Thursday, March 31, 2011

Charleston Statistical Update

I'm trying to milk this trip to Charleston, SC for all it's worth, so here are some random "road geek" and/or statistical notes from the drive.

Interstates driven: Prior to the trip, the only stretch of major interstate highway in South Carolina I had yet to "clinch" was Interstate 26 from I-95 southeast to Charleston. So, if we were going to Charleston, checking this off the list was a top priority. I've now driven every stretch of major interstate mile in the state. Woo! (North Carolina and Delaware are other states in which I've accomplished that feat.)

Then, on the way back from Charleston, we took US 701 from beginning (Georgetown, SC) to end (Four Oaks, NC), just because. US 701 was one of the routes I highlighted as a possible "one day clincher" in this post. (To date, I've only completed 3 of those 13. Still have some work to do there.) It wasn't all that exciting, but it was certainly better than taking I-95 again.

We didn't visit any new counties on the trip, though. From the Virginia state line south, I have everything along and east of I-95 covered. I have six counties to go in South Carolina, and they're all on the other side of the state. What I've been thinking of doing at some point is knocking out all six of them in one day. Google Maps says that trip would take 12 hours and 18 minutes, starting and ending at home. Easy!

Hmm...what else is there...

Nights by county: Our overnight stop was in Santee (I-95 Exit 98), which is in Orangeburg County. I'm pretty sure that's the first time I've ever stayed overnight in Orangeburg County.

What other South Carolina counties have I stayed in over the years? I've obviously been to South Carolina a lot, being close to both my former home (Jacksonville) and my current home, but of course that also means I usually don't have a reason to stay overnight there. Indeed, this was only the second time I've stayed overnight in South Carolina in the last 5+ years. (The start of 2006 is as far back as my detailed "Nights By County" analysis goes.) That overnight stop was in Cherokee County, on this trip.

But just for fun, let's try and go farther back than that. Which other South Carolina counties have I stayed overnight in over the years? I can think of several...
- Charleston County, as part of the old Boy Scout trips aboard the USS Yorktown I mentioned earlier this week.
- Greenville County, as part of another Boy Scout camping trip (to "Camp Old Indian").
- Spartanburg County, because I remember staying in a hotel in Spartanburg the night immediately after one of those camping trips.
- Pickens County, as part of a Spring Break trip to Table Rock State Park and the surrounding area.
- York County, because my parents' Nissan Sentra broke down in the Rock Hill area in the early 1990s.
- Chesterfield County, because for some reason, I remember staying in a Days Inn in Cheraw. I don't remember what trip that was, but I definitely remember the hotel.
- Hampton County, I think. (Maybe Keith can help with this one. You know that trailer we stayed in on our way back from an Asheville camping trip many years ago? Was that Hampton County?)
- My parents might have taken me to either Hilton Head (Beaufort County) or Myrtle Beach (Horry County) when I was very little. And I don't remember ever staying overnight in the Columbia area, so I think that's it. But does it really matter? No. Let's move on.

Only other noteworthy statistical thing I can think of is my dumb ZZ- and AA- North Carolina license plate quest. I spotted a ZZS- North Carolina license plate - two of them, actually - in Laurinburg, near the South Carolina border. The fact that I spotted two of them probably means the ZZS- plates were regionally allocated to that area, and/or other areas not including the Triangle. Same probably goes for the other ZZ- and AA- plates I haven't spotted yet (ZZK, ZZX, AAE, AAF, AAS, AAT, AAV). To be honest, I'm looking forward to this game's conclusion.

By the way, I'm not 100% confident that they printed any AAS- plates at all, because it might be too close for comfort to ASS-. But given that both WTF- and XXX- made it out there, I think it's probably a safe bet that there are AAS- plates out on the road, too. We'll find out sooner or later.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Radd Dew's BBQ


This is where we ate dinner on our way back from Charleston, SC last weekend. This was in Conway, a few minutes inland from Myrtle Beach.

So...here's the thing with barbecue. When you walk into a random barbecue joint in the South, you never know what you're going to get. Even if you're in Eastern North Carolina, there's no guarantee that the restaurant you just walked into serves "Eastern North Carolina"-style pig. (Unless you’ve done your homework and already know.) Of course, the odds are in favor of it, but it's not guaranteed.

What does this mean about Radd Dew's? Well, given that we were in South Carolina, was expecting, and hoping for, mustard-based barbecue sauce. But nope. Radd Dew's uses vinegar-based barbecue sauce on its pork, similar (but not exactly the same) as the Eastern North Carolina style I've grown a distaste for over the years. Bah! I didn’t come all the way down here for that. Maybe we were too close to the state line. (I feel like I’ve gone to great lengths in the past explaining what I don’t like about the Eastern North Carolina style - pretty much everything - so I’ll spare you that this time around.)

It wasn't all bad, though. The only thing about Radd Dew’s I didn’t care for was the barbecue “sauce”. Besides that, I wouldn’t necessarily call it “Eastern North Carolina” style. It was much sweeter and less spicy than ENC style, which I appreciated (Amber too). Amber also liked that they had the courtesy to ask her if she wanted cole slaw on her pork sandwich, instead of just putting it on there by default as seems to be the custom in Eastern North Carolina. And, as implied by the picture above, I ordered the buffet, so there was much more to eat than just pulled pork. Macaroni and cheese? You betcha.

I’ve long stated that my favorite barbecue anywhere is Maurice’s, a South Carolina chain that uses mustard-based barbecue sauce. But I have yet to have mustard-based barbecue anywhere besides Maurice’s. What do I like most about Maurice’s? Is it the sauce, or is it the way they prepare the meat (very soft and tender)? I still don’t know. I just know it’s good. Next time we go to South Carolina, I’m going to do some research beforehand and find a non-Maurice’s mustard-based barbecue joint to try out.

Two more thoughts on Radd Dew’s. Next door to the restaurant (which was quite busy - it appears the buffet is quite popular!) is “Radd Dew’s Fencing”. Here’s my question. Which came first? Did they start the fencing business because the restaurant wasn’t doing well financially? Or, did they start with the fencing business first, and then once they got enough money, said, “You know, I want to start my own barbecue restaurant. That would be fun.” I could probably find out by going to their website, but...nah.

Finally, here’s something I found amusing from inside the restaurant.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Publix and Piggly Wiggly Overlap

So, here's one thing I like about the Charleston, SC area. You can shop for groceries at both Publix AND Piggly Wiggly!



Those two stores (actually located in the Charleston suburb of Mount Pleasant) were literally located just down the street from one other. If I lived there, I wouldn't know what to do with myself. ... Actually, I know what I'd do. I would probably do 80% of my shopping at Publix - it is my favorite grocery store, after all - and the other 20% at Piggly Wiggly, if nothing else just to buy some Piggly Wiggly-branded items every once in a while.


(Side note: Not all Piggly Wigglys are good places to shop, but based on my experience, the South Carolina Piggly Wigglys are among the best in the country. Maybe that's just because they have a greater selection of Piggly Wiggly-brand items than the North Carolina stores do, for example the cookies pictured above. Side note #2: Harris Teeter, Bi-Lo, and Food Lion round out the lineup of traditional grocery stores in Mount Pleasant.)

So, I was thinking. How many cities around the country give you this choice? Even though Publix and Piggly Wiggly are both concentrated in the Southeast, they have different target markets, so there may not be much overlap between the stores' respective footprints. Piggly Wiggly concentrates in rural areas of the South, while Publix leans more towards large cities and suburbs. South Carolina is one of the few states where Piggly Wiggly is prevalant in the cities as well as the rural areas.

Anyway, I consulted the online store locators for both Publix and Piggly Wiggly. Publix has locations in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee, all of which also have at least a few Piggly Wiggly locations. Within each state, here is a list of cities where both stores exist:

Alabama

Birmingham (also suburbs Bessemer, Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook)
Decatur (also nearby Athens, Harvest)
Montgomery (also suburb Prattville)
Tuscaloosa (also suburb Northport)

Florida - No overlap

Georgia

Albany
Athens
Atlanta*
Columbus (also nearby Lagrange, and Phenix City, AL)
Macon
Savannah*

(* - Atlanta and Savannah don't really count. I do not recommend going to the Piggly Wigglys in those cities.)

