Saturday, April 30, 2011

Sports Saturday: 4/30/11

In today's issue:

NHL: The Stanley Cup Playoffs are awesome.
NFL: I had to look up who Blaine Gabbert was. What kind of football fan am I?
Auto racing: Short track racing wooooo!
MLB: It's still only April? Oh.

NHL - So, I've been watching a lot of playoff hockey lately. (Sorry, Amber. It'll get better. I promise.) So far, it's been nothing short of fantastic. I don't know if I'd call this year's First Round the best ever, but it's been great. Game 7s? Yes - four of them. Overtimes? Yes, for nine consecutive days, in fact. Upsets? Not really (only in the two 4/5 series), but there were plenty of upsets in last year's playoffs, so that's okay. The Vancouver/Chicago series? Superb, and worth staying up late for. (Or in my case, DVRing and watching the next morning over breakfast, as I did a few times.) And, three of my four rooting interests survived (VAN, NSH, TB), which is good.

The Second Round started the very next day after the First Round ended. At least one day off between playoff rounds might have been nice. I need a chance to catch my breath! But this is fine...I guess these 7-game series do tend to take a while, so you might as well get them started ASAP.

The next four playoff series, ranked in order of personal interest:
- Washington v. Tampa Bay: I'm relieved the Lightning made it through, because otherwise, I might have tuned out the Eastern Conference completely at this point. Instead, we get one of my Southern darlings matched up against the media darling Capitals, who I would greatly like to see lose in the playoffs yet again. Let's go Lightning!
- Vancouver v. Nashville: While Canadian team v. Southern team is basically the worst case scenario for NBC/Versus, it's the best case scenario for me. I can't lose! But given the choice, I'd rather see Vancouver advance.
- Detroit v. San Jose: One good thing about Detroit making another playoff run is that it means more 7:30 PM games. Side note: I watched exactly zero of these two teams' First Round games. San Jose was always on late, and the Detroit/Phoenix series has been over for, like, a month. I'll watch at least some of this series, most likely picking it up around, say, Game 4.
- Boston v. Philadelphia: A rematch of last year's Second Round matchup, in which the Flyers lost the first three games and then won the next four, probably appeals to many of you...but not so much me. I like my Canadian and Southern teams.

Finally, a note about the new TV contract. A week or two ago, NBC and Versus secured the NHL's broadcast rights for another, oh, I don't know how many years. ESPN was the other serious bidder. A few years ago, my opinion on this was basically, "Versus is lame. I can't wait until the TV contract runs out in 2011. Get the NHL back on ESPN!" However...I've changed my mind. Sure, NBC/Versus' TV coverage has its flaws, but it's improved a lot over the years, and Versus (soon to be renamed "NBC Sports" or something like that) is actually turning into a legitimate sports network. Meanwhile, I've actually grown to dislike ESPN over the last few years. I think it's turned into a "hype machine" driven by the likes of Brett Favre, LeBron James, and the Red Sox and Yankees, and it seems like they cover sports gossip as much as they cover sports anymore (just read the headlines on espn.com on any given day and you'll see what I mean), and it seems like they have too much actual control over sports these days. As for the NHL, we all know what would happen if the NHL rights were bought by ESPN: they'd be relegated to ESPN2, or worse, and at less-than-ideal times. Meanwhile, the NHL gets absolute top billing from Versus, and this new contract stipulates (I believe) that every playoff game be nationally televised. (I'm not sure how that's going to work, but if that's true, I may drop my NHL Center Ice subscription next season.)

So, I'm glad the NHL isn't going back to the "Evil Empire of Sports" that ESPN has become. We don't need them. At least, not now that Versus is a (sort of) legitimate sports network.

Sat 3:00p - Boston at Philadelphia (Game 1), NBC
Sat 9:00p - Nashville at Vancouver (VAN 1-0), Versus
Sun 3:00p - Detroit at San Jose (TBD 1-0), NBC
Sun 7:00p - Tampa Bay at Washington (TBD 1-0), Versus

NFL - The NFL Draft has taken place the last two nights (and does again today). This is normally when I go into my usual "The Draft is boring, blah blah blah, how can anybody tell how good these players are going to be at this point, blah blah blah, 'draft grades' are meaningless, Mel Kiper is a sham, blah blah blah". Hey, looks like I did it again! Wasn't that clever of me?

So, the Jacksonville Jaguars "traded up" and drafted a quarterback in the first round. His name is Blaine Gabbert, and I had never heard of him before I heard of the Jaguars' pick. "Oh, he must be from some obscure football school or something, like Delaware or Villanova." Nope - Missouri. Missouri? Then being a good quarterback at a BCS school, how come I had never heard of him before, not even once? Clearly, I don't pay as much attention to college football as I used to. It's kind of embarrassing, to be honest. I should have known who this guy was.

Well, anyway...I don't know if drafting Gabbert was a "good move" or a "bad move". At this point, nobody does, for any draft pick. And don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

Auto racing

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Richmond, FOX: In the "cookie cutter track" age, where it seems like every other race is at a 1.5-mile oval, I look forward to races at other types of tracks. And, Richmond is one of the best. Unlike the past few weekends, NASCAR is once again "appointment television" for me.

Sun 12:00p - IndyCar at another dumb street circuit, Versus: This race is in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Umm, why not race at the Formula One track on the other side of town instead? What is it with this series' infatuation with street circuits?

MLB - Haven't been paying attention to baseball lately, but that's okay, because it's still only April. Five more months of baseball to go.

Sat 1:00p - St. Louis at Atlanta, FOX (regional)
Sat 4:00p - San Francisco at Washington, MASN
Sat 7:00p - Baltimore at Chicago White Sox, MASN2 (WGN America nationally)
Sat 7:00p - Seattle at Boston, MLB Network
Sun 1:00p - Toronto at NY Yankees, TBS
Sun 1:30p - San Francisco at Washington, MASN
Sun 2:00p - Baltimore at Chicago White Sox, MASN2
Sun 4:00p - Chicago Cubs at Arizona, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - NY Mets at Philadelphia, ESPN

Friday, April 29, 2011

One Man's Trash...

Part of the home ownership experience is accumulating junk. Lots and lots of junk. Household junk does tend to expand to the size of its container, after all. Generally, people don't start getting rid of stuff until they start running out of room to put things.

That said...we try to be a little proactive, especially with a kid on the way. If we don't think something is of any use for us anymore, we're going to get rid of it, even if there is room in our attic for it. (Two years after buying the house, our attic is still nearly empty. I think we only have a couple of boxes up there.) So, we've been getting rid of a lot of old stuff lately. For example, after buying this stuff, we got rid of an old dresser. We've also recently ridded ourselves of two old lawn mowers (more on those later), and some TV speakers and the unit that went with them (which kind of worked but not always).

So...how do you get rid of such bulky items? Well, the City of Durham has just the thing for you: "Bulky Item Collection"! Basically, you put something big on your curb, and they may or may not take it the day after garbage pickup. I say "may or may not" because we've had mixed success with this. Sometimes they take it, sometimes they don't. We had some trouble getting rid of our previous owners' rusty old "playground" of sorts (a slide), but they took the dresser.

Or, maybe someone else took the dresser. Occasionally, someone will grab (either with or without asking us first) our "bulky item junk" for themselves. A while back, our neighbors took our old bikes off our hands. More recently, our mailman asked if he could have our old lawn mowers, to which I said, "Sure! If you can get those things to work, then more power to you." (He said he enjoyed trying to get old stuff to work again, or something like that.) One of the two mowers, I'm pretty sure he can get to work. The second, on the other hand...

(Lawn mower note: Since both lawn mowers were freebies - one from the previous owners of our house, and one from a neighbor - we didn't feel like investing too much time and effort into getting them to run consistently. So, we bought a new one.)

Then, there is the stereo equiment. We tried giving them to Goodwill, but they wouldn't take them. The speakers were them left on the curb, and somebody took them; where it was the City of Durham or a private citizen, I'm not sure. As for the old stereo unit itself, we took that to an Electronics Recycling Day. The most exciting part about this week's Electronics Recycling Day? That we finally had an opportunity to safely dispose of our old mercury thermostat.

I think we're done getting rid of large junk for a while, though, so no need to swing by and see what we leave on our curb next week.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Ideal Number of Cereal Boxes

Every week before we go to the grocery store, Amber and I are faced with the following dilemma. We currently have X cereal boxes in our cupboard, of which Y are nearly empty. How many new boxes of cereal do we buy at the store this week?

In theory, two or three full boxes would be enough cereal to sustain Amber and me in any given week. However, if we limit ourselves to that low a number, then we aren't giving ourselves a whole lot of variety each morning. But we obviously don't want too many boxes in there at any one time, because then some cereals might never get eaten.

