Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chicken and Waffles

Last time I went to local breakfast eatery Brigs, I noticed something interesting on the menu: the "Fried Chicken and Waffle". It's a Southern Classic! (So it says.) I had never heard of it before. But I like chicken, so on my second visit to local breakfast eatery Brigs, I ordered the Fried Chicken and Waffle.


I was expecting them to put the chicken directly on the waffle, as in, a waffle topped with fried chicken. Instead, it was like two separate dishes, and the fried chicken was really just a couple of chicken fingers on the side.

That's fine, but...this still seems like a strange combination. Everyone who knows me well knows that I like chicken fingers. But as part of a complete breakfast? I don't know about that. Chicken fingers are great, waffles are great (although I generally prefer pancakes or French toast), but together? The "chicken and waffles" idea is catching on; I've seen it advertised elsewhere, and it is kind of "quirky", so I can see the appeal. But after experiencing it first hand, I'm not necessarily sold on the idea. I'd rather partake in my chicken fingers and waffles as part of two separate meals, rather than all at once. I'm putting the "chicken and waffles" concept in the same category as that deep-fried 3 Musketeers bar I had at the State Fair a few years ago. It's good to try once for the novelty.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sports Saturday: 5/28/11

I almost wasn't going to write one of these this week. It's a holiday weekend, the unofficial start of summer. Are you really going to be sitting at your computer reading what I have to say today? ... Apparently so. But today, I'm going to skip the NHL and MLB. (Aside from last night's Game 7, I didn't watch much of the NHL Conference Finals.)

College baseball - Some years, I'll follow college baseball a lot, watching an occasional Florida State game as early as March. Other years, I'll basically ignore it until it's about time for the NCAA Tournament. This year has been the latter. But I did start paying attention soon enough to discover that the ACC Tournament was being played a few miles away in downtown Durham, and that Florida State had a Wednesday 7:00 game against NC State. Hey, let's go!


There are two main reasons I don't attend more live sporting events: 1) money, and 2) it kind of feels like "rubbing salt in the wound" when fans of the other team cheer my team's demise. I don't have to deal with that at home. I can just change the channel. It's too bad that FSU's only evening game of the week had to be against NC State. I understand why they scheduled it that way - to maximize attendance - but still. NC State fans are kind of like the cicadas I talked about yesterday. They're everywhere.

So, anyway...Florida State lost the game 7-0. We left after the 7th inning. Manager Mike Martin called it "an old-fashioned fanny whipping". It was pretty bad. In hindsight, going into the game, I would have been much better off not knowing that FSU was the #2 seed and NC State was the #7 seed. And it's silly, really. Up until this week, I didn't really care how Florida State baseball was doing this year prior to this week. Why does it matter now all of a sudden?

I'm still glad we went, though. Mostly, I think Amber and I needed to get out of the house. The end of kickball season has left a significant void in our weekday schedule. And, being a sports fan, I think it's good to actually attend a sporting event in person every once in a while. I typically do it once or twice a year.

Anyway, the format of the ACC Tournament is...you know, I don't really feel like explaining it. All I know is that for Florida State to advance to the championship game, today they need a win and an NC State loss.

(Note: Yesterday's rainouts kind of messed up the schedule a little bit.)
Sat 9:00a - Florida State v. Georgia Tech, Fox Sports South
Sat 12:30p - Clemson v. NC State, Fox Sports South
Sat 4:00p - North Carolina v. Wake Forest, Fox Sports South (Continuation of last night's game, after they halted play at 2:00a. UNC leads 5-0 in the top of the 7th.)
Sat 5:30p - Miami v. Wake Forest, Fox Sports South
Sat 9:00p - Virginia v. North Carolina, Fox Sports South
Sun 1:00p - ACC Championship Game, Fox Sports South

Auto racing - It's Memorial Day weekend, and that means auto racing is the main attraction, particularly on Sunday. Hooray! In chronological order...

Sun 8:00a - Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco, SPEED: So, this season, F1 invented something called the DRS system, where on one designated straightaway on each track, a car who is closely following another car can open his rear wing a little bit, as a sort of passing assist. It's been interesting to see how effective it is at each track this year. At Turkey and China, DRS was almost too effective - passing was very frequent and almost too easy. Last week in Spain, however, DRS didn't really help at all. Case in point: Fernando Alonso led the first several laps of the race, unchallenged; then after he gave up the lead during the first pit stops, he dropped like a rock and ended up finishing a lap down. If he was really that slow, then DRS surely should have helped someone pass him, right? Nope. Given how tight Monaco is, I'm expecting the same sort of thing this weekend. And, yeah, Sebastian Vettel will probably win again.

Sun 12:00p - Indianapolis 500, ABC: Even though I have watched some IndyCar racing this season, I always feel like I'm going into these Indy 500s sort of blind. Who are the favorites? No idea. Who am I rooting for? Oh, I don't know...how about the guy on the pole, Alex Tagliani? I mean, he is Canadian...

Sun 6:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600, FOX: One quick comment about the TV coverage. The ideal number of Waltrips to have in the broadcast booth is either zero or one; not two. Having both Darrell and Michael up there, like they did for last weekend's "All Star race", is...well, it's overkill. But hey, only two more weeks of FOX to go.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Attack of the Cicadas

We're not doing any road tripping this Memorial Day weekend. Instead, we're letting the in-laws do the road tripping for us; they're spending the weekend.

Speaking of pests... (Kidding! Kidding!)


These insects have been everywhere lately. This particular one is smooshed dead. (It's hard to get a picture of the live ones.) Even though they're harmless, it's still kind of creepy. And weird. And they're loud, too. I've noticed a strange constant whistling sound in the background around some of our neighborhood forests that I've never heard before; apparently, that's these guys. Call them the vuvuzelas of the forest, if you will.

These things are cicadas - not just any cicadas, but apparently ones that only appear every 13 years. That is, if the ones I've been seeing are in fact the "periodical" ones. Hmm.

So, yeah. Every 13 years. Enjoy them while you can, I guess.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beer

I always feel kind of weird talking about alcohol here. My extended family reads this, and alcohol is "sinful" (or something), right? have thought about tracking and publishing alcohol consumption as a stat before, but...I've also never thought that was a particularly good idea.

Hmm...perhaps I should clarify: that last statement does NOT imply that I drink a "shameful" amount of alcohol. I estimate between one and three drinks per week, on average. That might technically be "above average" for someone my age given that a lot of people don't drink at all, but certainly that's not a lot, right?
Well, regardless, I think my body is telling me that it's too much. The last few times I've had something to drink, even when it's just a couple of drinks, it has given me a MASSIVE headache. I don't mean a hangover after the fact, I mean during and immediately after the consumption itself. Which means that in the short term, beer now has the exact opposite effect that it's supposed to have. And that's why I'm giving it up, effective immediately.

"For good?" Not necessarily. But maybe.

"Doesn't this seem like overkill? You'd probably be fine just having one drink every once in a while." Perhaps. But in some social situations, it's hard to limit yourself to one. I almost feel like I'm better off not having the one.

"What about other forms of alcohol?" Nope. Not drinking those anymore either. I'm pretty sure it's the alcohol in the beer that's giving me the immediate massive headaches as opposed to, say, the Beechwood aging. Besides, I almost never drink alcoholic beverages besides beer to begin with.

"You could always drink non-alcoholic beer." Umm, no. Who does that?

