Monday, April 30, 2012

The Marla Picture Dump: April 2012

At the end of each month, I grab a few baby pictures from my phone and post them online in what I've been calling the "Marla Picture Dump". By calling it that, I did not intend to allude to the fact that babies poop a lot, but rest assured, there will never be any pictures of poop here. Nevertheless, I'm keeping the title. For now.

Here is the link to this month's Marla picture dump. I'm posting 16 pictures this time, including a couple with Marla in her Easter dress. Yeah, she'll probably only wear the dress that one time. She's such a girl.

Meanwhile...Marla has been sick since Thursday with what the doctor diagnosed as something called Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease (not to be confused with Foot-and-Mouth disease, which affects other animals). Fun! But she's getting better - a rash on her leg, and a little more sleeplessness than normal, are the only remaining symptoms - and we're hoping day care will take her back tomorrow.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Checkered Pig BBQ

Last Saturday, we drove up to Danville, VA to go on a family bike ride of sorts along the city's River Walk Trail. (Among those I've ridden, it's my second favorite bicycling trail ever! Number one is in Alaska.)

While we were up there, we were hungry. Why not break out the smartphone and find some random, fun-sounding restaurant in the Danville area?

Welcome to "Checkered Pig BBQ". Yay!

The thing with barbecue is that you never really know what to expect when you walk into a random restaurant. Just because you're in Eastern North Carolina, for instance, doesn't mean that every barbecue joint around serves Eastern NC-style pork. (And thank goodness for that!) But I had no idea what to expect in Danville. Are we close enough to North Carolina such that the Carolina influence would spill over? Is there such a thing as "Virginia style barbecue"?

And the winner is...drum roll please...vinegar based sauce. Blast! We seem to have incredible luck (unfortunately) finding vinegar-based barbecue outside of North Carolina.

But the good news is, unlike at Radd Dew's in Conway, SC, they didn't pre-lather the pork in vinegary stuff before they served it. And, they gave you another barbecue sauce option: something called "grilling sauce" (pictured on the left - the stuff on the right is the vinegary sauce), which turned out to be similar to what most people think of as "regular barbecue sauce". And that stuff was pretty good. And look at all the sides you get! Fries, hush puppies, plus two sides in addition.'s the most interesting thing regarding the Checkered Pig as far as I'm concerned, and it has nothing to do with the food. I noticed on the house sauce label that the vinegar-based stuff was developed by someone named Tommy Houston. As in...former NASCAR driver Tommy Houston? That would explain the name of the restaurant, and it also makes sense considering that the Checkered Pig was founded in nearby Martinsville and was once the official caterer of Martinsville Speedway. Founding a barbecue restaurant seems like the perfect thing for a retired NASCAR driver to do, don't you think?

However, Tommy Houston Wikipedia page makes no mention him of founding and operating a barbecue restaurant. I'd think that would be more than worthy of inclusion in that particular article. And, the restaurant's About Us page says nothing about the restaurant founder once having a career in NASCAR, which - again - you'd think would be more than noteworthy. And the pictures on this page...well, I don't remember what the NASCAR driver looked like, but something doesn't look right here. Are we talking about two different Tommy Houstons here? After a little more research, I've concluded that Tommy Houston the retired NASCAR driver, and Tommy Houston the founder of Checkered Pig barbecue, are NOT the same person. That's crazy!

So, anyway...I'm not sure how well the Checkered Pig is catching on in Danville. The Danville location has only been open three years, and there was hardly anybody there when we walked in. Chalk that up to the time of day, perhaps? Or the fact that we're in Danville (population 43,000) rather than a big city? But the Google reviews are top notch, and we liked it, too. Don't go down the street to Applebee's or Olive Garden! Support your local entrepreneurs! You know, next time you end up in Danville, whenever that is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Kickball Season 5: Preview

See below for an UPDATE following Wednesday's game.

You know how a few months ago, I said that the Knightdale co-ed kickball league was on hiatus until the Fall? Yeah, well...they changed their minds. And thus, kickball is back, right now! My 5th season begins tonight.

Does the Knightdale Parks and Recreation Department's about face mean that there was overwhelming support and interest for an earlier return of kickball? Well...there are four teams signed up, which is hardly "overwhelming". But four teams is the bare minimum in order to have a viable league, and I guess it's worth the town's while even with only four, because Season 3 (Spring 2011) also had only four teams.

One of the opposing teams is a returning team from the Fall whom we finished ahead of. The other two, I don't know anything about. Based on that...could we make a run at the league title this season? Our team's performance has steadily improved over the years. Still,'s safe to assume that at least one of these other teams will be really, really good. So let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Besides, there is a rule change this season which could neutralize the effect of my pitching (if it had much of an effect to begin with). The strike zone will be much smaller this season, which could take away the ability to throw my full repertoire of crazy, spinning, side-to-side pitches. But that doesn't mean I won't try! I'll probably have to take a little bit of movement off my pitches in order to hit the strike zone consistently.

A smaller strike zone will almost certainly mean fewer strikeouts this season. I may not even get any. But could a smaller strike zone bait opposing batters into taking more pitches, actually resulting in more strikeouts? I really have no idea what's going to happen tonight. If I can't hit the strike zone consistently with my usual pitching method (or at least a somewhat muted version of it), then we'll likely have someone else pitch, and I'll go play the field.

I won't be playing in every game anyway, because this season, Amber wants to play, too! This will be her first season of kickball since before she was pregnant (Fall 2010). There are four games (including tonight's) in which we plan to bring the whole family out and both play, while someone we trust (we've had multiple volunteers) watches Marla during the game. In the other six games (generally those with later start times), only one of us will play, while the other stays home with Marla. That makes 7 games for Amber, and 7 games for me. (We'll figure out a plan for the double-elimination playoffs later.)

As for rule changes there, I can still try to reach base the same way I've always done it: bunting from the leadoff position. At least until the opponents catch on and adjust their defense accordingly, that is. (I say this every season, and it hasn't happened yet, save for a team or two.)

As always, I'll be keeping track of all my stats here. Unless I end up not pitching, in which pitching stats, of course. Maybe I could keep track of "putouts" or "outfield assists" or something.

UPDATE 9:47p (after our first game): We won, 9-1! This is the pattern we've exhibited nearly every season - start out strong before the other teams figure it out. I did not get any strikeouts, but after the first couple of innings I was able to hit the strike zone consistently enough to be able to spin the ball most of the time, so that'll be the plan going forward. (Although, I found that the best way to get somebody to two strikes is to roll it straight and hope they kick it foul, rather than spin it and risk throwing a ball.) Also, all four teams are "returning" teams to at least some extent, so it won't be easy.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Baby Fence

Babies start crawling between 7 and 9 months. Marla turns 9 months old this Saturday, so...yeah, she's there. She hasn't gotten the "full" crawl down yet, but she is doing the "army crawl" (video courtesy of Amber).

