Friday, July 29, 2011

Marla Teslin Allen: Day 1

Marla Teslin Allen was born at 5:58 AM on Thursday, July 28th, 2011. Amber did great, the baby is healthy, and everything is wonderful. Yay!

I haven't posted these numbers anywhere yet, so let's get these out there. At birth, she weighed 7 lbs, 2.3 oz - heavier than anyone had predicted - and was 19 inches long. I couldn't get precise coordinates for the place of birth from inside the building, but I was able to get some approximate ones based on Google Earth and my knowledge of the hospital layout: 36.00713 N, 78.93735 W.

So...how'd the labor go? I thought it went well for the most part, but that's easy for me to say, of course. The original plan, if you'll recall, was to do a completely natural childbirth with as little intervention as possible and using a technique called hypnobirthing. But by coming in for an induction before Marla was ready to be born - and believe me, she wasn't going to be ready on her own this week - that pretty much doomed the "completely natural" approach from the start. But that doesn't mean we didn't try! We stuck with the "all natural" approach for the first 24 hours. There are "natural" (non-drug) ways to induce labor, and they at least got her started. But between hour 16 and hour 24, there was no progress, and the pain became unbearable, even for a well-trained hypno-mom such as Amber. I'm impressed she stuck it out as long as she did, but at hour 25, with no end in sight, it was time for the Pitocin and the epidural. After that, it was (relatively) easy, and Amber was even able to sleep some. Fourteen hours later, at 5 AM Thursday morning, the doctors checked her and said that it's time to push! One hour later, Marla was born. I will never forget that moment.


Doesn't Amber look great? It's hard to believe she gave birth just 67 minutes prior to when that picture was taken. She recovered incredibly quickly. Here are some more pictures from before and after:


This is the room in which Amber gave birth. Pretty fancy! At least as hospital rooms go. We were moved to a more standard hospital room Thursday afternoon.


Early on, like I said, not much happened, and we could even go for the occasional walk. This was eight hours after admittance.


What do you say we have a baby today? It ended up being the next morning rather than that day, but that's okay.


Twenty minutes after birth.


I don't know what I'm doing yet, but I'm getting there.



A full-length picture of Marla, just over two hours after birth. She won't look much different than this for a while, so no need for any more baby pictures, for now. Mostly, with this picture, I wanted to show the thick black hair. Wonder which parent she inherited that from?


Amber and Marla from this morning, in our smaller hospital room, watching the Weather Channel. Better start her early!


I timed my car mileage just about perfectly; this was the reading in the hospital parking garage. However, I didn't realize that they would keep mother and daughter in the hospital for another two days after birth, and that I might want to make a quick trip home for an hour or two before then, so...my quest to have 66,000 miles occur during Marla's first trip home from the hospital didn't pan out. Instead, the milestone came yesterday on a solo trip home. Still, though, the car mileage log does list Marla's birthday and does say "from Duke Hospital", which is good enough. In fact, maybe that's better.

Anyway...yeah, we all get to go home Saturday morning. Today at the hospital hasn't been all that eventful, aside from somebody different knocking on the door every 30 minutes to try to get us to take a survey or buy baby pictures or something like that. So, while I'd kind of like everyone to leave us alone at this point and just let us go home, we're new at this, so having some professional supervision throughout our first two days as parents isn't a bad idea. Either way, Marla and Amber are both doing great. Amber is very excited about not being pregnant anymore. This time tomorrow, the happy family - all three of us - will be resting at home.

"Resting? Who are you kidding?" Yeah...taking care of a newborn is a lot of work, and it's exhausting, especially if you're a breast-feeding mother. But once we learn when the correct times to feed* and change the diaper** and the correct ways to hold the child, and the best times to sleep***, things should get better. It'll be a tough first few weeks, but we'll get through it. In the meantime, I make no promises about the quality or quantity of blog posting. (By the way, notice that all of the "baby" blog post labels have now been changed to the label "marla".)

(* - Feed when she's hungry or when on a three-hour schedule as the nurses recommend at first? So far, it's been the former more than the latter, and not by choice.)
(** - It'd be nice to know if she went pee or poop without removing her blanket and taking a peek under the diaper, but we're not there yet. Putting the blanket around her - swaddling - is also a skill which we are slowly getting better.)
(*** - Sleep when the baby sleeps, right? But how do you know when she's sleeping for a few hours or just for 30 minutes before she gets hungry again? That's another thing we'll learn. I'm good at problem solving, but I need experience in order to be a good problem solver. Right now, I'm still in data gathering mode when it comes to caring for a newborn.)


But as tough as it is at first, it's worth it. Holding Marla in my arms is like nothing I've ever experienced.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Induction (Or Is It Deduction?)

I always have a hard time distinguishing inductive reasoning from deductive reasoning. I've never had the difference explained to me well enough for it to stick.

But this is actually about something else completely: the type of "induction" that involves encouraging a mother to give birth sooner rather than later. Amber is a high-risk pregnancy and is currently on anticoagulants (all thanks to this), and it is standard procedure for anticoagulated mothers-to-be to have labor induced before they reach 40 weeks. So, the doctors are going to bring her in before the due date - that is, this week - in order to induce labor.

This kind of takes some of the excitement out of it, having it quasi-scheduled. But at the same time, it's been a pretty nerve-wracking couple of weeks. Whenever Amber has felt something funny, I've thought: "Is it time to go to the hospital RIGHT NOW?" I feel like we've been on a knife's edge for the last two weeks.

Once you start inducing labor - they say they're going to "take their time" with it - how long will it take? Totally guessing here, but I'm placing the "over/under" at 24 hours. That is, there is a 50% chance that Amber's induced labor will take less than, or more than, 24 hours. There is also a chance, of course, that Amber could go into labor before it's time to induce, but I think those odds are small.

Speaking of statistics and probability...let's talk birth weight! As of two weeks ago, the doctors' official "birth weight prediction" is 6 pounds, 4 ounces, which would place the baby in the 23rd percentile. How will their prediction pan out? Knowing me and statistics, you'd think that I'd be paying a lot of attention to the birth weight. But here's the thing. People ALWAYS publicize the birth weight in their announcements afterwards. Then, after that, you never hear anything about the baby's weight ever again. It's always "New baby! 7 pounds 10 ounces!", but you never hear, "Happy 1st birthday to baby! 18 pounds 3 ounces!" Why not? If birth weight is sooooooo important, then why not also at one year, two years, three years, and so on? To me, the progression of a baby/child's weight is far more interesting than the birth weight alone. How many pounds will the child put on each year? How will a child's "weight percentile" change over time?

I'm not saying that we're going to publish our child's weight every year (although that would be fun!). I guess what I'm saying is, in the world of statistics, the birth weight isn't really a big deal to me. There are other statistics which I will be paying more attention to in the short term. In particular, there are two figures I will be sure to get before leaving the hospital: 1) The exact time the baby is born. To the second. 2) The latitude and longitude at which the baby is born, to the finest precision possible.

Oh, and here's another statistics question. Babies are often described as being so many inches "long". At what point does height/length description switch from "how long" to "how tall"? Does that happen once they start walking?

Finally...there's one more thing I have to cover here. I occasionally "live-tweet" a bike ride or a wedding on Twitter/Facebook, so why not live-tweet a birth? I can't lie...I did consider it. Briefly. But here are three reasons why it would be a bad idea for me to "live-tweet" the birth: 1) This should go without saying, but it would be a distraction, and I don't need to be distracted during this process. Priorities. 2) Live-tweets are better with pictures, and trust me, you won't want to see the "before" and "during" pictures. 3) Let's say that I'm live-tweeting, and a complication comes up. Do I mention the complication and get everyone worried, or do I stay silent for a long period of time and get everyone worried for a different reason? It's lose-lose, so I'm better off not live-tweeting at all, since everything will probably turn out alright in the end anyway. So, I'm going completely silent. No updates whatsoever between now and the birth.