South Carolina

Beaufort (also nearby Bluffton, Hardeeville, Hilton Head Island)
Charleston (also suburbs Mount Pleasant, North Charleston, Summerville)
Columbia (also suburb Lexington)

Tennessee - Nashville

This probably isn't a complete list, but I'd say that if you want to have the option of shopping at either Piggly Wiggly or Publix, the best places to be are in the South Carolina "Lowcountry", or in the Birmingham metro. Those two areas have the most Piggly Wiggly/Publix overlap of all the cities listed above. Thing is, though, while you can be assured that any Publix you go to will be of top quality, I'm not sure what the Piggly Wigglys in the Birmingham metro are like. Maybe we should go find out! Road trip! (Just kidding. Maybe. Birmingham is only 9 hours away...)

By the way, Wegmans - my second-favorite grocery store - comes nowhere close to overlapping either Publix or Piggly Wiggly. Because that would be just too much to handle.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Charleston, SC

Our trip to Maryland the last weekend of February was the last road trip we had planned for a while. I figured that we wouldn't leave the state in March, or maybe even April for that matter. But that road trip itch is hard to contain, and it just so happens that last weekend was the perfect time for a weekend getaway. We had absolutely nothing planned (no curling, no social activity, nothing), and the weather wasn't supposed to be all that great had we stayed home. So, let's go!

But where? We considered many potential destinations, and I even went to a few travel websites to see if we could get a cheap flight to anywhere interesting, similar to what we did this very weekend in 2008 when we flew to Kansas City. But the flight costs didn't look all that appealing, so that restricted our list to anything within a 6-hour drive. Beyond that, we pretty much let the weather forecast dictate where we were going. As much as I would have liked to have gone to Congaree National Park or the Cumberland Gap area of Virginia/Tennessee/Kentucky, one of the very few places within a 6-hour drive where it wasn't supposed to rain on Saturday was Charleston, SC. (This isn't the first time a potential visit to Congaree NP has been squashed by the threat of rain, by the way. Some day.)

We began our Charleston adventure by going downtown, where there are a lot of old fancy buildings (mostly churches) and a few references to the Civil War. Like nearby Savannah, downtown Charleston is most popular with old people. That's not necessarily a bad thing, and I'm sure we could have spent a whole day in downtown and been entertained if we had done more research beforehand (and been willing to spend money on something like a trolley tour). But there will be plenty of time for that later in life, right? Instead, we just walked around for a couple of hours and left. It was a nice little walk, if nothing else. We saw a lot of fancy houses and flowers. And for the record, Amber thinks downtown Savannah is better than downtown Charleston, because downtown Savannah has more blocks set aside as parks.

Next stop: the USS Yorktown, an old Navy aircraft carrier that's been permenantly docked in Charleston Harbor and made into part of a tourist attraction of sorts called "Patriots Point".


I've actually been here before. They have a youth camping program of sorts on the ship where youth organizations such as the Boy Scouts can camp overnight on the ship in the old bunking quarters. I did this a couple of times with my old Boy Scout troop, most recently in 1999, and it was a lot of fun. Today, it appears not much has changed. The youth camping program is still as active and popular as ever. In fact, I'd say about half of the people aboard the ship that day were affiliated with the Boy Scouts. They even feed the Boy Scouts in the exact same room with nearly the exact same setup as they did 12 years ago. (I have a pretty good memory when it comes to this sort of thing.) If it works, why change? As for the non-Boy Scouts among us, Amber liked seeing all of the "inner workings" and the "guts" of the ship underneath the deck along the self-guided tours, as well as the planes and such they had on board and the submarine that's parked next to the Yorktown. It was a much bigger and more impressive deal than she thought it would be. So, I'm glad I suggested the USS Yorktown to her as a "place to go".

While business at Patriots Point seems to be doing well, and the condition of the ship appears to have held at status quo for the last 12 years...there's more to it than that. Apparently the ship isn't in as good a shape as it appears at first glance, and the Navy has told the owners of Patriots Point to either repair the ship or get rid of it. Both options are costly, which is probably why it costs $18/person to board the ship. (I think it's worth the money in comparison to a typical war museum that would cost, say, $9/person, because this is certainly more than twice as interesting.) So, I'm not really sure what the future holds for the USS Yorktown. Visit while you can!

Changing gears...I'm a sucker for nice bridges, so here's the bridge we took to get to Patriots Point:


(Yeah, that's taken from pretty much the same location as the first picture, just rotated about 45° to the right. I'm that lazy. By the way, that is Amber standing there.)

This is the Ravenel Bridge, which carries US-17 from Charleston northeast to the suburb of Mount Pleasant. My favorite thing about the bridge was the mixed-use trail they built alongside the roadway all the way across the bridge. The trail was VERY popular, perhaps because everyone was training for the next weekend's Cooper River Bridge 10K Run. Running up that thing can't be easy. It's a big bridge.

After Patriots Point, we went grocery shopping at both Piggly Wiggly and Publix (more on that tomorrow), and then back home Saturday evening via "the scenic route" (more on that Wednesday). We packed enough clothes for a second night, but we both felt fulfilled, so we went home. And that's our five-hour Charleston experience.

Best Western Plus


This was where we stayed overnight Friday during last weekend's Charleston trip. It's not just a Best Western; it's a Best Western Plus. What's the "Plus" mean?

While I thought "Plus" may have referred to the average age of the guests - we were literally the only people under 50 in the breakfast room Saturday morning - here's what it really means, according to the Best Western website: "BEST WESTERN PLUS offers that little something extra with an affordable price tag. While each property will be different, each features well appointed rooms and amenities thoughtfully designed to suit any travel occasion." There are also "Best Western Premier" hotels, which is a step above Plus.

So...I normally think that the made-up designations that companies attach to their products are kind of dumb. (This Jeep is "Trail Rated"! These Goodyear tires have "TripleTred Technology!") But I actually think there is a place for the "Plus" and "Premier" labels. Best Westerns are independently owned and operated, and you never know what you're going to get. When we go hotel shopping, we're not necessarily looking for a specific chain; instead, we're just looking for a specific genre of hotels. Best Westerns can vary greatly from place to place, and because of that, the "Plus" and "Premier" designations can actually be quite useful to travelers who are looking for a budget hotel, a really fancy hotel, or something in between.

"Really, Chris? I thought you were going to be totally cynical about this Plus thing, like you always are with everything." Umm...sorry? Well, if you want cynicism, here you go. Basically, Best Western is trying to drive home this point: "Not all Best Westerns are created equal. Just because the Best Western in Bismarck is crappy doesn't mean the one in downtown Chicago is crappy, too. Just give us another chance!"

Here's my interpretation of what the "Plus" and "Premier" labels mean:
- A plain old "Best Western" falls somewhere within the Super 8 / Comfort Inn range of hotels. This is what Amber and I stay in most of the time.
- A "Best Western Plus" is closer to a Hampton Inn or a Holiday Inn. A little nicer than a "standard" Best Western, and it may come with a hot breakfast. You'll also pay a little more, of course. Amber and I will get one of these hotels from time to time, depending on our mood.
- A "Best Western Premier" is probably like a Hilton or a Sheraton, which is not what Amber and I are looking for in a hotel.

See, isn't that useful? Well, I think so, but I'm not sure these labels will catch on. We'll see.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Sports Saturday: 3/26/11

Amber and I are thinking of doing an impromptu mini-road trip this weekend, since we have no other plans. Possible destinations include Charleston, SC; Congaree National Park; Atlanta; and the Cumberland Gap area of Kentucky/Tennessee/Virginia. So, that means you get the weekly sports discussion post Friday afternoon instead of Saturday morning. Woo! In today's issue...

College basketball: Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen!
Hockey: Don't watch the NHL this weekend. Instead, watch the other "March Madness": the NCAA Hockey tournament.
Auto racing: Formula One and IndyCar start their seasons this weekend.

College basketball - I watched a LOT of college basketball last weekend, and in fact, it kind of wore me out. I'm glad there are only 12 games this week instead of 52.

So...how about Florida State in the Sweet 16? I'm obviously very excited about that! Their defense is a lot of fun to watch, and in their game against Notre Dame, their offense actually was, too. That's the thing with FSU: sure, their defense is good, but it had better be, because they make offense look as difficult as anyone. But against Notre Dame, they were actually making 3-pointers (one of their major weaknesses, typically), and for some reason, the big guys inside (Bernard James specifically) usually drew only one defender and could have their way. Maybe that's what making a few outside shots does for you; it loosens the interior defense. Just think how good this team would be if they had consistent 3-point shooting! Still, though, I think it's kind of neat that Florida State basketball has an "identity" now, instead of just being another team that's out there. When you think "Florida State", you think "defense".

And, shoot, they might even be favored in this next game against VCU! But we shouldn't get our hopes up. VCU has obviously played very well to get to this point, and I don't expect them to stop here. It'll take a solid game from the Seminoles to get one more. And if it doesn't work out, oh well, because this is already their deepest tournament run in 18 years.

