Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sports Saturday: 10/30/10

In the aftermath of Thursday night's unbelievably frustrating Florida State v. NC State football game, I was pretty pissed off. Then, I came to a realization: why am I so angry? This is stupid. Football is just entertainment, and I don't have to watch or pay attention at all, so I should enjoy it as an observer, win or lose. (Ha!) Easier said than done...but today, I'm going to try and help by making today's Sports Saturday post 100% positive. Absolutely no negativity allowed. Only happy thoughts. I love sports! Happy happy joy joy!

Of course, this "happy thoughts only" policy means today's post will be shorter than usual.

College football

Sat 12:00p - Clemson at Boston College, WRAL (ACC Network): Does Florida State's loss on Thursday mean I should start rooting for the other contending Atlantic Division teams - such as Clemson - to lose? Perhaps, but I don't want to worry about all that. I'm just going to watch the games. Happy thoughts!
Sat 12:00p - Miami (FL) at Virginia, ESPN: Actually, I'm riding my bike today, so I'll miss most of the first time slot. That's okay, though, it's going to be a beautiful day! Happy thoughts! (Actually, the last two time slots have, by far, the most interesting games of the day.)
Sat 12:00p - Northwestern at Indiana, Big Ten Network
Sat 12:00p - Purdue at Illinois, ESPN2
Sat 2:30p - Tulsa at Notre Dame, NBC
Sat 3:30p - Michigan State at Iowa, ABC: I have to admit, I didn't think Michigan State would pull it out against Northwestern last weekend. What about today? Could Michigan State actually win the Big Ten this year? If not, no big deal, because I'm going to be happy today!
Sat 3:30p - Missouri at Nebraska, ESPN: Most Nebraska games seem to be buried in ABC regional coverage and/or, but not today! Let's go Huskers! (Sorry, Missouri.)
Sat 3:30p - Wake Forest at Maryland, ESPNU
Sat 3:30p - Florida v. Georgia, CBS
Sat 3:30p - Duke at Navy, CBS College: Duke hasn't done so well this year, but on the bright side...they're on TV today!
Sat 3:30p - East Carolina at Central Florida, MASN
Sat 6:00p - Auburn at Ole Miss, ESPN2: Now that Auburn is #1, I should remind everyone that Clemson almost beat them a few weeks ago. Go ACC! Moral victory!
Sat 7:30p - Utah at Air Force, CBS College: I put Utah on the schedule every week, yet I rarely actually watch them, because it seems like they always jump out to a big lead early in the game. That's not likely to happen today, and that means exciting football! Yeah!
Sat 8:00p - Michigan at Penn State, ESPN: I know this is Michigan, and every time I these two teams play, I can't help but be reminded of that game back in...wait, I said happy thoughts only. If Penn State doesn't win tonight, no big deal. Let's go State!
Sat 8:00p - Oregon at USC, ABC: Perhaps the most exciting team to watch in college football right now, I haven't watched Oregon at all this year. Let's change that tonight.


Sun 1:00p - Jacksonville at Dallas, WRAL 5: Wait a mean the Jaguars are actually going to be televised locally? Wow!!! (Due to the "happy thoughts only" rule, that will be the extent of today's Jaguars discussion.)
Sun 1:00p - Denver v. San Francisco, DirecTV 704: Speaking of teams and games that usually aren't broadcast locally, I've never actually seen one of the London games. Let's check it out.
Sun 1:00p - Buffalo at Kansas City, DirecTV 707: The Bills have been close to winning, but it hasn't happened yet. It's going to happen sooner or later, right? I mean, even the Browns won last week! (The Browns/Saints game must have been a really fun one to watch last week, based on the highlights.)
Sun 1:00p - Miami at Cincinnati, DirecTV 705
Sun 1:00p - Green Bay at NY Jets, DirecTV 709
Sun 1:00p - Washington at Detroit, DirecTV 708
Sun 1:00p - Carolina at St. Louis, WRAZ 50
Sun 4:15p - Tampa Bay at Arizona, DirecTV 714: Yay, four late games today! Tampa Bay keeps defying my expectations and winning; will they keep it up today? (If not, that's okay, of course.)
Sun 4:15p - Seattle at Oakland, DirecTV 713
Sun 4:15p - Minnesota at New England, WRAZ 50
Sun 4:05p - Tennessee at San Francisco, DirecTV 711
Sun 8:20p - Pittsburgh at New Orleans, NBC


Sat 7:00p - Pittsburgh at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas: Eight games into the season, the Hurricanes are 4-4, which sounds about right. Last year, they didn't win their 4th game until November 19th (game #21), so...that's reason to celebrate! Go Canes!
Sat 7:00p - Florida at Montréal, Fox Sports Florida: As of Friday morning, Montréal is in first place in the East. I expect this to change on an almost weekly basis. How exciting!
Sat 7:00p - NY Rangers at Toronto, NHL Network: The Leafs are one of the few bandwagon teams in sports that actually doesn't bother me, perhaps because they're Canadian. Go Canada!
Sat 7:00p - Nashville at Detroit, SportSouth
Sat 7:00p - Boston at Ottawa, NESN
Sat 7:00p - NY Islanders at Philadelphia, MSG Plus 2
Sat 8:00p - Buffalo at Dallas, MSG Buffalo
Sat 8:00p - Atlanta at St. Louis, Fox Sports Midwest
Sat 8:00p - Chicago at Minnesota, NHL Center Ice (I assume)
Sat 9:00p - Tampa Bay at Phoenix, Sun Sports: Tampa Bay has been fun to watch so far. They might be the Southeast Division's best chance at a second playoff spot. Woo!
Sat 9:00p - Columbus at Colorado, Altitude 2
Sat 10:00p - Washington at Calgary, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sat 10:30p - New Jersey at Los Angeles, Fox Sports West
Sat 10:30p - Anaheim at San Jose, CSN California

Auto racing

Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega, ESPN: So...I think I said a few weeks ago that I wasn't going to pay much attention to the "Chase for the Cup", but that's a lie. I actually have been paying attention. And I think it will climax not with the last race of the season, but this weekend with Talladega, the most random race of the season. Is Talladega fair, and is it fair that it may carry so much weight towards the championship? Perhaps not. But will it be entertaining? You betcha! I may even watch the entire race this week (on DVR of course).

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity

I don't talk about politics much. In fact, when I started the blog, I said I would never talk about it. (That didn't exactly pan out.) But with tomorrow's Jon Stewart "Rally to Restore Sanity", I suppose now is as good an opportunity as any. Finally, a politcal rally for reasonable moderates like me who generally like to stay out of these sorts of things! (At least, I'd like to think I'm reasonable.)

We know several people who are going. When Jon Stewart announced the rally on The Daily Show, it was almost like he was talking directly to me. Are you tired of the extremes of the left/right spectrum dominating the political discussion in this country instead of the middle 85%? Do you think all of the hyperbole that exists in today's news media and in 'town hall meetings' (for example) is absolutely ridiculous? Do you favor sound reason and deliberate decision-making over frenzied emotional anger? Do you think we all need to calm down a little bit and work together instead of against each other? Well, here's a rally for you! (I don't remember exactly how Stewart put it, but he was spot on as far as I'm concerned.)

So...I'd love to go to Washington and help represent the political middle. If it were just down the street, sure! But it would take up the entire weekend (or, at least, an entire day), and if we were going to spend an entire day somewhere a few hours away from home, Amber and I would rather spend it alone in the mountains. We have enough trouble getting around Washington on a normal day, and spending a day in a hectic city atmosphere just isn't our idea of a vacation, so...we're staying home. This means I'll likely never attend a large political rally, because I doubt there will ever be a better one for me than the "Rally to Restore Sanity".

Really, I guess you can count me among the "disenchanted voter" crowd. I find the current extreme-dominated political state of this country kind of discouraging. Maybe I should go to the rally, might give me some hope.* While I am going to vote next Tuesday, I haven't done any research, and I have no idea who I'm going to vote for other than in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate races. But I won't get into that, because I don't want to start a heated political debate. Like I said...I generally like to stay out of these things.

