Monday, February 28, 2011

Statistics Filler

So, first, I want to apologize for a couple of things. The Kayser Bonspiel recap isn't ready yet, because it takes a long time to write these things. (And by that, I mean I haven't even started yet.)

Also, I didn't live-tweet "The Kayser" as well as I did "The Dykes" or post as many pictures. One of our games was broadcast live online, but I didn't tell anyone beforehand. And, my comments during the weekend probably sounded much more depressing, too, as if I wasn't having a good time and/or was depressed a lot or something. So, let's clear the air there before I get to anything else.
I had a great time. There was just a lot more going on at "The Kayser" than there was at "The Dykes", and I was much more preoccupied throughout the weekend this time. The whole weekend really just flew by. As for all of the "we lost, boohoo, I'm disappointed, we'll probably lose the next one too" tweets...well, I'll talk more about the mental side of playing Skip when I do the full recap. I really did have a good time, I promise. I just get unnecessarily moody sometimes.

So, anyway, just to fill the blog space, here are some stat updates from the weekend. These are more or less copied from By the Numbers, with a little additional commentary.

Curling: I'll recap each game tomorrow, so hold your horses. (Or the next day, if I don't get it written tomorrow.)

Restaurant serving times:
- 2/23/11: 19:17 at Cracker Barrel in South Hill, VA
- 2/24/11: 18:08 at Rock It Grill in Alexandria, VA
Cracker Barrel's time is the slowest of the year. But given that it's only February, and that 19:17 really isn't that bad of a time, I'm pretty sure it won't hold up another 10 months. As for the "Rock It Grill", sometimes I wish slowness prior to the order could be accounted for in these times. Order-to-food time was reasonable (and that's what goes in the spreadsheet), but arrival-to-order time was absurdly long, and I wish there was a way to "penalize" them for that. Besides only leaving a 10% tip.

County visitation: Prior to the weekend, there were four counties in Maryland I hadn't visited yet. I took care of two of them on Saturday, Calvert and St. Mary's; my two remaining Maryland counties are Carroll and Kent. I'll get them some day. Driving around the Washington/Baltimore area can be kind of a pain, so I wasn't really motivated to do a whole lot of driving while we were up there.

Interstates driven: I did do some driving for the sake of driving, though, taking I-97 from beginning to end. It's only 18 miles long, so why not? I'll blog about it later in the week.

Car mileage: Amber's car passed 60,000 miles on I-95 in Richmond, VA. That's the second time we've gotten a milestone in Richmond; the first time being en route to another curling tournament in January 2010.

Nights by county: We spent four nights in Howard County, MD, and that'll be our last out-of-town trip for a while. We don't have anything more planned at the moment. This trip was also the first time that Amber and I had ever stayed in the same hotel for three consecutive nights, let alone four. We don't like to stay in the same place for very long, it appears.

Bowling is still featured on my By the Numbers lineup, even though it had been over a year since we last bowled. We fixed that last weekend. I bowled a 114 and 121, Amber bowled a 116 and 141. Not bad for not having done it for 14 months.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kayser Bonspiel: Preview

Two weeks ago, I went to "The Dykes", a bonspiel (a.k.a. curling tournament) for male curlers with five years or less experience. This week, I'm going to "The Kayser", which is pretty much the same thing, with two key differences:
- While "The Dykes" was strictly a men's bonspiel, "The Kayser" is a mixed bonspiel. Each team must have two men and two women, alternating positions.
- While "The Dykes" was waaaay up in Rochester, NY, "The Kayser" is being hosted by Potomac Curling Club in Laurel, MD, which is a much shorter drive.

Since "The Kayser" is a mixed bonspiel, that means that unlike at "The Dykes", Amber can come with me and curl. Naturally, I'm excited about that. (She's four months pregnant now, but that hasn't stopped her from curling so far; she'll be fine.) Along with our front end Justin and Tabby, our team is the same team we took to the Blazing Leaves bonspiel last October.

Our team got blown out in all three games up there, but I expect improvement this time. That Blazing Leaves was the first time I've ever played Skip on dedicated ice, and in hindsight, I had NO CLUE what I was doing back then. But I've learned a lot since then, mostly from watching Mario (my skip at "The Dykes") call the shots two weeks ago. I'd like to think I can call a solid game now. (Even though I've done well skipping on our home ice, dedicated ice is a whole different ballgame from arena ice, and requires a completely different strategy.) That was also Justin and Tabby's first ever bonspiel on dedicated ice; "The Kayser" will be their third, and their second in consecutive weekends, in fact.

Then, there's the level of competition. Being a "5 & Under", the level of competition should be lower than at the Blazing Leaves, in theory. And being a mixed bonspiel, the level of competition should even be lower than it was at "The Dykes".

"Woah, woah, woah. Are you saying that women can't curl as well as men?" Actually, no. Here's my theory on that. Men's curling and women's curling are both more prestigious than mixed curling, so your best curlers are going to gravitate towards a men's-only or women's-only team and spend most of their time on that team. While there are national championships for mixed curling, I don't think there are as many elite mixed teams as there are elite men's or women's teams around the country. Many of the teams at "The Kayser" may have been thrown together (like ours!), or at least not have as much experience playing together as a comparable men's or women's team. This is why I think the level of competition will be slightly lower at "The Kayser" than at "The Dykes".

That said...I do not expect to win three games like we did at "The Dykes". Our Kayser team is more inexperienced than our Dykes team, so that cancels out that whole "not as competitive" theory. And, we won't have as many chances to win, either. At the Dykes, all we had to do to earn a fourth game was win one of the first three. At the Kayser, it's not that easy: we have to win BOTH of the first two games, or win the third game, in order to play a fourth. That sounds like a bad thing, but the flip side of "fewer games" is that nobody will have to play at 7 AM or 11:30 PM.

Our first game of "The Kayser" is at noon Thursday. Unfortunately, we drew a very difficult opponent. The male half of team we play first - a team from Broomstones, skipped by R. Melville - actually won the Dykes two weeks ago. I watched them play up in Rochester, and those guys are really freaking good. We have no chance. In game #1, the goals are simple: 1) score at least one point, and 2) play seven full ends. (If we're losing 13-1 after 6 ends, the right thing to do would be to concede at that point.) Pretty rotten way to start the weekend, if you ask me, especially since we were originally (up until this morning) supposed to play our first game against an entirely different team.

In games #2 and #3, though, we should get an opponent that is more our equal. (I've done a healthy amount - or maybe an unhealthy amount - of scouting potential opponents going into "The Kayser".) I'm not saying we'll win either of them, but even if we lose the first two, that's fine too, the way the draw is set up. Here is the draw, and here are the teams. (Our team is called "The Underdogs"; I'll explain what that's about in the next paragraph.) If we start 0-2, then we enter the "Third Event", which is actually not a bad place to be. All of the teams entering in the Third Event will be two-loss teams, and most of them will be 0-2 teams. If we win our first Third Event game (which would be against another 0-2 team), we get to play on Sunday. If we go on to win another one, then we would advance to the Third Event Finals, which are played at the very end of the bonspiel. If we want to play in the final draw of the weekend, that's by far the easiest way to get there. So, starting 0-2 wouldn't be all that bad, really...but the ultimate goal is to win a game, any game. A 1-2 record to finish the weekend would be a huge success.

Alright, so...I'm talking way too much about wins and losses here. There's more to it than that, of course. We'll have fun regardless (always do!). Unlike "The Dykes", "The Kayser" has a theme: "Back to the 60's" (or something like that). Teams were encouraged to come up with a 60's-themed name. We came up with "The Underdogs". I think it's a brilliant team name, because not only is it 60's-themed - ever watch the 60's cartoon Underdog? - but we will in fact be underdogs in most of our games. In fact, we even have team costumes. I'll try to post an in-costume team picture on Twitter sometime this weekend, along with the usual updates. (Note: I'll provide more updates on Twitter than I will on Facebook this weekend. Facebook will mostly get just the major stuff, such as whether we win or lose, an occasional picture or two, things like that. Twitter will be more of a play-by-play of the whole weekend, because that's what Twitter is for.)