As for everyone else...well, everyone likes to talk about their brackets, right? Mine did not pan out. I picked lots of upsets, but of course I picked the wrong ones. In fact, this year's bracket might be my worst performance EVER. (I'm currently in the 10th percentile on Yahoo.) That's the way it goes. Maybe I'll put up more of a "chalk" bracket next season.

Fri 7:00p - North Carolina v. Marquette, CBS
Fri 7:20p - Kansas v. Richmond, TBS
Fri 9:45p - Ohio State v. Kentucky, CBS
Fri 9:55p - Florida State v. VCU, TBS
Sat 4:20p - Butler v. Florida, CBS
Sat 6:55p - Arizona v. Connecticut, CBS
Sun 2:00p - Regional Final #3, CBS
Sun 4:30p - Regional Final #4, CBS

Hockey - The NHL regular season is winding down, and most teams' playoff fates have been sealed. So except for Hurricanes and Sabres games (two teams who appear to be battling for the final playoff spot in the East; the Sabres currently lead by 3 points), I'm pretty much putting the NHL aside until the playoffs. There will be plenty of time for the NHL later.

Besides, if you're a hockey fan, there is much more interesting hockey to watch this weekend: the NCAA tournament. Both the first round (Round of 16) and the second round (quarterfinals, with winners advancing to the "Frozen Four" two weeks later) take place this weekend. All of these games are available on ESPN3.com, many are televised live, and the rest will be televised on tape delay. A complete schedule is here; I'm only listing live broadcasts below.

I haven't followed college hockey all year, so I have no "expertise" to provide. Except that unlike in the basketball tournament, every team in the field is a viable Frozen Four candidate. I couldn't tell you where Merrimack is located, or even what state it's in (New York or Massachusetts would be my first two guesses), but can they make the Frozen Four? Sure! Why not? RIT did it last year as a huge underdog, as did Bemidji State at some point before that.

(By the way, I did look up where Merrimack is located: Andover, MA. When it comes to the NCAA Hockey tournament, if you haven't heard of the school, chances are it's in New York or Massachusetts.)

Fri 3:00p - East Region: Union (NY) v. Minnesota-Duluth, ESPNU
Fri 5:30p - West Region: Michigan v. Nebraska-Omaha (ESPNU at Fri 11:30p)
Fri 6:30p - East Region: Yale v. Air Force, ESPNU: At 27-6-1, Yale is the #1 overall seed. How about that?
Fri 9:00p - West Region: Boston College v. Colorado College, ESPNU
Sat 1:30p - Midwest Region: Rensselaer v. North Dakota (ESPNU at Sun 12:30p)
Sat 4:00p - Northeast Region: New Hampshire v. Miami (Ohio), ESPNU
Sat 5:00p - Midwest Region: Denver v. Western Michigan, Altitude 2 (ESPNU at Sun 3:00p)
Sat 6:30p - East Region Final, ESPNU
Sat 7:30p - Northeast Region: Merrimack v. Notre Dame (ESPNU at Sat 11:30p)
Sat 9:00p - West Region Final, ESPNU
Sun 5:30p - Midwest Region Final, ESPNU
Sun 8:00p - Northeast Region Final, ESPNU

Auto racing - Big weekend in racing.

Sun 2:00a - Formula One Australian Grand Prix, SPEED: I'm excited to have Formula One back. The most exciting thing about the new season? This season will be the first to be broadcast in high definition. Yay! Aside from that...I don't really know what to say about it.

The top four teams (Red Bull, McLaren, Ferrari, Mercedes) all have the same driver lineup as last season, and the 5th place team (Renault) would have the same driver lineup too if Robert Kubica weren't injured. (Nick Heidfeld is his replacement.) Farther back, we have a few new guys - complete driver roster from Wikipedia - whom I don't expect to do all that well.

The top five teams gobbled up all of the podium finishes last season. But here's a bold prediction: that won't happen this year. Either Adrian Sutil or Kamui Kobayashi will get a podium finish in 2011.

Sun 12:30p - IndyCar at St. Petersburg, ABC: IndyCar starts up this weekend as well. The big news coming out of IndyCar lately has been a few new rule changes. You know how NASCAR has "double file restarts"? Well, they're coming to IndyCar now, too. My take: Boooooo! Sure, double file restarts make the end of the race more exciting, but makes the rest of the race less important or meaningful. I don't think double file restarts will affect the results as randomly as they do in NASCAR, though. At some NASCAR tracks, you're better off restarting in 4th on the outside lane rather than in 3rd. So what's the point in racing hard for 3rd? I'm hoping this doesn't happen in IndyCar, and that it actually matters whether you're running 7th or 8th halfway through the race.

IndyCar also floated around the idea of introducing the "free pass" or "lucky dog" rule, where the first car one lap down gets his/her lap back on every caution. But due to strong fan opposition, they scrapped that idea. Whew! I don't want IndyCar to turn into NASCAR. I think the reason race fans watch IndyCar is precisely because it's not NASCAR. That's why I watch it, anyway. Nothing against NASCAR, but I don't want every form of racing I watch to try to emulate it. IndyCar needs to let NASCAR be NASCAR, and then just do its own thing.

Finally...I'm going to kind of go poo-poo all over NASCAR this week. First off, Kyle Busch is kind of ruining the Nationwide Series, given how dominant he's been. It's almost unwatchable anymore. Secondly, Bristol - where they raced last week - was pretty much ruined when they put in the "progressive banking". I'm not really a fan of the progressive banking trend, because it actually makes it harder to pass, and I think it's kind of a gimmick. (If there's one thing NASCAR needs, it's more gimmicks, right?) I don't think cars running side-by-side for 10 laps straight unable to shake each other is as exciting as watching someone deftly move their way up through the field. And, in Bristol's case, it's drastically reduced the "full contact" nature of its racing. Anyone who watched last week's Sprint Cup race had to have noticed that about half of the seats were empty. Bristol used to be the toughest ticket in NASCAR. Not anymore. Hopefully this will put an end to the progressive banking trend.

Sat 5:30p - NASCAR Nationwide from California, ESPN
Sun 3:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup from California, FOX

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Outback Steakhouse

Among the many gift cards Amber and I got for Christmas was one for Outback Steakhouse. We couldn't really use it until Amber's "morning sickness" subsided, so we finally got around to using it last weekend.

So...Outback. How often do we go? Not often. In fact, this was the first time Amber and I had ever gone to an Outback together. That's one thing that's nice about my restaurant serving times spreadsheet. Instead of saying "I can't remember the last time I've been to Outback", I can say with certainty, "The last time I went to Outback was March 6, 2005, at the Jacksonville Beach location, with my girlfriend at the time. And, it took them 23:26 to bring me my order." (On Saturday, it took 16:11.)

On top of all that, I can probably make a good guess as to what I ordered: the "Alice Springs Chicken" with no mushrooms. That was always the standby when I went to Outback. This time, though, I had a steak. My official opinion on steak is that it's good, but given the price, not that good. Or, to put it another way:


Therefore, I only get steak maybe once a year. I suppose this was my one steak dinner for the year. (Medium Well, in case you're wondering. Amber prefers Well Done.)

Other signature items at Outback include two classic appetizers: cheese fries (one of the most unhealthy things you can get at any restaurant) and the "Bloomin' Onion" (not far behind the cheese fries). Of course, those items only really work if you have a large, hungry group. Amber wasn't interested in either, but even if she was, I don't think it would have been a good idea for us to down an entire Bloomin' Onion by ourselves, especially with a full steak dinner to follow. I remember a couple of times in college where the four of us would go to Outback, get an order of cheese fries and a Bloomin' Onion, and that would be our meal. Ahh, college...

Why don't we go to Outback more often? The main reason is the crowd. Outback is always crowded, it seems. This particular Outback is next door to a Bob Evans that we somewhat frequent (five visits in two years according to the spreadsheet). And every time, the Outback parking lot is overflowing and has cars parked on the curb, and the Bob Evans parking lot is over half empty. So, in order to "beat the crowd" on Saturday, we acted like old people and ate dinner at 4:30 PM. Turns out we could have waited another hour or so, because when we left at 5:30 PM, there was still no wait, even then. Upon further inspection, the small parking lot makes Outback look more crowded than it really is.

