reputation (ahem, Bank of America) that had branches and ATMs in Jacksonville. But if I had known at the time that RBC stood for "Royal Bank of Canada", given my love affair with Canada, you can bet I would have gone there instead. Meanwhile, two years later, we got our home mortgage through Wachovia also, because I figured that would be easiest considering we already had our bank accounts there. Then, a few months later, Wells Fargo bought Wachovia, and they started moving parts of Wachovia over to Wells Fargo one part at a time. As of today, the mortgage division has officially transferred over to Wells Fargo, while our bank accounts themselves are still officially Wachovia. So, for now, it's as if our mortgage is with a completely different bank altogether, which adds a couple of steps to making our monthly payments. Thanks a lot, guys. If only I had known what RBC was when I moved here...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Xbox 360

While I do play video games, I'm hardly a "hardcore gamer". I've been playing the same NASCAR video game on my PC for seven years now, and while I do have a PlayStation 2, the only games I play on it (and am interested in playing long term) are sports games and Guitar Hero/Rock Band type games. That's pretty much it, and that's the main reason why I hadn't moved up to a "next gen" console as of yet. (Secondary reasons: money, lack of spare time especially during curling and kickball season, and because I'm already spending $100/month on television service, meaning any time I spend playing video games is less time getting my money's worth out of my DirecTV subscription.)

Then, two or three weeks ago, after realizing I hadn't turned on the PS2 in two months, I decided I was bored with it. I also had a birthday coming up in a couple of weeks. Hmm...

Well, there you go. Now I have an Xbox 360. (Thanks, Amber!)

Now what? Well, let's go buy some cheap games!

I have a lot of experience with sports games, and here's what I've learned over the years. For one, there is rarely a huge difference between one year's game and the next year's game, but there usually is a huge price difference, so it is almost never worth it to get the latest version of the game. That's why I got "NHL 09" instead of "NHL 10". At GameStop, NHL 09 was $20 used, while NHL 10 was $50 used.

The other thing with sports games is that it's kind of hard to avoid EA Sports. I'm not a big fan of Electronic Arts (I'll save that for another day), but the problem is, with most of their sports games, they either have an exclusive licensing agreement with the league (boo) or have no competition. Hockey is actually one of the few sports for which EA actually does have a competitor, and the general consensus is that NHL 09 and 10 are far superior to their 2K Sports counterparts. Meanwhile, with NCAA Football, there is no competition. So be it - if you want to play video game college football, you're stuck with EA Sports.

NHL 09 was the first game I bought because I think hockey translates better to video games than most other sports. One option NHL 09 gives you is the ability to use the simple control scheme from NHL 94: two buttons. On offense, you can either shoot or pass. On defense, you can either switch players, or hit someone. That's really all you need, right? Simplicity makes for a good game. And, it's fun! Going back to the days when I played NHL 2002 on my college roommate's computer (that would be you, Erik), I've played over 1,000 games of video game hockey. (Yes, I've kept track. Surprised? My video game hockey history goes back much longer than that, but 2002 was when I started keeping track.) Unfortunately, the computerized fans in NHL 09 still chant "Let's Go Hurricanes" rather than "Let's Go Canes", and that bothers me. Meanwhile, just to name a couple of examples, EA has had "Let's Go Buffalo" and "Go Leafs Go" in the game for years. Such is the plight fans of southern hockey teams often face.

Meanwhile, I haven't had a chance to play the football game all that much yet, but I did want to know what the Bowling Green football stadium looked like in the game, since I have actually been there. You know the game's renditions of Doak Campbell Stadium and Beaver Stadium are going to be nearly 100% accurate. But what about Bowling Green's stadium?

