Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Is Road Tripping Still Fun?

Even though we had a great time in Jacksonville over the weekend, Amber, Marla, and I were all a little cranky when we got back home from Jacksonville yesterday afternoon. Last Friday's drive to Jacksonville was great, but yesterday's drive back home was nearly the "worst case scenario" when it comes to long drives...

- Holiday traffic. I'm sure Monday was a busy travel day, but Tuesday? I didn't expect traffic to be an issue, but it was enough of an issue for me to say "screw this" and leave I-95 altogether once we got to North Carolina. I-95 traffic was much worse on the Tuesday after Christmas than it was on the Friday before Christmas, and in both directions, too. Then again, maybe this next point is to blame for the traffic...

- Weather. Well, I guess the worst case scenario would have been snow, not rain, but a heavy downpour will still cause its share of accidents. There were multiple accidents yesterday in South Carolina; thankfully, none involved us. We even pulled off and waited for a few minutes, which we almost never do because of rain.

- Marla turns five months old today, which is still a relatively easy road trip age, really. Friday's drive was smooth sailing; "stoppage time" (non-driving time between the start and end of the drive) only totaled 47 minutes, which for a 450-mile drive with a baby, is great! The return trip had 87 minutes of stoppage time, and most of that was a bit, let's say, "frenzied". We had to give Marla a new change of clothes twice mid-drive, for instance. And since the drive took longer than anticipated, we didn't have enough milk ready to go at the end, so we had to listen to a hungry screaming baby for the last 15 minutes of the drive. When you're only 15 minutes from home, you might as well just keep going, right?

So, yesterday's drive was not fun at all, but...let's not get discouraged. Road tripping with a kid or two can still be fun. (Given how much Amber and I enjoy it, it had better be!) The key is being prepared. Here's what we learned yesterday: 1) One backup change of clothes for the day isn't enough, apparently. 2) 'Tis better to have too much milk ready to go than not enough milk. 3) Between Christmas and New Year's, there will always be a lot of traffic on I-95 heading to and from Florida, even on Tuesday. 4) I was kind of in a hurry to get home yesterday, and that was a mistake. Being in a hurry takes all the fun out of a road trip, especially when you have a little one with you.

And that brings us to our next road two days! On Friday, we drive to Toledo for Christmas Part Deux, and on Monday (New Year's Day), we drive home. Both drives will start at around 4 AM on those days. And, we won't be in a hurry this time, so that maybe we'll enjoy the drive! This might be the last year we do back-to-back, Florida/Ohio road trips on Christmas and New Year's weekends, however.

In part two of this "road trip" post, I bring you random and statistical and "road geek" notes from the weekend.

Marla visited 3 new states and 26 new counties over the weekend, bringing her total to 8 states / 85 counties. That's a lot! How many additional counties she gets this coming weekend will depend on which routes we take to/from Toledo, but I can virtually guarantee she will get more than zero. She may even get a new state or two (Michigan? Kentucky?).

It takes about seven minutes longer to get to my parents' new house in Neptune Beach, than it took to get to my parents' old house in Jacksonville's Arlington neighborhood. (The numbers: from the I-95/SR 9A junction north of town, it was 19 minutes to the old house, on average. From that same junction to the new house, it took 27 minutes on Friday afternoon, and 24 minutes on Tuesday morning when there wasn't as much traffic.)

Road geek notes! There is always something new to check out when I go to Jacksonville, to the point where I'm starting to lose track. Was the I-95/I-10 junction finished last time I was there? I don't remember. The I-95/I-10 junction is the second picture posted here, as pictured from Margaret Street, which used to have a direct exit from I-95 Southbound before the interchange was rebuilt. I was hoping that there would still be at least a trace of evidence that Exit 351C (is that right?) once existed, but nope. Meanwhile, the eastern half of Jacksonville's beltway is still signed as State Road 9A almost everywhere, except (according to James) for a few I-295 signs in a few random places along the roads it intersects with, such as Atlantic Blvd.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Jacksonville (Neptune Beach)

Way back when I lived in the affluent Raleigh suburb of Cary, for blogging purposes I used to refer to my hometown as "Raleigh (Cary)". The reason is because as far as everyone from out of town was concerned, I lived in Raleigh. But as far as locals were concerned, I lived in Cary. With the "Raleigh (Cary)" designation, I satisfied both the out-of-towners who think of the entire metropolitan area as Raleigh*, and the locals who actually do make the distinction between Wake County's various communities.