The days of Marla staying in one place are over. (Actually, those were gone as soon as she started rolling over.) So, it's time for a baby fence!

This thing wasn't cheap, but it sure is convenient. At first we tried a hexagon something or other, but it was too small, really awkward, and really, just bad. Now we have this fence of sorts which keeps Marla from venturing under the television stand or, perhaps, going all the way to the kitchen. And it has interactive play things on it, too!

It's fun to watch her play, especially now that she can go where she wants to go on demand. When you can roll over but not crawl, sure, you can move, but getting to a specific location is more a matter of luck than anything else. Now, if she wants something, she goes and gets it. Now we can enter the mind of our baby daughter like never before!

It looks like it'll be quite a while before Marla is walking, at which point, everything will change...again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Curling Recap: 4/23/12

One game left before curling season is over. Let's go out with a win! ... Or, not.

Career game #180: 2012 Winter League 7th place game - April 20, 2012

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Allen........ 00012040 | 07
Scheck....... 11200401 | 09

The game in a nutshell:

- Amber got to play with me this week! This is the fourth time we've curled together so far this year, and the first time we've played together on Friday.

- We were outplayed in the first two ends, but managed to hang in there and not give up a big number early like I usually do. Moral victory!

- In the 3rd end, the other team was sitting one prior to my last shot. I had a choice: I could a) try to draw for one, or b) attempt a SUPER FUN DOUBLE TAKEOUT FOR THREE! Given that this was the last game of the season, and possibly my last time playing Skip for a while, I went for the SUPER FUN DOUBLE. I don't feel like diagramming, but the shot was definitely there, although there was some risk: if the rock held straight by even an inch or two, I could give them two instead of one. And that's what ended up happening, of course. But I do not regret my decision.

- In the 4th end, we lost a measurement for two and instead took one. We have to catch a break sooner or later, right?

- In the 5th end, we got the break we needed when opposing Skip Dan's final shot of the end, a take-out for one, inexplicably held straight and missed everything, giving us two. We're back in the game!

- ...until the 6th end, when we gave up our customary big end of the night.

- But in the 7th end, we got the four right back! We're back in the game! Again!

- ...until the 8th end, when opposing Vice Cliff made a virtually untouchable hit and roll behind cover. That left me no choice but to throw it AS HARD AS I COULD with my first rock, just hoping to create some chaos and perhaps give me a window of opportunity on my last shot. I'd say it worked, because it gave me a somewhat open take-out for one with my last rock (not the hammer). But, it wasn't to be, because curled more than I thought it would and didn't clear the guard. It is a tendency of mine to underestimate the amount of curl on take-outs. I know this, and yet...

Well, anyway, that's that. A 2-7 finish to the season, 8th place out of 9 teams, both of which are career lows. On one hand, you have to have your career low sooner or later, right? And hey, I did get a lot of free drinks this season. On the other is really, really hard to break a losing streak. Some people learn through their mistakes, but I think I learn through my successes. Maybe that explains why my play is so streaky, particularly when I'm playing Skip.

In By the Numbers, I post my overall curling record (currently 103-77), and have that broken down by position (e.g. 35-29 as Skip) and by game format (e.g. 62-49 in club league play). I don't have my record by year posted there, but I do keep track of my overall record, as well as my record by position and by game format, by year.

I mention this because I have a lot at stake for the rest of 2012, because I have never had a sub-.500 year in curling. So far in 2012, I'm 8-11. (Reading my curling recaps as of late, you'd think my record was far worse than that, wouldn't you? But I did go 3-1 when sparing on other teams this season, plus 2-0 in preseason pickup games.) You know...keeping track of my win-loss record does take away from some of the fun sometimes. But this - stat keeping - is what I do. It's an addiction.

Well, either way, I have plenty of curling lined up for the rest of the year. This summer, I'm doing the "Carolina Triple" and am signed up for ALL THREE North Carolina summer bonspiels:
- A one-day bonspiel at the relatively new Coastal Carolina Curling Club in Wilmington (3rd Saturday in June)
- The Carolina Classic with Debbie McCormick (1st weekend in August)
- The Charlotte Centre Curling Club's inaugural summer bonspiel (2nd weekend in August)

This is the one benefit (perhaps the only benefit) of renting hockey ice rather than owning your own facility. Curling season never really "ends"...we just do it less frequently over the summer. A May 11th pickup game looks to be my only opportunity to curl next month, though, and only one of us (Amber or me) will be able to take it.

Speaking of which...while league play didn't go particularly well for me, it went great for Amber: her Sunday team won the league! She now has more league championships (3) than I do (2). So, yay!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sports Saturday: 4/20/12

NHL playoffs, the FIRST PLACE (for now) Washington Nationals, Formula One teams fearing for their lives, and televised curling (sort of)!

NHL - There has been a lot of fighting and dirty play so far in the playoffs. I really don't have much of an opinion on that. It works for some, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the "hate" aspect isn't really what draws me into the playoffs.

So...the Florida Panthers. Not only have they won one game so far, they've won two! I was afraid they'd get unceremoniously swept like when the Atlanta Thrashers (R.I.P.) won the division a few years ago. So, yay! This season is already a huge success if you're the Panthers. But now it's back to business. Their series with New Jersey is now basically a best-of-3. Can they advance? Well...maybe. (Now that's analysis!) New Jersey at Florida (Game 5) - Sat 6:30p, NHL Network

I don't really have much to say about the rest of the playoffs, actually, other than that Amber will be happy when they're over.

MLB - I was cautiously optimistic about the Washington Nationals' chances prior to the season. So far, at least, they're validating that: they're 10-4 and in FIRST PLACE! Mostly thanks to excellent starting pitching (most of the time) and some luck (lots of wins in close games, a favorable schedule to start the season). So I don't know if it's sustainable, but nevertheless, it's never been a more exciting time to be a Washington Nationals fan! Florida at Washington: Fri 7:00p, MASN; Sat 1:00p, MASN; Sun 1:30p, MASN

Auto racing - I've complained a lot about what I've perceived to be "phony" debris cautions in NASCAR, in which they use a small, inconsequential piece of debris outside the racing groove as an excuse to bunch up the field and make the last part of the race more exciting. Well, last weekend's race at Texas ended with a 200+ lap green flag run. "Are you happy now, Chris? Is this what you wanted???"