* - Actually...I don't want be one of those "AMERICA IS SCREWED" people, so let me backtrack a little. Politics are infuriating to follow at times, yes. Nevertheless, we have it pretty good in this country. I bet the divisive 21st century political climate isn't that much different than it was in most of the 20th or even the 19th century, and this country has done alright for itself over the last 200 years, so...we'll be fine. Let's all calm down a little. Let's restore sanity! Or something.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Antarctica License Plate

Being a license plate geek of sorts, you can imagine my excitement when I spotted this plate a few weeks ago:

This can't possibly be an officially registered license plate, right? Especially considering this was spotted only on the front of a vehicle and not the back? (That doesn't automatically mean it's a fake; some people put an older legitimate license plate on the front of their vehicle along with the official one on the back.)

Well...I had to at least consider the possibility. Antarctica has no permanent residents, but people do live there temporarily for research or whatever. Shoot, Antarctica even has its own disc golf course. Surely, there must be at least some motorized vehicles in Antarctica, right?

There probably are a few motorized vehicles in Antarctica. However, there are no vehicles permanently registered there, and the license plate you see above is a souvenir plate you can buy online for $15.

Some of you may be thinking "well, yeah, of COURSE it's only a souvenir plate you moron", but I have to give them credit. Fake or not, the plate is well designed. I don't like the subtle hints that it's a fake (SP = South Pole, and 90°) - something random like "AXV 541" would be more genuine - but a nice try nevertheless. Personally, I think these souvenir plates should be harder to get, perhaps only available to cars - or, at the very least, people - who have actually been there. Of course, who am I to say this guy has never been to Antarctica?

In other license plate news...ARMAGEDDON IS COMING!!!

This means North Carolina has almost reached the end of the alphabet, at which point, the world will end. Or, they'll just start back over at AAA-, which they can do because North Carolina has never used the letters A through M as the second letter of its plates. That's part of the reason why North Carolina reached the end of the alphabet so quickly, compared to other states that use the ABC-1234 format (e.g. Pennsylvania, who I believe is still in the H's; Virginia doesn't count because they STARTED with ZZZ-).

In any case, it's time for me to start looking for the "holy grails". My goal is to find a ZZZ- license plate and an AAA- license plate. That might be harder than it sounds, because I think certain letter combinations are only issued in certain parts of the state. For example, I see VYA- plates (that's my combination) all the time around the Triangle, but not so much in other parts of the state, suggesting that all 9,000 of the VYA- plates were sent to DMVs in our area. What if ZZZ- and AAA- end up being issued in a part of the state I rarely visit, such as Asheville or New Bern?

Personally, I might even be willing to pay a little extra to be the proud owner of the ZZZ-9999 license plate. Is there a way I can make that happen?

Under 92

Here's something I discovered recently. Three of my top four FM radio presets are stations with a frequency of 92 or less: a local college / indie rock station, the local NPR affiliate, and a classical station (actually, THE classical station.) Does this mean anything?

Actually, it might. When I was younger, I somehow came to a conclusion that all FM radio stations in the "under 92" range were pretty much a waste of time. So when I was on the road and searching for radio, I pretty much just skipped straight to 92.1 and went from there. My taste in radio has changed a lot since then, but nevertheless, the fact remains the same. There's something about those "under 92" stations. What is it?

I think most "under 92" stations fall under one of the following four categories: talk (usually NPR), classical, Christian, or college. What do those four categories of radio stations have in common? They're usually non-profit. Coincidence? I actually don't know.

And just to show that I'm not making this up, here's a list of the "under 92" stations in the Triangle and in Jacksonville, grabbed from Wikipedia:

Raleigh area
- 88.1 FM is the NC State radio station.
- 88.7 FM is the Duke radio station.
- 88.9 FM is the Shaw University radio station.
- 89.3 FM is the UNC radio station.
- 89.7 FM is the afore-mentioned "THE Classical Station".
- 90.5 FM is a religious station.
- 90.7 FM is the North Carolina Central University station.
- 91.1 FM is "His Radio", another religious station.
- 91.5 FM is the local NPR affiliate.

Jacksonville area
- 88.1 FM is "The Promise", a Christian comtemporary station.
- 88.7 FM is "Family Radio", a nationally-syndicated, listener-supported Christian radio station.
- 89.3 FM is "The Lighthouse", another Christian comtemporary station.
- 89.9 FM is the local NPR affiliate.
- 90.5 FM is part of the "Bible Broadcasting Network".
- 90.9 FM is "Jones College Radio", a non-commercial easy listening station.
- 91.7 FM is "The Truth". Wanna guess what their format is?

So...why are these types of channels always "under 92"? Anyone know?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Travelogue: 10/23/10 - Blue Ridge Parkway and Stokes County, NC

It's been a while since Amber and I went for a drive purely for the sake of driving. Now is also a good time of year to go to the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia if you like fall foliage. Those were two good reasons to not sit around the house last Saturday. Let's go driving!

View Larger Map

We didn't just make a bee line for the parkway and then come back, of course. We took a few side roads along the way. That's what we do. But unlike most of our recent driving adventures, we also did it without GPS aid. We left Jill at home, and decided to navigate the old-fashioned way: fold-out maps! I didn't print out directions beforehand or anything, either; we pretty much planned the route on the fly, using only the maps we brought with us. Finding your way the old-fashioned way didn't always go smoothly, but that's part of the adventure, right? Some of the roads we took, I had no idea where they would go (other than "that way"), but most of them worked out pretty well. I think my navigation skills are still pretty good, even if GPS navigation has dumbed me down a little.

So, anyway...let's split this up into segments:

Point A (home) to Point B (Ferrum, VA): Most of the side roads we took here - and there were many - actually ended up taking us back to the road we were trying to avoid in the first place.

Along the way, we drove by Martinsville, which was hosting a NASCAR Truck Series race that day. I don't know what time the race was that day - we were definitely there before the race, I just don't know how long before - but it didn't affect traffic any. It probably would have been a different story if we had done this on Sunday instead.

Point B (Ferrum, VA) to Point C (Bent Mountain, VA):
Ferrum is a small town that I had never heard of it before. Apparently, it hosts something called the Blue Ridge Folklife Festival on the fourth Saturday of October every year. I had never heard of that, either, except that Saturday was, in fact, the fourth Saturday of October. The result: a HUGE line of cars heading into town on VA-40, and a short, somewhat blind detour on our part. Maybe we would have stopped and checked out the festivities if we knew what was going on, or if traffic on westbound VA-40 were actually moving. We picked a heck of a day to visit Ferrum for the first time ever, didn't we?

After that, I admit, I was getting a little impatient. Where is this damn Blue Ridge Parkway, anyway? Making matters worse, the road that we were on - 602? 620? I don't know - did not provide direct access to the Parkway. You mean, we came all this way, and now we can't even get on the Parkway? Bah! (I realize the Blue Ridge Parkway is limited access, but many small country roads intersect the Parkway in this part of Virginia and provide direct access, and you can't tell via a fold-out map which ones do and which ones don't. The road we were on is one that doesn't, as we discovered.)

Fortunately, Amber kept her cool, said "turn right" (on US-221), and behold: an entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway was literally right there. Sweet.

Point C to Point D (42 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway from Bent Mountain to Meadows of Dan, VA): The main attraction. I even have a few pictures! (Amber has better pictures, but we haven't organized them yet. Maybe some other time.)

Ha! Amber gets in a picture for once!

I love the Blue Ridge Parkway. It's very scenic, relaxing (no stoplights, stop signs, or anything!), and it's just great. Driving the Parkway from end-to-end in one day is on my "bucket list". We might try and devote a weekend to that next Spring. The foliage was nice, too.

I've heard that the I-77 to Roanoke stretch of the Blue Ridge Parkway is its least interesting stretch. I don't know if that's true or not, but if it is, "least interesting" is obviously a relative term, because it was absolutely beautiful. We're only two or three hours away from here, and we don't come up here enough.