(* - There's nothing wrong with that, by the way. That's just the way it is. Regardless of the metropolitan area, we all do it. For instance, when somebody says they're from "Atlanta", the odds that they actually live within the Atlanta city limits - or even within Fulton County - are probably pretty small. But it is kind of annoying with Durham, because I feel like Durham is well known enough to stand on its own. I tell people I'm from Durham, and at some point "Durham" must morph into "Raleigh" in their heads, because later on they'll say, "You're from Raleigh, right?" And I never know how to answer that follow-up question, whether to correct them and say "Durham", or just go along with it.)

The reason I bring this up is because a few months ago, my parents bought a house in Neptune Beach, FL, which is where we'll be staying when we visit from now on. So is it still accurate or appropriate to say "We're going to Jacksonville"? Would it be better to say "We're going to Neptune Beach"? Or, should I revive the old Raleigh (Cary) style and say "We're going to Jacksonville (Neptune Beach)"?

For blogging purposes, my decision is as follows: occasionally, I will slip in a "Jacksonville (Neptune Beach)" reference, but mostly, I'll still say "We're going to Jacksonville". For one, it's not like we're going to stay in Neptune Beach (or the other beaches) the whole time we're there. We will be spending plenty of time in Jacksonville proper, I imagine. But the thing with Neptune Beach is, when Duval County and the City of Jacksonville consolidated, Neptune Beach technically became part of Jacksonville, although it - along with Atlantic Beach and Jacksonville Beach, and Baldwin, too - kept, their own sort-of "city" status in the process. So basically, I can't go wrong by saying "We're going to Jacksonville". It's still accurate, anywhere in Duval County. (Orange Park or Ponte Vedra would be a different story, however.)

Enough semantics! We'll be in Jacksonville (or Neptune Beach or whatever) Friday afternoon through Tuesday morning, including on Christmas Day. There's a lot to get excited about with this trip. Marla hasn't been to Jacksonville (or Neptune Beach or whatever) yet. Shoot, Marla hasn't even been to South Carolina yet. (Three new states for Marla!) We haven't been to Jacksonville in any capacity since January (which has to be the longest span of time I've ever gone without a Jacksonville visit), and we haven't seen my parents' new house yet, either. And, of course, it will be Marla's first Christmas. Lots of firsts coming up this weekend.

So, Merry Christmas and/or Happy Holidays! Until next time, we'll see you on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Toll Transponders

So, about that new road (the Triangle Parkway) that opened up two weeks ago. Starting January 3rd, it will be a toll road. It will be one of a few toll roads in the country that will be tolled exclusively on an electronic basis, with no toll booths. That means it's time for North Carolina to set up its own brand of on-the-fly "E-Z Pass"-type tolling. Introducing NC Quick Pass!

Amber and I received our toll transponders last week. That means on local toll roads, we'll get the cheaper "NC Quick Pass" toll rate, instead of the higher "Bill By Mail" toll rate. (Cars without transponders will have their license plate snapped, and will get a bill in the mail.) But the reason I got the "hard case" transponder instead of the less-of-an-eyesore, and cheaper, sticker transponder is because, unlike the stickers, my transponder will be compatible with the Northeast's E-Z Pass, Florida's SunPass, Texas's TxTag, and Illinois's I-Pass. No longer will we need to bring six $1 bills with us every time we take the West Virginia Turnpike, because we'll be E-Z Pass people! … Well, eventually. They don't work out-of-state yet (or vice-versa), and I read somewhere that it will be a few more months, potentially not until next summer, before our transponders will work out-of-state. That was kind of a letdown, because I was hoping this would be in place before this season's holiday driving. If North Carolina wasn't instituting its own toll roads, then I would have actually gotten an out-of-state transponder years ago. But instead, I waited patiently all these years in order to get a North Carolina one.

That said, here's a point of contention I have: we were charged $20 each just to get the transponders, and we won't get that money back. Other states give out toll transponders for free. On the other hand, I don't know if all E-Z Pass states offer cheaper rates to those with E-Z Pass than to those who pay with cash. I know some do, but not all...I think. Either way, I guess it could be worse. For example, Colorado's E-470 tollway, which leads to the Denver airport, is one of the most expensive toll roads in the country. After driving a rental car on it one time, my parents received a bill in the mail for $25.

Is having this thing on your windshield a distraction when you're driving? Not really. It's mostly hidden behind the rear view mirror. Not an issue.

