Tuesday, August 31, 2010

FiOS

I have two choices for internet: DSL and cable. Some people have a third choice: FiOS. If you have FiOS in your neighborhood, then, well, you suck.

What's wrong with DSL and cable internet? Through personal experience, DSL is far inferior to cable internet, in terms of speed, reliability, and lightning strikes. So, DSL is out. Even though cable internet is technologically better (which is why we currently have it), our cable provider is Time Warner, and I don't like them. As unpopular as Comcast is, I'd trade Time Warner for Comcast in a heartbeat. My monthly internet bill has gone up by 9% each of the last two years ($35 to $38 to $41), and I even started with the normal rate, not one of those introductory first 12 months rates. Time Warner also does not provide access to ESPN3, which really bugs me. I would switch to DSL in a heartbeat if it weren't inferior in every other way. In summary: I'm not happy with either of my internet choices.

So, what is this FiOS thing? I admit I don't know much about it, and it's definitely more expensive than what I have now. But I think it'd be worth it. It's much faster than even cable internet, everyone who has it loves it, and best of all, it's not through the cable company! Although I am a very happy DirecTV customer and would only like to switch my internet provider, you can get both TV and internet through FiOS, if you want.

But here's the bad news: FiOS isn't available here, or anywhere else in North Carolina, for that matter. I would get my FiOS service through Frontier Communications, who is also the home phone and DSL provider in my area. (Until recently, it was Verizon, but Verizon shipped all of its North Carolina customers off to Frontier over the summer.) I'd love to be a Frontier customer...but only for FiOS. It might be a different story if Time Warner keeps imposing ridiculous rate increases, but I'd rather not go back to DSL. FiOS would give me the best of both worlds: superior technology, and a provider with which I actually want to do business. I want FiOS!

So...when is North Carolina supposed to get FiOS, anyway? Nobody knows. I can't find any answers online, which almost certainly means it won't happen any time soon. Pout.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Encore


Yeah, it's blurry (my phone doesn't take good pictures at night), but this is the band "The Mountain Goats" performing in Durham last weekend. I'm not going to talk about them so much. Instead, I'm going to talk about this business bands always do at the end of the show. The headlining band says "good night", the crowd expresses via chant their desire for the band to play another song or two, then the band comes back out and does just that.

Isn't this silly? Why don't they just play those extra songs to begin with and not waste everyone's time? Maybe they could communicate near the end of the show something to the effect of, "Consider these next two songs to be the 'encore'." That way, they don't have to go back offstage, only to then come back on stage later. Or is it too cocky to assume the crowd wants the encore at all? It's a pretty safe bet, considering that the crowd is there specifically to see you. Rock concerts are pretty cocky anyway, which is fine, because I think you have to be a little arrogant to put on a good show.

Or is the encore just part of the experience? Will a segment of the audience feel cheated if the band makes an announcement to the effect of "consider these next two songs to be the 'encore'", because it just isn't the same as getting a "real" encore? I don't feel that way; I think the encore is dumb. By the time the encore comes around, I've usually heard enough of the band in question.

Then again, I haven't been to many rock concerts in my life (I can only think of five or six), so maybe I just don't get it. I'm also very old by live music standards. That's the main reason why we don't do this all that often.

Poker: The Return

It's been a while since I talked about poker here - December 16, 2006. Back then, my life was much different: Amber was still at Penn State, I lived alone in a Raleigh (Cary) apartment, and I didn't really know anybody here. In an effort to have some kind of social interaction each week (this was before I joined the Triangle Curling Club), I played free bar poker once or twice a week. But I gave that up once I decided I didn't feel like it anymore.

Fast-forward to a few nights ago, when fellow curler, kickballer, and "road enthusiast" told me he was having a poker night at his place. Sign me up! After all, one of the reasons I quit the bar poker scene is because I decided poker is more fun with friends than with strangers. Poker is a pretty non-active activity, especially when you play like I do and fold immediately most of the time (hence the ironic nickname "Action Allen" - for those of you who have always wondered about the web address, there's your answer). Really, poker is just an excuse to get a bunch of people together, socialize, and drink beer.

So...do I remember how to play? I wasn't sure, so I watched two World Series of Poker episodes on ESPN this week. I learned a couple of things: 1) the ESPN poker announcers are even more annoying now than they were four years ago; and 2) I could still do this. It all came back pretty quickly, but I'd rather be over-prepared instead of under-prepared, because I didn't know how serious the other players at poker night would be. Turns out, it was a good mix of knowledgeable players and the didn't-realize-they-had-a-straight-flush types.

How'd I do? Well, poker stories are boring, so I'll keep this short: I finished 5th/11 in the first game, and 1st/7 in the consolation game, so I netted $50 on the evening. I played well, which is what almost always happens after a long layoff, whether it's poker, curling, disc golf, or whatever. I won't give myself too much credit, though, because poker is just probability and gambling.

But I think I gave the impression that I really knew what I was doing, which...that might actually scare some people away next time. It would have been better for the long term prospects of poker night if the more inexperienced players took home the money at first, don't you think?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sports Saturday: 8/28/10

In today's issue:

College football: The beginning of college football season! Well, almost.
NFL: I think I've had my fill of preseason.
Auto racing: I think I have a new favorite NASCAR driver, and he's not even racing again until next year.

College football: The 2010 college football season doesn't start until next weekend, but we'll be out of town, so let's kick off the season this week! Yeah!

Now...if you may think that I'd be posting some kind of "preview" or something, you'd be wrong. I have no idea how good Florida State or Penn State (or anyone else, for that matter) is going to be good this year. I haven't looked at a single set of preseason rankings. I don't even know who Penn State's starting quarterback is this year. I just like to watch the games. I think it'll be more fun going into the season knowing absolutely nothing about even my favorite teams. Zero expectations! Everything will be a surprise! I'll be absolutely terrible at my Dirty Dawg picks this year, but that's okay.

But really, here's the best thing about this season of college football: NO MORE TEBOW!!! Unfortunately, I'm sure Tebow's name is sure to come up during many a college football broadcast this year. Here's a fun drinking game: every time Tim Tebow's name is mentioned during a college football broadcast this year, go bang your head against the wall.

Unlike past years when I list every Division I Bowl Subdivision game on television, this year, to reflect my slightly decreased interest in college football (countered by my purchase of NFL Sunday Ticket), I'm only going to list the following games (which are also the only games I'm going to pay attention to):
- Any game featuring a team from the ACC or Big Ten
- 1/3 to 1/2 of the games featuring SEC and Big East teams (depending on personal interest), including all South Florida games
- Any game with Notre Dame (for Amber and her dad), Utah or Bowling Green (two teams I mildly follow just for the heck of it), or Nebraska (a future Big Ten team).

And since I'm doing this a week early, I'm going to list games that fit my criteria for the entire weekend, starting on Thursday. Woo! (Note: I'm just getting my schedules from this site, so if you want a more complete list of games, go there.)

Thu 9/2 7:30p - Marshall at Ohio State, Big Ten Network (regional) (Big Ten football on a Thursday??? Blasphemy!)
Thu 9/2 7:30p - Towson at Indiana, Big Ten Network (regional) (Note: just because a game is listed doesn't mean I care about it. But I did say "all Big Ten games would be listed".)
Thu 9/2 7:30p - Southern Miss at South Carolina, ESPN (Only makes the list because it's basically the season premiere.)
Thu 9/2 8:30p - Pittsburgh at Utah, Versus (Woo! I get to watch college football on Versus this year!)
Sat 9/4 12:00p - Samford at Florida State, ESPNU
Sat 9/4 12:00p - Youngstown State at Penn State, Big Ten Network (I'm happy that both FSU and PSU scheduled seemingly crappy opponents for the first game of the season, since I won't be able to watch them anyway. Besides, both teams have HUGE games the following weekend, so these games? Meh.)
Sat 9/4 12:00p - Western Michigan at Michigan State, ESPN2
Sat 9/4 12:00p - Eastern Illinois at Iowa, Big Ten Network (regional)
Sat 9/4 12:30p - Illinois v. Missouri, FSN
Sat 9/4 3:30p - Purdue at Notre Dame, NBC
Sat 9/4 3:30p - North Texas at Clemson, ESPNU
Sat 9/4 3:30p - Connecticut at Michigan, ABC or ESPN2 (program guide doesn't say which will be which in our area yet)
Sat 9/4 8:00p - LSU v. North Carolina, ABC (UNC's football team has been making a lot of headlines lately, for all the wrong reasons. I haven't really been following along, but apparently, they have some kind of academic scandal brewing or something. A few players may not be able to play this season. Good luck against LSU, guys!)
Sat 9/4 11:00p - Wisconsin at UNLV, Versus
Mon 9/6 4:00p - Maryland v. Navy, ESPN
Mon 9/6 8:00p - Boise State v. Virginia Tech, ESPN (I'm looking forward to this game.)

