Thursday, September 29, 2011

Official State Highway Maps

One of the rooms in our house has been designated "the Map Room". The walls of the Map Room are literally covered in maps. It's pretty awesome. Who needs wallpaper when you have a bunch of official state (and in some cases, province) highway maps?

Soon thereafter, I decided to bring the concept to my office at work, but only on a limited basis. Then a few weeks ago, I upgraded to a bigger office at work, an office which happens to have much more available wall space. It was then that I decided to go "all out" once again and completely cover all of the walls of my new office with maps, as opposed to just one wall. I then sent away for several more official state (and in some cases, province) highway maps. A couple of weeks later, three of my four office walls are covered in maps. Yeah!

The first wall looks a lot like the wall in my previous office, except rearranged a little.

But the second and third walls each have a new set of recently acquired maps:

The fourth wall is still blank, but I am also still expecting 12 more state maps in the mail. That may or may not be enough to fill the fourth wall.

Where do I get these maps? Some (including many on the second wall) are historical maps I got from friends. (The Indiana map, for example, is from 1968, and I think the Florida map is from the 1970s.) Others, I got from the state department of transportation (or department of tourism) for free by going to their website and filling out a form. For example, here is where you can get a free printed copy of the official North Carolina state highway map. Interstate Welcome Centers also will usually have free state maps available for pickup, although you obviously have to actually go to the state to get it in that case.

Sure, I could go to AAA and get a bunch of AAA maps. That's what we do for actual vacations, but for wallpapering purposes, the official state DOT maps are much better. AAA maps all look the same: same colors, same fonts, and so forth. But every state makes their own maps a little differently, and this makes for a much more interesting and colorful Map Room.

But as society trends away from printed maps and towards electronic maps, and as states across the country penny-pinch in an effort to balance their budgets, are state-issued official highway maps an endangered species? Hopefully not, but at least one state - Washington - no longer prints copies of its state map, citing both budgetary reasons and the availability of online maps. Sure, I can download their official state map in .pdf format, but what's the point? It's not like I have access to a printer that can turn the .pdf into a full-size state map. And it's not the same without all of the folds, either. As a result, Washington will not be represented on my office walls. (Boooooo Washington! Boycott!)

A few other states won't be represented on my office walls, either. Illinois is one of a few states that make printed maps, but don't give you the option of getting one through the mail; instead, you have to go to a state Welcome Center or DOT office to get it. Nevada has a free state highway map, but they also have a minimum order of $8 if ordering online, apparently. Other states like Rhode Island offer free "travel guides", but it isn't clear whether an official map is included. Unless I am certain a map will be included, I feel kind of guilty ordering a visitor's guide for a state that we don't actually plan on visiting any time soon. As for Hawai'i, I don't know if they've ever even had an official state highway map. Hawai'i is one of two states not represented in either "Map Room". Alaska is the other, but I'm hoping that will change soon, because I sent away for an official Alaska map last week.

(Side note: Vermont sent me the full visitor's guide along with the map. Included with the packet was a letter basically saying, "We know you've heard about the damage Tropical Storm Irene did to the state of Vermont. But don't let that stop you from visiting - we're open for business! Just allow for a little extra travel time as we work to fix the roads.)

Then, there are states like Tennessee, which used to put the entire state on one side of the map (see here), but now puts the western half on one side, and the eastern half on the reverse side. That seems like a more practical way to print the map, especially for a wide state like Tennessee. But it's really inconvenient for my purposes. I should have ordered two. And I feel guilty going back and requesting another map after the fact. Hey, I guess half a map is better than no map, eh, Washington?

For some reason, Louisiana and Massachusetts sent me two maps anyway, even though I ordered one. Actually, I should have ordered at least two maps from each state regardless. Not just for instances like Tennessee where they split up the state front-and-back. (That's pretty rare, but I've also had this problem with California and Illinois in the past. Ontario also does it, with Southern on one side and Northern on the reverse, but I give them a pass.) But if official state highway maps are in fact an endangered species, then I better stock up now, before it's too late.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When to Use a Sick Day

(Disclaimer: Possible content overlap between this post and one I wrote on April 26, 2007.)

I took a sick day today because I started feeling the onset of a cold last night, which continued this morning. But now, a few hours later, I actually feel pretty good. Should I have taken the sick day in the first place?

Well, let's analyze. Lots of factors at play here. Let's start with what I think is the #1 reason to use a sick day, at least from the company's perspective:

You don't want to get the rest of the office sick, do you? Of course not, especially considering that one of my co-workers is seven months pregnant. But the thing is, studies have shown that one is capable of passing the common cold on to others for a full TWO WEEKS (source). Needless to say, I'm not going to take two weeks off from work for a common cold. And, I may have already gotten the rest of the office sick when I was there yesterday. Staying away from work when you're contagious simply isn't practical. But I think taking one sick day in the middle of common cold, when symptoms are at their worst (as they were this morning) and the cold is most contagious, is reasonable. Maybe two sick days if the cold is bad enough, which this one isn't.

How much sick leave does your company give you? I get 10 days a year, it rolls over from year-to-year with no upper limit, and I can't cash it out when I leave. This policy allows me to carry a rather large balance of sick leave, and it encourages rather liberal use of sick leave, which I think is sort of the idea. If you're sick, stay away. Contrast that to the company where Amber works: five days a year, no rollover. If that was my company's policy, then I probably would have gone to work today. (Unless it was December and I had at least two days of sick leave left for the year.)

Any looming deadlines at the office? Not today. I guess if it came down to it, going back to reason #1, I could work from home if I absolutely had to get something out the door today. But most of the time, an unplanned day off won't create too much of a problem with respect to the work.

How sick are you, really? Well...tough question to answer. I'm not exactly bedridden here. I can get up and do stuff, and I could have at least had a somewhat productive day at work had I gone in. But going back to the top two reasons, company policy encourages us to stay home on a day such as today. Regardless, I'll feel better tomorrow by staying home and resting today than I would had I gone to work. In theory.

Speaking of which...I can't say I feel "pretty good" anymore like I did when I started typing this, so I should probably get away from the computer and get back to bed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New Area Codes

Starting next year, the Raleigh area (a.k.a. the Triangle) will join many other metropolitan areas in that it will be served by two overlaid area codes. The existing 919 area code will remain intact, and will be overlaid by a new area code, 984. We're big time now! You know you've made it as a metropolitan area when you need two area codes.

Or so I thought, until I started looking around. When an area code runs out of phone numbers, you can do one of two things. Option #1 is to split the area code into two, forcing an area code change on half of your constituents, but keeping "one region, one area code" and seven-digit dialing. Option #2 is to overlay a second area code on the entire area, which keeps all existing numbers the same, but eliminates seven-digit dialing. Option #1 (splits) was favored for quite some time, but option #2 (overlays) seems to be the most popular form of area code expansion these days. For example, when West Virginia needed a new area code (the state's second) a few years ago, rather than split the existing 304, they decided to overlay the entire state with their new area code. Manitoba decided to do the same thing, and their second area code - 431, to be implemented next year - will be a province-wide overlay of the existing 204. I guess having two area codes no longer means you're in a big city, because even West Virginia and Manitoba are using overlays. (HOV lanes are still an indicator of big city status, however.)

Why the change from splits to overlays? Because ten digit dialing isn't really a big deal anymore, not with cell phones. Most phone calls do not involve me typing numbers into my phone, and when I do dial numbers, I've been in the habit of dialing 10 digits for years now anyway. Seven-digit dialing is a thing of the past, folks...but that has already been the case with the younger generation, I think. Still, though, I would prefer that new area codes come from a split rather than an overlay. The primary reason is because I like area codes as regional identifiers. One region, one area code. Given that about half of Manitoba's population lives in Winnipeg, why not give Winnipeg one area code and the rest of the province the other area code?

Area codes are useful in that they allow me to determine where a phone call is coming from if I don't recognize the number. They also help give me some information about somebody. Let's say I have a friend, and his/her cell phone number starts has a non-local area code. Well, that lets me know where this person used to live! I think that's neat. It's quite common for people to have non-local cell phone numbers these days, since people tend to hang onto their cell phone numbers even after they relocate. In fact, my cell phone number is still area code 904 (Jacksonville), and Amber's cell phone number is still area code 814 (State College). Having a 904 cell phone number is sort of a badge of pride for me, which is one reason why I've never switched to a 919 number. Jacksonville pride, baby! (The main reason I've never changed it is so that I wouldn't have to tell everyone that my phone number changed.)