Point D (Meadows of Dan, VA) to Point E (Walnut Cove, NC): One thing that's nice about my counties visited map is that it's an easy way for me to tell where I've been and where I haven't. But there are some limitations. For example, according to my map, I've been to Stokes County, North Carolina. Technically, that is true, because US-52 barely clips the southwestern corner of the county en route from Winston-Salem to Mount Airy. But have I really been to Stokes County?

US-52 was the only part of Stokes County I've ever been to...until Saturday. (On the map above, Stokes County is everything from just south of Point E up to the Virginia state line.) Some impressions of Stokes County after my first "real" visit there:

1) It's pretty redneck. For example, in Stokes County gas stations without "pay at the pump" appear to outnumber those with "pay at the pump". Is that redneck? Sure! According to redneck expert Jeff Foxworthy, being redneck is all about a general lack of sophistication. Old school gas pumps are a lack of sophistication. There's nothing wrong with that, by the way...unless you want me to purchase gas at your station.

2) I thought Hanging Rock State Park - which we drove in the vicinity of - would be kind of like Pilot Mountain: one interesting geologic formation randomly situated in the middle of mostly flat or gently rolling terrain. But I didn't realize that almost the entire county is hilly and/or mountainous. Bonus! We'll be back. (Hanging Rock State Park is also on our list; we've never been.)

Point E (Walnut Cove, NC) to Point F (home): Anything noteworthy happen here? Not really.

And so ends another Saturday with the Allens. We used to do this sort of thing more often, but I guess with age comes laziness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Restaurant Serving Times Update: 10/26/10

Amber and I went for a very pleasant scenic mountain drive in Virginia over the weekend, and I'll get to that eventually...but for now, let's talk stats! Specifically, perhaps my favorite set of stats - the restaurant serving times spreadsheet.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this spreadsheet is that every time I look through it, it's like taking a trip down memory lane. Hey, I remember going out to dinner with those people for that occasion! You might even remember being there as well. In fact, you may have even been a part of history. Were you among the 37 of us who went to Champs of State College, PA, on August 26, 2005, and waited over 50 minutes for our food? If you were - this was the Penn State Meteorology Department "welcome new grad students!" dinner, if that helps jog anyone's memory - you witnessed first-hand the longest restaurant serving time I've experienced in over 16 years of doing this. Congratulations!

Over the years, the spreadsheet has gotten quite long: there are now 232 restaurant instances listed. So, amazing record-breaking performances don't happen all that often anymore. The longest record has stood uncontested for over five years - nobody has come within four minutes of it since then - while the shortest record is absolutely ridiculous and will probably never be broken. I introduced the concept of an >annual champion a while back to help keep things interesting - two new records every year! - but as I was looking through the spreadsheet this morning, I noticed that some of the great serving times of all-time were sitting in spreadsheet obscurity. For example, Carolina Ale House of Raleigh (Cary) served my chicken fingers in 4 minutes, 4 seconds back in 2007. That's the best non-breakfast, non-barbecue serving time ever, and the 3rd best serving time overall. Problem is, it occurred the same year that Waffle Shop put up a time of 4 minutes flat, so it didn't win an annual title. 4:04 is pretty good, so surely, Carolina Ale House deserves some recognition, right?

Introducing the all-time Top 10! The 10 best and worst restaurant serving times of all time, going all the way back to 1994*, not just 2004. Now, Carolina Ale House gets the recognition it deserves, along with any other extreme events that just happened to occur in the same year as other even more extreme events. For example: I forgot all about Smokey Bones in Bangor, ME. 10th best all time! I also forgot how close Kelly's of Boalsburg, PA (called "The Big Moo" by some because of the big cow statue on the roof) came to being the all-time slowest, just because it happened only two months after Champs became the first - and, so far, only - restaurant to crack 50 minutes.

(* - With no data to go on, how can I be sure that no other restaurants prior to 2004 would have qualified for either top 10? I'm not. The only reason I remember Webb's Captain's Table's 39:22, for example, is because that was the all-time record for a short while. I seriously doubt that no other restaurants reached the 40-minute mark between 1998 and 2004. In fact, I'm pretty sure Bennigan's of Tallahassee, FL posted a time in the low 40s - maybe even the mid 40s - during my Florida State years. I don't remember the exact time, though, so I can't post it. Why couldn't I have started the spreadsheet a few years earlier? Darn it.)

Looking through both Top 10 lists, I see a couple of trends. We already knew about breakfast and barbecue; they occupy 8 of the top 10 spots on the "fast" leaderboard. But I also noticed that all 10 of the fast times involved parties of 4 or less, and that all but one of the Top 10 slow times involved parties of 7 or more. The number of people we bring to the restaurant has a big effect on how long it takes them to serve our food, so is it far to penalize (or reward) them based on something that's out of their control? Probably not, but there isn't much I can do about that.

Or is there? How about this: two additional Top 10 lists - one for "best ever times for parties of 7 or more", and one for "worst ever times for parties of 4 or less". (Parties of 5 and 6? You're out of luck.) Unlike with the overall lists, these lists only go back through the start of the spreadsheet in 2004, because my memory isn't that good.

With these new lists, restaurants will still have a chance for glory when we bring a large crowd, and vice versa. The "parties of 7 or more" list does have a small sample space, though - it's only happened 30 times in 6+ years - so being in the Top 10 of this list isn't all that prestigious, actually. In fact, the 10th-best "large party" time came just yesterday, and I can't say I was overwhelmed by the speed. I also think it's interesting that Cafe 210 West of State College, which has a slow reputation and was the slowest of all in 2006, posted the fastest "large party" time ever, even better than any of those Waffle Shop trips. Then again, that did happen in the summer, which makes a big difference in a college town.

Meanwhile, I've tried before, but I can't emphasize enough how slow Gambardella's of Fairbanks, AK truly was. Maybe this "Top 10" list will help put it in perspective. It's the slowest "small party" restaurant, and by a HUGE margin.

In other "slow restaurant" news, I forgot all about Ruby Tuesday. Back in the day (early 2000s), I used to go to Ruby Tuesday a lot, and I really liked it, even if it was slow. (I didn't realize it was as slow at the time, but Ruby Tuesday has two of the 10 slowest "small party" times, so history has shown they were indeed quite slow.) Now, Ruby Tuesday isn't even on the radar when we're thinking of a place to go out to dinner, and I haven't been since December 2005. It appears my affinity for Ruby Tuesday changed around the same time I changed girlfriends. Coincidence? (See what I mean about this spreadsheet being like a trip down memory lane?) Either way, I think a return trip is warranted. Is Ruby Tuesday still as slow as they used to be? Is Ruby Tuesday still in business, even? (They are, believe it or not. Apparently they've recently "rebranded" themselves. Uh huh. One thing I remember about Ruby Tuesday is that the menu was completely different pretty much every time we went. If you ask me, constant change and "rebranding" are major signs of weakness. You know, maybe we shouldn't go back.)

Of course, even with these new Top 10 lists, the best and worst times of the year are still important titles. The best and worst times of 2010, to date, still both belong to restaurants in Alaska. Both times are worthy of being annual champions, and I think both restaurants have a pretty good chance of holding onto their respective titles through the end of the year. Will they? Stay tuned!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Curling Recap: 10/22/10

Career game #111: Fall League Week 4 - October 22, 2010
(our team: Scheck)

End........ 1234567 |TTL
Scheck..... 2010000 | 03
Chick...... 0201222 | 09

First, a little background: this game featured the only two remaining undefeated teams in the Triangle Curling Club Fall League. But since half the teams (4 out of 8) make the playoffs, it was hardly a "must win" game in terms of our league championship aspirations. Despite the loss, we're still in pretty good shape as far as that goes.