(Side note: Ever stayed with friends or family, and stumble upon a really, really old box of cereal hiding in the kitchen that the owners had completely forgotten existed? Yeah, we have. You won't have to worry about that at our place. That's not to say there isn't long forgotten food in our kitchen, of course. Just not in the cereal cupboard.)

So, what's the ideal number? For us, it's four or five, or six if a couple of those boxes are nearly empty. But generally, four or five is the target number when we get home from Kroger every week.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More County Map Fun!

I talk about my county map a lot; I have a lot of weird obsessions, but visiting as many counties as I can is one of my biggest. But I'm not alone: hundreds if not thousands of people also use the mob-rule.com interface to log their county visits. And, there's at least one other website dedicated to this task that I recently discovered (h/t Jared L.), too: this one. Let's check it out!

I'll start with this: the visitedmap.com interface isn't anywhere near as good as the mob-rule.com interface. It is:
- slower;
- harder to use, particularly with smaller counties;
- has much less of a "community feel" to it; (mob-rule.com lists everyone's actual names and hometowns, rather than just user names, and also allows you to compare your maps with your friends' maps.)
- and unlike mob-rule.com is sorely out of date. (Broomfield County, Colorado, founded in 2001, is not shown. It also still shows Clifton Forge, Virginia as an independent city rather than part of Alleghany County, a change that also took place in 2001.)

Nevertheless, I still found a use for it. On mob-rule.com, I show counties that I've visited, with counties that my car has also visited colored in a slightly darker shade. For the last several weeks, I've been working on a new kind of "counties visited" map on visitedmap.com using an entirely different color shading, which depends on how many times I have visited each county.

First, the ground rules. "How many times I visited each county" actually means "how many unique days I visited each county". If I re-entered a county multiple times in one day, that only counts as one visit. If I stayed overnight in a county, and thus spent a portion of two separate days in that county, it counts as two visits. If I spent three consecutive nights and four consecutive days in one county, that counts as four visits, regardless of whether or not I left the county during that time. The basic idea of this county map is to highlight parts of the country that I've visited frequently or spent a lot of time in, as well as parts that I've only "barely" visited.

A few more technical notes:
- The colors are blue (1 day), green (2 days), yellow (3 days), orange (4 days), and red (5 or more days). I'm considering the red counties to be "well-visited" counties.
- To simplify matters, I define a day as being from "wake up" to "go to sleep" rather than from midnight to midnight.
- While the last five years of my life are very well documented, and I have a pretty good memory of the five to ten years prior to that, I obviously can't remember the specifics of every road trip I've made in my life, or everywhere I've stayed overnight (and for how long). So, I only counted visits that I am 100% sure about. For example, there's a pretty good chance that I've traveled the stretch of I-75 between Knoxville and Lexington more than five times in my life. But I can only confirm three such trips*, so those counties all get the "yellow" designation rather than "red". I suppose I could ask around for help, but I'm only considering this map as "unofficial" (the mob-rule.com map is my official map), and I may not keep it up over time anyway, so 100% accuracy isn't particularly important.

(* - 2002 Jacksonville to Dayton, 2008 Toledo to Raleigh (Cary) via Knoxville, and at least once with the family in the 80s or 90s.)

Alright...enough technical stuff. Here's the map, finally: (click for a larger version)


Let's talk about those red, or "well-visited", counties first. In the past, I've talked about my "familiar zone", which is the part of the country I spend the vast majority of my time and am, by far, most familiar with. My "familiar zone" is basically the Eastern Time Zone, minus New England, minus all of Michigan except Metro Detroit. Nearly all of the red counties are located inside the "familiar zone". Sure, there are a few red counties outside the familiar zone, but they're all sparsely located; most are cities or towns that have served as frequent "crossroads" over the years (e.g. St. Louis, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Moab, Utah). I think this map illustrates the "familiar zone" pretty well.

Useless statistics regarding the red counties! Interestingly, the state with the highest percentage of red counties is one that I've never actually lived in: South Carolina (27/46, 59%). The three states I have lived in have the three next highest percentages (Pennsylvania 55%, Florida 52%, North Carolina 46%). 11 states, plus DC, have more than 10% red visitation. (The others are VA, MD, WV, OH, and GA; CT and HI also qualify even though they only have one red county each. Side note: The state I'm least confident in is New York. I'm sure NY deserves more than three red counties, but alas, that's all I could do with 100% confidence.)

Now, the blue and green counties. Sure, I've technically been there, but only barely. One reason I put this map together was to help me find areas that are close to home but haven't been to all that often. For example: Person County, NC. It's RIGHT THERE, yet as far as I know, I've only been there twice. Let's go! I mean, it's only 30-45 minutes away. Elsewhere in North Carolina, the northeast corner and Boone areas stick out as places I could perhaps revisit. And, there are countless areas up and down the East Coast that I haven't visited more than once or twice (or at all - the "blank" counties are still the top priority, of course). So while it seems like I've already "been everywhere", I haven't, really. There is still plenty of road tripping to be had.

I'm not sure if I'm going to maintain this map. This is "unofficial", and it's not a goal of mine to make as many counties "red" as I can. Mostly, this was just a fun - although extremely time-consuming - exercise.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Curling Recap: 4/24/11

It's time for another Triangle Curling Club league championship game! Yesterday, the Sunday League title was up for grabs. A win would give me my third consecutive league championship. Could we do it? ... No. In fact, it was a rather crushing defeat.

Career game #146: Winter League (Sunday), Championship - April 24, 2011

(my team: Witcraft)
End.......... 12345678S |TTL
----------------------------
Witcraft..... 021041200 | 10
Zwiefel...... 200400041 | 11

I'll talk about that 8th end soon enough...but I'm supposed to save the climax for the end, right? Let's do this in order. I don't remember a whole lot about the first three ends, so I'll skip ahead to the fourth, where we made our first "crucial mistake".

4th end - The situation: one shot to go for each team, the other team lies three, we do not have last rock. Gotta get one in there, right? Yes, but...we didn't. And even though I'm not the Skip and it wasn't my shot, I think it was my fault. I told Skip Nick to throw the wrong turn on his last shot. Even as Vice, you need to be paying attention and reading the ice, so that when your Skip asks you "what turn should we throw here" before his last shot, you don't give the wrong answer in a seemingly definitive manner, which is kind of what I did there. So, that was a "crucial mistake" on my part.

5th end - "Crucial mistake" number two! Early in the end, we had two in the house and were looking great...then, we accidentally knocked one of the other team's rocks into the house and put them in great position. Fortunately, unlike in the 4th end, we were able to recover from this "crucial mistake". No thanks to me - I missed my take-out attempts, pretty badly if I recall correctly - but thanks to a miraculous shot from Nick to turn things around. (I would diagram that shot, but I'm saving the diagram for later. It was actually somewhat similar to the shot diagrammed below, except it was a direct hit rather than a "double raise".) Instead of giving up one, we scored four, and we're back on top.

6th end - Don't remember much here, but by this point in the game, I really had my draw weight figured out. I was struggling with take-outs, but I was nailing my draws and guards, especially in the second half of the game. Usually, it's the other way around. Strange.

7th end - The situation: one shot to go for each team, we lie two, we do not have last rock. Guard, right? That's what we ended up doing, and it worked out and got us our two points, but...here's the thing. At that point, we had all seven rocks in the house, and the other team only had one. I'm not sure if we could have taken that one rock out, but...if we had, and the shooter stayed in the house, and everything else was left as-is, then we would have been lying eight. The incredible "8-ender", where all eight of your team's rocks score, is an extremely rare occurrence in curling. To my knowledge, it's NEVER happened in the 16-year history of the Triangle Curling Club. Should we have gone for it? Part of me says, "Yes! Will you ever have an opportunity for an 8-ender ever again?" On the other hand...we didn't have last rock, and I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have whiffed completely on their last shot. And, this was the league championship, after all - not the time to be messing around. However...since we ended up losing the game anyway, in hindsight, we should have gone for it. :)

8th end - Alright, here we go. Four is big enough of a lead with one end remaining, I don't object to "playing the scoreboard" at this point, as opposed to playing it like a normal end. That was the plan at first, but they put up a guard early in the end before we could remove it (according to the "Free-Guard Zone" rule), so from that point on, we played it like a normal end. We got a couple of rocks in the house, which is great, but they were both removed. Then, I threw one of my rocks into the house, frozen against two of the other team's rocks and in a position where a take-out would be difficult, and we're in great shape once again.