Actually...yeah. Sure, we missed out on fun things like "mayhem" and "wrecks", but there was a pass for the lead towards the end. Fact is, we need a race like this every now and then to keep everyone honest. Otherwise, it's "take a nap for the first 200 laps because we know the caution is going to come out anyway". ... That said, yeah, I am actually kind of bored with NASCAR right now. But not because NASCAR isn't throwing enough caution flags. I promise. NASCAR Sprint Cup at Kansas - Sun 1:00p, FOX

Formula One is racing in Bahrain this weekend, where there are still violent protests going on, and some teams are fearing for their safety. That won't make the race any more exciting - the track itself isn't particularly passing-friendly (although we haven't seen it since the advent of DRS), and being the desert, there is nearly zero chance of rain - but it is an interesting back story nevertheless. Make sure you're out of the country by dark, guys! Formula One Bahrain Grand Prix - Sun 8:00a, SPEED

Curling - Oh, and one more thing: the Universal Sports Network (DirecTV 625) is showing a few "games" (condensed into one hour each) from the men's and women's world championships this weekend (3:00a and 4:00p every day through Sunday). Set your DVRs! Increase the viewership numbers as much as possible! And maybe someday, they'll get a clue and start putting live non-Olympic curling on the NBC Sports Network! I mean, lately, NBC Sports Network has been showing darts, of all things. Why not curling? You could get the rights for next to nothing, and I'm sure TSN would be more than happy to let you simulcast their broadcasts in the United States like NFL Network does with the Canadian Football League. DO IT!!!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Online Auction Strategy

Let's talk eBay strategy! How do you win an eBay (or similar) auction?

I bring this up because the auction I won over the weekend was like an eBay auction, although hosted on different website. The auction closed at a fixed time, bids could be submitted anytime prior to then, and the person with highest bid at closing time wins the item. It also allowed for "proxy bids", where if someone else bids, the system will automatically and immediately outbid the other guy for you, up to your "maximum value". Assuming that everyone proxy bids, then the winning bid will effectively end up being one minimum bid increment (in the case of this auction, $10) higher than the second highest bid, rather than the full amount the highest bidder was willing to spend (this is called a "second-price auction").

I've had very little experience with eBay over the years. I find participating in an online auction mentally exhausting and, since I almost never win, frustrating. I usually just "Buy It Now" and save myself the trouble, even if that means spending more in the end. (Time is money, right?) And when I do bid on items, I almost always get outbid at the very end. So, am I doing it wrong? To find out, I thought I'd do a little research regarding the best way to win an online auction.

Well, it's pretty simple, really. Why do people wait until the very end to place their bid? Because it works! This is called "sniping", and it's the most effective way to win an auction at the lowest possible price, even in the presence of automatic proxy bidding. The reason is psychology: people usually underestimate the true maximum amount they are willing to spend on an item, making proxy bids that are lower than the bidders' true maximum values. This gives the competition an opportunity to "snipe" the bid just before the auction ends and not only win, but win at a lower price, because the other guy didn't have a chance to react and counter with whatever his/her actual maximum value may have been.

Let's say there's an item out there somewhere for auction, and you think, "I'd be willing to spend $150 on that". So, you place a proxy bid for $150. With five minutes remaining, your bid is still the highest bid. But then, with two minutes left, someone outbids you with a bid of $155. previously said that you wouldn't be willing to spend more than $150. But would you be willing to spend $160 if it meant winning the item? I mean, it's just $10 more! It's hard to say no to that in the heat of the moment. With that in mind, was $150 really your maximum value?

Another argument for sniping: if you want the selling price to remain low, then it makes sense to keep the highest bid as low as possible for as long as possible, right?

Another tactic I read somewhere, which I'm not sure if I buy, is "nibbling" - placing a bunch of minimum bets early in an auction. If two or more people cooperatively "nibble", then it makes it look like the item is in high demand, which apparently discourages other potential buyers from getting into the fray, and ultimately results in a final sale at less than market value. Again, I don't know how true this is in practice, but the theory makes sense, anyway. Most of the studies I read - yes, a lot of articles on this topic have appeared in reputable mathematical journals - focused more on sniping than nibbling. This is also harder to prove because the theory behind it is more psychological than mathematical. (You know...I should have taken a class in Game Theory when I was in college. I think it would have been really interesting.)

As for the auction this past weekend...well, I totally overthought it. It turns out that I would have likely won regardless of when I placed my maximum value bid. But you can't take that chance, right? You never know how many other people out there in internet land are looking at the same auction you are, planning to swoop in at the last minute for the win. In the end, there were no other last minute snipers, so it didn't really matter. But I didn't know that going in, of course. I really thought there would be more interest than there was.

(And I should clarify...when I say "last minute", I only mean that figuratively; I placed my second and final bid with about five minutes remaining. It makes me a little too nervous to wait until THE last minute. Sure, it's highly unlikely that your internet connection will go down at that very moment, but I figured there was little to be gained by taking that chance.)

Of course...this isn't to say that the only way to win an online auction is wait until the last minute to bid. What if you have, you know, a life? Well, you can still place a max value proxy bid (your real maximum value, not what you originally think it is) with several hours or even days to go and hope for the best. Then, the only way you lose the auction is if someone else is willing to spend more than you are, and if that's the case, so be it. But bidding early does two things:
1) It gives others a chance to consider going above their perceived maximum value, decreasing your chances of winning.
2) Even if you do win, the competition may have raised their bets in response to your bet, resulting in a higher sale price than if you had "sniped".
So, it's not ideal to bid early, but if that's what you have to do, then that's what you have to do. It's kind of annoying that this is what online auctions have come to, but that's the way it is.

So, in general, the keys to winning a eBay (or similar) auction appear to be...
1) Figure out what your "maximum value" is. Sure, you may think you would be willing to spend $100 and nothing more. But if the item can be had for $105, would you do it? It's just $5 more! How much higher are you willing to go, really? At what point would buyer's remorse kick in?
2) Wait until the auction is almost over. In the meantime, go outside. Watch TV. Something.. Don't even think about the auction. There is no benefit to checking the status of the auction every single hour all day long. (Not that that's what I did or anything...)
3) With a few minutes to go - or less - submit a proxy bid for your absolute maximum value.
4) If you win, great! If not, then someone else wanted it more. And that's a better outcome than for you to overpay for something.

(Sources: one, two, three, plus countless other articles and studies that all come to pretty much the same conclusion.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bicycling Somewhere Else

I've been going on bike rides for almost three years now. The vast majority of those rides start and end at my house, and that means I've become quite familiar with all of the roads within, say, a 6-mile radius. Well, I haven't exactly gone up and down every single dead-end street, but I have taken the bicycle-friendly through roads in my area countless times, to the point where I'm kind of sick of them now. And since almost all of my bike rides end at home, that means the last half hour of a long ride can be pretty rough. I'm already tired by that point; the last thing I want to do by then is trudge along the same old roads, again.