Once our baby is born, immediate family gets phoned first. Then I'll update Twitter/Facebook, not immediately but hopefully not too long after everything has settled down. Expect the announcement to sound pretty generic. In fact, I already have one written up: "Introducing [first middle] Allen, born at [time] on [date]. Mother and child are doing well! [picture]" I'll blog about all of this once we're back home afterwards and I have a few minutes (if I have a few minutes), of course.

Alrighty...time to go silent. See you on the other side!

Friday, July 22, 2011

New Video Card; CompUSA

I have a hard time making technical computer discussions sound interesting, so I'm going to cover two topics in one here.


Pictured above is the display on my home computer as of Wednesday afternoon. All of a sudden, the display went haywire and prevented me from doing pretty much anything on the computer at all, except for the first couple of minutes after a reboot, if I was lucky.

Now...I'm surprisingly bad when it comes to diagnosing and fixing computer problems. If it's software-related, I can generally figure it out through trial and error: finding and removing malware, downloading updated software or hardware drivers, or, my personal favorite, System Restore. But when none of the above works and it's actually a hardware problem, as was the case this time around, I don't know what to do. So, I usually just email my dad and my brother and ask them what they think. They are both more computer savvy than I, even though I'm the only one of us with a Computer Science degree (interestingly enough).

I don't have enough experience with hardware issues and computer modification to just know, even though in hindsight, it's fairly obvious that this was a problem with the video card. But it was an easy fix: go to CompUSA, get a new card, install it, and I'm back. My new card was one of the cheapest available - an ATI Radeon HD 5450 for $27* - but even that was still an upgrade over what I had before. (That being the nVIDIA GeForce 8300 GS which came with the PC, which as evidenced by the fact that it's now broken, was apparently a piece of crap.) I find it hard to believe that I could actually upgrade my video card for that price, but a low-end card is really all I need, given that the only computer game I regularly play anymore is eight years old.

(* - That price is after mail-in rebate. And boy, let me tell you, these rebates are harder to get than ever.)

Now, about CompUSA. Back in the 1990s, CompUSA was the place to go for computer stuff. They were like Best Buy, except without all the extra non-computer stuff. They were awesome, Then, Best Buy - also awesome (at the time) - came along and opened a store just down the road from CompUSA. I assumed that meant CompUSA would eventually go out of business, just like Circuit City did. (Remember them?) But to this day, CompUSA has defied my expectations. They still have 36 stores nationwide, including the same Jacksonville location I always used to go to, as well as two in the Triangle.

Why did I go to CompUSA for my new video card instead of Best Buy? Because for many items, including pretty much anything computer-related, Best Buy a) is absurdly overpriced, and b) has poor selection. The best place to buy computer stuff is actually online rather than in a store - any store, really - but I didn't want to have to wait a few days to get my computer fixed. I want it now!

How has CompUSA stayed in business? How have they been able to stave off the Best Buy challenge? I'm not sure, but I don't think Best Buy is their chief rival anymore. Based on the availability of parking at our nearby location, Best Buy is not doing as well as it used to. The online marketplace is now the chief rival of electronics stores, and in terms of price and selection, stores can't possibly compete. Knowledgeable computer people are far more likely to purchase their stuff online, and I just don't see an un-knowledgeable computer person walking into CompUSA and buying, say, a new power supply unit. (CompUSA had an impressive selection of power supply units, by the way.) Does CompUSA make their money off of dumb people who overpay for PCs or TVs, just like Best Buy makes their money off of dumb people who pay $100 for an HDMI cable? Either way, I'm glad CompUSA is still here, and I wish them luck in their future endeavors.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Property of NCDOT

Walking around Research Triangle Park today, I found this little contraption on the side of T.W. Alexander Drive:


It's labeled "Property of NC DOT" and is secured with a lock. Attached to it are two thick rubber tubes which are taped to the road and are secured on the other side with another such device. I've seen this setup before on all kinds of roads, usually major roads, but this is the first time I've taken an up-close look at them.

So, I think I know what this does. Are they recording "vehicles per day" traffic data? Are they trying to determine whether it is necessary to widen this portion of T.W. Alexander Drive? They are already widening this road a mile or two farther up, so it's possible.

Then again, I saw this same setup on nearby NC Highway 54 the other day. NC-54 already has two lanes in each direction plus a center turn lane, and certainly does not need to be widened any further. (Repaved, maybe...but not widened.) But who says you need an excuse to collect data, anyway? I certainly don't.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Car Mileage Manipulation

Four years ago, I started the Car Mileage Log. Every time one of our cars reaches a "milestone" (an odometer reading divisible by 1,000), I record where we were when it happened, where we were going, what road we were on, and the date. Not only is this a statistical curiosity - for example, "Which road has the most milestones? Have I gotten more milestones in Wake County or Durham County?"* - but it's also a trip down memory lane, so to speak. For example, on this day in 2008, apparently we went to the Wet n' Wild in Greensboro. That was fun.

(* - Answers to those questions: 1) I-40 has the most milestones, with 22. I-95 has 13. 2) Wake County leads Durham County, 48 to 24. More frequency statistics here.)

On the "memory lane" front, I've been thinking. Wouldn't it be neat if my car's next milestone - 66,000 miles - happened during our newborn child's very first car trip, as the three of us drive home from Duke University Hospital? It could happen. The decision has already been made that my car will be the one that makes the trip to the hospital. The car seat is ready to go and everything.


I'm currently sitting on 65,894 miles. Let's do the math! Work commutes between now and the due date (a week from Friday) will contribute no more than 50 miles (depending on how many times I bike to work between now and then). It's about 14 miles from our house to the hospital, which means we want the odometer to read between 65,986 and 65,999 as we pull into the hospital parking garage. That means I need to put another 40 to 55 miles on the car between now and then, in addition to work commutes, in order for that momentous day to earn entry in the Car Mileage Log.

Sure, I could just drive somewhere random this weekend in order to run up the odometer, but...here's the thing. I have a rule when it comes to the Car Mileage Log: NO MANIPULATION. I shudder every time I-40 in Wake County gets yet another milestone (booooring), so at times I'm tempted to say, "I'm taking the scenic route so that some other road gets the milestone instead." But then the Car Mileage Log is no longer unbiased, now is it? Despite my distaste for boring milestones, I would rather the Log be a set of random occurrences than something that is manipulated. Therefore, I do not let an upcoming milestone dictate which route, or which car, we take somewhere.

However, just this once...I am going to bend the rules a little bit. This week and next week, we will be taking my car on as many short trips as possible in order to accumulate those extra 40 to 55 miles, and we will not be taking my car on any trips that are longer than that. However, if it looks like I'm going to come up a little bit short, I am not going to take my car out on the road for the sole purpose of running up the odometer, nor choose a route to somewhere that unnecessarily adds a lot of mileage just for that purpose (e.g. commuting to work by way of Apex).