"No, wait, hear me out here. The main reason you started drinking beer was the first place was so that you could appear to be sociable. Face it - you're a socially awkward nerd. You've always had trouble making friends and making conversation in certain social situations. Beer helped you fit in. Not just because it makes you talk more, but because you holding a beer in your hand makes you look less like a nerd and more like a regular person. Nobody has to know that's actually a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. I'll be our little secret." Except for the bartender. I don't think I can bring myself to go to up a bar and ask for an O'Doul's. No thanks. The shame would be even greater if they didn't have such a thing.

"Okay, how about this. Order an orange juice or fruity drink or something. There's nowhere near as much shame as ordering an orange juice as there is a non-alcoholic beer. And, it could just as easily look like a mixed drink. How about that?" Well...maybe. But then I would have a different problem: I've always steered away from "fruity" alcoholic drinks, mainly because they do not achieve the "make me look like a normal guy" goal like beer does. But I guess it's either juice, water, or soda at this point. Hmm. I have to figure it out soon, because I'll want some kind of free drink the next time I lose a curling match.

Well, let's look at the bright side. Beer and alcohol are among the most unhealthy things you can consume, right? Maybe I'll get to live an extra year or two by giving up beer now. A lot of people immediately drop a few pounds when they stop drinking. That won't happen to me - I'm pretty close to what I think is my minimum healthy weight - but it certainly can't hurt, right?

Thinking long term, I think what will probably happen is a year or two from now, I'll have a "trial drink" or two and see if I get the immediate headache. And if I don't, then...maybe I'll go back to appearing socially acceptable again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Superfluous Due Date


Over the past few weeks, Amber and I have been taking a sort of "birthing" class. I'll talk about that more once the class is over, but in the meantime, here's something interesting I have learned about this "due date" that the doctor has assigned us.

A typical "due date" is 40 weeks following the end of the last menstrual period. Our "due date", July 29th, is 40 weeks, right on the nose. I don't think the due date was based on any other factors, such as what the ultrasound may have suggested, or perhaps when actual conception took place. Then, I learn in this class that on average, the median gestation period for first-time mothers is actually 41 weeks, 1 day from the end of the last menstrual period. For us, that would suggest an August 6th birth.

So...the word "due" implies "no later than", right? If so, then July 29th seems like kind of an inappropriate "due date", since our baby's birth appears to be far, far more likely to occur after July 29th than before. Maybe this is like how our house payment is "due" on the 1st of the month, but it's not "late" until the 15th of the month. Does two weeks after a "due date" imply "late", then? If so, then that would make our "late date" August 12th. That actually makes sense, because 42 weeks is probably when our doctor(s) will start throwing around the I-word.

I guess what I'm saying is this: if you're taking bets on when our first child will be born, July 29th should not be your "over/under".

Monday, May 23, 2011

Bird Nest

We've had to deal with a few wasp nests during our brief time as home owners. This kind of nest is way better:


I'm not sure why they decided to build a nest here instead of, say, in a tree. Then again, this is a far more controlled environment.

Most days, when I drive up and park the car, I'll see a bird emerge and chirp its way full speed ahead out of the carport as fast as it can. Hey, where are you going? Wait up! It's kind of like when you turn on a light at night and cockroaches instantly scatter. I guess animals are naturally scared of us. (Then why did you build a nest in our carport in the first place, hmm?) So, I have no idea what kind of bird this is. I never see it for more than a second at a time.

I'm more than okay with this arrangement, as long as they don't poop on our cars from inside the carport.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sports Saturday: 5/21/11

Sure, the title says "Saturday", and the date signifies "tomorrow"...but whatever. In today's issue:

NHL - Are the [insert name of southern NHL team here] moving to Winnipeg? I'm kind of tired of these stories.
Golf - I watched the 4th round of last week's PLAYERS Championship - the whole thing - on DVR. By DVR standards, it took a while.
Auto racing - Kimi Raikkonnen fever!
Horse racing - Have two more minutes to spare?
MLB - The offensively-challenged Washington Nationals.
Plus, I have a confession to make about a sport that shall remain nameless (for now).

NHL - For months, if not years now, there have been rumors abound that one of several Southern hockey teams would move north to Canada, either to Winnipeg, or Hamilton, Ontario*. For a while, that "one" team was Phoenix; but thanks to the city of Glendale basically covering the team's losses this past season, that possibility came to pass (for now). Then, almost immediately, the focus shifted to the Atlanta Thrashers: OMG, the Thrashers are moving to Winnipeg! Well, maybe. Nothing is final yet. Of course not. I'm kind of sick of this drawn-out process, really. I would almost rather ignore the story completely until something is actually final. Yet, here I am talking about it, before anything has actually happened yet. I guess I'm part of the problem.

(* - Unlike with Winnipeg, I do not feel that Hamilton is well-known enough to justify listing only the city name, as opposed to city name plus province.)

Anyway, here's my opinion on Southern NHL teams vs. Canadian NHL teams. I'm in favor of both. I'm not sure whether I'd "rather" have a team in Atlanta or in Winnipeg. But Atlanta is a tough market as it is. The team has never been particularly successful - one playoff appearance ever, and they were swept in the first round - and that appears to be very important in terms of finding roots in the market. Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Dallas all have Stanley Cups; all have somewhat established fan bases. Also successful, but to a lesser extent, have been Florida (1996 Cup Finals) and Nashville (reached playoffs in 6 out of last 7 seasons) have had some success. The team has to be successful at some point to get long-term fans. That's just the way it is. It doesn't matter what sport or what market you're talking about; it just so happens that all of these new NHL teams are in the South. Atlanta is also tough because they're hardly the "only game in town". For Southern NHL expansion to work, you either need to have an occasionally successful team, and/or it needs to be the "only game in town" or close to it, kind of like how the NBA expanded to a bunch of cities with no other pro teams, such as Orlando, Salt Lake City, Portland, San Antonio, Memphis, and Oklahoma City. Hey, Gary Bettman - Las Vegas is still available!

Meanwhile, they're still playing hockey, and I'm still pulling for a Vancouver/Tampa Bay Stanley Cup Final. Which is the exact opposite of what NBC is hoping for, I'm sure. I think it'll be neat to see Tampa Bay and Vancouver on NBC this weekend, for once.

Fri 9:00p - Vancouver at San Jose (VAN 2-0), Versus
Sat 1:30p - Boston at Tampa Bay (BOS 2-1), NBC
Sun 3:00p - Vancouver at San Jose (Game 4), NBC

Golf - The PLAYERS Championship, which took place last weekend, is one of the five golf tournaments I watch each year (along with the four majors). Not so much because it's the so-called "fifth major", but because it's played in suburban Jacksonville at a course which with I am very familiar. (Golf is more interesting to watch when you know the course.) So, I recorded last Sunday's fourth round on my DVR, and watched pretty much the whole thing, from 2:00 PM (about when the leaders teed off) all the way through the tournament-deciding playoff. And, it took forever.

I'm a pretty impatient person, which is why I like using my DVR for sporting events. Timeout? Halftime? Intermission? Yellow flag? Not on my watch! I have better things to do. This means I have to pretty much turn off Twitter/Facebook for sometimes an entire weekend, but that's okay, because it also means I can watch sporting events in far less time than if I were to watch live. I can watch a typical college basketball game in 1:00, a hockey game in 1:15, a baseball game in 1:45, and a football game or NASCAR race in 2:00, all without missing much of anything.

Golf, on the other hand...it took me about 3:30 to get through the entire final round. One problem with golf is that it takes a long time to begin with: over five hours of elapsed time from when David Toms and K.J. Choi left the first tee, to when they completed their playoff. That's far longer than any of the other sporting events I listed above. And, it's hard to skip ahead in golf coverage without missing stuff. NBC likes to show lots of different players and shots during its coverage, rather than show the leader walking around for two minutes lining up his putt; I like that, but the problem is that if you fast forward even a little bit, you might miss someone's awesome birdie putt, or someone else's duck hook into the woods, with little to no warning. So, pretty much the only things you can fast-forward through during golf coverage without missing much are the commercials, those sappy "feel good stories" they occasionally throw in there (NBC loves those), and towards the end of the round when there are only two or three groups left on the course. Golf isn't very DVR-friendly; otherwise, I might watch more than five tournaments a year.