NFL: I've been trying to watch some preseason games, but I can't get into it. They're just too meaningless. Besides, I'll be watching plenty of pro football once the season starts.

(NOTE: Only live game broadcasts are listed, not the many NFL Network replays.)
Sat 5:00p - Cleveland at Detroit, NFL Network
Sat 8:00p - Dallas at Houston, CBS
Sun 8:00p - Pittsburgh at Denver, FOX

Auto racing: A couple of years ago, Amber developed a blood clot in her leg, was hospitalized for a week, was diagnosed with May-Thurner syndrome, had to take blood thinners every day for 18 months (I think?), will have to take blood thinners again if/when (hopefully when) she gets pregnant, and still has to wear a compression sock on her left foot. So, when NASCAR driver Brian Vickers was hospitalized for a blood clot of his own three months ago and would have to sit out the rest of the 2010 Sprint Cup season, I could totally relate. (Doctors won't let you race while on blood thinners due to the extreme risk of internal bleeding after a violent crash.)

Then, just last week, Vickers announced that he, too, had been diagnosed with May-Thurner syndrome. Hey! I know what that is. My wife has it, too! May-Thurner is pretty rare, so the fact that a successful NASCAR driver has the same rare medical disorder as my wife...well, it's not "cool". I obviously wouldn't wish this on anyone. But it does help to know that a famous NASCAR driver who is about the same age is just as likely as my wife to have an obscure medical condition. (Amber's leg clotted at 25 years, 11 months, while Brian's clot developed at 26 years, 7 months.) In a way, it kind of legitimizes everything that Amber has had to go through. No longer are blood clots, compression socks, and anticoagulants just for old people!

Amber and Brian have exhibited different symptoms, though. While Amber's clot never left her leg, Brian Vickers's blood clots left his leg and traveled into his lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism; and later through a hole in his heart into and into one of his fingers, requiring surgery. While Amber's life was never really in danger, Brian's blood clots could have killed him. On the other hand, at least Brian doesn't have to worry about getting pregnant.

While all May-Thurner cases are not created equal, I still feel for the guy. Vickers says he'll be off blood thinners in January - that sounds optimistic based on Amber's case, but again, all May-Thurner cases are not created equal. Either way, I hope he's cleared to race at Daytona next February, and if he is, I'll be pulling for him. I wish him nothing but the best.

Sat 8:00p - IndyCar from Chicagoland, Versus
Sun 8:00a - Formula One Belgian Grand Prix, SPEED (one of my favorite F1 tracks!)
Sun 2:30p - NASCAR Nationwide from Montréal, ESPN2

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Corn on the Cob

How do you eat corn on the cob? I've never really put much thought into it, but I don't think I do it like most people.

Amber, along with many other people (according to a limited amount of internet research), do it "typewriter style". Pick a row, start on the left, go all the way across to the right end of the cob, then turn and start again from the left. But that's not how I do it. Instead, I start on the left, and then rotate the cob after each bite. I don't move down the cob to the right until all kernels on the left end of the cob have been eaten. I like to gradually work my way down from left to right, rather than going from left to right and back again several times throughout my corn on the cob eating experience.

Why do I do it that way? I don't know, because I've never put any thought into it. It's just what I do. I also don't know which is more efficient. But I like my method. You can keep "typewriter style" to yourselves.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

NHL 94

I don't have too many inspired blog post topics waiting in the pipeline right now, so let's take a little trip down video game memory lane!

While many of you likely spent your adolescent years playing Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario Kart, or some other Super Mario game, I did not. Instead, I was too busy playing games like this one:


That's the game commonly known as "NHL 94". The version I played - the PC version - was simply called "NHL Hockey", but it's basically the same thing (apparently), and I'll be calling it "NHL 94" in this post since that's the more common name for it. NHL 94 is commonly considered to be one of the best sports video games of all time. Of course, I didn't know that at the time; I just thought the game was a lot fun. So much so, that last weekend - which was a rather boring weekend, I should note - I decided I wanted to play it again, or old time's sake. I found a downloadable copy here and a DOS emulator here, and before you knew it, I was reliving the glory days of the Hartford Whalers and Winnipeg Jets. Yeah!


We all get that nostalgic feeling once in a while, right? In this case, I wanted to back in time to when a tie was just a tie, there was still such a thing as a two-line pass, there were eight Canadian NHL teams instead of six, and the Buffalo Sabres logo didn't look like a slug. Those were the days... Well, sort of. There's a lot to like about the current state of hockey, too. I like having NHL teams in North Carolina and Florida, I never really cared for the two-line pass, and I think a shootout is necessary evil, if nothing else because most people don't want to pay $75 to go to a sporting event only for it to end in a tie. But the Buffalo Sabres logo still looks like a slug, and that's unfortunate.

Playing NHL 94 again after so many years allowed me to gain a new perspective on what made it popular. Wikipedia attributes it to "(mostly) realistic and action-packed gameplay". Personally, I think that's only part of it. It's because the game was easy! But not too easy.

The game wouldn't be fun or popular if it was easy right out of the box. But once you figure out all of the "fluke" ways you can score (e.g. one-timers), you'll completely dominate. It's like a puzzle! But since success didn't come easy at first (at least not for me), you'll get the feeling that you're winning not because the game is easy, but because you "earned" it. I think that's very gratifying for a lot of people, and it's a good formula for a successful sports video game. Struggle at first, figure out how to "beat" the game, then reap the rewards! Then, if EA Sports has their way, get bored with it and buy next year's version of the game, which will have a brand new set of "fluke" scoring methods to figure out.

In this case, the rewards are winning games 25-0 and having your best player score over 200 goals in one season. Most people would get bored winning by that much in every game after a while - unlike modern sports games, this game had only one difficulty level - but not me! Scoring goals, hitting people, trying to get an "Abuse of Official" penalty just for the heck of it, and trying to score a goal with your goalie (it can be done, even without an empty net!) were still just as much fun after I solved the puzzle as it was when I barely won half my games. As it turns out, I didn't even "solve the puzzle" completely. One-timers were an effective enough scoring method, I didn't even need or use "the move". I didn't even know about it at the time. Of course, we would never tolerate these kinds of gameplay holes in today's video games. But back in the days of Tecmo Bowl and NHL 94, things were totally different.

It seems like a lot has changed in the world of hockey video games since NHL 94 came out, but has it really? Sure, the graphics and sound effects have improved drastically. (Although I must say, I am a big fan of the old school sound effects, especially the organ music.) And, now you can play 20 seasons as your favorite team instead of just one. But in most iterations of the EA Sports NHL series (as well as the 2K Sports NHL series) between then and now, the most effective scoring method is still the one-timer. That's fine with me, and actually, I prefer it that way. It just wouldn't feel right if I could consistently score some other way.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brigs

Ever since I graduated from Penn State and moved to North Carolina, I've been longing for a breakfast-oriented restaurant in the Triangle that's as good as Waffle Shop of State College. Our search hasn't exactly been exhaustive, but we've come up empty so far. Cracker Barrel makes good breakfast, but I want something more local. Courtney's is decent, but we're now over 20 minutes away from the nearest Courtney's location. Everything else we've tried hasn't measured up.

But there is this local chain called Brigs, that until recently, we'd never tried. Brigs has five Triangle locations, including one less than 5 minutes from home. Brigs specializes in breakfast, which means (among other things) that they close at 2:30 PM. (If you don't close by 3, you're not a breakfast restaurant.) And, if you ask who serves the best breakfast in the Triangle, most locals will tell you, it's Brigs. So why have we never tried it before? Because of the prices: $6 for two pancakes, $6 for a waffle, and $8 for french toast. And those aren't combos, either; that's for only the pancakes/waffle/french toast. But then, during a raffle at the Carolina Classic two weeks prior, we won a $25 Brigs gift card. Hooray! Let's go to Brigs, finally!