On occasion, Amber has taken her car and the bike rack (and now, Marla too) out and met me at some predetermined location. That's worked out great, because then my bike ride ends not at home, but somewhere else far more interesting. But, it's not always practical or convenient to do that, especially now. plan! How about I load the bike onto my car, drive somewhere far, and start (and end) my bike ride from there? That's what I did on Saturday: I drove to Fuquay-Varina High School, and did a 30-mile loop on my bicycle around Fuquay-Varina by way of Angier and northern Harnett County:

View Larger Map

I've never made it as far south as Fuquay-Varina on my bicycle alone. (I've made it to Holly Springs twice, and one of those was a ride in which Amber met me somewhere and picked me up.) And, certainly, I've never made it to Harnett County before, either. So this is pretty much the only way I'll get this far south, for now.

I think this worked out great. The bike ride was fun all the way to the end, and 100% of it was on roads that I've never biked on before. That includes the all important Last Six Miles, which were much more fun than usual. Yeah! (These days, when I start/end at home, it's very difficult to come up with a ride that is even 25% new.)

Ideally, I'd like to do this "drive + bike" sort of deal more often. But the limitation here is the extra time commitment. A 30-mile bike ride takes me 2½ to 3 hours as it is, and the extra drive time adds another 1 to 1½ hours on top of that. (I have to get at least 15 to 20 miles away from home before I start getting into uncharted bicycling territory.) So, we're talking 4 to 5 hours total. Finding that much time is becoming increasingly difficult, and I don't always want to be away from home for that long anyway.

But I do have three other 30-mile bike rides originating from places other than home already plotted out, and I plan on doing all of them eventually. Whatever it takes to get to the Indian Ocean as quickly as possible!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Curling with Debbie McCormick

For this year's Carolina Classic - the Triangle Curling Club's annual summer bonspiel (curling tournament) - the demand (the number of teams who want to participate) was greater than the supply (the number of available spots). Amber and I had hoped to compete with our usual bonspieling buddies, Justin and Tabby. But based on a random draw, our team didn't get in.

(See, folks, this is why I don't play the lottery or participate in that ridiculous Mega Millions draw a couple of weeks ago. I can't even win a lottery when the odds are 1:2 in my favor. What makes me think I can win a lottery when the odds are 147,000,000:1, or whatever they were? Although, I do recognize the value of a cheap lottery ticket as a form of entertainment.)

But, we had a plan B, and this is where Debbie McCormick comes in. You may remember Debbie as the Skip of the U.S. team in the 2010 Olympics. Since then, when she's not curling herself, she's been touring the country with a trailer full of Goldline brand curling supplies, or something like that. And I'm not sure how this arrangement happened, exactly, but this summer she'll be bringing her trailer down to Raleigh for the Carolina Classic. And, she'll be fielding a team in the Classic, putting the other three spots on her team available for auction, with the proceeds benefiting the home club. (She's worked out similar arrangements with the Great Smoky Mountains Curling Club in Knoxville, and...maybe Charlotte too?)

In light of our lottery fail, we decided to make a run at the Debbie McCormick auction. Should we win the auction, Amber and Tabby agreed to alternate games, since there would only be room for three of us in each game. Should we not win the auction, then at least we'll have driven up the auction price in the process, and benefit the club in that way. It's win-win!

How much is a spot on Debbie McCormick's bonspiel team worth? Well...let's analyze. The normal bonspiel team fee would have been $100/person. (That sounds like a lot, but that includes food and drink for the entire weekend, in addition to the curling.) How much more would one be willing to pay to have a former world champion (2003), Olympian, and one of the most well-known curlers in the country on your team? Double? Triple? More?

Let's put this another way. Suppose there was an amateur flag football tournament somewhere, and Peyton Manning - let's just assume he's healthy - announced he would play quarterback for the highest bidder. How much money do you think that auction would fetch? Thousands of dollars, right?

Keeping that in mind, I can't believe how much of a bargain this ended up being. We won the auction for just $187/person. Just $87 extra dollars to play with Debbie McCormick. Wow! I won't say exactly how much coin we were willing to drop on this, was a bit more than that. (Somewhere between "double" and "triple" the original $100/person, for the record.) When I think about this in terms of the Peyton Manning example - the opportunity to play a sport you love on the same team as a former World Champion - that makes me appreciate this opportunity that much more. Isn't curling great?

Can you tell that I'm excited about this? I can't wait!

(Note: I suppose one could claim that I dumped my wife from our team in favor of Debbie McCormick. And not only that, I paid to do it! But remember, this was Plan B. We would not have bid if our team was picked in the original lottery. And besides, Amber will curl in half of our games.) know, thinking back, I was extremely critical of Debbie during the 2010 Olympics, wasn't I? Recall that her team went 2-7 and finished in last place in Vancouver. I hope she doesn't go back and read some of my blog posts from February 2010, in which I act like I know more about curling strategy than she does and say a lot of mean things, such as...
- "[McCormick's] team is too old."
- "Debbie McCormick missed ANOTHER FREAKING DRAW! ... That is just inexcuseable." (Yes, I used all caps and everything!)
- "It's over for McCormick."

Of course, when I wrote all that, I never thought I would ever meet Debbie, let alone be her teammate for a weekend. This just goes to show careful what you say about other people online! You may have to own up to it some day. Oh, and by the way...I take all of that stuff back. Every word. I know the 2010 Olympics didn't go the way we all hoped it would, but we still think you're awesome, Debbie! Welcome to our team! But if you miss your draws, we're dropping you down to Vice. (Just kidding.)

Curling Recap: 4/13/12

Career game #179: 2012 Winter League - April 13, 2012

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Allen........ 01000302 | 06
Vos.......... 10215020 | 11

I know there's been an unhealthy amount of self-loathing in these curling recaps as of late, so I'll try to keep that to a minimum this time. I guess this is what happens when a) you're the Skip of a 2-6 team, and b) have discovered you're not really improving anymore? Whatever the activity, the realization that your ability has peaked, and that you'll only get better through extensive practice and/or a complete reworking of your mechanics, is kind of a letdown. I more or less stopped playing disc golf when I got to that point. But you don't have to worry about me quitting curling!

Either way, I want to make this clear: The level of play in the Triangle Curling Club has never been better. The ice is as good as it's ever been (although it kind of took a step back this week, I thought; see "5th end" below), and we have a lot of young curlers who are not only getting good, but really good. And, that's great! I am more than happy to let them move up to Skip in future leagues while I settle in to my ideal role. And I think Justin, who I Skipped against on Friday and with whom we bonspiel semi-frequently, is more than capable of Skipping our bonspiel teams instead of me, if he's interested.

So...the game. Let's look at the approximate setup prior to my final shot in the 4th end: (our team = yellow)

It was a complicated setup, so I don't remember all the specifics. But basically, the other team was sitting two, and we had two options: 1) Try to raise one of our many yellow rocks into the house, and sit one. 2) Go for the double take-out on red rocks #1 and #2, and if successful, score three. Double take-outs are rarely successful when called on our ice, so I almost never call a double take-out if the only way to score at all is to get rid of both rocks. (A nose hit on #2 wasn't really there, given the location of the guards, rock #1, and the ice conditions, so it was double or nothing.) But still, I thought it was a higher percentage shot than trying to raise any of our yellows for a single point. The angles weren't there. So let's go for the double!