So, Amber and I now have $20 in our account balance. I'll drive down the Parkway once next month just to make sure it works. After that...well, we may not need them again until next time we're on the West Virginia Turnpike.

Monday, December 19, 2011

When Indoor Cats Go Outdoors

Our cat, Rolo, is an indoor cat. She only goes outside when the door is slightly ajar and we're not paying attention. Like last night, for instance. Usually, we go fetch her and bring her back inside immediately. This time, though...

Apparently she was outside all night long, for about 14 hours, and we had no idea until we couldn't find her in the house this morning. Fortunately, we know where she usually goes when she darts outside (under the back porch), so we found her this morning and brought her back inside. That was a relief, because when she wasn't waiting outside our bedroom door waiting to be fed this morning, we figured there were only two possibilities: 1) she was dead; 2) she had gotten outside somehow.

How did we go 14 hours without realizing that Rolo wasn't inside the house? Well, not to make excuses, but when you have a kid, it's much harder to keep track of everything else that's going on.

Normally when Rolo gets a taste of the outdoors, she spends the next two days looking outside, meowing incessantly, asking for more. But after spending all night out there, on the coldest night of the season to date (27°F this morning), I hope she's had her fill. No more sneaking out the door while we're trying to carry our baby inside, you hear?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Company Christmas Lunch

See below for an UPDATE following the Christmas Lunch.

Let's talk restaurant serving times!

There are only two weeks left in 2011. Ideal Hot Dog has a virtual stranglehold on "fastest restaurant serving time of 2011" honors. The "honor" of "slowest restaurant serving time of 2011", however, is a different story.

Applebee's of Knightdale, NC, at 29:43, is currently the slowest restaurant of the year. That's a pretty tame number for "slowest of the year", though. There is still plenty of room at the top (or bottom, depending on your perspective) for another slow restaurant or two to sneak in there. Since I started the spreadsheet in 2004, only once (2009) has no restaurant all year long gone over 30 minutes.

Tomorrow, in particular, is a big day, for it is the day of the annual company Christmas lunch. The company Christmas lunch is all you could ask for if you're looking for a slow serving time: 1) a large group (15 to 20 people), and 2) a fancier restaurant than I would normally go to on my own. (By "fancier", I mean "more expensive", of course. Thanks, Lucille!) Here are the restaurant serving times from past company Christmas lunches:

2010 - 36:39 at Pop's (annual rank: 2)
2009 - 29:03 at Tosca (annual rank: 1)
2008 - no Christmas lunch
2007 - 31:21 at Cheesecake Factory (annual rank: 2)
2006 - 19:44 at Kemp's (annual rank: 12)

Throw out the Kemp's time, and you have an annual contender for slowest serving time of the year. This year should be no different, as we head to a "contemporary Mexican" restaurant called Mez for our Christmas lunch. Mez is a huge wild card, and here's why: out of the 265 restaurant serving times in my spreadsheet, exactly ONE is for a Mexican restaurant. That means I have virtually no feel for how fast or slow the Mexican genre is, let alone "contemporary Mexican".

That one, lonely data point can provide some insight, though. I don't know if Mad Mex of State College, PA, is considered "contemporary Mexican" (as opposed to plain old Mexican), but my guess is that Mez and Mad Mex are similar. And, like tomorrow's trip to Mez, the January 18, 2006 trip to Mad Mex was with a large group (party of 15). Mad Mex's time that day nearly six years ago was 31:07, which would be good enough for slowest of 2011. Could one argue that the odds of Mez eclipsing Applebee's as slowest of 2011 are over 50%?

But regardless of the time Mez posts tomorrow afternoon, with holiday family trips to Jacksonville and Toledo coming up, the "slowest time of the year" won't be decided until New Year's Day. That is, unless Mez posts a really slow time tomorrow (45 minutes plus), in which case...congratulations, I guess?

UPDATE: One thing I like about this "restaurant serving times" nonsense is that I never really know what to expect. Mez clocked in at 16 minutes, 47 seconds, much faster than I expected, and the 9th fastest "party of 7+" serving time on record. I attribute it to three factors: 1) We only had 10 people in our party, as opposed to 15 or more. 2) Appetizers are usually standard at the company Christmas lunch, but this time, they gave us our appetizers before we had even ordered our main dish. (This is something I discussed a couple of months ago.) 3) We ordered off the shorter lunch menu rather than the longer, more complicated dinner menu, which has to help, right?