Needless to say, that is waaaay too big to be Bowling Green's stadium. I know nobody cares about Bowling Green, and I understand why getting Doyt L. Perry stadium right isn't one of their top priorities...but what gets me is that in NCAA Football 07 for the PS2, the Bowling Green stadium rendition is accurate! Why didn't this carry over into the Xbox 360 version of the game? Surely, the Xbox 2009 version should have everything that the lowly PS2 2007 version had, right? This goes back to my love/hate relationship with EA Sports. Excluding the Madden series (which is very important for the prestige of the company), their effort and attention to detail is, shall we say, selective. NHL 09 is a lot of fun, though, and for that we can thank the NHL for not offering EA Sports an exclusive licensing agreement, and also 2K Sports for providing viable competition.

So, anyway...enough about Electronic Arts. Why did I ask for an Xbox 360 for my birthday instead of a PlayStation 3 or a Wii? First off, a PS3 was completely out of the question - everything I've heard suggests that it's inferior to the Xbox 360, and it's more expensive, too. As for the Wii, there are four reasons I chose the Xbox 360 over the Wii: 1) the Wii does not support high definition; 2) most sports games are designed more for the Xbox 360 than they are for the Wii (NHL 09 isn't even available on the Wii); 3) the Wii is more fun for multiplayer gaming than single player gaming; and 4) because while things like the Wii Fit are really cool, I think I'd get bored with the Wii quickly once the initial curiosity wore off.

Moving forward, I've learned early on that to get the most out of my Xbox 360, I should connect it to the internet. Internet connectivity adds a whole new dimension to what I can do with the Xbox, from multiplayer to downloadable content, just to start. Unfortunately, there are some hurdles to jump on that front. Our house is not wireless, and the internet connection is on the other side of the house. So, here are our options: 1) get a really long ethernet cable (100 feet, or if that's not long enough, 250 feet) and stretch it the length of the house; 2) call Time Warner Cable and ask them to create another cable outlet closer to the television; 3) make my house wireless internet capable and get a wireless adapter for the Xbox. Amber may not like solution #1 (it'll result in a house eyesore), solution #2 will be more expensive (I'm assuming TWC will charge us for the additional outlet, installation, and the additional cable modem we'd need), and solution #3 would be even more expensive than that. However, a stop-gap could be solution #4: temporarily move the Xbox 360 to the side of the house with internet, temporarily hook it up to one of my older standard def TVs, get whatever downloadable content I want, and then move the Xbox back to the HD set. That'll be the short term fix so that I can get things like updated rosters. (If anyone out there has any other solutions I haven't thought of, I'm all ears. Or, since this is an internet blog, all eyes.)

So while I do have the Xbox 360 in hand, I'm far from getting everything completely set up yet. But that's okay, because I've got five years to go.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Curling Recap: 4/9-4/11/10

I curled with the Triangle Curling Club twice last weekend: once as a sub in the Friday league, and once with my regular Sunday League team. I'm going to talk about the Sunday game more because, well, here's how the Friday game went:

End............ 1234567 |TTL
K. Jackson..... 1111232 | 11
Jaun........... 0000000 | 00

(I played Vice for Team Jaun.)

Yes...that's a shutout. Think of it this way: the other team never had last rock the entire game. They never needed it.

This is the 3rd time I've been involved in a shutout in my curling career: one for, two against. Thing is, though, the one shutout for was a short four-end game, and the other shutout against was my first ever out-of-town game against a far superior team. This one...I don't really have a good excuse. What usually happens in games like this is that the game starts off close. The eventual winner catches a couple of breaks early (a kinda lucky shot in the 2nd end to keep us from scoring two, and a measurement that went against is in the 4th). Then, it kind of gets out of hand as the trailing team does everything they can to mount a comeback. Or something. Really, though, we had a hard time reading the ice, and we were just outplayed. I had some good shots, but the other team had better shots. It happens. It would have been nice to score at least one, though.

Also note that Amber sat this one out; she stayed home to rest up for a 10-mile race early the next morning (which she finished!). Amber was back on Sunday, though:

End......... 1234567 |TTL
Allen....... 010321i | 07
Cornel...... 101000i | 02

This match comes complete with player shot percentages! Now, I can't possibly keep player shot percentages while I'm playing - I have more important things to worry about, like zamboni lines - but Cliff Gray (who is on Injured Reserve with a non-curling injury) volunteered to keep the shot percentages for our game, in roughly the same manner that I did for a different game the week before. Thanks, Cliff!