That said, the 3:30 I spent watching golf last Sunday was still time well spent. So much so that I never even got around to watching last Sunday's NASCAR race. Speaking of which...

Auto racing

Fri 8:00p - NASCAR Camping World Trucks at Charlotte, SPEED: In NASCAR, the thing I'm most interested in this weekend isn't the All-Star race (see next item). It's the NASCAR debut of former Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen, which happens tonight in the Truck series. Raikkonen is a pretty boring guy, and I never really cared for him one way or the other in F1, but...sooner or later, one of those F1 guys is going to come in here and dominate. That's what I think anyway. I'm not sure if Kimi is that guy, but it starts tonight. Apparently, he's been fast in testing, and he's certainly in good equipment (a Kyle Busch-prepared truck), but tonight I expect him to spin out at least once and finish two laps down in 23rd. (How's that for a super-specific prediction?)

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup "All-Star Race", SPEED: I don't actually know (or care enough to look up) what the official name for the All-Star race is. I went there three years ago (recap, pictures), and...it's okay. Track promoters have been trying to hype it up by being all like "Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are totally going to fight on Saturday, and if they do, we'll pay their fines!" Whatever. I don't expect anything interesting to happen. It's not like it was 20 years ago, when a huge paycheck would actually mean something to these guys.

Sun 8:00a - Formula One Spanish Grand Prix, SPEED: I've been waiting for a rain race, because rain makes F1 about five times more interesting. But we haven't gotten yet this season, and we aren't expected to get one on Sunday, either. Instead, Sebastian Vettel will probably start on pole and win the race, again.

Sun 2:00p - NASCAR Nationwide from Iowa, ABC: Not priority viewing. There's also Indy 500 qualifying this weekend, but...meh.

Horse racing - Since I'm all about efficiency with my sports viewing, the second leg of the "Triple Crown" is worth listing.

Sat 6:00p (ish) - Preakness Stakes, NBC

MLB - Here are some stats which should give you an idea what kind of team the Washington Nationals have this season: (This is as of this morning)
- Batting average: .223, 30th (out of 30 teams) in MLB. Yes, the offense stinks. Nobody stinks more than Adam LaRoche, who started the season batting cleanup, and is currently batting .172 (!).
- Pitching ERA: 3.59, 12th in MLB. The pitching hasn't actually been all that bad, and the bullpen has been great. Closer Drew Storen has allowed exactly one earned run in 23 2/3 innings, and is 9-for-9 in save opportunities.
So...if you like low-scoring games that are likely to be over in less than three hours, the Nationals are your team. Go Nats!

Fri 7:00p - Washington at Baltimore, MASN
Fri 7:00p - NY Mets at NY Yankees, MLB Network
Fri 7:00p - Chicago Cubs at Boston, WGN America
Sat 2:00p - LA Dodgers at Chicago White Sox, MLB Network
Sat 4:00p - Washington at Baltimore, MASN
Sat 7:00p - NY Mets at NY Yankees, FOX (regional)
Sat 10:00p - Atlanta at LA Angels, MLB Network
Sun 1:00p - NY Mets at NY Yankees, TBS
Sun 1:30p - Washington at Baltimore, MASN
Sun 2:00p - LA Dodgers at Chicago White Sox, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - Chicago Cubs at Boston, ESPN

Finally, I have a confession to make, I've actually watched a couple of NBA games over the last two weeks. (Gasp!) I don't like the NBA, but this time of year, I normally feel as though it's worth a shot, especially now given the league's steadily increasing TV ratings. Like college basketball, NBA games must be DVR'd for me to enjoy them. There is far too much dead time in the NBA, much more so than in college. And, in fact, the games weren't terrible. It was just something to watch on a night with no hockey. But college basketball is still far, far better.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Collect Calls

Those of you who watched a lot of television in the 1990s - I think that's the correct time frame - may remember lots of interesting (or annoying, depending on your perspective) commercials for 1-800-COLLECT and 1-800-CALL-ATT. Same goes for long distance phone services such as 10-10-321 and 10-10-220. Do a YouTube search for any of those if you want to be nostalgic.

Just dial 10-10-321, then 1, then the number.
All calls up to 20 minutes are just 99 cents! And 7 cents a minute after that!
I pity the fool who don't use 1-800-COLLECT!

Whatever happened to all those? Well, apparently they still exist, although which much higher rates than they used to have. For example, the price of a 20 minute call with 10-10-220 is more than triple what it used to be: $1.20 for the first 10 minutes, and 20 cents a minute after that. Of course, most people don't need to make collect calls or dial a quirky number to make long distance calls anymore, thanks to cell phones. Cell phones have rendered both the 1-800-COLLECT and 10-10-321 types obsolete, at least for those who have cell phones.

When was the last time you made or received a collect call? It's probably been 10 years for me.

Did any of you ever use 10-10-321 or 10-10-220? I did not. ALF or no ALF, I guess the advertising wasn't that catchy after all. Then again, I don't think adolescents were the target market for these kinds of services.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Meatballs

Yep, it's going to be one of those kinds of weeks. I'm blogging about meatballs.

A lot of people do "spaghetti and meatballs". Us? Nope. We simply do "spaghetti" with no meat included. Some of you may think that's crazy.

But here's what I don't like about "spaghetti and meatballs", or meatballs in general. It's not the meat itself. The meat is fine. It's the dimensions. The balls are too big. When combined with spaghetti, which is small and skinny, meatballs are completely out of place if you ask me. As someone who prefers a certain amount of homogeneity in his food, that is a serious issue. And, it drastically effects how you eat it. Does your forkful consist of only spaghetti, or did you happen to grab a giant meatball? This is important, because it affects how wide you need to open your mouth, and how much you have to chew. It's a lot of work. Eating isn't supposed to be hard work.

Even though the popular "submarine sandwich" is big enough to support a giant meatball or five, I don't even like meatballs on my subs. One bite may get lots of meat, while the next bite gets practically no meat. I'd rather the meat be thin-sliced or layered, giving you a consistent amount of meat throughout your sub-eating experience, so that you know what you're getting with each and every bite and can apply the appropriate amount of jaw force each time.

There is hope for meatballs, though. I tried a meatball Lean Pocket (TM) recently, and I liked it. Why? Because the design of the Lean Pocket (TM) limits the size of the meatball. There are no meatballs in there. Only pea-sized meatball-flavored meat chunks, which are somewhat evenly distributed throughout the volume of the Lean Pocket (TM). Now that, I can do.

"But Chris! You can still put meat in your spaghetti, you know. It doesn't have to be meatballs. Just cook up some ground beef, mix it in real good, and you have a fairly homogeneous meat/spaghetti mixture. I don't know how you get by on plain spaghetti. Gross." I have put beef in my spaghetti before, in fact. The main reason I don't do it anymore? It has nothing to do with not liking it. I'm just lazy, and I don't feel it improves the product enough to make it worthwhile. (It also greatly affects the nutritional content of the product, of course.)

As far as "how I get by on plain spaghetti", that's simple: lots and lots of parmesan cheese.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Jamestown(e)

Sixteen years ago, I went on a 7th grade school trip to Virginia. We toured the state's various historical sites, including Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. On Saturday, I went back to Jamestown for the first time since then.