When we're not curling this weekend, I'm not sure what we're going to do to kill time, but we probably won't go to downtown Washington. We did that when we curled up here in 2009. (Side note: Potomac Curling Club will be my first "repeat" out-of-town curling club.) Instead, maybe I'll accomplish some road geek goals of mine. There are four counties in Maryland I haven't been to yet. And with a short trip up and down I-97 and parts of I-70 and I-83, I could "clinch" all of Maryland's interstate mileage, as well as two entire interstates from beginning to end. Woo! Since our second game won't be until 4:30 PM Friday (assuming we lose the first, which we will), we're likely to have some time.

Finally, there is once again a chance one of our games will be broadcast online, just like at "The Dykes". They're only doing a "beta test" this weekend, though, so I don't have my hopes up, but nevertheless, here's the link:

Alrighty...time to hit the road. Good curling, everyone!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bicycling Update: 2/22/11

It's been a while since I've talked about bicycling, so here's how that has been going as of late, in an unorganized, "random thought" format.

One of the things I like about bicycling is that you never know what you're going to see. On New Year's Day in Jacksonville, I stumbled upon a consortium of high school bands practicing for a Gator Bowl show. The high schools were from all over the country (if the buses and trailers in the parking lot were any indication). Not sure who provided the director, but he was rather critical of them during the practice. It all sounded fine to me, but who am I to judge?

Then, there's this. On Saturday, I rode past a house in rural Durham County with a small fire in the front yard. It wasn't obvious whether the owners intended for the fire to be there. There was one person outside doing something - it was hard to tell what, exactly - but he/she didn't look overly worried about the situation at hand, so I minded my own business and kept going. Then, a mile or two later, here comes a fire truck, with sirens blazing, heading towards that house. Followed by two more emergency vehicles. Uh oh!

But I'm pretty sure everyone lived happily ever after here, because I saw the same fire truck again (or what I assume was the same fire truck) heading back to the fire station, with sirens off, this time traveling at a normal speed. If life or property had been compromised, I'm pretty sure the fire truck would have stuck around a little longer. So I'm fairly confident everything was fine. Note: fire danger was very high on Saturday, due to strong winds, unseasonably warm temperatures, and relative humidity around 10%, all in the midst of severe drought.

Let's talk numbers! (It's what I do best.) Over the last three months, I've averaged 36.7 miles per week. That's lower than the previous three months (41.2 miles/week), but I think it's still pretty good, especially when you consider the following: 1) The last three months included five weekends away from home: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mammoth Cave, New Year's, and last week's trip to Rochester. Those trips took away from bicycling, of course. 2) My original objective when I started this hobby was something in the 20 to 30 miles/week range. 3) This is winter, when it's cold in the morning and the sun sets at 5 PM.

I've done well enough to have made it past Edmonton in my fictional Bicycling Trip to Alaska, and I'm still on pace to finish the trip before my 30th birthday, which is my primary goal. "Past Edmonton" means 2,500 miles of bicycling in 16½ months.

That's a lot of bicycling, which means I've been around the area a few times. Among the local jurisdictions and regions, are my favorite- to least-favorite bicycling areas: (Note: this will only really mean anything to you if you live here or have lived here. Non-locals can skip.)

- Research Triangle Park: It's very close to home, and I have the roads to myself on weekends.
- Jordan Lake: It's "the country".
- Apex: I've only ridden here a couple times, but I like the "small town feel" they've somehow been able to maintain here.
- Cary: They try really hard to make their town bicycle-friendly. Now, about all that car traffic...
- Morrisville: Pretty much an extension of Cary, and I'm not just talking about bicycling.
- Raleigh: Insufficient data, because I've only ever ridden as far east as Umstead State Park and the RBC Center. The 45-mile round trip from my house to downtown Raleigh is on my to-do list.
- Durham: Depends on where you go. I usually just stick with the same areas, including the American Tobacco Trail, downtown, the areas around Research Triangle Park, and the outskirts. Not all my experiences bicycling through Durham have been positive.
- Chapel Hill: You'd think a college town would make a great atmosphere for bicycling, and it probably does. So what's my problem? The meanest hills in the area, and a lack of good bicycling roads between here and there.
- Hillsborough, Wake Forest, Knightdale, and Garner: Too far. Maybe some day.

Let's follow up on the "Follow the Arrows" game I wrote about a few months ago. Following the green "IC" arrows worked out great. The orange "IC" arrows? Not so much. There is still a gap of about 8 miles or so where I can't find any arrows anywhere. Where does the route go? Who knows? Meanwhile, there are a lot of other bike route arrows painted on the roads in my area besides the "IC" arrows. There's the "TR" arrows, both green and orange, which were painted for a charity ride (the "Makin' Room for Turkey" Ride) the weekend before Thanksgiving. I followed those arrows in my car. I've also seen plenty of other bike route arrows painted on the roads around Research Triangle Park and Jordan Lake, but most of them have either faded too much or start too far away from home for me to be able to follow them reliably. So, I think that's the end of the "Follow the Arrows" game.

And, finally...last week, I had visions of riding my bike to work three days in a row. I made it two days, and wimped out on the third day. It's tough to get motivated to exercise at 7 AM every day. Some people can do it, but not me. I like to save my heavy lifting for the weekends, when I can sleep in. (Note: I don't do any actual "heavy lifting", that's just a metaphor for some of my longer bike rides.)

Monday, February 21, 2011

When to Shower?

In an effort to write about something other than curling this week...

Seems like most people like to shower in the morning. It helps them wake up, or so it seems. Me? Nope. I prefer to take my showers at night, before I go to bed.

Three primary reasons:
1) Showering before bed helps me sleep, particularly by the soothing of itchy scalp.
2) I get to sleep a few minutes later in the morning.
3) I don't think I would be that much cleaner at work the next day if I waited until the next morning to shower.

So, there you go. (Of course, I also shower when dirty or sweaty, such as after a bike ride.)

What percentage of the American population would you say showers in the morning instead of the evening? My guess is around two-thirds.

Curling Recap: 2/18-2/20/11

I know I've been talking a lot about curling lately, and I'm going to yet another out-of-town bonspiel this week (preview on Wednesday). But I played in two Triangle Curling Club league games over the weekend, which by law I must recap. (When I say "by law", I mean, "I've recapped every curling game I've ever played on this blog, all 130 of them. Why stop now?")

Career game #131: Winter League (Friday), Week 4 - February 18, 2011

End............ 12345678 |TTL
M. Jackson..... 00112000 | 04
Allen.......... 23000012 | 08

The folks who manage the rink in which we play have gone to great lengths to try to flatten out our ice as much as possible, so that our rocks can travel reasonably straight down the ice. And, I think they've done a pretty good job, considering the abuse that the ice takes from hockey and such. So much so, that the hills going the long way down the ice are more noticeable. On Friday, for example, rocks would slow down a lot at first, then after they got about halfway down the ice, they would hardly slow down at all. Many times we'd call "sweep!" upon release thinking it was light, stop sweeping at halfway, and watch as the rock just kept going, all the way through the house.

So, draws were very difficult, and that meant two things: 1) We had a rare blank end in the 6th, where no points were scored. Blank ends happen all the time in games on dedicated ice, where there is more hitting and last rock is more of an advantage. But on our ice? Maybe once every 15 to 20 games, if that. 2) This was the rare occasion on our ice where a hitting strategy - light hitting, mind you - was the way to go. I don't remember making many draws or guards, but I remember making a few take-outs and fortunate "hit and rolls" that helped our cause.

Amber played in a different game on Friday, losing 6-5.