Speaking of which...I suppose the whole "pride" thing is an argument for overlays. People carry some sort of pride with their home area code. (For example: "I'm from The 919, yo!") So what if we split the area code up? Then all those people who were "919 representing" are now "984 representing", and that doesn't sound as hip, I guess. At least this way, everyone who was in "The 919" to begin with, still is. But overlaying a single metropolitan area is one thing; those are hard to split into two area codes. I don't like the idea of overlaying an entire state with a second area code. And I'm not from West Virginia, but I don't think you would lose much "pride" by putting Wheeling and Beckley in separate area codes. I demand as much specificity as possible in my area codes!

Other fun facts about area code splits and overlays:
- California has 30 area codes. If I counted correctly, 20 of the 30 are non-overlaid: one region, one area code.
- The following states still only have one area code covering the entire state: Alaska (sort of - see below), Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Wyoming. (District of Columbia, too.)
- West Virginia is the only state with a two-area-code overlay covering the entire state. Every other state with two area codes employs a split. (Saskatchewan also has a two-area-code, province-wide overlay, and Manitoba will starting next year.)
- Alaska is entirely served by area code 907...except for the Southeast Alaska town of Hyder, which shares British Columbia's area code 250.
- In Canada, the three northern territories (Yukon, NW Territories, Nunavut) share a single area code: 867, which not coincidentally, spells "TOP" on your phone.

Speaking of spelling out words with phone numbers...if I were to switch my phone number to a local number, the best time to do it would be immediately after the new area code is implemented, right? All of the fun 919 numbers are already taken, of course. But with 984 we're starting fresh, so in theory, I could get any phone number I want - say, 984-222-2222. Or, I could spell out any word I want, such as 984-CURLING, or maybe 984-BOOGERS. Wouldn't that be fun?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Curling Recap: 9/23/11

Career game #154: 2011 Fall League - September 23, 2011

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Allen........ 03020110 | 07
Scott........ 10201001 | 05

Before each new Triangle Curling Club league season, my biggest fear is that I will go 0-8. I don't really fear finishing last; I've never finished in last place in a league, but it will happen eventually, and that's okay. But I still think I'm trying to prove my worth as a Skip, and going winless would be a pretty big step back in that regard, to the point where it might be a while before I get another opportunity. Well, two games in, we've got our first win of the Fall League. Hooray!

The ice conditions of the night dictated that you could only reliably use the outer half of the sheet. Throw something on the inner half, and it will fall away from the center line and not really end up in a useful place. So, the thing to do was to take control of "the line" as early in the end as possible, which we did an excellent job of throughout the game. Controlling the center four feet of the sheet - or, in our case, the line you have to take to get there - is paramount to any good curling strategy. Ironically, that's something I learned from opposing skip Keith during a strategy session he taught a few months back. (Keith has been doing this a long time.)

Here is basically how "the line" played: (not to scale)

There was a subtle ridge down the middle of the ice, which a rock would "bounce" away from as it approached from the outside. So you had to take that into account when you are, for example, trying to take out that red rock there. Since the red rock is far from the ridge, you want to have the rock bounce off the ridge as late down the ice as possible, or else you'll miss the rock to the inside. I can't always figure out the ice (the previous week I struggled with that), but last Friday, I thought I had the ice conditions nailed pretty well.

Those who curl on dedicated ice may be thinking, "That sounds ABSOULTELY RIDICULOUS". It is, if you're used to good curling ice. But arena ice is all I've ever known (outside of away bonspiels), and I think that may actually give me an advantage over curlers who have decades of experience curling on dedicated ice. When the ice does crazy things, I just go with the flow and try to use it to my advantage.

How do I use it to my advantage? By throwing take-outs when necessary along the predictable line, and then guarding the heck out of the predictable line and forcing the other team into throwing difficult shots along the less-worn paths. My best shot of the game was a take-out for three points at the end of the 2nd end (along the predictable line), and I called a few crazy heavy take-outs later in the game for the rest of my team along that line, some of which worked out great for us. Later in the game, once we had the lead, we got defensive and guarded plenty, to the point where opposing skip Keith didn't have too many options when it came to be his turn. (That was important, because on any given day, Keith is going to out-curl me hands down.) Of course, it's easy to make a strategy sound good, but most strategies will pan out when everyone on your team plays as well as we did on Friday, top to bottom.

There are nine teams in this league, and right now we're in a six-way tie for 2nd at 1-1. (Full standings and schedule here.) Excitement!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Sports Saturday: 9/24/11

Once again, I'm putting myself on a clock: I am not allowed to spend more than 30 minutes writing this week's Sports Saturday post. That includes the amount of time I spend looking up the weekend's TV schedules, which is actually what I spend most of my time doing with these.


Doesn't look like the Jaguars' whole Luke McCown experiment worked out. He was flat-out awful in last week's game against the Jets. But I still think he should be the starter this Sunday. After David Garrard was cut, I think the Jaguars had two options: 1) Declare rookie Blaine Gabbert the starter from the beginning. 2) Declare Luke McCown the starter and stick with him for at least the first few games. Why start the guy only to bench him in favor of Gabbert after ONE awful game, as the Jaguars have done? Especially if he is supposedly "better than David Garrard"? That said, I am looking forward to seeing how Gabbert does this Sunday. Side note: I'm already second-guessing my NFL Sunday Ticket purchase for this year. This is the third straight week in which I would have seen the Jaguars without purchasing Sunday Ticket (free preview in Week 1 + local broadcasts the last two weeks). Jacksonville at Carolina: Sun 1:00p, WRAL 5

As for the rest of the league...I'm most interested in seeing how the Buffalo Bills do this weekend. Their last game against Oakland was the game of the weekend, and now the Bills are 2-0 and play the Patriots at home. New England at Buffalo: Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 706

Houston has to be the favorite in the AFC South at this point, right? Houston at New Orleans: Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 705

Another "usually crappy team that's doing pretty well so far": Detroit. When all else fails, these are usually the types of teams I pull for. Detroit at Minnesota: Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 710

(Other locally broadcast games: 1:00p FOX - NYG/PHI. 4:15p FOX - GB/CHI. 8:20p NBC - PIT/IND.)
(Other games: 1:00p - SF/CIN, MIA/CLE, DET/MIN, DEN/TEN. 4:00p - NYJ/OAK, BAL/STL, KC/SD, ATL/TB, ARI/SEA.)

[current time spent: 11:30]

College football

Let's start with the ACC, and Florida State. The Seminoles were not able to beat perceived #1 Oklahoma last weekend, but the excitement is back, is it not? Win or lose, it was fun to see FSU back on the "big stage". That said, today's game against Clemson is bigger than the Oklahoma game. If they truly are "back" (I still have my doubts, especially considering the Seminoles' injury troubles), then they should beat Clemson, right. Lose, and all this "hype" was for nothing, I think. I never bought into the hype, though, and I'm not surprised that Clemson is actually the favorite here. If they win, great! If not, then we're back to the FSU 21st century status quo, which isn't a completely bad place to be, honestly. Florida State at Clemson: Sat 3:30p, ESPN

Speaking of the 21st century status quo, Penn State seems to be back in the "maybe hopefully we'll win enough games to be bowl eligible" mode that they were in a few years ago. (Full disclosure: I was not able to catch the Temple game. I only read about it.) And that means today's game is probably the only guaranteed win they have left. Eastern Michigan at Penn State: Sat 12:00p, ESPN2

I missed Temple last week, so how about this week? Temple at Maryland: Sat 12:30p, WRAL (ACC Network)

I've pretty much ignored Florida so far, in part because I'm choosing to relish in the relative anonymity that the Gators are experiencing in the post-Urban Meyer days. I don't mind them so much when they're "just another team". Florida at Kentucky: Sat 7:00p, ESPN

ABC has been able to land a pretty solid game most weeks. How much of a role do the TV networks play when scheduling these non-conference games? And, are preseason rankings of teams who have such games early in the season inflated (consciously or not) to make the game seem more important? I always wonder about that. LSU at West Virginia: Sat 8:00p, ABC

Other games I'm mildly interested in:

North Carolina at Georgia Tech, Sat 12:00p, ESPN: You know me and my mid-level ACC matchups. Although if last week is any indication, maybe Georgia Tech is a contender.
North Dakota State at Minnesota, Sat 7:00p, BTN: Minnesota seems to have more trouble beating FCS/I-AA teams than any other big conference team. (Well, except Duke.)
Nebraska at Wyoming, Sat 7:30p, Versus: The football programs of these two schools are so distant from each other, it didn't register at first that these two states actually share a border.
Missouri at Oklahoma, Sat 8:00p, FX: FOX better be paying Gus Johnson a lot of money. So far, it seems like he committed career suicide by giving up the NFL and March Madness just so he could call the Big 12/Pac-12 blowout of the week on FX.

Uh oh...I'm up to 28 minutes. No time to talk conference realignment. (In short: just what the ACC needs, more northern teams that nobody down here cares about!) Better finish this up quick...