After actually going there, I am now going to backtrack on my "Brigs is expensive" declaration somewhat. $6 for two pancakes and nothing else sounds like a lot, but not all pancakes are created equal. When you order two pancakes at a restaurant you're visiting for the first time, you never really know what you're going to get. Some places serve small-ish pancakes, some medium-sized pancakes, and some serve pancakes that fill up the entire freaking plate. Brigs is the latter.


That picture was taken after Amber had eaten a quarter of her serving. And yes, there is more pancake underneath all of that whipped cream. (Those are Amber's chocolate chip pancakes; I assume that regular pancakes are the same size and thickness.)

The pancakes are really thick, too - this is "two" pancakes:


So, two Brigs pancakes = three or four pancakes at other breakfast restaurants. Also, the $8 french toast order comes wih five slices, not the standard three or four most restaurants serve. Now the prices don't seem quite so bad. Knowing how big their servings are, I think I can actually justify getting the $8 two pancake combo or the $9 french toast half-order combo. (Combos come with two eggs and one side.) And while I almost always stick with pancakes or french toast when I go out for breakfast (plus eggs and/or sausage and/or grits), Brigs does have a more diverse menu than most breakfast places. For example, the "fried chicken & waffle" combo: "crispy chicken tenders and whipped butter atop our Traditional Belgian Waffle; served with two eggs; $7.99." I think I might have to try that.

So...here's the verdict on Brigs: 1) It surpassed my expectations, especially in terms of value. 2) We'll be back sooner or later, if nothing else so I can try the "fried chicken & waffle". 3) If they built a Waffle Shop next door, we'd still go to Waffle Shop instead. I don't think anything can possibly top Waffle Shop in my mind.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gum Springs Bethel Hickory Grove Green Level New Hope Chapel Church Road


Why do roads have names? In order to help us find and identify them, of course. Keeping that in mind...I'd like to know whose idea it was to name this road "Bethel-Hickory Grove Church Road".

Anyone who does a lot of driving in rural North Carolina (at least in this part of the state) knows that this is actually a fairly common thing. Anywhere you go, you're likely to encounter roads with really long names. Most of the time, they're either named after a landmark located on the road (e.g. Carpenter Fire Station Road. or Green Hope School Road), or are named after the two cities or landmarks that the road connects (e.g. New Hill-Olive Chapel Road, or Morrisville-Carpenter Road). Logical? Sure. My completely unresearched guess is that back in the 1800s, the locals informally referred to roads according to the landmarks on those roads. "Oh, that there tobaccy farm is on the Gum Springs Church road." Chances are, these informal names eventually became the official road names once official road naming became a thing. But that doesn't make it right. Among other things, these road names make giving directions a bit laborious. And, really, it's just dumb. Why not just call it "Hickory Grove Road" instead of "Bethel-Hickory Grove Church Road"? Whose idea was this?

Oh, and how many New Hope Church Roads are there, anyway? I can think of three off the top of my head (here, here, and here). And that's without even leaving the Triangle!

This nonsense has got to stop. Fortunately, some progress is being made around here. Not too long ago, Wake County renamed some of the roads in western Cary and Apex. Green Level To Durham Road is no more! The new name of the road is...Green Level Church Road.

Is this some kind of sick joke? Is this North Carolina's way of pissing off all the non-natives who have moved here in the last decade? Because it's working.

In all fairness, there already was a Green Level Church Road to begin with. Regardless of whether or not there is still an actual "Green Level Church" on Green Level Church Road (I'm not sure), the renaming of these roads wasn't actually meant to shorten road names, as much as it was meant to eliminate a few of the many senseless road name changes that you'll encounter when driving in a straight line on North Carolina roads. And we still have a long way to go on that front. You think you're still driving on Morrisville Parkway? Think again...now you're on Lewter Shop Road! Buwhahaha!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bicycling on the Beach

I know I've been talking about bicycling a lot lately, so if you don't care...sorry.

Here's something I either haven't done in a very long time, or have never done: ride my bicycle on the beach. That's part of the reason we brought our bikes (for better or worse) to Jacksonville in the first place last weekend. It's a good family activity, and I've seen lots of other people doing it, so why not?

So, we took the bikes to Hanna Park, and there we were.


(Side comment: I really wish the Wonderwood Connector was around when I lived there. The beach is now 10 minutes closer to home than it was in the 1990s, and it's a much easier drive.)

I actually didn't know what to expect. Would there be too many people in the way? Would we see anyone else on their bikes? Would the sand be too soft to be able to go anywhere?

First off, there weren't too many people in the way. Even though it was Saturday, this was less crowded Atlantic Beach, not more crowded Jacksonville Beach. (We're way too cool for Jacksonville Beach.) There was also a threat of rain, which kept more people away...although, I will say this: when it did start raining, absolutely nobody ran for cover. I'm sure the second it starts raining at a beach resort packed with tourists from places like Missouri and Ohio, everybody runs for cover. Not here - these are the locals, and they realize that it rains pretty much every day this time of year. As long as there's no thunder (which there wasn't), who cares if you get a little wet?

So, anyway...we also didn't see many others riding their bikes on the beach. Maybe a couple of people. As far as dealing with other people goes, the biggest issue we faced was making sure we didn't ride your bikes into any fishing lines.

Alright, so...the sand. To start, there was enough hard sand to serve as a rideable path. But after we turned around, the tide came in and washed our bike path away, leaving us with three choices: attempt to ride in the soft sand (very difficult), ride in the water (also difficult), or walk, then bail onto the pavement as soon as we re-enter Hanna Park. Whoops! I'm thinking we should have checked the tides first. (For those interested, here is the SportyPal log of the ride, starting at the turnaround point. Check out those breakneck speeds!) The moral of the story is, if you're going to ride your bike on the beach, make sure it's low tide.

Some beaches, you probably can't ride your bike on at all. Florida beaches (at least the ones I've been to) are nice because they have a wide strip of flat sand between the dunes and the water, and at low tide, much of the sand is hard enough to ride your bike on. The North Carolina beaches I've been to, on the other hand, I would not attempt to ride on. The people-per-square-foot-of-sand ratio is too high, it's too soft, and there is too much of a slope. Maybe the Outer Banks (haven't really been to those beaches a lot) are different than the Wilmington-area beaches we go to most of the time, but if I were to take my bike to the Outer Banks, I think I'd rather just ride along Highway 12 instead.

Actually, that's not a bad idea. Hmm... ...oh, right, that whole "bike falling off the car rack" thing. Maybe I'll just ride around Durham this weekend.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Honda Civic Sun Visor: Update

Two months ago, the driver's side sun visor on my 2008 Honda Civic broke, meaning it would no longer stay up against the roof on its own. Upon discovering that this was a widespread problem among 8th Generation (2006-) Honda Civics due to defective engineerong on Honda's part, I then attempted a "home remedy" fix of sorts with velcro. How did that work out?

Well...it worked out great for the first month, including throughout our 10,000-mile drive to Alaska. The velcro was strong enough to hold the sun visor flush to the ceiling, and it didn't appear to be pulling on the roof liner, either. But eventually, the glue holding one the of the velcro strips to the visor gave way. (It was pretty serious glue, too.) So, in the end, my "home remedy" lasted about six weeks. I guess it was worth a shot.

I plan on keeping my car for at least five more years, so I decided to go with the longer-term solution: a brand new visor. You win, Honda! I didn't want to give a Honda dealer $72 to fix it for me, though (it's the principal of the matter), so instead I ordered one online for $47. (That price included shipping. If you look hard enough, you can probably find a better price, maybe in the $30-40 range including shipping.) This meant I'd have to replace the sun visor myself, but really...how hard can it be?

So, this begs the question...how do you replace the sun visor on a Honda Civic? I couldn't find a particularly useful how-to-guide on the internet, so I kind of had to figure it out myself. So now, for the betterment of the internet (not to mention frustrated Honda Civic owners nationwide), here's a basic how-to-guide for how to replace a broken sun visor on your Honda Civic (2006 or later). I would do a YouTube, but I'm not that sophisticated or talented.

HOW TO REPLACE A SUN VISOR ON A 2006-2011 HONDA CIVIC

Actually, it's pretty self-explanatory once you get past the first step. Maybe that's why nobody's bothered to publish a detailed how-to guide, because this qualifies as "common sense".