Career game #132: Winter League (Sunday), Week 4 - February 20, 2011
(my team: Witcraft)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Witcraft....... 21022110 | 09
Howard......... 00300002 | 05

The ice conditions during Sunday's game, meanwhile...yikes. The hockey game before us really did a number on the ice, and the zamboni only got rid of some of the rough spots in the ice. Some lanes were good, other lanes were almost sandpaper-like and absolutely could not be used. So, there was about a two- or three-foot wide path down the ice in which we threw every shot for the entire game. The line wasn't 100% predictable, though, so you could get a lot of movement in either direction towards the end. That was good, because if all of our rocks ended up along the same line in the house, that would have made for a kind of boring game. This was still semi-interesting. But I'm kind of glad I wasn't playing Skip in this game.

More curling talk on Wednesday, as Amber and I hit the road again and play in another one of those "5 & Under" bonspiels. Woo!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sports Saturday: 2/19/11

In today's issue...

NASCAR: Daytona 500! Wooooooo!
NHL: "Hockey Day In America": my thoughts.
College basketball: Just because.

NASCAR - It's time for my inner redneck to surface once again, because NASCAR season is underway. Wooooooo!'s the thing with this year's Daytona 500. If you watched any of last weekend's "Bud Shootout" (or whatever they're calling it now) or Thursday's qualifying races, then you know that two-car drafts are dominating the racing. Two cars drafting with one directly behind the other is proving to be such an advantage over any other kind of drafting, that's pretty much all anyone is doing at Daytona now. It is certainly making for some bizarre-looking racing. It kind of looks like mating lovebugs flying through the air.

I'm not sure if this style of racing is better or worse than the large packs we usually see, but it does create some interesting drama, because you had better have a drafting partner. And if the races so far this week are any indication, you better find one early, because most drivers pretty much stuck with the same guy for the entire race. What happens if your partner spins out or has a flat tire or something? What happens if there are an odd number of cars on the lead lap, and you're the odd man out? What happens if the only other guy without a drafting partner is Kevin Conway? (Well, fortunately for everybody else, Conway didn't qualify for this year's 500.) This kind of racing doesn't really seem fair, and it seems strange that drivers like Regan Smith and Brian Keselowski (that's Brian, not Brad) can get good finishes in the qualifying races. But that's the way restrictor plate racing has been for the last 20 years, is it not?

So, look for a couple of things on Sunday. Since the field gets much more strung out this way, I don't expect a "big one", just lots of "little ones". And, as long as the caution flag doesn't come out during the last lap (crossing my fingers), we are GUARANTEED to have an exciting finish. Don't miss the end!

Sat 1:00p - NASCAR Nationwide at Daytona, ESPN2
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup Daytona 500, FOX

NHL - Today is the first ever "Hockey Day In America". It's modeled after CBC's "Hockey Day In Canada", which is smart, because Canada is awesome.

Supposedly they'll have some "grassroots" stories about youth hockey or something like they do during "Hockey Day In Canada" on CBC. But unlike Hockey Day In Canada, rather than broadcast live from some small town in the middle of nowhere, they're going to be broadcasting live from...Chicago. Ugh. Why not go to some frozen pond in northern Minnesota or something? I've seen enough of the same old big cities.

So,'s what I like about Hockey Day In America: 1) Regional coverage for the early games, with staggered start times so that they can provide "bonus coverage" during intermission. 2) One of the regionally televised games features the Minnesota Wild, who are almost never on NBC. Hooray! If you're going to have Hockey Day In America, you had better feature the "State of Hockey". 3) It's followed by the Heritage Classic, an outdoor game between Montréal and Calgary, live from Canada. This has nothing to do with Hockey Day In America, but given the success of the Winter Classic, I just like that the NHL decided to play an outdoor game in Canada, too.

Here's what I don't like about Hockey Day In America: 1) It doesn't appear the "other" regional games will be on NHL Center Ice. Yes, they will be broadcast online on, but given my internet connection speed, online streaming is far inferior to HD TV. 2) It's in direct competiton with the Daytona 500, which takes precedence as far as I'm concerned. Yeah, I know there isn't much overlap between NASCAR's fanbase and the NHL's fanbase, but the NHL always does this to me. "Let's have the Winter Classic on one of the biggest college football days of the year! Let's have Hockey Day In America on the same day as the biggest NASCAR race of the year!"

So, I guess what I'm saying is...thanks, NHL, but no thanks.

Sat 3:30p - Atlanta at Edmonton, Fox Sports South
Sat 7:00p - New Jersey at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 7:00p - Ottawa at Toronto, NHL Network
Sat 7:30p - Florida at Tampa Bay, Sun Sports
Sat 8:00p - Anaheim at St. Louis, Fox Sports Midwest
Sat 10:00p - Dallas at Vancouver, NHL Center Ice
Sun 12:30p - Washington at Buffalo, NBC (regional): I don't know which of the three early games will be televised locally, so this is a guess. The other games are Flyers/Rangers (might be the local game) and Red Wings/Wild (definitely won't be the local game).
Sun 3:30p - Pittsburgh at Chicago, NBC
Sun 6:00p - Montréal at Calgary (Heritage Classic), Versus
(not listed: LA/NYI, PHX/NSH, COL/SJ)

College basketball - No commentary today. It's not like I ever have anything interesting to say anyway, right?

Sat 12:00p - Pittsburgh at St. John's, ESPN
Sat 12:00p - Duquesne at Dayton, CSN Mid-Atlantic
Sat 1:00p - Florida State at Wake Forest, WRAL (ACC Network)
Sat 1:00p - Virginia Tech at Virginia, WRAZ (ACC Network)
Sat 1:00p - Notre Dame at West Virginia, CBS (regional)
Sat 4:00p - Boston College at North Carolina, ESPN
Sat 4:30p - Michigan at Iowa, Big Ten Network
Sat 7:00p - Georgetown at South Florida, MASN
Sat 7:00p - Northwestern at Indiana, Big Ten Network
Sat 9:00p - Illinois at Michigan State, ESPN
Sun 1:00p - Ohio State at Purdue, CBS
Sun 3:00p - St. Bonaventure at Richmond, CSN Mid-Atlantic 2
Sun 3:30p - Clemson at Miami (FL), ESPNU
Sun 5:30p - NC State at Maryland, FSN
Sun 6:00p - Penn State at Wisconsin, Big Ten Network
Sun 7:45p - Georgia Tech at Duke, FSN

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Rochester, NY

And now, a few words about the city of Rochester, New York, which I visited for the first time (that I can remember) last weekend.

Given that this is February and all, I have to talk about the weather, right? Let's get that out of the way.

As you may already know, my opinion is that Central North Carolina gets "not enough snow". I also feel that Central Pennsylvania gets "too much snow". (I sure am picky, aren't I?) Which of course means that Rochester gets "WAAAAAY too much snow". Having that much white goopy wet slop on the ground for three or four months straight would drive me nuts.

But at least they can handle it up there. After the brief blizzard-like conditions* pictured above passed through, dumping about an inch of snow on the city in a matter of minutes, the roads were fine. The plows were already on the scene, and on most roads, it was as if it never happened, even though it had literally just happened. Wow! No wonder so many people complained about the plowing in Central Pennsylvania. I always thought State College did a pretty good job plowing the roads, but now I know why someone from Western New York would think otherwise. Rochester snowplows mean business.

(* - I'm not sure if that lake-effect squall line truly exhibited "blizzard-like conditions". Probably not. Regardless, I was impressed.)

It actually didn't snow that much while I was up there. A dusting one day, an inch the next, and that was it. The coldest it got while I was up there was -4°F, officially. I could count on one hand the number of times I've experienced below-zero temperatures in my life. (Below-zero wind chills, on the other hand...that's probably at least up to double digits by now.) The cold was fine, though. I actually like experiencing extremes in weather every now and then, just as long as I don't have to deal with it for three months straight.