Rolling Over

Marla can roll over on her own now. Hooray! (That's a link to a Facebook video, but it is publicly viewable even for the non-Facebook types.)

When it comes to baby milestones, I've resisted the urge to look up the average age for milestones such as "able to roll over", "able to crawl", "able to walk", "first word". I don't want to get disappointed or stressed or anything in case Marla is "late" on any of these things. But we have the first roll-over out of the way, so now I can look!

The general consensus is that babies can start rolling from back to belly on their own at 5-6 months. So, Marla (at 4½ months) is ahead of the game there. Yippee! thing we haven't seen Marla do yet is roll over the other way (belly to back). That's interesting because the general consensus there is that babies should be able to go belly-to-back before they can go back-to-belly. I think the issue here is that we aren't giving Marla near enough "tummy time". Sure, we've been giving her some, but not enough for her to learn motor skills in that orientation, apparently.

Forgive me for being overly excited about this. It takes a few months for babies to start doing anything interesting. Maybe now is a good time to finally get around to baby-proofing the house?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Hand Towels

I'm going to wait a few more days to blog about this, so instead, here's something far more trivial.

In our home bathrooms, and in many home bathrooms everywhere, the hand towel is kept on a rack, like so:

You're done washing your hands, and it's time to try them. Do you: a) take the hand towel completely off the rack and use it to dry your hands, or b) leave the hand towel on the rack as you dry your hands?

Without putting much thought into it, I usually choose option b), mostly out of laziness. But now that I have thought about it, I've consciously been choosing option a). It doesn't seem like it's a more efficient way to dry your hands, but it is.

That is, assuming the towel of choice is sized similarly to the one pictured above. If the only available towel is a larger towel designed to be used after a full-body shower, such as this one...

...then I think it's more efficient to leave it on the rack. These bigger towels obviously take more effort to get off and back on the rack, and they have more surface area, so there is less to be gained by taking it off the rack to dry your hands. Sometimes, the only towel hanging in the bathroom is indeed one of these larger ones.

So, there you go.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Holy Grails of License Plates

My ZZ-/AA- North Carolina license plate game still isn't done yet; I have yet to find an AAS- license plate. Apparently, they do exist, so I haven't given up hope yet. In any license plate game, that last one is always hard to find.

But I do have another license plate quest, one that I almost surely will never complete. There are two North Carolina license plates that I consider to be the "Holy Grails" of license plates. One is ZZZ-9999, the very last in alphanumeric order. The other is ABC-1234, which I just think is a neat plate. If these two plates are like their ZZZ and ABC brethren, then they were likely issued about a year ago, so they're out there.

(Why don't I consider the first license plate in alphanumeric order to be a "Holy Grail"? Because according to this, North Carolina started with AAA-1001, rather than AAA-0000 or AAA-0001. So when you see AAA-1001 on the road, it's not obvious that it's "first", and therefore not as awesome. Whereas, ZZZ-9999 is obviously last.)

Of course, finding a specific license plate is like finding a needle in a haystack. You have to be VERY VERY LUCKY to even come close. The odds would suggest that the owners of ZZZ-9999 and ABC-1234 live nowhere near me. Maybe one of them is in, say, New Bern (a city I almost never visit), and the owner is an 80-year-old who never even leaves town, let alone crosses I-95. If that's the case, it's never going to happen.

While my chances of spotting either "Holy Grail" are indeed very slim, based on some recent developments, I think this is worth talking about. I have actually come reasonably close (numerically speaking) to both plates. A few weeks back, while pulling out of the parking lot at the curling rink, I spotted the ABC-1324 plate. So close! (Closer in a dyslexic sense than a numerical sense, of course.) I have seen several other ABC-1XXX plates in the Triangle as well, suggesting that most or all of the ABC-1XXX plates were issued locally. So ABC-1234 has to be around here...somewhere.

ZZZ-9999 is going to be a little more tricky, though. I haven't noticed a pattern with the ZZZ- plates. They're all over the state. They're even in other states as well; once I saw a ZZZ- North Carolina plate on a rental car in Maryland. (One of the other teams at The Kayser in February had one, which is how I knew it was a rental car.) In fact, I had only seen one ZZZ-9XXX plate to date at all. That is, until I went to Charlotte on Saturday. There, I spotted ZZZ-9995, and hurried (safely and without endangering myself or others, of course) to get the best picture I could:

I didn't think I'd ever get this close to ZZZ-9999, so...yeah! And if you squint, it kind of looks like ZZZ-9999, doesn't it? I thought about following this person to his/her parking spot to get a better picture, but decided that would only be worth doing if the plate were the "Holy Grail" itself.