The first step is to get this plastic cover off of the roof mount. Pick at the middle separation or at the sides with a flathead screwdriver (or similar), and eventually part of the cover will come off. (There might be a better way than to "pick" at it, but that's what worked for me.) The plastic cover is flexible, so once you get part of it off, you'll be able to bend it on either side and remove it completely. Rotating the sun visor one way or another may make this easier.

After you remove the cover, two screws are revealed. Unscrew them. (Obviously.) The screws are Torx (a.k.a. star), so you'll need a Torx/star screwdriver. Once the unscrewing is done, the sun visor will come right out. Wee! Because of that, I'd advise unscrewing the two screws gradually rather than one at a time.

At that point, it's just a matter of putting the new visor where the old visor was, tightening the screws (my replacement visor came with one screw; the other screw came from the original visor), replacing the plastic cover (which you don't really have to do, but it looks nicer that way), and you're done. Hooray! Didn't it feel good to not give the Honda dealer any more money? Granted, Honda is still getting some of your money indirectly, but still.

I've read that the quality of 8th Generation Honda Civic sun visors has improved over the last couple of years, and that the sun visors in 2009 and later model years aren't as likely to break on a hot day. That's backed up by the fact that everyone who reported their own sun visor calamity on my last blog post, or on various internet message boards, has a 2008 or older Civic. I haven't heard of sun visors breaking on any 2009 or 2010 Civics...yet. My new sun visor was manufactured in April 2010, so I hope I'm right. (Honda puts a small sticker with the date of manufacture on the part of the sun visor that connects into the roof. My broken sun visor was manufactured in September 2007.)

How long will this new sun visor last? Hopefully for the life of the car. That's not too much to ask, right?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Planet Radio: 1994?-2010

Everyone had a favorite radio station growing up, right? For me, that radio station was Jacksonville's alternative rock station: WPLA 93.3 FM, commonly known as "Planet Radio". And as of two weeks ago, Planet Radio is no more.

So...here's a quick history of Planet Radio: sometime in middle school, I started listening to Planet Radio because that's what a lot of my friends* were doing. I then discovered that I liked this whole "alternative" rock thing, and eventually started buying cassette tapes and everything! (It took me a while to catch on to CDs.) Planet Radio was pretty much the only radio station I listened to for the next six years. It was awesome. I liked the music, I liked the name, and I liked the DJs. I also liked that there was another radio station out of Greenville, SC named "The Planet" (subtle difference) with a similar music format and the exact same frequency (93.3) as Planet Radio. Greenville's "The Planet" still exists today, but Jacksonville's "Planet Radio" does not.

(* - Whether I had any actual friends in middle school is debatable.)

Planet Radio changed a lot since I left town, though. It seems like they've had about 15 different morning shows over the last 15 years. Their frequency changed from 93.3 to 107.3 a few years ago. And at some point, they changed their format from "alternative rock" to "new / modern rock". I think the change means that instead of playing Alanis Morissette and Barenaked Ladies alongside Creed and Nickelback, they now just played Creed and Nickelback twice as much. I welcomed the change at the time, but my music taste has changed a little since then (Nickelback and the 15,000 bands that try to sound like them = poop), and now I think I actually liked the original Planet Radio the best. Today I much prefer "alternative rock" over "modern rock", and apparently I'm not alone, either: the station that effectively put Planet Radio out of business (X102.9) markets itself as an "alternative rock" station. That's interesting, because I thought the term "alternative" was dated, and that the word "alternative" would forever be linked to the style of rock popular in the mid 1990s, and never again be used to refer to anything new. So, woo!

Even if the term "alternative" isn't dead yet, I'm going to take a wild guess and say that most "alternative" stations that were around in the 1990s have gone under or changed their format since then. For example, I don't know if Raleigh's 96rock was ever technically an "alternative" station, but they changed formats literally the week I moved here. They went from "new rock" (or something) to more of a new rock/classic rock hybrid, playing Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd alongside Nickelback, etc. I think a lot of alternative stations from the 90s have done the same. Given the success of X102.9 in Jacksonville, is "alternative rock" back? Or do people listen to X102.9 not because of the subtle difference in format, but because they have few commercials and no DJs?

Well, anyway...I didn't really like what had become of Planet Radio over the last decade, and X102.9 is a much better radio station, and I much prefer college radio and NPR these days anyway, so I'm not sad to see Planet Radio go. Good riddance, in fact. It's just too bad they had to take the name down with them.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Whoops


Amber and I (well, mostly I) wanted to do a little bicycling during our time in Jacksonville, so we hooked up the bike rack to the car and went on our merry way. If you follow me on Twitter/Facebook, then you already know that it didn't exactly go according to plan.

And that brings me to my main issue with Twitter. The 140 character limitation means you can't always tell the whole story, so my infamous 'tweet' may have been a little misleading. If it invoked images of a bike tumbling end-over-end down the interstate, that's not really what happened. Yes, the bike did fall off the bike rack, and yes, it did fall onto I-95 while driving at 75 mph. But it was still attached to the car, thanks to a strap we tied between the front wheel of Amber's bike and the front wheel of my bike.

Granted, that's better than having a complete disconnect, and we were very fortunate to not have any other cars around us at the time, but dragging a bike down the pavement at interstate highway speeds still isn't good. The bike was unrideable after the spill, and at the time I really did think the bike was "totaled". (I tend to overreact in the heat of the moment, eh, Amber?) Sure, we could replace what's broken or damaged, but would it be worth it? And surely, we wouldn't have time to fix it that weekend, right?

By the time I calmed down a little (the next morning), I had a clearer view of the damage. The rear wheel took quite a hit would need to be completely replaced before the bike could even be remotely rideable again. The bike seat also needed to be replaced after being dragged along I-95. Parts of the handlebars and gear selectors were scraped off, too, but those were still seemingly functional. And, there didn't appear to be any damage to the chain, frame, or anything else. So...all we needed to at least get the bike rideable again was a new rear wheel and a new seat. (That's what Amber told me all along, for the record.) And that's how we spent our Friday morning. I still wasn't completely sure that's all we needed to do to fix the bike, but sure enough, that was it. Happy Chris!

The new parts cost about $110, or one-fifth of the bicycle's original value, making the repairs worth the effort. (The bike is 14 months old and has 1,600 miles on it. I don't know how much bikes depreciate in value, but the bike has to be worth at least two-thirds of the original price at this point, right?) The gear shifts aren't as smooth as they used to be, but REI can take care of that. Besides, any more mileage I can get out of my bike at this point is bonus mileage.

Meanwhile, I think I know why the bike came loose. I-95 in South Carolina is very bumpy, so all those bumps probably jarred the bike up and off the rack. (Yes, we tightened all the straps, but the bike doesn't fit perfectly on the rack, apparently.) We didn't have any problems at all with the bikes on the return trip, but still, that'll be the last time we take our bikes more than a couple of hours away from home. The bikes took most the fun out of the drive (both ways). On top of that, they also reduce visibility, and they kill our gas mileage. Instead of the usual 35 mpg highway, Amber's car would only get 27-28 mpg with those two bikes hanging out in the wind back there. That means we spent approximately $20 extra in gas money getting to Florida and back because of the bikes. Next time, we're renting.

And for those of you who are thinking about taking your bikes on your own long drive, a word of advice: you can NEVER use too much rope.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Routine Jacksonville Trip

It's time to take a three-day weekend and head to Jacksonville, Florida to see the folks. Wee! It's been a while...and I'm not just saying that, either. It's been 228 days since my last visit to Jacksonville (December 27, 2009), and that's the longest gap between Jacksonville visits in my entire life. Hey, maybe that means the I-95 construction in Georgia is done by now! (Or not. It will never be done.)

It'll probably be a fairly routine visit, except that for the first time ever, we're bringing our bicycles with us. For one, I'm curious how much having two bikes hitched to the back of your car affects fuel mileage. I would normally expect something in the 30-35 mpg range with Amber's car en route to Jacksonville (most of I-95 is speed limit 70, which doesn't make for the most efficient driving; Amber's car gets 35+ mpg en route to Toledo). Having two bikes hitched to the back will affect weight a little and aerodynamics a lot. But how much?

Also, here's a statistical note: since we're taking our bikes to Jacksonville, and Amber has to come pick me up from work this afternoon anyway (we always leave straight from work), I figured, why not just bike to work? Logistically, it made perfect sense. The statistical consequence of that is that for the purposes of By the Numbers, this only officially counts as a "half commute" by bicycle, since I'm not riding my bike home afterwards. I don't like having that ½ sticking out there, so maybe I'll orchestrate another "half commute" by bicycle some other time.