Now...often times when I revisit a place, even if it's been more than 10 years, I'll at least recognize something. Something will look even the least bit familiar. But with Jamestown, absolutely nothing looked familiar. It was as if I had never been in the first place. For someone who likes variety in his vacation destinations, that's certainly not a bad thing. But for someone who has an uncanny ability to remember even the smallest details of his past road trips, it's a little strange that it seemed that way. I have a few plausible explanations for that, though. For one, I was pretty miserable in 7th grade, so I didn't really give a crap about anything, including Jamestown. I wouldn't call it a "memorable trip", except for when I threw up while waiting for the hotel elevator. (True story! And I didn't just puke a little bit. It went ALL OVER THE PLACE. Actually, I do have a few other interesting memories from that trip, mostly bad, but I'll save those for another day. Maybe.)

Getting back on topic here, there are actually two separate Jamestown attractions, located more or less adjacent to each other. One is the National Park Service's "Historic Jamestowne"; the other is run by the state commonwealth and is called "Jamestown Settlement". I have a feeling that in 7th grade, we went to the more-touristy (and, I assume, more expensive) "Settlement" rather than the "Historic Jamestowne", much of which is actually fairly new. For example, "Historic Jamestowne" includes something called an "archaearium" (which one of the employees admitted was a made-up word) that I think opened within the last few years, and includes some unearthed artifacts and even skeletal remains (if you're into that sort of thing) from the original 17th century settlement, much of which was also only recently discovered. So, a lot of this stuff wasn't around sixteen years ago. The only thing that I maybe, possibly, remember from 1995 is the "Glass House" (which is a house where they make glass, rather than a house made of glass). I remember watching a glassblowing demonstration at some juncture on that 7th grade trip. Maybe it was here? I always thought it was somewhere near Charlottesville.

As luck would have it, Saturday was May 14th, also known as "Jamestown Day": the anniversary of the day when "James Fort" was settled in 1607. So, they had some extra stuff going on that they perhaps wouldn't have otherwise, including a very brief 17th century music show (which was surprisingly interesting) and the obligatory "let's load and shoot some really old guns" demonstration. The "musket" demonstration seems like the kind of thing they would have every Saturday at a place like Jamestown, but apparently not. Maybe you need to go to the "Jamestown Settlement" half of Jamestown Island on every other Saturday for that.

I didn't take many pictures, and Amber didn't even bring her camera, so here's the only picture we have:


This is at the end of a short nature trail on Jamestown Island. There's lots of water around here, and Jamestown Island (which isn't technically an island anymore since it's connected via land bridge to the "mainland") is basically a swamp. In hindsight, perhaps it wasn't the best place to found a town. (Disease and starvation killed off the majority of the first settlers.) The location was chosen more for strategical reasons than for practicality, and it's not like they knew any better. Do they have mosquito-infested swamps in England?

Jamestown advertises itself as "The First Permanent English Settlement in North America" (or something - I forget the actual wording). As a native of Northeast Florida, I have to point this out: Saint Augustine (which was, of course, not English) was first! Or were they? Even Saint Augustine has to qualify itself as "the oldest continuously-inhabited, European-established settlement in the continental United States". Take out any of the underlined qualifiers, and not even Saint Augustine was "first first". So, can any of these guys claim to be truly "first"? Nope. Here's my question about Jamestown, though. Is it really "permanent" at all? Today, Jamestown is a historical site rather than an actual town, so does it still technically exist as a settlement?

In either case, there is a far greater focus on history and preservation in Jamestown than in Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine is pretty much a tourist town with little-to-no National Park Service presence (aside from Castillo de San Marcos). It's hard to compare Jamestown and Saint Augustine, really. You go there for different reasons.

Something else I thought was interesting. Over the years, the "politically correct" way to refer to the original inhabitants of North America has become "Native Americans". However, at Historic Jamestowne, the Natives are referred to as "Virginia Indians". The term "Indian" makes them sound like the enemy; given the battles that the English settlers often fought with the "Virginia Indians", maybe that's the point? Human history is kind of depressing sometimes.

We had thought about going to Williamsburg and/or Yorktown that day, too, but we ran out of time. Turns out there's a lot to do here. Based on the license plate selection in the parking lot, which included many from far-away states such as Kansas and Minnesota, it looks like the "Historic Triangle" is a major vacation destination for many. At least, for people from the North. There were surprisingly few Southern license plates representated in the parking lot (aside from Virginia and nearby North Carolina). Ohio and Pennsylvania? Lots. South Carolina and Georgia? Not so much. Maybe most Southerners would rather go to the various Civil War sites instead.

County Counting in Southeast Virginia

My quest to visit as many counties as I can certainly won't get any easier once we have a kid. So as soon as I get anywhere near a county that I have yet to visit, I feel an obligation to go there. Hence the following rather indirect route to and from Jamestown (point C) on Saturday.


View Larger Map

New County #1 was Surry County (point B), home of the small town of Wakefield. Being a weather geek, Wakefield is most notable to me as the rather interesting location of a National Weather Service Forecast Office. Maybe it went something like this:
- Person #1: "I want the NWS office in Richmond!"
- Person #2: "I want the NWS office in Norfolk!"
- Arbitrator: "If you can't come to an agreement, then we'll have no choice but to put it halfway between your two cities. Maybe we'll stick it in Wakefield. Surely, you don't want to go to Wakefield, do you?"
I have no idea how it went down, but its central location does make it a good place for a Doppler Radar.

I was reading the Wikipedia article on Wakefield, where I read - among other things - that "Wakefield is the location of the famous Virginia Diner". Is the Virginia Diner actually "famous", or was that added to the Wikipedia article by the owners of the Virginia Diner, hoping that out-of-towners such as me wouldn't know the difference, and would plan to stop at the Virginia Diner because the Wikipedia article said it was "famous"? We'll never know. For the record, we did not stop at the Virginia Diner. The parking lot made it look popular, but I now know better than to judge the popularity of a restaurant based on the parking lot alone.


To get from Surry County to Jamestown, you take a free - and therefore, very popular - ferry.


After Jamestown (which I'll cover in my next post), we looked at a map. We could go west and get Charles City County...or, we could go east and get as many as three new counties. Let's do that!

The only way to get New County #2 - the City of Poquoson, point D on the map - is to specifically go there. It's not on the way to anything. So, we had to take this opportunity, right? We didn't see much of Poquoson, but based on what we did see, it appears to be the "upscale" part of the Hampton Roads area.

The same cannot be said for New County #3, the City of Portsmouth (point E). But we didn't see much of Portsmouth, either. Crossing the county line and immediately turning around isn't my favorite way to visit all of these counties, but we wanted to get home at a reasonable time. Isle of Wight County (point F) was the fourth and final new county of the day, increasing my Virginia total to 112 out of 134. We'll get Charles City County some other time.

(Fun fact: there are now only three counties within 200 miles of home that I haven't been to yet. This is getting harder and harder...)

I don't particularly enjoy driving around the Hampton Roads area, as I've blogged about before. The good news is that I've now visited all Hampton Roads "counties", so I don't have to go back, at least for that purpose. The bad news, however, is that there is still a stretch of I-64 that I haven't "clinched" yet, including the often jammed Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. The "interstates driven" deal isn't as high a priority as "county visitation", so, whatever.

So...that was fun. Congested roads or not, it's always fun to go to "unfamiliar" places, for at least a little while. And it might be some time before the next road trip; we may not leave the state again between now and baby time. Or, we might. It seems like I've said that every time we've left the state over the last four months; yet, we always manage to fit in another road trip.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mini-Vacations

(This was supposed to go up yesterday, but Blogger was having major technical problems that apparently still haven't been 100% resolved yet, given that Wednesday's blog post is still missing.)