Of course...we don't know what day the baby is going to come. Without going into too much detail, the doctors have told us what their "plan" is; regardless, I can't possibly time it exactly. Having my car pass 66,000 miles on the way back from the hospital, with new baby in tow for the first time, is going to take some luck. If it happens, great! If not, then, well, let's just hope it doesn't end up being I-40 in Wake County.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Boston Market

Amber's birthday is today, but over the weekend, I gave her the option of having her "birthday dinner" a day or two early. She could pick any restaurant she wanted. Any restaurant at all. Here's what she chose:


Boston Market is Amber's favorite. Nothing beats their turkey, mashed potatoes, and cornbread as far as she's concerned. Why? Maybe I'm just not reading the menus thoroughly enough, but I think turkey is underrepresented at most American restaurants. Or, maybe it's just that you simply can't get a plain thing of turkey at most restaurants. A lot of places will insist on putting a "personal touch" on everything and "spice it up" or something so that their food tastes differently than the food across the street. Well, that's not what Amber wants. She doesn't want spices of any kind. She wants plain turkey and mashed potatoes cooked to perfection, and doesn't want to have to wait until Thanksgiving to get it. And for that, there is Boston Market.

Boston Market will always hold a special place for the two of us; they catered our wedding reception, and they did an excellent job. Aside from that day, I've never really been a Boston Market guy, myself; I'm more of a fried foods kind of guy. Usually when Amber wants Boston Market, I'll use that an excuse to go get Bojangles'. (Actually, it's usually the other way around.) I didn't even know until this weekend that you could get chicken fingers and fries at Boston Market, though. They were alright, but next time, I'll get something that's more up their alley, and where I can actually use the real, non-plastic silverware they provide.

Unfortunately for Amber, Boston Market locations are few and far between around here. Their lone Durham location has closed since we moved here, making the closest Boston Market over 15 minutes away in Chapel Hill. Hey, Boston Market - why not build one near NC 55 and NC 54? Sure, you've struggled in Durham before, but 15/501 isn't a great location for a restaurant like yours. Why not try building one near us, and near thousands of workers in Research Triangle Park? In fact, you won't even have to build your own building, because the old Oh! Brian's building is still vacant. Come on, do it! I'm fortunate to have a Bojangles' just down the street (or am I?), so it's only fair that Amber gets her favorite, too.

Actually...we're fortunate to have any in our area at all. There are only 11 Boston Markets in the entire state of North Carolina. South Carolina and Tennessee have none. And while there are 71 Boston Markets in Florida (more than in any other state) and 30 in Pennsylvania, there are none in Jacksonville or State College, or anywhere near State College for that matter. So, having one that's "only" 15 minutes away, plus another one 25 minutes away in Cary? I suppose that's as good as Amber can ask for.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sports Saturday: 7/16/11

We're kind of running out of steam here, so I'm making this my last "Sports Saturday" post until American football season begins in September. (Which, it now appears, actually will begin in September.) In today's issue...

Soccer - Can the U.S. women do it?
Golf - The most unique golf tournament of the year.
Auto racing - Who's to blame for last weekend's Kentucky traffic debacle?
Plus CFL and MLB, briefly.

Soccer - Over the past few weeks of watching the Women's World Cup, I've learned something about this game we call soccer. Watching it requires an extraordinary amount of patience. On occasion, your patience is rewarded. For those Americans who did not give up on the United States' chances after they went down 2-1 in extra time v. Brazil in last Sunday's quarterfinal, that was one of those occasions.

Did I give up on our chances at that point? Yeah...I mean, it was looking pretty bleak, with the U.S. being outplayed, the referee being incompetent, and the U.S. down a player. But I did switch back to the game live about one minute before Abby Wambach's game-tying goal. Good timing! So I admit, I did not watch the entire game, but I did not miss the end.

Here's another "soccer confession" on my part. I consider a 0-0 soccer game to be among the most dissatisfying sporting events to watch, ever. (A 1-0 soccer game, with the only goal scored via a penalty kick, isn't far behind.) I think watching a two-hour soccer game in which nobody scores is a complete waste of time. To help avoid that, here's what I'll do. I'll record the game on my DVR. I'll then have Amber look up the score on the computer, and ask her, "Is the final score of the game 0-0?" If she says "no", I'll watch the game. If she says "yes", then I'll find something better to do. (Occasionally, I'll also ask "Was the score 0-0 at halftime?" so that I know whether or not I can skip the first half.) What can I say? I'm an American, and I like at least the occasional goal. I suppose a 0-0 game can be exciting if one of the teams is a heavy underdog; for example, if you're Equatorial Guinea, a scoreless draw against Brazil would have been a fantastic result. But most of the time, I just can't appreciate the beauty of a scoreless soccer game. My patience with soccer has typically worn thin by the time we reach end of a World Cup; this year is no exception.

That said...I plan on watching Sunday's final from start to finish, with no qualifications. But it would be kind of a letdown if nobody scores at all and it has to come down to penalty kicks. ... Actually, it would be even more of a letdown if either team wins 1-0 because of a bull$#!@ penalty kick. Even if it were the United States.

Sun 2:00p - Women's World Cup Final: United States v. Japan, ESPN

(Yeah, there's also a third place game between Sweden and France, but...meh.)

Golf - Weekend number four out of five in which I pay attention to golf. First off, what should I call this tournament? In the United States, it has long been referred to as the "British Open". But over in England, it is simply called "The Open Championship". And, over the last few years, that is how ESPN/ABC have been referring to it as well. And, that's how I'm going to refer to it: "The Open Championship". That's what they call it, so why should we call it anything different? I feel the same way about foreign city names. Why do we call it "Rome" even though Italians call it "Roma"? Why can't we call it "Roma" too?

Well, anyway...I like The Open Championship because it's different. The golf courses are completely different than anything else you'll watch all year, and the playing conditions are often challenging as well. I think it's the most unique golf tournament of the year. ... Well, at least among the ones we Americans pay attention to. There must be several tournaments on the European Tour that are played on links courses similar to those which typically host Open Championships. But we Americans only give a crap about those other tournaments when Tiger Woods is playing in them. So for us, this is it.

Because it's a different style of golf, and has a much more international field than our dumb American tournaments, you tend to get more "who's that guy" types of winners, even more so than in a typical golf tournament. So, count on the winner - or at least a contender or two - being somebody you've never heard of before this week.

Sat 7:00a - The Open Championship, ESPN
Sun 6:00a - The Open Championship, ESPN

(Between The Open Championship and the Women's World Cup, my DVR is set to record ESPN for about 12 hours straight on Sunday. Yep.)

Auto racing - On the NASCAR front, Kyle Busch won last week's Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. Boooooooring. Instead, I'm going to talk about the traffic situation, because it's a rare opportunity to weave some roadgeek stuff into a Sports Saturday.

Last Saturday was the first-ever Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway, which is located about halfway between Cincinnati and Louisville along I-71. Being located in a rural area, I-71 is pretty much the only major road two or from the speedway. And this being the first such event with a large crowd at the speedway, the traffic jam was so overwhelming that that several thousand people - including media and race sponsors - didn't make it to the track until after the race had started, or not at all. So who's to blame here? Is it the track for not efficiently getting everyone in as quickly as possible? Or is it the Kentucky DOT for providing an insufficient road network around the track?

Well, if you ask track ownership, they'll obviously say it's the latter. Track owner Bruton Smith called I-71 in Kentucky the worst interstate in America, or something like that. As a road enthusiast, I take offense to that. There is NO FREAKING WAY this stretch of rural interstate is the worst in America. (And yes, I have driven it. It's not even the worst interstate in Kentucky. I-75 is much worse.) Smith, always the exaggerator and pretty much a jerk in general, is just pissed because his track couldn't handle the large crowd. I am putting almost all of the blame on track ownership.