And darn it, we almost had it. The rock overcurled just a little too much, wicked off guard #3, and hit rock #1 out but left rock #2; one point red. Better than two points red, at least. And had it cleared the guard, I think we could have gotten it.

So, our weekly meltdown - in which the other team is sitting four or more, and I completely blow our final shot of the end - happened in the 5th. I thought my shot was pretty easy, too - Justin left a rock behind the tee line on what I thought was a predictable line. Just throw that line, don't leave it light, and it's basically a guaranteed one, right? Nope! The predictable line didn't happen, the rock hung way to the outside, and not only did it not get into the house, it actually promoted another opponent rock into the house for FIVE.

This is the fourth time in five games that we've given up four or more points in one end, while having only scored one four-ender ourselves during that span. So between that, and the so-called "predictable line" that didn't work out on that particular shot...yeah, I was pretty frustrated, and I'm not really proud of how I reacted there.

(A word on ice conditions: the ice was hardly flat on Friday. There were slopes in some areas and not in others, which occasionally led to the non-intuitive conclusion that if you wanted the rock to - for example - move more towards the left, you should actually place the broom farther to the right in order to catch a particular slope. This was why my shot in the 5th end stayed outside, while other rocks we threw in that end did not. In order to get the rock to fall back towards the middle, I should actually have put the broom farther outside so that it would have caught the slope that was sending everything towards the middle. Instead, it never caught the slope, and held straight. Isn't arena curling fun?)

But on the bright side, I found my draw weight towards the end, and we got five points in the last three ends. Yay!

The season finale is this Friday. I'll have a completely different team, because none of my usual teammates can make it this week. Or so they know, sometimes I wonder how fun I am to play with.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Children's Books

Being young parents, we have a lot of books for young children lying around the house. The majority of these books are very short.

That got me thinking. How long does it take to write a book for a young child, anyway? Probably not very long. And if you're a famous children's author - say, Dr. Seuss - then your books will not only sell, but they will sell in large quantities, resulting in large profits, and all for not a whole lot of effort. Why does anyone bother writing full-length novels or detailed and accurate non-fiction works when you can spend a small fraction of the time writing a children's story, and (in theory) make just as much?

Well...I suppose the majority of the effort one puts into a children's story is spent on the illustrations, rather than the story itself. Maybe the illustrations are actually more important than the story in this genre. Case in point: everyone knows what "The Cat in the Hat" looks like, right? But how many of you actually know how the story itself goes? I don't. (No, I never saw went and saw the Mike Myers movie.)

Even when you do account for the illustrations, and also any "market research" one might do - for example, what key features does a story need in order to appeal to a 2-year-old? - the (profit)/(effort) ratio has to be pretty high here. So why don't I go start writing young children's novels, and commission Amber to do the illustrations? The same thing that prevents Amber from becoming a professional artist, or you from starting your own multi-platinum rock band: it's hard to get your foot in the door. Like with any other form of art, succeeding in the genre of young children's books takes some skill, sure, but mostly, it's luck and timing. For every Dr. Seuss, there are 100 (or more) equally talented authors/illustrators that nobody knows about.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Lawn Mowing Statistics

My quest to track statistics on anything and everything continues, now with "lawn mowing statistics". Yeah!

To recap...we don't really have much of a "lawn". Our yard is mostly wooded, so despite our best efforts, there isn't really a whole lot of "grass" to "mow" in our yard. And even in the sunlit areas, we're basically mowing weeds more so than grass.

Basically, there are three areas we need to mow. In front of the house:

To the side of the house, next to the carport:

And, the backyard:

I can generally mow all three areas in less than 15 minutes. But I don't always mow all three areas every time I mow. And, since we have a relatively cheap (but well-reviewed according to Consumer Reports) lawn mower that we only use every two weeks or so (and not at all in winter months), sometimes it takes a few pulls to get the thing started.

Read that last paragraph again, and you can see that I have some stat potential here! So, here's what I've started tracking in By the Numbers:

When was the last time I mowed the lawn? Might as well start simple, right? This is something that's useful for me to know anyway.

On average, how many "pulls" does it take to start the mower? If I'm feeling really ambitious (and why wouldn't I be?), I'll also determine if there is a correlation between this stat and "number of days since the mower was last started". Does using your mower more often make it easier to start?

Number of times I've mowed the front, side, and back yards. Usually before I mow, I look at each area and see if it needs it, and make my decision accordingly. I already know that I need to mow the side less often than the front or back, and I usually only mow at all when both the front and back need it (not when it's just one or the other). So, this stat may not be all that interesting in the end, but you never know...

Total (and average) number of minutes spent mowing the lawn. I remember it taking about 40 minutes to mow the lawn, front and back combined, at my parents' old house. It takes nowhere near that long to mow our yard. Note: the timer only runs while the lawn mower is running, so the amount of time it takes me to start the mower, or top off the fuel tank, or whatever, is not included.

Last time I mowed the yard (April 1), it took...
- 10 minutes to mow all three sections of the lawn. That's about right.
- 10 pulls to start the mower. That's a lot, but that could have just been because the gas tank was low. After the 9th pull, I added some gas to the tank, and then the very next pull was successful. I imagine most newer mowers don't require this much effort to start - our mower is only a year old or so - but again, we went cheap, although we did get the best cheap mower on the market (according to Consumer Reports). I don't think it will take 10 pulls to start it every time. But even if it does, given that we only spend about 10 minutes mowing the lawn every other week, we have no need to spend a lot of money on a good mower. Ours isn't even self propelled!

Looking at the grass weeds this morning, it looks like the next mow will be sometime this week or this weekend. Hooray, more stats!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Carowinds: Revisited (Literally)

On Saturday, we met up with my brother's side of the family in Charlotte and went to Carowinds.

I've blogged about Carowinds before, so no need to go through that again. But that was a while ago (September 2007), and I think this was the first time we had been back since. What's changed since then?

As far as I could tell, they've added two new coasters since 2007: the Intimidator and the Carolina Cobra. The Intimidator is my favorite type of coaster: fast, tall, and no loops! Yeah. The Carolina Cobra, on the other hand...well, I'll talk about that one later. (There were some other new non-coaster rides as well.)

The names of a lot of things had also changed since 2007. Our last visit was after Paramount had sold the park Cedar Fair, but still, much of the movie theming remained; that's pretty much all gone now. For example, the "Top Gun" coaster is now known as "Afterburn". (But it'll always be "Top Gun" to me.) The kids area was Nickelodeon-themed back in 2007; now it's Peanuts-themed. (Which, if you ask us, that's WAY better!) Most everything outside of "Planet Snoopy" is actually pretty generic now, which I guess is okay...

