Monday, December 31, 2012

Triangle Expressway: NOW Will I Take It?

The Triangle Expressway, also known as NC 540, is a new toll road. I've blogged about it a bunch before, but as of two weeks ago, it's now finished all the way south to Holly Springs (map).

I've gone on record as saying that the existing segments of the tollway don't save me any time, and so there's no reason for me to take it. The new southernmost segment, however, is a game changer. But how much?

If you live in Fuquay-Varina and work in Durham, there is no question that the new toll road is a huge time saver for you, on the order of 10-15 minutes, maybe more depending on the time of day. (NC 55 through downtown Apex is an awful bottleneck at rushhour, and the new expressway bypasses it completely.) However, this is my blog, so I don't care about you. Let's talk about me! My case is a special case, after all, because the location of our house makes the alternative free routes - specifically, NC 751 - more viable for us.

View Larger Map

When we head to or from US 1 South, which we do maybe a few times a year (often as part of an alternate route to Charlotte or to South Carolina), we've always taken NC 751, which is your basic two-lane country road. Does the new NC 540 tollway, which provides a direct high speed connection to US 1, save us any time? If so, is it worth the cost?

The day the new toll road opened, before all of the new tolls kicked in, I did bunch of back-and-forth driving on both the tollway and the alternate routes, armed with my stopwatch, to get some data.

The results! How much time does the new toll road save when I'm going to...

1) US 1 South (Sanford/Southern Pines/Pinehurst): Five minutes, at a cost of about $1.50*. Whether or not that's worth it will depend on my mood that day, I think. This also means the alternate routes to South Carolina and Charlotte are also now five minutes shorter than they used to be, which makes them a little more attractive, but they're still not faster than the standard routes (I-85 to Charlotte, I-40/95 to South Carolina).

(* - Given where we live, we join the tollway at the northernmost NC 55 exit, which saves us about $0.50 compared to if we took the tollway all the way from I-40.)

2) NC 55 East (Holly Springs/Fuquay-Varina): Again, five minutes (more at rushhour), but this time the cost is about $2.00 because we stay on the tollway longer than if we exit at US 1. Despite my former obsession with F-V, we don't head down this way often, though. Maybe once a year, if that? But NC 55 through downtown Apex is such a pain at any time of day, I actually think it's worth the toll money, especially if we're only talking about a few bucks a year.

Side comment about Holly Springs: when I was driving down there for the purposes of this test, I noticed an awful lot of new development - shopping centers and the like - on the Holly Springs NC 55 bypass. So, Fuquay-Varina residents, beware! Yes, you no longer have to deal with downtown Apex. But in a decade or so, NC 55 around Holly Springs could get just as bad. Holly Springs was already growing like crazy even before the new tollway opened.

Side comment #2: Hard to believe that when I moved to the area a short six years ago, most of NC 55 south of I-40 was still only one lane each way. We've come a long way! Since I moved to North Carolina, My would-be work commute from Fuquay-Varina has improved from 40 minutes, to 35 minutes (after NC 55 widening), to 30 minutes (with the new tollway). But thanks to the Holly Springs boom, it'll probably go back to 35 minutes again in a few years. Not to mention, if I lived in Fuquay-Varina and took the tollway to work and back every day, I would rack up over $1,000 in tolls over the course of a year.

Side comment #3: Amber actually takes part of the tollway (NC 54 to the northernmost NC 55 exit) home from work every day (but not to work), which adds up to about $125 a year.

3) US 64 West (Asheboro/NC Zoo): No time savings. Actually, when heading this way, the toll road is actually one minute slower for us. No thanks. But for those of you north of Raleigh near I-540, the tollway probably is now the fastest route to US 64 West.

So, in conclusion: yes, I will use the new toll road occasionally, but I don't have a need for it on a daily basis (thank goodness).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Travelogue: 12/22-12/27/12

Sometimes, I write blog posts more for my own documentative purposes, rather than because it's worthwhile enough for actual internet publication.

Well, this first part might be worthwhile enough: this week's road trips were probably Marla's best to date! Yesterday, we made it all the way back from Toledo on four stops, which is pretty much the minimum. Perhaps not coincidentally, this was also her first trip sitting "forward-facing" instead of "rear-facing". (We've received conflicting information regarding when the appropriate time is to safely switch to forward-facing.) She rode rear-facing on the way to Toledo, and that was fine, too, but she seemed to enjoy the ride back a little more.

Really, I think the most important thing with this driving-with-Marla thing is to get to our destination as early as possible. Marla is always crankier later in the day whether we're driving or not, so it's in everyone's best interests to get "there" - wherever "there" is - by 4 PM. Which, when driving to Toledo, that means leaving at 4 AM. Hooray!

December 22, 2012: Northbound to Toledo

View Larger Map

Since we have to cut diagonally across Ohio to get to Toledo, and there is no direct interstate connection from Toledo to Charleston, there are countless different routes that we can take without adding a whole lot of time. Which gives me plenty of opportunity for new counties! That's the reason - the only reason - I picked this particular route. Four new counties later, and I'm up to 74/88 in Ohio. I am definitely planning on getting all 88, eventually, but that is still several Toledo round trips down the road.

View Larger Map

Nelsonville bypass: As I mentioned last week, they're building a bypass of the town of Nelsonville along US-33, which is the last remaining major holdup on US-33 from Columbus southeast to I-77. It's partially open now, but only the section northwest of Nelsonville, not the section that actually bypasses Nelsonville itself. Getting to the new bypass means taking a side road for a mile or so that you didn't have to take before, and according to my stopwatch, the new side road actually offsets the time savings gained by the new expressway. Of course, it'll be a different story once the entire bypass is completed (Fall 2013?).

December 27, 2012: Southbound from Toledo

I basically tweeted this ad nauseum, but yes, Toledo got some snow on the 26th (Wednesday).

The Toledo airport reported 2.8", and I unofficially measured 3 to 4" in Amber's parents' yard. (Most of the snow fell in the late afternoon / early evening, a few hours after the above picture was taken.) Hardly a major event by Ohio standards, but a few lucky locations between Toledo and Columbus fell into the 6-12" range.

Wednesday would have been a truly awful day to attempt to drive back. The snow moved out by Thursday morning, so at that point it depended solely on Ohio's ability to clear the roads in a timely fashion. Having never lived in Ohio, I don't know what the "norm" is, but basically, I-75 was in excellent shape, but US-23 still had snow on it in spots, especially in the passing lane. In hindsight, perhaps we should have waited until sunrise to leave...oh, right, gotta get home by 4 PM for Marla. (Which, we did!) It's not that the road conditions were unsafe, you just had to slow down, pay attention, and be patient. Even if there's a truck driving a ridiculously slow speed in the right lane, if the passing lane has a lot of snow in it still, too bad! You're stuck.

Because of the conditions, we stuck with one of the usual routes, even though the storm was mostly a rain event south of Columbus (except in higher elevations around Beckley, WV).

December 24, 2012: Michigan county collecting

Our usual holiday trips to Toledo involve a four-night stay. This one was a five-night stay. So what did we do with the "extra day"? Amber and her mom baked cookies, and I drove to Michigan. Merry Christmas to all!

View Larger Map

There are several scenic Michigan drives on my to-do list, particularly along the lakes. This was not one of them. Since I was going solo, I figured I'd save the interesting "bucket list" drives (e.g. M-25 around "The Thumb", US-23 by way of Alpena, anything involving the Upper Peninsula) for when we have the whole family, and spend this day touring the relatively less interesting interior of Lower Michigan, and visit as many new counties as possible along the way.

I don't mean to sell interior Lower Michigan short here, because it was a really nice drive, especially north of Flint/Lansing/Grand Rapids (where Michigan becomes less developed and more forested). But the thing is, I don't really know what there is to do in, say, Cadillac.* And that was the idea: go here now, so that those interior counties are already checked off my list. That way, when we have an opportunity to take the whole family up into Michigan again, we can stay along the lakes without letting my dumb statistical quests get in the way. Not that Amber would necessarily object to a drive up US-131, of course - or even the side trips to other new counties within a couple miles of US-131 (that's what points D, E, and F are on the map) - but given the choice, I'm sure she'd prefer a drive along Lake Huron. (We've already done the Lake Michigan side of the Lower Peninsula.)

(* - Actually, based on the advertising, I know exactly what there is to do around here: either go to a casino, or go hunting. Neither is that appealing to me.)