Auto racing

Will NASCAR actually get to race on Sunday this week? Maybe. NASCAR Sprint Cup at New Hampshire: Sun 2:00p, ESPN

So, we were at church last week, and one of the hymns sounded very, very familiar. "Hey, this melody sounds familiar. Somebody's national anthem goes by this same tune, but I can't figure out which one." Turns out it was the German national anthem, which I have heard many times this year, thanks to Sebastian Vettel (German) winning pretty much every Formula One race this year. Formula One Singapore Grand Prix: Sun 8:00a, SPEED

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Beer: The Return

Recall that back in May, I gave up beer, completely and effective immediately, citing immediate headaches whenever I had a drink or two. (I don't mean headaches the morning after; I mean immediate headaches.) Well, four months later, it's time for a new policy! I think a compromise can be found, so my self-imposed complete beer ban is history. This new policy, which has actually been in effect for a couple of weeks now, has worked out okay so far.

Introducing my new policy on beer (and other alcoholic drinks, although over 95% of the alcohol I consume is in the form of beer):
- In "open bar" situations, such as wedding receptions, in which all alcohol is pre-paid: have at it.
- Curling: When I lose, I may accept a free drink if I wish. (Curling tradition dictates that the winning team buys the losing team a round of drinks.) When I win, no beer.

Basically, these first two rules amount to this: If I don't have to pay for the drink myself, I can drink. Otherwise, nope. But there is more to it than that...

- At home: No drinking at home, period. Even if someone else brings beer to my house at no charge to me.
- In other social situations: Decide on a case-by-case basis. Most social situations will dictate "no beer", but I will make exceptions when my "social status" seems to depend greatly on it. (Recall that the reason I started drinking beer in the first place was part of an effort to be more socially acceptable. Because, you know, all the kids are doing it!) I don't expect to activate this clause too often, if ever, but I figured I'd write it into the rules. Rules which are totally arbitrary and non-binding, of course.

I think this is a good compromise. My body can handle some beer, but only in moderation; it must be regulated.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Home Alone with Marla

On Sunday evenings this Fall (curling season), and starting last weekend, our nearly 8-week-old daughter Marla will spend four to five hours at home alone with me. Amber spends 8 to 9 hours alone with Marla every weekday while I'm at work, but I don't have as much practice being the "solo parent" myself. Can I handle it without "incident"?

Well, I think I did just fine on Sunday. Marla is currently at the stage where she rarely naps for more than 30 minutes at a time during the day, and if you put her down in a chair or swing or something like that, she'll start crying within a matter of minutes. So, you more or less have to hold her to some extent the whole time, and always keep the pacifier handy. That will change eventually, but for the last several weeks, she's been rather high maintenance...but not so high maintenance that I can't watch football in the meantime. Amber doesn't have this problem, but I get bored when it's just me and Marla, so I have to put something on the television, or something. Once Marla actually starts doing stuff, then things will change.

Obviously, when Amber's away, the only feeding option is bottle feeding. I'm perfectly capable, but Amber has a better grasp of reading the "hunger cues" than I do. I always think she's hungry. (Which might actually be accurate.) And I've been doing diaper changes a lot along the way as well, so that's not a big deal, either. (Speaking of which, we've given up on the idea of cloth diapers.)
No part of baby care is big a deal, really. But several hours of baby care with no break can be kind of exhausting. I have a ton of respect for what Amber does on a day-to-day basis at home.

This week, I get "home alone with Marla" time both Saturday and Sunday, during which I expect at least one "challenge". I mean, mayhem is supposed to erupt when the baby is left alone with Dad, right?

In other baby news: Marla now weighs over 10 pounds. And that was as of last week, so she might even be close to 11 by now. (We'll get an official number one week from today during her two-month appointment.) Perhaps not coincidentally, I am also gaining weight. This study concluded that new fathers gain an average of 14 pounds during pregnancy; I was able to avoid that, but maybe now it's catching up to me. (And when I say "gaining weight", I mean maybe five pounds. Not a big deal, but as they say, it's easier to keep it off than to take it off. So now is the time to start paying more attention to it.)

Marla is still stuck on five counties visited, but we plan to take her to at least one new county sometime this weekend. And if we're feeling ambitious, we might even give Marla a new state! Virginia isn't that far away, you know. (Danville is a real possibility for this weekend's Marla road trip. That trip would give Marla four new counties.)'s the token baby picture of the week:

We had our first real taste of fall last weekend, with lows in the 50s and highs in the 60s. This was the first time Marla had experienced temperatures like this, and I'm not sure she liked it so much. She'll learn to appreciate cold weather eventually...but in the meantime, given how cold we like to keep the house in the winter, I think we're going to need lots and lots of blankets.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Sister's Kitchen

I've long maintained that Waffle Shop of State College, PA, serves the best breakfast. A few breakfast joints in the Triangle (Brigs, Courtney's) serve a good breakfast, but they're no Waffle Shop. So when a new breakfast-style restaurant opens up, I have to try it...just in case. You never know, right?

Introducing "My Sister's Kitchen", located less than five minutes from our house in Durham. My Sister's Kitchen hasn't been around long. It may not even be as old as our nearly two-month old daughter. (The building had been occupied by a Greek restaurant called Zorba's. The old Oh! Brian's building is still vacant, by the way. It's been two years now!)

Being a new restaurant and all, I did not expect even Brigs or Courtney's quality, let alone Waffle Shop quality. But hey, might as well give it a shot. It's been a while since we've gone out for breakfast. (Not since last December!)

My verdict: this is a low-budget breakfast joint. Great prices, but a short menu, and the food - while not bad by any means - is reflective of the prices. I have two main issues with the menu: 1) No French toast?? 2) According to the menu, they offer grits as part of a meal but not as its own side. I'm sure they would have given me grits on the side had I asked for it, but that should be on the menu. This is North Carolina, right? (Note: there is a lunch/dinner menu on the reverse. Pictured above is just the breakfast menu.)

But this is a very new restaurant, so I am willing to cut them some slack. A quick glance at the restaurant's mixed Urbanspoon reviews indicates that these folks haven't been in the restaurant business for long, so they have a lot of kinks to work out.

The level of service depends seems to depend on when you get there. When we arrived between 9:30 and 10:00, there was only one other customer in the restaurant, but by the time we left, there were several groups of people in there. So while our food was served in 7 minutes, 55 seconds (2nd fastest of 2011 behind Danny's BBQ), had we shown up an hour later, I think it would have been an entirely different story. The level of staff that was there cannot support a more than half-full dining area. (The wait staff is also a bit raw on experience.) Other "kinks" they have to work out include occasionally running out of something (according to the Urbanspoon reviews), and only putting one menu at each table rather than one menu per potential customer. But they'll figure all of the details out eventually. I don't know when they get most of their business, but they might be better served closing at 2 or 3 instead of staying open until 7 as they do now.

This place is never going to approach Brigs or Courtney's (and certainly not Waffle Shop), but as long as that's not what they're trying to do (which it's not), then that's okay. Their best bet is to try and stay "low budget". Based on the afore-mentioned Urbanspoon reviews, it appears the biggest area for improvement is the occasionally slow and/or inattentive service. Hopefully that will improve in time, because I think service will ultimately decide whether this restaurant is successful, because it's hard to screw up pancakes. (Although it has been done.)

As for me...we'll probably come back next time we don't feel like waiting in line somewhere else, or maybe just because. Sometimes I like to support "the little guy". I'm rooting for them.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Curling Recap: 9/16/11

Career game #153: 2011 Fall League - September 16, 2011

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Allen........ 00003110 | 05
Wright....... 12110002 | 07

Let's rewind to last January. In my first game of the Triangle Curling Club Winter League, I grabbed an early 5-0 lead, squandered it, and then won anyway. Now, in my first game of the Fall League, against the same opposing skip: I went down 5-0 early, fought back to tie, and lost anyway.

Being the first game of the season, it took us a while to get going (needless to say), even though some of us curled the previous Friday. I actually think we're fortunate to have only trailed 5-0 at the halfway point. We struggled with weight to the point where we could hardly even get anything in play, let alone in good position. But by the 5th end, we started playing much better.

In the odd-numbered ends, there was a bit of a trough down the center of the ice. If you throw a rock in that area, it would more or less hold the center line, aside from a wobble here and there. So with this particular setup (prior to my first of two Skip's rocks), I really only had one play: LET 'ER RIP. (our team = red)

Given the center-line "wobbles", you couldn't really plan for a double take-out. You just had to throw it hard and hope for the best. That's what I did, and lucky for us, my rock hit yellow #2 nearly head-on, but just off-center enough so that it would hit about half of yellow #1. That sent both yellows out of the house, and leaving three red rocks in the house. If #2 had hit #1 head-on, then of course, #2 would have stayed in there. We needed a little bit of luck there, sure, but any double take-out is worthy of a diagram.