Strategy question! You're up four, you have the closest rock, and the other team has the next four closest rocks. If your rock is removed, then they lie four or five (depending on whether all rocks including the shooter stay). Guard, right? That's what we ended up doing, and it was probably the right move given the situation, but...I don't think that's always the appropriate call. A lot of times in my curling career, I've seen one team or another (including my own) be overprotective of an important "shot rock", throwing lots of guards without putting any other rocks in the house, while the other team continues to pile rocks inside the house. Then, despite all those guards, the "shot rock" ends up getting removed anyway, resulting in a big end for the other team. Perhaps the best call in this situation isn't a guard; it's putting another rock in the house as "insurance". The idea is not to prevent the other team from scoring at all, but just to prevent the big number. Whether to guard, or to draw for "insurance", largely depends on the situation. There was no easy draw available to us here, so I think being "overprotective" of our shot rock was the higher percentage play, and I think we did a reasonable job of that. And, it's not like we didn't get any rocks in the house earlier in the end; we did, and they were removed.

Now...here's the incredible final shot of the game, which scored four for the other team: (our team = yellow)


They had to get four to tie, and the only way that was going to happen was if they dealt with Rock 5. Rock 5 was my previously mentioned shot, and was a very important rock, so we were guarding it. Our last shot, Rock 8, was designed to prevent them from doing a "raise take-out" using Rock R on Rock 5. It did a decent job of that, but ideally, there needed to be more separation between it and Rock R to make the subsequent "double raise take-out" that much harder. Instead, the "double raise take-out" was still an option, although a difficult one. It was their only available shot, and it had to be absolutely perfect. It had to hit Rock 8 at the perfect angle, which had to hit Rock R at the perfect angle, which then had to hit Rock 5 on the inside so that it would squirt out to the left, as opposed to "jamming" against Rock 1. This was an incredibly low percentage shot, but it's all they had, and they made it. When the dust settled, Rock 5 had squirted out towards the outer reaches of the house, leaving Rock R, Rock 1, Rock 3, and Rock 4 in scoring position. (Rock 2 left the house, or at least went far enough to not beat out Rock 5 for a 5th point. Or, maybe Rock 2 stayed and one of the others left?) Four points red, and just like pretty much every NHL playoff game last week, this game is going to overtime.

Unlike in the NHL, our "playoff games" are also decided via "shootouts" just like in the regular season, due to time constraints; we lost the shootout. Tough way to lose, for sure. I don't mean losing via shootout - those things are 50/50. I mean, losing via an extremely low percentage shot on the final shot of the game when victory looks all but certain. But to give the other team credit, it wasn't luck or "slop" - they called the shot. Sometimes, all you can do is tip your cap, and imagine Gus Johnson calling the play-by-play. (For the TIE......OHHH!! Cold-blooded! HA-HAA! AND THIS GAME'S GOING TO OVERTIME!!!!)

And with that, we've reached the end of my three-month, 27-game "curling binge". It's been a blast, and my game has improved a lot in the last three months, but...it's time for a break. Aside from the occasional summer pick-up game, of course.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bicycling Trip to Alaska: The Alaska Highway

It's time for a Bicycling Trip to Alaska update! I've been riding my bike a lot the last two months. (I think early Spring is the best time to ride, after all.) So, my fictional bicycling trip, now over 18 months old, has made it all the way from Durham, to the start of the Alaska Highway in Dawson Creek, British Columbia. Woo!

Actually, that was two weeks ago. I'm now 66 miles past the start of the Alaska Highway. (Full update and trip log here.)


View Bicycling trip to Alaska in a larger map

Throughout the trip, I've been logging each town and county line and such that I pass along the way. This helps motivate me to go that "extra mile" in order to reach the next point of interest. But now that I'm way up here, there aren't a whole lot of "Points of Interest" to help motivate me to keep going. The next closest town from my current location? 34 miles away. The one after that? 73 miles away. And calling Wonowon and Pink Mountain "towns" is a bit of a stretch. (Fun fact: Wonowon is so named because it's located at Alaska Highway mile marker 101. Get it? One-oh-one? Nice.) So, keeping up my torrid pace may be a bit more challenging going forward.

On the other hand, this portion of my fictional bicycling trip is bringing back some very good memories, and is helping trigger the occasional "Driving on the Alaska Highway" dream. So, that's nice.

(That's a true story. Here's another true story about dreams, which has nothing to do with the Alaska Highway. Thanks to Saturday's tornado outbreak, I've recently had a dream or two about tornadoes. But my dreams don't visualize the tornadoes themselves - I've never seen one in person. Instead, my dreams visualize the Doppler Radar representation of a tornado. To me, that's just as scary.)

How long will I be on the Alaska Highway? A while. It's another 1,192 miles to Tok, Alaska, at which point I'll abandon the Alaska Highway and hop on the road to Anchorage. At my current pace, I would make it to Tok around...oh, let's say, Thanksgiving.

Baby Furniture

Baby update! My last update was just two weeks ago, so this is bordering on overkill...but I don't care. I kind of write these blog posts based on the idea that nobody is going to read everything. (I think the Twitter/Facebook-inspired model of "I'm going to link you to all of my blog posts, and it's up to you to decide which ones, if any, you find interesting enough to read" is working pretty well, by the way.)

The due date is now 99 days away (yes, I'm counting). The baby's kicking every now and then (I felt it once), and Amber's belly is growing quickly. (Everyone insists she still looks "small" for someone who's nearly at six months. Personally, I have no idea whether that's true or if everyone is just being nice. Either way, there’s no shame in looking pregnant if you’re, you know, pregnant.)

Meanwhile, our baby furniture arrived last week:



Yahoo.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The BRAND NEW Zebulon Piggly Wiggly

I used to talk about Piggly Wiggly a lot. Not so much anymore. In fact, I'd say I haven't been doing my part to promote Piggly Wiggly Awareness as of late. Well, it's time to ride that horse - or pig, if you will - once again.

One of the first exploratory day trips I made after moving to North Carolina - the very first, in fact - was to the town of Zebulon. One reason I went there was because internet research indicated that Zebulon was home to a Piggly Wiggly. That would have made it the closest Piggly Wiggly to home (at that time - Pittsboro is closer now that I live in Durham instead of Raleigh (Cary)). But, I was disappointed to find out that the internet lied to me. (No way!) There was no Piggly Wiggly at 410 West Gannon Avenue. (Oh no!) Instead, there was something called "Country Foods". Booo! I didn't drive all the way out to freaking Zebulon for that.

Now, five years later, my dream has come true! At 506 West Gannon Avenue in Zebulon, next door to the afore-mentioned Country Foods at 410 West Gannon (which I assume must have been a Piggly Wiggly at some point - why else would Google say so, even to this day?), is a brand new Piggly Wiggly. This new Piggly Wiggly occupies a building that was once home to an old Winn-Dixie, which - along with every other Winn-Dixie in North Carolina - closed over five years ago.

(So, for those following along at home: the Piggly Wiggly is a former Winn-Dixie, and the Country Foods is a former Piggly Wiggly. Confused yet?)

Obviously, I had to go back to Zebulon once again and check it out. Being brand new and all, would this Piggly Wiggly be "state of the art" and among the nicest I've been to? Or, considering that this is North Carolina (Piggly Wigglys in this state generally underwhelm) and that it's an old Winn-Dixie building, would you even be able to tell it was new at all?

So, yeah, it was the latter. This isn't the first North Carolina Piggly Wiggly I've been to that was housed in an old Winn-Dixie building. It's at least the third, and I must say, these folks aren't doing a particularly good job at getting the old Winn-Dixie stink out. For example, the sign out front by the street still says Winn-Dixie. Sure, it's partially whited out, but...how about replacing it with a Piggly Wiggly sign, hmm? But on the bright side, at least it doesn't still say "The Beef People" (that's Winn-Dixie's slogan) on the front of the store like it did in Sanford. It's hard to get the full Piggly Wiggly experience when you're constantly reminded of the ghosts of the past. As far as I'm concerned, if you're going to look like a Winn-Dixie, then you had better be selling Chek soda while you're at it. (Chek soda is the one thing, pretty much the only thing, Winn-Dixie gets right.)

Speaking of store brands...I held out hope that the brand new Zebulon Piggly Wiggly wouldn't be like the rest of the North Carolina Piggly Wigglys, and would have a larger selection of Piggly Wiggly-brand items. Denied. Sure, you can get some stuff with the pig label on it...


...but those Piggly Wiggly-brand Oreos I got in South Carolina were nowhere to be found:


Our Family-brand products are widely sold in North Carolina's Piggly Wigglys. In many instances, including with generic sodas, Our Family completely takes the place of the Piggly Wiggly brand. Our Family brand can ---- my ---- as far as I'm concerned. I don't want that crap. I want Piggly Wiggly brand! If the boxes don't all have pig logos on them, then why even bother going to Piggly Wiggly?