Some pictures I took along the way:

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Travel: Christmas 2012 Edition

It's time to hit the road again! (Well, almost. We're leaving Saturday.)

Each of the last five years, Amber and I have visited either Jacksonville or Toledo for Christmas weekend, and then turned around and visited either Toledo or Jacksonville for New Year's weekend. When it was just the two of us, no problem! One year, we even went to Mammoth Cave and Mississippi in between.

But now, with Marla, road trips on back to back weekends in opposite directions is a little too much. We're still going to Toledo for Christmas, but New Year's will be spent in Durham.

So, let's talk road trip stuff, because, well, that's what I do. You may have heard that last week, there was a a natural gas explosion on I-77 in West Virginia. Hey, that's right along our route! (Well, depends.) They've since re-opened I-77, though, which is good, because we'll be going that way so I can check out...

View Larger Map

...the US-33 bypass of Nelsonville, Ohio (the last remaining bottleneck between Columbus and Athens). It's only partially open, but not the section that actually bypasses Nelsonville. Still worth checking out, though, because I think it's kind of neat to see these things open in steps, rather than come back one day and see the whole thing finished already. Next time we head up this way (depending on when that is), the whole thing could be open, and that would save us upwards of five minutes, making the US-33 via Athens route once again the uncontested "fastest route to Toledo" ahead of US-35/US-23 via Chillicothe. That is, until they complete the new US-35 expressway in West Virginia, which will probably pull the Chillicothe route back even again. (But that won't be for a while, so I've heard.)

Another thing that isn't finished this time, but should be for the next trip to Toledo: E-ZPass/NC Quick Pass integration. According to the News and Observer, our Quick Pass hardcase transponders will be operational on E-ZPass roads, such as the West Virginia Turnpike, starting as early as January 2, apparently. Or, a week too late to be of any use for us on this trip. Maybe next time. (The article suggests that January 2 is the best case scenario.)

Any new counties on this trip? ... Depends. I have a route picked out that will get me four new counties west of Columbus, and a different route that would get me three more in southern Ohio / eastern Kentucky on the return, but whether we actually take those routes will depend on how Marla behaves in the car. (She doesn't get as excited about visiting new counties as I do. Maybe that's because she's already visited over 60% of Ohio.)

Also, we're spending an extra day in Toledo, which we may use - or, I may use by myself while Amber spends more time with her family - to drive into Michigan. Michigan has a lot of potential for new counties once I get north and west of I-69 - our honeymoon is pretty much the only time I've ever gone past Flint or Lansing. If I'm ambitious enough, and isn't snowing up there that day, it's actually not outside the realm of possibility that I'll have 1,500 counties visited by the end of the trip. (I'm currently at 1,481.) That, and I like Michigan. I want to do more drives there. Yeah! (Kentucky is another relatively nearby state that I want to do more drives in.)

Any traffic concerns? ... Saturday is technically the start of Christmas weekend, and so I expect it to be busier than a typical Saturday, but not "Wednesday before Thanksgiving" busy. Either way, we're leaving at 4 AM, and any traffic problems we occur going to/from Toledo almost always happen from West Virginia south, so we should be fine on Saturday. Our return drive on Thursday is a little more of a wild card, but I don't expect serious traffic problems, at least.

Merry Christmas and whatnot!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holding the Door Open

This is a daily conundrum for me. Do I hold the door open for the guy behind me?

(Yes, I know there isn't anybody in that picture...use your imagination.)

Obviously, if he's a step or two behind me, then yes. And if he's still way down at the other end of the hallway, then no. But where do I draw the line?

Well, here's my rule of thumb. If the door would close on its own, all the way, before the person behind me gets to the door, then I won't hold the door open; otherwise, I will hold the door open. I think a typical office-type door takes 3-4 seconds to close on its own. So, there you go.

Monday, December 17, 2012


This is as close as I'm going to get to commenting on Sandy Hook Elementary. Obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected... actually, let me stop there. Did that sound genuine to you, or did it just sound canned?

So, let's say that someone at work just lost one of their grandparents or something. Usually, we'll pass around a sympathy card to be signed by each of us. I never know what to write on those things. Sure, I feel sorry for them, but it doesn't seem genuine to go with one of the Generic Expressions of Sympathy that everyone seems to use. You know, "very sorry for your loss", "keeping you in our thoughts and prayers", and so on and so forth. But any time I try to come up with something different to write, it always ends up sounding worse, usually much worse. And so, Generic Expression of Sympathy it is. Every time.

It's not just cards, though. Pretty much anything where only words are involved - emails, Facebook status messages, even phone calls - I can't do it. Sure, I could call you after you just had something bad happen to you and offer my condolences or whatever, but what am I going to say? I always just stutter and sound dumb. Maybe the fact that I called is good enough and it doesn't really matter what I say (let's hope so!), but the thought that you would maybe just "rather be alone" keeps me from even getting that far. Because unless you're an actual relative, I basically assume that you'd rather the rest of us just "respect your privacy during this difficult time", and so our only avenues for expressing sympathy are cards and Facebook, I guess.

I guess what I'm saying is this. When someone in your family dies, I won't be among those adding a comment to the corresponding Facebook thread. But that certainly doesn't mean I don't...umm...feel sorry for you? That didn't sound right. You see what I mean? I care, but I can't make it sound genuine.

I should note: the last two paragraphs do not refer to any specific incident. The Sandy Hook tragedy just got me thinking - specifically, about whether I should post anything on Twitter or Facebook about it that day. I didn't, because like I said, no matter how much I'm affected by something, I can't do better than a Generic Expression of Sympathy.

This is why I just let Amber handle the sympathy expressions in our household.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Sports Friday: 12/14/12

In this week's edition of "sports other than hockey that I've been reduced to watching during the NHL lockout", I bring you...

NBA - I've largely ignored the "local team", the Charlotte Bobcats, over the last few years in part because a) they suck and b) I'm not much of an NBA fan anyway, but mostly because DirecTV customers in Raleigh (e.g. me) have never been able to watch their games. But now, for the first season in Charlotte Bobcats franchise history (2004-present), satellite TV customers in Raleigh are now able to watch their games. And not just some games, either; every game! (So far.)

Now, before you ask why anyone here would actually want to watch the's a brief history of Charlotte Bobcats television broadcast rights, and why I think this is a big deal:
- When the team debuted in 2004, a new regional sports network debuted along with it called Carolinas Sports Entertainment Television (a.k.a. C-SET). C-SET was the exclusive cable home of the Bobcats, and satellite providers were blocked from carrying it, in part because Time Warner Cable co-owned the network.
- C-SET was a major flop and didn't even last a year so at that point Bobcats rights were transferred to another Time Warner-only property, their "News 14 Carolina" channel.
- That lasted until 2008, when Time Warner Cable agreed to give up the exclusive broadcast rights in exchange for the naming rights to the arena, or something. Now, Bobcats games are broadcast on either Fox Sports Carolinas or SportSouth (depending on where in the Carolinas you live), and also for the first time, on a channel that's available on satellite. Great!

...except, there's a catch. SportSouth isn't carried in Raleigh, so Bobcats games only aired here on Fox Sports Carolinas when they didn't conflict with a Carolina Hurricanes game or another Fox Sports programming commitment (e.g. an ACC basketball game); that kept over half of the Bobcats' schedule off of Raleigh airwaves. But also, the team's agreement with DirecTV (and I think also DISH) specified that although they could now air Bobcats games, they could only do so in the team's "inner market", which covers a 75-mile radius surrounding Charlotte. Raleigh and Durham are outside the "inner market", so for the last few years, every Bobcats game has been blacked out for DirecTV customers such as myself.

So, to summarize: if you live in Raleigh, your Bobcats viewing options for the past few years have been a) sign up for Time Warner Cable and get less than half of the Bobcats' schedule, or b) sign up for satellite and get none of the schedule. NBA League Pass wasn't an option, either, because there, all Bobcats games are blacked out locally regardless of your television provider. Ever since day one, the Bobcats have made their product hard to get, instead of making it widely available and working to create a region-wide fan base, and all because (I assume) Time Warner Cable cut them a big check. Well, screw them, I said! If you don't care about Raleigh, then I don't care about you.