I gave one away on my final shot of that end, however, throwing the wrong turn on my last rock that would have given us four points instead of three. Combine that with a gift second point that I gave them in the 2nd end (promoting a second yellow rock into the house on my last shot, for two opposing instead of one), and maybe that was the difference. There are ways we could have won this game, but mostly, it came down to the other team getting early position in most ends, and making the key shots when they needed them early in the game and in the last end. They played very solid defense throughout the game, which is unusual for a Lance W.-skipped team. (Usually Lance likes to play a little more aggressive. Maybe this is the new Lance?) I like playing defensively (see career game #135), but we never had an opportunity to get defensive in this game.

This coming Friday, we play on one of the "outer sheets", which are generally sloped more and are more difficult to play on. At the same time, I think the outer sheets benefit me as Skip. Will it help me this Friday?

Meanwhile, Amber curled for the first time post-pregnancy on Sunday. Her team lost, but I'm sure it felt good for her to get back on the ice. Amber will be curling most Sundays this Fall. (Marla stayed home with me on Sunday evening, which in and of itself is worth blogging about. Look forward to that later this week.)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sports Saturday: 9/17/11

If I'm honest, the "positive feedback received" / "effort exerted" ratio is lower on these Sports Saturday posts than it is with anything else I do on the blog. I think it's about time I improve that ratio. Not by making the product better, no, but by decreasing the amount of effort I put into these. Yes! In fact, I'm now putting myself on a clock: no more than 30 minutes per "Sports Saturday" post. Which means the odds of me getting around to talking about NASCAR are pretty slim this time, but we'll see what happens.


So last week, I made a big stink about how the Jaguars shouldn't have cut David Garrard, blah blah blah. Well, Luke McCown has the Jaguars sitting at 1-0. That doesn't mean I was wrong; that just means that the Jaguars relied mostly on the running game (as they should have), while Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck missed open receiver after open receiver. (Time for Jake Locker?) That's my analysis, anyway. As you should know by now, I don't really know what I'm talking about with this stuff. If McCown and the Jaguars win game #2, then I'll really be impressed. Jacksonville at NY Jets: Sun 1:00p, WRAL 5

Last week, I also said that Cam Newton wasn't ready to start. Wrong again. This is why I should just watch, not analyze. Green Bay at Carolina: Sun 1:00p, WRAZ 50

The Buffalo Bills won their season opener 41-7 (!). I think it's the uniforms. Oakland at Buffalo: Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 705

If the Colts suck all season as much as they did last weekend, then I'm going to watch as much of this train wreck as I can. This Sunday will be a pretty good gauge of the Colts' true sans-Peyton suckitude. Cleveland at Indianapolis: Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 708

I can't decide on a late game to focus on, so I'm going to base it on who is doing the play-by-play. Our choices: Thom Brennaman on FOX, and Jim Nantz, Ian Eagle, and Spero Dedes on CBS. Ian Eagle it is! Houston at Miami: Sun 4:15p, DirecTV 716

(Other games: Sun 1:00p - KC/DET, BAL/TEN, ARI/WAS, TB/MIN, CHI/NO, SEA/PIT. Sun 4:00p - DAL/SF, SD/NE [local broadcast], CIN/DEN. Sun 8:15p - PHI/ATL.)

College football

Big game here: Oklahoma at Florida State: Sat 8:00p, ABC. Or is it? It's only labeled as such based on meaningless preseason rankings. Maybe we'll look back on this weekend and think, "You know, that game didn't really have that much impact on the BCS championship after all. That Auburn at Clemson game, however...that one really slipped under the radar." You never know this early in the season. That said, this is a big opportunity for FSU. Are they "back" or not? My pessimistic viewpoint: we've been through this before, multiple times over the past decade. FSU gets a top 10 preseason ranking, everyone says "FSU is back!", and then they flame out in their first real test of the season. We'll see.

I didn't watch any of the Penn State/Alabama game, and I don't feel like I missed a thing. While I am looking forward to the start of Big Ten play, today's game isn't exactly a gimme. Penn State at Temple: Sat 12:00p, ESPN (Speaking of the Big Ten, some are writing the conference name as B1G, like in their logo. The logo is alright, but I think it looks tacky in typed form, and "Big Ten" is how you say it out loud, so "Big Ten" it is.)

Utah lost their Pac-12 opener to USC last weekend. Utah was a perennial "BCS buster" when they played in the Mountain West, so my hope is that if Utah struggles in their first year in the Pac-12, that people don't hold that against teams like Boise State and TCU. "See what happens when you put one of these teams in a real conference?" Uh huh. But this year's Utah team is not that good, though. But I am still oddly intrigued by their first year in the Pac-12. I might watch more of the Utah Utes than ever before. Utah at BYU: Sat 9:15p, ESPN2

And, my 30 minutes is up. I guess I'll have to keep my thoughts on Ohio State/Miami, and on Paul Menard, to myself.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Random Bicycling Statistics

They say that as a blogging rule, one should avoid posting "content for the sake of content". I never got that memo. Here, folks, is content (bicycling statistics) for the sake of content (because I didn't post anything yesterday, and because tomorrow's "Sports Saturday" post is going to be pretty weak).

This Monday, I rode my bike to work for the 100th time*. In honor of this feat, I came up with the following afore-mentioned "bike to work stats":
- By biking to work, I've saved $62 in gas and 650 car miles. That's really not all that much in the long run, but it's better than nothing.
- On the other hand, biking to work has helped me burn approximately 25,000 calories, which equates to 7 pounds of body fat. Now that is something.
- Going back to my first bicycle commute (June 23, 2009), I commute via bicycle, on average, 3.8 times per month. In 2011, I'm averaging 4.6 times per month, which is about once a week.
- My 3¼-mile ride to work takes me, on average, 15 minutes and 52 seconds. My fastest and slowest times are 18:33 and 12:48, respectively. Also - and I think this is really interesting - my average commute time is 50 seconds faster in the afternoon than in the morning. (I feel like I've mentioned that before. If so...oh well.)
- I ride to work most often on Tuesday (29 times) and least often on Monday (10 times). Monday morning is always a tough sell for me.

The two most rewarding things about riding to work are 1) leaving my car at home all day (I am an EPA contractor, after all), and 2) when I get home, I've already exercised and can go do something else instead. Yay!

A few weeks ago, I posted this graph of my weekly bicycling distance. Now, here is the same data in a different format:

Weekly bicycling distance frequency

0.0 miles: 2 weeks
0.1-10.0 miles: 1 week
10.1-20.0 miles: 11 weeks
20.1-30.0 miles: 12 weeks
30.1-40.0 miles: 24 weeks
40.1-50.0 miles: 29 weeks
50.1-60.0 miles: 18 weeks
60.1-70.0 miles: 3 weeks
70.1+ miles: 1 week

25th percentile: 29.7 miles
50th percentile: 40.3 miles
75th percentile: 48.2 miles
Highest weekly total: 70.8 miles

Finally, in my fictional Bicycling Trip to Alaska, I am now only three to five weeks away from the Alaska border. Almost there! This next week might fall into that 10 to 20 mile range, though, so it'll probably be closer to five weeks.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Catholic Wedding

I guess our recent decision to join an Episcopal Church has me inspired to talk about religion more than usual. Hey, let's talk about the Catholics some more!

On Saturday, Josh and Shannon Brien - whom we met through kickball - got married. The venue: a fancy Catholic church - a cathedral, even - in downtown Raleigh.

I kind of wish I had gotten a picture of the fancy bishop's chair, which only the bishop is allowed to sit in. Oh, those silly Catholics. Going to a Catholic church is kind of like going back in time, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I wonder how often that chair gets cleaned.

A Catholic wedding is more or less a full Catholic mass in which two people happen to get married. As a result, Catholic weddings are among the longest. This one clocked in at 59 minutes, 1 second (yes, I time these things), which for a Catholic mass, that's more than reasonable. However, as I understand it, attending Saturday's wedding - which started at 2 PM - would not satisfy one's "Catholic mass for the weekend" obligation according to Catholic rules and regulations. I think.

Let's say you're at a Catholic wedding. Do you take communion, or do you not? Well, if you're a practicing Catholic, you obviously do. If you are Protestant and have always been Protestant, you do not take communion. While many Protestant faiths say that all baptized Christians are welcome to receive communion, the Catholics say that only "prepared" Catholics are eligible to receive Catholic communion. (This is, if nothing else, an effective way to single out all of the non-Catholics at a Catholic wedding.) But what about me? I was raised Catholic and went through all of the rituals as a child, up through and including Confirmation. But now that I've joined an Episcopal Church, am I still eligible to receive communion? Probably not. Besides, given that I kind of went poo-poo all over many of the Catholic church's beliefs in last week's post, and because I am kind of trying to distance myself from the Catholic church, it didn't seem right to receive communion. It would almost be like telling the Catholic church, "Please take me back! I made a mistake!" Nope. I stayed seated.

