Thursday, May 31, 2012

RIP: Kid-Os (Sort Of)

I've spoken the virtues of Kroger's "Kid-Os" - their version of generic Oreos - before. Unfortunately, Kid-Os are no more...sort of.


I liked the name "Kid-Os". It was distinctive, and it rolled right off the tongue. Why would you replace that with the terribly generic "Chocolate Sandwich Cookies"? How is that better?

(Oh, and yes, we always get the double-filled ones. That's not even a question.)

Well...maybe Kroger is just trying to pull a fast one on us. Because you see, these "" packages are smaller than the old Kid-Os packages, despite being the same price. Are we less likely to notice the smaller volume if the product has completely different packaging? I'd actually think we would be more likely to notice, no?

I would criticize Kroger for this, but pretty much everyone is doing it these days. The trend of decreasing the volume rather than increasing the price, and hoping we don't notice, started years ago. And besides, it's not like I'm going to stop buying Kid-Os, or whatever they're called now. They're good.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Travelogue: 5/25-5/29/12

Some miscellaneous notes from our trip to Toledo to see family last weekend. Most of these - okay, all of these - have to do with driving and/or statistics.

Marla car update: Marla is now 10 months old. Does she still handle long road trips like a champ? Yes!

Things are actually getting easier, or at least more predictable. If we leave at 4 or 5 in the morning, Marla is virtually guaranteed to sleep for the first two hours. Marla will nap again for a couple of hours around noon or so. In between, as long as we keep her somewhat entertained, change her diaper when it needs changing (which doesn't always happen in the vicinity of a rest area), and let her crawl around out of the car every so often, then we're good. Also, Marla always stays awake for at least the next two hours after we get to our destination, so it's good to finish the drive by 5 PM if possible. (We didn't get home yesterday until 5:45, but oh well.)

Of course, as soon as we think we have the system figured out, Marla will "grow out of it", and we'll need to adjust accordingly. Our next scheduled road trip is around the first week of July, and Marla might even be walking by then. (Right now she crawls, and can stand on her own if she has something to lean on.) But I don't think the basics will change: leave early, longer stops, mid-day nap, don't drive after dinner time if you can avoid it.

Actually, the hardest thing about road tripping with Marla is getting her to sleep at the hotel / parents' house / whatever. It's a little hard to get her to sleep in unfamiliar territory, we're finding. But that gave me a good excuse to do some roadgeeking while in Toledo. (See next section.)

Marla county visits: With this most recent road trip, Marla has now been to 186 counties in 11 states. And her first year isn't even over yet! Yeah, we're crazy. Even more impressive is that Marla has already visited over half of Ohio (46 out of 88 counties). We've taken Marla to Toledo three times since she was born, and we've taken six different routes through Ohio to and from, so there you go. (The main reason for the route variation is so that I can fill in some holes in my county map. I now have 66 of Ohio's 88 counties, including four new ones that we picked up on Friday.)

So...about that whole "getting Marla to sleep away from home" thing. Marla didn't take too well to the crib we had set up for her at Amber's parents' house. But she sleeps great in the car! So on Saturday, I put Marla in the car, and we drove to Michigan. The official reason for the drive was so that she would nap for a couple of hours...but the real reason for the drive was so that I could complete I-96. (I only needed the 44-mile stretch between US-23 and downtown Detroit; we drove all of I-96 west of US-23 on our honeymoon.)

With regards to my two main roadgeek quests (counties visited and interstate mileage), I'm finding that it's much easier to work a missing county or two into a road trip, than it is to fill in a chunk of interstate mileage. You can drive through a county in any direction, and all you have to do is cross the county line. But "clinching" an interstate from end to end requires you drive in one of only two directions, and there are no shortcuts. The only way to complete some interstates is to make a specific trip just for that purpose. So thanks, Marla, for giving me an excuse to do that last Saturday. :-)

I-96 is the 11th interstate I have driven end-to-end, and Michigan is the 11th state Marla has visited. She was asleep for almost all of it, but it counts!