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the Bobcats games weren't being blacked out anymore. I've had a hard time finding any information about this, but apparently DirecTV has a new agreement with the team, and that whole "inner market" thing is no more. So now, not only can I watch the games, I can watch all of the games. (So far. Since I first noticed, every single game has been on.) I don't know if the cable version of Fox Sports Carolinas is showing all of the Bobcats games, but since the Hurricanes aren't playing, why wouldn't they be? (On DirecTV, Bobcats games air on channels 647 and 647-1, which are basically Fox Sports South alternate channels.)

So, credit Bobcats management for changing their and trying to get their product out to all of the Carolinas, not just the Charlotte "inner market" or whatever. Not only do they now have an increased television presence in Raleigh, they also played a preseason game here, which I don't remember happening any other year since I've been here. Although, it's kind of curious that they're doing this now, given that the team is coming off not just a bad season, but a historically bad season. As in, the worst season in NBA history. On the other hand...there's only one way to go from here, and that's up! They're still not very good this year - they're currently riding a 10-game losing streak that, coincidentally, started around the time that I started paying attention - but hey, at least they're on more TVs than they used to be, and that's progress. Orlando at Charlotte - Sat 7:00p, SportSouth

College football - There is a lot wrong with the bowl system, and I've criticized it at length in the past. But these days, it's actually so easy to complain about the bowl system, that it's not even worth it. So instead...different approach. Bowls that might seem meaningless to you are actually a big deal to some teams. For instance, if you're a "non-AQ" team who plays in the MAC, Conference USA, or something like that, the bowl game might be the highlight of your season. In terms of how many people are watching and paying attention on a national level, it's definitely the biggest game of the season, and actually winning the bowl game means a heck of a lot more to the Utah States and Bowling Greens of the world than it does a 6-6 major conference team. Teams like Purdue have plenty of chances all season long to be in the spotlight. Now, it's Toledo's turn! With this in mind, I'm going to watch more bowl games involving lower conference teams than I have in the past. But only a couple more. Toledo v. Utah State in that bowl game in Boise on the blue field, whatever they call it now - Sat 4:30p, ESPN

I actually can't think of anything to say about the NFL this week, so...

Soccer - One of the French league games I watched this week, Marseille at Bastia, was played in front of a completely empty stadium. Paid attendance: zero.

I've heard of this kind of thing before in European football, because apparently the fans like to riot over there. Like, violently so, and with flares and fireworks and stuff. When the fans cross the line, the league will often force the offending team to play their next home game behind closed doors. That's what happened here, although the Bastia fans were still allowed to congregate outside the stadium and watch the game on a big screen.

In hindsight...that may have been a mistake. During the game, the fans outside the stadium rioted some more, with more flares and fireworks and the like. Given that the Bastia supporters are repeat offenders, the French league came back with a much harsher penalty: due to the "great insecurity which could put spectators or those involved in the game in danger at any moment", Bastia is forbidden from playing ANY games at home until further notice. Wow! (Yeah, we'll see if that penalty holds up.)

The emptiness of the stadium didn't actually seem that strange when I was watching the game, since French soccer being played in a mostly empty, quiet stadium is fairly commonplace. Half of Ligue 1 teams average less than 15,000 fans per game (source). Compare that to the English Premier League, where EVERY team averages over 15,000 fans per game (source). Shoot, even the second division in England (immediately below the Premier League) has a higher average attendance than the top French league.

Have any of the major American sports ever played a regular season game closed to the public? Can you imagine watching an NFL game being played in an empty stadium? That would be truly bizarre. And no, I don't mean what some may refer to as "empty" by NFL standards. I'm not talking about a game with "only" 40,000 spectators. I'm talking, ZERO spectators. No crowd noise, no atmosphere, nothing. Even a half-empty NFL stadium can still generate a good amount of noise and atmosphere.

Well, anyway...the biggest game on the French slate this weekend is #1 Lyon versus #2 Paris Saint Germain (Sun 5:00p, beIN tape delay). Despite the game's importance, riots are not expected.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kroger Fuel Rewards

For a while now, Kroger has had a "fuel rewards program". For every $100 you spend at Kroger, you get a one-time savings of 10¢/gallon (up to 35 gallons or something) valid at either Kroger fuel stations, or at participating Shell stations. At Kroger fuel stations, you can use as many "fuel points" at once as you want; for instance, you can save 30¢/gallon one time instead of 10¢/gallon three different times. That's what I did last week, and so I paid $2.96/gallon instead of $3.26/gallon.

Sounds great, right? Well...let's do the numbers. How much money are we really saving here? Since a standard fill-up for me is between 9 and 10 gallons, this program is saving me $1 per $100 spent at Kroger. So if you have a 10 gallon gas tank, this is basically a 1% cash back rewards program. Except that it's actually less than 1% because of their "silly rules" - e.g. points expire after (I think) two months, and you can't combine points from multiple months to get the discount.

Well, anyway, here's the point I wanted to make. Credit card companies have long advertised things like "save 5¢/gallon when you use our credit card!" Why? Because we tend to overvalue fuel savings relative to savings on other things. 5¢/gallon seems like a lot to us because we see the price of gas posted everywhere, and for some reason we obsess over even very minor savings when we go to the pump. (This xkcd comic comes to mind.) Even though I do spend over $100 per month on gas, it's all kind of silly. But what this means is that if you're a company like Kroger, and you want a rewards program that sounds better than it really is, you can't do much better than with fuel rewards.

I'm not actually sure how much additional money Kroger makes off of this in the long run. I don't shop at Kroger more than I otherwise would because of the fuel rewards, but I do refuel at Kroger and Shell more than I would otherwise. But only when I can get the discount, of course. As for other rewards programs, the cash back I get from my credit card does actually encourage me to use the credit card more often...but since I always pay off the balance in full every month, the credit card company isn't making any additional money from me off of that, either. Do these rewards programs actually work?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

One Two Tree (Or Whatever It's Called)

Lighted spiral Christmas trees are very popular lawn decorations these days. We see them everywhere, so much so that Amber and I even have a game related to them. (Basically, the game is who can spot them first.)

She's always called these things "One Two Trees", because apparently that was an old brand name for these things at some point. I think it's a catchy name, and I've adopted it myself, in the same manner that a tissue is a "Kleenex". We only apply the name to spiral, lighted, lawn ornament trees, though, not just any type of fake Christmas tree. "Spiral" is the key; double helixes also count, I think.

But is our name obsolete? When I Google "one two tree" or "1 2 tree", all I get are the website of a band of the same name, plus a bunch of tree removal services. Well, I don't care how obsolete a name is, these things will always be "One Two Trees" to me. Despite the fact that I've never actually seen the name brand itself anywhere.

We're not big on Christmas lawn decorations ourselves, but we did actually put up the tree this year. Yay!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flat Tire Statistics

So, I got a flat tire yesterday, which wasn't particularly fun, given that it was at night, on the side of a major interstate, and that I had Marla with me in the back seat. Not the most ideal situation to incur a flat, which helps explain why it took me almost 20 minutes to remember that the jack is supposed to go perpendicular to the side of the car, not parallel. (Of course it seems obvious now...)

It's not a very interesting story, actually, and as of today, the tire has been patched and everything is back to normal. So instead, let's talk statistics! (Because that's way more interesting.)

How often do I get a flat tire? I don't remember how many flats I got with my old car, but with the Honda I've kept a detailed maintenance log, including all tire-related issues. And, it shows that this is my second flat in the life of the car, which spans over five years and 90,000 miles. (Not included was the leaky tire that came with the Budget rental car that we drove to California in 2009, because that wasn't the Honda, and the damage had already been done to that tire.) I don't think that's a bad ratio, but I had a hard time finding a good miles-per-flat statistic online.

Both times with the Honda (and unlike with the Budget rental car), the tire was a simple puncture that could be repaired for under $20. At least, this assumes that the tire holds up over time. So far, I've only driven it 8 miles, from the repair shop, to work, to home. It was $13.80 last time, which was in July 2008; this time, it was $19.35, even though it was at the same shop. Did they just increase their rates, or was it a more sophisticated repair job this time? Could be both, but last time, it was a nail stuck in the tire; this time, the damage looked a little more substantial. In 2008, I only noticed the tire was flat the next morning, so it was a slow leak. This time: loud noise followed by tire pressure warning light followed by me pulling over all happened within a few seconds.