You know...that's actually pretty clever. You may think that having ample parking would be better for business than not having ample parking. But in the competitive restaurant business, I'm inclined to think the opposite. In general, just like covering up seats so that your football stadium looks more full on Sunday, having a full parking lot looks better for business, does it not? "Hey, let's go to that place. The parking lot is always full, so it must be good!" That's certainly better than the alternative: "The parking lot at Bob Evans is always empty, so it must not be any good." (Bob Evans is plenty good, by the way. It's one of our favorites.) I wonder if restaurants think about this when they build their parking lots. It's not enough to simply have limited parking. You need to make your parking lot look big, even though it isn't. The Durham Outback does this by only having one row of parking spots on either side that wraps all the way around the building, as opposed to a more wide open parking lot with four spots per row, such as in the lot across Mount Moriah Road:


View Larger Map

Then, if you want "overflow parking", stick it way in the back behind the building, completely out of sight. And if you want to be really crafty, encourage people (or better yet, employees!) to park on the curb instead of in the overflow lot, because cars on the curb make your parking lot look even more full. A parking inconvenience here or there might keep a few customers away, but you should be able to offset that with the, shall we say, "curb appeal". But I have no data to back this up, and I'm not a marketing expert, so really, I have no idea.

By the way, I recognize that in the Google satellite picture, the Outback parking lot is completely empty, while the Bob Evans parking lot has two dozen cars in it. This image must have been taken in the morning or early afternoon hours before Outback opened for the day. Hey, that's another thing you can do to artificially boost demand: don't open until 4:00 PM! Outback really has it figured out, don't they?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

AT&T Buys T-Mobile

"AT&T is getting married to T-Mobile. There will be no reception afterwards."
(h/t Erik H.)

I've been a T-Mobile wireless customer for about 15 months now, when I switched from AT&T. I've been pretty happy with my choice. Now comes the news that AT&T is buying T-Mobile, which means that in another year or so, I'll go back to being an AT&T customer once again.

Given that I just left AT&T (and paid a hefty termination fee in order to do so), I'm a little pissed off about this. What is this, some kind of joke? Well, there's nothing I can do to stop a major corporate acquisition, so instead I'm going to go on a long anti-AT&T rant. (Advance apologies to those of you who are satisfied AT&T customers, or those of you who actually work for them. I don't hold it against you.)

While AT&T does have wider coverage in rural areas - that's pretty much the only thing I have against T-Mobile - T-Mobile is cheaper, customer service is better (although I don't have much personal experience to go on there), and most importantly, sound quality and reception is outstanding. That was my biggest issue with AT&T. "Oh, sorry, my phone cut out for a couple of seconds. Could you repeat that?" "Oh, sorry, our call must have been dropped. Hi again!" (In "By the Numbers", I used to keep track of how many dropped calls I had.) Yes, sound and call quality may have more to do with the phone than the provider, and the phone I've had with T-Mobile is far superior to the phones I had with AT&T. But Amber's T-Mobile phone is more on the level to what I had with AT&T, and she doesn't have any such issues. And, I'm not the only one who feels that AT&T provides inferior service at an inferior price. Consumer Reports recently ranked each of the four national wireless providers (Verizon and Sprint being the others), based on customer surveys; AT&T was by far the lowest rated.

I've always felt that AT&T's business model isn't focused as much on good customer service or a top quality product. Their product is merely the "bare minimum", and they want you to use it not because it's the best, but because it's what everyone else uses as a "default choice". AT&T is one of the most recognizable names in the business, so they don't really need a quality product in order to gain or keep customers. Instead, they do business by extensive advertising, exclusive carriage agreements, and buying out the competition.* I've never actually chosen to become an AT&T customer. It just sort of happens. My first wireless carrier was Cingular; they were bought by AT&T. My first internet service provider upon moving to North Carolina was BellSouth; they were bought by AT&T. This will be the third time that AT&T has roped me in, not once by my own accord. There's no escaping them! Resistence is futile! You will submit!

(* - To be fair, Verizon is just as bad as AT&T on all three of those fronts, if not worse. Verizon spends more on advertising than AT&T (source). The iPhone is now available on both AT&T and Verizon, instead of being exclusive to AT&T. And, Verizon has done its share of buying out the competition over the years, such as when they acquired Alltel in 2008.)

Some might say that "merging" with AT&T will actually help T-Mobile customers. That's just spin, of course. Yes, the lack of extensive coverage in rural areas will improve post-buyout, in theory. But post-buyout, I'll have to share all that network bandwidth with the heaviest wireless users of all: iPhone owners. Right now, we have the T-Mobile network all to ourselves, and it's great. That will change. Even under the best case scenario, my rates will still go up, I'm sure. Amber and I only pay $100/month combined for wireless service, which is pretty good when you consider that I get unlimited web and unlimited texting. (Amber doesn't have a smartphone, so she doesn't need unlimited web.) I doubt I'll be able to get that kind of deal with AT&T.

Of course...there's nothing forcing me to stay with AT&T, and in fact, I probably won't. Given how we like to travel, I'd prefer a national carrier, which means my only other options are Verizon and Sprint. Verizon appears to have the best reputation, but it is also the most expensive (the main reason I didn't choose them 15 months ago), and might be just as much of an "Evil Empire" as AT&T. Don't know much about Sprint, but it's probably only a matter of time before they get bought out by one of the "Evil Empires" too, right? How long before our wireless choices are whittled down to two?

Fortunately, I have some time to do some research. The transition isn't supposed to be complete for another 12 months, and that's about when my existing two-year contract will run out, so I've got time. Who knows, maybe I'll even like my new wireless provider better. I'm also looking forward to getting a new phone.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Co-ed Kickball: Season 3

Spring is here, and that means it's once again time for co-ed kickball! My 3rd season participating in the Knightdale kickball league begins tonight.

I suppose I should offer up some kind of "season preview". Let's do it in Q&A format:

"Is your team pretty much the same as the last two seasons?" For the most part. We've picked up a couple of new people, but we've lost more than we gained. Part of that is my fault; part of that is due to other "upper-body concerns", as an NHL team would put it. And, some of the people we do have won't be able to play every game due to other obligations. So I think we're going to be a little shorthanded this season, and that's going to be a problem, because defense is usually how you win these games. Or, more accurately, lack of defense is usually how you lose these games.

(The name of the team is "Gang Green", by the way. I'm not sure I've ever actually mentioned that. Hey, at least it's not a pun on the word "balls" (e.g. "Kickin' Balls" - ugh), which have made up nearly half the other team names over the last three seasons, it seems like.

"So, you're probably going to lose a bunch more games again, eh?" Yeah, probably. But that's okay. As many games as we've lost, we have actually yet to finish last in my two seasons with the team. Next-to-last, yes (both seasons, in fact), but not dead last. Yet. It might be even tougher to avoid last place this season, though, given that there are only four teams in the league.

"Only four teams?" Yep. Knightdale kickball participation has gone down from seven teams, to five teams, to four teams in the last three seasons. I'd have to think that anything less than four isn't worthwhile from the town's standpoint. Given the recent trend, is this the last hurrah for Knightdale kickball? Will "Gang Green" be forced to pack up and move to a different area league next Fall (e.g. Raleigh)? Full disclosure: if it were completely up to me, we would have switched leagues for this season. Not so much because of the long drive (40 minutes), but because playing the same three teams over and over again gets stale. But much of the team lives in Knightdale, and this particular league is also cheaper, so I didn't push real hard for a switch.

"Are you still pitching?" Yep. Pitching is fun, although I still think it's overrated. We'll see how many strikeouts I can rack up this season, if any.

"Any personal goals this season?" Nah. Personal goals would do nothing more than frustrate me when I don't meet them. So far in my kickball career, my career batting average is .675, my ERA is 8.61, and I average 1.7 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched. In the past, my non-stated goals have been .667 or higher from the plate, an ERA of less than 9.00*, and at least one strikeout per game. (* - All runs count as "earned" in my stats, so ERA has more to do with defense than pitching.) If I don't meet any of those benchmarks this season, then...meh. No big deal. That's the mindset I'm going to try to keep this season. No frustration. It's not like we're supposed to win these games, right?

As far as team wins go...based on past experience, our best chance of victory comes when there is a strong west or northwest wind, which helps keep everything in the infield. Tonight's forecast calls for a 5 mph west wind, which probably won't be enough to help us. Also, we've had more prior success early in the season, before everyone else gets warmed up. In Season 1, we won the first game and lost the rest (excluding forfeits). In Season 2, we started 2-1 and lost the rest (excluding forfeits). So, one win would be nice. Could we get it tonight? Probably not, but that's okay.

(Note: I won't blog about kickball too much during the season, but I will provide updates throughout the season in By the Numbers.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Raleigh By Bicycle

So, I went for a bike ride over the weekend, during which I "live-tweeted" occasional updates and pictures. Now, let's do the same thing in blog form. Woo!