Restaurant serving times: Someday I'd like to go to one of those two hot dog places in downtown Detroit. We've heard that they're a) eligible for my restaurant serving times competition, and b) like Toledo's Ideal Hot Dog, really fast! But it's hard to squeeze a trip to Detroit in to a vacation that's meant for family more than anything else, so instead we just went to a decent non-Olive Garden Italian restaurant in Toledo, and met John D. (an old college roommate of mine from FSU) at a Bob Evans in Columbus on our way back. Both restaurants had good serving times for the genre (19:09 and 10:53, respectively; anything under 20 is considered good for an Italian restaurant), but not good enough to contend for "fastest of the year" or anything like that. Cracker Barrel in Montgomery, AL, is still the best of 2012 (so far) at 8 minutes, 34 seconds.

Car mileage: It's been a busy month for my car, between the I-64 Richmond to Beckley drive (that alone was 600 miles), plus the 1,500 or so miles we put on it last weekend, plus all those drives to kickball games and such. May will likely end up with the 5th highest monthly mileage total in my Civic's now 55-month life.

Mini golf: I don't include miniature golf statistics in By the Numbers because mini golf scores aren't compatible between courses like bowling scores are. But, congratulations to Amber on winning our best-of-3 mini golf duel. Out of 24 rounds of mini-golf between us, I've won 15, and Amber has won 8. (We tied once.)

We went to this place called "Par 2 Golf" in Toledo, which was clearly a former Putt-Putt back in the day. I have to give them credit for keeping the course in excellent shape. Most old mini golf courses aren't as well kept as this one is.

So, in conclusion, we like driving, and we'll do more of it. But likely not until the beginning of July.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Web Browsers

(Road trip note: We'll be in Toledo Friday through Tuesday morning. Follow along on Twitter!)

Big news this week from StatCounter: Google Chrome has passed Microsoft's Internet Explorer as the most widely used web browser in the world. Well, unofficially. Whether StatCounter's sampling is statistically representative of the entire world is a separate issue from what I'm going to discuss. Fact is, I used Chrome as my browser of choice for two discontinuous time periods, and both times, I ultimately switched back to Firefox.

Why is Google Chrome now number one (allegedly)? I don't think it has to do with the quality of the browser, other than that the browser (like other mainstream browsers) is perfectly functional, of course. It's because Google is marketing it. I use a lot of Google stuff (Docs, Gmail, Calendar, the search engine itself, etc) and I see a lot of "Try out Google Chrome!" ads. And, I did try it. But I didn't find that Chrome had anything useful that the other browsers didn't have. It's just an average, functional web browser. So, meh.

Meanwhile, Firefox has one thing that I really like. I have a lot of "frequently visited" websites, but I don't have a whole lot of bookmarks to keep track of them. And with Firefox, I don't really need bookmarks. I can just type in a portion of the website name or address, and if I've visited it before - particularly if I've visited it frequently - up it comes, almost immediately! For example, if I want to check out the latest Drought Monitor report, all I have to do is type "dro" in the address bar, and up it comes, right at the top of the list. This is my favorite thing about Firefox, and it's the main reason why it's my default browser. Chrome does this to some extent, but it's much more hit or miss, and your web history usually plays second fiddle to Google search options. Hey, Chrome, if I wanted to use Google search, I would type what I was looking for in the separate Google search box!

Firefox isn't perfect, though. With one recent version release, Firefox - for some unknown reason - changed the default background image color from white to black, and didn't give you a way to change it back to white. This made some images, such as my counties visited map, almost unreadable.

I first started using Firefox way back when Internet Explorer was considered "evil", prompting me to look for alternatives. I tried Opera for a while, which has some nice exclusive features (e.g. mouse gestures), but I also found that Opera didn't work correctly with some websites. Many web developers make sure their sites work correctly in the three mainstream web browsers, but since Opera is not a mainstream browser (3 to 4% worldwide market share), not everything is going to work with Opera, necessarily. At least, I'm assuming this is still an issue. (This was several years ago when I used Opera.)

Really, the main knock on Internet Explorer isn't that they're associated with Microsoft (who doesn't seem so "evil" now, honestly), but that it's always been slow. I don't know if it's still as comparatively slow as it used to be, but besides, is there really any reason to go back to IE?