The ZZZ-9995 car proceeded towards a shopping center parking lot, so it's highly probable that the owner is local to the Charlotte area. The way North Carolina license plates are issued, if ZZZ-9995 is based in Charlotte, then ZZZ-9999 is probably in Charlotte too, right? You'd think so. But like I said, ZZZ- plates have been spotted all over the place, so I don't know if this was an isolated find, or if there are many ZZZ-9XXX plates in Charlotte. (I forget where I saw the other ZZZ-9XXX plate, but I think it was in the Triangle.) Regardless, there's really no way for me to know whether there are more ZZZ-9XXXs to be found in Charlotte without going back and driving up and down South Boulevard a bunch of times in order to gather more data. (That's not something I recommend, by the way. There are a lot of things I like about Charlotte, but traffic isn't one of them.)

Even though I think I've figured out where each plate is located, the chances of me finding either ZZZ-9999 or ABC-1234 are still very long. But it is promising that ZZZ-9999 might be in a part of the state I do occasionally visit (as opposed to, say, Hendersonville), and that ABC-1234 could literally be right around the corner. It could happen!

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Triangle Parkway

You know me. Whenever a new road or highway opens nearby, I have to drive it as soon as possible. Yesterday, part of the Triangle Expressway - which connects I-40 with I-540 in Research Triangle Park - opened up. (Here is a map from NCDOT. The section of the TriEx that opened yesterday is Toll 147 between '1' and '5'; this section is also known as the "Triangle Parkway".) This new freeway practically begins right behind my office building, which meant I felt obligated to take it the day it opened.

In fact, I tried to go there the hour it opened, but I was a little early.

I had read on Twitter that the road was "officially" open. Whoops! I guess the orange barrels and barricades didn't all just magically disappear when the clock struck 10:30. No big deal; I just came back after the end of my work day, at which point I drove the entire 3.4 miles of the Triangle Parkway...twice! Once in each direction.

If I hadn't done it in both directions, then I wouldn't have noticed that the combined Davis Drive/Hopson Road exit (one exit serving two roads) has a different exit number northbound (2) and southbound (3). I guess that makes sense, given that Davis Drive and Hopson Road are about a mile apart...but still. I thought it was interesting.

I also looked for other signage oddities, because that's what I do. I can't help it. For example, the speed limit on the TriEx is 65 mph, but they have yet to remove the now obsolete "Reduced Speed Ahead" sign on southbound Durham Freeway approaching the beginning of the TriEx. Also, as Brian LeBlanc (still the best traffic reporter ever, although he's since moved on) pointed out to me at the Triangle Expressway Trot, according to this sign, the NC 147/540 interchange at the south end of the Triangle Parkway is where NC-540 changes designation from north/south to east/west.

And, one more thing I noticed. There are some hanging and/or unfinished ramps at the NC 147/540 interchange. Why? Well...I don't have a picture, but on my bike rides, I've seen a sign at the intersection of McCrimmon Parkway and Town Hall Drive in Morrisville that says something to the effect of, "Eventually, a ramp will connect this intersection directly with the Triangle Expressway". Anyone know anything about this? It's been a while since I've been down that way, so I'm going to bike there tomorrow morning and see if that sign is still there, or what else I can find. But in the meantime, I found a six-month-old message board discussion regarding the extension to McCrimmon/Town Hall. Based on that discussion, the hanging ramps at 147/540 are indeed for a possible extension to McCrimmon Parkway...BUT, the extension likely won't actually be built any time soon, if ever.

So, this is great and all, but is this road really going to help me? Directly, no. It's a north/south road located east of my house, and therefore, I'll never really have a reason to take it. And since it is a toll road, I'm not likely to take it just "for fun". (Aside from yesterday, of course. Tolls start January 3rd, so yesterday's joy ride was free.) But if the TriEx's existence means less traffic on T.W. Alexander Drive through Research Triangle Park (where my job is) - which, it might - then this road will help me indirectly. Alexander Drive traffic went up when the southern tip of the Durham Freeway closed (to facilitate TriEx construction), so will it go back down again now? We'll see.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Mr. Pig

Often times, when I talk about the Piggly Wiggly grocery store chain, I can't help but mention their store-brand version of Dr. Pepper: "Mr. Pig". Mr. Pig isn't available in every Piggly Wiggly, and at one time, some (including me) considered its existence a myth. So in 2003 (or thereabouts), when I found the elusive Mr. Pig for the first time at a Piggly Wiggly in the Florida Panhandle, I bought a bottle.