It's not like Kentucky Speedway is the only NASCAR track located in a rural area. Take Pocono, for instance. Pocono Raceway is in the middle of nowhere, and there is only one major road - a four-lane interstate highway, just like I-71 - leading to the track. Pocono race day traffic isn't great, either, too, but nothing like at Kentucky last weekend. What's the difference? Here's all the proof I need; some late arrivals were turned away from the track because THEY RAN OUT OF PARKING SPACES. That suggests to me that the narrowest part of the hourglass probably wasn't I-71, or the exit ramps to and from I-71 (although those could possibly use some improvement as well), but what happened once everyone got off I-71 and approached the track grounds. Some sports venues are better than others at getting everyone into a parking spot once they arrive on the track grounds. If Kentucky Speedway didn't even have enough parking spots for everyone, chances are, they weren't doing the most efficient job of getting everyone parked, either.

Fortunately, things will be better next year. Parking at NASCAR races - at least, the ones I've been to (Charlotte and Martinsville) - is a little complicated. You don't just drive to the track and get pointed to a parking spot. There are all kinds of parking lots located all over the track grounds. Over time, people figure out the best place for them to park, based on where they're coming from. People also figure out all of the "back ways" to get to the track; not just different roads, but different entrances that are some distance from the main highways. But that takes time. At first, everyone goes the same way and wants to park in the same lot because they don't know any better. The fans will be more spread out next year. Still, though, it wouldn't have been as bad if track personnel had been anywhere near as efficient as they should have been in getting everyone and in out of the track. I mean, there were people getting there several hours before the race started. That should have been more than enough time to get 100,000 people parked and in their seats. Bruton Smith was trumping up the "I-71 is the worst interstate ever" narrative for days leading up to the race, because he knew all along that his track wasn't prepared and didn't want to take the blame. No sir, I'm not falling for that line. Own up and admit your mistakes. That's what every other respectable track or arena owner would do.

Sat 3:30p - NASCAR Nationwide at New Hampshire, ESPN
Sat 8:00p - NASCAR Camping World Trucks at Iowa, SPEED
Sun 1:00p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at New Hampshire, TNT

CFL - I'm gathering that the Montréal Alouettes are kind of a juggernaut. They can't be stopped!

Sat 4:00p - Saskatchewan at Hamilton, NFL Network
Sat 7:00p - B.C. at Edmonton, NFL Network: Are the B.C. Lions ever referred to as "British Columbia" or the "British Columbia Lions", or are they always just "B.C."?

MLB - Here's one thing I like about Major League Baseball. Except on the occasional Monday or Thursday, your team has a game today, guaranteed. So whenever you have a spare moment and want to check out your team, there they are.

Sat 7:00p - Washington at Atlanta, MASN
Sun 1:30p - Washington at Atlanta, MASN
Sat/Sun X:00p - Your Favorite Team v. An Opponent, Your Regional Sports Network: Yeah, I'm feeling lazy today.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Will You Be My Neighbor: 2nd Edition

There are six houses on our short little dead-end street. We've only lived here for 30 months, but soon we will already be the fourth-longest tenured residents on our street. The rental house next to us has had three different tenants since we've been here, and another house on our street just went up for sale this past week, as the existing owners look to upgrade to a bigger house.

So...anyone looking to buy a house in beautiful Durham, North Carolina? It's reasonably priced, and it's only minutes from Research Triangle Park! (Those are the primary reasons why we live here, anyway.) Plus, you'll have some really awesome neighbors*! ... Well, it was worth a shot.

(I'm referring to Amber and me, of course.)

What is this about, anyway? Why am I plugging a house for sale on our street? Because our relationship with our current neighbors - this goes for the entire street - can best be described as "non-existent". We exchange friendly waves when we make eye contact, will occasionally make small talk when we both happen to be outside doing yard work or retrieving our garbage bins at the same time, and that's about it. What do these people do for a living? How old are their kids? What are their names? I have no idea. (Amber has engaged in more "small talk" than I have, and therefore might actually know some of that information, but I do not, for the most part.)

Sure, it would be nice to have neighbors whom we could actually be (or are already) friends with, but it's very difficult for me to make that "leap", I guess. Which is strange, really. Logically, it seems like the best candidates for "friends" would be the people who live closest to you, right? But that has never worked out all that well for me. I've always had a hard time becoming good friends with randomly-chosen college roommates and neighbors. I'd like to think that will change with the arrival of some new neighbors, but...probably not. Realistically, I'm just hoping that our new neighbors aren't too loud.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Durham Street Signs

Studies have shown that when it comes to road signs, that lowercase letters are easier to read. So why do all street signs in Durham (and many other cities) look like this, with all caps?


I've always paid a lot of attention to street signs, ever since I was a kid in Jacksonville. Every time Jacksonville unveiled a brand new style of street sign, I noticed. Eventually, the "all caps" street sign styles I grew up with in Jacksonville were phased out in favor of lowercase letters. (Except for the first letter of each name, of course. When I say "lowercase letters", first letter capitalization is implied.) This started happening in earnest in, I believe, the late 1990s. Today in Jacksonville, it's hard to find a street sign with all capital letters, similar to the Durham street sign pictured above. That is unless you go to any of Jacksonville's beaches, all of which - last I checked - are still clinging onto "all caps".

Meanwhile, back in "all caps" Durham...look what I found!


I've seen a few of these around Durham now, with the first sighting coming a couple of months ago. But they are very widely scattered, and I'm guessing it will be several years - probably more - before these new, more easily read (in my opinion) street signs outnumber the traditional kind.

(Side comment: I'm not talking about street signs that appear next to traffic signals above major intersections. Durham has been using lowercase letters on those signs since long before I moved here.)

Apparently, this is a federal mandate. ALL cities nationwide are supposed to be transitioning over to lowercase-letter street signs. But there is no deadline, so...I have a feeling that some cities may never change over. Most small towns, especially in rural areas, will probably be reluctant to switch, or may never switch. Personally, I do prefer the lowercase letters, but don't think that every city nationwide should throw away every "all caps" sign that exists and replace them all right now. Including lowercase letters on all signs that would have to be replaced anyway, is fine with me.

But this isn't the only street sign change in Durham. Here's another innovation, of which I've only seen a couple of instances so far:


Along major roads, the side street gets a huge sign, to make it easier for drivers speeding past on the main road to read quickly. Meanwhile, the main street gets a small sign, which is all it needs since the side street traffic has to stop anyway and will have ample time to read it. This style is quite common in Raleigh and Cary, but I've never noticed it anywhere else. (For the most part, Cary still uses "all caps", though.) Sure, this seems to make sense, but the asymetry of it all kind of bothers me a little bit. On the other hand, it seems like overkill to do what Jacksonville does, which is to use huge street signs for all of its roads, even insignifcant ones in residential areas.


View Larger Map

(For Jacksonville, a low-def Google Street View pic was the best I could do on short notice.)

So, I'm not sure where I stand on the "sign size" debate. Apparently the people in charge of Durham's signs like what they see in Raleigh, so that's what we're going to see more of in my hometown from now on.

In general, here's what is most important to me with street signs, especially in a metropolitan area which includes many different towns and cities. I like that the street signs in Raleigh, Cary, Morrisville, Apex, Durham, Chapel Hill, and so on are all different styles and use different fonts. I think it gives each segment of the Triangle "character". It also helps me figure out which jurisdiction I'm in at any given time. For example, if you see a Morrisville-style street sign, you're in Morrisville. (Otherwise, it's hard to tell sometimes, given these towns' winding and erratic boundaries.) So, whatever Durham decides to do with their street signs, more than anything I'm just glad they aren't making them look identical to Raleigh's signs.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Restaurant Serving Times: 7/12/11 Update

It's been a while since I've talked about one of my trademarks: restaurant serving times. (Explained here - or, in a nutshell: I time how long it takes traditional sit-down restaurants to bring me my meal, starting when I place my order and ending when I receive the main dish.)