The goal was to ride to downtown Raleigh and back, a place I've never been on my bicycle. Here's the route, a 45-mile round trip:


View Larger Map

There are two reasons I've never ridden to downtown Raleigh before: it's far (I only go 40+ miles once every couple of months), and the ride there is mostly urban. But I'm starting to run out of places to ride, and the Google Maps bicycle directions seemed doable, so I gave it a shot.

(Note #1: Some of these pictures were taken on the return trip, but I'm presenting them linearly from west to east, as if they were all taken on the "out" trip.)

(Note #2: A few of these pictures were NOT "live-tweeted", so there is new material here.)

But first, to get out there, I have to ride past more of the same-old, same-old. For example...


"Wildlife Club", eh? If the sound I hear every time I ride by is any indication, this is more of a "Gun Club" than anything else. But apparently they fish there too? Ironically, this is located across the street from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


I ride through the same RTP-area office parks frequently, so I notice when something changes, such as the installation of a new sign like this one. Apparently, the owners of this office complex thought it would be cool if they named all of their buildings "Tech 1" through "Tech 12". Uh huh.


It's almost baseball season! ... Oh, wait, this isn't baseball. This is cricket! I also saw some boys playing cricket during a bike ride a couple of weekends ago. Maybe they're all inspired by the ongoing Cricket World Cup?

Three cricket related notes:
- All of the players looked to be of South Asian descent.
- The game had disbanded by the time I returned a couple of hours later. I thought cricket games were supposed to take, like, five days?
- I tried watching cricket once, without knowing the rules; I was completely lost.


I'm not a tree or flower expert, but these are from dogwood trees, right? These things were everywhere on Saturday.


This particular neighborhood smelled "bakery fresh". Now I know why! Wouldn't surprise me if the surrounding neighborhoods are generally more overweight than your typical suburban neighborhood. (Austin, now owned by Kellogg's, makes things like Peanut Butter Crackers.)


This was the highlight of the ride, for me. Lemonade for sale! And, the best part, the "money goes to oil spill". This was too cute, and I wish I had brought my wallet with me (I typically don't when I go bicycling). However, they did offer me a free water, and the girls were more than willing to pose for my picture.


I like taking pictures from interstate bridges, so here's the Trinity Road bridge over I-40 between Raleigh and Cary. I-40 is currently under construction, but it looks like the widening is going pretty well. (Note: even though the title of this post is "Raleigh By Bicycle", everything pictured up to this point has been Durham, Morrisville, or Cary. It takes a while to get to Raleigh.)

The next stop (not pictured) was the RBC Center, home to the Carolina Hurricanes and NC State men's basketball. There was no hockey game that day, and there certainly wasn't a basketball game that day. There was, however, a big event going on at the RBC that day. Women's Empowerment 2011, with special guest Steve Harvey! Yeah.

Meanwhile, across the street at the State Fairgrounds...


Based on some other signs posted in the area, this wasn't a "Westminster Dog Show for cats" type of cat show. This was a "watch these acrobatic cats perform some neat tricks!" type of cat show. That might actually be kind of fun. Amber's take? "Rolo [our cat] is enough of a cat show for me."

So...the RBC Center / State Fairgrounds area isn't an easy place to get around on bicycle when there are things going on. If you want to continue eastward and go "Inside The Beltline", you can't really avoid the Blue Ridge Road / Hillsborough Street intersection, which is a pretty scary place to be on a bicycle. There is another way Inside The Beltline, though, that avoids this area completely, but is a bit longer; it involves taking this bridge.

Seeing "Interesting Things" is one of my favorite things about bicycling - you never know what you're going to see - and on a college campus, you are very likely to see Interesting Things. Or, at least, lots of people walking about. That was mostly what I saw on the North Carolina State University campus.


I also rode right past the softball field 30 minutes before a game between NC State (I assume) and...is that Florida State or Boston College? You can't tell from the picture, but that is, in fact, Florida State. I might have been able to get a decent view of the game from outside the fences, but I don't really care about softball, so I kept going.


Dan Allen Drive, on the campus of NC State. Nothing against NC State, but this is one reason why we're not naming our kid "Dan". (Another reason: Dan/Daniel violates the "no names that can lead to nicknames ending in 'y'" rule.)


Hey, wow, that was quick! I never realized how close NC State was to downtown, but I had also never been to both campus and downtown in one trip before. While downtowns do have a lot of traffic, I've found that they're actually pretty good places for bike riding. There is a culture of pedestrian traffic in downtowns, vehicle traffic is typically moving slowly, and there are plenty of roads to choose from. Whether it's downtown Raleigh or downtown Durham (which I've ridden through many times), riding a bike in a downtown area doesn't phase me a bit.

The goal was to get to the state capitol building. Ta da!


For good measure, I did a loop all the way around the building, then turned around and took the same route back home. I typically avoid "linear" rides where I take the same route in both directions. But making some kind of loop out of this would have required adding additional mileage to the route, and it was already long enough as it was.

And, finally...this isn't the best picture, but this is an arm rather than a leg.


Whoops, forgot the sunscreen. 'Tis the season. But here's the funny thing. It was cloudy for most of the first half of the ride (eastbound), and sunny for most of the second half of the ride (westbound). The westbound portion of the ride also took place in the middle of the day when the sun was highest in the sky. So, while my left arm (pictured) got pretty cooked, my right arm escaped virtually unscathed. Same goes for my legs (left got some sun, right didn't so much) and my face (left side is more red than the right). So, I now have a comically asymmetric tan. Good thing I'm a guy and it doesn't really matter. I've never really cared about my tan, but I'll remember the sunscreen next time (I hope).

That's my 4th career 45-mile ride. Only 110 miles to go until the Alaska Highway!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sports "Saturday": 3/17/11

College basketball - Normally I save this stuff for Saturday morning, but...not this week! For today and tomorrow are two of the most fun sports days of the year. Of course, I'm talking about the NCAA Tournament, a.k.a. March Madness. In fact, I even adjusted my work schedule around it (a little). Off work at 1:30 on a Thursday? You betcha.

First, let's go back to last Sunday, when the NCAA Selection Committee got it all wrong! Or did they? If you watched ESPN after the tournament field was announced, you would certainly think so. How dare they leave out Virginia Tech and Colorado! How dare they include VCU and UAB! Blasphemy! Well, I'm going to provide the contrarian point of view. Most of the "bracketologists" that are out there - 87 out of 89, in fact - predicted that Virginia Tech would be in the tournament field. 81 out of 89 had Colorado in the field. Meanwhile, VCU and UAB were only picked by 15 and 11 bracketologists, respectively. So when the forecast doesn't verify, who's to blame?

I know that when it comes to the weather, the forecasters always get the blame, of course. Instead of "why couldn't mother nature conform to the model predictions?", it's "stupid forecasters don't know how to forecast". But sports media holds the opposite viewpoint when it comes to "bracketology", as if it's the Selection Committee's job to conform to sports media's projections. If the Committee doesn't agree with what Joe Lunardi said on SportsCenter a few hours ago, then that must mean the Committee is full of idiots! Ever consider the possibility that maybe it's the bracketologists themselves who have it all wrong? Unless you do your own comprehensive research, you only know what they tell you. How should I know whether or not Virginia Tech deserves to be in the tournament? Just because the internet said so beforehand? Maybe the internet bracketologists need to rethink their approach, and what it really takes to get into the NCAA Tournament, instead of just chalking up the differences to Committee incompetence. And besides, I usually won't complain about there being more mid-major teams and fewer "big six" teams in the tournament. (Unless Florida State and Penn State are the odd teams out, of course, in which case...the Committee is full of idiots!)

So...the First Four. After the fact, it's being criticized as pointless and a waste of time. But I actually watched some of it, and I thought it was fine with me. The first game, between UNC Asheville and some other team, was actually fairly entertaining. Why is everyone hating on these games? I've been in favor of lobbying for actual "play-in games" for the at-large teams for years. The First Four might be better if it was all at-large teams instead of teams that are destined to lose to #1 seeds anyway, but what we have now is alright with me. Nothing to get real excited about, but I don't see it as a bad thing. I don't understand the argument that these "play-in" games somehow make the tournament worse. Giving a couple of #1 seeds a slightly more difficult first opponent makes the tournament worse?

Now that I have all that off my chest...let's watch some basketball! In the interest of time, I'm not going to list the complete schedule here; you can find that here (chart form) or here (list form). But here are some First Round Second Round games of personal interest...