"Mini-vacations" seem to be our style lately. In March, we did a one-night, two-day road trip to Charleston. This weekend, we're doing a one-night, two-day road trip to see family in backwoods Virginia. I think this is our trend as of late: we don't feel like pulling 15-hour day trips anymore, nor do we feel like spending and entire weekend away from home. (At least, we haven't lately.) Current gas prices also make a long weekend trip - say, to Arkansas and back - less attractive. (I mean, who wouldn't want to go to Arkansas? It is, after all, the state I have visited least recently among all 50 states. Not since 1993.)

Now...useless stats! Tonight will be my 10th night away from home this year. It might be our last for a while: we don't have any more overnight trips planned between now and baby time. Definitely not the rest of this month after this weekend, and definitely not in the last four weeks before the baby due date (July 1 onward). As for June...hey, you never know. I'm surprised I've made it this long (six weeks) before I felt like leaving the state again. ("Consecutive days without leaving North Carolina" isn't a stat I keep track of; perhaps I should?)

As far as other stats I may accumulate this weekend, I'm looking at my car's 64,000th mile (I'm currently at just over 63,600), and three counties in Southeastern Virginia that I haven't visited yet: Charles City, Isle of Wight, and Surry. Among the counties I haven't visited yet, those three are the closest to home; they've kind of been a sore spot for a while. If we go straight to and from my aunt and uncle's house this weekend, both of those stats will have to wait. But how often do we go "straight to and from" anywhere? That's not our style.

During most of the trip, I plan on pretty much ignoring my phone and trying to escape most of the technology I find myself attached to most of the time (except for the GPS). Technology is great and all, but...it's good to get away from it every once in a while. (After all, there aren't many better places to escape technology than Nottoway County, Virginia.) In other words, this is the last you'll hear from me for a few days. Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wedding Live-Tweet Self-Criticism

Something occurred to me after last Saturday's wedding live-tweeting. (The tweets are all still there, dated May 7.) I am occasionally too critical. And someone's wedding - which (hopefully) will be regarded as one of the best days of their lives - is no time to be critical of anything. Shame on me.

I try to strike a balance on this here blog. I think cynical commentary regarding how lame our world is can be fairly entertaining. But I do try to stay mostly positive, because I live a pretty good life; I just don't want to go so far as to be constantly blowing sunshine up your ass, so to speak. So if something deserves to be called out, even at a wedding, it's hard for me to stop myself. I felt that having cupcakes at your wedding instead of an actual wedding cake qualified as something that was, well, lame. (Wedding cake is perhaps the thing I look forward to the most when I go to a wedding. Perhaps I should adjust my expectations.) But I didn't "tweet" anything about the main course, which featured pulled pork and plain grilled chicken (without any fancy extra junk on it - just how I like it!), both of which were excellent. In the interest of "striking a balance", perhaps I should have.

Now...about those "expectations". We had our chance to have things our way, and in September 2008, we did. A short, yet still Christian, wedding ceremony. A wedding reception in the middle of the woods. Macaroni and cheese, Canadian beer, and (yeah, I have to mention it) the best cake ever. No popular music from the past 10 years. That was our "perfect wedding", and we were lucky enough to experience it. Just because some of our friends have a different version of what a "perfect wedding" may be doesn't give me the right to attach #fail to one aspect of it. If they wanted cupcakes instead of actual cake, then that's not a #fail at all. Maybe they don't like traditional wedding cake. So, I apologize. Fact is, we had a great time on Saturday, cake or no cake.

As for the rest of you, I promise I won't be overly critical of your future wedding. In other words, please still consider inviting us! If you were going to invite us to begin with, that is.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

East Coast Greenway Alliance


My official stance on charity bike rides is that one or two per year is enough for me. Last Saturday was probably the only organized ride I'll be doing this year, and that's okay.

The "charity" of choice this time around was the East Coast Greenway Alliance, whose goal is to build (or at least advocate) an uninterrupted bike path from Maine to Florida. The East Coast Greenway is currently between 19% and 25% complete, depending on which part of the ECGA website you're looking at. The Alliance just moved its national headquarters to Durham, and commemorated that fact by hosting Saturday's bike ride.

I think the idea itself is pretty awesome, even if it is fairly unrealistic because of the politics involved. Most of the completed sections, including the frequently-ridden American Tobacco Trail close to home (and, as it turns out, the bike path alongside this bridge in Charleston, SC that I commented on a few weeks back) are in cities. That's not surprising. There is an obvious need (or at least demand for) bike paths in cities. But who's going to fill in those rural sections, anyway? If you build a bike path from, say, Durham to the Virginia border - a mostly rural, poor section of the state - will the state (or whoever builds it) get its money's worth? Will anyone use it? And will it ever get built in the first place? If the ECGA has their way, then yes, but...well, let's take this one step at a time. It'd be nice if this thing ever does get built from end to end (or even close), because while I don't have the time or the patience to hike the Appalachian Trail from end-to-end, I could theoretically ride the East Coast Greenway from end-to-end. If I trained for it, and got a really fancy bike, I could do it in two to three weeks. In theory. … On second thought, this would probably just be one of those aspirations that's fun to think about, but that I would never actually do. Kind of like visiting the highest point of every state east of the Mississippi River.

(Note: I put the word "charity" in quotes because the ECGA is a charity in the same sense that the Triangle Curling Club is a charity. Non-profit? Absolutely. Technically a charity? Of course. Are your donations tax-deductible? You betcha. Related to a "buzz" cause such as children or breast cancer awareness, which is what most people think of when they hear the word "charity"? No.)

So...the ride itself. This wasn't a huge event like the last charity ride I did; I'd estimate between 100 and 150 bicyclists took part. This was much more low-key, and asking donation price reflected that. (Most charity rides ask for $30 or more. This ride was only $5. I can't deny that's one reason I chose this particular ride, even if it meant no police support and no chocolate chip cookies at the rest stops.)


The ECGA even had a guest speaker: our local U.S. Congressman, David Price! Being a politician in front of a crowd of avid bicyclists, Rep. Price talked about how pro-bicycling he is, which should have surprised no one. (In a more general sense, he talked about "multimodal transport".) Yes, that blurry guy with the gray hair is him.


The route was 28 miles long, over half of which incorporated (surprise!) greenways. One reason I do these rides: it helps me discover new bike routes that I had never thought of before or didn't know existed. I was already familiar with 90% of the greenway portion of the ride (and maybe 75% of the full route), but being a certified "Bicycle Friendly Community", there are plenty of good bike routes out there that I haven't discovered yet. (Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Cary also have the "Bicycle Friendly" designation. Cities that do not have the "Bicycle Friendly" designation include Jacksonville (Fla.), State College, and Toledo.) This isn't a bad place to be for bicycling. If it was, I'd probably have found another hobby by now. Or, I'd just be about 15 pounds heavier.

(Additional reading on Saturday's ECGA ride: Get Going NC)

Monday, May 09, 2011

Co-ed Kickball Season 3: End of Season Report

I think the best way to chronicle the end of the kickball season is to dive head-first into the stats. Yay stats!

Team wins/losses: In the eyes of the Town of Knightdale, our record this season was 4-7 (including 1-1 in the playoffs). Two of those wins were by forfeit, due to the other team not having enough players. So, in real, actual games, our record was 2-7. We also lost four straight games to end the season (excluding forfeits). We're definitely a "first half of the season" team, because early on, the other teams (which are all more talented than us, of course) haven't quite figured it out yet.