So, yeah, as far as I'm concerned, Firefox for the win. But to each his own.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Kickball Season 5: Mid-Season Report

It's time for a mid-season report of my 5th season of co-ed kickball!

We've played six games so far. It would have been eight, but two were rained out. I'd like to say that those games will be made up, but with Knightdale, you never know, really, especially if they want to do double elimination playoffs. Our record is 3-3...BUT, all of those losses were (I think) by one run. So, I think we've done pretty well! I have no idea what the other three teams' records are, but I think this is our best chance to win the league yet. That's not to say we're the favorite by any means; that just means we have about a one-in-four chance. But we also have a one-in-four chance of finishing in last, too; all three of the other teams in the league have beaten us once so far. A win tonight, in a rematch of a game that went to 10 innings, and we'll have beaten all three teams, too.

Really, it all comes down to how many people show up on each team. Any team in the league could beat anybody else if they have their full lineup. Of course, if they don't have their full lineup, then you may get a game like our 11-1 "mercy rule" win a couple of weeks back. (Yes, for the first time ever, we actually won a game by mercy rule and not the other way around! In the opponent's defense, they only had the minimum seven players that night, and it's really hard to play defense that way.)

The big change going into this season was the size of the strike zone. To illustrate:


The old strike zone was the entire box surrounding the plate. Meanwhile, the new strike zone is bounded by the lines on either side of the plate, which means it's now less than half as wide as it used to be. Some claim that I am the reason they narrowed the strike zone. Don't know if that's true or not, but I've just tried to adjust as best I can. And hey, it does give me something to talk about. (Speaking objectively, I think the old strike zone was too wide, but the new strike zone could stand to be a little wider than it is, in my view.)

With the new, smaller strike zone, I can still spin the ball like I always have and hit the strike zone, but it's obviously harder to do consistently. I've fallen behind in the count a lot, and when that happens I usually just try to throw the ball straight down the middle. But even that doesn't always work; it's best to throw those straight pitches fast, because a slow pitch is more likely to take a weird turn or bounce and veer away from the strike zone.

Strikeouts are much harder to get now. I think the best way to get one is to take the count full, throw a borderline pitch, and hope the kicker takes it for strike three while attempting to draw a walk. That's how I got my one - and only one - K of the season (in the four games that I've played). Of course, you risk giving up a walk that way, but depending on the game situation, sometimes it's worth trying. (I also have one unintentional walk in my four games.)

Getting strikeouts might be a thing of the past, but I can still try to keep the kickers as off balance as possible by spinning the ball. I do think that throwing non-straight pitches does result in more fouls, pop-ups, and soft grounders, and it definitely makes it harder to "directional kick". So, it's still a worthwhile way to pitch. But I also still believe that effective defense is far, far more important. And our defense is, just like last season, excellent. We've averaged less than two runs allowed per game in my four games.

On offense, it's been business as usual, at least for me. Bunt, bunt, bunt! Sometimes I mess up and bunt it straight to the pitcher and get thrown out, but when I bunt it perfectly - right down the third base line - I'm usually safe. (How soon before they change the rules to handicap my offensive strategy, too?) My margin for error is smaller than it used to be, though, given my distinctive scouting report...but 10-for-16 on the season with five runs scored is still pretty good, I think. I even have an RBI!

And this concludes my mid-season kickball report. Game #7 is tonight, if the weather cooperates. Goooooo team!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Blue Water

We drink a lot of water at our house, so have a system. When we finish a bottle of Gatorade or Powerade (of which we have plenty from all of my bike rides), we fill it with water. Drink the water, then refill it again. Repeat. Wash the bottles every once in a while. Throw them out when they smell bad.

Generally, we're motivated to wash all of our bottles once one of us gets sick. But we can't clean them all simultaneously because we have, like, 30 of them. So how do we tell the difference between those that have been washed and those that haven't? Blue food coloring!


This looks just like blue Gatorade, but it's not. It's water. I've been fooled a couple of times.