Before I get to the numbers, first, a couple of notes. The game I scored the previous week was on notorious "Sheet 1", which is, shall we say, a bit off. And that makes shot making, shall we say, difficult. In other words, last week's shot percentages (almost all of which were in the 10 to 20% range) weren't all that great, through no fault of the curlers. Sunday's game was on the much more preferable "Sheet 2", which means we could actually throw some take-outs! Yay! Once I noticed how easy it was to get a stone to follow the center zamboni line, I called lots of take-outs, and my team executed on many of them. Same goes for the other team.

Unlike last week, I am going to attach names to the shot percentages, but I'm going to withhold last names for everybody except the skips and, of course, Amber:

--Team Allen--
Tabby V. (Lead): 40% (35% on 12 draws, 100% on 1 take-out)
Justin V. (Second): 46% (34% on 8 draws, 65% on 5 take-outs)
Amber Allen (Vice): 44% (36% on 9 draws, 63% on 4 take-outs)
Chris Allen (Skip): 25% (23% on 10 draws, 38% on 2 take-outs)
Team total: 39% (32% on 39 draws, 63% on 12 take-outs)

--Team Cornel--
Dan C. (Lead): 25% (20% on 16 draws, 88% on 2 take-outs)
Michael G. (Second): 43% (42% on 13 draws, 45% on 5 take-outs)
Tom S. (Vice): 13% (19% on 4 draws, 0% on 2 take-outs)*
Sarah Cornel (Skip): 21% (21% on 12 draws, N/A on 0 take-outs)
Team total: 30% (27% on 45 draws, 44% on 9 take-outs)

Game total: 34% (29% on 84 draws, 55% on 21 take-outs)

(* - Tom had to leave halfway through the game, and the shot-making was much more precise in the second half of the game once everyone figured it out, so if Tom had stuck around, his percentage would have probably been higher. This is also why Dan and Michael had more shots than everyone else.)

See what a difference a good sheet of ice will make? In the game I scored last week, the game-wide take-out percentage was 6%. Sunday, it was 55%. As for me, I was actually curling 0% after the 4th end, but I pulled it together to at least come home with a respectable percentage. The fact that we had a 4-2 lead before I even made a single shot says something about the rest of the team. I think the percentages tell the story: my team's pretty good. Thanks for holding us up, guys! (Side note: our lead, Tabby, was on the opposing team on Friday. Maybe that's why we lost by 11?)

Finally, I'm going to present to you the best curling shot ever made by Amber or me. Here's the setup: (our team = red)

The front yellow rock was on the "everything seems to be tracking along this line" zamboni line, so I called a take-out for Amber. Here is Amber's shot:

A double take-out, and the shooter stayed in the house! An outstanding shot that completely changed the end, and it couldn't have been more perfect. I can't remember either Amber or me making a better shot in our brief curling careers. I know I've never made a double take-out before. When I lined up the shot for Amber, I knew the double was possibility if we hit the front stone at just the right angle (we got close on one of Justin's shots earlier in the end), but Amber hit it at the perfect angle. Yes, this kind of shot happens all the time in the Olympics, but not on our ice.

Both Amber and me are also subbing in the Friday league, so it'll be another curling doubleheader this weekend. Actually, this week will be the second of four consecutive weeks with two or more games on our schedule. Good times. I think I kind of like this curling thing. Have you noticed?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sports Saturday: 4/10/10

College basketball season is over, what? Well, let's start here:

Major League Baseball - My interest in professional baseball has been basically zero the last couple of years, but I decided to try to get back into it this year.