So...the game. Good news* - opposing skip Brian, one of the best curlers in our club, wasn't there, and opposing vice Jeff B. would be playing skip for the first time ever! Easy win, right? Nope. Bad news - they brought in some "ringers" (e.g. other good curlers from our club) to fill out the team, so the team was probably as potent as they usually are. We were completely outplayed from the 5th end on. Jeff held his own in his first-ever game as skip, despite falling into the same trap that most inexperienced skips on our ice do: whenever the other team has the advantage, call a take-out. That strategy works, though, when your team actually makes the take-outs. This was the rare instance on our ice where the take-out strategy defeated the draw strategy, and soundly at that. (Yes, there were some lucky bounces here and there, but the better team won.)

(* - Note that when I say "good news", I mean in terms of our chances of victory; I was actually hoping to play the other team in full. I never think "oh goodie!" when someone from the other team has to call in for a substitute. That's not the curling way! On the other hand, according to Facebook, Brian was playing golf in Myrtle Beach last week or something, so...I don't feel too bad.)

And, here's another thing. In our last game of the Blazing Leaves bonspiel two weeks prior, I was more willing to call take-outs instead of draws, even when the draw (specifically, a "freeze") was the correct play. Why? Let's go diagramming, shall we?

In a case where the other team has a rock behind the tee line (past the center of the house), the Proper Curling Play is usually to "freeze" to that rock. If you execute, not only is your rock now "shot rock", but it also has backing and is hard to remove from play. But here's the thing: if you're like us and have trouble with draw weight - and to properly execute a "freeze", your weight must be perfect - there's a decent chance you'll leave it short. Leave it short, and you actually help the other team by giving them a well-placed guard. Oops!

In this situation, you absolutely do NOT want to be light with your weight. Perhaps the best thing to do for teams like us is to try to aim for "back line" weight. If you're a little heavy, it becomes a light take-out (as long as the line is correct). If you're a little light, you're still in the house, and you may even end up with the ultra-super-awesome "freeze". Either way, you're doing okay, as long as it doesn't end up being a guard. Anything but a guard! At least twice on Friday, we threw the dreaded "oops" shot in this situation and could never recover.

So, yeah. We didn't really play bad on Friday, but regardless, my confidence is now nowhere near as high as it was a few weeks ago. It might be good to win the next one. (Yes, I am overreacting.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sports Saturday: 10/23/10

It's the weekend. Let's watch sports! In today's issue...

College football: Today, we'll find out how bad Penn State really is.
NFL: Jacksonville is 3-3 and Tampa Bay is 3-2, but why does it feel like both teams are hopeless?
NHL: The New York Rangers are celebrating their 85th anniversary this year. Why?
Auto racing: I just discovered that the company I work for sponsors a Formula One team. Unfortunately, it's one of the crappy ones.
(Wow, I'm being really cynical today, aren't I? Sorry.)

College football - Three college football-related thoughts this week, starting with the team that actually plays today: Penn State.

We already know Penn State isn't very good this year. But how bad are they, really? We'll find out today, because they play one of the worst teams in the country: Minnesota. We know where the ceiling is for Penn State this year (7-5?), but we don't know where the floor is. They should win at least two games in the Big Ten this year...right? Or might 0-8 actually be a realistic possibility? Today's Minnesota game should give us a good idea. Should be a fun game! I'm actually looking forward to it.

On the other end of the spectrum, I had to know that as soon as I talked about how good Florida State was this year, that they'd go out and almost lose to Boston College. Fortunately, despite those four turnovers, they won. Let's try to not make that a habit, eh? FSU plays NC State this coming Thursday night in a game I plan to stay up and watch.

Finally, it's about that time of year: time to complain about the BCS! But there's plenty of BCS hate on the internet as it is, and none of the teams I root for are in the national championship discussion, so...whatever. Have fun determining a "national champion", because really, I don't care. College football season pretty much ends for me after the conference championship games. (The BCS is the #1 reason why my interest has been tilting more towards the NFL than college as of late.)

Sat 12:00p - Penn State at Minnesota, ESPNU
Sat 12:00p - Michigan State at Northwestern, ESPN: If you're Michigan State, this just has to seem like one of those so-called "trap games", doesn't it?
Sat 12:00p - Duke at Virginia Tech, WRAL (ACC Network): Looks like Duke's return to bowl eligibility will have to wait another year.
Sat 12:00p - Notre Dame v. Navy, WRAL.2
Sat 12:00p - Purdue at Ohio State, Big Ten Network
Sat 12:00p - Indiana at Illinois, Big Ten Network
Sat 3:30p - Georgia Tech at Clemson, ABC
Sat 3:30p - LSU at Auburn, CBS
Sat 3:30p - Wisconsin at Iowa, ESPN
Sat 6:00p - Colorado State at Utah, the mtn.: Just reminding everyone that Utah is still undefeated, too, and that they play TCU in two weeks.
Sat 7:30p - North Carolina at Miami (FL), ESPN2: I thought about putting Alabama at Tennessee on this list, but...nah.

NFL - To answer the question above: why does it seem like the Jaguars and Buccaneers are both lost causes even though their records (3-3 and 3-2, respectively) are okay? Easy - because when both teams lose, they lose. All three of the Jaguars' losses, and both of the Bucs' losses, have been blowout losses. Meanwhile, their wins haven't been all that spectacular, because they're either against the league's worst - Buffalo and Carolina, for instance - or because they "barely" won. And, there's also the quarterback situation, at least for the Jaguars. So don't let the records fool you...I doubt either team will get to 8 wins. But what do I know?

Actually, given the quarterback situation this week, I do know that the Jaguars will probably not beat the Chiefs.

Sun 1:00p - Jacksonville at Kansas City, DirecTV 706
Sun 1:00p - St. Louis at Tampa Bay, DirecTV 709: A winnable game for the Bucs? In theory...
Sun 1:00p - Washington at Chicago, DirecTV 712: I'm not going to put too much thought into how I rank these games, because it'll really depend on how close they are. Cleveland at New Orleans, for example, will definitely be on my radar...but I don't expect it to be close, so I won't bother with the first half.
Sun 1:00p - Pittsburgh at Miami, WRAL 5
Sun 1:00p - San Francisco at Carolina, WRAZ 50
Sun 1:00p - Cincinnati at Atlanta, DirecTV 704
Sun 1:00p - Buffalo at Baltimore, DirecTV 705
Sun 1:00p - Cleveland at New Orleans, DirecTV 708
Sun 1:00p - Philadelphia at Tennessee, DirecTV 710
Sun 4:05p - Arizona at Seattle, DirecTV 713
Sun 4:15p - New England at San Diego, WRAL 5
Sun 4:15p - Oakland at Denver, DirecTV 715
Sun 8:20p - Minnesota at Green Bay, NBC

NHL - First, here's a memo to the New York Rangers. A 75th or 100th anniversary is worth celebrating, but an 85th anniversary is not. What's so special about the number 85, anyway? Are the Rangers going to have commemorative jersey patches and center ice logos every five years now? It'd be one thing if it was just for one night, but my understanding is that the center ice logo and jersey patches will stay ALL SEASON LONG. It also happens to be the Chicago Blackhawks' 85th anniversary this year, but are they making a big hubbub over it? Of course not; they're just going about their business. This has to be the dumbest anniversary commemoration ever. I can't emphasize enough how stupid I think this is.

Meanwhile, back on the of Friday morning, your Eastern Conference division leaders are Toronto, Tampa Bay, and the New York Islanders. None of those teams have made the playoffs in any of the last three seasons. Yeah, it's early, but...awesome. I think it's interesting to watch teams that are massively overachieving, because you never know which way they're going to go. Can they keep it up, or will the poop inevitably hit the fan*?

(* - As seen on this week's "MythBusters". I don't want to spoil it for those who plan on watching the episode later, so I won't tell you whether or not poop hitting a fan does, in fact, get everyone covered in s#!@.)