(By the way, the tire pressure warning light is a very good thing. Without it, how long would I have kept driving on I-40 at 65 mph?)

This being my Honda's second flat tire, it's also my second stint on the spare tire, a.k.a. "the donut". The donut now has 31 miles on it (18 last time, 13 yesterday).

But...there's more! I still have the full size spare, never used, that I bought for the Alaska trip in 2010. I keep it at home rather than in my car because it doesn't fit comfortably in my trunk, but I did take the donut off in favor of the full size spare after limping home last night. After 11 miles on the full size spare, now it's back to the shed, until next time. It'll be there for me if I ever get a flat that can't be patched.

Bike tires have a tendency to lose air over time whether you ride them or not, but car tires are a wee bit more sophisticated. My full size spare still had a healthy 30 psi in it after 2½ years of non-use.

So, hopefully I won't be writing another blog post about flat tires for a while.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Sports Friday: 12/7/12

Here's the thing with sports these days: we have choice. A lot of choice. Sports are on television everywhere, virtually all the time. Don't like the sport or game you're watching? Simple - change the channel and watch a different sport/game/fishing show/whatever. Or, instead of spending money on season tickets, spend money on some other form of entertainment. (Curling, for instance.)

But, the interesting thing with sports fandom is that being blindly devoted to your favorite team/sport, rather than exercising your freedom to choose when said team/sport doesn't treat you well, is actually celebrated. As in, "I've stuck with my team/sport through all the tough times, and that makes me a better sports fan than you". Why is that?

The reason I bring this up because, needless to say, the NHL is not treating its fans well right now. When the NHL does eventually make its return, whether it's this season or next, what will probably happen is that markets where hockey is more popular will continue to sell out most or all of their games, while other markets - such as, oh, I don't know, Raleigh - will see a drop in attendance coming off of the lockout. And then, the following narrative will once again surface: "Well, northern cities just have better fans".

Do they?

Or, are Southern fans more willing to choose where they spend their money, and less willing to take it up the you-know-what all the time?

I guess what it's saying is, instead of blaming [insert Southern NHL city here] for not filling their arena for a Tuesday night game against the Islanders, maybe we should be blaming the sport itself for being the most poorly managed in all of major professional sports. If a "real fan" is one who sticks with the team/sport regardless of the quality of the product, and who doesn't hold the team/sport accountable in any way, then that's the last thing I want to be.

NFL - Speaking of teams with a substandard quality of about those Jaguars?! Here's the difference, though. The Jaguars actually are trying; they're just doing a bad job. It's a competitive league, and somebody has to lose, right? I can handle a bad season here and there as long as the ownership is committed. This isn't like when the Chicago Blackhawks owner once said that trying to win a Stanley Cup would be "too expensive". NY Jets at Jacksonville - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

Here's something I wrote last year: "I really hope the Indianapolis Colts do NOT end up with the worst record in the league. I have waited over a decade for Peyton Manning to go away. The last thing I want is for another highly touted quarterback (Andrew Luck) to step in immediately after Manning leaves." Well, it looks like the Colts are on their way to another 10-year run of sustained success. Great. Just goes to show you, if you're going to suck, make sure you do all of your sucking at once so that you can get a #1 draft pick out of it. (And draft well. That's important too.) #2 draft pick Robert Griffin III is getting all of the hype because because, like, every NFC East intradivision game is nationally televised, but is anyone actually watching the #1 draft pick? Anyone? Tennessee at Indianapolis - sometime on Sunday, who cares what channel, not like you're going to watch anyway

College football - Does Northern Illinois belong in the BCS Sure! Good for them. I am all for the champion of at least one "non-AQ" conference playing in a BCS bowl.

This is the thing that gets me the most when people complain about the 3rd-best SEC team not getting into a BCS bowl. Conference schedules are their own playoff. You play everybody in your division, the top division teams play each other, and the winner is the conference champion. Nobody seems to consider that, and thus, most 4- or 8-team playoff proposals that people put out there don't put any value on a conference championship. If you're 11-1 and ranked #3 in the country, but don't even win your division because there's another 11-1 team in your division, and thus end up having to play in the Citrus Bowl or something, well, those are the breaks. Oh, and you had your chance, because you played that other team head-to-head. Let's give Northern Illinois a chance. Is college football a sport, or is it an entertainment vehicle disguised as a sport that favors money over fairness? (Don't answer that.)

It kind of stinks from Florida State's perspective, though, because if they lose, then the ACC champion just lost to the MAC champion (ouch); if they win, then, well, it was only Northern Illinois, so who cares? Well, I will value a win over Northern Illinois as an accomplishment, even if you don't.

College basketball -'s looking to be a tough year for Florida State basketball. They've already four games, including home games to South Alabama and Mercer (ouch), and got blown out by Florida this past week. Here's the thing with Leonard Hamilton's defense-oriented system: you need experienced players in order to pull it off. The Seminoles lost six seniors last year, and it shows. On offense, you can get by on skill alone sometimes, but playing good defense takes some work and experience. It'll be a year or two before these new big guys will be able to approach the level of interior defense that the team has shown the last few years. Until they get to that point...NIT? Maybe? Maine at Florida State - Sun 4:00p, ESPNU

I was already kind of not expecting much from Penn State this year, and then, their far-and-away best player, Tim Frazier, got hurt and is out for the year. Well, now they're really screwed, and could be on their way to a last place finish in the conference, again. All I have to say is, thank goodness for Nebraska. Hey, any chance Rutgers could join the Big Ten this year instead, too? Army at Penn State - Sat 4:00p, BTN

Since I just went poo-poo all over Penn State's men's basketball program, let me counter that by pointing out that Penn State's women's soccer team just made the national championship game. So, good for them! (Although to be honest, I was actually rooting for Florida State, whom PSU beat in the semifinals. FSU's women's soccer team has been good for several years now, and I'd like to see them get at least one national championship out of it.)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Publix and North Carolina

If you're me, this is VERY EXCITING NEWS. According to the Triangle Business Journal, Publix - my favorite grocery store ever - is planning to expand into the Raleigh area. YES!

Honestly, I thought this would never happen. I know a lot about Publix, having worked there in the summer of 2002 (part of employee orientation is learning the history of the chain), and I have friends who work there today. Yes, they are very successful, especially in Florida, but they have always been very methodical and careful about expansion. They're the opposite of, say, Food Lion, who opened a whole bunch of stores in Florida all at once, and ultimately ended up closing every last one of them. Publix currently has stores in five states (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee), but they've been very careful about it. It took them 61 years to build their first store outside of Florida.

One advantage Publix has in Florida is that they have virtually no competition among general grocery store chains. Now that Food Lion has moved out, in Jacksonville you have Publix, Winn-Dixie, and...what, exactly? Walmart and Target, I guess? Whereas here in Raleigh, you have four main chains (not counting Walmart/Target), all of which do reasonably well: Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Kroger, and Lowe's Foods. Harris Teeter is actually the main reason I didn't think Publix would ever move here. They're both considered "upscale" and have the same target demographic. Harris Teeter tried expanding into Jacksonville, but failed, mostly because of the strong foothold Publix has in Florida (although Harris Teeter does still have one store open in Florida, in Fernandina Beach). But in Raleigh, it's Harris Teeter that has the strong foothold. Can Publix break into that? They must think they can, because they don't take expansion lightly.

I guess what I'm saying is, don't expect Publix to open ten stores in Raleigh all at once. According to the TBJ story, they're currently planning on a north Raleigh location and a Cary location. I don't know if that'll be the extent of it, but given their target market, I don't expect them to open a store in Durham for a while. And, this is all still very preliminary; we're still well over a year away from being able to shop at a Publix in Raleigh. I was totally unaware of this until now, but plans are already in the works to open a Publix in Charlotte, which would be North Carolina's first. And not even that one will be open before 2014.

So, let's not get too excited, yet. Long way to go. But it's not too soon to be asking myself this question. It's currently an 8 minute drive to my neighborhood Kroger, where I do the vast majority of my grocery shopping. How far would I willing to drive to shop at Publix instead of Kroger? 15 minutes? 20? 30? (Definitely 15 or 20; beyond that, I'd probably keep doing my regular shopping at Kroger and just go to Publix once or twice a month.)