Actually, I bought two bottles. One, I drank - and quite frankly, and it wasn't very good. The other, I kept. Eight years later, I still have that second bottle. It has NEVER been opened. Here it is:

As time has passed, the bottle has shrunk. I guess air can get out, but it can't get in? Regardless, I'm sure this "soda" is now flat as water. If it tasted bad right off the shelf, I can only imagine what it tastes like in its current condition.

And yet...I can't help but be curious. Eight years is a long time to have an unopened bottle of soda sitting on top of your fridge. Is it time?

Maybe it's time I find another bottle of Mr. Pig and start fresh. I'll likely have to go to South Carolina for that, though, as I have never seen Mr. Pig in North Carolina. If there is such a thing as "Diet Mr. Pig" now, then that would be even better!

Random Thoughts on Sports: 12/7/11

I usually save my sports commentary for Friday or Saturday, but...well, whatever. Let's tackle the last couple of weeks in chronological order, which as a Jacksonville Jaguars / Carolina Hurricanes fan have been very interesting:

Carolina Hurricanes fire head coach Paul Maurice: Hooray! The team is going nowhere, and I was kind of getting tired of seeing Maurice on the bench back there, anyway. Bring in first-time NHL head coach Kirk Muller, who - and this is unusual for GM Jim Rutherford - came from completely outside the organization and as far as I know has never been affiliated with the Hurricanes in any capacity. Rutherford is taking his share of blame, too, but he's not going anywhere...yet. One at a time, people.

But as we're now finding out, fixing the Hurricanes isn't as simple as changing the head coach. As former Jaguars beat writer Vic Ketchman liked to say: "players, not plays". I think that's as true in hockey as it is in any sport. How much difference does the coach make, really?

Jacksonville Jaguars fire head coach Jack Del Rio: I figured this would happen after the season, not during the season. I almost don't see the point in firing him now. The NHL season is still young, and there is time to turn it around. But the NFL season is basically over. Unless they plan on making Mel Tucker the permanent coach (I doubt it), why do this now, and not after the season? So that it would coincide with the change in ownership?

I agree with James that the Jaguars' struggles this season are not Del Rio's fault. But he's been here long enough, and he only made the playoffs twice in nine seasons (including this season), and never won the division. Time for a change.

Jacksonville Jaguars sold to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan: For me, this came out of nowhere.

You can look at this from any number of angles. Predictably, the national media started talking relocation, because the national media hates Jacksonville and loves big cities in non-southern locations like Los Angeles. But let's look at this logically for a minute. Why did soon-to-be former owner Wayne Weaver keep it secret all this time? Make it public that you're trying to sell the team, and all the people who want to buy it and move it elsewhere come out of the woodwork. (As an NHL fan, I know how this usually goes.) Keep it quiet, and you can better secure an owner whose first option is to keep the team at home. And there are other reasons why the team probably isn't moving any time soon, such as the stadium lease.

But here's why I'm excited about this. Everything I've read about Khan indicates that there is no ulterior motive here. He's just an excited football fan with a few hundred million dollars to burn and a dream of owning an NFL team. What's not to like? Everything I've heard about the guy sounds fantastic. And have I mentioned the moustache? The fan base certainly seemed pumped about the Jaguars' soon-to-be owner on Monday night, and that was great to see. I can't wait to see what he brings to the team.

Jacksonville Jaguars lose 38-14 to San Diego on Monday Night Football: In the meantime...yeah, the team still isn't all that good. The one thing the Jaguars have done fairly well this season is play defense, and that's kept them in the game almost every week. But, like, half the Jaguars' defense is injured now, so...that's over. They may not win another game the rest of the way, and that includes Week 17 against the Colts. That Week 17 game will truly be awful, by the way. I can't wait!

Did the Carolina Hurricanes get screwed by NHL divisional realignment?: The solution to the whole "Winnipeg in the Southeast Division" crisis? Start over! The Southeast Division will be disbanded, and the Carolina Hurricanes will now be in a 7-team conference with some of NBC's favorite teams: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, both New Yorks, and New Jersey. The biggest part of this is that playoff spots will be determined by conference standing ONLY, independent of how your record compares to the other 23 teams in the league. (That's the proposal, anyway. This isn't finalized.)