All that said...the brand new Zebulon Piggly Wiggly certainly isn't a bad store. I've seen worse Piggly Wigglys. MUCH worse. (Pelham, Georgia comes to mind.) But this new store isn't great, either. It's just another typical Eastern North Carolina Piggly Wiggly. And despite my distaste for the Our Family brand and the "Winn-Dixie stink", I'm going to continue to promote Piggly Wiggly Awareness.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Curling Recap: 4/17/11

Sunday's curling was a little different than normal, so I'm going to take some time to explain the setup. In June, the Triangle Curling Club (that's us) is hosting something called the "GNCC Arena Club Championships", which is...
- a bonspiel (curling tournament)
- restricted to East Coast curling clubs, which are members of a broader organization called the Grand National Curling Club (GNCC)
- exclusive, in that our club can only enter two teams

Given that we're hosting, we figured to have more than two teams interested in participating. That requires conducting "Playdowns", a one-day bonspiel which will determine who among our club will qualify for the Championships. Those playdowns took place this past Sunday.

So...the teams. Unlike with the club's leagues, in which club management picks the teams in as fair a way as possible, people could organize their own teams and play with whomever they wanted. Once word got out that some of the club's best curlers were "stacking" teams, the club's next level of good, but not elite, curlers - which I suppose includes me - quickly scrambled to find other good or elite curlers who had not found a Playdowns team yet. And, before you knew it, I had a team. I mention this because our team was basically kind of "thrown together", which meant that although we looked good "on paper" - we earned the #2 seed out of six teams based on a poll - we hadn't really ever curled together before, or curled together in a long time. (Our team's Skip, Howie, was my first league Skip upon joining the club in 2007, but I don't know if I've curled with him at all since that first season.) I think that might have made a difference, especially since most of the other teams in the Playdowns have played with each other before, in some cases over the course of an entire season. That's one reason why Amber and I have always done so well when we curl together. (I miss curling with her, by the way.) On Sunday, we hadn't really figured out our "roles" until we were almost done.

On the other hand...these teams were all pretty well evenly matched, as the scores will show. These games could have all gone either way.

Career game #144: GNCC Arena Club Playdowns - April 17, 2011
(I was the Vice on Team Zwiefel. Both games were 6-end games.)

End............. 123456 |TTL
----------------------------
Zwiefel......... 110300 | 05
Hamilton (UNC).. 003031 | 07

Career game #145: GNCC Arena Club Playdowns - April 17, 2011

End............. 123456 |TTL
----------------------------
Zwiefel......... 011020 | 04
Hamilton (Md.).. 100101 | 03

My strategy when playing skip is usually to get two rocks in there, and then guard. Skip Howie's strategy on Sunday (and I assume in general) was to guard as soon as you get one rock in position, not two. I think both strategies work if executed well. For example, the game we won at The Kayser featured a lot of one-point ends and a lot of guarding. If both teams are playing very well and making most of their shots, the "guard with one" strategy is probably best. Considering the level of play and experience this game had to offer - it was much higher than a typical league game - perhaps "guard with one" was the way to go on Sunday. In a typical league game, though, which usually involve more inexperienced curlers and more missed shots, I like the "guard with two" strategy. (Adjusting your strategy to your opponent is, I think, important.)

Well, regardless, things didn't really work out for us in that first game. For the "guard with one" strategy to work, you'd better put your guards where they need to go. If you don't, then you leave the door open for the other team to put up a big number, since you only have one rock in the house. The other team was making their take-outs, and since our guards weren't always good enough, they were able to put up two big ends.

Here's another point regarding the "guard with one" strategy as opposed to the "guard with two" strategy. As Skip, if you're confident in your shot-making, the "guard with one" strategy works great, because you can turn one into two or three with your last rock of the end. That's how we got our three in the 4th end. Suffice it to say, Howie is much more confident in his shot-making than I am, so maybe that's why we each have our own respective strategies. (I didn't play my best on Sunday. I was consistently short.)

I don't remember a whole lot about the second game. Given that I was playing 12 consecutive ends of curling, and that we were basically eliminated from Playdowns contention after losing that first game, I think my mind had basically checked out by that point in the day. I think almost all of the ends in the second game came down to the Skip's rocks, though.

Amber played in a pick-up game along side the Playdowns on Sunday, winning 6-5. She hadn't curled in weeks, and her pregnant belly is big enough now such that it has a pretty big effect on her balance, but she was still able to do pretty well. But she also got tired much more quickly than usual. Now I think she's done curling for the remainder of the pregnancy. (14½ weeks to go, by the way. More on that later this week.)

Sunday didn't work out as well as we had hoped. But next Sunday, the de facto "end of curling season", I get to curl for yet another League Championship. Woo!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tornado Outbreak

There was a bit of tornado outbreak in North Carolina on Saturday. So, let's start with this: Amber and I are okay. The tornadoes missed us by about 20 miles, and we sustained no damage and never lost power. In fact, Saturday's storm wasn't a whole lot different than your typical spring or summer thunderstorm, at least from our perspective.

For areas to our south and east, however...it's a different story. The closest tornado reports to us were in Downtown Raleigh and Holly Springs: (Our house is in the neighborhood of "D" on the map.)


View Larger Map

I think straight-line wind damage was more widespread (although nowhere near as severe, obviously), but I don't know. The tornadoes get all of the attention, of course.

Weather geek time! Here was the Storm Prediction Center's Convective Outlook going into Saturday. Moderate Risk and a 15% tornado contour in North Carolina? Oh yes! And, in fact, I would say a tornado did pass within 25 miles of home, barely.

I briefly tried looking for an archived radar loop; the best I could do was this YouTube video. Hook echoes in North Carolina? You betcha! (Let me know if you know of any better archived radar loops. This is some serious weather porn.)

The tornado that struck Holly Springs and downtown Raleigh, and also destroyed a Lowe's in Sanford, was rated EF3. EF3 damage was confined to Lee County, home of the afore-mentioned Lowe’s, while parts of Raleigh sustained EF2 damage.

The deadliest of the tornadoes that struck on Saturday was in Bertie County, located halfway between I-95 and the Outer Banks. This tornado, which killed 11, was also rated EF3. And, yet another EF3 tornado struck the I-95 corridor from Fayetteville to Wilson.

I was away from home for most of the afternoon (Amber was not), so while I didn't miss any interesting weather at home, I did miss an opportunity to geek out and watch local news and weather reports all afternoon. The next day (Sunday), I thought about getting on my bike and "sightseeing" the tornado damage, and I totally would have if it were closer to home. Instead, I only saw tree limbs and such scattered about, which we always see after a strong thunderstorm. Booooring.

"Chris, you are unbelieveable. Dozens of people were killed or injured in this storm, and many more lost their house. More people still don't have power. And here you are from your 'safe house' way up in stupid Durham talking about this tornado outbreak like it was the most exciting thing ever. In fact, you went so far as to say that you were ‘sorry you missed it’. What the hell is wrong with you?" Given how rare an event this is in North Carolina, I can't help but get excited talking about this sort of thing. But please don't confuse "getting excited" with "being happy that it happened". Two totally different things. Obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the storm. Don’t worry - I’ll get what’s coming to me eventually. I’ve been here five years, and I’m still awaiting my first paralyzing ice storm or hurricane.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sports Saturday: 4/16/11

NHL - It's playoff time! But first, let's talk about who's not in the playoffs. The Carolina Hurricanes would have qualified for the playoffs if they had won their 82nd and final game of the season last Saturday night, but instead, they went down 4-0 early, and...well, they just stunk. Some are calling it a "choke". I won't go that far. Tampa Bay (their opponent that night) is a good team, a playoff team, and most of the time, they'll beat the Hurricanes. Giving up a 3-0 lead to, say, the Ottawa Senators...that would be a choke. This was just one game. Pick any game the Hurricanes lost (in regulation) this season, and that game could have made the difference. And, I never really saw an outright "playoff team" in the Hurricanes this season. It's not like expectations were through the roof entering the season. Still, though, the effort in game 82 was a little disappointing.

So...that's that. Let's move on to the teams that are still playing. This is normally the time of the year when I'm forced to find other rooting interests, so here are my four primary rooting interests in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs:

1) Vancouver Canucks. It's about time a Canadian team won another Stanley Cup, and the Canucks were the best team in the regular season, so it could happen this year. Let's go Canucks!
2) Tampa Bay Lightning. Because I usually root for the other Southeast Division teams come this time of year (excluding Washington, because they suck).
3) Phoenix Coyotes. Recent reports once again have these guys moving back to Winnipeg this offseason. But what would happen if they won the Stanley Cup? That might be fun. Would they have a banner raising ceremony in Winnipeg next season? Or, would a Stanley Cup save the franchise?
4) Nashville Predators. Hey, why not?

More than anything, I just want an overtime game or two to watch. It's tough when your bedtime is 10:00 PM every night, so it would have to be on the weekend when games start in the afternoon and I can stay up late. Nothing beats overtime playoff hockey. Nothing. If I'm able to catch just one double overtime game this playoff season, I'll be immensely satisfied.

(Side comment: 13 of this year's 16 playoff teams also made the playoffs last year. Booooooring.)