So far in 2011, I've gone out to eat 14 times at restaurants eligible for my timing competition. That makes this year less active on that front than normal, but not by too much. I average 36 eligible restaurant trips per year; I'm on pace for 27 this year, but given that we're about to have a kid, I'll be surprised if we go out to eat 13 more times this year.

As a result, competition will be down this year, and it will be easier for any one restaurant - in theory - to win the title of "fastest of 2011" or "slowest of 2011". Indeed, nobody has been incredibly quick, or incredibly slow, so far this year. The fastest serving time to date in 2011 was set this past weekend: 7 minutes, 3 seconds, at Danny's BBQ in nearby Morrisville. Barbecue restaurants are among the fastest of all the genres - barbecue has been fastest of the year in three of the last five years - so I am not surprised that barbecue is once again on top this year, at least so far. As fastest times go, however, 7:03 isn't particularly quick; it would be the "slowest fastest time of the year" going back to 2005. So will it hold up? Maybe; I'd say that Danny's has a better than 50% chance of staying on top through the end of the year.

(Side comment: Among those I have visited, Danny's is my favorite local barbecue restaurant, precisely because it is NOT North Carolina style barbecue. From their website: "A resident of Jacksonville, Florida for 41 years, my family and I were relocated to Cary, North Carolina in October of 1989. ... We soon discovered that BBQ in North Carolina consisted of shredded pork with vinegar sauce which was totally different from the BBQ we had grown to know and love. Longing for the BBQ we were accustomed to, yet unable to find, a decision was made to open Danny's Bar-B-Que.")

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, Applebee's of sort-of-nearby Knightdale is currently slowest of the year, at 29 minutes, 43 seconds. Not coincidentally, that restaurant outing also featured the largest party size of the year, a party of 12. 29:43 isn't terrible given the large party size, so I can't really hold it against them. It would not be the "fastest slowest time of the year", however. (In 2009, the slowest time of the year was 29:03, at Tosca's of Durham.)

Speaking of Applebee's...an interesting thing happened at the Applebee's in not-really-nearby-at-all Clayton a few weeks ago. The waitress was the chatty type, and noticed that I was checking my watch a lot. I then let it slip that I was timing them, at which point I was required to explain the whole thing. That really made me uncomfortable. While I've always dreamed of being known as "that guy who times everything" and being catered to accordingly when I visit a restaurant, in practice, I don't like it when they know. For one, I don't want to put any unnecessary pressure on her, even if it is sort of her fault that she asked. But also, it's not good from a statistical standpoint. Is the resulting time "legit"? Is it "unfair" if one waitress knows the deal while others do not? Perhaps, but the time posted by the Clayton Applebee's was pretty average (15:17, or 6th fastest out of 14 this year), so it doesn't matter.

Actually, when you consider that we ordered an appetizer that evening, 15:17 is pretty good. Perhaps by design in order to give you time to eat them, appetizers almost always delay the arrival of the main dish. Therefore, the fastest appetizer-included serving time ever is an unspectacular 10:35 (TGI Friday's, State College, PA). Applebee's of Clayton isn't far behind, and in fact, they rank 4th out of the 23 restaurant visits which included an appetizer purchase.

Then again, when you also consider that 13 out of the 23 appetizer-included restaurant visits were also parties of 7 or more, which delays the arrival of the main dish even more, then that also explains why Applebee's of Clayton ranks so well on that list. When we're on our own, Amber and I don't order appetizers often enough for the statistics to be particularly meaningful here. This was only the 3rd "party of two" in the entire spreadsheet to include an appetizer, in fact. (The previously mentioned TGI Friday's was one; the other was Outback of Jacksonville Beach, FL, who clocked in at 23:26.) So, it's hard to say whether 15:17 is "good" time or not, all things considered. I must collect more data!

It's been a pretty unspectacular year on the restaurant serving times front, really. No overly fast times or slow times, and nothing so far this year has cracked any of my top 10 lists. But that could change at any time. While I generally know what to expect when I walk into a restaurant, you never know what is actually going to happen. For example, Italian restaurants are typically among the slowest, especially Olive Garden, which owns the 2nd-slowest time ever (48:07) and the 2nd-slowest "small party" time ever (31:37). So when Olive Garden clocked in at 8 minutes, 21 seconds this past January - a time that was still the fastest of the year prior to last weekend - I was shocked! Anomalies can happen at any time.

Aluminum Foil

A major occurrence took place in our kitchen last week: we finished a roll of aluminum foil.

Why do I consider this "major"? Because the roll of aluminum foil was over four years old!

How do I know the roll of aluminum foil was over four years old? Because it was purchased at a Weis grocery store in State College, PA:


Amber moved to North Carolina in May 2007; therefore, we know that this particular roll was purchased at least four years ago, and that it took us that long to finish it.

Well...sort of. You see, when I lived in North Carolina alone, I had my own roll of aluminum foil, too. Then, Amber and I moved in together, at which point we consolidated our aluminum foil resources, giving us two rolls of aluminum foil in the kitchen. So does it really take us four years to go through a single roll of aluminum foil? No, because we haven't been actively working on the Weis roll this whole time. Evidently, we finished my roll first. But still, I'm impressed that in 2011, we still had Weis-brand anything lying around the house.

(Side comment: Weis is basically on par with Food Lion. I never shopped there when I lived in State College; I always went to Wegmans. But for Amber, Weis was a much more convenient choice due to location. So, I can kind of forgive her. I was willing to overlook her questionable grocery store choice when we started dating.)

So, yesterday, we went to our neighborhood Kroger and bought some Kroger-brand aluminum foil. I didn't even know where in the store to find it, it's been so long.

Why does it take us so long to go through aluminum foil? Because we use it no more than once a week, if that - whenever we bake chicken or pork in the oven, which isn't every week. I'll use it for pizza, too, but I only have that every month or two. So, we are not heavy users of foil. That allows us to go for the cheapest brand of foil available. No "heavy duty" foil for us!

How long will it take us to finish our next roll of aluminum foil? Probably not that long; for one thing, we only purchased a 75 square foot roll this time instead of a 200 square foot roll. Either way, thanks to this blog post, documenting the fact that we purchased a roll of aluminum foil on July 11, 2011, we'll know precisely how long it takes.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Baby Middle Names

Amber and I have long had two first names - one for a boy and one for a girl - picked out for our upcoming baby. (18 more days until the due date, by the way.) Middle names, however...not so much.

Here's the thing with middle names. While we developed a list of very strict rules for potential first names, anything goes for middle names. ANYTHING. Many people have very strange or unconventional middle names, and that's just fine, because middle names don't really matter. That's good in a way, but it also means we have a LOT of options to choose from.

Actually, we do have one - and only one - rule for middle names: nothing that starts with the letter 'J'. Why? Because a middle name that starts with 'J' could lend itself to our child being known by his/her initials. Think about it. Chances are, you know at least a couple of people who are known by their initials. How often is the letter 'J' one of the two initials? A.J., B.J., C.J., D.J., E.J. ...I've heard of all of those. We'd rather our child be known by his/her name rather than his/her initials. So to dramatically decrease the chance it will come to that, anything starting with 'J' is out. (Side note: the first names we have chosen do not start with 'J', either.)

Beyond that, we have no rules for middle names. Like I said, anything goes. In light of this, and to help us narrow it down, we came up with what we think is a clever idea. Amber and I like to travel, and one of our favorite places to go is Canada. So for the purposes of a middle name, why not name our kid after a Canadian place name?