Alright, enough weather. Let's talk food. Rochester is home to two famous eating establishments: Nick Tahou Hots (home of the "garbage plate"), and Dinosaur BBQ. We went to one of the two.

Why did I skip the garbage plates? Well, there used to be a place in State College that served imitation garbage plates, and that was enough. Garbage plates are more quirky than they are good. You don't eat them because they're delicious; you eat them so you can brag about it. (Or because it's 3 AM and you're drunk. Apparently, they do great business in the middle of the night.) On top of that, my digestive system doesn't handle large quantities of unhealthy food as well as it used to. I figured the garbage plate might be a bad idea.

Instead, I had the "Big Ass Pork Plate" at Dinosaur BBQ. My official verdict: good, but expensive. At most barbecue restaurants I've been to, the plate pictured above would cost between $8 and $10; at Dinosaur, it cost $15. And, since it's downtown, you have to pay for parking, too. While my meal was quite good, I didn't think it was that good. My theory is that Dinosaur BBQ faces such a lack of serious competition up here, they can pretty much charge whatever they want.

What is there to do in Rochester in February? Not much. So, during the dead time between curling matches (of which there was plenty), I went "county counting":

Prior to the trip, there were four counties in Western New York that I had yet to visit. Now, there is only one. Wyoming County would have been a two-hour round trip from Rochester. And I probably would have made that two-hour trip if it the only county in the entire state I had left (as opposed to just the western third). But I still have 11 other counties to visit before I clinch New York State, so it wasn't worth it.

I also went to an area Walmart in order to find a cheap college hat. Out of all the college hats I have - over 40 - ZERO of them are from a New York-based college. I wanted to change that; unfortunately, all the neighborhood Walmart had were hats for professional sports teams such as the Yankees and Sabres. I guess that makes sense. New York - the entire state - isn't really about college sports. New York is all about pro sports. Still, though...I expected to at least find a Syracuse hat, or maybe an RIT hat. The best case scenario would have been to find a hat for either St. Bonaventure or Niagara, but that would have been asking a lot for a Walmart.'s my favorite thing about Rochester:

Why, it's my 2nd-favorite grocery store! A trip to Rochester would have been wasted without a stop at Wegmans. (Wegmans is based in Rochester.) While I was there, I bought two types of cookies: bakery-made chocolate chip, and Wegmans O's. How anyone in Rochester can justify doing their grocery shopping somewhere else - Tops, for instance - is beyond me. Tops is fine, but they're no Wegmans.

And, folks, that is how Chris Allen kills time in Rochester in February. Eating, driving, shopping, and, err, "enjoying the weather".

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dykes Bonspiel: Other Stuff

Yesterday, I talked about how my team did at last weekend's Dykes Bonspiel (curling tournament) in Rochester, NY. Today, as the title implies, I'm going to talk about "other stuff".

Here's what the Rochester Curling Club looks like from inside:

(Note: At some point between then and now, my phone's memory card became corrupted, so...I lost all of my original pictures. All I have to work with are the ones I posted online on the fly.)

I don't have any pictures of the club from the outside, but picture a red building against a snowy backdrop in the middle of an industrial complex, and there you go.

Like two of the other clubs I've been to (Potomac in Maryland at Nutmeg in Connecticut), the Rochester club is celebrating its 50th anniversary. (Was there a "curling club boom" in 1960 and 1961 or something?) But unike those two other clubs, I think this is the original building, although it has been expanded. (It was originally two sheets, but that was a long time ago.) My favorite things about the layout are the mirrors in the back - that gives spectators a view of the house on the other side - and the divider down the middle, which really came in handy during games. I think I actually like the mirrors better than the camera and closed-circuit television setup (which the club also had). On the television screens, it was hard to tell the red rocks apart from the blue rocks. (Side comment: why blue rocks and not yellow rocks?)

There was also plenty of room in the "warm room", which I thought might be an issue given that there were 47*4 = 188 curlers at this event. That's a lot of people, so some of the games attracted a bit of a crowd:

Other times, it was much less crowded:

(That's the rest of my team, by the way, plus Mo the Cow Puppet. I had to bring Mo inside the club at least once. I didn't bring him all the way to Rochester for nothing.)

Two comments on food and drink: I don't envy the task of feeding 188 people all weekend. Also, the folks at this club must really, really like Labatt Blue. Kegs and cases of Blue everywhere, and available on draft at the club bar! I approve. Labatt Blue seems to be a fixture at pretty much every curling club, actually. People who drink cheap American light beer are generally looked down upon.

They also had a pro shop inside the club. That's where I bought this hat:

(I'm looking down in order to provide a better view of the hat.) I don't impulse buy much, especially on things that cost $30. But these hats are made right in Rochester, so I figured, will I ever have a better opportunity to get one?

I bought the hat before our online broadcast game. If I had known they would be advertising the hats during the broadcast, maybe I would have asked for an endorsement deal!

Not every online broadcast had the same commentators, but here were a couple of them, calling the action on "Sheet A".

Regarding ice conditions: I found some similarities between the ice at this club and the ice at other dedicated curling facilities: 1) Rocks turn more both ways near the center line than they do out towards the edges of the sheet. 2) There's a bit of a fall towards the outer walls on either side of the rink. That's good information to know, heading into next week.

One of the great things about going to a bonspiel is meeting new people. Curlers are a neat bunch. It seemed like we had the same conversation with every team after each game, though. "Where in North Carolina do you curl? What does 'Triangle' mean? You're an arena ice club? How do you set up the ice? Where do you keep the rocks? How much ice time do you have? That's it? No wonder you play so fast! What's it like curling on hockey ice?" But that's fine.

The 2010 Dykes (not held at Rochester) had some side games - for example, a cornhole tournament, which Triangle won - but not this time. I guess the cornhole tournament would have had to have been played outside, and in Rochester, outside is not where you want to be in the middle of February.

So, there you go: a weekend at the Dykes Bonspiel at Rochester Curling Club. It's the place to be!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dykes Bonspiel: Game-by-Game Recap

Twelve hours of sleep later, I think I'm ready to start with these Rochester trip / Dykes Bonspiel recaps. I'm going to split this up into three parts:

- Part 1 (Today): Recaps of our six games at the Dykes Bonspiel.
- Part 2 (Tomorrow): General thoughts on the Dykes Bonspiel, besides the six games that we played.
- Part 3 (Thursday): Thoughts on the city of Rochester.

First off, if you don't know what the "Dykes Bonspiel" is, here is a preview I wrote last week. However, I have a feeling that everyone who cares enough to read this already knows about the Dykes, or at least knows what the word "bonspiel" means. ("Curling tournament", of course.)

With that...Game #1!

Career game #125: Dykes Bonspiel, First Event, Round 1 - Thursday 7:00 AM

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Utica (Brien)........ 1010123x | 08
Triangle (Riveron)... 0101000x | 02

To explain the box score notation: Teams are listed as "Club Name (Skip Last Name)", an 'x' means the match was conceded before the end began, and the team listed at the bottom is the team that began the game with last rock (a.k.a. "the hammer"). My team is "Triangle (Riveron)".

So...I didn't know this prior to the game, but apparently, Team Brien was one of the favorites to win not just their first game, but the entire tournament. It doesn't matter that these teams all have less than 5 years of curling experience; some of them are really good.

How does an arena club team like us compete with a team such as Team Brien? my last bonspiel on dedicated curling ice, during which I played Skip, I debated whether it was to our advantage to play a tight game with lots of draws and guards, or a wide-open game with lots of hits and take-outs. After playing in the Dykes, now I know the answer: we want a draw game. The elite teams are only somewhat better than us at draws, but they are a LOT better than us at take-outs. Our strategy throughout the weekend, including in this first game, was to throw lots of draws and guards, and take-out only when absolutely necessary. Just like we do on our home ice! In life, it's best to stick with what you're good at, right?