Here's the thing with baseball, though: it's boring. I can't just turn on a random game and be entertained. I need a team. Up until now, that team has been the Florida Marlins, and they've served that role just fine...problem is, they're never on television. And if I can't watch my team play, what's the point? Sure, I could plunk down $200 for MLB Extra Innings, but geez, I don't like the Marlins that much. I've only been a Marlins fan for a few years (my fandom isn't rooted in childhood), nobody else in my family is a Marlins fan, none of my friends root for the Marlins, and even though I am a Florida native, I don't consider the Marlins a "hometown team". (South Florida is a completely different animal than North Florida. Jacksonville is closer to Atlanta than it is Miami, both geographically and socially.) In other words, other than that Marlins poster on my bedroom wall, I feel no obligation or interest in maintaining my status as a Marlins fan. So, I've decided to switch teams. Yeah, I know...LAME.

Who's my new favorite baseball team going to be? Well, I'm going to make this easy on myself. I have two simple guidelines: 1) the team needs to be on television a lot without having to spend $200 for Extra Innings, and 2) no "bandwagon" teams. A "bandwagon" team is a team with a strong national following (e.g. Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, Braves, and so on) and/or a recent period of sustained success (e.g. Phillies, Angels). Joining a "bandwagon" team without a legitimate that would be lame. That said, I basically have two options: the Baltimore Orioles, and the Washington Nationals. I've chosen the Nationals, for two reasons: 1) so I don't have to watch 40 games against the Yankees and Red Sox every year, and 2) because they were the worst team in baseball last year. You cannot accuse me of being a "bandwagon" fan. Lame? Yes. Bandwagon? No.

(Side comment regarding television: Durham is geographically closer to Washington and Baltimore than it is Atlanta, so MLB has designated the eastern half of North Carolina as Orioles/Nationals territory, not Braves territory. Here is a map of MLB broadcast regions. Orioles and Nationals games are available to me on MASN, a channel that is available on DirecTV and DISH Network, but that Time Warner Cable refuses to carry in North Carolina because it's not "local programming".)

"So, Chris...I can see where this is going. How soon before you switch your NFL allegiance from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Carolina Panthers?" NEVER! The Jaguars are a different deal. Unlike the Marlins, the Jaguars are a hometown team that I've rooted for since the team started, and my family and friends are fans as well, so unlike with the Marlins, there is definitely a Jaguars attachment. Even if they draft Tim Tebow, I'll be there. Of course, if they ever move to Los Angeles or something, I probably would switch to the Panthers...but until that happens, Let's Go Jaguars!

So...yeah! Let's go Nationals! Woo! Yes, they stink. But if the Tampa Bay Rays can make it to the World Series, then surely, there is hope for the Nationals. I don't know how long I'm going to stick with this, but it's worth a shot.

I'm going to include the following games on the MLB TV schedule each week: locally televised Nationals/Orioles games on MASN, nationally televised games on ESPN, TBS, WGN, and MLB Network, and whichever Saturday regional game we get on FOX. (UPDATE: whoops, forgot to put the WGN games on here the first time.)

Sat 1:00p: Washington at NY Mets, MASN
Sat 1:00p: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati, WGN America
Sat 3:00p: NY Yankees at Tampa Bay, FOX
Sat 7:00p: Toronto at Baltimore, MASN
Sat 9:00p: Oakland at LA Angels, MLB Network
Sun 1:00p: Washington at NY Mets, MASN
Sun 1:30p: Toronto at Baltimore, MASN2
Sun 1:30p: NY Yankees at Tampa Bay, TBS
Sun 2:00p: Minnesota at Chicago White Sox, WGN America
Sun 8:00p: St. Louis at Milwaukee, ESPN

Golf - I watch five and a half golf events a year: the four majors, The PLAYERS Championship, and the Ryder Cup (which happens every other year). This week, the first major: The Masters.

I have to admit, the sappy CBS Masters music and cinematography, and the "Tradition Unlike Any Other" business...they do it well. It's definitely a draw for me. I don't know what it is. I also know that my interest in the Masters is deeper than just one player. (That one player shall remain nameless, but I'll still offer a take: I don't care about his personal life, and it's not like he was gone that long. He wasn't even out of the game for five months, people! In other sports, we call that "the offseason". Get over it, already.)