We are not going to reveal our choices for first names until the baby is born. However, right now, I am going to reveal our final three candidates for boy and girl middle names. Exciting! Especially since we haven't made a final decision on which one we're going to use yet.

Actually, with the boy, we have made a decision...but again, we're not revealing it until the baby is born. (That is, if it's a boy. If it's a girl, the boy names we came up with - first and middle - will remain a mystery, in part because we may come back to them when we have child number two.) We have not decided on the girl middle name yet, however.

And although we won't be using the results of this to help us decide, I am curious what people think, so I created a poll. Of the names we've narrowed it down to (three boy and three girl), which ones do you like the best? Many of them are common names, but a couple of the girl names are pretty bold. But these are only middle names we're talking about here, so who cares, right?

Vote!

(Disclaimer #1: This is the first time I've tried embedding a poll within a blog post, so I'm not 100% confident it will work.)

(Disclaimer #2: Names are listed in alphabetical order, so as to not imply any preference on our part.)

1. Which Canadian-inspired boy middle name is your favorite (favourite)?

2. Which Canadian-inspired girl middle name is your favorite (favourite)?


In other baby news...we're pretty much just waiting it out at this point. Car seat bases have been installed in both cars, our "let's go to the hospital RIGHT NOW" emergency kit is ready to go on a moment's notice, and Amber's back is sore.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Sports Saturday: 7/9/11

In today's issue...

Soccer - The Women's World up quarterfinals. United States v. Brazil. Aww yeah.
CFL - Hey, I remember that guy!
Auto racing - NASCAR Sprint Cup debuts at Kentucky.
MLB - I actually watched the Nationals this week, some.

Soccer - Yes, I'm leading off with soccer today. Wow!

The FIFA Women's World Cup has advanced to the knockout stage, eliminating half of the field along the way. Nice try, North Korea. It's been fun, Equatorial Guinea. And as for you, Canada...even though you were 6th in the world rankings entering the World Cup, I guess if there isn't ice involved, we shouldn't count on you guys to win. Which is too bad, really. I was looking forward to watching Canada win at least one game, but they didn't even earn a draw.

As for the remaining teams...obviously, the most intriguing quarterfinal matchup is Brazil v. United States, a rematch of the 2007 World Cup semifinal in which Brazil won 4-0, prompting this memorable post-game reaction from benched goalkeeper Hope Solo. What's going to happen this year? Well...after losing to Sweden, I'm not real optimistic regarding our chances, I must say.

FIFA Women's World Cup Quarterfinals
Sat 12:00p - England v. France, ESPN
Sat 2:45p - Germany v. Japan, ESPN
Sun 7:00a - Sweden v. Australia, ESPN
Sun 11:30a - Brazil v. United States, ESPN

Bonus soccer! If you can't get enough obscure international soccer tournament action, also check out the following:

Sat 3:00p - Copa América (Group Stage): Brazil v. Paraguay, Univision: The "Copa América" is the South America continential championship. Like last month's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the winner advances to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup. That is, unless either of the special non-South American invitees, Mexico or Costa Rica, win.
Sun 7:00p - FIFA U-17 World Cup Final: Uruguay v. Mexico, ESPNU: The World Cup for kids! Or at least teenagers.

CFL - Here's something fun about the CFL: if you follow American football, you'll get the occasional "Hey, I remember that guy!" reaction. For instance...anyone remember former Florida State quarterback Adrian McPherson, who was kicked off the team due to gambling or something? He's been the backup QB for the Montréal Alouettes for a few years now, and he comes into the game in short-yardage situations such as 2nd-and-1 and 3rd-and-1 so that their regular QB doesn't have to perform the quarterback sneaks himself. Meanwhile, former Florida quarterback Chris Leak used to be the 3rd string QB for Montréal, although I don't see his name on the roster anymore.

NFL Network gives us a double-header this afternoon. Yeah!

Sat 4:00p - Montréal at Saskatchewan, NFL Network
Sat 7:00p - Hamilton at Edmonton, NFL Network

Auto racing - The NASCAR Sprint Cup series makes its debut at Kentucky Speedway this weekend. Even though it's basically another cookie-cutter 1.5-mile track, I'm looking forward to it, if nothing else because it's something different. How long has it been since a new race track was added to the Sprint Cup series schedule? Ten years!

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Kentucky, TNT
Sun 12:00p - Formula One British Grand Prix, FOX (tape delay)
Sun 2:50p (?) - IndyCar at Toronto, Versus

MLB - So, I actually watched the Nationals some this week, and have the following observations:
- Highly-compensated Jayson Werth, in the first year of a huge multi-year contract, is struggling. This is always what happens, right? Why do teams such as the Nationals ever pay anyone that much money?
- The Nationals have played a lot of close games as of late, winning most of them. Conversely, Thursday night, they got an early 8-0 lead...and lost.
- The Nationals' lone all-star is relief pitcher Tyler Clippard. He's a "set up" guy rather than a closer, and - this is true - he leads the Major Leagues in "holds" with 22. Woo?

The MLB All-Star game is next Tuesday night, which I might watch. Will Tyler Clippard get into the game? I doubt it.

Sat 4:00p - Atlanta at Philadelphia, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - Colorado at Washington, MASN2
Sat 7:00p - Baltimore at Boston, MASN
Sat 7:00p - Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh, WGN America
Sat 7:00p - Cincinnati at Milwaukee, MLB Network
Sun 1:30p - Colorado at Washington, MASN2
Sun 1:30p - Baltimore at Boston, MASN
Sun 1:30p - Atlanta at Philadelphia, TBS
Sun 1:30p - Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - NY Mets at San Francisco, ESPN

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Bicycling Trip to Alaska: Yukon Ho!

It's hot outside, but I've still been making time almost every week for a long bike ride (or two!). As a result, my fictional "Bicycling Trip to Alaska" that I started 21 months ago has now progressed all the way to the Yukon. Almost there!


View Bicycling trip to Alaska in a larger map

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about some of my longer bike rides, in which I ride over 40 miles at once. ... Actually, before I continue, since I do tend to brag too much after a successful long ride, perhaps I should also talk about the rides that aren't as successful. For instance, my intent this past Saturday was to ride over 40 miles to the West Point on the Eno city park and back. But at mile 14, I was already getting kind of tired and decided that I didn't have it in me today, so I abruptly turned around and went home. A 28-mile ride is still pretty good, and I made up the extra distance by riding another 17 miles on Monday, but...still. Even after riding avidly for two years now, a 40-mile ride is still difficult.

But it has gotten easier, and I've been progressively increasing my ride distances in the process. You can kind of see that on this graph, which shows how far I've ridden my bike each week since I started the Bicycling Trip to Alaska in October 2009, and indicates a subtle upward trend*:


(* - For the statistical nerds out there, the slope of the least-squares regression line is 0.18 miles per week. Based on that, I can claim that I add about 10 miles to my weekly average each year.)

It's not that I'm riding more often; it's that when I do ride, I ride farther. Yay progress! Only 575 miles to the Alaska border!

One thing I've enjoyed doing during the recent stages of this fake bicycling trip is loading up Google Street View to check out the scenery at my current location. Here's what it looks like at my current locale, between the British Columbia / Yukon border and the home of the Sign Post Forest, Watson Lake:


View Bicycling trip to Alaska in a larger map

Nothing spectacular, but still...it makes me want to go back.