So, anyway...yes, we brought Marla to Carowinds with us.

That's the Intimidator coaster in the background. Marla obviously can't ride any of these things yet, but Amy (my sister-in-law) volunteered to watch Marla while Amber and I went roller coasting, which was nice. We did get to take Marla on a couple of Planet Snoopy rides, though, such as the carousel:

In two more years, Marla will be old (and tall) enough to ride on many of the "Planet Snoopy" rides. Then, after a few more years, she'll be able to ride on some of the big coasters with Mommy and Daddy! Yeah!

That is...if I can still handle roller coasters by then. One reason I like the Intimidator-style, no-loop coasters, and also pretty much any wooden roller coaster, is that unlike rides such as the Carolina Cobra (which takes you through loops forward AND backward), they don't make me feel sick. I don't mean "puking all over the place" sick - I'm pretty sure I've never thrown up at a theme park - but I didn't feel too great after riding the Cobra. I handled Top Gun (which also has loops) okay, though, so I think the key is just to do the "spinny" sorts of rides in moderation. But the list of rides I won't go on at all is growing. I can now add "backwards looping roller coasters" to that list. (Already on that list: swing rides, pirate ships that go upside-down, stand-up coasters, and these hellish beasts, among others.)

Not that it really matters, because I imagine next time we go the majority of our day will be spent in Planet Snoopy. But that's fine; I'm looking forward to being able to enjoy theme parks vicariously through our children.

Finally, for those interested in the stats, here are the thrill rides that Amber and I rode on Saturday, along with the wait times: (The wait time starts when we reach the back of the line, and stops the moment the ride starts moving once we've boarded.)

1) Intimidator (wait time: 29:30). We got this one out of the way early, and good thing, too.
2) Thunder Road (wait time: not quite a walk-on, but close). Being an old wooden coaster, this was Amber's favorite. I enjoyed it, too, and as a map geek, I can always appreciate a coaster that crosses a state line.
3) Carolina Cobra (wait time: 27:42). Crowd starting to pick up now...
4) The ride formerly known as Top Gun (wait time: 50:00). I should note that being early in the season (this was Carowinds's second open weekend of the year), the park hasn't really reached peak efficiency yet. The crowd was decent, but things weren't exactly running smoothly. And, they didn't even have wait times posted at each ride! I really feel like Carowinds had that last time we were there. Or maybe not?
5) Drop Tower (wait time: 27:27). We were up against the clock by this point, so this was actually "Plan C" for our final ride, behind the Nighthawk and the Hurler, both of which appeared to have long, sluggish lines. But how long was the actual wait at those rides? We'll never know.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Sports Saturday: 4/7/12

(I meant to publish this Saturday morning, but forgot, so some of this stuff might already be a bit dated...oops.)

When was the last time I wrote one of these, anyway?

In no particular order...

NHL - So, it's playoffs for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. And that means it's that time of the year again - time to start rooting for other teams for the next two months. (Given that the pro sports teams I follow pretty much all stink, this is a habit of mine.)

Let's start with my old flame, the Florida Panthers. This year they made the playoffs for the first time since, what, 2000? Sure, they've only won one out of their last nine games, but it takes a lot of skill to rack up 18 overtime/shootout losses in one season. That's almost one out of every four games! Quite impressive. Even the Hurricanes (16 OT/SO losses) are impressed. The Panthers are definitely taking advantage of those charity points, which are the only reason they're even in the playoffs. And thank goodness, too, given that the other Eastern Conference playoff contenders are the usual Northeast Corridor teams, whom I'm pretty much tired of.

A Stanley Cup contender, they are not. But if Florida beats Carolina today (or loses in overtime, which of course they are quite good at) and thus wins the Southeast Division and gets the #3 seed, maybe they can at least get to the second round? Otherwise, if they take the #8 seed - the Panthers will either be #3 or #8 depending on what happens today - they will most certainly lose to the Rangers, and quickly. So, sorry Caniacs, but I'm rooting against the local team today. It's for the greater good. Go Panthers! But just for the rest of this season. Carolina at Florida - Sat 7:30p, Fox Sports Carolinas

For other playoff rooting interests, I look west to Vancouver and Nashville, just like last year. And St. Louis, too. Or, you know, pretty much anyone else out west. Down with the Northeast!

Also this weekend, the NCAA hockey national championship (Ferris State v. Boston College - Sat 7:00p, ESPN2). Go Ferris State! CCHA represent! They normally have the "Frozen Four" up north in a traditional hockey market like St. Paul or Boston, but this year, it's in Tampa, of all places. Does this mean they could have the Frozen Four in Raleigh some day? Because that would be awesome. We're a hockey market too!

College basketball - A quick wrap-up. This year's NCAA Tournament may have started as the best ever (for me), but that faded quickly. The only really memorable game for me from the second weekend on was the Ohio/North Carolina overtime game (so close!). In the end, it ended up being the same old teams again. No Butlers or VCUs this time around, and no ACC teams made the Final Four, either, so I had zero rooting interests at the end. Meh. But you'll never take away Florida State's ACC Championship! (Well, the NCAA could...but Leonard Hamilton doesn't strike me as the type of coach who is quietly racking up NCAA violations.)

Golf - I don't have a whole lot to say about the Masters, except that I looked up Augusta National in Google Earth this week.

View Larger Map

One thing I've noticed about coverage of the Masters is that cheers from neighboring holes seem to be really loud, in comparison to at other golf tournaments. Is that just because of how CBS mixes the sound? Is a Masters crowd generally larger and/or louder? Or is the course kind of cramped? I think it's all three, and the Google Earth view helps shed some light on how cramped the course is. These holes aren't very far apart, and the 18th green is right next to...I think that's #9. And there aren't any trees or anything around these two greens, like, at all. But it looks "intimate" and/or secluded on TV anyway because of how many people are standing around the 18th green. Anyway, I just thought this was interesting. The Masters Tournament - Sat 3:30p and Sun 2:00p, CBS

MLB - Baseball is back! And it's an exciting time to be a Washington Nationals fan! For now. All fans are optimistic at this point, right? (Except for Cubs fans.)

Seriously, though, they have Stephen Strasburg for the whole season (maybe), a few other new pitchers, and...well, the offense is still going to struggle, probably, but it's a pitcher's league, right? Right? Well, regardless, I'm really looking forward to watching the team play this season. Thursday's opener was very exciting (for baseball), and I'm pumped. Washington at Chicago Cubs - Sat 1:00p and Sun 2:00p, MASN

By the way, this probably puts me in the minority, but I actually like the new Florida Miami Marlins uniforms, and especially their new stadium. It's all very "Miami". Everyone up north who is criticizing them just doesn't get that.