Thu 12:15p - West Virginia v. Clemson, CBS: Potentially fun game to start things off. Come on, ACC!
Thu 2:10p - Temple v. Penn State, TNT: Penn State is in the tournament! Given how rare an occurrence this is - first time since 2001 - I'm not missing this game. They might even win, too, although it seems like Temple always beats Penn State when they play in the regular season. But just getting here is a success in my book. Good job, Lions.
Thu 4:10p - Vanderbilt v. Richmond, TBS: Hoping for a good game here so that I have something to watch after the Penn State game.
Thu 6:50p - Florida v. UC Santa Barbara, TBS: Florida got a rather fortunate draw, I think.
Thu 7:27p - Wisconsin v. Belmont, truTV: Aside from Temple/Penn State, this is the game I'm anticipating the most today. Computer rankings say Belmont is exceptionally scary for a #13 seed. But how good are they, really?
Thu 9:20p - UCLA v. Michigan State, TBS: A Second Round Third Round game between Florida and Michigan State would be a lot of fun to watch. But can the Spartans get that far?
Thu 9:57p - Kansas State v. Utah State, truTV: Utah State is another consensus underseeded team, and a likely trendy upset pick. Which means you might be better off taking Kansas State here.
Fri 2:10p - George Mason v. Villanova, TNT: George Mason is back! Could they give Ohio State a challenge in the Second Round Third Round?
Fri 4:10p - Texas A&M v. Florida State, TBS: This makes it three years in a row for FSU in the NCAA Tournament. They haven't won a game yet, though. Is this the year? Even if they flame out for a third year in a row, I shouldn't take NCAA Tournament appearances for granted. I'm sure NC State would gladly trade their last three seasons for the Seminoles' last three seasons.
Fri 7:27p - Xavier v. Marquette, truTV: Xavier always seems to overperform their seed.
Fri 9:45p - Washington v. Georgia, CBS: Thursday is definitely the more interesting day of the two, although if either Duke or North Carolina struggles in their first game (both play Friday)...

Now, to breeze through the other sports of personal interest...

NHL - The Carolina Hurricanes are sputtering down the stretch, to say the least. 1-4-1 in their last six games. Are they done? Sports Club Stats has their playoff odds at 23.6%, so...they're still worth watching. For now. They certainly don't look like a playoff team right now, though. If they miss the playoffs, is it time to start questioning coach Paul Maurice's job security? Or is that a silly question, given how loyal the Hurricanes are to "their own"?

Meanwhile, the number of teams whose playoff fate is still "in doubt" (Sports Club Stats playoff odds between 20% and 80%) is down to six: Buffalo and Carolina in the East for one spot; Dallas, Anaheim, Nashville, Calgary in the West for two spots. Here's a list of all games through Sunday involving one of those six teams, in case the March Madness games end up being blowouts or something.

Thu 8:00p - Boston at Nashville, NESN
Thu 8:30p - Chicago at Dallas, Fox Sports Southwest
Thu 9:00p - Colorado at Calgary, Altitude
Fri 7:00p - NY Islanders at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 7:00p - Atlanta at Buffalo, MSG Buffalo
Sat 8:00p - Detroit at Nashville, Fox Sports Detroit
Sat 8:00p - Philadelphia at Dallas, NHL Center Ice
Sat 10:30p - Anaheim at Los Angeles, Fox Sports West
Sun 5:00p - Nashville at Buffalo, MSG Buffalo
Sun 8:00p - Calgary at Anaheim, Prime Ticket
(Nationally televised games not listed: MTL/NYR [Fri, NHL Network], BOS/TOR [Sat, NHL Network], NYR/PIT [Sun, NBC])

Auto racing - NASCAR hasn't really been at the top of the brain the last couple of weeks, so this week, I can't say much more than "Wooo Bristol!"

Sat 2:00p - NASCAR Nationwide at Bristol, ESPN
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Bristol, FOX

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Day

I recognize that a post about St. Patrick's Day would be more timely tomorrow instead of today. But, my idea queue is empty. So, now presenting "Random Thoughts On St. Patrick's Day".

Wearing green: I don't observe the policy of wearing green on St. Patrick's Day anymore. Most of my co-workers don't, either. Children, however...I assume they still do. That was a BIG thing in school, because if you don't...pinch pinch pinch! Kids are mean, aren't they?

(One year, I wore a teal Florida Marlins shirt to school on St. Patrick's Day. Does teal count as "green"? At the time, I thought it did, but I was biased, of course. My current objective opinion is that teal is not green, nor is it a shade of green. Teal is a shade of blue.)

Parades: I participated in the Raleigh St. Patrick's Day parade with the curling club last weekend. Going in, I thought the parade and after-gathering would be more of a major boozefest than anything else, but it wasn't really. Sure, some people were drinking, but...it was nothing like St. Patrick's Day in a college town (e.g. State College). Maybe I didn't stick around long enough - I was home by 3:30 PM - but it wasn't even close. It makes perfect sense, since this was a family event, rather than a bunch of college kids who go to the bars at 6 AM because they can.

My favorite part about the parade were the costumes. (No pictures. I wasn't in a picture-taking or live-tweeting mood that day for some reason.) Which brings me to my next topic...

Scottish? Close enough: The Irish are fortunate to have their own holiday, one that is celebrated widely in the United States, among other countries. Other nationalities aren't so lucky. For example, does America give a crap about Norweigan Constitution Day (May 17th)? Nope. This forces other cultures to sort of piggyback off of St. Patrick's Day. Looking for an appropriate time to celebrate your Scottish heritage? Well, unless your town happens to have a St. Andrew's Day parade (November 30th), then your best bet is to wear your kilt on St. Patrick's Day instead. Irish, Scottish, close enough, right? How about the Germans? Sure, you have Oktoberfest, but not every American city celebrates Oktoberfest, so your best bet might be, again, St. Patrick's Day. Your lederhosen will fit in very well. I didn't see anything Welsh, Danish, Swedish, or Polish at the parade, but I'd imagine that St. Patrick's Day is the best day for that, too. Pretty much any kind of European works on St. Patrick's Day...with some exceptions. Spanish, French, and Italian stuff doesn't seem to fit in well on St. Patrick's Day, for instance.

Why is this even a thing, anyway?: Why celebrate St. Patrick's Day? Why have parades? Why do we love the Irish so much? The way I see it, it's simple: alcohol. That's the ONLY reason. Surely, there aren't enough Irish descendants in this country to be driving this holiday on their own, right? Everyone else keeps it going because it's a reason to party, pure and simple. There's really not much else on the calendar between New Year's Eve and, say, the Fourth of July. (Cinco de Mayo doesn't count. Cinco de Mayo's "popularity" is purely driven by the makers of Corona beer. St. Patrick's Day is bigger than one beer company.)

That's not to say there's anything wrong with it, of course. It's just a silly quirk of American society.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Daylight Wasting Time

Two out of the last three years, I've complained about the switch to Daylight Saving Time (2008, 2010). Let's make it three out of four!

There are two things I want to touch on here. One is that up until a few years ago, Daylight Saving Time ran from the 1st Sunday in April until the last Sunday in October. Now, DST is the 2nd Sunday in March until the 1st Sunday in November. The change was made by the Bush administration in order to help conserve a little energy during those extra few weeks of Daylight Saving. The theory is that if you push natural sunlight and daytime heating to later in the day, when people are actually awake and doing stuff, that it helps conserve energy. But has it actually helped?

I went to Wikipedia (specifically, the cited references) to find out. Apparently, this change reduced electricity usage by 0.5% during the additional weeks of Daylight Saving Time, or 0.03% over the entire year. Well, whoopee. This study claims that Daylight Saving Time actually increases total energy use, which also accounts for heating and cooling. There might be something to that. However, that particular study used Indiana as its example, and if there were a state where Daylight Saving Time would be counterproductive, it would be Indiana. Indiana's location on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone already gives the state a "Daylight Saving Time" effect even without the extra hour. (In fact, Indiana went without DST until 2006, at which point they succumbed under pressure to conform with others.) I doubt they would have reached the same conclusion had the study been done in, say, Maine. I think the moral of the story is this: whether or not Daylight Saving Time actually saves energy depends on where you are, and under the best case scenario, it doesn't save much.

Of course, energy savings is not the only reason to have Daylight Saving Time. It also provides more time for outdoor recreation during the warmer months. Problem is, most of the country won't be warm enough for that sort of thing for a few more weeks. So why not repeal the new DST policy and go back to the way things were? I have sensed much less complaining about the change to DST back when it was in April, compared to now. (Yes, I know there is zero chance it will be repealed. In case you're wondering why I care about this, I work from 7 to 3, and it's much nicer to have it be light out when I get to work.)

Here's another side effect of the new length of Daylight Saving Time. The rest of the year, we follow "Standard Time". But is Standard Time really "standard" anymore? We only observe Standard Time for about 35% of the year anymore (four months plus one week). Should Daylight Saving Time be the new "Standard Time"?