Sat 7:00p - Toronto at Philadelphia, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - NY Islanders at Florida, MSG Plus 2
Sat 7:00p - Buffalo at New Jersey, MSG Plus
Sat 7:00p - Montréal at Ottawa, NHL Center Ice
Sat 7:00p - Atlanta at Washington, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sat 7:00p - Anaheim at Detroit, Fox Sports Detroit
Sat 7:00p - NY Rangers at Boston, NESN
Sat 8:00p - Pittsburgh at St. Liuis, Fox Sports Midwest
Sat 8:00p - Nashville at Dallas, NHL Center Ice?
Sat 8:30p - Columbus at Chicago, CSN Chicago
Sat 9:00p - Carolina at Phoenix, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 9:00p - Los Angeles at Colorado, Fox Sports West
Sat 10:00p - San Jose at Edmonton, CSN California
Sun 6:00p - Nashville at Tampa Bay, SportSouth
Sun 7:00p - New Jersey at NY Rangers, MSG
Sun 8:00p - San Jose at Calgary, CSN California

Auto racing - So, I was playing my Formula One video game the other day, when I happened to spot a CSC company logo inside the game (CSC being the company I work for). I then did some investigating, and discovered that CSC is the Official Technology Partner of Virgin Racing. Sweet! CSC used to sponsor a Tour de France team, and at the time, I said that it would be way cooler if my employer sponsored a Formula One team instead. Well, that time has arrived, although I didn't even find out about it until the season was nearly over.

Virgin Racing is one of those new teams that is always running near the back. In fact, Virgin Racing is currently the very worst team in Formula One (12th out of 12 in the constructors' standings, baby!). But everyone has to start somewhere, right? Given that I often root for the crappy teams in sports anyway, I suppose it's fitting. In fact, it's probably better this way, considering I'm on the CSC payroll and all; I'm assuming that sponsoring Virgin costs a wee bit less than sponsoring, say, McLaren. And besides, does YOUR company sponsor a Formula One team? No? Didn't think so.

Perhaps my favorite thing about Virgin Racing is that to start the year, their cars' fuel tanks weren't big enough to allow them to finish the entire race. I does that happen? Seems like a rather important detail, don't you think? Oops! I'm going to assume that wasn't CSC's fault.

Sun 2:00a - Formula One Korean Grand Prix, SPEED
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Martinsville, ESPN

Friday, October 22, 2010

Connecticut Pictures

I've already posted some pictures from our curling / Fall foliage-inspired trip to Connecticut from two weeks ago. But those pictures were all taken with my crappy camera phone. Now, as promised, I'm going to present some better pictures from the weekend, taken with Amber's far superior camera.

Let's start with a couple of pictures from the...

I'm assuming that nut-looking thing in the center is a nutmeg. Either way, the Nutmeg Curling Club (Bridgeport, CT) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

As I said before, they have a pretty nice facility up there. They take curling seriously in Connecticut.

Our team, minus Amber, before our first game of the weekend. That's Tabby and Justin on the left. Tabby looks a little worried about the upcoming game; can't say I blame her.

So...this requires some explanation. The Nutmeg Curling Club shares a parking lot with the "Wonderland of Ice", a normal ice rink for hockey, skating, or whatever. In this parking lot on Saturday, there were quite a few...uhh..."vendors", selling...uhh..."merchandise". If you ever wanted a cheap imitation handbag, belt, or poorly translated Japanese pajamas, this was the place to be! It was very sketchy, but nevertheless, Amber found the above item to be too funny to pass up. It's probably "for best" I don't tell you how much it cost, though.

That's all from the curling rink. Now, pictures from the rest of Connecticut.

Some of the pictures will look familiar, but like I said, these are better pictures. The Connecticut Welcome Center along Merritt Parkway is kind of a cute little building, but it's a shame "the season" is so short up here.

A covered bridge somewhere near the Connecticut/New York state line in Litchfield County. Generic, yes, but this is the kind of stuff I want and expect to see in rural New England.

Near the covered bridge.

Interesting statues in Kent, Connecticut.

Sign me up!

Kent Falls State Park.

New England is a popular place for artists to go in order to find inspiration, apparently.

They were very adamant that we not go swimming.

Dunkin Donuts pretty much owns New England. You're never far from one up here.

This is Connecticut Route 8, which - despite being an expressway - is surprisingly scenic and not that busy once you get north of I-84. See what happens when you get away from the interstates? You might actually enjoy your time in Connecticut!

In hindsight, the foliage wasn't as close to peak that weekend as it was when we went to the Adirondacks the previous year. But it was still nice.

Finally, here are some more pictures from Kent Falls State Park, just because.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Generic Oreos

Back when I wrote this post over three years ago, I stated that the only brand of generic Oreos I had found "acceptable" at that point were Wegmans brand "O's", and that I would never buy store-brand Oreos at any store besides Wegmans. Times have changed.

Kroger now has generic Oreos (called Kid-O's), and they're excellent. We had Safeway's store brand Oreos (called Tuxedos) during our Alaska trip, and they were high quality as well. Has the secret Oreo recipe been leaked or something? Because I've done a complete 180° regarding my stance on store-brand Oreos. Now, it's store-brand Oreos all the way. You can even get Wegmans O's, Kid-Os, and Tuxedos in "double stuff"!

Now...before you run to your neighborhood grocer and try some store-brand Oreos for yourself, I do have a couple of important points:

- There is a BIG difference between store brand Oreos and even more generic store brand sandwich cookies. Old school generic sandwich cookies typically come in larger containers, have larger cookies and less filling (a much higher cookie-to-filling ratio, if you will), and they are nohwere as good. Make sure you get cookies that are clearly attempting to mimic Oreos. It'll be fairly obvious. (Often, generic Oreos are branded as "deluxe" sandwich cookies, and they use the same color scheme as regular Oreos: blue = regular, pink = double stuff, brown = chocolate filling.)

- Not every store's generic Oreos are good. Target's attempt at generic Oreos, for example, isn't as successful. They must not have gotten their hands on the secret recipe yet.

Generic Oreos have a lot going for them: they taste good, and many of them have fun names! In fact, I think I've found a new grocery store obsession. I must now find and consume as many different brands of generic Oreos as possible. To be continued...

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kickball Recap: 10/18/10

Our second season of recreational co-ed kickball came to an end last night. Now that we're two seasons in, and given that this is my 5th blog post dedicated to the subject, I think it's time to give kickball its own blog label. Woo!

So, when you last heard from me, our less-than-talented team had actually won a game, and being my usual pessimistic self, I had to wonder whether we'd win again the rest of the season. Well, here's the final tally on the season:

Officially, our record was 3-8, and we finished 4th out of 5 teams. One of those wins was by forfeit, but whether you count forfeit wins or not, we won one more game this season than we did last season. Hooray! I think that means we had a successful season.

Another indicator of improvement: we were only "mercy ruled" once, in the very first game of the season. (The "mercy rule" says that the game is over if one team has a 10+ run lead after the 5th inning or later.) I don't remember how many times we were "mercy ruled" the previous season, but I'm pretty sure it was at least three. There was definite improvement defensively this season, both in terms of catching pop flies (particularly in the outfield) and keeping those "uh oh, there goes the ball over the outfielder's head" moments to a minimum. I think we were also a little better offensively, but we still had a hard time scoring more than 2 or 3 runs most games.

Let's compare my batting and pitching numbers between seasons: (In both seasons, I've "batted" lead-off, and pitched the majority of the team's innings.)

BATTING, Season 1: 28 H in 41 AB (.683), 2 RBI, 10 R
BATTING, Season 2: 26 H in 39 AB (.667), 1 RBI, 7 R, 1 2B
Analysis: The slight decrease in my batting average is probably statistically insignificant, but I'll chalk that up to "the scouting report". By now, everyone else in the league knows that when I'm at the plate, I'm going to bunt. I also had my first ever double, which was awesome. (It too was a bunt; the fielders were patiently waiting for it to roll foul, which it never did, and while they watched, I ran to second.) Even though I reached base about the same number of times, I scored three fewer runs this season. Maybe I can blame that on my teammates :)

PITCHING, Season 1: 9 starts, 2-7 record, 9.18 ERA (68 ER in 66.2 IP), 15 K, 2 BB (2 IBB)
PITCHING, Season 2: 10 starts, 2-8 record, 8.10 ERA (66 ER in 73.1 IP), 12 K, 6 BB (5 IBB)
Analysis: I still think pitching is overrated in kickball, so the decrease in ERA is almost certainly due to improved defense rather than anything I did. I think my pitching was actually less effective this season than last. Our opponents started to become accustomed to my crazy spin action, and strikeouts were a lot harder to come by this time around, especially late in the season. I walked many more batters this season, because, well...when there's an open base, why not? Kickball defense is a lot easier when you have force plays at bases besides 1st. (Side note: that "non-intentional" walk was basically intentional, but not officially.)