Auto racing - A quick Formula One thought. Team Red Bull is down this year, and Sebastian Vettel has zero wins in the first two races, so maybe we might actually have some excitement this year! So far, I have to give Jenson Button the nod - McLaren seems to have the most speed at this point, and unlike with teammate Lewis Hamilton, Button's races are usually drama-free.

Soccer - Finally, a confession. When it comes to soccer, I normally only ever watch national competitions, such as the World Cup, World Cup Qualifiers, or whatever. I almost never watch club soccer, whether it's the domestic league (MLS) or the various European Leagues. Well, the past two weeks, I've changed that. I've been watching the English Premier League! (Gasp!) And, the UEFA Champions League, too. (I was rooting for the French team. A lot of the sports people I follow on Twitter are of the nerdy type, and soccer must be popular with nerds, because they sure do seem to talk about soccer an awful lot.

I never realized how much European soccer is televised in this country, though. Not just the English league, but also the Spanish and Italian leagues, and of course the Champions League. I guess that makes sense, because there are multiple cable channels devoted to exclusively soccer, after all...but it would be nice if MLS were on U.S. television as often as the English Premier League is. I guess timing has a lot to do with it. When shown live, European soccer has the sports TV airwaves to themselves. 2:30 PM on a Tuesday? 10 AM on a Saturday? What other sporting events are on then? But when MLS is playing, there's usually a more interesting sporting event going on at the same time. Time zones or not, maybe MLS should play all of their games on weekend mornings.

But don't worry - I got bored with the Premier League and the Champions League pretty quickly. That was a fun two week curiosity.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Marla's First Bike Ride

A few months back, we bought a fancy convertible baby trailer type thing that would allow Amber to take Marla with her when she went jogging, or me to take Marla with me when I went bicycling. (Or, if the trail is suitable, hiking, too!)

Amber has taken her jogging before, but we've waited to debut the baby trailer's bicycling capability until two things happened: 1) Marla got at least eight months old; and 2) the weather got warmer. Well, guess what? It's time!

The trailer has a detachable front wheel that you leave on for jogging purposes, or take off for bicycling purposes, replaced by a rod that connects with a socket that you fasten onto the bicycle's rear axle. Put it all together, attach the trailer's MANY safeties, and there you have it!

For Marla's first bike ride, we didn't even think about public streets. Instead, we just went to the American Tobacco Trail (ATT), a 6.5-mile paved, mixed use trail in Durham. And Amber came along, too! Hooray family bike ride!

So...I think it went pretty well! We did about 5.5 of the 6.5 miles in each direction before Marla decided it was time to turn around, resulting in a total of 11 miles. I think that's pretty good, especially considering how much extra work it is to pedal with all that additional weight. I estimate that I have to work 33% harder, maybe more, when riding with Marla and the trailer attached than I do when it's just me.

We had thought that just using the "bug screen" on the trailer would be enough, but...nope. A lot of dirt was being kicked up from my tires and onto Marla, and Marla no likey that, so, lesson learned. (Well, not a lot of dirt, but we think this is why she started fussing around mile 5.) On the return trip, we used the full plastic screen rather than the bug screen, and she subsequently fell asleep. (Our initial concern with the full screen was ventilation, but there is sufficient ventilation along the sides and in back.)

So, now I'm that guy on the ATT with the baby trailer. Yay! I almost always see at least one kid in a bike trailer every time I ride the ATT, at least on weekends. I mean, there aren't many better places around here to take your baby on a bike ride. Orange flag or not, the idea of taking this out on a public street is kind of scary. So, I'm certainly not ready to try that yet, at least on roads other than slow residential streets. But I think it would be fun to pick up Marla from day care via bicycle at some point.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The 'New Look' AAA TourBooks

A few years back, I posted a list of AAA TourBooks by state. For example, if you want the TourBook for Indiana, then you get Illinois and Ohio along with it - whether you like it or not - as part of the standard issue "Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio" TourBook.

Well, throw that list out the window! Because when I went to the local AAA office last week looking for the latest edition of the Alabama TourBook and expected to get an updated "Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi" TourBook, this is what I got instead:

I also got a Georgia TourBook in case we didn't make it all the way to Alabama or something last weekend, and thus discovered that Georgia is now riding solo rather than being grouped with the Carolinas like it used to be.

I think the theory is this. Most people probably just go vacationing in one place at any given time, rather than go crazy all over the place like we do. Your typical vacationer may not need tourist and hotel information for Connecticut and Rhode Island to go along with the Boston and Cape Cod stuff they're really interested in. So this way, AAA saves a little money by reducing the total number of TourBook pages it needs to print. Since any one TourBook covers less area, they are much smaller than they used to be. (Note - this isn't really the most dramatic comparison, because the old AL/LA/MS TourBook was one of the smallest ones to begin with.)

Another TourBook change: used to be, they would have tourist attractions in the front and hotels/restaurants in the back. Now, the attractions and hotels/restaurants are listed together for each city. (For example, Mobile attractions are immediately followed by Mobile hotels/restuarants, which are then followed by Montgomery attractions.) I think this makes more sense.

Does anyone even get TourBooks anymore? Or does everyone just do all of this stuff online these days. I get TourBooks more so for the road than for when we're planning at home. On many of our road trips, we never really know where we're going to end up, so having the appropriate TourBooks with us can come in handy.

Regardless of whether TourBooks are still "a thing", I know that paper maps are being phased out thanks to GPSs and the like. But today, you can still go to your local AAA office and get an on demand paper map of some random American city or state. Need a map of New Hampshire? Montgomery? Salt Lake City? BAM! They have everything you need right there in the office. Unfortunately, I think these days are numbered.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Counties Visited By Year

For many years now, I've been keeping track of all the counties in the United States (and Canada!) that I've visited. Did you know that? I might have mentioned it once or twice before.

So, about that county map: I've seen how some other people do it, and kind of wished that I had started tracking it by year as well, so that I could more easily see the progress I've made in my county quests over the years. Now, I have a pretty good memory with this sort of thing, and just about every road trip I've done over the last six years is documented here. But that only takes me back to 2006, and prior to that I only remember when major road trips took place (Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, etc), not minor ones. For example, there's no way for me to know when I first visited Palatka, Florida (Putnam County). And while I know I've been to the Piggly Wiggly in Donalsonville, Georgia (Seminole County), and that I made that trip while living in Tallahassee, I don't remember what year that was. Junior year? Senior year? Who knows?

So, basically, I'm much too far along to try to backtrack and piece together all my county visits by year at this point. Right? Right?

Yeah, well, I gave it a shot anyway.

Rather than do it by calendar year, I decided to do it by age, with the annual cutoff coming on my birthday. That's how I'm going to do Marla's map, so I'm doing mine that way as well. (Note: "Year 30" means "30th year of life", and therefore, "Age 29".)