And, am I hyping Publix so much that I'll actually be disappointed once I can compare them side-by-side with the stores I've been shopping at for the last six years? I haven't done any regular grocery shopping at Publix since I lived in Florida, and that was over eight years ago. What if I find that the local Publix is actually just as expensive as the local Harris Teeter (possible), has inferior selection to my neighborhood Kroger (unlikely, but who knows), and actually has longer checkout lines and worse baggers than Kroger (VERY unlikely, but then again, they did hire a 20-year-old version of me once upon a time)? I'll admit, that would be kind of crushing. Yes, I'm convinced that Publix is the best, but I'm kind of biased. Being a Florida native, I want Publix to be the best.

Speaking of grocery stores that I have an unhealthy obsession with, Wegmans - my second favorite grocery store ever - is planning to open a store in Charlottesville, VA, which would then become the southernmost Wegmans in existence. (Currently, the southernmost Wegmans is in Fredericksburg.) Surely, now that Publix is expanding into North Carolina, that eliminates any possibility of Wegmans expanding into North Carolina from the other direction, no? I mean, Publix and Wegmans in the same place? Everyone else may as well just give up at that point.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Triangle Expressway Trot III

Last year's Triangle Expressway Trot, a 5K run on a yet-to-be-opened expressway, must have been pretty successful, because they've followed it up two sequels as more sections of the Triangle's first toll road were built. We skipped the second edition because it was in the middle of the summer, but Amber decided to give the Triangle Expressway Trot III a go, in part so she could try to accomplish her goal of a sub-30-minute 5K. (Which, she did. Way to go, Amber! By the way, I don't know if actually I mentioned this on the blog, but she also ran her first half marathon last month, which is even more impressive.)

As for the rest of the Allen family, we hung out in the median during the race.

But really, I want to talk more about after the race, because that's when they opened up the new part of the parkway for bicycling. Bicycling is prohibited on all of the expressways around here, so if you've ever wanted to ride your bike on an expressway, this was our chance! I even brought the Marla trailer along, too.

Most surprising thing about riding your bike on an expressway: the road isn't as smooth as you think. There aren't big bumps or anything, but the surface itself isn't all that smooth. You don't notice at all when you're driving in a car at 65 mph, but on a bike, you notice. Now, the expressway was paved with concrete, not asphalt, so maybe that's just how concrete is. Now that I think of it, I don't know of any bicycleable roads around here that are paved with concrete.

Second most surprising thing about riding your bike on an expressway: the hills are still formidable. I thought that you wouldn't have to deal with too many steep hills on expressways, and that it would be kind of like the "rail trails" that are popping up all over the place, with only very gradual inclines. Nope! There was a decent climb on the return trip which required a gear that I never have to use on those "rail trails". Of course, I did have Marla in tow, which added a little more resistance than I otherwise would have had.

I was kind of hoping they would have more of the yet-to-be-opened expressway open for bicycling, but instead they just had the down-and-back 5K route open. So, it was a pretty short ride, but like I said, this was my only (legal) opportunity.

On a somewhat related note, as far as I know, our "NC Quick Pass" toll transponders still don't work out of state yet. Come on, guys! Let's get this done. We have another date with the West Virginia Turnpike coming up in a few weeks.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Curling Recap: 11/30-12/2/12

My last curling post of the year (maybe)! Next Friday is the season-ending wacky rules curling, which I don't count as an official game. So, this is it. Two weekend games to finish out the year, and I needed to win at least one of them to keep my streak alive of having an above .500 record in curling every year since I started in 2007.

Career game #201: 2012 Fall League - November 30, 2012
(my team: K. Jackson)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Lowden........ 30004210 | 10
K. Jackson.... 01120002 | 06

Lately I've gotten lazy as far as recording the end-by-end scores of these games goes, so I'm not 100% sure, about the order of these ends. Suffice to say, we gave up a big one early, and a big one in the middle, and that was that. Our main problem? Not getting enough rocks in the house. Funny how that works.

This was actually a 3-on-3 game, and so to speed things up, we only played 6 rocks per end instead of the usual 8. But somehow, we still only managed to get the usual 8 ends in before time ran out. How'd that happen?

With that, our team finished the season in 6th place out of 8, which isn't too bad when you consider that we lost our first four. I'd like to start the season over with the same team, because I really think that if we could have gotten all of us to the rink every week (and I didn't schedule a trip to Vermont in the middle of the season), we could have gone all the way! Or at least made the playoffs.

As far as how I feel about playing Skip versus playing Vice after spending a season back at Vice...I'll get to that.

Amber's Sunday League team had their bye week this week, and so she was nice enough to let me play as a spare on someone else's team, so that I could actually get to see the Sunday curlers for once. This is a symptom of having a club with two separate league nights: the Friday-only curlers and the Sunday-only curlers don't usually get to, you know, see each other.

Career game #202: 2012 Fall League (Sunday) - December 2, 2012
(my team: Zasowski)

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Zasowski...... 1101010 | 04
Hartman....... 0010202 | 05

Team Hartman was #2 in the league and, I thought, a strong favorite given that my team's usual Skip wasn't there that week. So, I thought we hung in there pretty well! Although, there was some luck involved. In the 2nd end, the other team was sitting two and going for three with their last rock...and ended up promoting one of our rocks into the house and giving us a point instead. Then, in the 4th end, our Skip Tim made an angle raise of sorts that wasn't really the call, but it was considered as a plausible outcome...either way, that was another "gift" point of sorts. Maybe I'd diagram that shot if we ended up winning the game, but instead...nah. (This is the last recap of the year, so excuse me for mailing it in a bit.)

My next game will (probably) be on New Year's Day, which will be fun. Then, the next season (probably) begins in late January, and I might have a decision to make. Do I stay at Vice, or do I give Skipping another go? Ordinarily I would just stay at Vice, but since the club is moving forward with its building plans, there isn't much benefit to learning arena ice strategy anymore. Dedicated ice curling strategy is completely different, so we'll all have to forget (most) everything we knew about strategy anyway and start over once we move into our building. So, why not give arena ice Skipping one last go? One more shot at glory, if you will?

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cheez-Its: Reduced Fat vs. Regular

On average, I'd say I eat slightly less than one box of Reduced Fat Cheez-Its per week. It's been one of my standard "go to" snacks for as long as I can remember. From experience, I know that not all Cheez-It boxes are created equal, so one day when my Cheez-Its tasted much better than usual, I didn't think anything of it. Then, I looked at the box a little closer:

Blast! I bought regular Cheez-Its by mistake! Well, that explains that.

I've probably told this story on the blog before, but when I was a kid, I mostly drank diet sodas. Then one day, I had a regular soda, and after that life-changing experience, it was years before I could ever go back again to diet sodas. Today I don't drink soda of any kind at home (I do when I'm on vacation), but getting back to the point: diet soda tastes pretty good if that's all you know. But when you have a taste of regular soda, it makes diet soda taste pretty bad by comparison, to the point where one sip of regular soda can pretty much ruin the diet soda experience for you.

And, yeah, pretty much the same thing applies to Cheez-Its. Reduced Fat Cheez-Its still taste okay, but it's not the same. Just like with soda way back in the day, I think I've ruined everything.

Well, while I'm at it, let's see if I can rationalize buying regular Cheez-Its over the reduced fat ones. Sure, it says "reduced fat", but they make up for the reduced fat in part by upping the carb count, such that the caloric savings in the "reduced fat" crackers is only 20 calories a serving, or 15%. It's not like with soda, where the difference in calorie count between regular and diet is, well, 100%. Not only that, but regular Cheez-Its are cheaper than their reduced fat counterparts, too: the boxes cost the same, but regular Cheez-It boxes are an ounce or two larger.

So that caloric difference is small enough for me to justify keeping with the regular Cheez-Its, right? Well, given how often I eat Cheez-Its, maybe not. If I eat 10 servings of Cheez-Its a week - that sounds like a lot, but a typical "serving size" is pretty small with most foods, and like I said, it is one of my "go to" snacks - then opting for reduced fat over regular is a difference of three pounds per year. As in, everything else being equal, I'll weigh three pounds more at this time next year just by switching from reduced fat Cheez-Its to regular Cheez-Its. Wow! Maybe I should go back to reduced fat after all.

Or, how about I continue with the regular Cheez-Its, and just eat them 15% less frequently? You know, I like that idea better.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Bicycle: 11/29/12 Update

I bought a new bicycle a few weeks back. How's it working out?