So...where do we go from here? Well, there's talk that next year, we're going to switch from the Knightdale league to the Raleigh league, for a few reasons:
- More teams play in Raleigh, and more teams = more fun. There were only five teams in the Knightdale league this season. That's down from seven the previous season. How many will stick around for next season? Who knows?
- The Knightdale kickball league isn't the most well-organized. Last night, for instance, one of the game officials didn't even show up.
- The impression I have is that while the level of play may be slightly higher in the Raleigh league, it is a little friendlier and social than the Knightdale league, which is...actually, I better not go there. My name is attached to this thing.

Either way, we'll be back for the next season, whenever it starts (Spring?), and wherever we decide to play. Gooooo team!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tour de Cary

It's been a while since I blogged about bicycling, and it's pretty much the only noteworthy thing I did over the weekend, so...let's do it. Yeah!

Yesterday, I rode my bike 47.7 miles through western Wake County (Cary, mostly), which was my second-longest single day ride ever. (I rode 52 miles in one day a couple of months ago.) I also took a bunch of pictures along the way, which you may have already seen via Facebook/Twitter...but don't stop reading if you have! My narrative isn't limited to 140 character snippets here.

I didn't log the ride on SportyPal in order to conserve phone battery life, and Google Maps is making it very difficult to map my route exactly, so here's an approximate Google Map instead:

View Larger Map

On with the pictures:

This is actually very close to home (2-3 miles), and I ride my bike around here a lot, but I've never taken a picture. Is this not the best bike lane ever? It's wider than the road itself!

I assume, of course, that eventually this road will be widened to four or five lanes of vehicle traffic. But who knows when. North Carolina likes to widen and pave certain sections of road only to not widen the adjacent sections for several years or longer, rendering these brief widened sections rather useless. Unless you're a cyclist.

Cary has a lot of "greenways" like this one. They're mostly meant for walkers and joggers, and most of them are only a mile or two long (if that). But I see a lot of other bicycle traffic on them, and they're really nice, so why not use them?

This particular greenway (the "White Oak Creek Greenway") is one of the longer ones (4 miles or so), except that part of it is closed while they build this:

This is future NC Highway 540. Scheduled opening: 2012 or so.

(Side comment: those are my gloves sitting on my bicycle seat. The temperature was in the low 40s when I started, but was well into the upper 60s when I finished. So I had to "dress in layers" and carry my sweatshirt and gloves in my backpack for all but the first 8 or so miles.)

This is downtown Apex, which I've never biked to before, because getting there is kind of a pain (busy roads). It was worth the trip, though, and the adjacent residential neighborhood just east of the "Historic Downtown" is actually really nice.

I didn't post this picture initially, but this is a mysterious building in Apex. Signs throughout the complex say things like "no trespassing", "no weapons" and "we're watching you", but there is no big sign in front of the building that says what this place is. Yet, there are no intimidating barbed-wire fences or anything that would suggest this is a prison or detention facility or something. So what is this place? I looked it up: it's a training facility for Department of Corrections employees.

I've probably mentioned this, like, three dozen times before, but business parks are among my favorite places to ride on weekends. The roads are wide, and there isn't much traffic, if any. Research Triangle Park is, of course, the best example (and it's close to home!). This is Regency Parkway in Cary, which was built to handle a lot more traffic than it sees on a Sunday morning.

Our former residence, "Amberwood at Lochmere" apartments, signifying the halfway point of my ride. Our former apartment complex seemed like a logical place to base the route around.

Side comment: "Amberwood at Lochmere" is just one of many "snobby" apartment complex names you'll find in Cary. I think my favorite, though, is "Tradition at Stonewater". (We know someone who lives there.)

Side comment #2: Since it's possible people will stumble upon this blog post when searching for reviews of either apartment complex, and I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea, let me go on the record by saying that either apartment complex would make a fine home for prospective renters such as yourself.

This is a pedestrian bridge over the US 1/64 freeway that also happens to be bicycle-friendly (meaning no stairs). I'm a fan. We need more of these.

Throughout most of Cary, all the houses look the same. But here's one with some personality! Wow! A rare sight indeed in Cary, the most image-conscious town I've ever been associated with. (Actually, "inner" Cary - just south of the downtown area, which is where this house was found - actually looks like a normal, slightly aged neighborhood.)

No caption necessary here.

See, this is what I think of when I think of Cary. Big houses that all look the same, and not many trees. Except that this is actually neighboring Morrisville. Close enough, right?

That last picture was taken at mile 36, which is a couple of miles after the ride stopped being fun and started hurting. A lot. Between this ride and the 52-mile ride I tried in August, at least now I know my limit, though:
- 30 miles? I can do that.
- 35 miles? I can do that, too, although this is about when I start to feel the burn. (That's a solid improvement from this time one year ago, when the burn would usually come after mile 20 or 25.)
- 40 miles? Sure, although the last few miles may not be so pleasant.
- 45 miles or more? Bad idea. I think it'll be a while before I try that again.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sports Saturday: 10/16/10

It's been a busy last couple of weeks...but this weekend, the only thing on the agenda (besides a long bike ride tomorrow morning) is sports! So, let's sit back on the couch and enjoy. In today's issue:

College football: Florida State looks pretty good, eh?
NFL: I just realized I haven't watched a single Monday Night Football game all year. Time to change that.
NHL: Yay, hockey's back! And it's been great so far.
Auto racing: Count me among the few - perhaps the very few - rooting for Jimmie Johnson to win his 5th consecutive championship.

College football - From a college football perspective, I picked the wrong weekend to go on a road trip. Florida State not only beat Miami (FL), they blew them out. There was also Michigan State beating Michigan, and Florida losing in the final seconds...and I missed all of it. Oh well. (Penn State didn't win, but I was already thinking that this season wasn't really going anywhere. Barely bowl eligible at best?)

Can we recapture the magic this weekend? Penn State is guaranteed to not lose (they don't play), so maybe!

Sat 12:00p - Boston College at Florida State, ESPN: I don't know how good FSU looked last Saturday night; all I saw was the final score. Still, I think it's time even for pessimistic old me to turn optimistic about their chances this season. They are a serious contender for the ACC Championship, and today's game is one that - on paper, at least - they shouldn't have any trouble with. (Nevertheless, I still recognize the potential for disaster, because that's what I do.) Let's go Noles!
Sat 12:00p - NC State at East Carolina, CBS College: Never know what to expect with these East Carolina games.
Sat 12:00p - Maryland at Clemson, WRAL (ACC Network): Haven't seen much of either team all year. Clemson is supposed to win this game, right?
Sat 12:00p - Illinois at Michigan State, Big Ten Network: Pretty busy opening slate, at least based on my usual interests. Four solid games, plus this next one, which nobody may win:
Sat 12:00p - Minnesota at Purdue, ESPN2
Sat 2:30p - Western Michigan at Notre Dame, NBC: I think we can skip Notre Dame this week.
Sat 3:30p - Iowa at Michigan, ESPN
Sat 3:30p - Arkansas at Auburn, CBS: The SEC game of interest for the day.
Sat 3:30p - Texas at Nebraska, ABC: Oh, right - I said I'd list all Nebraska games this year, since they are a future Big Ten member. That's reason to root for them.
Sat 3:30p - Wake Forest at Virginia Tech, ESPNU: Personally, I'd rather ESPNU air North Carolina at Virginia than this game.
Sat 6:00p - Utah at Wyoming, the mtn.
Sat 7:00p - Ohio State at Wisconsin, ESPN
Sat 7:00p - Mississippi State at Florida, ESPNU: Sure, Florida has two losses, but they weren't bad losses. As much as I'd like to pile on as an FSU fan - and really, do we have ANY room to talk, given how the UF/FSU games have gone the last few years? - let's not overreact and say that Mississippi State has a chance here. .... Awww, what fun is that? I will keep an eye on this one, just in case.