Well, anyway...starting last week sometime, whenever we finished a water bottle, we would put it in the dishwasher. (Unless it failed the "smell test", in which case, out it goes!) Upon taking it out of the dishwasher, we'd fill it with water, plus one drop of blue food coloring, so that we could distinguish clean water bottles from those that had not been cleaned yet. And once all of the water bottles in our house had blue water in them, then we knew we were done. Yay! Simple as that.

By the way, Powerade bottles don't always survive a trip through the dishwasher, but Gatorade bottles do. (It has to do with the strength of the plastic.) This is the chief reason why I now drink Gatorade instead of Powerade.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Amber's Silly Race II (Warrior Dash): Recap

The Warrior Dash (explained here) is complete! And Amber - and everyone else who came with us - finished! Hooray! That's her on the left, after the race.


So, you get kind of messy running this thing. But you don't really get that messy until the very end. This is the "mud pit" that you have to crawl through at the very end, right before the finish line:


The mud pit seemed kind of cheap to me. Let's just get everyone incredibly dirty right at the very end so that everyone who completed the race looks like they did something! (And feels obligated to donate their nearly ruined shoes, too!)

Right before the mud pit, there's this little fire that you have to jump over:


If you ask me, the last two obstacles weren't really that challenging; I think they were all about marketing. The leap over the fire makes for the perfect photo op (there were official people there taking pictures there, after all). And then, let's get everyone really dirty so that everyone who completed the race looks impressive. "Hey, look at me, I'm all muddy, I'm a WARRIOR!" Great marketing, if you ask me. The Warrior Dash has been doing great business - over 7,000 people participated over the weekend - so they obviously know what they're doing. (Note: up to 500 people started at a time, separated by 30 minute intervals.)

So to talk of the challenge of the race itself, you can throw out the last two obstacles and focus on the other 12. I didn't see much of it from my spectator's perch, but there were a few "climbing" obstacles that I, personally, would have had some trouble with. Many of those who finished the race ended up with at least one cut or scrape. Amber says I wouldn't have enjoyed it, and she's probably right. So, congratulations to those of you who did finish it. Among our group, one (Joe) broke away from the pack and finished the three-mile course in 42:54; five (including Amber) finished together in around 1:17:40; and three more finished in the 1:45:00 to 1:46:00 range. (Full results here). But unlike, say, a 5K run, this wasn't so much about the finishing time as it was about simply finishing. I don't think they were all too concerned about their ranking.

I need to clear something up that I mentioned during my live-tweet. Rumor was spreading on Twitter that NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne would be running in the Sunday 10:30 wave Warrior Dash (same as us), and that was sort of confirmed via loudspeaker...or so I thought. Did they ever actually say that Kasey was running the Warrior Dash, or just that he would be here at 10:30? It would have been awesome if Kasey were actually running the thing at the same time as the rest of us, but...no. He was just here for a sponsor promotion, and not running the race. Lame. Can't really say how guilty the Warrior Dash folks are of "misleading marketing", because I wasn't listening to the loudspeaker that closely, due to being preoccupied more with other things like watching Marla (who behaved very well all weekend, I should mention).

I don't know how long these have been around, but there are all kinds of alternative running races out there now, with obstacles and/or mud and/or something quirky that makes this something other than a boring old 5K. I think this is great! We all need to get outside and exercise. I, personally, prefer my exercise to come via bicycle (and kickball, I suppose) and with as little mud and personal injury as possible, so you won't see me in any of these races any time soon.

"But Chris, don't you realize how dangerous road bicycling is? The Warrior Dash might make you bleed a little bit, but if something goes wrong on one of your bike rides, you could DIE." Thanks for the reminder! Here's how I justify this. 99.9% of the time, you won't hurt yourself on a bike ride, and I'm not going to let my life be dictated by something that has a 0.1% chance of happening. As they say, "you only live once". That said...yeah, I do worry sometimes. But so far, so good. And I'd like to think I bike more safely than many. On the other hand, the odds that I would not have enjoyed running the Warrior Dash myself are well over 50%. I did have fun spectating, though, and I'm as proud of Amber as can be!