In its first long ride, I rode 33 miles in 2:47, compared to 3:15 along the same route with my old bike the weekend before, and was far less fatigued at the end. The following next weekend, I rode in a 50-mile charity ride (my third ever 50+ mile ride) that was quite challenging due to the conditions (hills and wind), but hey, I finished it! And, in my fictional Bicycling Trip in Australia, I'm now within shouting distance of the Western Australia border, finally. (As in, I'm planning a 35-mile ride this weekend that will get me across the state line.)

So, I'd say it's working out great. Long distance bicycling is fun again! Now I can actually do that 100K that I've said I would do every year since I bought the bike. ... Well, we'll revisit that next year. I think it'll be best to do my first 100K as part of a fully supported charity ride, so that I don't have to carry a bunch of extra water with me, among other reasons.

About that 50 mile charity ride, which benefited the Multiple Sclerosis something or other. The charity ride offered 25 and 50 mile options, and most people of my ilk - casual bicyclists who ride regularly, but don't have all of the fancy fixins - opt for the shorter distance in these things. Not me!

Did my fancy new bike allow me to keep up with the serious riders? ... No. By mile three, most everyone was long gone, except for Laura (who rode with me for the first 12 miles or so), plus about a half dozen other riders behind me that I didn't see too much of. So for all of the last 38 miles, I was riding solo, just like any other weekend. But hey, at least I wasn't in last! If I had tried this with my old bike, I most likely would have been part of that half dozen bringing up the rear. The back of a charity ride is not a fun place to be, by the way, because there's a guy on a motorcycle behind you the whole time. I guess that's good from a safety standpoint, but I would hate having the "last place indicator" riding my butt all day long.

Now, I talk about coming in "last", but these charity rides are not races, and they tell you that up front. Contrast that to pretty much every run anywhere, even the silly ones, where it is a race, and they officially time you with chips and everything. Why is that? Why don't they officially time bike rides like they do runs? My theory is that it's safety related. If you're riding a bicycle "on the clock", that might make you more likely to run a red light and get hit by a car or something, or crash into another bicycle Tour de France style. But in most runs, the roads are closed to traffic (I think), and the risk of injury or death is already lower on foot to begin with. And, I think being "on the clock" is just part of the culture of running. Gotta go for your PR, right?

So, in conclusion: with my new bike, the serious riders are still going to pass me every single weekend, just like always. Just like most people will never be able to run a 5K in 15 minutes no matter how hard they train (or how many PEDs they take), I'll never be able to complete a 50 mile bike ride in 2½ hours. (That's about how fast I think the "leaders" finished the ride, based on when I saw them on the return trip. I finished the ride in 4:15 to 4:30.) But the most important thing with the new bike is that I don't feel like killing myself once I reach mile 30 anymore. Yay! The 1-2 mph bump in speed is nice, but it's the increased longevity that is the biggest thing.

Meanwhile, I still have my old bike, and I'm still going to use it for work commutes and other short rides as long as it lasts. It's slower, but it gets me to work just fine. And, it still has the Marla trailer hook up, too.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Travel: Thanksgiving 2012 Recap

Instead of doing our Thanksgiving driving on the crazy busy days of Wednesday and Sunday, this year, we drove on Thursday and Monday. How did it work out?

There was more traffic than I expected on both days, but there were no delays in either direction, and we posted some of our faster trip times, counting driving time only. That doesn't account for Marla-induced stops (of which there were quite a few yesterday), but the point is, Thursday and Monday are great days to do your Thanksgiving travel. And if Google Maps traffic info was any indication, Wednesday and Sunday lived up to my expectations.

But, there's also this. The advantage to driving on Wednesday or Sunday is that it's a fine excuse to take an alternate route, and that can be fun, too. So, I don't know if we'll be doing this every year.

And...there's this, too. Unless the local schools take Monday off, we won't be able to do the Thursday-Monday thing once Marla starts school in a few years. Keeping her out of school on the Wednesday before is one thing (if they even have school on that Wednesday anymore), because I doubt much gets accomplished at school that day. But the Monday after, it's "back to work". Jacksonville schools had Monday off, but only because it was a designated "hurricane day" that they didn't have to use. Pretty sure none of the local schools had Monday off. Marla is still four years away from kindergarten, of course, but when that time comes, driving on Sunday and taking routes like this may be our best - or at least most fun - option.

The Marla Picture Dump: November 2012

Marla made plenty of appearances in our Vermont trip photos, but it's been a while since I've posted Marla pictures just for the sake of posting Marla pictures. So, here you go. This actually goes all the way back to Halloween, but the majority of those pictures are from last weekend's trip to Jacksonville.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Time Shifting

For the last five years, Amber and I have traveled to either Jacksonville (even years) or Toledo (odd years) for Thanksgiving. Every year, we've left on Wednesday and come back on Sunday. Those two days also happen to be among the busiest travel days of the year, and as a result, those Thanksgiving drives are often my least favorite drives of the year. Normally we leave super early in the morning (between 1 and 4 AM), or take a circuitous route, to circumvent the worst of the traffic. But this year, we're doing something different, and way easier: we're leaving on Thursday and coming back on Monday, effectively "time shifting" Thanksgiving weekend back a day.

The reason Wednesday is such a busy travel day is because everyone feels the pressure to get to their destinations before Thanksgiving Day. And then, everyone heads back home at the last possible moment, which is Sunday, because for some reason nobody ever takes the following Monday off. Why is that? Is this like Christmas Creep, but for Thanksgiving? Back when I was a kid, Thanksgiving weekend started on Thursday, not Wednesday. Today, it is becoming more common for people to take off not just that Wednesday, but the entire week.

Well, the way we see it, it's kind of arbitrary. Instead of starting Thanksgiving weekend a day early, why not end it a day late? We can leave on Thursday morning and still get to Jacksonville a couple of hours before dinner. (Might be a different story when we go to Toledo, but we'll worry about that next year.) And, we'll get all of Sunday in Jacksonville, too. Regardless of whether we do Wednesday-Sunday or Thursday-Monday, I have to take the same amount of vacation time, and under both scenarios, everyone else is off from work the entire time we're there (except for Monday morning, but we're leaving first thing Monday morning anyway). And, most importantly, Thursday-Monday helps us avoid traffic. What's not to like?

Of course, the big assumption is that traffic won't be anywhere near as bad on Thursday/Monday as it is on Wednesday/Sunday. Having never driven on either of those days, I guess we'll have to see. You only need one big accident to mess everything up, right?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Curling Recap: 11/16/12

Career game #200: 2012 Fall League - November 16, 2012
(my team: K. Jackson)

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Wright........ 0002100 | 03
K. Jackson.... 1110013 | 07

Going to keep it short today. The keys to victory:
- When most of us (both teams) missed, we were light, so most ends had lots and lots of guards out in front, most often before anything made it to the house. In the 5th end, we were still looking at an empty house when it was time for the Skips to throw. The ice was slower than normal, but not terribly so.
- Most ends, it was pretty much whoever could get behind the guards and into the four-foot circle first, won the end.
- Take-outs occasionally worked if there weren't guards in the way already, but given the "swingy" nature of the ice, a strategy relying on take-outs was not the way to go. So, it was a good week to face a Skip who likes throwing take-outs, I suppose. (Lucky us!)
- I wasn't feeling that well, but in the past I've played well when not feeling my best, so...I played well. Those points in the 3rd and 6th ends? Yeah, those were mine. I was hardly consistent with my draw weight, but like I said, all you had to do was be the first one to get a rock into the four-foot (provided there were already guards out in front). When I only have to make one of my two shots, we do alright; it's when I have to make both of my shots that my teams normally get into trouble.

The win puts us in the league's "5th place game" the weekend after Thanksgiving. This is the third consecutive league in which I've finished in the bottom half of the standings (6th/9, 8th/9, and now either 5th or 6th out of 8), but at least my "no last place finishes, ever" streak is still intact. Hooray!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sports Friday: 11/16/12

People still read these things, right?