Putting this map together was kind of fun. Most of it was easy. Major cross-country road trips? No problem; I remember those. (The Grand Canyon trip in "Year 12"/Summer 1993, and the Yellowstone trip in "Year 13"/Summer 1994, were the big ones.) Anything from 2006 forward? No problem; that's all in the blog archives. Everything else? Well...this is where all those shades of gray come in. When in doubt, color it gray.

If I know my first visit to that county was before or after my 11th birthday, or sometime during college, then I gave it a more specific color of gray (or in the case of the college years, "garnet") to denote that. But for those counties where I can't definitively categorize when my first visit was, we have the "Unknown (??)" category and its light gray color. 291 counties are classified as some variety of "Unknown", which isn't too bad; far more counties are "known" than "unknown". Although even the "knowns" may not be correct, either, if there was a road trip somewhere in there that I forgot about.

See why I started tracking Marla's visits on Day 1? We know Marla's map is 100% accurate. I've put a lot of effort into mine, but there are still mistakes. For example, I recently discovered that I never gave myself credit for Mariposa County, California, home of Yosemite National Park. Ding! And while I was at it, I went back and gave myself neighboring Madera County as well, which we almost have to have passed through en route from Yosemite to Sequoia/Kings Canyon. Ding!

(Note: Sometimes I really do say "Ding!" upon entering a new county for the first time. Ask Amber.)

Speaking of mistakes...let's look at the Virginia map for a second. (Virginia might have been the hardest state to reconstruct, by the way.) Look at Page County (medium gray, northern part of the state). Then, look at the counties that surround Page County. How is it that Page County is "Year 12-18", yet all of the counties that border it are either "Year 21", or not visited at all? How could I have visited Page County before visiting any of those other counties?

I guess flying would have done it, but we did not fly to Luray Caverns. The Luray Caverns / Shenandoah trip (which took place somewhere in that "Year 12-18" range) is one vacation where I'm really iffy on the details. Luray Caverns (which is in Page County) is the only specific place I remember going; sure, we went to Shenandoah National Park as well, but exactly where, I don't know. And what roads did we take there and back? I don't know that, either. Because of that, I never officially gave myself credit for the I-81 counties in Virginia until "Year 21", when I drove from Tallahassee to Vermont. And Shenandoah's Skyline Drive would have also given me Greene, Madison, and Rappahannock counties, but I don't know which sections of Skyline Drive we drove, so I can't give myself credit for any of them.

Sure, there are errors to be found, but I think I did a pretty good job overall. And besides, if there's a mistake or two in there, does it really matter? This is just for fun.

Speaking of fun...according to this, how has my county count gone up over the years?

18th birthday: 643 (20.5%)
22nd birthday: 734 (23.3%)
23rd birthday: 787 (25.0%)
24th birthday: 810 (25.8%)
25th birthday: 899 (28.6%)
26th birthday: 1,009 (32.1%)
27th birthday: 1,089 (34.7%)
28th birthday: 1,266 (40.3%)
29th birthday: 1,389 (44.2%)
30th birthday: 1,428 (45.4% - this is assuming I don't accidentally stumble into any new counties between now and Sunday. You never know, right?)

It's going to be hard to keep up the pace I've set over the last few years. The only way to get big chunks of counties at once is to do something crazy like drive US-50 from end-to-end, or drive all the way to Alaska, And, no, we're probably not going to do anything like that with Marla. (Yet.)

Before completely recoloring my map, I had been using's color coding to track my Honda Civic's county visits in addition to my own. I'm still tracking my Civic's visits, but now I'll be doing it on an offline basis. (I've been maintaining offline copies of my county maps this whole time anyway, just in case - God forbid - goes offline tomorrow and never comes back. Back up your data, folks!)

Year 31 starts on Sunday. How many new counties will I visit this year? How long will it take me to even get one? Well, I suppose we could go to Skyline Drive...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Curling Recap: 3/30/12

Career game #178: 2012 Winter League - March 30, 2012

End.......... 12345678 |TTL
Witcraft..... 40012001 | 08
Allen........ 01400110 | 07

Now is probably a good time to remind myself that in the 2011 Winter League, in which I played Skip and our team won the League Championship, I was the beneficiary of a lot of luck. In each of the first three games of that season, we trailed going into the last end, and won by one point. This season has been the flip side of that: we're 1-3 in games in which a tie or lead change occurred in the final end. Play enough games, and everything will balance out eventually, right?

Here is the other team's shot for the win in the 8th end: (Our team = red. Note: usual opposing team Skip Nick was ill, so usual Vice / substitute Skip Patrick gets the credit here.)

No shame in losing this way, right? He had the perfect line and the perfect weight. I had guarded the open lanes, leaving only the raise, which he made; can't guard everything, right? (Although my 2nd guard, rock #2, curled more to the inside than I would have liked. I wanted it to hang out more so that it would guard the raise more than the open lane; due to the ice conditions, I thought the raise might actually be an easier shot in this situation.)

On the other hand...well, for one thing, what are we doing guarding, anyway? Our shot rock, which were ultimately hoping would be the winning rock, was barely in the house. Sure, it was extremely well guarded, but still - do we really want to rely on that rock to get us the win? Well, the way I saw it, we could have tried to draw another one into the house on the left side, but we may just have given them an open hit for the win in the process, which would have been an easier shot than the raise they ultimately had to throw. So, I still think guarding was the correct call. I've gotten burned by giving the other team an open target before. (Ice conditions dictated that we couldn't really "draw around" any of the guards effectively.)

And, well, there's this: even though the rest of my team played well, I once again let the team down. I missed a hit for one in the first end, giving up four. In the 3rd end, we were basically in position to score four (maybe three?) before my turn even came up. In the 5th end, I was too heavy on a draw for one, and we gave up two. And in the 6th and 7th ends, I missed shots that could gave given us two instead of one (including a shot that was very similar to their game-winning shot in the 8th). I made a couple of good hits during the game, but any shot that relied on draw weight came up lame. And had I made any of those shots, that would have been the difference. But instead, once again, the other team's Skip made his shots whereas I did not.

So, no, I haven't been playing well, and there's no question I'm not playing as well as I was at this time last year. Do I miss having Amber on my team? Am I more tired than I used to be on Friday nights before having Marla? Does everyone just have a bad season every now and then? Yes, yes, and yes.

Well, either way, I am about 75% sure I'm going to ask to play Vice next season rather than Skip. Not because I haven't been playing well, but because now that the novelty of playing Skip has worn off, I actually have more fun playing Vice, win or lose. There's less pressure, you get to interact with your teammates more (as opposed to being all the way down at the other end of the ice all the time), you get to sweep, and as someone who is much better at hitting the broom than at draw weight, I think it suits my game better. And besides, there are enough people in the club who want to Skip as it is, I will be more than happy to make room for someone else to Skip next season. Of course, that could all change if we win our last two games...