I think we did really well in this first game, given the opponent, and that this was the first time the four of us had ever played on the same team before. We were able to stay in the game until the 6th end, when they baited us into a take-out game by throwing their first rock right to the button. To execute our strategy, we need to throw guards with our first two rocks, even if they throw their first rock to the button. Get your guards in play, and then worry about the opponent rocks. Guards were crucial for us to have any hope of scoring more than one point in any given end, because if you leave these teams with a wide-open take-out, 9 times out of 10, they'll make the shot. The key is to have something to hide behind.

So, after an 0-1 start, we're off to the consolation "Second Event". As for Team Brien from Utica, they finished 4-2 on the weekend. That's pretty good, but I'm guessing they were hoping for more.

Career game #126: Dykes Bonspiel, Second Event, Round 1 - Friday 9:15 AM

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Phila. (Wheeler)..... 20003000 | 05
Triangle (Riveron)... 02110112 | 08

Here's the thing with these bonspiels. It's easy to say "I think we can win a game", but it all comes down to the luck of the draw. Our arena club counterparts from Pittsburgh (the only other team in the Dykes from an arena-based curling club) had the unfortunate task of playing three games against tournament favorites, not just one. On the other hand, we were able to get more games against teams that were more or less our equal. I would consider the Philadelphia team to be of similar skill level to us: we make enough shots to make it interesting, but we both miss plenty of shots too.

So, how'd we do it? Well, when we scored, it was usually because we were able to get one rock behind a guard that couldn't be hit out of play. (See, kids? Guards are important.) There are four ways to set that up:
- Draw around the guard, and have the rock come to rest a few feet behind it. It's called "curling" for a reason! This is what we tried to do most of the time.
- If there are any rocks behind the tee line of either color, you can throw a rock that comes to rest directly in front of their rocks (a "freeze"), or slightly in front. These rocks are closer to the center then the other rocks, and are hard to take-out because of the backing.
- Bump a previously-thrown guard on the nose, and promote that rock into the house, leaving the shooter as a guard for the promoted rock. Our skip Mario executed this perfectly in the 6th end, and that shot turned the game around.
- Hit a rock at an angle and then roll behind the guards. The "hit-and-roll" is something that we can't even dream of pulling off on arena ice, and the elite teams can make that kind of shot in their sleep, but we did make them occasionally. One shot in particular comes to mind: I made an awesome "hit-and-roll" in the 8th end that helped set up the win.

That was basically Mario's strategy. I think it's good strategy for a team like us, and it will be my strategy when I play Skip at "The Kayser". To execute, you must guard first, then somehow get a difficult-to-remove rock in play. But here's the primary flaw: if we can never get a well-protected rock in play, then the other team will just keep throwing take-outs and leaving their rocks in the house, giving them a chance to score big points. That's what happened in the 5th, and it happened about once in each of our games.

Now, about the final shot: Philadelphia had a chance to win with a final draw to the button, but the shot had what they referred to as the "pick from hell". Sometimes, rocks will accumulate debris and take a funny turn off-line; that's what happened on their last throw. Would they have made the shot? Hard to know - it wasn't an easy shot, but it looked like it might have had a chance. All they needed was one point for the tie.

So, Triangle wins! Hooray! This was the Triangle Curling Club's first win in five games at the Dykes Bonspiel (0-3 last year). Pressure's off, now. Meanwhile, Philadelphia (Wheeler) went 0-3 on the weekend, but I thought they deserved better.

Career game #127: Dykes Bonspiel, Second Event, Round 2 - Friday, 7:00 PM

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Nutmeg (Winter)...... 01104202 | 10
Triangle (Riveron)... 10020030 | 06

This game was broadcast LIVE online. You can watch the first couple of ends here starting at the 17-minute mark, and the rest of the game here. Note: I don't know how long those links will be active. If you haven't seen the broadcast, I highly recommend it. It's very well done.

What was it like to play in a game that's been broadcast to millions? (Well, not millions, but there were a few to several dozen watching.) Not that much difference, although I did feel more pressure than normal. This was the first time some of my friends had ever seen me curl before, so I didn't want to miss too many shots. At the time, I felt like I missed a lot of shots. But when I watched the reply, I noticed that I started strong and finished strong, so I'd say my performance wasn't too bad overall. I just had a rough stretch in the middle ends.

So, the game itself. If you'll remember the Blazing Leaves bonspiel in October, we played the same Nutmeg-based team twice, and lost big both times. They were good. That team happened to also be a men's "5 & Under" team, so I thought they might be at the Dykes. Instead, I think only one of the members on that team made it to the Dykes (skip Alph), while the rest of the team was mostly newer curlers. So, this team wasn't as experienced at the team I played against at the Blazing Leaves. But they were still good. If we played well, we might have been able to win, but we'd lose to them most of the time.

Here's how the game went. In the first end, we had a chance to score three or four, but opposing skip Alph made a great draw to cut us down to one. Missed opportunity on our part. In the 2nd end, the other team tried to "blank" the end (score no points and keep last rock advantage), but a crazy bounce accidentally gave them one point. Whoops! Later on, the 5th end was our trademark "couldn't get any rocks protected" end, and we gave up a big number. In the 6th end, I talked Mario into trying a risky shot with his last rock in an effort to score one (thinking that we had to score at that point to stay in the game), but it backfired and we gave them an extra point instead. In the 7th end, we put a rock in an area of the ice where take-outs were difficult, due to quirky ice conditions. (Being arena ice curlers, we know what that's like!) So, we scored three. In the 8th end, there wasn't much we could do; they played great defense. So, that's the match. most bonspiels I've been to, you must either win your first two games or your third game, in order to get a fourth game. In other words, if you go loss-win-loss in your first three games, you're out. Not at the Dykes! Instead, we're off to the "Fourth Event", where we keep playing until we lose, but don't play again until Saturday night. Nutmeg (Winter) went on to win a couple more games in the Second Event and went 3-2 on the weekend.

Career game #128: Dykes Bonspiel, Fourth Event, Round 1 - Saturday, 9:30 PM

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Utica (Spicer)....... 01020200 | 05
Triangle (Riveron)... 20302021 | 10

Saturday night at a typical bonspiel is always interesting. It's probably when the most drinking takes place. Many teams have been eliminated by then, but you also have teams that still have games but are mostly just there for fun, not so much to win, and they drink too. I think Utica (Spicer) was the latter. They did win a game that weekend, but the game against us was a late Saturday draw, and I also don't think they were particularly interested in playing another one at 7:00 AM the next morning. (Although they sure did take their time. They were one of the slowest teams I've ever played.) So...yeah, to be blunt, this wasn't much of a game. We were in control throughout. But they looked like they were having fun, at least.

Career game #129: Dykes Bonspiel, Fourth Event, Quarterfinals - Sunday, 7:00 AM

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Plainfield (Burns)... 15001002 | 09
Triangle (Riveron)... 00410230 | 10

Sunday games at bonspiels are prestigious. If you play on Sunday, you've done well. But here's the thing: we might have taken the easiest route possible in order to get a Sunday game. If we had stayed in the Second Event like Nutmeg (Winter), we would have had to win five games to make it to Sunday. Teams in the Third and Fourth Events, on the other hand, only had to win two games in order to advance to a Sunday game. Again, luck of the draw. The flip side, however, is that we had to play at 7:00 AM Sunday morning, after not leaving the rink until well after midnight the night before. So, yes, it was much tougher to make it to Sunday in the First and Second Events, but their reward was sleeping in Sunday morning. Nevertheless, the privilege of playing on Sunday in a bonspiel as large as the Dykes - 47 teams - is something I didn't take for granted. Only about one-third of the teams - 16 of 47 - advanced to Sunday.