One thing I've struggled with in my early days as an Episcopalian of sorts is "the words". I pretty much have the standard Catholic mass memorized. But Episcopalians often change up the words a little bit in their rituals. They're similar, but they're different. And when you've attended between 500 and 1,000 Catholic masses over the years, it's hard to make that switch. It would almost be easier to start from scratch. Here's one example of a subtle difference in "the words" I like: the Catholic Nicene Creed I grew up with and am familiar with contains the line "For us men, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven..." The Episcopalian version drops the word "men". (I don't think I need to explain that one.) It could take years for me to re-train my brain accordingly. (Here's another subtle Nicene Creed difference. Catholic: "He suffered, died, and was buried." Episcopalian: "He suffered death, and was buried." That one, I cannot explain. Sometimes I think Protestants change the words for no other reason than to be different from the Catholics.)

As for this weekend, attending a Catholic wedding probably set me back another month or two with respect to "the words". But that's okay. It was worth it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Goatee

I'm going to talk about the wedding we went to over the weekend a little more tomorrow. In the meantime...I'm going to talk about this one picture I took at the reception.

What's notable about this picture? Well, I think the guy in the blue tie looks just like a 20-year-old version of me. I purposely took this picture from a distance, because obviously the closer up you get, the less he looks like me. But the primary features are there: short hair, round glasses, and most importantly, the goatee. Oh, the goatee.

So...those of you who have known me a long time already know this, but I used to have a goatee. From October 1999 until March/April 2006, excluding the summer of 2002 and the last week of October 2005, I looked kind of like this:

Yep. In fact, those of you who knew me in college may only recognize me with the goatee.

Why did I grow the goatee in the first place? Well, why not? I developed the ability to grow a full face of thick facial hair at a relatively early age. Not every high school senior can grow a goatee. But I could. So I did. I was also pretty insecure with myself in high school, so I thought...hey, maybe growing a goatee will help turn things around for me! Might as well give it a shot, right?

And, to be might have actually helped. I think I was "more popular" in my senior year than I was any other year in grade school, ever. And I even found a date for the prom, which when you're me, is no guarantee. Sure, I was still an awkward geek, but at least I looked like a bad ass. Because we all know that personality doesn't mean a thing when you're in high school. It's all about appearance. Actually, that would be an interesting question to ask my then-prom date. "Would you still have gone to the prom with me if I didn't have the goatee? Be honest..." (Full disclosure: I never quite figured out what my prom date's motives were in going to the prom with me. Still kind of bugs me a little bit. I have a theory, but...I'm not going to get into that.)

I also liked that the goatee made me look older. I remember playing goalie in a pickup soccer game in high school - very poorly, I might add - and hearing someone from the other team say something to the effect of, Their goalie is, like, 30 years old! I thought that was awesome. Then, I ended up in a steady relationship with a girl who also liked the goatee. And with that, that goatee wasn't going anywhere, at least not for a while. Except for the summer of 2002, when I worked at Publix. At the time, Publix had a "no facial hair" policy, excluding mustaches. Is that policy still active? Anyone know? (Keith?)

Fast-forward to October 2005, when I shaved off the goatee for a Halloween party. My "costume" was basically one in which I tried to change my appearance as much as possible by losing the goatee, not wearing a hat or glasses, and wearing nice clothes for once. It was pretty effective, but it got me thinking. Is it time to get rid of the goatee? Well, not as long as the girl still likes it. So I kept the goatee until we broke up, at which point I promptly shaved it off. And the goatee has never been seen again.

Which is lower maintenance: a clean-shaven appearance, or a goatee? With no facial hair, I have to shave more or less every day. (Six times a week is what I usually end up doing.) Chin hair grows by far the fastest, so with the goatee, I only had to shave every other day. But I also had to trim the beard about once or week, and that was a pain. I'd rather just shave six times a week.

Will the goatee ever make a return? No. I had a persona I was trying to portray at the time, and the goatee served that well. Now that I've actually embraced my nerdy self, the goatee would run counter to that. The goatee is not me, at all. Which, interestingly enough, is the exact reason I grew it to begin with.

I am not going to completely rule out a full beard, however.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Curling Recap: 9/9/11

Curling is back! Did you miss it?

The Triangle Curling Club begins its Fall Leagues this week. This will be our first league as parents, which means Amber and I aren't going to curl together this time around. I'll be curling on Friday nights and Amber on Sunday afternoons, while the other babysits.

I haven't played a single game since the end of June. For Amber, it's been longer than that (mid-April). Amber and I have participated in the club's Carolina Classic the past three Augusts, but we had to sit it out this year as we took care of our week old Marla. I admit, it was tough to stay away from the rink that weekend. (Side note: the team from Detroit that defeated us in the final of last year's Classic, repeated as champions this year.)

But before we get the league about a warmup pick-up game?

Career game #152: Pick-up - September 9, 2011

End.......... 1234567 |TTL
Allen........ 0200110 | 04
Jaun......... 3011001 | 06

I learned something in this game which I kind of already knew. When I'm playing Skip, and the Vice-skip is somebody whom I know is better an more experienced than I am, then I am far less confident with my decision making. If I had to play this game over again, I would have made sure that I was not the Skip.

Also something I kind of already knew: playing frequently helps. From a shot-making perspective, this was my worst game in recent memory. However, as Skip, I never really had any easy shots. The ice was draw-friendly and not take-out friendly, so by the time my turn came up, we never really had a whole lot of options. I'm not sure I made a single shot the entire game which benefitted our team. Meanwhile, I do remember giving the other team a point on my last shot. The good news is that my play will only get better as the season progresses. In theory. I don't think I'll get back to the level I was at in the Spring, though, when I played twice a week locally and traveled to two out-of-town bonspiels.

Even though I don't think I played that well, we still had a chance to tie the game on my last shot (with the other team's last rock yet to go), and I almost made it, too. Our only option was to raise a center guard into the house to (maybe) score one. I struggled reading the line all night, but on this shot (and the one before it), we actually had the line correct...but I was just a little too heavy. Or is that my first attempt that I'm thinking of? I don't remember.

This game counts in the stats all the same, but it was still kind of "preseason". I didn't dwell too much on it afterwards. Maybe you can figure that out based on the quality (or lack thereof) of this recap. In fact, I almost forgot to record the end-by-end score so that I could post it here. (Oh no!) But these recaps will get better once the league starts and I get another game or two under my belt. I promise. Maybe.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Sports Saturday: 9/10/11

First off, I may or may not be live-tweeting a wedding today. If I do live-tweet, I promise it will be 100% positive. The wedding starts at 2 PM in downtown Raleigh.

Second...I've decided to reformat these Sports Saturday posts a little bit, if nothing else to keep me from getting bored with them.


Yep, so the NFL is back. That whole lockout thing? Just a ploy to make America's most popular sport even more popular, by turning the end of the lockout into a "Back to Football" extravaganza, compressing an entire offseason of free-agent signings into one week, and providing a pleasant surprise (although I was never really surprise) to a fan base who had been worried that they might miss a few games, or the entire season. Nope. All in all, it was brilliantly marketed. Look forward to another season of record-breaking television ratings. They must be doing something right for me to renew my $350 NFL Sunday Ticket package for a second season.

Let's talk about my favorite team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. (I feel like I have to specify "my favorite team" at the start of the season for the benefit of any new readers. Yeah, I know...wishful thinking.) This year kind of had a "breakout season" feel to it for a while. Make it or break it, right now. This is the time. Then, the Jaguars cut their starting quarterback five days before the season opener.

Okay, so...I recognize that David Garrard's career has probably peaked by now. But with Peyton Manning injured, the AFC South is finally up for grabs. And I think Garrard still gives the Jaguars the best chance to win right now. He's taken the Jaguars to the playoffs before. So what the hell are they doing? This is absolutely ridiculous. It kind of made sense when they cut Byron Leftwich under similar circumstances a few years ago because they had a capable backup. Hey, maybe Luke McCown will surprise me, but...come on now. This is the kind of move that makes me think that saving money is more important to the team than winning. Which is somewhat reasonable for a "small-market franchise", but...still. Way to deflate a season's worth of expectations before we even got started, guys. Regardless, the score is 0-0, and you never know what will happen, so...go Jaguars! Tennessee at Jacksonville, Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 707 (This is how I'm going to format game listings from now on - after, or embedded within, the related discussion.)