Actually, here are two arguments against that. For one, equatorial countries don't follow Daylight Saving Time, because they don't need to. If you redefine "Standard Time", then you would have to redraw the worldwide Time Zone map to accomodate those for whom DST is the "Standard" and those for whom DST is not the "Standard". This sort of thing is confusing enough as it is. (Well, for some people. I think I have a good grasp on it. I did a lot of research on worldwide Daylight Saving Time observance when I wrote this post.) And, what would you call the time formerly known as Standard Time? I like "Daylight Wasting Time" - DWT for short - but we all know that's far too negative a term for the U.S. Government.

(Side comment: NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" made an excellent point in one of their more recent shows, in that the Republicans do a much better job naming their bills than the Democrats do. The Patriot Act! No Child Left Behind! Hooray America! Meanwhile, the Democrats decided to call their health care law "The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act". That name didn't catch on, of course, and now everyone just refers to the bill as "ObamaCare", a name which generally has a negative connotation. Anyway, what I'm getting at is this: the name "Daylight Wasting Time" has a chance, but only if the Democrats introduce and pass it under a horribly uncatchy name - "Winter Energy Conservation and Sunlight Redistribution Time", for example. Then, the Republicans - who will of course be opposed to it if it's a Democratic initiative - will dub it "Daylight Wasting Time" in an effort to give it a negative connotation. Done and done. Side comment #2: I don't know who actually coined the term "ObamaCare", whether it was the Republicans, neutral news media, biased news media, or somebody else completely.)

Well, fortunately, I do have some good news about Daylight Saving Time. The proper term "Daylight Saving Time" is finally starting to catch on, in contrast with the incorrect "Daylight Savings Time". As someone who cringes every time somebody calls it "Krogers", "Eckerds", or "Ruby Tuesdays", I appreciate that.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Curling Recap: 3/11-3/13/11

Many times before I write these curling recaps, I think to myself something along these lines: "I don't remember that much about last weekend's games, so I'm going to keep this week's recap short." Then, I end up writing seven paragraphs. That said, I'm going to try to keep it short this week, but...we'll see. (UPDATE: Looks like I wrote seven paragraphs again. Ha.)

Career game #138: Winter League (Friday), Week 6 - March 11, 2011

End.......... 1234567 |TTL
--------------------------
K. Jackson... 0011000 | 02
Allen........ 1100211 | 06

This was an important game within the context of the Triangle Curling Club Winter League. This was the last week of the "regular season", and our team needed a win in order to qualify for the playoffs. (We could have also advanced with some help from other teams, but as it turns out, we didn't get that help.) We played very well from top to bottom, and the style of play was my trademark: get one or two in there early, and then guard, guard, guard. That was definitely the strategy to play since the ice was not take-out friendly. I didn't have to make too many shots myself; we were usually in pretty good shape by the time my turn came.

In the first end, however...things played out a little differently. With my next-to-last rock, I made a take-out to turn 1 for them into 3 for us. Opposing Skip Kathy then threw her last rock one into the house, but a little short, to cut our count down to two. At this point, I had two options with my last rock: take our two and run, or go for the take-out again and potentially get four. Approximate diagram, with our team = red:


This was a high risk, high reward shot. If we hit yellow #3 out and the shooter stays, we score four. But if we hit #3 at the wrong angle, we could bump yellow #3 into red #1 or red #2 and actually give up a point. (I actually don't think the jam was as likely as the diagram suggests, for what it's worth. The diagram makes it look like a high risk take-out, but I feel like it was only moderate risk.)

Well, anyway...I went for it. The result? The rock stayed left and missed yellow #3 completely. Instead, it hit red #2 at an angle, causing both red #2 and the shooter to leave the house, turning our 2-point end into a 1-point end. Oh well. The take-out definitely wouldn't have been worth the risk if it was only a one-point difference, but it was potentially a two-point difference, so...maybe it was worth the risk? In hindsight, here's what I took away from that. On dedicated ice, this shot is absolutely worth the risk: take-outs are easier, and big-scoring ends are harder to come by. On arena ice like ours, however, where take-outs are more difficult and games are higher-scoring...perhaps not. But this was only the first end, so I figured, why not? (Note that this was before I figured out that the ice was not take-out friendly, and that I had just made a take-out on my previous shot; both of those factors definitely played a part in my decision making.)

One more note here: this was my 37th career game playing as a Skip. Doesn't seem like I've had that many already, but sure enough. I still have many more as a Vice, though. (I've played 66 as Vice, 25 as Second, and 11 as Lead.)

Career game #139: Winter League (Sunday), Week 5 - March 13, 2011
(my team: Witcraft)

End.......... 1234567 |TTL
--------------------------
Scheck....... 2120303 | 11
Witcraft..... 0001010 | 02

The Sunday League is a week behind the Friday League, and has one additional "regular season" game on top of that, so...we still have a ways to go before we can talk "playoffs" here. Just another game on the schedule here, one which didn't go so well. This was the type of game where not only did the other team play better than we did, but most of the bounces went their way, too. Many of our shots (including some from me) ended up helping them more than they helped us, while I don't think we got any "lucky bounces" at all. This kind of game happens sometimes.

It'll be a while before we have a chance at "redemption", though, because league curling takes the next two weekends off and doesn't resume until April 1st. That's actually okay, though - I've been curling a lot lately (15 games in the last five weeks) and could use the break.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sports Saturday: 3/12/11

In today's issue...

College basketball - NCAA Tournament preview. Yes, I'm already looking past this week.
NHL - Time to start looking ahead towards the playoffs.
Auto racing - Formula One is back! ...oh, wait. Well, we've still got NASCAR! ...oh, wait.
(I sure am doing a lot of "looking ahead" this week, aren't I?)

College basketball - Let's look ahead to next week's NCAA Tournament, shall we? Specifically, I want to talk about the new television deal, described at great length here.

Between CBS, TBS, TNT, and TruTV, every game will be televised. Obviously, that's awesome. If Florida State plays during the same time slot as Duke or North Carolina, I'll still get to watch. Yippee! I'll be doing plenty of channel surfing, I'm sure. Used to be that CBS would switch around to all of the tight finishes for you; now that responsibility will be on us. That's okay, though; I'm up to the challenge.

(Side comment about TruTV: DirecTV doesn't carry TruTV HD, but apparently that's about to change, if only temporarily. It's a shame they couldn't have reached a similar agreement with MSNBC prior to last year's Winter Olympics...)

Here's the thing I'm most concerned about with respect to the TV coverage. While I think it's awesome that Marv Albert is one of the play-by-play announcers, I'm not all that crazy about the various "NBA on TNT" analysts (Steve Kerr, Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, and so on) coming over to help with the NCAA Tournament coverage. These guys don't know college basketball as well as they do the NBA, so I'm afraid that their "analysis" will consist mostly of handicapping all of the players' NBA prospects. This is usually what happens when pro announcers cover college sports, regardless of the sport involved. Hopefully the NBA announcers will analyze the games and players strictly within the context of college basketball, rather than insist on discussing whether Player X from Team Y is worthy of a first-round draft pick, whether he should declare for the NBA Draft this year or stay in school, or what position he is most likely to play in the NBA. That's probably a lot to ask, though.

Alright, so now that I have that off my chest...let's talk about this week's games! Thursday and Friday of "Championship Week" are a lot of fun. By the time Saturday rolls around, there aren't quite so many games left, most of the "bubble teams" are gone by now, and conference tournament championships don't really "stick" over time. (Quick - who won the Big East Tournament last year?) But, that's okay. We can still have some fun, right?

This week, I'm listing every televised game, not just the ACC/Big Ten/Big East/A-10 games.