Officially, we finished in 3rd place out of four teams, in both the regular season and playoffs. (In all three seasons I've participated in, we've finished next-to-last.) Surely, the forfeits helped; we may not be all that talented, but at least we're dedicated enough to show up for the 3rd place game! Still, though, I was hoping for more than two non-forfeit wins, which would have been a first for us. We fielded our best team yet this season, and my batting/pitching stats support that (see below). But the other three teams were all pretty good, too. Well, at least when they all bothered to show up.

Now, about those forfeits. On both nights in which we won by forfeit, we played a "scrimmage" game instead. But those games were not officiated as if they were regular games (if at all), so I couldn't count them in my batting and pitching stats. To be blunt, those "scrimmage" games were pretty much a waste of time, considering that we were already playing two or three games a week as it is. Memo to the Town of Knightdale: what's your hurry with this, anyway? A schedule with two games per week for five weeks isn't working out. There are too many forfeits, and overall partcipation has been steadily declining. Why not have one game per week for eight to ten weeks? That way, people who have short attention spans (like me) and/or busy lives (not so much like me) are less likely to get "burned out" and just not show up on any given night. Once a week for a couple of months would be perfect.

Offense: This season, I posted career highs in every offensive statistic except for runs scored:
BATTING, Season 1: 28 H in 41 AB (.683), 2 RBI, 10 R
BATTING, Season 2: 26 H in 39 AB (.667), 1 RBI, 7 R, 1 2B
BATTING, Season 3: 35 H in 46 AB (.761), 4 RBI, 9 R, 3 2B, 1 BB

What changed? Lots of things. Sure, my offensive strategy is still the same as it always was: bunt. But I'm more consistent than I used to be. This season, I also got more at-bats and RBIs than ever before thanks to improved offense from the rest of the team. We even scored 10 runs in one game, and came within one run of winning via mercy rule! Winning a game by mercy rule would have truly been remarkable.

Now I'm going to talk about the end of that stat line, the three doubles and the walk. At this point in my kickball career, I have a pretty distinct scouting report. I'm the guy who "bunts all the time". So, the defense adjusts accordingly. Some pitchers pitched to the corners of the strike zone to make it harder on me; if they end up walking me (which happened once), that's fine, because I was probably going to reach first base anyway, right? Might as well try. Other teams would shift their entire defense, sometimes having their best fielders completely change positions, when I came to the plate. Sometimes, it worked, and they got me out. Other times, their drastic defensive shift would leave a gaping hole in their defense behind 3rd base, which I twice exploited for a double. If the defense is going to sell out to defend the bunt, then it's good to do something different every once in a while (but not all the time). And when you succeed, it's very, very gratifying, especially when some people on the other team get visibility angry at my tactics*. Yeah! I take pride in having perhaps the most distinctive scouting report in all of Knightdale kickball. It means I'm doing something right.

(* - There isn't a whole lot of sportsmanship in kickball. If they're going to yell "Got it!" to try to distract us when we're trying to make a catch, then I'm going to do my part, too - for example, subtly knocking the ball away from the fielders upon getting thrown out so that our other baserunners can advance an extra base or two. It'd be nice if the sportsmanship culture in kickball was similar to, say, curling...but that's not how it is, so I have to adjust my tactics accordingly, even if I don't like it.)

Defense and pitching: None of these stats include the forfeited games, including the wins. I think I've counted a "win by forfeit" as a win in the pitching stats before, but I felt awfully cheap doing it this time around, so I didn't. I'll be honest, though: if the wins by forfeit were our only wins of the season, then I would have counted them.

PITCHING, Season 1: 9 starts, 2-7 record, 9.18 ERA (68 ER in 66.2 IP), 15 K, 2 BB (2 IBB)
PITCHING, Season 2: 10 starts, 2-8 record, 8.10 ERA (66 ER in 73.1 IP), 12 K, 6 BB (5 IBB)
PITCHING, Season 3: 9 starts, 2-7 record, 6.51 ERA (54 ER in 74.2 IP), 3 K, 1 BB (1 IBB)

How about that steady defensive improvement? I'm going to stick with my line that the decrease in ERA is due to improved defense rather than improved pitching.

I don't know if my pitching is any better now than in Season 1, but it has evolved over the three seasons, and I definitely have more "pitches" I can throw. In Season 1, I'd throw the same spin and aim for the same corner of the strike zone every time. Then, I'd have two distinct pitches, with opposite spin and aiming for the opposite corners of the strike zone. Now I have a "backdoor" pitch that starts outside and then breaks back into the strike zone. And, every now and then, I'll throw a sort of "eephus pitch" right down the middle, which can be surprisingly effective when used in the right situations. (When used in the wrong situations, or against the wrong batter, it can backfire.)

One apparent side effect of my "evolving" pitching is that it results in fewer strikeouts. This time, I only had three strikeouts all season long. But I'll gladly trade the strikeouts for a lower ERA. (More aggressive batting by the opposition is another factor, possibly a bigger factor, in the lower strikeout total.)

Next season?: Co-ed kickball faces a kind of uncertain future. The Knightdale league may or may not be back next season. If not, we'll probably just move to another league in the Fall. Wherever we go, I'll be there, right? Well...I don't know what life with an infant will be like, so it's far too early to commit to anything from August onward, whether it's kickball or anything else. We have plenty of time.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sports Saturday: 5/7/11

I'm going to keep it short, because like I said yesterday, today is "the busiest day ever".

NHL - I am thrilled that the Washington Capitals - whom I am not a fan of - were not just eliminated, but swept, by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Woo! I only wish I had time to watch more of the series while it lasted. Watching the Capitals' annual playoff collapse hasn't gotten old, yet. I don't actually view this result to be as much of an upset as some think, because Tampa Bay actually led the division for a lot of the year. They're a solid team. They didn't just limp into the playoffs, you know. They're a threat to win another Stanley Cup. (This is my attempt to balance out the multitude of "Capitals choke again" stories with a "You know, the Lightning are pretty good in their own right" note.)

But while that result was ultimately very satisfying, the Second Round - following an immensely entertaining First Round - hasn't been quite as exciting overall. At this point, we have two sweeps, and two 3-1 series which could both end this weekend if the home team wins the next one. You never know what's going to happen with those 3-1 series (especially with the Canucks, eh?), but still. If the home teams win both games this weekend, then how long of a gap will we have until the Conference Finals start? Three days? Five days? A week?

Vancouver is still my #1 preference to win the Stanley Cup, even ahead of Tampa. It's time Canada wins one.

Sat 8:00p - Nashville at Vancouver (VAN 3-1), Versus
Sun 8:00p - Detroit at San Jose (SJ 3-1), Versus (Poor NBC. Now it doesn't get to show any games this weekend.)

Horse racing - The Kentucky Derby lasts, what, two minutes? If you have a DVR, then you might as well, right? Even if you don't really like or follow horse racing. I couldn't name a single horse in the race, but I can still spare 5-10 minutes to watch.

Sat 6:00p or so: Kentucky Derby, NBC

Auto racing - I would like to go see a NASCAR race at Darlington some day, but something always comes up. I guess I could have gone down to see the Nationwide Series race last night, but do I really want to drive two hours just to see Kyle Busch win? Not really.

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Darlington, FOX
Sun 8:00a - Formula One Turkish Grand Prix, SPEED

MLB - I have been able to catch a little bit of Washington Nationals baseball this week, but I still don't have anything interesting to say about them. (See, I told you I was going to keep it short.)