So, yes. Driving to Jacksonville isn't as exciting as driving to Alaska, but I might live tweet the trip anyway.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Favorite Vacation States

After the Alaska trip, I was faced with a difficult decision. Yes, the Alaska trip was amazing, but is Alaska my favorite vacation state ever? Actually, while I'm at it...why not rank all 50 states from "favorite vacation state" to "least favorite vacation state"? I can do that now that I've actually been to all 50 states.

Before I go down the list, a disclaimer: this is not a list of the "best" vacation states. These are only my favorites, and thus are entirely based on personal preference. (That means you can't argue with them. Ha!) I generally prefer outdoorsy National Park type stuff. Although there are many other factors involved, perhaps the top half of the list is also a decent approximation for the states with the most interesting terrain.

#1 through #5: Utah, Wyoming, Alaska, California, Colorado
As nice as Alaska was, Utah and Wyoming are still my favorites. The National Parks in those two states can't be beat. When it comes down to it, Alaska is really just mountains, trees, and bears; Utah and Wyoming are so much more (canyons, geysers, etc). But Alaska's mountains, trees and bears are nice, though, and it's also far away, big, and hard to get to. So, I decided to put Alaska at #3, just ahead of California and Colorado.

#6 through #10: Nevada, Washington, Montana, Hawaii, South Dakota
Noticing a pattern here? All Western states so far. Lots of people would rank Nevada high on their list purely because of Las Vegas, but I have it at #6 on the basis of the rest of the state: great scenery, and not many people. Hawaii - like Alaska - has that exotic feel to it, and pretty much has something for everyone. South Dakota's ranking is based on the Black Hills and Badlands areas (as opposed to, say, the Corn Palace).

#11 through #15: New Mexico, Arizona, Maine, Oregon, Texas
New Mexico probably isn't much different than Nevada, but I didn't find it particularly memorable. Arizona is a lot like these other Western states and could probably be ranked higher, but I put it down at #12 because the Grand Canyon is crowded. Maine is the first eastern state to make the list, and because it's relatively close to home, I'd like to back sooner rather than later. Oregon's ranking is somewhat arbitrary because the only place I've ever visited in Oregon is Crater Lake. I haven't done much in Texas, either.

#16 through #20: Florida, North Carolina, Idaho, North Dakota, Vermont
I'm probably a little biased towards my two primary home states, but the fact is, I like going to Florida, and I liked North Carolina long before I moved here. I've barely done anything in Idaho, but it looks fun, so why not? I associate North Dakota with trips to Canada, so accurate or not, I have a favorable opinion of it. Vermont is my #1 Fall Foliage destination.

#21 through #25: New Hampshire, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina
Up and down the Appalachians here. Might as well rank New Hampshire next to Vermont, right? West Virginia is more mountainous than Virginia, but Virginia has more of a tourist infrastructure, as well as other non-mountainous tourist attractions. I've kind of worn out Pennsylvania over the years, and every time I go there I complain about road construction, so it's hard for me to rank it higher than #24. South Carolina...oh, I don't know.

#26 through #30: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Kentucky: Like Vermont, Michigan/Minnesota/Wisconsin are great fall foliage states. They also have lakes, both big and small. Really, all three states are very similar, so it makes sense to rank them together, right? Ohio and Kentucky are ranked here on the basis of Cedar Point and Mammoth Cave, respectively.

#31 through #35: Tennessee, New York, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas: It's getting difficult to differentiate the states at this point, so don't take the rankings too seriously here. Tennessee has mountains, too, but when I think "Smokies", I think North Carolina first, and my trips to Great Smoky Mountains are almost always NC-based trips rather than Tennessee-based trips. New York has some neat stuff, although I've never been to New York City (Staten Island doesn't count). Fun fact about Arkansas: it is now my least recently visited state. Since my last visit to Arkansas over 17 years ago, I have been to all of the other 49 states at least once.

#36 through #40: Massachusetts, Illinois, Nebraska, Maryland, Alabama: As I've gone through this list, I've realized that there are very few "bad" vacation states. Every state has something. Massachusetts has Cape Cod, Boston, and some mountains, none of which I've ever visited. Illinois has Chicago, perhaps my favorite big city. Nebraska is very scenic once you get away from the interstate and closer to South Dakota. We go to Maryland a lot more than this ranking would indicate, but that's mostly because of curling. (I don't think of curling road trips as vacations, really. Maybe I should!) And, Alabama has...well, they have a lot of Piggly Wigglys.

#41 through #45: Iowa, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana, Mississippi: Now we're getting to some of the "meh" states. Iowa looked nice when we drove through, but I don't know what I'd do there other than drive. Lots of people like Louisiana because of New Orleans, but New Orleans isn't really our scene. And I guess Mississippi is a good place to go if you like old Southern plantations.

#46 through #50: Rhode Island, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Delaware
I know that New Jersey and Delaware are popular beach destinations, but I think that's only a matter of convenience for people who live nearby. If I want to go to the beach, I'm certainly going to stay in my home state or go to Florida before I go to a Delaware beach. As for Oklahoma...I can't imagine ever going there again except for the purposes of a drive-through or for counties.

UPDATE 10/14/10: After spending last weekend in Connecticut, I've decided to move Connecticut up from 49th to 40th, ahead of Alabama and behind Maryland. The bottom 15 are now: MA, IL, NE, MD, CT, AL, IA, LA, KS, IN, MS, RI, NJ, OK, DE.

Now, a bonus list - my "favourite" vacation Canadian provinces!

#1 through #5: British Columbia, Yukon, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Québec
#6 through #10: Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador*, New Brunswick, Manitoba, Saskatchewan
#11 through #13: Prince Edward Island, Northwest Territories*, Nunavut*
(* - Have not yet visited; ranking is based on perceived potential.)
British Columbia's tourism slogan is "The Best Place On Earth". That may be a little extreme (aren't Canadians supposed to be humble?), but based on what I saw on the Alaska trip, I don't mind calling it "The Best Place In Canada".

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

2010 Carolina Classic Recap

Another bonspiel (that's "curling tournament" for the uninitated) is in the books. Woo! We had a great time, and we played well, too. Let's get to it.

For those who don't know how these "bonspiels" work, here's the typical format. The main bracket (a.k.a. "1st Event") is single elimination, culminating with the Final on Sunday. But in order to make it worth the trip for everyone who comes from out of town, everyone gets to play at least three games, so there are three consolation brackets on top of the "1st Event" bracket. Here is what the 2010 Classic draw looked like. Last year, Amber and I won the 4th Event; could we do better than that this year?

Game 1 - Friday, 3:45p: Triangle (Jackson) v. Detroit (Jankowski)

End.......... 12345678 | TTL
----------------------------
Triangle..... 411162-- | 15
Detroit...... 000000-- | 00

I'll be referring to teams this way: Club Name (Skip Last Name). As I mentioned in my preview, Amber and I played Second and Lead on our Classic team, with Murray and Kathy Jackson as Skip and Vice, respectively. That's a pretty formidable lineup if you ask me.

So, anyway...I felt bad for Team Detroit (Jankowski). For one thing, this game was on notorious Sheet 1, which despite the club's best efforts, we couldn't completely flatten out. It was much better than it's been all year, but still, the sheet was tilted towards the center of the rink, meaning all shots had to be made outside-in. (In curling terms: there was about a 6-foot fall towards the center of the rink, as opposed to a 15- to 20-foot fall.) No doubt the fine folks from Detroit, who I assume are used to playing on excellent ice, had never seen anything like this before. I can't call it fair. Given how huge the home-ice advantage was here, it's kind of a cruel joke on these out-of-town teams, really. "Come on down to the Carolina Classic, guys! You'll have a great time! Buwhahaha!!!"

I don't want to scare any future Carolina Classic teams from Up North away, so here's a disclaimer: our ice is no better or worse than any other arena club. Sheets 2 through 4 were playing pretty straight. Home teams combined to go 11-12 throughout the bonspiel, so the home ice advantage must not have been that great. Besides, nearly everyone who comes down is glad they made the trip, and many teams who played in 2009 came back this year. Come on down to the Carolina Classic, guys! You'll have a great time! Really!