Speaking of the Colts, their starting quarterback is now Kerry Collins. But I can't make fun of them for it, because the fact is, Kerry Collins is the starting quarterback for one of my fantasy football teams. Indianapolis at Houston - Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 706

Speaking of fantasy football...I actually don't know who else is starting for me. Even though I have two teams, I don't really care too much about it anymore. I think it actually takes away from the games. Rather than worry about Player X getting Y number of yards, I'd rather just watch the game to see who wins. But does this lackadaisical attitude mean I can't win? Of course not! Not as long as I pick up this year's Peyton Hillis before anyone else, like last year. Anyway, I think fantasy football gets far more attention that it should, and thus, this is the first and only time I will discuss it this year. Cincinnati at Cleveland - Sun 1:00p, DirecTV 705

I'm actually going to make an effort to watch more of the Carolina Panthers this year. In fact, I even watched some of their preseason games. And what I saw didn't exactly impress me. Overall #1 draft pick Cam Newton, despite being named the starter, is not ready to be an NFL starter. Should be another fun season in Charlotte! Carolina at Arizona - Sun 4:15p, WRAZ 50

Other games:
Sun 1:00p - ATL/CHI (WRAZ), BUF/KC (708), PIT/BAL (WRAL), PHI/STL (710), DET/TB (711)
Sun 4:15p - MIN/SD (713), NYG/WSH (715), SEA/SF (714)
Sun 8:20p - DAL/NYJ (NBC)

College football

There was no NFL last weekend, so I probably watched more college football last weekend than I will any weekend the rest of the season. And on that front, today is a pretty good day to go to a wedding instead of staying home and watching football. Not a whole lot of good games going on. The early game with the most potential is probably this one: Mississippi State at Auburn - Sat 12:20p, SEC Network (NBC 17 locally) (Again, I recommend this bookmarkable page if you're looking for a comprehensive television schedule.)

Penn State went to Alabama last year and got trounced. This year, Alabama returns the favor and comes to State College. Will the outcome be any different? (Likely not.) And will anyone from the eastern half of the state even be able to get there, due to all of the flooding? (Hopefully.) Alabama at Penn State - Sat 3:30p, ABC

When I first saw this week's schedule, I was curious about something. This game is being nationally televised on FSN: Virginia Tech at East Carolina - Sat 3:30p, FSN. But the local FSN affiliate, Fox Sports South, is pre-empting that game for this one: NC State at Wake Forest - Sat 3:30p, FS South. Sure, NC State is a bigger draw than ECU in this state. But what about the ECU game? Well, here's your answer.

Why does Duke keep putting FCS powerhouse Richmond? They've lost to Richmond three times now, including last Saturday. You'd think they would learn. There are plenty of crappy FCS teams out there. No need to schedule the good ones. Stanford at Duke - 3:30p, ESPNU

Even though it took forever, I watched much of the South Florida / Notre Dame game last weekend, which the Bulls won, surprising anyone who hasn't been paying attention over the last decade. USF has had a lot of marquee wins over the years over good teams. (Disclaimer: Notre Dame may or may not be a good team.) So why is that whenever USF beats somebody good (or somebody perceived as good), the TV announcers always act like USF has never beaten anyone before? ... Oh, that's just the Notre Dame announcers. Gotcha. Any time a team not familiar to Notre Dame comes to South Bend and wins - which has happened quite frequently over the past few years - the NBC announcers automatically declare it "one of the biggest wins in school history". Umm, no. This is just another game that USF happened to win. Go Bulls! Ball State at South Florida - Sat 7:00p, Altitude

I'm looking forward to Utah's Pac-12 debut. I'm also happy that Joe Beninati - who, in years past, would probably be on the play-by-play here - is no longer employed by Versus following the Comcast/NBC merger. Maybe the Comcast/NBC merger wasn't so bad after all! Utah at USC - Sat 7:30p, Versus

Finally, I will not be discussing any team's choice in uniforms from last week, because that will only perpetuate the problem. If you're an apparel company, any publicity is good publicity, and that's the whole point. Any time we talk about Team X's ugly uniforms, the apparel companies (whom I am going out of my way not to mention by name) win.

Auto racing

Well, I am still kind of paying attention to this, too, although not as much. The last NASCAR race before the "Chase" - at which point winning races will no longer be emphasized, unfortunately, just like always - is tonight. I haven't worked out all of the "wild card" scenarios yet - like most fans and media, I think the "wild card" has worked out great, by the way - but one thing I am curious about is this. What if they couldn't have run the Sprint Cup race at Atlanta at all this week, and it had to be moved to later in the season? Would it then become a "Chase" race, replacing whichever race would have been the first "Chase" race? It would have to, right? NASCAR Sprint Cup at Richmond - Sat 7:30p, ABC

I think last week's NASCAR race at Atlanta, and the entire Formula One season, has shown that in racing, having tires that wears quickly (but not dangerously quickly) makes for better racing. Formula One Italian Grand Prix - Sun 8:00a, SPEED


Remember Stephen Strasburg? He's back! After 12 or 13 months recovering from Tommy John surgery, he returned to the major leagues this Tuesday and pitched five scoreless innings. It sounds like he'll be pitching no more than five or six innings in a game the rest of this season, but at least it gives Nationals fans something to look forward to in long as he doesn't get injured again, of course. Strasburg's second MLB start of the year is scheduled for Sunday. Houston at Washington - Sun 1:30p, MASN

Thursday, September 08, 2011


I've been doing this blogging thing long enough, I don't always remember what I've written about before and what I haven't. So before I write a new blog post, I always search the archives to make sure I don't unknowingly repeat something I wrote four or five years ago. the dinner the other night, as I ate my ketchup-covered french fries, I thought: "Hey, I could blog about the different ways to apply ketchup to your french fries. Either you dip each fry individually, or you pour the ketchup all over your collection fries before you begin. That's a blog post right there." Except that this topic had already been covered on my February 26, 2007 blog post:

The way I see it, there are two methods by which to put ketchup on french fries. Method 1: Create a puddle of ketchup and dip each fry into the puddle on demand. Method 2: Pour ketchup all over the pile of fries. Method 1 requires extra work for each and every fry, and that's why I prefer method 2. The downsides of method 2 are that you don't get equal coverage which each fry, and that it can be kind of messy. But I think the lack of equal coverage makes things more interesting. And, I often eat my fries with a fork to avoid the mess.

Well, damn. And you know what, everything I said back then is still true. I still eat my fries the same way now that I did back then. Although apparently, there are more than just those two options - for example, pouring ketchup from the bottle onto each fry individually before you eat each one.

This "oh crap, I already wrote about this" discovery has happened quite a few times as of late. Does that mean I'm running out of material? Perhaps. Actually, I've been slowly running out of material for a long time. The french fry discussion from 2007 was part of an old feature called "Today's random thought(s)", which were thoughts that I didn't feel were worthy of an entire blog post, but that I still thought were interesting. Way back in the day, I used to have three random thoughts, every single day (!). Then, "Today's random thoughts" (plural) became "Today's random thought" (singular). Finally, "Today's random thought" became a distant memory once I discovered that I could write an entire blog post out of practically any "random thought" if I tried hard enough.

I have actually considered just going ahead and re-writing a "new" blog post anyway, under the assumption that none of you will remember, or will have read in the first place, what I wrote on February 26, 2007. My readership is small enough, I could probably get away with it, too. Heck, I might even be able to re-publish a blog post from five years ago word for word (without "Today's random thought(s)", of course) without anyone noticing. As fun an experiment as that would be, I'm better than that. I???? Better watch out, because my next blog post could be a repeat, and you may never know.

By the way...I think the stuff about prime numbers that I wrote on February 26, 2007 is far more interesting than anything related to ketchup or french fries. Maybe I should have re-published that blog post instead.

Getting back to the original question: what to do when I have a clever idea for a blog post, only to find out that I blogged about it years ago? Instead of blogging about that same topic again, just blog about the fact that I had a clever idea for a blog post only to find out I blogged about it years ago. Unfortunately, I can only do this once. Or maybe once every five years.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Episcopal Church

Although we do profess to be Christians, Amber and I aren't the most religious people out there. My personal opinion on church attendance is that it's there shouldn't really be any obligation to go on a weekly basis, and that it's always there when you need it. Over the last few years we've been going to church on Christmas and Easter only. Until now, that's been sufficient. But now that we have a daughter, we'll be going to church much more frequently than only twice a year.

Both Amber and I grew up in church-going Christian households, although in different denominations. Speaking for myself, it has certainly been a positive influence in my life, and it's something we would like to pass on to our daughter, Marla. Admittedly, if I had grown up in a completely secular household with no religious influence whatsoever, Christianity - or any other religion for that matter - would probably be a tough sell for me at this point. So from that standpoint, we're going to raise Marla the way we were raised: Christian. And that means going to church at least semi-regularly from now on.