Sat 1:00p - Phoenix at Detroit (Game 2), NBC
Sat 5:00p - Buffalo at Philadelphia (Game 2), MSG Buffalo
Sat 7:00p - Montréal at Boston (Game 2), Versus
Sat 10:00p - Los Angeles at San Jose (Game 2), Versus
Sun 3:00p - Washington at NY Rangers (Game 3), NBC
Sun 6:00p - Anaheim at Nashville (Game 3), Fox Sports Tennessee
Sun 8:00p - Vancouver at Chicago (Game 3), Versus

Auto racing

Sat 3:00p - NASCAR Nationwide at Talladega, ESPN2
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega, FOX: Two-car drafts or not, I always look forward to Talladega. You never know what's going to happen, and there's usually a big wreck or two, too. (Yeah, I like the wrecks.)

Sun 3:00a - Formula One Chinese Grand Prix, SPEED: Hey, what do you know, Sebastian Vettel won again. Regardless, I thought last week's race was one of the more entertaining dry races in recent memory. Perhaps those "gimmicks" I talked about last week to encourage passing are actually working after all?

Sun 4:30p - IndyCar Grand Prix of Long Beach, Versus: Don't expect I'll have time for IndyCar this weekend, so...meh. But what's with all of the temporary street circuts to start the season (three of the first four races)? Those races are usually the least interesting to watch. Why start the season this way?

MLB - I watched quite a bit of Washington Nationals baseball the first week of the season. The second week of the season? Maybe about 3 or 4 innings total. Hopefully when I have time to get back to watching more Nationals games, they'll still be mathematically in contention.

Sat 1:00p - Milwaukee at Washington, MASN
Sat 1:00p - Baltimore at Cleveland, MASN2
Sat 4:00p - NY Mets at Atlanta, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - San Diego at Houston, MLB Network
Sat 8:00p - Chicago Cubs at Colorado, WGN America
Sun 1:00p - Baltimore at Cleveland, MASN2
Sun 1:30p - Milwaukee at Washington, MASN
Sun 1:30p - Toronto at Boston, TBS
Sun 3:00p - Chicago Cubs at Colorado, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - Texas at NY Yankees, ESPN

(As of now, I don't plan to do a "Sports Saturday" next weekend. No particular reason, other than it's Easter weekend, and I don't feel like skipping a week.)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Co-ed Kickball Season 3: Mid-Season Report

My third season of co-ed kickball is six games old. With five games to go, including playoffs, today seems like a good time for a mid-season kickball update. So far, it's been our best season yet!

Our official record is 2-3. The first game - which we lost - was "practice", but was played just like a normal game, so I counted it in my stats. So really, we're 2-4, but according to the Town of Knightdale, we're 2-3. Either way, that's pretty good. And the best part is, that doesn't include any wins by forfeit! Hooray!

I was a little concerned before the season that our team's shorthandedness - seven or eight players most nights - would be a problem, especially on defense. However, this has actually been our best defensive season so far. Through six games, we've allowed an average of 5.33 runs per 9 innings, compared to 8.61 runs per 9 innings in my first two seasons with the team. What's the difference? Part of it might be lesser competition; unlike in previous seasons, I don't think there's a really, really good team out there that can score over 10 runs in any given game. Or, it might just be that over time, we've gotten better at playing "fundamentally sound" defense. Running, catching, keeping the ball in front of you, and most importantly, not throwing it away trying to get someone out. I'd also like to think my pitching has gotten better and smarter.

Speaking of pitching: through six games, I only have one strikeout, compared to 27 strikeouts in 19 games prior to this season. Opposing batters (or kickers, if you prefer) are more aggresive now than they used to be, and they're not going to let a potential third strike just roll through the strike zone untouched. (There are also fewer girls on these teams this year, and to be honest, that's where I usually get the Ks.) Instead of getting the Ks, though, I've gotten several outs due to the batter/kicker's plant foot being outside the strike zone when the ball is kicked. That's an automatic out. (Well, it's supposed to be. Enforcement of this rule is rather inconsistent.) It's gotten to the point where that is now my goal. If the batter is right-footed, throw it to his left, so that he either has to kick it awkwardly, with his opposite foot, or illegally. The way to get strikeouts is to mix it up and pitch to both corners of the strike zone, but the way to get batters out is to pound the batter's unpreferred corner every time.

Meanwhile, we're also having a good season offensively. I don't keep track of team runs scored, but that number has to be up. This past Tuesday, we scored 10 runs for the first time ever. (Call it a combination of well-placed kicks in the outfield, and poor defense.) Here's how my offensive stats stack up through six games:
- My batting average is .788, compared to .675 in my first two seasons. I've gotten much more consistent and precise with my bunts, and the other teams haven't found a consistent answer for it, yet. I've also been able to get a couple of base hits with "normal" kicks.
- I'm averaging 5.5 at-bats per game, compared to 3.8 per game in my first two seasons. Improved offense helps, sure, but I'm sure this has more to do with our team having fewer players.
- I have 4 RBIs this season in 6 games, compared to 3 RBIs in 21 games prior to this season. Wow! I think two of the four RBIs resulted in an out, but hey, we'll take the runs any way we can get them. My batting/kicking with runners in scoring position still needs some work.
- I've scored 5 runs so far this season. That's close to my average on a per-game basis, but on a per-at-bat basis, it's down from previous seasons.
- I picked up my second "double" this season as well. Pretty much the only way I ever get an extra-base hit is when the defense tries to throw someone else out at 3rd or at home. Not technically a double according to baseball rules, but I'm counting those anyway.

Looking ahead...we've never won three non-forfeit games in one season before. I also don't think we've ever won a non-forfeit game in the second half of the season. Can we do it? ... If not, no big deal.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Whole-Home DVR

Among the many things DirecTV likes to brag about in their commercials is this feature: "Watch programs from your DVR in any room in your house with only one DVR! Pause a show in one room, and then resume it in another room! You can't do that with DISH Network!" They call this their "Whole-Home DVR Service". My official take on this was that it would be nice, and the monthly fee attached to it is practically nothing ($3/month), but I wasn't overly motivated to pay the one-time up front costs. But Amber thought that sounded like a perfect "birthday present idea", so last week, we added the service. (Thanks Amber!)

First, let's talk about those "one-time up front costs". When researching Whole-Home DVR, I found that the up-front cost was $100 for equipment and installation. But when I called them, they told me it would be $200 for equipment plus $50 for installation on top of that.

Now...usually, I suck at haggling, especially when it comes to DirecTV. I've been told many times that you can usually coerce DirecTV representatives into giving you some sort of discount. However, I have had little to no luck with that. This time, though, I actually succeeded! Well, sort of - it was completely unintentional. When told of the price, I whispered to Amber, "That's a lot more than I thought it would be. It used to be $100." Apparently, the DirecTV representative heard that whisper, and in response gave me a $100 discount, provided that I would agree to add HBO/Starz/Showtime at $23/month for a minimum of one month, at which point I can cancel them. (DirecTV is always trying to get me to add those premium channels. The standard price of $46/month would kick in after three months, if I decided to keep them...which I won’t.) Effectively, this amounted to a $77 discount, plus I get those channels for a month. Score! I'll have to remember the “whispering to my wife” technique, even though that's not what I was going for at the time, and chances are, it won’t work next time.

(Side note: I might have also had to upgrade my bedroom receiver to a model that was Whole-Home compatible. However, my bedroom receiver was new enough and fit that requirement, so I did not need any new receivers. Also note that the bedroom receiver does NOT have to be a DVR. You only need one DVR in the entire house for this to work.)

Amber stayed home for the installation - it was my birthday, after all - so when I got home, "Whole-Home DVR" was up and running. We've had it for about a week now, and yes, it is nice to be able to temporarily shift my DVR viewing to the bedroom while I fold laundry, or for Amber and I to watch a quick show off the DVR after we've left the "den" and gone to the bedroom already. Practically all of the shows we watch together are via the DVR. The only stuff I watch live is sports, and I frequently use the DVR even for that so I can skip through things like the 1st intermission, the last two minutes of a basketball game, or most of the first half of a NASCAR race. So, this "Whole-Home DVR" thing really comes in handy. (Side note: we have two TVs, one in "the den", and one in the bedroom. Both are HDTVs, although the bedroom one is smaller and is only 720p as opposed to 1080p, if that means anything to you.)

How does this thing work, anyway? Well...since I wasn't home for the installation, I don't really know. :) I think there's some box or something that they hooked in between the cables and such that allows the bedroom receiver (which, again, is not a DVR) to load and watch programming off of the DVR in "the den". I can view the list of recorded programs from the bedroom just like I can in "the den", and watch or delete anything from the bedroom just the same. But there are two main differences. In "the den", watching a recorded program is almost instantaneous once you hit play, but from the bedroom, it takes a few seconds for a program to load. Also, fast-forwarding is slower and more sluggish in the bedroom than it is in "the den", especially when using the "skip ahead 30 seconds" button. (Fast-forwarding speed in "the den" was not affected by the upgrade.) But those are pretty minor things, really. During normal speed playback, there is no difference.