The good news: the Hurricanes are in one of the 7-team conferences (as opposed to the two 8-team conferences), increasing their playoff odds at the start of the season. The bad news: they have to compete with the same big budget, big market teams for playoff spots (and in the playoffs themselves), every single year. It's easy to say that there's no way the Hurricanes will ever compete with the likes of the Penguins/Flyers/Capitals/Rangers/Devils every year, but this sort of thing is cyclic. Before Crosby and Ovechkin came along, Pittsburgh and Washington were terrible. Remember those days? The Flyers and Devils have also had their share of clunker seasons, and the Rangers have never really been that good. Right now it looks tough, but things change. Five years from now, we could be talking about how the Hurricanes are lucky to be in a weak conference, instead of the other way around. And besides, it doesn't really matter what conference the Hurricanes are playing in this year. Speaking of which...

Carolina Hurricanes lose their first four games under new head coach Kirk Muller: Players, not plays.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Curling Recap: 12/2/11

Career game #161: 2011 Fall League - December 2, 2011

End.......... 1234567 |TTL
Allen........ 0000010 | 01
K. Jackson... 2122103 | 11

Aww, do I have to talk about this?

Yeah, there isn't a whole lot I can take away from this game, so I'll just tip my hat. The other team played an outstanding game, and I was very impressed with their Vice and Second, Patrick and Amy, who simply didn't miss. And this is only their 2nd year of curling, too, so I think they are our club's next great young curlers. I'm encouraging them to attend "The Kayser" before their five-year eligibility runs out. Put them together with fellow 2nd-year curlers Justin and Tabby (who have curled with Amber and me multiple times, including at the most recent "Kayser"), and you have yourselves a very solid Kayser team that would represent our club really well. Maybe in 2013? My 5-and-under eligibility runs out after the Spring, so after that, I'll have to live vicariously through others.

(Speaking of "5-and-under" bonspiels, I'm going back to "The Dykes" in February, in what will be my last 5-and-under bonspiel ever. More on that in the weeks to come.)

Next week is "wacky rules curling", which doesn't count in my stats, so this was the last game of the season and my last official game for seven weeks. Our team finished 3-5 and in 6th place out of 9 teams. I was hoping for at least 4-4. But darn it, our team was fun, and that's more important, even if you can't quantify "fun".

Here is a record of my team's finishes in each of my Triangle Curling Club leagues: (Records shown are team records, independent of whether I curled in every game.)
- Fall 2007: 5-4, 3rd place (out of 8)
- Winter 2008: 7-2, 1st place (out of 9)
- Fall 2008: 3-6, 8th place (out of 10)
- Winter 2009: 5-3, 3rd place (out of 11)
- Spring 2009: 2-3, 5th place (out of 6)
- Fall 2009: 4-4, 6th place (out of 9)
- Winter 2010: 3-1, 2nd place (out of 8)
- Spring 2010: 4-1, 2nd place (out of 8)
- Fall 2010: 7-2, 1st place (out of 8)
- Winter 2011 Friday: 7-2, 1st place (out of 8)
- Winter 2011 Sunday: 5-4, 2nd place (out of 6)
- Fall 2011: 3-5, 6th place (out of 9)

So, my streak of playing in five consecutive League Championship games is over. But I did keep alive my streak of never finishing a league in last place, which might be more important. The League Championship game streak was bound to end eventually; there are too many good curlers in our club.

I do think I have regressed in skill from where I was in April, though. I simply haven't been curling as often. January through April, I curled 27 games; September through December, I'll have only curled 10. Believe me, it makes a difference. (Darn parenting!) But here's the exciting part, for me: how good will I be when I'm 45 years old and have 20 years and 500 games of curling experience under my belt?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Possibly Unnecessary Health Care

Four months is probably younger than the ideal age for a child to contract chickenpox, if there is such a thing. We're ready to rerun to normalcy. Fortunately, Marla appears to be ready, too! We took her back to day care for the first time today. The rule is that the lesions have to be all "crusted over" (as opposed to be completely gone), which means they're not contagious anymore, which at a day care is kind of important. (Even if that's apparently how we got in this mess in the first place.)