Team Jankowski went 0-3 on the weekend, but at least one of their last two games - maybe both? - needed an extra end. So, they did alright once they made it off Sheet 1. Meanwhile, Detroit's other team would enact revenge on behalf of their clubmates later on.

Game 2 - Saturday, 8:00a: Triangle (Jackson) v. Potomac (Pintar)

End.......... 12345678 | TTL
----------------------------
Triangle..... 304030-- | 10
Potomac...... 010101-- | 03

The Potomac Curling Club (Laurel, MD) often brings formidable competition to the Carolina Classic. The 2008 Classic was won by a Potomac Team. They come down here a lot, so they know arena ice. I never take a game against a Potomac team lightly. Actually, I never take any game lightly. At any bonspiel, even the home ones, I assume the other teams are better than us.

Saturday was a long day, and being the early draw, I actually don't remember much about how this game panned out. So let's move on.

Game 3 - Saturday, 3:00p: Triangle (Jackson) v. Knoxville (O'Brien)

End.......... 12345678 | TTL
----------------------------
Knoxville.... 002000-- | 02
Triangle..... 120513-- | 12

This was definitely a case where I assumed the other team was far superior. I'm going to assume that the Knoxville (O'Brien) team is the only team in Carolina Classic history with World Championship experience. Granted, it was 17 years ago, and only the skip (rather than the entire team) had that kind of experience, but still. Some of the folks in the Classic are far better curlers than I'll ever be, which is one reason why I didn't really want to skip a team here.

Side comment: I found I enjoy playing Second more than Vice. With Vice, you have to pay a little attention to strategy, line, and so forth, but you don't get to call the shots. Playing a Vice is a great way for newer curlers to gain experience, and it's a necessary step before one starts playing Skip, but I'm already there. With Second, you get to concentrate almost exclusively on two things: making your shots, and sweeping. Judging the speed of the rocks is usually up to the sweepers, since they're right along side. I think I did a pretty good job at both my shot-making and weight-judging throughout the bonspiel, but there was never really that much pressure to do either, given the Murray and Kathy "safety net".

Another side comment: New curling clubs are sprouting up all over the Southeast, and a couple of them brought teams to the Carolina Classic. Two teams represented the Charlotte Centre Curling Club, and one represented the Palmetto (Greenville, SC) Curling Club. Both of those clubs are less than a year old. It's only a matter of time before we start up "The Curling Championship of the Carolinas" between the three clubs, right?

And just like that, we're in the final of the 2010 Carolina Classic. Actually, it's been a little too easy so far. Our opponents have conceded after 6 ends in every game, and the cumulative score is 37-5. I had to wonder if we were the curling version of the Oklahoma football team. Sure, we can beat Texas A&M 77-0, but what's going to happen when we play Texas, LSU, or Florida?

Game 4 (1st Event Final) - Sunday, 11:30a: Triangle (Jackson) v. Detroit (McElwee/Levy) (Mark McElwee and Ben Levy alternated skip duties throughout the weekend, hence my "slash" team designation)

End.......... 12345678 | TTL
----------------------------
Detroit...... 03100210 | 07
Triangle..... 20021001 | 06

Sure, the Knoxville team was good (they ended up winning the 4th Event, and we were their only loss throughout the weekend), but the Detroit (McElwee/Levy) team had to have been the best team in attendance. I'm proud that this game was as competitive as it was, and it was one of the most fun games I've ever played in. We had quite an audience and cheering section, too, this being the Final and all. This may be the first time I've ever received applause after a good shot. Fortunately, the crowd did not groan when I missed a shot, like the crowd does at competitive Canadian events sometimes. I don't know how I'd handle that.

So, here's the match in a nutshell...
- 1st end: I think this is one of those situations where we kind of lucked into two. That's been happening a lot so far this weekend. Surely, this isn't going to be another blow-out, right?
- 2nd end: Nope.
- 3rd end: If I remember correctly, we were very fortunate to get out of this end only giving up one. It could have been much worse.
- 4th end: Now...in the first three games, we'd been getting by on throwing almost exclusively draws and guards. Get position in the house, guard it, pile in there, and just like that, the other team is pretty much screwed. That works when take-outs are difficult, which on our ice, they usually are. (That was certainly the case in Game 3 v. Knoxville, which played to our advantage.) But Team Detroit was making most of their take-outs against us, leading us to change our strategy and throw a lot of take-outs as well early in the game. Well, that wasn't working out so well, so starting in the 4th end, we went back to our "bread and butter": draws, freezes, guards. The refocused strategy worked, and we tied the game.
- 5th end: Don't remember much about this end.
- 6th end: This one was just crazy. EVERY rock was in play, except for the final rock, which Team Detroit purposely threw away. (They were already sitting two, and given how much traffic there was in front, it was too risky to go for more.) I wish I could have gotten a picture of the house at that point. But, I had better things to worry about. Like...let's win this game!
- 7th end: This was another crazy end with lots of traffic. In ends like this, if you don't get early position, your only chance is to hit some of your other rocks into the house, either to take-out the opponents' rocks, or to promote another rock to the button. I think at some point late in the end, we were lying two or more, at which point Team Detroit made a fantastic raise to the button (garnering some cheering from the Detroit (Jankowski) team, who were watching and no doubt having a lot of fun watching us lose). And that was that. Gotta score two coming home.
- 8th end: This was actually a wide-open end, by comparison. After my two shots (which I made - I certainly didn't make all my shots, but I came through in the 8th), the house looked something like this: (our team = red)


This is a pretty good position to be in if you have last rock. In an Olympic-level game, this results in two for red most of the time. You can't make a double take-out with the rocks this far apart, so you can only go for one at a time. But we're not Olympic-level curlers, so it wasn't that simple. Neither team made every shot the rest of the way, and we eventually lost the advantage and only were able to score one. And I don't even know if we got the one, actually. We shook hands before the last rock came to a stop. So, the final score might have actually been 8-5 rather than 7-6. But 7-6 looks better, right?

And that's the 2010 Carolina Classic. I know I didn't have much in the way of pictures (about 0), but unofficial club photographer Adam Prince posted 344 pictures from the weekend. So if you want pictures, go there. Here are some highlights:
- Our team photo
- Our four opponents: Detroit (Jankowski), Potomac (Pintar), Knoxville (O'Brien), Detroit (McElwee/Levy) (There are also some "goofy" team photos mixed in there, but you have to find those yourself. Consider it a treasure hunt.)
- The silly bagpipe ceremony
- Chris yells, Amber looks calm, and Kathy's hair flows in the breeze
- Team Detroit (McElwee/Levy) totally kicking our butts
- And many more action shots of Team Triangle (Jackson), especially towards the end of the album.

Amber and I are having a great year on the ice. 2nd in the Winter League, 2nd in the Spring League, 1st in the June one-day mini-spiel, and runner-up in the Carolina Classic. We also both have over 100 career games now (102 for me, 100 for Amber). Can we keep it up when the Fall League begins September 17th? Sooner or later, the ---- is going to hit the fan, don't you think? If you ask me, I think we're due for a 2-6 season.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Sports Saturday: 8/7/10

Despite the fact that it's a bonspiel weekend (i.e. curling tournament), "Sports Saturday" is back! Today's general theme is this: "Is it football season yet?"
- NFL: NFL Sunday Ticket - to buy or not to buy?
- CFL: Canadian football games are now on NFL Network. Good thing or bad thing?
- MLB: Season over?
- Auto Racing: I'm going to stay positive this time. Don't want to get fined!

NFL - Every year around this time, I go through the same decision process. Do I get NFL Sunday Ticket or not?

The last two years, I have not. I actually came close last year to pulling the trigger, until I discovered that getting the games in high definition would cost an extra $100, on top of the $280 base price.

So, what's different this year? Well...there are actually a lot of things working in Sunday Ticket's favor this time around. For one, the base price went up to $315*, but high definition is now included at no additional charge. ($315 was the "early bird" price; after July 31st it went up to $320.) $315 is still a heck of a lot of money for 17 days' worth of games, but here's the thing. While I am a devoted Jacksonville Jaguars fan, it's been seven years since I've been able to watch more than, say, four Jaguars games in a given season. I'm getting a little homesick in that regard. I want to get excited about the Jaguars again. That's the main reason I decided to pull the trigger on NFL Sunday Ticket in 2010.