Still, though, the pressure was off. Win, and that's great! Lose, and I get to see Amber a few hours earlier. I figured the game was over after our trademark "couldn't get anything protected" end and the score was 6-0, but the roles were reversed in the 3rd, so we quickly came back. When we stole 3 in the 7th (Plainfield's last shot was narrow and promoted our guard into the house, giving us three), it hit me. Not only did we advance to Sunday, we might win on Sunday! Well, maybe...the last end was a bit interesting, and scoring three points with last rock is definitely possible against us.

Like Philadelphia, I would consider the Plainfield team to be our equal. Turns out, their entire team was first-year curlers. I assume they'll be back next year, and they'll be better. A 2-3 record for a first-year team is pretty good, I think. It took our best game of the weekend to beat them.

Oh, one more thing: the last two ends of this game were broadcast online while they set up the equipment for one of the First Event Semifinals, which followed our game on the same sheet. You can watch that here, although again, I don't know how long that link will stay active.

So, that win propelled us to the Fourth Event semifinals. Wow! Never thought we'd make it this far. Our run was likely to end here, however, as our next game was a team that reached the First Event semifinals.

Career game #130: Dykes Bonspiel, Fourht Event, Semifinals - Sunday, 11:30 AM

End.................. 12345678 |TTL
Triangle (Riveron)... 0200000x | 02
Broomstones (McK.)... 1031111x | 08

Broomstones (McKellips) was the best team we played all weekend. (Broomstones Curling Club is located in Wayland, MA, outside Boston.) They only lost one game all weekend, to the eventual runners-up, and ended up winning the Fourth Event final after quickly disposing of us. This is the type of team that can make the hit-and-rolls and double-take-outs with ease. It took them a while to get going, though, since they had to play immediately after losing that First Event semifinal, one in which they had an opportunity to draw for the win with the final shot of the game, and missed. It took them a few ends to recover from that, but once they got control of the game, they never let up. Every end from the 3rd on, they began with a draw to the button, followed by a guard, and we couldn't touch it.

So, what will I take away from this last game? Well, for one, we had a great first two ends. We held them to one with last rock in the 1st, and scored two in the 2nd. Yeah! (This was actually the only game all weekend in which we lost the coin toss.) And, they only scored more than one point in an end once, which I thought was pretty good for us. Just like in Game #1, we played respectably and didn't embarrass ourselves.

Let's summarize the weekend in curling:
- We played six games, a personal bonspiel record
- We won three games, a personal away bonspiel record
- We played on Sunday, a personal away bonspiel first
- We played two games on Sunday, which is just awesome
- One of our games was broadcast LIVE online, which is even more awesome (thanks for watching!)
- I improved my career record at away bonspiels from a paltry 2-8 to a more respectable 5-11; I don't expect to ever get up to .500, but at least I'm close to .333 now
- We recorded the first-ever win for Triangle Curling Club at the Dykes
- We put Triangle Curling Club on the map; many of the other teams had never heard of us before
- We had fun, because I always have fun at these sorts of events, which is why I go to them, of course
- I was surprisingly fresh throughout the weekend (at least until I got home), which is good, because I get to do it all over again next week with a different team at "The Kayser". Woo!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Sleep Deprivation

Last weekend's curling adventure in Rochester was great and all. However, I am completely burned out, so it'll be a couple of days before I have time to write and post a recap. In the meantime, let's talk about a related topic: sleep deprivation!

I'm normally very good about getting enough sleep. One night of 5-6 hours of sleep, or even 4-5 hours of sleep, I can absorb. Two in a row, however...apparently that's my limit. I don't have much experience to work from in this regard, but apparently, when I go two nights in a row without even close to adequate sleep, I get cranky and irritable. I don't think I've ever felt this sleep deprived before.

" drove all the way from Rochester to Durham yesterday like this?" I was fine yesterday. Like I said, it's the second day that does it. Right now, I'm seeing spots, and I can only kind of sort of feel my arms. In my opinion, today's 7-minute drive home from work was more challenging than yesterday's 11-hour drive.

"Why didn't you just take today off from work and sleep in?" Because that's not what I do. I don't take days off just because I'm tired. I'm taking enough days off in February as it is. I was no less productive than normal today; it was just more difficult.

"Why not try coffee, an energy drink, '5 Hour Energy', or something like that?" I don't want to become dependent on that sort of thing. Some people get a headache if they don't drink a cup of coffee in the morning. I don't want to be one of those people. As for '5 Hour Energy', something has always seemed sketchy to me about that product. I see a lot of parallels between '5 Hour Energy' and ephedra-based products that were widely marketed in the early 2000s, such as 'Stacker 2'. The level and style of advertising for '5 Hour Energy' is reminiscent of 'Stacker 2', or at least it seems like it to me. (Maybe it's just because they were/are both endorsed by NASCAR drivers named Wallace.) How long before '5 Hour Energy' is found to be unsafe and is banned by the FDA?

"Cranky and irritable? How is that any different than a normal day?" Go away. I'm going to bed. [slams door shut]

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Dykes Bonspiel: Preview

I'm sure I've mentioned the concept of a "5 & Under" curling tournament (a.k.a. "bonspiel" before, probably multiple times. But here it is again. A "5 & Under" tournament is restricted to curlers with five years or less curling experience. This is my 4th year of curling, so time is running out! On top of that, we have a baby on the way, so this year is my best chance to get in a "5 & Under", and perhaps the only chance for Amber and I to play in a "5 & Under" together.

That's why this month, I'm playing in two "5 & Under"s in three weeks. First, there's the Men's "5 & Under" called "The Dykes"; that's this weekend in sunny Rochester, NY. Then, there's a Mixed "5 & Under" called "The Kayser" that Amber and I will be in together; that's the last weekend in February in Laurel, MD. ("Mixed" means two men, two women, alternating positions.)

So, let's start with "The Dykes" - or, by its long name, The 72nd Annual GNCC Francis Dykes Men's 5 and Under Bonspiel. This is a huge bonspiel, with 47 teams signed up. That's almost twice as many as last year's "Carolina Classic". From what I understand, it's also on the competitive side. "5 & Under" or not, I don't expect to win any trophies. As we learned when we went up to Connecticut, some of these teams are quite good. And, by my count, we're one of only two teams at the bonspiel from an arena club. (The other is from Pittsburgh.)

So, the odds are against us, but I think we have a good team. (For those who know the club, our team is - from Skip to Lead - Mario R., me, Joe M., and Chris J. For those curious why typically avoid typing people's full names, it's so that people aren't directed to my blog when they type someone else's name into Google. That just wouldn't seem right.)

As is always the case when going to an away bonspiel, the goal is to win one game. Any game. Just one. 1-3 would be a successful weekend. A two win weekend would be massively successful. This is the second year at "The Dykes" for Mario and Joe. They went 0-3 last year, but they cleaned up all of the side games such as the cornhole tournament, so at least we have that going for us.

So, here's perhaps the coolest thing about this year's version of "The Dykes". GAMES WILL BE BROADCAST ONLINE. Here's the link: Apparently, they're doing one featured game per time slot, or something like that. Will our team be featured? I have no idea, but I'm hopeful that we will be, given that we're from North Carolina and all. (Curlers from North Carolina are kind of a novelty, especially in the Northeast.) If I find out that one of our games will be featured, I'll send a note to Twitter/Facebook and let everyone know they can watch us curl LIVE on their computers. They're supposed to have live commentary and everything!

Being a 47 team bonspiel, the bracket is huge. The bonspiel starts on Wednesday, but our first game isn't until Thursday at 7:30 AM. Our second game will be either Thursday 5:00p (if we win game #1) or Friday 9:30a (if we lose game #1). Here's the bottom line as far as the draw is concerned:
- No matter what happens, we won't be eliminated until Saturday at the earliest.
- We're guaranteed three games; if we win one of those three (doesn't matter which one), we'll get a fourth game. After that, who knows? I tried to make a flow chart that we could follow throughout the weekend based on how we did, but it was going to be far too complicated, more complicated than the brackets themselves.
- It's actually possible for us to play as many as TEN games this weekend. But don't count on it.