Sat 1:00p - Minnesota at Boston, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - Washington at Florida, MASN
Sat 8:00p - NY Yankees at Texas, MLB Network (regional? not sure on this one)
Sat 9:00p - Chicago White Sox at Seattle, WGN America
Sun 1:00p - Washington at Florida, MASN2
Sun 1:30p - Tampa Bay at Baltimore, MASN
Sun 2:00p - NY Yankees at Texas, TBS
Sun 2:00p - Cincinnati at Chicago Cubs, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - Atlanta at Philadelphia, ESPN

Friday, May 06, 2011

Wedding Live-Tweet Coming Saturday Night

Saturday is, officially, the busiest day ever. There are countless events going on tomorrow, and we've received several invitations to do things tomorrow on top of that. I suppose that's a good problem to have, but...still. (Disclaimer: the words "officially" and "countless" are exaggerations.) One of those invitations - one in which we actually are taking - is to a wedding.

I've "live-tweeted" weddings a couple of times, providing real time updates and pictures throughout the ceremony and reception. These "live-tweets" were found particularly useful by friends who would have liked to attend those weddings, but couldn't. As far as Saturday's wedding goes, to my knowledge, only a very small number of you know the bride (one of Amber's co-workers, Jennifer), and exactly zero of you know the groom (except through the afore-mentioned bride). Furthermore, I believe that "very small number" will be there at the wedding anyway. So, in this case, the only audience a wedding "live-tweet" serves would be those of you who would like to see a random wedding.

That said, I'm still going to do it. Because, well, why not? So, you can look forward to that starting at around 5 or 6 PM Saturday night, right here. Here's some background information about this particular wedding.

I think the wedding starts at 6 PM. (UPDATE: 5:45.) I think that's the latest start of all the weddings I've been to. However, the wedding and reception are on the same site, so there's no need for a long lag time between ceremony and dinner.

The wedding ceremony is not in a church; instead, it's outside at a country club of some kind. The last non-church wedding ceremony I attended was very, very short. It was even shorter than our wedding ceremony, which at around 20 minutes might have set a record for "shortest Christian wedding ceremony ever". Will this one be short, too? Maybe it depends on how large their wedding budget was.

This is a very popular time of year to get married. Last year, we also attended a wedding on the first Saturday in May. The year before that, we attended a wedding on the second Saturday in May. Anyone getting married in May 2012?

Finally, unlike every other wedding I've ever been to (I don't think that's an exaggeration), this is an in-town, local wedding. Yes, we do like our road trips, but it'll be nice to go home immediately afterwards for a change.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

"The Office", post-Carell

I wouldn't go as far as to say that "The Office" is one of my favorite television shows. Among sitcoms, it currently isn't as good as "The Big Bang Theory" or "Modern Family". But it has been entertaining enough over the last few years to stay in our DVR lineup, and that's saying something, because we hold a pretty high standard.

The #1 star of "The Office", Steve Carell, left the show last week. So now what? Is the show doomed? I can't predict these things, but I do know he'll be hard to replace. His Michael Scott character was annoying at times, sure, but it's hard to imagine this show without him. In theory, they could promote someone who's already on the show to "manager", but here's the thing: everyone else on the show is strictly a "role player". I don't envision anyone else in the cast filling the Michael Scott role, including Rainn Wilson (Dwight Schrute). It wouldn't work, unless you completely redefine one of the characters, which would be a bad idea at this point.

Perhaps that's why they brought Will Ferrell in? Well...maybe. Things might change now that Carell's shadow is gone, but so far, the Ferrell character has been more "incompetent" then "wacky". I want more "wacky" from Ferrell. Then again, from what I've read, Ferrell was only brought in on a temporary basis and to boost ratings towards the end of the season. So, it doesn't really matter. In fact, tonight might even be Ferrell's last episode. (I'm not sure on that. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I haven't done too much snooping around on the internet. I was just trying to find out whether or not Ferrell was a permanent replacement for Carell. Given the movies Ferrell has found himself in recently, a move to network TV may not be such a bad idea...)

Once Ferrell's apparently partial-season contract as a "Special Guest Star" (that's what the credits identify him as) runs out, then where does the show go? I have no idea. This is the 7th season of the show, and it's been renewed for an 8th. That's a pretty good run for a sitcom, so surely there's no shame in pulling the plug after next season. Then again, NBC is pretty desperate for hit shows, so they're likely to hold onto "The Office" for longer than they should. But just like with "The Simpsons", that doesn't mean I have to keep watching until the bitter end, of course. (While I thought last season was pretty good, I have not been impressed with this season's "Simpsons" episodes, and removed it from the DVR lineup a few weeks ago.)

Long term, if they bring in somebody new and refreshing to fill the "manager" role, then it might actually give "The Office" a breath of fresh air that could actually make the show better and extend its shelf life. By "new and refreshing", I don't mean "another Michael Scott"; I mean, someone different, with his (or her) own entertaining, but different, personality. Such a personality is very difficult to find, though. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Canadian Politics

I only kind of, sort of, followed Monday's Canadian national elections. As much as I like to pretend that I do, I don't really know what's going on up there. So, I'm going to try to talk about this as mathematically as possible, without getting actual politics (or personal preferences) get in the way.

Here in the United States, we basically have a two-party system. Sure, some third parties do occasionally appear on your ballot sheets. But with all due respect to members of parties such as the Libertarian Party...let's be honest. They don't count. (<-- That's two days in a row with a link to a Simpsons clip. I'm on a roll!)

In Canada, however...you have a few more options. "Conservative" and "Liberal", sure. But you also have the "New Democrats" and, if you live in Québec, the "Bloc Québécois". Woo! (There's also the "Green Party", but...whatever.) Sounds great, right? Is choice not good? Well...maybe not. At least, not if you don't support the Conservative Party.

Because you see...here's what happens when you have one right-wing political party and what are effectively three left-wing political parties (four if you count the "Green Party") in a political system such as Canada's: the right-wing party wins!

Quick primer on the Canadian political system for those who don't know anything about it. (This is where my American ignorance kicks in. I'll do my best, hopefully without making any real Canadians roll their eyes at my said ignorance.) Canadian politics are generally controlled by the "House of Commons", which is like the U.S. House of Representatives. Each of 308 districts throughout Canada (called "ridings") vote one local representative to the House of Commons. When elections are finished, two things happen. 1) Whichever party wins the most seats, that party's leader becomes the Prime Minister. 2) If the leading party wins more than 50% of the seats, you get a "Majority Government", in which the party in power can actually do what it wants. If the leading party controls less than 50% of the seats of the house, then you get a "Minority Government", in which there's a lot of arguing, and which is usually dissolved within a year or two, prompting new elections at a seemingly random time - for example, the first Monday in May, even though the previous set of elections was on the second Tuesday in October. What a fun system!

Or...is it? If you thought it was a travesty that George W. Bush won the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election despite losing the popular vote to Al Gore, then try this on for size. Here's the mathematical fallacy behind the Canadian system. Conservatives won 39.6% of the popular vote nationally - not a majority, not even close. But they won 54.2% of the seats in the House, which is a majority - and thus, Canadians get a "Majority Government". How did it happen that way? Because of all of those dueling left-wing parties. Let's look at the Winnipeg South Centre riding as an example. The Conservative candidate won the riding with 38.8%, compared to 37.0% for the Liberal and 19.9% for the New Democrat. But what if those who identify as "left-wing" only had one choice instead of two? Then that one candidate (either the LIB or the NDP) would have won the riding, right? The Scarborough Centre riding is another good example.

Of course, my argument assumes that all those people who voted LIB or NDP in that riding would prefer "the other left-wing guy" over the Conservative; that's a key assumption in all of this. I realize I'm oversimplifying things by saying the Liberals and New Democrats are basically just a couple of "left-wing" parties. Surely, they have some key differences - I have no idea what, but there must a reason why they are two separate parties, right? - but from a mathematical sense, it's just easier to call them both "left-wing".