I've passed on Sunday Ticket each of the last three years, but not this year! Let's do it just once and see how it works out. Also contributing factors to my decision: no major vacations planned this Fall; curling on Friday instead of Sunday; and increasing interest in the NFL in general, combined with decreasing interest in college football and NASCAR.

So, this fall, I'm going to watch more NFL than I ever have before. Party at my house! I have no doubt that I'm going to make the most of this purchase, but I still don't know if it'll be worth the price in the end. I hate the idea of giving such a large chunk of change to a business (the NFL) that certainly doesn't need the money, but we'll see. Either way...let's go Jaguars!

Sun 8:00p - Dallas v. Cincinnati (Canton, OH), NBC (Preseason games in any sport are usually pretty boring, but it's something, I guess.)

CFL - Continuing with the general theme...every year around this time, I'm pretty much ready for football season. Thankfully, the Canadian Football League satisfies my thirst by starting its season in early July!

Now...last year, CFL games were televised across various regional sports channels that I get with my super-duper DirecTV package. Typically, I received two games each week. This year, things are different: NFL Network has the exclusive U.S. rights for CFL games. This means games are in high definition, but it also means far fewer games: no more than one per week, including none in August. High definition or not, I much preferred last year's TV deal. And since I don't really need the CFL anymore once American football season starts, that basically means I'm done watching CFL games this year. Booooo, NFL Network!

MLB - At the beginning of the season, I wondered how strong my newfound interest in the Washington Nationals would remain once the Nats were "out of it". Well, that time has come: they're not completely out of it at this point, but basically, they're done.

So, here's the million dollar question: am I still watching? Earlier in the season, I average about 10-12 innings of Nationals baseball a week. Now, I'm averaging...oh, maybe 3-5. I think that's about right. In September, that figure will probably drop to about 0. Baseball is just a placeholder until football season begins anyway, right?

Well, it was fun while it lasted. The personal highlight of the season was Stephen Strasburg's debut; that was probably the most excited I've been about a baseball game since the Marlins were in the World Series. The personal lowlight of the season was some game against some team where some Nats outfielder let a sure flyout drop to the turf, allowing the tying and winning runs across the plate. I have no idea when that was, but the point is, the fact that I don't remember the details about that crushing loss should give you an idea of how I really feel about the Nationals. They were a nice diversion for a few months.

Actually, I'm going to fess up: I do in fact know at least some of the details of that crushing loss. That game was at Houston (June 3rd), and Cristian Guzman was the outfielder in right field who let the would-be 3rd and final out drop in the bottom of the 9th. Guzman isn't a right fielder, so what the hell was he doing out there, anyway? Ugh! Hmm...seems I care more about the Nationals than I thought. Uh oh.

Well, anyway...unless the Nationals go on a 10-game winning streak or something and insert themselves back into contention, I'm done talking about baseball this season. See you next April!

Sat 4:00p - Boston at NY Yankees, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - Chicago White Sox at Baltimore, MASN/WGN America
Sat 7:00p - NY Mets at Philadelphia, MLB Network (regional*)
Sat 7:00p - San Francisco at Atlanta MLB Network (regional*)
Sat 10:00p - Washington at LA Dodgers, MASN2
Sun 1:30p - San Francisco at Atlanta, TBS
Sun 4:00p - Washington at LA Dodgers, MASN2
Sun 8:00p - Boston at NY Yankees, ESPN
(* - Not sure which MLB Network we're getting.)

Auto racing - NASCAR is going to be a casualty of my NFL Sunday Ticket purchase. Once NFL season begins, I don't think I'll be watching much NASCAR anymore this season. If anything, I'll record the races and then watch the last hour or so once the football games are done. The last hour is really all you need to see anyway, right?

Actually, this will work out pretty well, because in my opinion, the last five races before the "Chase" are usually the best races of the season. The drivers who are safely in the Top 12 are strictly going for wins, which makes for more exciting racing. Meanwhile, the battle for 12th is often much closer and more exciting than the actual "Chase" itself. So, I'm actually kind of excited about the next five races. Don't let me down, NASCAR!

One more NASCAR comment, about those secretive driver fines levied against Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin: I have no problem with NASCAR fining its drivers for criticizing the sport. That's what they do in other sports, right? If I were NASCAR, I don't think I would have kept the fines secret, though. Any effort by the sanctioning body to cover something up is going to look bad, even if it's well-intentioned. In general, fans want transparency. And with today's viral media, everything gets out eventually. I think NASCAR's attempted cover-up, and all of the news stories and editorials that resulted from it over the last two weeks, were worse for the sport overall than the actual driver comments that warranted the fines. Maybe NASCAR should fine itself!

Meanwhile, in Formula One, I've decided that Sebastian Vettel is the Kyle Busch of NASCAR. Immensely talented, clearly the best driver in the sport, but he doesn't know how to handle himself. Despite the fact that he gave yet another win away last weekend, I still think he's the favorite to win the championship. Oh, and booooooo Ferrari for making Felipe Massa pull over for teammate Fernando Alonso a couple of weeks ago. Boooooooo!

Sat 2:00p - NASCAR Nationwide at Watkins Glen, ESPN
Sat 9:00p - NASCAR Camping World Trucks from Nashville, SPEED
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Watkins Glen, ESPN
Sun 2:30p - IndyCar at Mid-Ohio, Versus

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Television Update: 8/5/10

The quest to find suitable replacements for "Lost" and "24" in our TV lineup is on! This summer, we've been adding a few "trial" shows that we've never seen before to the "Always Record" list in our DVR. Some have become regular viewing; others didn't fare so well and were removed from our DVR's memory immediately (as well as our own memory, if possible).

So...here are the "trial" shows we've been recording so far this summer:

"It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia": Comedy Central recently started showing reruns of this "mature audiences only" FX comedy. I've heard good things about it, and it appears to have quite a "cult following". So now is a good time to give it a shot, right?

VERDICT: Pass. This show is yet another example that comedies about uneducated losers are much better than comedies than responsible or otherwise normal people. It's hit and miss at times, but it's frequently funny. And, it's been getting better as we've progressed through the series.

"Louie": On an episode of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" a while back, Jon's guest was some comedian I had never heard of before named "Louis C.K.", advertising some new show (also on FX) called "Louie" that I had never heard of before, either. But after the "Daily Show" interview, we both concluded that this show had serious potential.

VERDICT: Fail. Boring, and really not that funny. Kind of disappointing.

"Burn Notice": Jack Bauer's career is done. Looking to fill the "kick-ass action hero void" he's left behind, we've began watching "Burn Notice", a USA action drama.

VERDICT: Pass. Michael Weston is no Jack Bauer (who is?), and the show tends to be really over the top at times, but that's actually what makes it entertaining. It's so over the top, it's good. Don't take it too seriously or think too hard; just enjoy all the explosions.

"Psych": USA has a lot of popular shows. Amber has watched "Psych" a time or two and said it was funny. But what about me?

VERDICT: Fail. Funny or not, I didn't realize that this was just another "whodunit" crime show. We both liked "Monk" a lot, but I think I've had my fill of this genre. Next.

"Mad Men": I've heard a lot about this show from the intellectual types, along the lines of critically acclaimed, etc. But aside from a brief glimpse of the show's Wikipedia page, I didn't really have any idea what it was about before I started watching.

VERDICT: Fail. We only made it through the first 10 minutes before we decided that this was a boring family drama. Whether that's true or not, I didn't see anything in those 10 minutes that gave me any reason to think that I would enjoy watching it. Either this show isn't really our genre, or I just completely missed the point. What's so good about "Mad Men", anyway? Anyone?

"Breaking Bad": This is my dad's favorite show (at least as of a few months ago). It's about a terminally-ill chemistry teacher who has turned to selling meth as a way to secure his family's financial future. Now that's a premise!

VERDICT: TBD, because we haven't watched it yet. Given that there won't be any more new episodes until next summer, I think we might be better off starting this series from the beginning, either by waiting for reruns to air (which AMC isn't really doing at all right now) or renting the first two seasons on DVD or something.

"James May's Toy Stories": Chances are, you have no idea what this is. We're big fans of the BBC show "Top Gear", and the nerdiest of the three "Top Gear" presenters - James May - will occasionally do a side project or two. I'm having a hard time describing the six episode show's premise in my own words, so I'll just copy Wikipedia: "The premise of the 6-part show [is] to bring favourite toys of the past into the modern era, by using the toys in real life large scale enterprises."