And because I have to...statistical notes from the weekend: no new counties for Marla, but this was her fourth night away from home so far this year, and first since the Alabama trip at the end of April. And, Hickory Tavern of Charlotte have us this year's 9th restaurant serving time, clocking in at 20:03. Nine restaurants through mid-May doesn't sound like a lot, but it's not that far off from where we were at this point each of the last two years (10 restaurants in 2011, 12 in 2010).

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sports Saturday: 5/19/12

We'll be out of town most of the weekend, but I'm going to talk sports anyway. Yay sports!

NBA / NHL - First off...HUGE confession to make. For years now, I've been hating on the NBA, based on the idea that the NBA is lame (superstar driven, "me first", boring to watch, more about hype than substance). And, the local team's games are all blacked out in Raleigh on DirecTV anyway. (But even if I could watch the Bobcats, would I really want to?) But it's more than just the on-court product. Nerds like me tend to gravitate towards sports like hockey, soccer, and baseball, while NBA fans typically consist of a more "hip" demographic that I can't relate to. I have a lot of friends who generally have the same "What's the NBA?" attitude that I do, and so the NBA almost never comes up in conversation. Very few people I know give a crap about it. It's kind of cool to hate on it, I think.

But, my interest in the NHL playoffs faded quickly this year once all of my rooting interests crapped out. I'm not interested enough in Rangers/Devils to stay up past 10:30 for the end of one of their games. And sure, the Los Angeles Kings are a great story, and they're the kind of team I would normally root for in this situation, but they've only lost one playoff game so far, right? That is to say, their series haven't been particularly exciting. And, of course, they play in the Pacific Time Zone, so I can't stay up and watch them anyway. So I'll just wait until the Stanley Cup Final to watch the Kings (assuming they don't blow their 3-0 series lead).

In the meantime, I've been filling the void with: Indiana Pacers playoff games. The Pacers are the kind of team I normally root for in professional sports: they don't play in a large market, they're not overhyped, no big stars, and they're good enough to put up a fight. I'd get more excited about the Pacers beating the overhyped Miami Heat, than I would about anything that could possibly happen in the NHL playoffs the rest of the way. And, the Pacers games have actually been on at reasonable times: Games 2 and 3 began at the very Chris-friendly time of 7 PM Eastern. (Eventually those tip times will get later and later*, but I'm enjoying it while I can.) So, go Pacers! Miami at Indiana - Sun 3:30p, ABC

(* - I've noticed a pattern with how the NBA schedules their playoff game times. Most weeknights during the first two playoff rounds feature a doubleheader. If the second game of that doubleheader is in the Mountain or Pacific Time Zone, then the first game starts at 8 PM Eastern, and the second game starts at 10:30. If the second game of that doubleheader is in the Central Time Zone, then the two games start at 7 PM and 9:30 PM, respectively. So if you're like me and prefer early game times, then the thing to do early in the NBA Western Conference playoffs is to root for Central Time Zone teams such as San Antonio and Oklahoma City. And right now, I'm rooting for the Clippers to win either Game 3 or 4 and force a Game 5 against San Antonio, because that would force Game 5 of Pacers/Heat to start at 7 PM due to their being two games instead of just Pacers/Heat on Tuesday night. But no matter what, the Conference Finals will probably start at 8 or 9 PM, and the NBA Finals at 9 PM, at which point I will likely stop watching, especially if the Pacers are out by then.)

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Kings can advance to the Stanley Cup Final this Sunday in a game played at a Chris-friendly time, which means I might actually watch! Well, I'll record it and watch when we get back from Charlotte, if we have time. Phoenix at Los Angeles - Sun 3:00p, NBC (I'm guessing the next Rangers/Devils game is Saturday afternoon on NBC. You can look it up yourself.)