NFL: My NFL Sunday Ticket purchase pretty much obligates me to watch as much Sunday afternoon football as I can. The result? I've watched hardly any Sunday Night or Monday Night football, all year. That'll change this week, because the Jaguars are playing on Monday night against Tennessee. Will they make it worth my while to stay awake for the whole thing?

In the meantime, the absence of my favorite team does make today's football watching less interesting...but we'll see what we can come up with.

Sun 1:00p - New Orleans at Tampa Bay, DirecTV 712: I haven't figured out the Bucs yet. They won two early games against bad teams and got blown out by the Steelers, which led me to think they were in fact garbage despite their 2-1 record...then they win at Cincinnati. Is this a good team or not? I guess this sort of thing happens in the NFL (teams looking great one week and awful the next), and that's what makes it entertaining. Parity is good.
Sun 1:00p - Cleveland at Pittsburgh, DirecTV 707: Last I heard, the Browns were down to their 3rd string quarterback (rookie Colt McCoy), so...I don't have high expectations for them today. (Yes, Pittsburgh did just fine with its 3rd string quarterback, but the Steelers ain't the Browns.)
Sun 1:00p - Atlanta at Philadelphia, WRAZ 50: I haven't given the Falcons enough attention so far. Let's change that.
Sun 1:00p - Miami at Green Bay, DirecTV 704:
Sun 1:00p - Baltimore at New England, WRAL 5
Sun 1:00p - Detroit at NY Giants, DirecTV 709
Sun 1:00p - Seattle at Chicago, DirecTV 711
Sun 1:00p - Kansas City at Houston, DirecTV 705
Sun 1:00p - San Diego at St. Louis, DirecTV 708
Sun 4:05p - NY Jets at Denver, DirecTV 713: Only three late games today, two of which I'm not particularly interested in. So the plan is to record Jets/Broncos, go do something else, then watch it DVR-style.
Sun 4:15p - Dallas at Minnesota, WRAZ 50:
Sun 4:05p - Oakland at San Francisco, DirecTV 714

NHL: Yay, hockey's back! Once again, I've renewed my NHL Center Ice subscription (although I did briefly consider dropping it). I've watched a few games this week, and they've been highly entertaining, even in defeat (in the Carolina Hurricanes' case on Thursday night). And, I'm going to get more games in high definition this year than ever before. That'll be nice.

I was going to talk about what I think of the Carolina Hurricanes' chances this year, but then I realized that most of my readership falls distinctly into one of two categories: 1) you know more about the Hurricanes than I do, or 2) you don't care about the Hurricanes at all. So, I think I'll just watch the games. Let's go Canes! (That said, I do think I'm enjoying the games on a more analytical level this year, seeing plays as they develop, rather than just mindlessly watching and going "yay goal, yay save, boo penalty".)

Since my interest in college football is lower than in years' past, that means I'll make more room for hockey on Saturday. I won't follow or watch every game, of course - maybe just one or two - but it's easier to just list all of them rather than pick and choose.

Sat 6:00p - Pittsburgh at Philadelphia, NHL Network
Sat 7:00p - Tampa Bay at Florida, Fox Sports Florida
Sat 7:00p - Ottawa at Montréal, NHL Center Ice
Sat 7:00p - Boston at New Jersey, NESN
Sat 7:00p - Colorado at NY Islanders, Altitude
Sat 8:00p - Washington at Nashville, SportSouth (SportSouth? Really? I thought the Predators were on Fox Sports Tennessee. I guess they switched?)
Sat 8:00p - Columbus at Minnesota, Fox Sports Ohio
Sat 8:30p - Buffalo at Chicago, MSG Buffalo: This game is interesting on a couple of levels, among them a dirty hit that someone from one of these teams made on someone from the other team earlier in the week, or something. I don't remember who was involved (beyond these two teams), and I don't feel like looking it up. See why I normally leave the hockey analysis to the experts? I'm only kind of paying attention.
Sat 9:00p - Detroit at Phoenix, Fox Sports Detroit: The Coyotes are still in Phoenix? Darn. When do they move back to Winnipeg?
Sat 10:00p - Edmonton at Calgary, NHL Center Ice
Sat 10:00p - Atlanta at San Jose, CSN California
Sun 8:00p - Phoenix at Anaheim, Prime Ticket
Sun 9:00p - Carolina at Vancouver, Fox Sports Carolinas: As soon as I get all excited about the Hurricanes and the start of the season, they go on a West Coast road trip and play a bunch of games in a row past my bedtime. Stupid North Carolina State Fair.

Auto racing: NASCAR is the only game in town this week, so I'll give a couple of NASCAR thoughts.

Surprise! Jimmie Johnson Am I sick of him winning the championship every single year? Actually, no. While I normally root against "the establishment" in sports, Jimmie Johnson is the one dynasty I actually don't mind winning all the time. That, and his biggest challengers - people like Harvick, Hamlin, Busch, etc...,meh. Don't really care about them. I would like to see Carl Edwards win, but I don't consider him a threat, especially after last week's mechnical failure. So, go #48!

Meanwhile, the second NASCAR Hall of Fame class was announced this week, and the biggest controversy is that Darrell Waltrip didn't get in. I think Hall of Fame inductions in any sport are kind of arbirtary anyway, so...I'll save my breath.

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Charlotte, ABC

Friday, October 15, 2010

DISH Network v. FOX Sports

Remember that whole DirecTV/Versus spat from last year? No? Well...let's recap.

DirecTV and an obscure sports network called "Versus" (which, although obscure, airs a lot of sports that I like to watch) had a negotiating war; as a result, DirecTV customers such as myself were unable to watch Versus from September 2009 through mid-March 2010. At the time, I was even considering the pros and cons of switching to DISH Network as a result. One of the reasons I didn't switch - beyond the mere fact that DirecTV is superior to DISH in almost every way, as far as I'm concerned - is because I figured that sooner or later, DISH would have a negotiating war of its own. Looks like that time has arrived!

Right now, DISH Network customers are unable to watch FX, the National Geographic Channel (or as the kids call it, "Nat Geo"), or any of the regional FOX Sports networks, due to a similar negotiating war. I think this has been going on since the start of the month. And, if no agreement is reached by November 1st, DISH will also drop local FOX affiliates from its lineup. To me, losing those channels would have been MUCH worse than losing Versus, because it would mean being unable to watch Carolina Hurricanes games, among other things. This comes a month or two after Time Warner Cable and ABC/ESPN had a well-publicized negotiating war of their own, although at least that war didn't result in a temporary loss of programming.

So...this is getting ridiciulous. Either I'm paying attention to this sort of thing more than I used to, or television provider / television station negotiating wars are becoming more common. I'm inclined to say it's a little of both. And it's unfortunate, because who's the biggest loser in all of this? You! Especially if you like sports. Sports fans are much more passionate about watching their favorite team than are fans of fictional cable shows. (To illustrate, I bet a lot more people would say "If I don't get to watch my New York Yankees this season, I'm switching to cable!" than would say "If I don't get to watch 'The Closer' this season, I'm switching to cable!" Non-sports fans may disagree with that, but trust me.) Anyway, this means sports networks have much, much greater leverage in these negotiations than non-sports networks. And everybody - sports fans and non-sports fans alike - pays for sports programming under the current system, so your cable or satellite bill will continue to go up, up, up...