VERDICT: Pass. Nerdy documentary shows almost always pass in our book, especially silly ones, and especially ones involving James May. Speaking of which...why are we watching so many sitcoms and dramas, anyway? Perhaps we should be watching more Discovery Channel and less USA.

Quiz: what do the above shows all have in common? They're all on cable! Once we get to the Fall and the networks make it out of rerun/network reality mode, we'll have some more options. Among the shows I plan to try are ABC's "Modern Family", one of NBC's other Thursday night comedies (besides "The Office", which we already watch), and at least one serial drama type show.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Peloton

I was riding my bike around Raleigh (Cary) early one Saturday morning, when I passed about six serious-looking bicyclists heading in the opposite direction. That's nothing new; I'm rarely the only guy on a bike when I go out, especially on a Saturday in the summer. Then a couple more passed by. Then a few more. Then...several hundred passed by, all in one huge group. I had never seen anything like it.

I figured it must have been some kind of organized ride; sure enough, it was the Cup n' Cone Tour, benefiting the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. I had stumbled upon the first mile of the ride, when most everyone was still in one big group. It was kind of neat. In fact, I wish I had known about it beforehand, because if I had, I might have taken part.

So, I've been doing this bicycling thing for a while now. I've put over 1,600 miles on my bike over the last 14 months. I think that's enough experience to qualify me for one of these huge benefit rides. I've never done an organized bike ride before, and I've never ridden in a large pack (a.k.a. "the peloton"), either.

(Side comment: I was watching the Tour de France one day, and saw a graphic saying something like "Peloton +1:35", meaning that the peloton was 1 minute, 35 seconds behind the leader. At first, I literally thought that "Peloton" was some guy's name. True story. I figured it out, though.)

I'm a little intimidated by the prospect of riding in a peloton. I sometimes have trouble keeping my bike straight, especially up hills; that won't work when there are a bunch of people all around you. And, I'd have to keep up, even though most of the time when I encounter your more serious cyclists on the road (whom I would assume make up the vast majority of the field in a charity bike ride), they always blow by me. So, I don't think I'm peloton material. But that doesn't mean I can't participate in a charity bike ride, right? There's no shame in bringing up the rear when it's for charity! There were a lot of stragglers behind the two main groups, so I would have company, at least. I don't think I would finish dead last. Maybe 10th or 20th percentile.

Alright! Now I'm excited. When's the next charity bike ride? Huh? Huh? Surely, there's an easily accessible calendar out there on some local cycling club's web site, right? ... Actually, I wasn't able to find one. But I do know that Habitat for Humanity of Durham has charity bike rides every once in a while, and their next one is October 30th. So, I'll shoot for that. Do I ride the 31 mile route, or do I go all out and attempt the 62 mile route? I've never ridden more than 42 miles at once, so if I did the 62 mile route, I most certainly would bring up the rear.

As for the Cup 'n Cone...from the looks of it, it's a very successful event, so there's always next year.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Curling Recap: 7/30/10

Curling is back! We played in a pick-up game last Friday, and for the third straight year are playing in the Triangle Curling Club's annual bonspiel, the Carolina Classic. After that, curling is off again until the Fall season begins six weeks later. So, I suppose curling isn't really back yet. Think of this as a little oasis in the middle of the desert, a.k.a. summer.

Friday, July 30th

End......... 12345678 |TTL
--------------------------
Allen....... 10003032 | 09
Gray........ 01130200 | 07

Given that this is the middle of summer, the quality of play in these pick-up games isn't exactly stellar. The summer ice conditions don't help, either: high humidity means slow ice, and slow ice makes it more difficult to contol your weight. For instance, in the first end, only one rock out of 16 made it into the house the entire end.

And, of course, we had the usual zamboni lines to contend with, which today meant take-outs were virtually impossible. That's not always the case with zamboni lines, but when there's a zamboni line right down the center, it makes for some very weight-sensitive shots. Throw it hard, and your rock will fall away from the center line very quickly and never recover. Throw it soft, and it will fall at first, but it will recover and come back towards center at the end. That combination makes take-outs very difficult. Instead, the strategy was simple: get early position, then guard the primary routes to the house so that the other team can't out-draw you.

Since the strategy was so simple, as skip, I didn't have to think a whole lot. So maybe I shouldn't give myself too much credit for the comeback victory. ... But on the other hand, I generally have problems with comeback victories, so I'll give myself a little credit, if nothing else just because I didn't get as frustrated as normal. Usually when my teams get down by 4 or more, I panic and try to get everything back at once. This time, while lying two in the 5th end, I called for guards to protect the two, rather than try to put a third or fourth rock in the house like I may have done in some of my past failed comeback attempts. Protect the two, and if you luck out and end up with three or more (which seems to happen a lot in our games), bonus! ... Or, maybe it just took the team a while to get draw weight down. From the 5th end on, our team's draw weight was much, much better. That probably has more to do with the comeback than "strategy".

Alright...moving on to this weekend's Carolina Classic, the Triangle Curling Club's annual bonspiel. This is the club's third annual bonspiel, and it's also the third that Amber and I will be a part of. It's also the first time that we've had a full 24-team field, 18 of which are coming from out of town. So, this Classic is sure to be the best ever. Yeah!

The last two years, we've been quite successful in the Classic, winning six games and losing two. Can we keep it up this year? To help ensure that we could, rather than form a team ourselves with me as skip, Amber and I combined forces with two of the club's better curlers (Murray and Kathy) and will leave the important shots and strategy to them. I'll have plenty of opportunities to skip bonspiel teams later on. In fact, I'm thinking of playing in at least one, possibly up to three "5 and under" bonspiels in 2010-2011. "5 and under" bonspiels are restricted to curlers with 5 years or less experience, and I want to play in as many as I can while I'm eligible and without children. And, I'd like to skip in at least one of the three.

So, I'll save the bonspiel skipping for another time. For now, let's go for the win! On paper, this team could definitely win it all. But even despite the home-ice advantage, and the fact that most of the out-of-town teams haven't curled in months, you never know how good some of these out-of-town teams are going to be. My general assumption when playing at bonspiels is that the other team is better than we are. I mean, let's face it - we're from North Carolina. It'll be a lot tougher to convince myself we're the underdog as long as Murray and Kathy are on our team (they're Canadian), but I'll try my best. (Pessimism: pass it on!) Regardless...there's no pressure, right? And can my arms can handle a full weekend of sweeping after playing skip most of the year?

I know I make it sound like the only thing I care about is winning, but I'm just trying to make it sound overly dramatic. Really, we're just in it to have fun, and I don't think Amber and I have ever played on a team with Murray and Kathy before, so it'll be fun. We've played with them individually, but never with all four of us on the same team.

I'll provide occasional Twitter/Facebook updates throughout the bonspiel to keep you posted on how well our quest for glory is going. Or, you can also follow our progress with the official team rosters and brackets. Wee!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Now What?

Here's the fear I always have when I come back from a long vacation such as the Alaska trip. Sure, that was fun, but...now what?

Well...let's see here. Amber and I do plan on starting a family, and that was our post-Alaska trip plan all along. But that's not what this blog post is about. (I'll let you know when that time has come. Until then, I'm going to stay hush-hush on the topic of future babies.) Instead, I'm going to talk about what we have planned for the next...oh, let's say, nine months.

Actually, the next nine months are going to pretty much be more of the same. You can get a decent approximation for how we'll be spending the next few months by looking at the top of the "Labels" column over there on the right. Road trips? Of course. Sports? Still a fan. Curling? Definitely. Television? Yep. Add in my continued interest in bicycling, and the beginning of our second season of kickball in a few weeks, and the next nine months are going to sound a lot like the last nine months.

Sure, there's a chance that we'll do something exciting every now and then, or take up a brand new hobby that I don't even know about yet. But here's the thing. By the time mid-September rolls around and all of the above activities coincide, our lives will be quite busy. Even if we were interested in starting something new, we wouldn't really have time for it. I think we've reached capacity in that regard. (Sounds like the perfect time to think about raising a family, hmm?)

So, really, that's bad news for the blog. New, exciting things make for great blog material. Routine stuff? Not so much. I guess what I'm saying is this: if you don't care about any of the afore-mentioned topics, or are just looking for something other than long-winded meaningless discussion about things that don't really matter, then I apologize.