The next question is, which type of Christian church to we take her to? I grew up Catholic - Amber, Lutheran - but there are a couple of things that bother me about the Catholic church. One is their emphasis on "silly rules" and "obligations". Another is the Catholic Church's "this is our doctrine and what you're supposed to believe, take it or leave it" sort of attitude. I never really cared about all of the details of the Catholic doctrine beyond the important stuff (faith in God and Jesus Christ, and general teachings on "right and wrong"). For example, I don't think it should really matter on a day-to-day basis, say, whether there really is such a thing as purgatory. There are also the Catholic Church's conservative stances on various social issues like birth control, women in the clergy, and homosexuality, all of which I think are outdated and strongly disagree with. At the same time, I did grow accustomed to the standard Catholic rites and rituals, and I prefer that kind of traditional church service over some of the more "charismatic" services you get with other popular branches of Christianity. Going to a church where everyone is, like, REALLY into it and stuff...nothing against those types of services, but that's not us.

Now enter the Episcopal Church. Robin Williams once described the Episcopal Church as "Catholic Lite. Same rituals, half the guilt!" Sounds perfect! I think that's fairly accurate, too. I also appreciate the Episcopal Church's more laid-back attitude, as well as their more progressive stance on the afore-mentioned social and political issues. Confident that the Episcopal Church is the right one for us, we found one reasonably close to home, started attending on a semi-regular basis a few months ago, eventually talked with the priest (which affirmed my confidence in the church further), and are now full-fledged "members" of the church. I think. At the very least, I'm now on their email list.

And let me tell you, they are very excited to have us. Most people our age who are inclined to go to church usually end up at the more charismatic types of Christian services I talked about earlier, rather than the more traditional (i.e. boring) ones. So, suffice to say that the "over 50" crowd tends to dominate the membership here. But the membership also has its share of young 30-something parents, so we're not totally alone. The challenge for us is actually going up to and meeting some of these folks. (Amber and I are a bit introverted among people we don't know.)

But like I said, this is more about Marla than us. Marla will be baptized within the next few months (haven't decided exactly when yet). Church will be a regular part of her Sunday routine (well, most Sundays). And, the teachings of Jesus Christ will be an influence throughout her childhood. And she'll be better off for it, probably.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

On-the-Road Diaper Changes

If you intend on taking your baby on the road for more than an hour or two - as we do - then you're going to have to change your baby's diaper on the road, too. Seeing as how we've never done this before, we thought it might be a good idea to "practice" this procedure before we take Marla on a real, actual road trip. Plus, it was a good excuse to drive somewhere. Yeah, we kind of do need an excuse to go somewhere now that we have a kid.

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The basic plan was to drive to the nearest interstate rest area, change her diaper, feed her, and head back home.

Where is the nearest interstate rest area to our house? I've mentioned this before, but there are three rest areas all roughly equidistant: I-40/85 west (Burlington), I-85 north (Oxford), and I-40 east (Benson). We chose the Benson rest area (point B on the map) because that was the drive we have done least recently of the three.

(Side comments regarding counties! Any of the three rest areas would have given Marla at least one new county. The Burlington rest area on I-40/85 west would have given Marla three new counties, but these are all counties Marla is going to get eventually anyway, so...meh. By going to Benson, Marla picked up just one new county, Johnston County, bringing her total to five. We came close to Wilson County when we went up to Kenly, but did not cross the line. Note that Marla has yet to pick up more than one new county in a single day, so far.)

Not a consideration here was the quality of the three rest areas. Not all rest areas are created equal, and thus, our diaper changing experiences may vary. Oklahoma, for instance, still holds a special place in my heart as having the crappiest (not to mention least plentiful) rest areas I've seen. But that was 18 years ago; have things gotten better since then? Either way, the Benson rest area is a bit on the older side. I'm sure it's as old as the interstate itself. But the Benson rest area is probably typical of what we're likely to encounter on our drives to Toledo and Jacksonville, so it made for a good test. Because at the Benson rest area, you won't find the plastic changing tables you see most places:

I thought this kind of thing was standard in interstate rest areas, in both the men's and women's restrooms. Nope! Only in good interstate rest areas, I guess. At the Benson rest area, the women's restroom has a wooden counter top which can be used as a changing table. The men's restroom has nothing. I wanted to practice this sort of thing myself, darn it. I also figured it might be good to educate ourselves a little more on this topic while we were on the road. For instance, do truck stop restrooms have changing tables? To find out, we kept going.

I-95 Exit 106 (point C on the map) has three truck stops. The nicest of the three is "Kenly 95", which is inspired by the Iowa 80 truck stop we visited en route to Alaska last year.

Surely, you'd think that a truck stop as nice as this place would have changing tables in the restrooms, right? You would be correct. In addition to the Kenly 95, the Flying J at this exit also had one, while the Wilco did not. This applies to both the men's and women's restrooms. (Amber only checked the women's restroom at the Wilco, because I assume that if there's a changing table in the men's restroom, that there is also one in the women's restroom.) Fact is, Marla didn't even need a diaper change at the time, but I went ahead and gave her one anyway, just to get a practice round in. We also fed Marla on this trip, but I won't get into the details there. That's Amber's deal.

So what did we learn? First off, interstate rest areas and truck stops - in that order - are both good places to change a baby's diaper, generally speaking. Thing is, though...we won't be able to time the diaper changes so conveniently on an actual road trip. Marla may need one when we're quite a distance away from a rest area or truck stop. Fast food restaurants and department/grocery stores are hit or miss with this sort of thing, so we can't necessarily count on them. So what do we do? Put up with 45 minutes of crying until we reach the next rest area, or take the next exit and change her in the back seat, I guess. This will likely come up at some point on our longer drives.

Speaking of which, we also confirmed yesterday what we already knew: that our drives will now take us much, much longer than they used to. For many reasons, our Thanksgiving drive to Toledo will be the real test. Durham to Toledo in 11 hours? Not anymore. Try 13 or 14.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Twitter #FTW

I think Twitter started catching on and entering the mainstream near the end of 2008, or perhaps in early 2009. When I first had heard of it, I thought it was stupid, and prompted me to write a very anti-Twitter blog post, which includes the following quotations:
- "I just don't understand it, [and] I am opposed to its existence."
- "Twitter limits you to the point where you can't really say anything profound at all."
- "I have a hard time believing Twitter can sustain long-term popularity with nothing more than a list of 140-character thoughts."

- "If you use Twitter, you're stupid." <-- This quote is completely out of context, but I thought it'd be fun to include it. Needless to say, I whiffed on this one. Now you may consider me a heavy user of Twitter. Twitter is the first website I go to every morning after I check my email, and I check it multiple times a day, not just at home but also on my phone. At first, I didn't understand it, but now I see its many benefits: All your interests, in one place. Most of my 160 "followees" (people I follow) are local and national news journalists, sports journalists, weather people, curling people, and people I know in person. Twitter puts all of this information in one place. Follow the right people - which takes a little effort - and you'll never miss a thing. No more visiting 20 different web sites to get the web content I want. It's all in one place. You can also add a "fun" follow or two into the mix, such as this New York Times columnist who is riding his bicycle cross-country and posting updates and pictures along the way. (As in, for real; not to be confused with my fake cross-country bicycling trip.) I find it especially useful when bloggers post links to their blog posts on Twitter (as most do), which brings me to my next point...

It's an accessory to, not a replacement for, blogging. First, I was afraid (I was petrified!) that tweeting would replace blogging. Blogging may not be as popular as it was five years ago, but tweeting and blogging can co-exist. I learned this once I discovered that whenever I posted a new blog post, that I could post a link to it on Twitter, and people (who follow me on Twitter, or Facebook - I do the same thing there) would see it immediately. And, they will already know what it's about before they click the link, so they don't have to wade through all of my dumb "Sports Saturday" posts to get to the good stuff like they would if they were just visiting the blog on a whim. I read lots of different blogs, but I remembering to visit them all takes a lot of effort; it's way easier to just click the links once they appear in my Twitter timeline. Most of all, like I said 30 months ago, there is only so much you can say in 140 characters, so there is still a place for blogging. Which is good for me, because I am a much better blogger than I am a tweeter, which is another thing I'll talk about here in a bit.

Keeping in touch with friends and family, in real time. How's Marla doing? How is our road trip going? Did we win our first game of the bonspiel? I cover all of these things in the blog, but not in real time. Twitter allows me to give you real-time updates as if you're right there with me. Facebook is better for this in general, but Twitter is advantageous in that you don't need an account to view my content (I do not make my Facebook profile or posts public), and is also a better medium for frequent content. On Facebook, I think five posts per day is a reasonable limit. Five posts an hour is reasonable on Twitter, however. Occasionally I'll "live-tweet" a road trip, bike ride, wedding, or something like that. Facebook is more geared towards longer single posts than for rapid, frequent posting, as Twitter is.