Sat 11:30a - Conference USA Final: Memphis v. UTEP, WRAL.2 (CBS nationally)
Sat 12:00p - America East Final: Boston Univ v. Stony Brook, ESPN2
Sat 1:00p - ACC Semifinal #1: Clemson v. North Carolina, WRAL (ESPN nationally)
Sat 1:00p - SEC Semifinal #1: Kentucky v. Alabama, ABC
Sat 1:00p - Atlantic 10 Semifinal #1: St. Joseph's v. Dayton, CBS College
Sat 1:30p - Big Ten Semifinal #1: Michigan v. Ohio State, WRAL.2 (CBS nationally)
Sat 2:00p - MEAC Final: Morgan State v. Hampton, ESPN2
Sat 3:30p - ACC Semifinal #2: Duke v. Virginia Tech, WRAL (ESPN nationally): Oh, and by the way...boooooooooo.
Sat 3:30p - SEC Semifinal #2: Vanderbilt v. Florida, ABC
Sat 3:30p - Atlantic 10 Semifinal #2: Richmond v. Temple, CBS College
Sat 4:00p - Big Ten Semifinal #2: Michigan State v. Penn State, WRAL.2 (CBS nationally): I missed last night's 36-33 win over Wisconsin (yes, that was the final score). Clearly between that game and the FSU game, I picked the wrong one to watch.
Sat 4:00p - Southland Final: UT-San Antonio v. McNeese State, ESPN2
Sat 6:00p - Big 12 Final: Texas v. Kansas, ESPN
Sat 6:00p - Pac-10 Final: Washington v. Arizona, CBS
Sat 6:00p - MAC Final: Akron v. Kent State, ESPN2
Sat 7:00p - Mountain West Final: San Diego State v. BYU, Versus: I highly recommend this game, if you're looking for something different.
Sat 8:00p - Big West Final: UC Santa Barbara v. Long Beach State, ESPN2
Sat 8:30p - SWAC Final: Grambling State v. Alabama State, ESPNU: I can almost guarantee that the winner of this game will be in one of those "First Four" games.
Sat 9:00p - Big East Final: Connecticut v. Louisville, ESPN
Sat 10:00p - WAC Final: Boise State v. Utah State, ESPN2
Sun 1:00p - ACC Final: Teams TBD, WRAL (ESPN nationally)
Sun 1:00p - Atlantic 10 Final: Teams TBD, WRAL.2 (CBS nationally)
Sun 1:00p - SEC Final: Teams TBD, ABC
Sun 3:30p - Big Ten Final: Teams TBD, CBS
Sun 6:00p - NCAA Tournament Selection Show, CBS

NHL - This is about the point of the season when basketball takes over, forcing me to be far more selective as far as which NHL games I watch. That means ignoring teams that are safely in the playoffs (80% and higher according to Sports Club Stats), as well as teams safely out of the playoffs (20% and lower). On the list below, only games featuring at least one of those teams are listed.

In the East, 6 teams are "safe" and 6 teams are "non-safe", leaving three teams for two spots: Buffalo, the New York Rangers, and - of course - Carolina. You had to know Carolina would be a "bubble team", right? Sure, something crazy could happen (e.g. New Jersey going on another 8 game winning streak), but that's how it looks right now. In the West, it's more complicated: 4 teams are "safe", and 4 are "non-safe", leaving seven teams (DAL, LA, PHX, CGY, ANA, NSH, MIN) for four spots. (That's as of Friday morning; the Western Conference playoff picture has been changing pretty much daily.) Ignore games involving only the "safe" or "non-safe", and you eliminate almost half of this weekend's schedule. This is how I plan on deciding which games to consider watching from now until the end of the regular season. (That doesn't necessarily mean I'll watch any of them, of course. Just listing my options.)

Sat 7:00p - Columbus at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas
Sat 7:00p - Buffalo at Toronto, NHL Network
Sat 8:00p - Colorado at Nashville, Fox Sports Tennessee
Sat 10:00p - Vancouver at Calgary, NHL Center Ice
Sat 10:30p - NY Rangers at San Jose, MSG
Sun 3:00p - Los Angeles at Dallas, Fox Sports Southwest
Sun 5:00p - Ottawa at Buffalo, MSG Buffalo
Sun 8:00p - Phoenix at Anaheim, Fox Sports West
(Not listed: MTL/PIT, NYI/NJ, ATL/PHI, TB/FLA, DET/STL, CHI/WSH [on NBC], EDM/PIT)

Auto racing - This weekend was going to be the start of the 2011 Formula One season, but the would-be season opening Bahrain Grand Prix has been cancelled due to the Bahraini "political uprising" (or whatever you want to call it). So, we'll try again in a couple of weeks, when F1 heads to the slightly more stable country of Australia.

Well, there's always NASCAR, right? ...Nope. Both Sprint Cup and Nationwide have the weekend off. Instead, all we get is this:

Sat 5:00p - NASCAR Camping World Trucks at Darlington, SPEED

Seems to me that the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament would make for a better bye week than this one. Oh well. NASCAR's loss.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

County Battle: '98 Saturn v. '08 Honda

This is completely unrelated, but...this may help explain where some of these blog posts come from. When I come up with an idea for a blog post, I'll write a note to myself in this file I keep saved in Google Docs. Some of the more obscure or less interesting topics, I will save for "slow news weeks" when I don't have much else to talk about. ("Gum" is a good example of a "slow news week" post.) As for today, the only blog post idea currently left in my queue is "Socks". Socks? Where did that come from? Perhaps more importantly, why did I think that a blog post about socks would be interesting? (Actually, that's never stopped me before.) In any event, I may eventually write a blog post about socks, but I'm not feeling it today. Instead, let's talk stats! (Because, you know, that's way more interesting.)

I talk a lot about my silly little county map, but I don't talk too much about the darker shade on the map. Those darker counties are the ones that not only have I been to, but that my car (a 2008 Honda Civic purchased in November 2007) has been to. Unlike with the general county map, I don't have any specific goals with respect to county visitation for my car, or really care all that much. I've made lots of drives over the years specifically to add counties to my map, but I've never made such a drive just for the sake of adding to my car's county map. It's strictly informational.

It is interesting, though, because I did the same thing with my old 1998 Saturn SC2, which I inherited from my parents in 2002 and drove for 5½ years. The map for the Saturn can be found here. How does the Honda's county map match up against the Saturn's county map? Also, what about Amber's 2008 Mazda3, which was purchased one month after I got the Honda? (I don't keep track of counties visited for the Mazda, but I do generally know where it's been, so there are other stats we can compare.)

Now, to compare each of the three cars, on a number of various driving-related statistics. Woo!

Counties visited: '98 Saturn 522, '08 Honda 393, '08 Mazda N/A. (If I were to guess, I'd say that the Mazda's county total is nearly the same as the Honda. But that's just a guess.) Even though my Honda has gone on quite a few road trips, including one to Alaska and back, the Saturn still has a hefty lead here. I think the biggest contributing factor is that since inheriting the Saturn, I've lived in Tallahassee, State College, Raleigh (Cary), and Jacksonville; the Saturn county map has a large chunk of filled-in counties surrounding all four cities. Since buying the Honda, I've only lived in North Carolina. But even in North Carolina, the Honda trails the Saturn, 50 counties to 94. Attribute that to the fact that I did far more "exploratory drives" upon first moving here than I do now.

States visited (including DC): '08 Mazda 26, '98 Saturn 24, '08 Honda 18. Here's another thing. The Saturn used to go on every road trip, because it was more reliable than Amber's Dodge Stealth. The Honda, on the other hand, only goes on half of the road trips. Amber's Mazda3 gets to have a lot of fun, too. We took the Mazda on the honeymoon, and down the Natchez Trace Parkway last Christmas. Had we taken the Honda instead of the Mazda on the Natchez Trace trip - which we would have if the coin flip went the other way - the states count would be Saturn 24, Honda 23, Mazda 22.

Time zones visited: '08 Honda 5, '98 Saturn 3, '08 Mazda 2.: Obviously, the Alaska trip helped the Honda a bit here. However, the Saturn did go to a time zone that the Honda has yet to visit: the Atlantic Time Zone. The Mazda has yet to venture outside Eastern or Central Time.

Trips across the Mississippi River: '08 Mazda 2, '08 Honda 1, '98 Saturn 0. The Mazda's cross-Mississippi trips are the afore-mentioned honeymoon and Natchez Trace Parkway trip (also the Mazda's only Central Time Zone trips), although we were only west of the Mississippi for about 30 seconds on the latter. The Honda, of course, has the Alaska trip. The Saturn came close to the Mississippi River when it went to New Orleans, but never went across it. It has crossed Lake Pontchartrain, though, which was pretty cool.

Trips to Canada: '08 Mazda 2, '98 Saturn 1, '08 Honda 1. No car's life is complete without at least one trip across the border. The Canadian Provinces Visited count goes like this: '08 Honda 5, '98 Saturn 3, '08 Mazda 2.

Farthest North, East, South, and West: The Honda wins both "Farthest North" and "Farthest West" on the merits of the Alaska trip. The Saturn wins "Farthest East" (Nova Scotia) and "Farthest South" (Key West, FL). The Mazda comes up empty, but it has been north of the 55th parallel (Thompson, Mantioba). That has to count for something, right?

How long will it take for the Honda to pass the Saturn in counties visited? Will it even happen at all? If it does, it'll likely be a while; 129 is a hefty deficit to overcome.