NFL - The Jaguars season has basically devolved into me rooting for the other bad teams in the league to win, so that the Jaguars can get the #1 pick on the draft next year. Don't want to let this season go to waste! Note the distinction - I'm not rooting for the Jaguars to lose; I'm just rooting for the other bad teams (e.g. the Chiefs) to win. I'd rather the Jaguars NOT lose the rest of their games and finish 1-15, but if they do, then they had better damn well get the #1 draft pick out of it. Jacksonville at Houston - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

As it stands now, Kansas City is in line for the #1 selection. So....GO CHIEFS!!! Cincinnati at Kansas City - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

One other game of personal interest: the Pittsburgh Steelers and their backup quarterback, Byron Leftwich, who gets the start this weekend with Ben Roethlisberger injured. Once upon the time, Byron Leftwich was the Jaguars' first round draft pick. He even led them to the playoffs one year (sort of)! But he had trouble staying healthy, and they cut him before the start of the 2007 season in favor of the slightly better David Garrard. (That was five years ago? Seriously?) Leftwich has floated around the league since then, but now, he's back in the spotlight! And I can't wait. You know, in hindsight, Leftwich wasn't so bad. As a Jaguars fan, I never thought I would find myself longing for the Byron Leftwich era. Baltimore at Pittsburgh - Sun 8:20p, NBC

College football - Big three weeks for Florida State: a chance to clinch a spot in the ACC Championship game today, a huge game versus Florida next week, and then, hopefully, the ACC Championship itself. They're big favorites today, but they did almost lose to a 4-5 Virginia Tech team, so I'm not taking anything for granted. Especially on the road. Florida State at Maryland - Sat 12:00p, ESPNU

Speaking of the ACC Championship, Duke still has a chance. I believe! Duke at Georgia Tech - Sat 3:30p, Fox Sports South

Indiana's bid to become Big Ten champions was over before it really got started last weekend. And this week, they're playing Penn State, so now I am waaaaay off the Hoosier bandwagon. Sorry, guys, but it'd be nice to see Penn State get back into the win column this week. Indiana at Penn State - Sat 12:00p, BTN

Auto racing - Before I get to NASCAR: I'm super pumped about the United States Grand Prix this weekend! Still, I can't help but be critical of something: the track design. Pretty much every new Formula One race track that has opened in the past few years has been designed by the same guy - someone named Hermann Tilke. As a result, all of these tracks basically follow the same formula: a couple of long straights separated by hairpins, plus a technical section of the track, equals a track 3 to 3.5 miles long. I guess my point is, unlike some of the F1 tracks that have been around a while (Monaco, Spa, etc), these tracks don't really have any character. I won't go so far as to call them cookie cutter tracks, but still, they all kind of race the same. There has to be at least one other person in the world who's capable of designing an F1-caliber track, no? … Well, regardless, I think Hermann Tilke has a pretty sweet gig. Formula One United States Grand Prix - Sun 2:00p, SPEED

Now...let's go back to what I wrote last week about Jimmie Johnson: "It really is interesting to see how Johnson's team manages to consistently avoid the random part failures and wrecks and the like that almost everyone else in NASCAR has to deal with." Well, he crashed last week. Whoops! Now he's pretty much screwed, unless Brad Keselowski chokes on Sunday, which is certainly possible (but unlikely).

By the way, of all the sporting events I watched last weekend, the NASCAR race (the second half, at least) was the most entertaining. (Even more so than the Rams/49ers tie!) Obviously, the Gordon v. Bowyer altercation was the main reason. Yes, I'll admit it, the "reality show" aspect of NASCAR can be kind of fun sometimes. One or two of these a year is okay, just as long as fights/etc aren't so common that it becomes part of the sport. You know, like hockey. NASCAR Sprint Cup at Homestead (season finale) - Sun 3:00p, ESPN

NHL (Wasn't that an awesome segue?) - anyone going to blink? Or is the season history? Again, it's hard to predict these things in advance, since the outcome is entirely dependent on human behavior.

By the way, I recorded a college hockey game and a KHL game the other day. Couldn't get into it. See what you're doing, NHL? The longer you wait to get back on the ice, the less interested I am in the sport of hockey in general. You're lucky there happens to be an NHL team in my hometown, because that's the only reason I'm going to come back to your sport post-lockout.

College basketball - The start of college basketball season pretty much puts me at "sports saturation". So until college football season is over, I'm going to have to restrict my college basketball viewing to weekdays only, even when my teams are involved. Penn State and Florida State are both in tournaments of some kind this weekend, but I'll wait until next week to see how they did. Initial impressions: Florida State has already lost to South Alabama, and they will take a step back this year, but that's okay, as long as it's not too big a step. By that, I mean, 5th to 6th in the ACC would be acceptable this year. As for Penn State...well, I'm going to pretty much expect them to finish near the bottom of the Big Ten every year until the prove me otherwise. (Goooo team!)

So...a quick word about one of the local teams, NC State, who as it happens, soundly beat Penn State just yesterday. I don't really understand preseason rankings, or why NC State was preseason #6. Because they made the Sweet 16 last year and have a solid returning class? ... Actually, yeah, maybe I do understand preseason rankings. Strong finish at the end of last season + a healthy number of returning starters + a good recruiting class = preseason #6! Now...let's face it, any team ranked preseason #6 is more likely to fall short of those expectations than surpass them. But I don't think NC State fans would mind "falling short" as long as they stay ranked ahead of North Carolina and Duke, or even just North Carolina. (Early returns indicate that it may be a down year for the Tar Heels, relatively speaking.) Regardless, with three potentially good local teams, plus "my team" (the defending ACC champions, by the way), it could be a fun year in the ACC.

MLB - One closing thought on the Florida Miami Marlins. So, they won the World Series in 1997, and then got rid of their best players (fire sale #1). They won the World Series again in 2003, and then after two more years of at least contending for a playoff spot, they got rid of their best players yet again (fire sale #2). Then in 2012, they opened a new stadium and spent big, only to finish in last place; and after this week's trade with the Blue Jays, fire sale #3 is complete! It was one thing back in the World Series days, because they actually had me convinced that fielding a World Series-caliber team once every six years was a viable business model for a small market team. But this time, it's totally different, and it reeks of "bait and switch". You almost have to think this was the plan all along: talk the local community into building a taxpayer-funded stadium, spend a bunch of money at first to prove your "commitment" to fielding a winning franchise (we really mean it this time, you guys!), then after just one year - one year! - purge the payroll yet again. It's quite an incredible screw job they just pulled on everyone. Surely, you can't blame me for jumping ship a few years back, no?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movember Fail

That whole "Movember" thing? Well...I'm a failure.

The moustache was itchy, uncomfortable, and it never really looked that good anyway, and it's not like I was actually trying to raise money for prostate cancer research. To be honest, I've been looking for an excuse - any excuse - to shave it off for the past few days. Last night, I settled on what I believe is an excellent reason to shave it off: "Because I want to." So, there you go.

A whole month is kind of a long time for someone who doesn't like facial hair (anymore) to grow and maintain a moustache. Credit to those of you who can pull it off. I didn't even make it halfway through the month!

Here's the final moustache pic, minutes before its demise. Two weeks of growth down the drain (literally).

See how much happier I look after I shaved it off? Yeah.

(Oh, and yeah, my hair always sticks out like that after I wake up.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winter Storm Names

We've been naming tropical storms and hurricanes for decades now, and the system works pretty well. So, this year, the folks at the Weather Channel thought they would start doing the same thing for winter storms as well. Reaction from the meteorological community has been...well, mixed. For instance, the National Weather Service issued a memo instructing its employees to not reference TWC's winter storm names in any of its products.

And, that's the problem. For storm names to be "official", this sort of thing really needs to come from whoever is primarily "in charge" of issuing weather-related watches/warnings and such, which in our case, is NOAA. Despite what TWC's true intentions are, given that they're a private for-profit enterprise, it's going to come across as "gimmicky" coming from them. But if the National Weather Service started doing the same thing, of course, everyone would adopt the names. If the Weather Channel (plus a few others) are the only ones using the names, and the majority of media is avoiding them altogether, what's the point? I think that alone makes it unsuccessful. Credit TWC for trying, though, and if they stick with it for the next few years, maybe it'll eventually catch on. If NWS ever does decide to implement a similar naming policy, we'll know where they got the idea. (Maybe the fact that it was the Weather Channel's idea is precisely why NWS may never do it?) Either way, only when this sort of thing comes from an official agency will it get any traction.