Golf is hard. Even the best players in the world screw up every now and then, and that's what makes it fun to watch every once in a while. That, and the pressure: oh man, the pressure. Golfers face more pressure than any other athletes, in my opinion, even more so than a field goal kicker. The tension and mental pressure golfers face as they walk up the fairway is unmatched in sports. Golf is a lot harder than kicking a 40-yard field goal, and that means that anything can happen. Yeah, it's slow and boring, and you have to listen to Jim Nantz (again), but what else are you going to watch this weekend? Baseball? NASCAR? Is golf really that much more boring than either of those two sports?

Sat 3:30p - The Masters Tournament, CBS
Sun 2:00p - The Masters Tournament, CBS
(Yes, I decided to get all elitist on you and call it the "Masters Tournament" rather than just the "Masters".)

College hockey - The national championship game has the potential to be one of the most exciting hockey games you watch all year. I'm not talking Canada v. USA for the gold medal exciting, but still...if you're a hockey fan, it's worth turning it on, at least in the 3rd period, to see what's brewing.

Sat 7:00p - Wisconsin v. Miami (OH) Boston College, ESPN (Corrected - for some reason I thought Miami (OH) won the semifinal against BC, but nope. Not even close.)

NHL - The regular season ends this weekend, and it's about time. I'm ready for the playoffs.

Just like last week, to provide clarity regarding which of this weekend's games are "meaningful" and which aren't, I've crossed out games involving two teams that are either eliminated from playoff contention or have clinched or nearly clinched a particular playoff seed. Surprisingly, this only affects a few games.

Sat 1:00p: Carolina at Boston, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 4:00p: Edmonton at Los Angeles, Fox Sports West
Sat 7:00p: Buffalo at Ottawa, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p: Toronto at Montréal, NHL Center Ice
Sat 7:00p: NY Islanders at New Jersey, MSG
Sat 7:00p: Pittsburgh at Atlanta, SportSouth
Sat 7:30p: Florida at Tampa Bay, Fox Sports Florida
(Hide the children!)
Sat 8:00p: Dallas at Minnesota, Fox Sports North
Sat 10:00p - Calgary at Vancouver, NHL Center Ice

Sat 10:30p - Phoenix at San Jose, NHL Network
Sun 12:00p - Boston at Washington, NBC
Sun 3:00p - NY Rangers at Philadelphia, MSG
Sun 3:00p - Detroit at Chicago, Fox Sports Detroit
Sun 3:00p - Los Angeles at Colorado, Fox Sports West
Sun 5:00p - Buffalo at New Jersey, MSG Plus
Sun 5:00p - Pittsburgh at NY Islanders, NHL Network
Sun 5:00p - Tampa Bay at Florida, Fox Sports Florida
(Again? Seriously?)

Sun 8:00p - Edmonton at Anaheim, Prime Ticket

Auto racing - Don't have much to say on the racing front this weekend. Maybe next week?

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Phoenix, FOX
Sun 3:00p - IndyCar at Barber Motorsports Park (Birmingham), Versus

Friday, April 09, 2010

Too Much Map

I have a Garmin GPS (named "Jill"), and I love it. So much so, that about a year ago, I purchased Garmin's Lifetime Map Update package, providing me with unlimited map updates for the life of the device. Sounds great, right? Well, unfortunately, each map update takes up more disk space than the last, and I have now reached the point where the map updates are now too big for Jill's hard drive. This means Jill can no longer have all of the United States and Canada loaded at once.

Come on, Garmin...what gives? It's not like my GPS is old. It was purchased in December 2007, making it less than two and a half years old. Is it outdated already? I think five years should be a minimum for this sort of thing. We're not already halfway there, and now, Garmin has already cleverly rendered my device obsolete. Garmin makes the best GPS systems, but sheesh...they don't make it easy on you. I guess you can get away with a lot of crap when you're #1.