Anyway, my point is this. If there were only one left-wing party instead of many, and you assume all (or most) left-wing voters would prefer "the other left-wing candidate" over the Conservative, would the Conservatives have won the overall election? I'm not going to look through the results of all 308 ridings to find out, but my guess is, no.

What if you had runoff elections to settle all of those "no majority candidate" ridings? This would, in theory, take away a few of the Conservatives' seats. But they still might end up with the most seats in the House, with the remaining seats split among the various left-wing parties. Conservative leader Stephen Harper would still be the Prime Minister. It just might be a "Minority Government" instead of a "Majority Government". So, that would only be a partial fix.

Either way...the important point is this. From a mathematical perspective, does the current state of the Canadian House of Commons accurately represent the will of the people? That's questionable, and since that is the main objective of an election, I think the Canadian electoral system needs some tweaking.

Based on that argument, the two-party system we enjoy down here must be superior, right? Well...not really. Here's what happens in the United States. Republicans and Democrats vote for their own in primaries. And, you can usually expect them to vote for the "most Republican" or the "most Democratic" candidate in those primaries. Get a bunch of Democrats together, and they certainly aren't going to vote for the Democrat who least embodies Democratic principles (i.e. a moderate), right? It only makes sense. This of course means that "moderates" usually aren't making it to the general election. And since it's a two-party system, we have no other options. We're stuck with the same two choices every time: dark red, or dark blue.

It's been proven before: there is no such thing as a perfect electoral system. But there has to be a way to have both "accurate representation of the will of the people" and "ample choice at the ballot box" in one system, right? Why haven't we figured this out yet? ... Oh, right, because the people who have the power to change the rules are the very ones who benefit from the current system. Gotcha.

(Oh, whoops. This wasn't supposed to be a serious, "I demand reform now!"-style discussion. I just felt like applying mathematical concepts to the electoral process. Not because "I demand reform now", but because I am insanely jealous of Nate Silver.)

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Mmmm...64 Slices of American Cheese

Having a pregnant wife is surprisingly fun. I've heard stories - most likely exaggerated - of irritable pregnant wives yelling at their husbands to go to the grocery store immediately and pick up whatever she happened to be craving at the time. The craving might also be for something unusual, such as pickles.

That scenario hasn't really played out with Amber, though. (She's too nice.) Pickles have not entered her diet. If there's anything that she's eaten more of while pregnant, it's macaroni and cheese, and plain old cheese slices. I could maybe picture Amber doing this...

Okay, not really. But she does eat more cheese than she used to. "Macaroni and cheese night" is now a twice-weekly occurrence, instead of just once a week. And that's okay.

Why cheese? Perhaps it goes back to the "morning sickness" portion of the pregnancy, when macaroni and cheese was the food she could most consistently keep down. That's not an issue anymore, but still, her affinity for cheese and cheese-flavored products has maintained.

Thing is, though, she already liked cheese before I got her pregnant. So does this count as a "pregnancy-induced craving"? Nah. Maybe it's more of a "pregnancy-amplified craving".

(Side note: I've been secretly hoping that Amber would develop a craving for pizza while she was pregnant. That hasn't panned out.)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Revenge

Upon hearing the news that Osama bin Laden was killed by the United States military, I experienced four distinct stages of emotion:

Stage 1: Hooray!

Stage 2 (five minutes later): You know...on second thought, this isn't very satisfying news. (I'll spend most of this post explaining "Stage 2".)

Stage 3 (an hour later, after reading some news stories): On third thought, if anyone does deserve to die, bin Laden does. So, good, I guess.

Stage 4 (two hours later): Okay, now I've got it. The appropriate reaction to this news is "somber reflection". Let's move on...after I write a blog post on the subject.

No need to explain Stage 1. The news totally came out of nowhere, and when you hear that your country's #1 enemy was killed by your own military, that's good, no? Yeah! U-S-A! Suck it, terrorists! Let's party!

Yeah, that feeling went away pretty quickly. Let me see if I can explain Stage 2...

Every now and then, I'll see video or read about some jubilant, spontaneous street party or celebration taking place in some other part of the world. I often think, "You know, that sort of thing doesn't happen here. We're too spoiled. But it would be kind of cool if it did." Well, last night, it did, at least in some cities. But what did it take in order to trigger a jubilant American street party? Something seems really unsatisfying to me about that. Is the quest for revenge the only thing that can unite this country and put everyone in a celebratory mood? If so, that's kind of sad.

Besides, it's not like bin Laden's death will actively prevent any future terrorist attacks. It might, but it might not. At this point, bin Laden was basically more of a "figurehead" and a "symbol of evil" than anything else, right? That's what made him such a valuable target, as opposed to having specific military or intelligence value. And I don't think there's any question that this puts us at greater risk in the short term. (Although I certainly won't make the argument that we shouldn't have done it at all, based on that.)

I don't like war in general, and generally try to tune out the daily stories of what is going on in places like Afghanistan and Libya, so the news of what is essentially a war victory...I don't know. I can't feel all that good about it.

And this is how revenge is supposed to feel after the fact, right? At least, that's how it does in movies. You've spent the last ten years looking for the man that killed your wife (or, in this case, 3,000 Americans, or however many it was). You find him. You kill him. Now what? Doesn't really feel all that satisfying, does it? Don't you feel empty inside now?

One final note on "Stage 2". Personally, I felt more "American military pride" when the captain of the Maersk Alabama was rescued in the Gulf of Aden two years ago. That incredible mission directly saved an American's life, and sent a strong "this is what happens when you mess with us" message. The bin Laden mission was strictly revenge, and given that this took ten years, I don't really see this as a strong "don't mess with us" message.

So, anyway...I already knew the American reaction to the news. I was curious what the world reaction was, and I was hoping to find non-American-biased news coverage of it, partly in case there was "another side to the story" that wasn't getting through the pro-America lens. CNN wouldn't want to ruin a feel-good story by saying something like "500 innocent Pakistani civilians also died in the attack", right? (To be clear, it appears that wasn't the case, thankfully.) So, I visited news websites originating in other countries, including Japan, India, South Africa, Egypt, and the United Kingdom. (The latter is obviously going to be pro-West as well, but they are still a little more "globally minded" than we are.) One notable difference between American coverage and international coverage is this: the qualifier "according to President Obama" was emphasized much more by foreign coverage. As far as how "big" the news was in other countries, it was obviously the top news headline on every news site I went to, but in Japan and South Africa, it didn't dominate the entire front page like it does on most American news websites. I also browsed the reader comments, the most interesting of which came from the Times of India website, where most of the popular comments were anti-Pakistan in nature. (India and Pakistan aren't friends, you know.) In general, there was also a fair bit of reader skepticism spawned by emphasis on that we're taking the President at his word.

However...reading through the BBC website, I was reminded once again of what happened on September 11, 2001*, as well as the kind of life that Osama bin Laden led. So, yes, bin Laden did deserve justice, and if anyone deserves an unceremonious and quick death, I suppose he does.

(* - While September 11th imagery has pretty much become taboo in this country - and for good reason - BBC News won't hesitate to post a picture of a flaming World Trade Center building alongside one of their news stories. They are still very strong images, and it's amazing the kind of emotional response they generate, even to this day.)

I want to say two things in conclusion. For one, I think "somber reflection" is more appropriate than "joyous celebration". That's how I'm treating this, anyway. This is more "closure" than it is "victory". Whether justified or not, celebrating an act of war just doesn't feel right.

And, finally, this, a message to everyone around the world. Let's all be a little nicer to each other from now on.