So, now Marla's stronger for it, I suppose. But according to the doctor, they're still going to recommend she get the chickenpox vaccine in another year or so. Ummm...sure, precautionary measures, and so on. But is this a good example of why health care is so expensive these days? Here's a child who has already had chickenpox. Let's give her the chickenpox vaccine anyway! You know, just to be safe.

Another example: Marla had a bruise on her leg a while back, so we took her to the doctor. It was Friday, and the blood test results weren't ready by close of business, so the doctors recommended we take her to the emergency room. Multiple "tests" and about $500 later (Marla hasn't hit her deductible yet), everything turned out to be fine, of course. But was that ER visit really necessary? I don't think it was. But how could we possibly have said no to the doctor's recommendation? This isn't like your car mechanic telling you that you need to flush your transmission, even though you don't. You can always fix your car after the fact, or just buy a new one. It's a heck of a lot easier to say no to a car mechanic than to a doctor. (I do it all the time!)

Here's another personal example of unnecessary health care. My dentist noticed I had a freckle on my lip (which I've had pretty much as long as I can remember), and said, "That's a sensitive area, and you might want to have that looked at. Here, let me recommend a dermatologist." I can't say no, right? So I went to the dermatologist, they tested it, and of course, it was nothing. But that whole procedure wasn't free, you know. I'm still bitter about this. I have to wonder if the dentist and dermatologist have some kind of arrangement going on. "Hey, I'll recommend you to my patients if you recommend me to your patients."

Being a parent in the 21st century, this is a huge concern of mine: doctors recommending tests or procedures that aren't actually necessary, but that they know we can't possibly refuse because 1) we love our daughter, and 2) we don't know any better. How many thousands of dollars are we going to spend over the next 18 years (or more!) on health care that Marla doesn't actually need? Given that Marla's pediatrician and our hospital of choice all part of the same health network, how do we know we can trust our doctor and that there isn't a conflict of interest? I guess what I'm saying is, I have a hard time trusting health care providers.

Who would you trust more to handle your health care: a) private corporations, or b) the government? In general, conservatives choose option a), and liberals choose option b). But I'm a disenchanted moderate, so I choose option c): neither.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Ideal Hot Dog

The other day, Amber told me a story. One time, at a Toledo restaurant called Ideal Hot Dog, she embarrassed herself by accidentally blowing her straw wrapper across the aisle, which landed in someone else's spaghetti. My response: "There's a restaurant in Toledo called 'Ideal Hot Dog'? Can we go there?" And it was done.

First question: is Ideal Hot Dog eligible for my restaurant serving times competition? Yes, it is! It is a regular sit-down restaurant, in which a waitress comes to your table, takes your order, and brings it to you. Barbecue and breakfast restaurants have long dominated the restaurant serving times competition, but I've long wondered how a "hot dog" restaurant would perform. This was, in fact, my first.

So, what did I have? A hot dog, of course.

Ironically, this is not what I would consider to be an "ideal hot dog". I prefer my hot dogs with no toppings whatsoever other than ketchup. But I figured if I was going to go to "Ideal Hot Dog", I should have the house special chili cheese dog. (Actually, I think the restaurant's trademark menu item is the "Chili Mac". But I wanted a hot dog.) Meanwhile, Amber ordered grilled cheese. It's not like we were trying to make it as easy as possible on them, but that's how it worked out.

How quickly did Ideal Hot Dog bring us our food? From order to food reception: 3 minutes, 39 seconds. That's the second-fastest serving time EVER. Only Stamey's BBQ of Greensboro (a record that may stand forever) was faster. Well done!

The restaurant wasn't busy when we showed up (which contributed to the quick time), but it was filling in pretty well by the time we left. This restaurant must have a good reputation, because it's the kind of small-scale restaurant I'd have thought would have gone out of business a long time ago. I mean, the Toledo economy isn't exactly booming these days. But maybe that's why Ideal Hot Dog does such a good business: the food is super cheap!

Ideal Hot Dog will most likely end up being the fastest restaurant of 2011. A few days later, Bob Evans of Maumee, OH made a run at the slowest mark of the year, but at 26:44 came up about three minutes short of Applebee's of Knightdale. But it did end up being the chain's slowest serving time ever out of the 30 times I've gone there. (Have I seriously gone to Bob Evans 30 times now? Wow.) Chalk the slowness up to the crowd (Bob Evans is much more popular in Ohio than it is in North Carolina), and our party of 7 (although in 2009, the Jacksonville, FL Bob Evans served our party of 7 in 13:48).