MLB - The Washington Nationals are hanging in there, despite injuries to many of their best position players. As of Friday afternoon, they're no longer in first place, but they are only a half game back of the Atlanta Braves. I caught myself "scoreboard watching" the other day, keeping tabs on the Braves game while watching the Nationals game. On one hand, scoreboard watching at this point in the MLB season is completely ridiculous. But on the other hand, I keep expecting this team to crash and burn - even though they're only a half game out of first, they're also only 3½ games ahead of last - so the longer they can stay in first place, the better! Baltimore at Washington - Sat 7:00p, FOX*; Sun 1:30p, MASN

(* - Nationals games on FOX are not always broadcast locally, which is silly in a way. I mean, we're in the Nationals broadcast region - which is the only reason I root for them in the first place - so we should get the FOX games, too, right? But FOX is giving us the Orioles/Nationals game this Saturday, not only in Raleigh, but in Charlotte, too.)

Auto racing - Interesting debate this week among articles I've read about whether the NASCAR All-Star Race is really "necessary". The NFL has scrapped the Pro Bowl, and All-Star games in general are "sooooo last century". (That's not my quote, but I forget where I read it.)

Here's my take: the NASCAR point system encourages conservative driving, and that has made most races so far this year kind of boring. But here you have a non-points race where drivers are more likely to "go for it". Because of that, this is the only sport in which the participants will actually try harder in the All-Star race than they might on a week-to-week basis. Still, it's kind of annoying that they change the format of this thing, like, every year. If you ask me, frequent format changes are a sign of weakness. Can't we just settle on something that works? NASCAR All-Star Race - Sat 7:00p, SPEED

In Formula One, Pastor Maldonaldo won the Spanish Grand Prix last weekend. His best career finish prior to last weekend was 8th! And in a sport where the same teams usually win week after week...where the heck did that come from? But the one thing that the sport's newfound volatility does is that it opens the door for Sebastian Vettel to win the title yet again despite having a fairly unspectacular start to the season. He has only one win and two podiums in five races, and yet there he is at the top of the points, again. (Vettel is currently tied with Fernando Alonso but leads the tiebreaker.) A similar thing happens when I adjust the driver ratings in my NASCAR video game so that there is more week-to-week variability: you end up with more race winners, but when you average it out over an entire season, the same driver ends up winning the championship anyway. But at least Vettel will have to fight for it this year, it appears.

Soccer - My curiosity in European soccer leagues didn't last long, but it did come back last Sunday for the final day of the English Premier League season. I thought it was interesting that all 20 EPL teams play their final game of the season at the exact same time. Since they don't have playoffs, I guess this ensures that no team gets an advantage by knowing that "we only have to get a draw in this game to secure 3rd place because the 4th place team has already lost their final game", for example.

I turned on ESPN2 with 30 minutes to go to find that Manchester City, who needed a win to claim their first league title in decades, was only tied, and against one of the worst teams in the EPL, at that. And then, the afore-mentioned bottom feeder actually scored and took the lead. Intrigue! But Manchester City did finally score the two goals they needed at the very end to take the win and the league championship. Excitement! Since the Premier League does not conduct playoffs, how often is the league title decided in the final minutes of the final day of the season like it was this year? This has to be something like a 20 year occurrence, right?

Great story...until I heard that Manchester City basically bought their title with gobs of money from Abu Dhabi. But spending gobs of money is pretty much the only way to win a European league title, so, oh well. No salary cap here!*

(* - Political note: Europe is generally more "socialist" than the United States, but with our respective sports leagues, it's just the opposite. American professional sports leagues have things like "salary caps" and "revenue sharing" in order to "level the playing field". How very socialist of us! As far as I know, European soccer leagues are pretty much unregulated free markets. I just think that's interesting.)

(* - Continuing that thought...excluding the athletes, American college sports are a free market. And speaking of which, as someone who lives in a part of the country where the ACC is frequently featured on television, I do NOT support Florida State jumping ship and moving to the Big 12, as has been rumored. Just wanted to get my opinion on that out there.)

Oh, and the UEFA Champions League Final is this afternoon, if that strikes your fancy. Bayern Munich v. Chelsea - Sat 2:30p, FOX

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Amber's Silly Race II

In 2009, Amber entered an adventure race called the "Flying Frog Adventure Race", in which she ran a few miles, mountain biked several miles, kayaked a couple of more miles, and got really dirty. I thought it was silly. Well, it's time for round two! And this time, it might be even sillier.