And, it doesn't really matter who your television provider is; this is going to happen to you sooner or later. One month, a television network will say "switch from cable to DirecTV, or you'll miss your favorite shows!". The next month, someone else will say "switch from DirecTV to DISH, or you'll miss your favorite shows!" The month after that, yet another television network will say "switch from DISH to cable, or you'll miss your favorite shows!" So, what am I supposed to do, switch television providers every month just so I can ensure an uninterrupted full slate of television choices? This is stupid.

Even though sports networks are often at the center of these negotiationg wars, you'll still have to deal with this nonsense whether you like sports or not. Don't watch sports? Fine - but what about "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" (FX) or "The Dog Whisperer" (Nat Geo)? Both of those shows have been lumped in with the sports channels for the purposes of negotiating leverage, so whether you like sports or not, you're paying for it. even though I am a happy DirecTV customer (for now), I'm a little frustrated with the current state and prospective future of cable and satellite television. I think I'd be much happier if I just didn't pay attention to all of these negoiating wars and just pretended none of this was happening. Ignorance is bliss, right? Besides, most of these negotiating wars get resolved just before the deadline anyway. Unfortunately some don't.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The "Real" Connecticut

Curling was the reason we went to Connecticut last weekend, of course. But given that Amber and I are Fall Foliage Geeks, we couldn't pass up this opportunity. New England is supposed to have the best Fall Foliage, but I've never seen a New England Fall. (Last year, we were close.)

But Connecticut really part of New England? Technically, yes, but the southwestern part of the state is more associated with New York than New England. And, in the past, I've associated Connecticut with "annoying interstates", "too many people", and "let's get out of here as soon as possible", as opposed to the small-town feel of Northern New England. In other words, to quote an anonymous commenter from last week, I've never seen "the real Connecticut".

In search of "the real Connecticut", we drove north:

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The night before, some of the local curlers had recommended that if we want to see the nice part of Connecticut, that we should go to Litchfield County, the northwestern most of Connecticut's eight counties. That worked out well, because Litchfield County was the only county in Connecticut I hadn't been to yet. Score!

Amber took some nice pictures in and around Litchfield County, but they're not ready for public presentation yet, so we'll have to wait until next week for those. I only have a few that I took with my phone from Kent Falls State Park (point B on the map).

Curling teammates Justin and Tabby agreed: this was nice. Yes, there were more people out and about in Litchfield County than perhaps I would have liked. And, the park seemed awfully expensive in comparison to state parks in other states ($15 per vehicle). But rural Connecticut - yes, it does exist - provides the kind of slow-paced*, small-town atmosphere that I associate with the rest of New England. And, the leaves were pretty.

(* - "Slow-paced" is a good way to describe what it's like to drive through rural Connecticut. Speed limits are low, even outside of the towns - I'm talking, 40 to 45 mph, tops - and most of the locals kind of observe them. But that's fine with me. We weren't in a hurry. And, it provides a nice contrast to the fast-paced madness that you find on Connecticut freeways.)

Maybe Connecticut isn't so bad after all! The key to enjoying Connecticut is to get away from the interstates. You know, just like in every other state.

Alright,'s time to revisit my favorite vacation state rankings. I had Connecticut ranked 49th, and based on what we saw last weekend, that's too low. Certainly, we enjoyed ourselves enough to justify moving Connecticut ahead of Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, right? Indeed. But I can't move it up too much, because I have to keep it behind #36 Massachusetts (farther north = better, in this case) and #38 Nebraska (the most underrated state ever). So, I decided to make Connecticut my 40th favorite vacation state (up from 49th), ahead of Alabama and behind Maryland. It's not a great road trip state, but it is a decent "slow it down and take it easy" state. Still, I can't imagine we'll be spending much of my future vacation time in Connecticut, considering that Vermont and New Hampshire - two states I'd like to spend more time in - are, like, right there.

The I-95 Corridor

Why don't we spend more time in New England? Because it's far away, and it's a pain to get to. We like driving away from civilization, not directly through it. (Case in point: we drove to Alaska.) But when the destination is southwestern Connecticut, well, you're going to have to drive through some civilization at some point.

Nevertheless, we still tried to avoid it as long as possible. We took the western route northbound, and the eastern route southbound: (This isn't the exact same map I posted in last week's preview; I've adjusted it according to the routes we actually took.)

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The western route via I-81/I-78 took 10 hours, 51 minutes (driving time only), while the eastern route via I-95 only took 9 hours, 18 minutes. Both routes involved some traffic delays (although the delays along the western route were limited to Connecticut), but the longer route was definitely more fun. Was it worth the extra time? In my opinion, it was absolutely worth the extra time, because I-95 between Washington and Connecticut is, well, annoying.

Let's recap Sunday's I-95 experience, by state:

Connecticut: What's the best time to drive on a busy road? Sunday morning. We didn't have any traffic issues in Connecticut. Let's party!

New York: We didn't have any traffic issues here either, but it was noticeably busier. I guess that makes sense, given that I-95 goes straight through the Bronx, across the northern tip of Manhattan, and across one of the busiest automobile bridges in the world. (Crossing the George Washington Bridge is much easier and faster westbound, because tolls are only levied eastbound.)

The most notable thing about I-95 in New York City? The "projects", as can be viewed here, from I-95 on Google Street View. Kind of creepy, but interesting, given that I've never seen anything like this before.

New York City is the ultimate city. It's freaking huge, and it's densely populated. To give you an idea how densely populated it is, if you took the entire U.S. population and condensed it to the population density of Brooklyn, our entire population would fit in New Hampshire. (I really like that fact, and I think I've told it to everyone I know at least twice.) In order for our property (not just the size of the house, but our entire lot) to have Brooklyn's population density, we'd need to have 18 people living in our house. In other words...there are a lot of people here. It truly is The Ultimate City. The New York skyline, even from a distance, looks amazing.

I don't really like big cities, though, which is why I've never made it a point to do the whole New York City thing...but I think it's my American duty to spend at least one day in NYC, rather than just drive through.

New Jersey: During the drive, I "tweeted" that I while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, I took the wrong exit by mistake. I'm usually better than that, so...what happened?

Well...northern sections of the Turnpike have "express lanes" and "local lanes". Given that it was Sunday morning, most traffic was of the non-local variety, and most of the traffic was using the express lanes. So, I wanted to take the local lanes. Getting in the local lanes involves a right exit. I thought I was getting in the local lanes, when in fact, I was actually taking Exit 14 for I-78. Whoops! No biggie, though - we re-entered the Turnpike one exit later (Exit 13A), and actually saved a dollar in the process.

Later on, we saved more money by taking I-295 through southern New Jersey instead of the Turnpike. Slower, yes, but I'd had enough of the Turnpike by then. It's too crazy, and for too long.

Pennsylvania: It's hard to see on the map, but rather than take the Delaware Memorial Bridge (I-295) into Delaware, we took the Commodore Barry Bridge (US-322) into Pennsylvania, and then I-95 into Delaware, even though the Delaware Memorial is $1 cheaper than the Commodore Barry. Why? Two reasons: less traffic, and because this route would give me another new county (Delaware County, PA). Only four more counties in Pennsylvania to go!

Delaware: Delaware stuck a $4 toll just east of the Maryland state line, purely for the purpose of price gouging all of the out-of-towners that drive through the tip of state every day. This toll booth also happens to be a focal point for massive congestion most days. In other words, it's annoying. It might be the dumbest toll booth ever.

But unlike most bridge tolls, this toll - and the surrounding congestion - can be easily bypassed by taking the exit before the toll, and rejoining I-95 at the exit after the toll. So why did we stay on the interstate and pay the toll anyway? For statistical purposes: now I can say I've driven the length of I-95 all the way through Delaware. I'm not paying the toll next time.

Maryland / Virginia: This just in - the freeways around DC are very busy. No need to waste too many words on that topic.

So, I was pretty worn out by the time we got to Richmond. Negotiating the eternally busy Washington to Boston corridor takes a lot out of you. I'll gladly take the extra 90 minutes if it means we're going to enjoy the drive more, and be more refreshed when we get there.