We can also instruct the DVR to record programs from the bedroom receiver, but...that works a little differently. One of DirecTV's other features, independent of “Whole-Home DVR”, is that you can program your DVR from an internet browser. I think the “programming the DVR from the bedroom” works the same way. Part of the installation process was to connect the bedroom receiver to the internet, I assume for this purpose. And, the prompts that come up when I hit "record" from the bedroom are similar to the prompts that come up when I schedule a recording from the web, as opposed to the prompts that come up when using the DVR directly. For example, when recording a sporting event directly from the DVR, a prompt like this will come up: "This is a live event and may go past the scheduled time. Do you want to record extra time beyond the scheduled end of the broadcast?" This prompt does not come up when recording from the bedroom. You also can't access the "To Do List" (the list of all programs scheduled to be recorded) from the bedroom, which would also allow you to add extra time to the end of a broadcast after the fact, or cancel a future recording. So, if you want to have the DVR record extra time after a sporting event is scheduled to end (which is practically a must when recording live sports), the only way to do it from the bedroom is to also record the program immediately following. And if you want to cancel a future recording, that can only be done in “the den”. Walking all the way out to "the den" (oh no!) isn't that big a deal, of course, but I think this is a feature that could be improved.

Finally, there's also the "pause a show in one room and pick it up where you left off in another room" feature. I actually had to look up on the DirecTV website how to do this, because it wasn't intuitive. Basically, you have to hit "record" on the program you're watching, which will load the program from that point forward onto the DVR. That will allow you to watch it from that point forward from any TV in the house, just like any other recorded program. So, it’s not quite as simple as they make it look in the commercials. And although I haven't tried this yet, I think you also have to make something an actual DVR recording in order to pause or rewind a live program from the non-DVR bedroom receiver.

That's all of the "flaws" or "shortcomings" of the DirecTV Whole-Home DVR service I can think of, or that I've discovered to date. Certainly, the flaws do not outweigh the benefits, and I think this will really come in handy when we have kids.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Jury Duty: Recap

For those who don't feel like reading the whole thing - it's quite long - here's a quick summary of my jury duty experience of this week. I was placed on a jury for a criminal trial which lasted two days. The defendant was acquitted on all charges, which is absolutely KILLING me, so much so that I don't want to serve on another jury ever again.

So...let's start by answering the questions I proposed on Monday, most of which had to do with the selection process:

Of the 130 people called in that morning, how many actually showed up? I don't have an exact number, but it definitely wasn't 130. I estimate it was less than 100. The jury clerk only said that there were "quite a few no-shows". I'm guessing that's typical.

Does my low juror number mean anything, or are names chosen at random independent of the number? Considering that I was one of the first 12 prospective jurors called, and other people with low numbers ended up on the jury as well, I'm pretty confident that the numbers do affect not only who has to show up that day, but who gets called first. (Side note: I was called to the courtroom along with about 40 others at around 10:30 AM, so there wasn't a whole lot of "sitting around doing nothing" time for me. At least, not until I was actually on a jury.)

If I do get called to a jury early, then the judge or lawyers excuse me, do I get to go home immediately? Nope. I would have had to go back to the waiting room, in case any other trials that day needed anybody. Once all trials scheduled for that day have a jury, then I would have been able to leave. I think this ended up happening around 2 PM.

We were supposed to be there at 8:30, but the building doesn't open until that very moment. What's up with that? I would have been fine getting there as late as 9:00, given the amount of time required checking everyone in.

What's the deal with lunch? We're on our own for lunch, but we get a 90-minute lunch break. Sounds great, but...that's far too long. I don't need more than 15 minutes, quite honestly. It turns out that the court system loves to take breaks. Listen to a little testimony, then the jurors get a 15 minute break. A little more testimony, then everyone BUT the jurors get a 15 minute break, while the jurors are required to sit in seclusion. Then, we all get a 90 minute lunch. Also consider that they don't start these things until 9:30 AM. Counting the frequent breaks, there is, at most, only five hours of actual trial time in any given day. And that's if everyone actually shows up on time, which usually doesn't happen. The second day of my trial, for example, got started an hour late. Why do some trials take as long as they do? Now you know.

Now, some more questions, because I'm very fond of this "Q & A" format.

I remember you saying that people with college degrees typically don't end up on juries. But you have not only a college degree, but a Master's degree, and you ended up on a jury. How does it feel to be wrong? I'm thinking that times have changed, given that college degrees are becoming more of the "norm" rather than the "exception". I did mention to the lawyers during my "questioning" that I went to college, but that didn't phase them.

Now...I should note that I could have easily gotten out of it if I wanted to. There was at least one point where the judge asked the jury, "If there is any reason that you might be unable to be fair to both sides in this case, let me know, and I will excuse you, no questions asked." That was the time to speak up if I simply didn't want to be on a jury.

So, what was this case about, anyway? Most cases are apparently civil cases, but this one was criminal. I'm going to be intentionally vague and not name any names here, so that this blog post doesn't come up when someone attempts to Google this case or anything like that. The basic story: two ex-lovers, fresh off an apparrently tough breakup, stumble across each other one night, when chaos insues. The accuser (the female) alleged three charges stemming from the "chaos": 1) that the defendant committed robbery by stealing her purse (although it was returned by a relative in less than hour); 2) that the defendant assaulted the accuser; and 3) that the defendant commited "destruction of property" by denting her car in the process. That's three charges, all of which received a plea of "not guilty".

The prosecution's case was this: "Here's what the accuser says. Her soon-to-be-boyfriend arrived on the scene late and can kind of sort of attest to what happened as well. Someone called the police, but we don't know who. Although the police who arrived on the scene didn't really collect any evidence, take any pictures, or actually see any signs of injury on the accuser, she was very upset and flustered. She went to the hospital afterwards. And, the defendant admits to taking the purse, although it was returned within the hour." Meanwhile, the defense's case was simply, "Reasonable doubt! You don't have to believe what the accuser says! Reasonable doubt!" (I'm kind of tired of hearing the phrase "reasonable doubt", by the way.) Personally, I think the defense could have done a little better than that. The defense attorney looked rather inexperienced, if you ask me. (I also didn't appreciate the manner in which she lectured us during her closing statement, but I'm guessing that's what most defense attorneys do.)

The accuser claimed a hospital bill in the hundreds and a car repair bill of over $1,000. (She gave "exact" numbers, which were conveniently rounded off to the nearest hundred - again, I'm being intentionally vague here.) Neither the hospital bill nor car repair bill was shown in court. So, let's start with that "destruction of property" charge: that was an easy acquittal, because there was nothing even remotely suggesting proof that the defendant caused the dent in the car, whether it happened or not. The prosecution's only proof of this was "because the accuser said so". This one was no problem.

Now...let's talk the "assault" charge. We generally came to two conclusions based on the testimony provided: 1) There was some kind of physical contact between the two. (Again...intentionally vague.) 2) The accuser greatly exaggerated her injuries. The hospital's only testimony was that she came to the ER that night; there was no proof of injuries. However, there was some physical contact. But is that assault? Using the generic definition of assault, yes. However, because the charge specifically states that the accuser was "punched and kicked", the jury (that's us) can ONLY convict if we feel she was in fact "punched and kicked". Any other kind of physical contact besides "punching and kicking" is irrelevant, because that's not what was charged. (We asked the judge about this during deliberations.) Based on that requirement, we had to go with "not guilty" on the assault charge, too. Did "assault" occur? I'm sure it did. However, I cannot be sure that "punching and kicking" occurred, due to the prosecution providing no injuries or proof of injuries from the hospital or the police officer's testimony, plus the fact that the accuser was obviously embellishing her injuries. (I recognize that punching and kicking doesn't always result in injuries. However, you need proof in a court of law, correct?) Chalk this one up to "Getting off on a technicality". Sure, the prosecution and/or accuser bears some responsibility here; if you greatly stretch the truth without providing supporting evidence, the jury is more likely to discount even the factual parts of your story. But still...come on now. "Innocent until proven guilty" is one thing. But is this how we want our cases decided, on technicalities?