This weekend, Amber (and some of our friends, too) are participating in something called the Warrior Dash. Basically, it's a 5K race (approximately) through the mud, with obstacles, or something like that. It looks interesting, and crazy. Just the kind of thing Amber would want to do! Seriously, check out the obstacles.

As for me, I'll be hanging out with Marla in the cheering section, and will be proud of the fact that we won't need a shower afterwards or be ruining our clothes in the process. (They tell runners to bring a pair of shoes that they don't plan on ever wearing again once the race is over.) Fortunately for the participants and spectators alike, it looks to be a nice weekend, weather-wise.

Okay, I admit...except for the "running three miles" part, this sounds kind of fun. But I still think you're all nuts. I'm more than happy to just hang out in the cheering section and watch. And besides, it's safe to say that I've done more "fun things" so far this year than Amber has (e.g. curling in Utica, driving I-64 from Richmond to Beckley for statistical purposes*). Now it's Amber's turn!

(* - Yes, I consider those things fun.)

Either way, we all get a road trip out of it, too! The race is Sunday morning in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte. This will give us our first night away from home since the Alabama trip at the end of March. So yeah, it's boring old Charlotte, again...but a different part of Charlotte, at least. Besides, and any road trip is a good road trip. And unlike our last road trip, I might even live tweet this time, too.

(Side comment: Poor planning on the part of the race organizers to schedule this thing for the same weekend as the NASCAR All-Star Race at nearby Charlotte Motor Speedway. Better this weekend than next weekend, I suppose. And on the bright side, the need to take an alternate route Saturday evening to get there could give Marla some new counties! But only if we go really out of the way.)

(Side comment #2: We're actually going road tripping the following weekend, too, to Toledo.)

They actually have Warrior Dash races all over the country, which is good news for you...if you're crazy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Curling Recap: 5/11/12

Curling season is officially over, but that just means it's time for the summer pickup curling season! Hooray! Although pickup curling is only once every few weeks or so, and after last Friday night's pickup game, I won't curl again until mid-June.

I specifically asked to NOT play Skip on Friday, mostly so I could get my sweeping arms back in shape. Instead, I played Lead, throwing three rocks per end on a three-person team. It was great practice, but like I said, I don't curl again for several weeks, so...will it matter? Probably not. But it was still fun.

Meanwhile, the game featured one of the club's top Skips (the other team) versus someone playing Skip for the first time ever (my team). All things considered, we did well...except for one end. There's always that one end, isn't there?

Career game #181: Pick-up - May 11, 2012 (my team: Self)

End.......... 123456 |TTL
-------------------------
Jackson...... 120400 | 07
Self......... 001011 | 03

The 4th end wasn't really that bad. We were sitting one prior to opposing Skip Murray's last shot, but that one was wide open (our guard didn't end up where it needed to be), so it was basically a wide open hit for four. This happened a lot to me in the Winter League when I didn't have last rock: we'd get a rock in the house, and we would then try really really hard to guard it, but the guards would never stop where they needed to stop in order to be effective. Meanwhile, the other team has been piling a bunch of other rocks in the house, and with their last rock they hit ours out and score four or five or something. It happens. Sometimes, I don't even notice it until it's too late. As in, before their last shot, I think, "You know, they could hit ours out and score four here. Uh oh..."

The guards did pan out for us in some of the other ends, though, allowing us to score three times (although only one each time). And our first-time-ever Skip Kalon made a great draw for one in the 6th end to score one.

The main idea behind the pickup games is to give newer curlers an opportunity to curl with the club before they join a league in full, and without having to fill in on a league team or something. I think we had 11 first-time curlers on Friday, which is great. Hope some of them come back for the next one!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Wolfenstein 3D

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the makers of the classic first person shooter video game Wolfenstein 3D re-released a web browser version of the game last week. I played quite a bit of this game back in "the day". This brought back some memories.

From Wikipedia: "[Wolfenstein 3D] is widely regarded by critics and game journalists as having helped popularize the [first person shooter] genre on the PC, and having established the basic run-and-gun archetype for subsequent FPS games." But perhaps more importantly - and the main reason I even played the game at all back in "the day" - the first 10 levels of the game were released as "shareware", which meant that we could download and play it for free. Over and over and over again. And that we did.