How are we getting there? Half the team is flying; the other half (including me) are driving. I tried to talk the entire team into riding along in the Allenmobile, but I understand. There's no way I'm passing up a road trip opportunity, winter or not.

Speaking of winter...yeah, it'll be cold. The forecast calls for a low of 6°F Wednesday night, and for temperatures in the 10-30°F range the rest of the weekend. I haven't looked, but I'm assuming that's an average February in Western New York. Given that this is Rochester, I'll be highly disappointed if it doesn't snow at some point. I'm looking forward to seeing the snow depth slowly grow from south (none) to north (9" in Rochester as of this morning). That's always fun.

As usual, I'll be posting occasional updates on Twitter and Facebook, whether any of our games get broadcast online or not. Enjoy!

Monday, February 07, 2011

Curling Recap: 2/4/11

It's a short week this week, so it's probably going to be nothing but curling. 'Tis the season! (February/March is about when curling season peaks.)

Career game #124: Winter League (Friday), Week 3 - February 4, 2011

End......... 1234567S |TTL
Allen....... 00030111 | 06
Jaun........ 11201000 | 05

Whoooeee, another come-from-behind, one-point win. That's five one-point wins in a row, three of which (including this one) coming via the "Skip Rock Shootout". I guarantee that streak won't last the week, though. (More on that tomorrow.)

So...the main story here was that the ice was pretty much as take-out unfriendly as it gets. There seemed to be a couple of "valleys" in the ice, where a rock would subtly wobble back and forth down the ice, sometimes wobbling by more than a full rock width. So, if you throw the same shot twice, it may not end up in the same place. It was very hard, if not impossible, to predict, making take-outs a dicey proposition at best. It took me until the 4th end to figure out that I probably shouldn't be trying any take-outs tonight.

This was definitely a draw game, which meant that by the time it came down to the Skips, there weren't many shots available. In three of the seven ends, the Skip (either me or opposing Skip Chris J.) opted to not even throw the last rock, fearing that we may accidentally improve the other team's position. But that doesn't mean we never saw some productive last rock throws. Here's the approximate setup before Chris J.'s last shot in the 5th end: (my team = red)

I don't remember exactly how many guards there were out in front, or in the house; I may have exaggerated it here. All I know is that we were in position to score at least two, and that there was NO way for a rock to get into the house untouched. None. So, the only shot available to the other team was to hit #1 into #2, and promote #2 into the house, scoring one for yellow. I thought they might try this earlier in the end, which is why I called for the #1 guard, in order to make the "raise" more difficult. If the guard touches the other team's rock at a 45° angle (the "angle freeze" as it's called), or is out in front of the other team's rock by several rock widths or more, the "double raise" is much, much more difficult. Rock #1 got a little closer to #2 than originally planned, but there was still enough separation there to make the "double raise" a tough shot, especially on this ice.

Well, anyway, opposing Skip Chris J. made the "double raise" with his last shot of the end to score one for yellow. He called it the best shot he's ever thrown; I'm not sure how many double raises I've ever made, personally.

Then, after that, we scored one, we scored one again, then we won the tie-breaker. I'm a little fuzzy on the details from the 5th end on. I guess I was just really, really focused?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Sports Saturday: 2/5/11

In today's issue:

NFL - The Super Bowl (TM). Go Packers! I guess.
NHL - Hurricanes v. Thrashers: THE GRUDGE MATCH.
College basketball - Will Penn State make the NCAA Tournament?

NFL - Yep, it's almost Super Bowl (TM) Sunday. I never get that excited about the Super Bowl (TM), because it's not like the Jacksonville Jaguars are ever in it. If they were, then things would be completely different: I'd be watching as much Super Bowl coverage as humanly possible. Instead, I am doing what I do pretty much every other NFL Sunday and watching exactly zero pregame coverage. I just want to watch the game, because, you know, I like watching football.

As for my rooting interest...go Packers! Why? Because they're not the Steelers. I don't have any Green Bay apparel to wear on Sunday, of course, but I do have the following:
- A Georgia Bulldogs hat. Same logo, just different colors. Close enough, right?
- Mo the cow puppet. I don't have a cheesehead, but I do have a cow puppet. If Wisconsin makes lots of cheese, then they must have lots of cows, right?

Sun 6:29p - Super Bowl * - Pittsburgh v. Green Bay, FOX

(* - I've lost count. What are we up to now, XLV? Let's see...Jacksonville hosted the Super Bowl in 2005, and that was Super Bowl XXXIX (39), and that was six years ago, so....yeah. That's it. This is 45. Is it just me, or are the roman numerals being emphasized less and less every year? How long before the roman numerals are gone altogether?)

NHL - All-Star weekend has come and gone. I watched every bit of the Fantasy Draft, Skills Competition, and the All-Star game itself. Raleigh was very well received as host, many of my friends went to the game and had fun, and the game itself renewed my appreciation for things like slap shots and hitting. (Which, let's face it, hockey is much more entertaining when the players are free to run into each other.) But now it's back to the business at hand: are the Carolina Hurricanes ever going to get out of 9th place in the Eastern Conference?

The Hurricanes came out of the All-Star break one point behind the 8th place Thrashers, and had two chances to move up into the #8 spot this week. First, they were beaten by a hot goaltender (the Bruins' Tim Thomas), and second, they were completely embarassed by the Maple Leafs. The Hurricanes have been susceptible to the "pathetic game" a few times this season: three times, they've lost by five goals or more. Thursday's game against Toronto would have been the fourth game, except that they were only playing the Leafs, so it only ended up being 3-0 as opposed to, say, 7-0.

Fortunately for Carolina, the 8th place Atlanta Thrashers also went 0-2 this week. Tonight, the Hurricanes and Thrashers play each other. The winner of tonight's game will enter Sunday in 8th place. Big game, right? Absolutely...but let's not get carried away if the Hurricanes lose. Even with a loss, they're still only three points back of 8th with two games in hand, and with three more games against the Thrashers still to be played. There will be plenty of time to make it up should things not go well tonight. But a win tonight would help.

Sat 1:00p - San Jose at Boston, NESN
Sat 2:00p - NY Rangers at Montréal, MSG
Sat 7:00p - Atlanta at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 7:00p - Dallas at Philadelphia, NHL Network: No "Hockey Night in Canada" on NHL Network this week, apparently.
Sat 7:00p - Toronto at Buffalo, MSG Buffalo
Sat 8:00p - Detroit at Nashville, Fox Sports Detroit
Sat 8:00p - Minnesota at Phoenix, Fox Sports Arizona Plus
Sun 12:30p - Pittsburgh at Washington, NBC
Sun 3:00p - New Jersey at Montréal, MSG Plus
Sun 3:00p - St. Louis at Tampa Bay, Fox Sports Midwest
(not listed: ANA/COL, OTT/NYI, EDM/CBJ, LA/CGY)

College basketball - It's February, which means it's time to obsessively track mock NCAA Tournament bracket projections. Who's in? Who's out? Of course, I really only care about two teams: Florida State and Penn State. According to my favorite "bracketology" website, Florida State is currently projected as an #8 seed, and Penn State is currently projected as a #10 seed. Wait...Penn State? In the tournament? Huh?

Yes, it's true. Sure, they have a loss to Maine, almost no notable non-conference wins (Duquesne is the best non-conf win they have, which in fairness is actually better than it sounds), and only one road win all season (Indiana). But Penn State is currently 5-5 in the uber-difficult Big Ten, including solid home court wins against Wisconsin and Illinois. (Note that I'm no longer considering the Michigan State game a "solid win". Seriously, what happened to them?) In the era of the 68-team tournament, I guess that's enough for the Nittany Lions to be considered for an NCAA tournament berth. I'm not going to look too far ahead here; instead, let's just consider that Sunday's home game against Michigan might be the easiest game left on their schedule. "Must win"? Not absolutely, but given what's left on their schedule...probably.