As far as whether winter storms need to be named in the first place goes; since we don't really get much in the way of "winter weather" where I live, I can't really comment on how useful it would be. I also can't really comment on what the threshold for naming should be. Naming a winter storm in North Dakota (state slogan: Winter Lives Here) seems like overkill to me, but we shouldn't apply "East Coast bias" to this system, either. (In other words, we can't just name the storms that are going to affect the Northeast. North Dakotans are people, too!) So, I don't know...but I do know that people in North Carolina will freak out at the prospect of a winter storm regardless of whether it has a name attached to it.

I will say this, though. If the official naming of winter storms would result in less use of annoying names that are applied after the fact such as "Snowmaggedon" or "Snowpocalypse", then I'm for it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Curling Recap: 11/9/12

Career game #199: 2012 Fall League - November 9, 2012
(my team: K. Jackson)

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Mitchell...... 2010220 | 07
K. Jackson.... 0301004 | 08

Most of the game was very well played by both sides, but a slight edge in execution by the other team gave them a three-point lead entering the 7th end. (Due to time constraints, the 7th end was the final end.) And with that, we immediately skip ahead to the final shot of the game: (our team = yellow)

We had two, but we needed three for the tie and four for the win. It's more than just a simple take-out on the red rock because of the high probabilty of a "jam". So, I saw two options: 1) Draw to the right side of the four-foot circle and score three. 2) Try to hit the red rock head-on with enough weight so that the red rock and the #2 yellow rock behind it both spill, leaving the other two yellows plus the shooter = three points.

But, there is a reason I'm not playing Skip this season: not only would I have probably not made either shot, in fact, but neither shot was really the proper call, either. Instead, our Skip Kathy played for the win: hit the red rock at an angle such that the red rock squeezes between #2 and #3, and so that the shooter stays, giving us four and the win.

The rock waited until the last possible moment to curl, but she made it! I'm not exactly sure where the shooter ended up (I was more focused on the red rock), but we got four points out of it, along with the come-from-behind win. The other team seemed to be a little irritated by the sudden turn of events, and understandably so: I've been on both sides of those final shot heroics plenty of times. But hey, at least this one wasn't for the league championship.

By the way, despite the win, we were officially eliminated from league championship contention for this season. We've played well now that we've been able to have our entire team at the rink the last couple of weeks, but the first month put us too far behind in the standings to make a rally. (I didn't help matters by spending a week in Vermont in the middle of the season.)

Next week: career game #200!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Sports Friday: 11/9/12

My normal bedtime is between 9:30 and 10 PM. These days, the list of sporting events in which I am willing to stay up past my bedtime is...quite short. At one time that list included weeknight football games involving my favorite college and pro teams, but today? Nope. Both Florida State and the Jacksonville Jaguars played last night, and still, I went to bed at the usual bedtime. Last night would have been a good night to stick with FSU until the end (they won in the final minute), but of course, I didn't know that going in. Some time ago, I decided it wasn't really worth it.

Friday and Saturday night games are different, because I don't work the next day, so I can just record the game and watch it the next morning. But for Sunday night and other weeknight games, there aren't too many sporting events I'm willing to stay up late to watch. Here's the list I came up with:
- The Super Bowl. Fortunately, the Super Bowl is usually over by 10 or 10:30, so this doesn't require staying up that much later.
- Deciding games of the Stanley Cup Final, depending on who's in it, and depending on how many overtimes there are. Stanley Cup Final games are over by 11 if they don't go to overtime, and that's not too unreasonable. If the Hurricanes are involved, and it's the Stanley Cup Final, I would probably stay up for as many overtimes as it takes.
- The college basketball national championship game, depending on who's in it. This usually goes until 11:30, which is pretty late, but at least it's just one game. But I won't stay up for other tournament games, even when my teams are involved. I did not stay up for last season's Florida State v. Cincinnati round-of-32 game, which started at around 10 PM on a Sunday night.
- For any other championship game (e.g. BCS championship, World Series), one of my favorite teams must be involved. BCS bowl games go way too late, often past midnight, which is just one of many reasons I've become disenfranchised with the bowl system over the years. So, I'm only staying up if Florida State or Penn State is involved, and that's only if it's the championship game. Any other bowl game? Nope.

And, that's it. That's the list. Notice that no regular season games are on that list, under pretty much any circumstances.

This is actually one reason I've been drawn to European soccer lately: since they're over in Europe, every single game is played while I'm awake. But in terms of American sports, football is still the most convenient sport for me to watch. Sure, they have a few weekend night games, but the vast majority of their games are still on weekend afternoons. (NASCAR, too.) The NBA is the least convenient, because they have a lot of West Coast teams, and their Finals games don't start until after 9 PM and are never on Friday or Saturday.

College football - Before you know it, college football season will be over, so let's talk BCS championship! In most seasons, when my teams are out of the hunt for the championship - in other words, every season since, oh, 2000? - I root for BCS chaos. Lots of undefeated teams, or perhaps one undefeated team plus lots of one-loss teams. Anything other than having exactly two undefeated teams from major conferences. The idea was that the more BCS chaos that we have, the more likely they will be to have to change the system.

Well, last season might have been the tipping point I've been looking for all these years, because an unfulfilling LSU/Alabama rematch in the BCS championship game - note that I'm not calling it a "national championship" - has already prompted the move to a four team playoff. So, any additional BCS chaos that we get this season isn't going to matter one way or another, because the BCS is already on its way out. With that in mind, I really don't know what to do. Do I root for Alabama to finish undefeated or not? Texas A&M at Alabama - Sat 3:30p, CBS

Speaking of chaos...the top two teams in the Big Ten division that has Ohio State and Penn State in it (whatever it's called) are, well, Ohio State and Penn State. And of course, neither team is eligible to play in the Big Ten championship, which means the division title will come down to Wisconsin, and...Indiana, of all teams. Go Hoosiers! Wisconsin at Indiana - Sat 12:00p, ESPN2

Oh, right, Penn State plays today, too. Playing "spoiler" in every single game gets old after a while, I guess, but it will be fun to see the team play in Lincoln. Penn State at Nebraska - Sat 3:30p, ESPN2

NFL - After last night, the Jaguars are already finished sucking for the weekend, freeing me up to watch other teams that I haven't seen much of yet. Such as...
Atlanta at New Orleans - Sun 1:00p, WRAZ. The Falcons are undefeated! And I don't think I've actually watched them play yet.
Denver at Carolina - Sun 1:00p, WRAL. Peyton Manning has had plenty of prime time games, but like I said in the open, I usually don't stay up for those.
Buffalo at New England - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket. Last chance for the Bills?
Detroit at Minnesota - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket. As soon as I commented on the Vikings and Christian Ponder, they started not playing so well. But hey, they're still 5-4! Important game here.

The main FOX late game features two overhyped 3-4 NFC East teams, which means it'll be a good time to switch over to...

Auto racing - Hey, look, Jimmie Johnson is two races away from winning another championship. It really is interesting to see how Johnson's team manages to consistently avoid the random part failures and wrecks and the like that almost everyone else in NASCAR has to deal with. (Except for last season.) How do they do it? NASCAR Sprint Cup at Phoenix - Sun 3:00p, ESPN

College basketball also starts today, but I'm not quite ready for it yet. Maybe next weekend.

Thursday, November 08, 2012


I've held a strict no facial hair policy for over six years now, but this month, I'm making a temporary exception.

Once upon a time, perhaps as an answer to the wildly successful Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a bunch of guys decided to grow moustaches in November, or as they called it, "Movember", to raise awareness for men's health and prostate cancer, or something. Over the last couple of years, "Movember" has caught on like wildfire. In fact, this year, even I'm doing it!

My motives aren't really to raise awareness or money for men's health or anything like that. I just thought it would be fun, and something different. I had a full goatee for years back in the day, but I've never had the moustache-only look.

I last shaved my upper lip on the morning of October 31st, and I haven't touched it since. So what you see there is 8 days' worth of unshaven glory. Thing is, my upper lip hair doesn't grow near as fast as it does on my chin, and it actually took a full 7 days for anyone to notice or say anything about it. So I seriously doubt another 22 days will be enough to for me to approach the Shad Khan level of moustache awesomeness. But even when I had the goatee, I would keep the moustache portion trimmed relatively short, so we're entering uncharted waters here; I never let it grow unchecked for a full month like I plan to do here. So, we'll see.

Of course, I don't even know if I'm going to make it the whole month before I give in. Regardless, it will definitely be off by December 1st. (By the way, Amber has complete authority over this thing, although I'm assuming she won't want me to keep it long term. That's probably a safe assumption.)