I am going to start another fake bicycling trip once I get to the ferry terminal in Homer, Alaska that goes somewhere else completely...but we'll worry about that when the time comes.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Xbox 360: 7/6/11 Update

If you don't have any vacations planned, July can be a pretty boring month. We can't take any road trips this month, out of fear that the day we leave town will be the day our baby wants to come out. There is also no curling, kickball, or anything like that in July. Many of our favorite TV shows are in reruns, it's also possibly the worst sports month of the year, and finally, it's the worst month of the year to be outside. (Temperature-wise, 46 of the last 47 days at the Raleigh-Durham airport have been at or above average. So I'm already sick of summer, far earlier than usual.) My point here is this: I'm going to have a lot of spare time around the house this month, far more than I'm accustomed to as of late. Let's play video games!

A few months ago, I said that my next Xbox 360 game purchase(s) would be puzzle-type games. Among the many games I demoed, these stood out:

Portal / Portal 2: When I said I was looking for a "puzzle-type game", this type of game wasn't really what I had in mind. I was thinking of something simple - 2-D, maybe 3-D, slow-paced, low-key, and without much of a background story. Portal, while a puzzle game, is also a first-person oriented game in a full 3-D environment with dramatic plot twists and everything! But it also has a sense of humor, it's very well done, and the puzzles are smart and challenging enough. For me, it turned into the type of game that borders on obsession*, and produced more than one "oh crap, it's late, I need to go to bed, have I really been playing this game for the last X hours?" moment. In fact, I even bought this year's sequel, "Portal 2".

(* As an example of how this can become an obsession: this will only make sense to those who have played the game, but when I see a light-colored wall as opposed to a dark-colored wall, I think, "I can put a portal there!" I don't actually think that, for the record, but I bet some people do, similar to how someone "obsessed" with Tetris will be constantly trying to fit everyday shapes together.)

Portal 2 has, among other things, co-operative play, where two people (either via split-screen or online) work together to solve the puzzles. Somehow, I was able to convince Amber to be my co-op buddy. A wife who will play video games with you...that's every geek's dream, right?

From Amber's perspective, the steepest learning curve has getting used to the controls and the first-person perspective. Come to think of it, the now-standard first-person control system - forward/backward/strafe with the left stick, turn and rotate point of view with the right stick - isn't the most intuitive for a video-game beginner such as Amber. She's gotten the hang of it pretty quickly, though, and no longer falls off the edge of the catwalk that leads to the beginning of the co-op levels. Yes, she found a way to "die" before the levels actually begin. This prompted some good-humored ribbing from the game's primary antagonist, GLaDOS. (Try it sometime!)

Ilomilo, in which the goal of each maze is to have "ilo" and "milo" meet up, is the kind of simple, laid-back puzzle game I was looking for to begin with. It's also the cutest game ever. I think Amber likes this game just as much as I do, if not more. That's good, because like Portal 2, Ilomilo also has a co-op mode. (Sort of.)

Another game I bought within the past couple of weeks is DiRT 2, a racing game which my brother James has been trying to talk me into buying since it came out two years ago. Naturally, I waited until DiRT 3 game out before I bought DiRT 2. It's a different type of racing game than I spend most of my hours playing, in that it's more of an "arcade" racer, and that the races are all about five minutes long instead of an hour long, but it's still fun, and I fully intend on completing the "Dedication" achievement by winning every single race in the game. (And on a reasonable difficulty level, too.)

Speaking of which...about these "achievements". Each Xbox 360 game has a list of achievements - or, as I call them, silly achievements. Achievements are worth a certain number of points, which upon completion of the achievement are added to your "gamerscore", which is a number that shows up on your Xbox Live profile. The "gamerscore" means absolutely nothing, many of these achievements are a complete waste of time, and the only thing you get out of unlocking them is personal satisfaction. Yet, there is something extremely gratifying about seeing that "achievement unlocked" message pop up at the bottom of the screen. But while they are often silly, both in terms of what I have to do and the fact that I actually feel motivated to do them, they can add significantly to the game experience. For example, my quest for "silly achievements" gave me a definitive reason to go through the original Portal game a second time. Sure, I may have already beaten the game, but did I do it while never taking a bullet, only passing into the orange portal, visiting all of the "rat man" dens, and viewing the chicken's test results? Nope! And with some of the sports games I play, simply "trying to win the game" can get kind of old. But trying to win the game specifically with a walk-off home run, or by way of three Peyton Manning interceptions...it adds another dimension to the games beyond just running up the score, as per the usual.

So, yeah. Better get my video game fix in while I can!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Independence Day in Fuquay-Varina, NC

When it comes to Independence Day fireworks, Amber and I have preferred three things over the years:
- Small towns and small crowds.
- Variety.
- An excuse to drive somewhere.

If you're wondering why our last three Fourth of July fireworks destinations have been Clayton, Bowling Green, and now Fuquay-Varina, and why we have yet to attend one of the Triangle's marquee shows (Raleigh, Cary, or Durham) or the Toledo show when we've been up there for the Fourth, that's why. (I never made it to the State College show, although I've heard it's one of the best. I'd be willing to deal with crowds for that show.)

I recommend going back and reading the Clayton and Bowling Green recaps. A lot of the stuff I was going to discuss today, it turns out I already discussed back then. For instance...are these fireworks shows "pre-packaged" and sold to towns in mass quantity, meaning you could see the exact same show - as in, same music, same fireworks, same timing, same everything - in two entirely different towns? And on a related note, are shows ever exactly repeated from year to year? And, is it possible to go to a fireworks show without hearing the Lee Greenwood song "God Bless the U.S.A."? Apparently it is, if you go to Bowling Green. No such luck in Fuquay-Varina.

The Fuquay-Varina show was okay. I timed it at 14 minutes, which was shorter than Clayton (20 minutes). It was probably shorter than Bowling Green, too (I didn't time that one), except that Bowling Green tends to launch its fireworks a little more slowly. I don't mind a slower fireworks show, by the way. We're there for at least an hour or two beforehand, and it will take another hour for us to get out of the parking lot after it's over. So what's the rush? And given how expensive fireworks are, why not take your time and get your money's worth instead of rushing through your fireworks inventory?

Even though Clayton and Bowling Green had (I thought) better shows, seemingly smaller crowds, and far more grassy area to work with, Fuquay-Varina is better for kids, because they had inflatable rides and balloons and stuff. The "kid" factor is something we'll need to consider down the road. Fuquay-Varina's show was also on the 3rd rather than the 4th, which works out better when the 4th is the last day of the holiday weekend, as it was this year. I think we'll be going back to Clayton for fireworks before we go back to Fuquay-Varina, but still, we had a good time.

If you want visuals from Sunday night, check out Sunday night's live-tweet.

Finally...let's talk about the town itself. Within my first month of North Carolina residency, I drove down to Fuquay-Varina. At the time, I declared several things I liked about the Town of Fuquay-Varina: 1) the name; 2) they had a Sheetz (and the closest one to my Cary apartment at that); 3) a "small town next to a big city" such as F-V was my ideal place to live; 4) it was a "nice town and appears to be growing"; and 5) I would be proud to call myself a Fuquay-Varina resident. I also figured it would be an affordable place for us to buy our first house, although the work commute would be a bit much.