Now...I do have a couple of options. For one, I could apparently get an SD memory card that's 2GB or larger and install the map on the memory card rather than Jill's internal hard drive. However, I already have a 4GB SD memory card, and I can't get Jill to recognize its existence when I insert it. (Yes, it is the correct size. For Christmas, James gave me a smaller memory card for my phone. Also included in the pack was a larger SD card that, at least in theory, should work with Jill.) If I can ever get the memory card to work, then that's one option.

Another option is to only install part of North America on Jill. Options include all US states except Alaska, all of Canada plus US border states, the eastern half of the continent, and the western half of the continent. Thing is, though...we're making this trip to Alaska in 11 weeks. Do any of the Garmin map installer's options include North Carolina, Alaska, and everything in between? Nope! Considering that the map update is just barely too large, I don't know why it won't let me select a custom area to install. For example, I'm sure that if I removed California, Oregon, Arizona, and Nevada (four states I'm not visiting any time soon) from the install, that it would fit. But does it let me do that? Nope.

There is a program called Garmin MapSource that might let me edit out certain states or areas to reduce the size of the maps, but I've yet to investigate that option. It's either that, get the memory card to work, or postpone the next map update until after the Alaska trip and only install the eastern half of the continent, since we probably won't make it out to the West Coast again for a while. My current maps are from last September, and that's probably good enough for the Alaska trip, especially considering where we're going. At least, I'm assuming they aren't opening a brand new four lane superhighway in the Yukon this year.

UPDATE 12:47 PM: I found a short term fix that at least got me through this update: I freed up some space by removing the Spanish and French language voices (Paulina and Julie, respectively) from the GPS. But will that be enough for the next map update? Probably not.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Random Thoughts on 'Lost' and '24': 4/8/10

Adhering to the arbitrary four week interval, it's time to talk about "Lost" and "24" again. Yay! We're all caught up on the DVR now, and that means ***SPOILER ALERT!!!***

Unlike earlier in the season, I think "24" has had the upper hand over "Lost" as of late. "Lost" is stalling, but "24" has recently returned the kind of "edge of your seat action" that has made the show so great over the years.


My theory about Desmond being dead in the alternate timeline ended up being completely false, but was worth a shot.

Where this alternate timeline fits in with the primary timeline is the biggest mystery remaining, and this week's Desmond episode finally provided some kind of link between the two. Prior to that, the alternate timeline storylines were, I thought, completely useless. The Sawyer and Sun/Jin alternate timeline stories, for example, were boring and added absolutely nothing to the episodes, I thought. Early in the series - you know, back in the "flashback" days - the flashbacks were mostly interesting, because they showed where the characters came from, what motivates them, and the events in the flashbacks often correlated directly with whatever was happening on the island at that time. This season's "sideways flashes", however...up until the Desmond episode, I didn't find any of them particularly interesting. (The history of Richard Alpert episode was interesting, but that was a flashback, not an alternate timeline sort of deal.) Part of the problem is that we don't yet know where this alternate timeline fits in with everything, and probably won't know for sure until the very end of the series. If we don't know what the point of these alternate timelines is, and the storylines contained within aren't all that interesting, then what's the point? Yeah, so, Sawyer's a cop, and Sun and Jin aren't married yet. Whoopee. Who cares? Until we see the link between the two storylines, I can only hope that we see Desmond in the other characters' sideways flashes from here on out as he attempts to "show them something". Otherwise, I don't see anything interesting happening in the alternate timeline. (Side comment: The Desmond episodes really are out there, aren't they?)

Meanwhile, back on the island...nothing is happening, really. The Smoke Monster Temple Massacre was five weeks ago; since then, really the only noteworthy thing that's happened is that Charles Widmore's group showed up. The Jack/Hurley/Ilana group has just been hanging out on the beach the whole time. Apparently Richard has a plan now, but what is it? They're still working on it, I guess. The Man In Black hasn't really done anything of note in the last five weeks, either. What's his plan? Seems he's still "gathering intelligence" and/or making threats, and that's it. The Charles Widmore group has only been setting things up; we still have no idea what they're trying to do. I have found the last five weeks of the show to actually be kind of boring. Seems like the writers didn't come prepared with enough interesting storylines to sustain an 18-hour season. We're now 11 hours into the 18-hour final season, and I don't know about you, but I expected to be a bit farther along at this point. They obviously have something big planned for the end, but until then, they're stalling. Well, time's running out, guys - let's get going already!