That leaves the robbery charge, which is the one that bugs me the most. Did the defendant take the accuser's purse? Yes. That was not disputed. But is that robbery? According to the instructions we were given, it's only robbery if the defendant intended, at that time, to "permanently" deprive the accuser of the purse and its contents. The phrase "at that time" is key. Given how quickly the purse made it back to its owner, obviously, the defendant did not intend on keeping it after the fact. But what was he thinking "at that time"? I concluded that he took the purse in a heat-of-the-moment "I hate you bitch" sort of act, without really thinking about it. Does that constitute "intent of permanently depriving the accuser" of it? I tried for quite a while to convince the rest of the jury that it does. Either you intend on giving it back, or you don't. Those are the only two options. In a "I hate you bitch" moment, he is surely not thinking, "I'm going to give this back eventually." If you're not planning to return it, then, well, you're not planning to return it. Therefore, at that time, the intent must have been a non-return. That's how I see it, and that's how (I hope) the law was intended to be applied. However, despite my best efforts, I was unable to convince the rest of the jury to see it my way, so I gave up. Just because that happens to be how I interpret the law doesn't mean that's how the law was designed to be interpreted. It's important to be open-minded during jury deliberations. I mean, who am I to be so sure that I'm right? I'm just one person, and I generally have a unique way of looking at things.

So, apparently, I can take something of yours, but as long as I intend on giving it back to you, eventually, even if it's 50 years from now, I'm not breaking the law. (At least, I'm not breaking that particular law, which the defendant was charged with breaking.) That's pretty stupid, if you ask me. But as the judge instructed us, our job was to "apply the law as it is written, not how we feel the law should be". You know, if you disect the law closely enough, you might be able to acquit anyone of just about anything. How does anyone ever get convicted?

This absolutely stinks. This guy has to be guilty of something. But we let him go. I hate it, and I'm ashamed to have been a part of it. I don't know if it was our fault, or if it falls more on the prosecution and police for not gathering more evidence, or on the accuser for trying to sell a non-provable story. Either way, next time I'm up for jury duty and the lawyers ask me "Have you been on a jury before, and might that experience have a positive or negative effect on this trial?" (this was in fact asked during jury selection), I'll say something like this: "I was on a jury before, and it affected me negatively and could affect my judgment in this trial. Here’s why...” With any luck, that statement will excuse me from my next jury assignment. Yippee!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Curling Recap: 4/8-4/10/11

I get a second day of jury duty today, so I can't really talk about that yet. In the meantime...let's talk curling! Let's start with the Triangle Curling Club's latest Friday League Championship game.

Career game #142: Winter League (Friday), Championship - April 8, 2011

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
---------------------------
M. Jackson... 00020201 | 05
Allen........ 31101010 | 07

This was definitely a good time to win the coin toss. Not just because it was it was the league championship, but because the game was take-out friendly and pretty wide open, increasing the importance of having last rock. We stole a point twice in the 2nd and 3rd ends, but in the other six ends, the team with last rock always scored.

The first end was our best end. We put a lot of rocks in the house early, and I executed both of my shots perfectly. (I typically only make one of my two shots, if that.) The first shot was a take-out on their "shot rock", giving us two (or maybe three - don't remember what the other team did with their final shot); the second shot was a draw to the button to increase our number from two to three.

After the 3rd end, we extended our lead to 5-0. From that point on, we pretty much had to just hold on, because the other team played very well - better than us - in the final five ends. The fact that it was a take-out friendly game helped us there towards the end, because we were able to make enough take-outs to prevent the other team from putting up a big number. I also wasn't making all of my shots later on; I distinctly remember leaving an easy point on the board in either the 5th or 7th end. (We were sitting one, and I had an easy draw for two, with backing, and left it well short.)

A quick word about the other team: I've played with most of them before, and they're good. Opposing Skip Murray is one of the best in the club; Amber and I won our first league championship (Winter 2008) and finished runner-up at last year's Carolina Classic with him skipping. They also have Justin and Tabby, who I've curled with many times before, in leagues and at bonspiels (including February's Kayser). So, they're good. I knew it would be a tough game; we were just fortunate to get an early lead. And, they were certainly making their shots in the second half of the game. In either the 4th or 6th end, opposing Skip Murray made a double take-out on his last shot to turn one for us (I think) into two for them. (He was actually going for the triple take-out, which would have given them four, but...nah.)

Finally, loads of credit to my Friday team, who made my job really easy: lead Wes (a new curler), second Brandon (one of Amber's co-workers who she recruited back in the Fall), and vice Jeff B. (who's been around for a few years and is a potential Skip in the making). Maybe next season, the club won't let me come to the "team making" meeting anymore :)

Now, the Sunday League. The setup with two games remaining: we're in a three-way tie for 2nd place, with the top two teams moving on to the Sunday League Championship. We needed a win, and help, in order to qualify for the championship. Well, we got the help. But with a playoff berth on the line, could we pull it out?

Career game #143: Winter League (Sunday), Week Eight - April 10, 2011
(my team: Witcraft)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
-----------------------------
Hamilton-UNC... 10140000 | 06
Witcraft....... 03001112 | 08

This was one of the most exciting and tense games I've been a part of at our club. Very well played, and wasn't decided until the very end.

There were three occasions throughout the game in which the team without last rock was sitting four, with only last rock remaining. This happened in the 1st, 4th, and the 7th ends. In the 1st end, our skip Nick was able to cut the other team down from four to one. In the 4th end, we weren't so lucky; the last rock took a funny turn and ended up just outside of the house, and they got their four. Then, in the 7th end...the APPROXIMATE setup was something like this: (our team = yellow)


Again, this is approximate, so I don't know exactly where all four rocks were. (I'm pretty sure about 1 and 2, kind of sure about 3?, and completely unsure about ?.) Now...if I were skip, I might have just tried a simple draw. However, opposing Skip Dave decided to go the fun route: really heavy take-out! The result? #1 hit #2, which then hit #3?, and all three rocks left the house. A triple take-out to cut us down from four to one (we still had the ? rock in there, wherever it was, sitting as shot), when they needed it the most. Instead of trailing by three coming home, the game was tied. That has to be one of the best shots I've seen in a league game, especially when you consider what was at stake. (Not sure it beats this one, though.)

Then, the final end: the other team got one close to the button early. We got two close, but not close enough to beat out their rock. Finally, skip Nick's first shot bumped one of those previous two rocks just enough to sit as shot rock, and that would hold up as the game-winner. (I don't remember how we scored two instead of one, but it doesn't matter.) Victory!

And now, I get to play in another league championship in two weeks. Counting the Friday game, I'm 3-2 in league championship games. They're all tough, but this one will definitely be tough, because our opponent in the championship game has pretty much dominated up to this point, going 7-1, and outscoring their opponents 64-30. In comparison, we went a respectable 5-3, but were actually outscored by four (51-55) over the course of the season. But you never know what can happen in one game.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Jury Duty: Preview

Even though Congress reached a deal and averted a government shutdown, I'm still not working today: it's jury duty day. Hooray! I've been looking forward to this for a long time. Here are some things on my mind going into the day...

One thing I've been told by multiple people is that I should bring a good book. I'm bringing two. (Both of which I got for my birthday last week.) I've also made sure my phone was fully charged.

According to the recorded message I listened to last night in order to confirm that I was actually needed, they're calling in 130 people this morning. How many people will actually show up?

My juror number is 2. Does that mean I'm going to be called to the first jury, or do they choose people randomly? The juror numbers are already kind of random, so I don't see the point in making it any more random...although my number isn't actually random, since my low number is a result of requesting my jury duty be rescheduled from February 22nd to today.

If I do get called to a jury early, and then the lawyers or whoever decided they don't want me, do I get to go home immediately?

We're supposed to be there at 8:30. However, that's also when the building opens. What's up with that? Either show up exactly at 8:30, be "late", or have to stand outside for a while.

What's the deal with lunch? I don't know, so I'm bringing a sandwich.

And, finally...am I going to be allowed to "live tweet" anything as it happens today? If so, look forward to that.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Sports Saturday: 4/9/11

In today's issue...

NHL - Can the Carolina Hurricanes make the playoffs? For real this time?
Golf - The Masters is this weekend. And...I can't think of much else to say.
MLB - Early thoughts on the Washington Nationals.
Auto racing - Even though it's way at the bottom, I actually have more thoughts on racing to share than anything else.

NHL: Normally, I write these things Friday afternoon and post them Saturday morning. This time, however, given how much was riding on Friday night's games (in terms of playoff positioning), I had to wait until Saturday morning to write the NHL discussion, out of fear that anything I wrote Friday afternoon would be rendered out of date by the time Saturday morning rolled around.

Things didn't look so good for the Carolina Hurricanes after they lost to Buffalo last Sunday, but a couple of wins and one Rangers loss later, things have changed. As of now, it is the Hurricanes who have the final playoff spot, but it's only by a tiebreaker. Both the Rangers and Hurricanes play their 82nd and final regular season game today, and at different times. The Rangers play first, so the Hurricanes will know what they need to do by the time their game starts. That's a pretty dangerous position to be in if you ask me...

Here are the scenarios, I think:
- If NYR loses in regulation, CAR is already in the playoffs.
- If NYR loses in overtime, CAR is in the playoffs with a win or an overtime loss.
- If NYR wins, CAR is in the playoffs with a win.

The Western Conference is down to Chicago and Dallas for the last spot; they both play tomorrow. Chicago is "in with a win or OT loss", and they play first, so that works out well for TV purposes.