Sat 11:00a - St. Louis at Xavier, ESPNU
Sat 12:00p - West Virginia at Villanova, ESPN
Sat 1:00p - Clemson at Georgia Tech, WRAZ (ACC Network)
Sat 1:00p - Wake Forest at Maryland, WRAL (ACC Network)
Sat 2:00p - Syracuse at South Florida, MASN
Sat 2:00p - Rhode Island at Temple, ESPN2
Sat 4:00p - Iowa at Indiana, ESPN2
Sat 6:00p - NC State at Duke, ESPN
Sat 6:00p - Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, MASN
Sat 9:00p - Kentucky at Florida, ESPN
Sun 12:00p - Michigan at Penn State, Big Ten Network
Sun 1:00p - Michigan State at Wisconsin, CBS
Sun 2:00p - Florida State at North Carolina, FSN
Sun 2:00p - Ohio State at Minnesota, ESPN

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Elusive AAA- North Carolina License Plate

My latest silly license plate game is almost three months old now. To recap:

- North Carolina license plates recently made it to the end of the alphabet (ZZZ-9999). The DMV then reset the alphabet, going back to AAA-, AAB- and so on.
- My goal is to find at least one license plate from all of the three-letter combinations starting with ZZ- and AA-. North Carolina doesn't use G, I, O, Q, or U in its plates, so there are 42 such letter combinations (21 ZZs and 21 AAs).
- On top of that, my ultimate goal is to get a clear photo of one ZZZ- plate and one AAA- plate.

I got the ZZZ- picture back in December, but it's taken me a while to get a picture of an AAA- plate. I've seen plenty of AAAs on the road over the last few weeks, but only this past weekend did I spot one in a parking lot, allowing me to finally get one on camera:

So, it took much longer than I thought it would - wouldn't have guessed this picture opportunity would come a full seven weeks after I first saw an AAB- plate in somebody's driveway - but there you have it. Woo!

By the way, the sticker in the upper-left indicates that this particular AAA- plate was issued in January, while the pictured ZZZ- plate was a November issue. This means consecutive letter combinations aren't always released in close temporal proximity to each other, which I kind of figured. So even though I've seen plates as late as ABA-, that doesn't necessarily mean that all 21 AA- letter combinations are out there, yet.

The picture-taking portion of my quest is complete, but the game isn't. As I've been tracking in By the Numbers, I have still yet to see 4 of the 21 ZZ- letter combinations, and 11 of the 21 AA- letter combinations. It might be a while on those remaining ZZ- plates, too. The fact that I haven't seen a ZZK- plate yet means they were probably all issued in the mountains or along the coast. But I'm bound to see one eventually, right?

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Limp Bizkit: What Were We Thinking?

It's interesting to see which bands and styles of music last over time, and which do not. A lot of music made in the 1960s and 1970s, for example, is still popular today. Alternative rock from the 1990s has sustained and is also still fairly popular today...for the most part. There are some exceptions.

For example, for the first time in probably years, I recently listened to an old Limp Bizkit album. Remember Limp Bizkit? Yeah, they were very popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In 2011, however, I couldn't even make it through the whole album. It just sounded terrible. What were we thinking, anyway? How was this crap popular?

Now...this may just be the difference between 18-year-old Chris and 28-year-old Chris. My musical taste has mellowed out a little over the last 10 years, sure. But I still listen to late 1990s punk rock, ska, and stuff like that, and I still like it. Limp Bizkit, on the other hand...not so much.

But I think there's more to it than just a slight shift in personal music preference. It's not just me. Tune your radio to your favorite rock station, and you may hear plenty of alternative rock from the 1990s: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Bush, and maybe even Green Day and Blink-182. (Those last two are more "alternative", I suppose; the types of rock stations that play a lot of Led Zeppelin and AC/DC aren't likely to give any air time to your Blink-182 "pop-punk" types.) But will you hear Limp Bizkit on pretty much any rock station these days? Doubtful. When was the last time you heard "I did it all for the nookie! C'mon! The nookie! C'mon!" on the radio? It's probably been a while. And for good reason. Their songs just sound ridiculous today, don't they?

Why was Limp Bizkit popular, anyway? Their music lacks melody, the lyrics aren't particularly interesting, it's not artistically sound in the least, and it's just loud. Yes, loud and obnoxious rock can be artistically sound. Take Metallica, for instance. Their music is very well done, very polished. But it takes a lot of talent to pull that off, and talent is something Fred Durst and company didn't have much of, in hindsight.

Can't really blame them, though. Chalk it up to a passing fad: "rap metal". "Rap metal" was "the thing" for a while back then, and did Limp Bizkit ever cash in. From my perspective, it also didn't hurt that Limp Bizkit was from Jacksonville. I mean, a lot of my friends were into them, and the hype was hard to avoid around there, especially if you listened to Planet Radio. I admit, I got sucked into the hype, too. It won't happen again. I promise.

So, yeah...that'll probably be the last time I listen to Limp Bizkit for a while, at least until the next time I need a good chuckle. Timeless music, it isn't. On the other hand, I suppose some of you may feel the same way about Reel Big Fish, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and the rest of the Third Wave Ska movement, to which I say...screw you.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Jury Duty

A week or so ago, I got the following notice in the mail: "You are hereby summoned for Jury Service." Woohoo! It's about time.

I've never had jury duty before, so it's kind of exciting. Being on a jury actually sounds like a fun logic exercise. Given the evidence presented in front of you, is he/she guilty or not guilty? I'm actually looking forward to it.

Then again, the chances of me actually being put on a jury are apparently slim. I've heard that lawyers generally prefer jurors without college degrees. I guess less educated people are easier to persuade and are less likely to "see through the BS"? Whatever the reason, even though I think I would make an excellent juror, I'd be surprised if it actually happens. And that's if I even get called in that day; I have to call a phone number the night before and see if my number is called. I have a low number, though, so I'm likely to at least have to go in. (I used to have a high number, but I requested my date be rescheduled; the trade-off being that I had to take a lower number on the other date. I guess that's fair.)

So, let's say I get to serve on a jury. What kind of trial is it going to be? Since it's through Durham County rather than a federal court or something like that, I'm expecting something boring like a minor drug offense:

- Prosecution: "We found some marijuana in your car."
- Defense: "No you didn't."
- Prosecution: "Yes we did. In fact, here it is. Consider this Exhibit A."
- Defense: "Well...umm..."
- Judge: "So, jury: is he guilty?"
- Jury (after deliberating for about 30 seconds): "Guilty."
- Judge: "Adjourned."

Is this how trials go? I've never witnessed a trial, and I don't watch shows like "Law and Order", either. But this is kind of what I have in mind. If I'm lucky, I may even get to announce the verdict myself! If that's even how this sort of thing works. Probably not.

My parents say it may be more likely to be a civil trial than a criminal trial. I'm not sure what they do at civil trials, but I'm picturing the types of things they discuss on shows like "Judge Judy":

- Ex-Wife: "You owe us child support."
- Estranged Husband: "No I don't."
- Ex-Wife: "Yes you do. In fact, here are your bank records. Consider this Exhibit A."
- Estranged Husband: "Well...umm..."
- Judge: "So, jury: does he owe child support?"
- Jury (after deliberating for about 30 seconds): "Guilty."
- Judge: "Adjourned."

Actually, on second thought, those sorts of disputes aren't usually handled by a jury, right? Doesn't the judge usually just decide on his/her own? Let's try another example...

- Neighbor: "Your dog keeps pooping on our lawn."
- Dog Owner: "No he doesn't."
- Neighbor: "Yes he does. In fact, here's Exhibit A..."

Clearly, I have no idea what I'm getting into here. That's what makes it so exciting! Hope my number is called...