(Disclaimer: As of now, I've only watched the first 30 minutes of this week's two hour episode.)

As reported by many, this is officially the final season of "24". But I said earlier...don't expect a super duper mega awesome conclusion. I'm not even sure whether or not the "final cancellation" decision was made before or after the series finale was written. Either way, they're planning on doing a movie, so you know Jack Bauer will survive. I think that's unfortunate. Not knowing Jack's fate going into the final hour of the series would have added immeasurable intrigue. I'd rather this season be absolutely, positively, it. No movies! No holding back!

I have to think that the writers knew that this was probably it, though, so I'm hoping that this season is as completely over the top as possible. That means, of course, maximum death, destruction, and chaos. But you see, here's the thing with this show. If they were going to, let's say, detonate a deadly bomb in New York on this show, it would happen at the end of an episode, not at the beginning of an episode. Because of that, I knew that bomb wasn't going to go off, while there was a chance that President Hassan wouldn't survive the last episode. It's all about the timing. Speaking of which...the 15-minute counter was started at 5:59 AM at the end of the previous episode. Where did those extra four minutes go? If you're going to keep flashing that clock on the screen, then you better try to keep temporal continuity, especially considering that temporal continuity is the main gimmick of the series! The writers have really gotten lazy in that regard. People move from one section of the city to another in the blink of an eye, we instantly transition from full darkness (5:59 AM) to full daylight (6:01 AM), and we've pretty much lost the sense that this is actually supposed to be happening in real time. Maybe they think that this deep into the series - we're in Season 8 now - nobody is paying attention to temporal realism anymore? Well, you're wrong! We're still paying attention. Without temporal realism holding the show together, you start noticing how ridiculous this show is in general, whether it be Jack's miraculous ability to overcome personal injury, or...well...pretty much everything that happens at CTU.

That said...the last few weeks have been very entertaining. Things are happening, Jack is at the lead of the anti-terrorist operation, Renee Walker isn't crying every half hour, and most importantly, the terrorists are getting their way every now and then. I've always said that this show is most interesting when the terrorists win. The show has maintained a good balance of giving the terrorists a victory every now and then, ever since they killed Jack's wife at the end of Season One, and continuing into this season. That's important, because it maintains a little bit of unpredictability - at least, if you ignore the stipulation that every major terrorist victory always happens in the last 10 minutes of an episode. That said, I have a feeling that Hassan's death is the last major victory the terrorists will get this season. I want to be optimistic, but the last third of each season of "24" is often the least compelling part of the season. Maybe it'll be different this time around because "this is it"? Let's hope so.

Meanwhile, I'm happy to see that Dana Walsh - by far, this season's most annoying character - was revealed as a mole. Back when she was dealing with her old boyfriend and the probation officer, I wasn't sure if Dana was supposed to be a "good guy" or "bad guy". She's working for CTU, so she's supposed to be a "good guy", right? If so, she was the worst "good guy" ever. At least now she's a villain. She's a decnt villain, but she was a terrible protagonist. I can't possibly relate to her "problems" and the terrible decisions she's made. We were supposed to? I have no idea. I just wish her treason was revealed sooner. That would have made her storylines far more interesting at the time. She would have already been established as the villain, instead of just some random annoying CTU employee whose side story I don't couldn't give two craps about. I have to wonder if the decision to make Walsh a villain was made late in the game, after the writers realized what an awful character she was.

I'll probably have one more "Lost/24" post sometime between now and the series finales, which will both be two hours long, and on back to back nights, at that. The "Lost" finale is Sunday, May 23rd, and the "24" finale is the very next day. That will be a fun two nights, don't you think?