Why am I better blogger than I am a tweeter? I don't know, other than that I have a hard time getting my point across in less than 140 characters. And, the things I like to talk about just don't sound interesting when limited in such a way. Take my blog post about Planters peanut butter, for example. The following tweet is boring and uninteresting: "Just discovered Planters peanut butter for the first time at Kroger today". But I got a lot of positive feedback regarding my Planters peanut butter blog post. Why? Because the blog medium gave me a chance to explain why the existence of Planters peanut butter is interesting. In-depth analysis of seemingly mindless and boring topics is, I think, what I do best. This is best done in blog form, rather than via tweets.

I've had a hard time figuring out what to do with my Twitter account, production standpoint. While I am an avid "content consumer" on Twitter, I am not as much of a "content provider". Most days, my one and only tweet is a link to the day's blog post. There are other times throughout the day in which I think, "That might make a good tweet". But most of the time, I don't think day-to-day routine life is worth tweeting about, so I decide to spare your timeline. I've also thought about tweeting sporting events or something like that, but there are enough people tweeting live sporting events as it is, and they all do it much better than I could ever hope to. Really, there are two types of Twitter content providers, and you can only be one or the other:
1) For a specialized general audience. Sports, news, weather, either local or national; technology, video games, whatever. For these people, all of your tweets (and occaisonally off-topic tweets that your followers may find interesting) should be about that topic, because that is why these people are following you, after all. I will never be this kind of tweeter, because I can't compete with what's already out there. Instead, I can only hope to be #2:
2) For friends and family. Tweet about your life so that your friends and family can stay updated, similar to Facebook, except that - as I explained earlier - Twitter allows for more real-time, more frequent updating. A few people whom I have never met follow me on Twitter, but for the most part, most of my non-spam followers are people who know me in person. And that's fine.

The "real-time" nature of Twitter is perhaps its best strength. For instance, when that Virginia earthquake hit early last week, anyone who was on Twitter at the time knew about it instantly. Not only that, but they knew where it was felt, and how much, instantly. So, that was nice. Real-time reaction to sporting events is also fun to follow, although that's dependent upon me watching the sporting event live, which I don't always do. That's one drawback of Twitter - when there's a sporting event waiting for me on my DVR, I pretty much have to stay off Twitter completely until I get a chance to watch it, in order to not spoil the outcome of the game.

So, anyway...I think I'm going to try tweeting more. But not too much more. For example, I think tweeting a restaurant serving time as soon as it happens is appropriate. We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

College Football 2011 Season Starts Tonight Woo

Nope, I couldn't wait until "Sports Saturday" to talk college football. The season begins tonight, and I'm ready, so let's go. Woo! But before we get too excited, I have something negative to get off my chest.

Yes, there is quite a lot of cheating, scandal and corruption in college football these days. Miami (FL) and Ohio State are the most famous cases of late, but reports of "NCAA inquiry" and "possible violations" are so numerous these days, I pretty much just tune them all out at this point. That, coupled with the nonsense that is the BCS, is why I no longer prefer college football to the NFL. But I still do watch plenty of college football, even though I assume that pretty much every D-1 team is breaking NCAA rules to some extent. College football today is kind of like Major League Baseball ten years ago: everyone is cheating, and you have to cheat to keep up. I think the NCAA should self-report itself for "lack of instutional control", because it's gotten ridiculous. The idea of amateurism is noble, sure, and I like the idea in principle. But given the popularity and profitability of college football (and basketball), and the fact that university athletic programs have started creating their own television networks*, that just goes to show you that amateurism is no longer a practical idea in 2011. It's time for the NCAA to completely rewrite the rule book to get in touch with what everyone is already doing anyway. (* - Let the record show that I stand by DirecTV's decision, 100%, to not carry the Longhorn Network. This network shouldn't even exist, and I am rooting for its demise. It also makes me dislike the University of Texas in general. Booooooo!)

Alright, with that off my chest...let's not talk about that anymore and watch some actual football! There seem to be more games on the "debut Thursday night" than ever before. And yes, there are some potentially great games on tap this weekend (highlighted by Oregon v. LSU Saturday night). But given that this is Week 1, there are also a lot of crap games out there, so I'm going to try to wade through the muck a little bit when I list the games below.

Disclaimer #1: there are a zillion places online to get a comprehensive college football television schedule. In fact, here are four: one, two, three, four. (Note: number one is typically the most comprehensive and therefore, best.) A complete list of college football broadcasts is not my objective. Instead, I will only list and highlight games I might actually watch, for my own purposes. I'd be doing this anyway, I might as well post it on the blog and comment on it, right? I reserve the right to list any games I want to list. My usual goal is four or five games per time slot on any given Saturday, because that's usually the number I end up flipping to.

Disclaimer #2: I do not have access to, so I will never list those games here. The reason I do not have access to - which I've explained before, but I'll explain it again since it's the start of the season - is this. My internet provider is Time Warner, and my television provider is DirecTV. Time Warner only gives you internet access to if you also subscribe to Time Warner Cable television, which I do not. I would rather have DirecTV + no than TWC + My only other high-speed internet option is Frontier DSL, and they do offer access to However, DSL is not as good as cable internet, and for now, I'd rather have cable internet + no than DSL + So, that's that.

Thu 8:00p - UNLV at Wisconsin, ESPN: Notable for the Wisconsin debut of former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. My take: Wilson isn't as good as NC State fans think he is, because NC State fans always seem to think their best players are better than they actually are. I do not expect big things from Russell Wilson at Wisconsin.
Thu 8:00p - Mississippi State at Memphis, FSN
Thu 9:00p - Bowling Green at Idaho, Altitude
Thu 9:15p - Kentucky v. Western Kentucky, ESPNU

Fri 7:30p - Youngstown State at Michigan State, Big Ten Network: I thought the Big Ten was above playing on Friday night.
Fri 8:00p - TCU at Baylor, ESPN

Sat 12:00p - Indiana State at Penn State, Big Ten Network: I'm not much of an "offseason sports fan", so once again, I have no idea how good Penn State is expected to be this year. No expectations are the best kind of expectations! Contrast that to my other favorite team - see below. (For those who don't know my rooting interests, which is totally reasonable given how many different college hats I wear, my two favorite college teams are Florida State and Penn State, both of whom I have degrees from.)
Sat 12:00p - Northwestern at Boston College: With all the conference realignment rumors going around (even still), I remain hopeful that Boston College will leave the ACC. What are they doing here, anyway?
Sat 12:00p - Akron at Ohio State, ESPN
Sat 12:00p - Utah State at Auburn, ESPN2
Sat 12:30p - Appalachian State at Virginia Tech, WRAZ (ACC Network): I normally ignore games involving "FCS" schools, but Appalachian State has earned an exception.
Sat 3:30p - Louisiana-Monroe at Florida State, ESPNU: Expectations for FSU's season are through the roof! Some are even talking "national championship". I can't help but be skeptical - it's what I do best! - so, whatever. Preseason rankings are bogus anyway. I don't think we should even have them, but I guess preseason rankings help create "buzz" for the sport and help sell magazines.
Sat 3:30p - South Florida at Notre Dame, NBC: I didn't even know this game was on the schedule until this week. Go Bulls!
Sat 3:30p - Minnesota at USC, ABC
Sat 3:30p - Chattanooga at Nebraska, Big Ten Network: Only because it's our first chance to see Nebraska on the Big Ten Network.
Sat 4:45p - BYU at Ole Miss, ESPN
Sat 6:00p - Colorado State at New Mexico, the mtn.: I considered dropping DirecTV's "Sports Pack", but I still have it, which means I still get "the mtn". Might as well take advantage of it, I guess...
Sat 7:00p - East Carolina v. South Carolina, FSN: You never know what you're going to get from East Carolina.
Sat 8:00p - LSU v. Oregon, ABC: Primetime national game of interest #1.
Sat 8:00p - Boise State v. Georgia, ESPN: Primetime national game of interest #2.
Sat 8:00p - Tulsa at Oklahoma: This game is on my radar for one reason and one reason only: Gus Johnson. Johnson is now the #1 voice of college football for FOX. Since Johnson will primarily be working Big 12 and Pac-12 games, this unfortunately means I'll have to watch games that I wouldn't otherwise care about in order to catch Johnson in action. I guess that's the way it's going to be. I can already tell, I'll have liked Johnson better at CBS.
Sat 8:00p - Ohio at New Mexico State, Altitude: This makes two Ohio-based MAC teams on the Altitude network this week. Should they start carrying Altitude in Ohio?
Sat 10:15p - Colorado at Hawaii, ESPN2: Given that we have a one-month-old kid, it's always good to have a late night option available.

Sun 3:30p - Marshall at West Virginia, ESPN
Sun 7:30p - SMU at Texas A&M, FSN

Mon 7:00p - Miami (FL) at Maryland, ESPN