However, that was five years ago. Since then, my infatuation with the town of Fuquay-Varina has worn off. We never considered buying a house there; it simply would have been too far from work. There are other "small towns next to big cities" where I'd rather live, and make for more enjoyable day trips. And, if the town had a generic name such as "Youngsville", as opposed to an interesting name like "Fuquay-Varina", it would just be another dot on the map that I may have never visited in the first place. (Which is pretty much the case with Youngsville.) Prior to Sunday, I don't think I had been in Fuquay-Varina in quite some time - maybe more than two years! And now that we live 40 minutes away from Fuquay-Varina instead of just 20, the fact is, there isn't really any reason for us to go there. It's not on the way to or from anything, we don't know anyone who lives there (as of a few months ago), it's too far away from home to incorporate into a bike ride, and they don't have a Piggly Wiggly. And that's pretty much that. Sorry, Fuquay-Varina, but we just weren't meant to be together. It's not you, it's me. Or something like that.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Sports Saturday: 7/2/11

Chances are, many of you are traveling this weekend. Well, let me just say that I am VERY VERY JEALOUS. I would very much like to be on the road this weekend. Amber, too. But we're on "baby lockdown", so no road trips for us this weekend. Instead, I'll probably be watching a lot of sports. In today's issue:

Soccer: Women's World Cup fever!
CFL: Football season is underway!
MLB: Two weeks late, thoughts on the ridiculous resignation of Washington Nationals manager Jim...Riggleman? Was that his name? I had already forgotten.
Auto racing: NASCAR at Daytona.
Tennis: Because I might get pretty bored this weekend.

Soccer - I had no idea I would be watching so much soccer in a non-World Cup year. First, there was the CONCACAF Gold Cup, concluding last Saturday night in an epic final pitting the United States against Mexico. Sure, we lost, but the game was as entertaining as soccer gets, I think. (As I've said before, soccer is more exciting when you leave the Europeans out of it.)

Then, the very next day, the FIFA Women's World Cup started. I've watched a few of this week's matches, including a game involving Equatorial Guinea. (In international competitions such as this, I'm always drawn to the obscure countries.) For some reason, I was expecting higher-scoring games than you normally see in a Men's World Cup, based on the idea that the athletes aren't quite as good, which means more holes in the defense. But it hasn't panned out that way. Lots of 1-0 games. This is still soccer, after all.

The Women's World Cup is also fun because it involves Canada. The Canadian men's soccer team is hopeless, but the women's team is one of the best in the world! Or so I thought. This week, they lost 2-1 to Germany (repsectable I suppose) and 4-0 to France (ouch!). But, hey, at least the Canadian national anthem is getting some air time at an international soccer tournament.

The United States is nowhere near as hopeless on the men's side as Canada, but unlike on the men's side, the women have a chance to win the tournament. But they'll have to go through Germany, the host country and #2 team in the world rankings (behind the U.S.), to get there. I'll be surprised if Germany doesn't win this thing.

One more thing. I miss the vuvuzelas. And I bet you do too, don't you? Admit it!

Sat 8:00a - North Korea v. Sweden, ESPN2
Sat 12:00p - United States v. Colombia, ESPN
Sun 8:00a - Australia v. Equatorial Guinea, ESPN2
Sun 12:15p - Brazil v. Norway, ESPN

(Note: I went back and forth with myself, trying to decide whether to refer to it the way most Americans do - "North Korea" - or the way FIFA and the IOC do - "Korea DPR". I went with the former, even though the latter is, I assume, the official name of the country.)

(Note: Since it's a three-day weekend, I would include Monday's games on this list as well. However, there are no World Cup games on Monday. Boo!)

CFL - North of the border in Canada, football season starts two months early. This is about the time of year when I start looking forward to football, so it works out perfectly. I'll be watching plenty of Canadian football over the next month or two, at least until the Americans start playing.

The season actually started Thursday night, in a game featuring the defending Montréal Alouettes and the B.C. Lions, which I haven't watched all of yet. Canadian football makes for good DVR viewing, because it's very easy to avoid the outcome of the game until you finally get around to watching it. That's good, because the game NFL Network is airing tonight, actually took place yesterday.

Speaking of NFL Network, here is the preliminary American TV schedule. Two thoughts: 1) Only one Winnipeg game out of ten? Boo! 2) "Additional matchups on NFL Network will be announced at a later date." In other words, "How many CFL games we air going forward will depend on when the NFL lockout ends."

Sat 8:00p - Toronto at Calgary, NFL Network (Next-day delay; the game already happened. Don't visit any Canadian sports websites!)

MLB - I would have discussed this last Saturday, but I didn't do one of these posts last weekend, so...here you go. The Washington Nationals had been playing their best baseball of the season. They had won 11 of 12 games and had even gotten their season record above .500, which if you're the Nationals, is unheard of in June. (Or even May. Or even the second week of the season.) So, manager Jim Riggleman decided this was a good time to parlay the team's success into a contract extension for himself. He's one of the lowest-paid managers in baseball and has never had more than a one-year contract during his Nationals tenure. Well, he was sick of it. Give me an extension, or I quit! Well, he quit.

Hey, Riggleman: you knew the deal when you signed up to be the manager of the Nationals. The team stinks. And, quite honestly, you're not a very good manager, either, and your career record isn't anything to write home about. Quite honestly, the only reason you are the manager of this team is because you had a low asking price. Because if you're the Nationals, does it really matter who the manager is? Now the team goes on a brief hot streak, which is only good enough to get them to .500 on the season, and you think that's evidence that you're a good manager? Umm, no. Baseball can be a pretty random sport, so every team is going to have hot streaks and cold streaks over the course of a 162 game season. That's strictly probability. If the team then proceeded to lose 11 out of its next 12, does that mean you should be fired immediately? Of course not. That would also be probability.

This resignation was probably planned well in advance, and I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. Way to quit on your team, Riggleman. Who do you think you are? And do you actually believe you're going to get another managerial job?

Meanwhile, the new Nationals' manager is Davey Johnson, that of the 1986 World Series champion New York Mets. And, the team is still hovering around .500. Life goes on. It won't be long before the old manager's name - whatever it was - is forgotten.

Sat 4:00p - NY Yankees at NY Mets, FOX (regional)
Sat 7:00p - Pittsburgh at Washington, MASN2
Sat 7:00p - Baltimore at Atlanta, MASN
Sat 7:00p - San Francisco at Detroit, MLB Network
Sun 1:00p - NY Yankees at NY Mets, TBS
Sun 1:30p - Pittsburgh at Washington, MASN2
Sun 1:30p - Baltimore at Atlanta, MASN
Sun 2:00p - Chicago White Sox at Chicago Cubs, WGN America
Sun 8:00p - LA Dodgers at LA Angels, ESPN
Mon 1:00p - Chicago Cubs at Washington, MASN / WGN America
Mon 1:30p - Toronto at Boston, MLB Network
Mon 6:30p - NY Yankees at Cleveland, MLB Network
Mon 8:00p - Baltimore at Texas, MASN

Auto racing - Formula One and IndyCar take the weekend off, so NASCAR at Daytona is the only racing on my radar this week. This weekend is the highlight of the NASCAR summer season (more so than Indianapolis in my opinion), so I'm looking forward to it. It was kind of neat when the race was held at 11:00 AM, just because it was different, but...you can't argue that the race isn't better at night.

As far as who's going to win...who knows? As evidenced by the fact that Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, and that Danica Patrick was an actual threat to win the Nationwide Series race last night, in the age of the two-car draft, anyone can win at Daytona and Talladega. Well, except maybe for Kevin Conway. He sucks.

Sat 7:30p - NASCAR Sprint Cup at Daytona (Coke Zero 400), TNT

Tennis - Yeah, I'm pulling out all the stops this weekend, because I don't want to get bored. I rarely watch tennis, but the Wimbledon finals are this weekend, so...why not? I'll at least consider it.

Sat 9:00a - Wimbledon Ladies' Final, NBC
Sun 9:00a - Wimbledon Gentlemen's Final, NBC

(Disclaimer: I don't know what time the matches actually start. 9:00a is simply the start of the broadcast window.)
(Side comment: Yes, I decided to use the snobby terms "Ladies" and "Gentlemen", rather than "Women" and "Men", because that's what they want. Is there anything more snobby in sports than "The Championships, Wimbledon"?)