Sat 12:30p - New Jersey at NY Rangers, MSG
Sat 7:00p - Tampa Bay at Carolina, Fox Sports Carolinas (NHL Network nationally)
Sun 12:30p - Detroit at Chicago, NBC
Sun 6:00p - Dallas at Minnesota, NHL Network

College hockey bonus! The NCAA championship game is tonight, too. Too much hockey for one night! Aaaahhh!

Sat 7:00p - Minnesota-Duluth v. Michigan, ESPN

Golf - I will be watching at least some of The Masters this weekend, but...I don't really have anything interesting to say about it.

Sat 3:30p - The Masters, CBS
Sun 2:00p - The Masters, CBS

MLB - I've probably watched about 25 innings' worth of Washington Nationals baseball so far this season. (That sounds like a big waste of time, but the DVR certainly helps make baseball watching more efficient.) How do they look so far?

Hmm...well, so far, I don't see any reason to revise my expectations. Although slightly improved, offense looks to be the weakest link at this point, and I think that's going to cause some problems. That's my official take as someone who only kind of sort of follows the Washington Nationals.

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

Auto racing

Sat 7:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Texas, FOX: I used to be anti-night races - NASCAR works best on a Sunday afternoon - but now that we're in the age of the DVR, I can easily turn a "Saturday night" race into a "Sunday afternoon" race if I choose. Yeah! Texas is an especially good venue for a Saturday night race because they usually schedule their Sunday races for 3 PM or later. Texas is kind of "cookie cutter", but the last race here (which I skipped completely) was actually fairly interesting (highlighted by Jeff Gordon v. Jeff Burton shoving match), so...maybe this will be worthwhile?

Sun 4:00a - Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix, SPEED: Formula One is funny. Passing is proving to be more and more difficult as the years go by. To try and help, Formula One cars are now equipped with sort of a gimmick. When you're within two seconds of the car in front of you, you can push a button and your rear wing will open up, reducing drag, and therefore helping you overtake the car in front (in theory). I don't know what I think of this. One of the reasons I like Formula One is because, unlike NASCAR, it's gimmick-free. They seem kind of desperate at this point. There has to be a better way to promote passing, I would think. Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel won the season opener two weeks ago, so I think we'll see more of the same this season. Five or ten years from now, am I going to be completely sick of Vettel, ala Michael Schumacher in his prime?

Sun 3:00p - IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama, Versus: Some thoughts on double file restarts, which IndyCar tried for the first time two weeks ago. Exciting? Of course. But the thing is, once the "thrill of the restart" subsides, the rest of the race seems more boring than it otherwise would. I tend to settle into a "when's the next caution flag going to come out?" mindset, and like with NASCAR, I think that actually hurts the overall product. Given the number of accidents that occurred on restarts two weeks ago, I'd say that most of the IndyCar drivers are watching too much NASCAR and trying to be like Kyle Busch, passing four or five cars on the restart. I don't think you'll see as much aggression and crashing on restarts this week.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Government Shutdown

While we work for private companies, Amber and I both work on federal government contracts. So, let's start off with "How The Impending Federal Government Shutdown Affects Amber And Me"...

For me, the simple explanation is that starting next week, I'm on furlough until the government is back up and running again. (At one point I thought my group was “essential”, but apparently I misunderstood.) Whether or not I get paid for the missed time depends on how long the shutdown lasts. I also have jury duty next Monday, which is totally unrelated, but I think (hope) that I get compensated for that as if it were normal "missed time due to jury duty" regardless of the furlough. Not totally certain on that. I'm trying not to get my hopes up.

For Amber, the simple explanation is that next week would be a normal work week regardless, but beyond that...who knows? Unlike my group, the group Amber works with has the luxury of having contracts outside the federal government (e.g. state government, and other companies). But those contracts will only support them so much, given that they get the majority of their work from the federal government.

So...if jury duty only lasts one day (I'm fairly confident in that prediction), and the shutdown lasts for a few days, I might have some unpaid time off next week. What will I do to pass the time? Prolonged time off at home isn't something I ever have. Any time we have a few days off, we leave town. We can't do that this time, though, because we may be called back into work with less than a day's notice as soon as Congress agrees on something. So, it's not like we can drive to Boise next week or anything. (That, and Amber is still working, of course.) Instead, I might go do what I used to do when I had a lot of spare time during the week: play golf.

Might as well make the most of the situation, right? Besides, I know a lot of you have been subjected to furloughs, pay cuts, or layoffs over the last couple of years. Amber and I have been insulated from all of that, until now. No need to go all "woe is me" on you folks. I don't think this is that big a deal. In fact, it's kind of exciting, and I have no control over it, so...yeah. I'm just going with the flow. In fact, I'm much more worried about "how much in the way of cuts to EPA will the Republicans get away with" than "how long is this government shutdown going to last".

And, who knows, maybe there won't even be a government shutdown. When it comes to negotiations, it's really tough to tell what is going to happen. Yeah, this is a much bigger deal than, say, whether DirecTV carries the Versus channel or not, or even whether or not the next NFL season will be played, but these types of negotiations always seem to have the same characteristics. Both sides talk big. "That's a non-starter for us." "A shutdown/lockout/strike is almost certain at this point." Then, sometimes, they'll hash out an agreement immediately. And, deals are often made at the last possible moment, which hasn't come yet.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Day Care: The Search Begins

Baby update! Amber is currently in her 24th week, with 16 weeks to go before the due date (July 29). Everything is still "normal", as far as we know. Meanwhile, we're not sure when the "recommended time" is during a pregnancy to start looking at prospective day care centers, but we've started that process this week.

What are we looking for? Well, first off, we're just looking for places that have available day care. The first place we toured is already full through the end of November, which is a month too late for us. (Right now, Amber is thinking of taking three months off from work for maternity, some of which will be unpaid. I'm thinking six weeks for myself.) On one hand, it seems kind of nuts that a day care would already be full eight months in advance. On the other hand...it doesn't. The "battle" to get in with the "best" day cares is probably fierce, and this was a "five star" day care we're talking about here. (The star ratings are assigned by the state and, therefore, actually mean something. In theory.) I think we're doing a good job of planning ahead as it is, but apparently, some people like to really plan ahead.

So, that's the first requirement: availability. Then there are obvious things like price, location, and of course "does this look like a good place for our baby to spend 20% of the first year of his/her life". Beyond that, I don't know what else there is to look for, yet. Maybe this is why the state assigns "star ratings" to these places? So far, these day cares all pretty much look, and feel, and sound, and even smell the same, but I'm probably focusing on the wrong things. Having never looked at day cares before, at first glance, I'm drawn to the things that all day cares have in common (e.g. front door always locked, no peanuts allowed, THE NEVER ENDING SOUND OF CRYING BABIES) rather than how individual day cares differ (?). I guess we'll find out all of the nuances eventually. (Side note: Amber has taken the lead on the day care search, so she probably knows more about all of this than I do. This is also why I'm going relatively light on details at this point.)

Here's another question - part-time, or full-time? Many day care facilities won't give you a choice, at least for infants: it's full-time or nothing. The reasoning is that they have a finite number of cribs, and they want each of those to be in use all the time, if possible. Makes sense. But at least one place we've looked at so far does offer part-time (two or three days a week) care for infants. If we do part-time, we'd either have to each work from home one or two days a week (which we can both do) or just work part-time altogether (which Amber has considered, but I have not). That could work, but speaking strictly in financial terms, part-time care only offers a minor discount over full-time care. The cost of three-day care is not 60% of the cost of five-day care; instead, it's more like 80 to 90%. So, the only way we would save money by doing part-time care is if we both kept our full-time jobs and occasionally worked from home. Money isn't the only factor here, though - "more time with the baby" is also a potential benefit* for doing the part-time thing. At some point, Amber and I will sit down with a bunch of papers and a calculator and figure everything out in as mathematical a fashion as possible, because that's how we do things.

(* - Well, FOR NOW, we see this as a benefit.)

So, given the competitive nature of this business, it seems like we should go ahead and get "in" as soon as we find a place we like. Without rushing to judgment, of course. This is kind of an important thing.

One more note: I've been looking at the kids' names at the day cares we've visited so far, and I have yet to see our potential boy name or potential girl name. Yippee!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Cereal Without Milk

I feel like I've covered this topic before, but a quick blog history search came up empty, so...

I don't put milk in my cereal. I'm not just talking about cereals that are known to turn exceptionally soggy in milk. I'm talking about all cereals. Even ones that claim to stay crunchy, even in milk.

Why? Simple: I don't like wet cereal. I like dry cereal, and I like it to crunch. Personally, I'm shocked milk in cereal is as popular as it is. People look at me funny when I tell them I eat my cereal dry. Why is that so weird? I don't get it. Then again, I like a lot of weird things, so I guess it fits.