Shareware is kind of a dated term, isn't it? It used to be how every independent software company would release a game. They'd give you a portion of the game in full, much more so than what we would consider to be a "demo" these days. And throughout the game, they would bug you constantly. The shareware model was, "You can play this a few times for free, but if you play it a lot, you should probably pay for it. Shareware is not freeware, you know. Buy the full game! It's the right thing to do." Halloween Harry was another shareware game I remember playing and not paying for back in the day. Maybe that's why shareware isn't really a thing anymore. Nobody ever really paid.

So, anyway...in Wolfenstein 3D, you run around and shoot Nazis. Fun!

(pic from Wikipedia)

How many times did my brother and I play through the same 10 levels? Oh, I don't know...but it was a lot. No, we never did buy the full version. But we did buy the official game hint book (I think it was $10?) so that we could get the 100% kill, 100% secret, and 100% treasure bonuses in every level.



Yes, I still have the hint book. But I should point out that I found the secret level in Episode One on my own, before we had the hint book.

At some point, we also found a downloadable level editor online that allowed us to design and play our own Wolfenstein levels. Now that was awesome. 200 Nazis in one room? Sure! Although I soon discovered that there was a limit to how many people the game could draw on screen at one time. Getting shot at by invisible Nazis can be kind of terrifying.

The simplicity of Wolfenstein was perhaps the best thing about it. See a bad guy? Shoot him! The most complicated things were the locked doors, and finding the keys to unlock them. But by today's standards, that's still a pretty simple task. Today's first person shooters are way too complicated for me to be able to enjoy them, which is the main reason why I don't play them anymore. Too many controls, too many places to go, too many places to do...and, most importantly, I suck at them now. As soon as you started having to look up and down to shoot things rather than strictly side to side as in Wolfenstein, my ability to accurately shoot the other guy went down the crapper. It's like if you're a kid playing Little League baseball (which I never did). Up to a certain age, all you see is fastballs, and you may be able to hit a fastball really well, prompting you to think, "Hey, I'm like, a totally awesome baseball player! Look out, major leagues!" But what happens when the kids are old enough to start throwing curveballs? I'm sure many kids' major league dreams ended as soon as they started having to face curveballs and sliders.

Besides, I'm sure today's first person shooters (e.g. Call of Duty) are far too complicated for someone to be able to crack the code and release a level editor, for example. Some of these games might have level creators built into the game, but creating a level on your own on par with an actual level of the game, has to be 100 times harder now than it was back then. (Note: I've never played any of the "Call of Duty" games. I think the last first person shooter I played at length was one of the Unreal Tournament games, and that was like 9 years ago or something. My experience playing Unreal online didn't go too well. I was really really bad.)

Games have changed a lot since then. Video games like this used to have "scores". Eventually, game designers realized that people don't care about their score so much as they care about, you know, finishing the game. So, they just stopped keeping score. And eventually, they started giving you unlimited lives, too. We were all giving ourselves unlimited lives to begin with, thanks to the magic of "saved games". Wolfenstein allowed you to save your game, and restart it later, at any point. So why not just save us the trouble and give us unlimited lives? The trend towards scoreless games with unlimited lives isn't limited to first person shooters, either. For example, the classic Super Mario Brothers games keep score and gave you a finite number of lives.

(Side comment: Games stopped keeping score a long time ago. I probably could have written this blog post 10 years ago, actually. First person shooters were already getting kind of complicated by then. I'm so old.)

At some point, I did find the full version of Wolfenstein online (legal or not - I don't remember), allowing me to play episodes two through six (finally) and actually use the rest of the hint book (finally). The browser version has episodes one through three (not four through six), and at the end of episode three, you get to kill Hitler. Fun! Bet you don't get to do that in Call of Duty. (Actually, for all I know, you might. I have no idea. Never played.)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Chris Allen's Day Off

Tuesday's election has come and gone, so let's get back to talking about meaningless and stupid stuff. Like...when is the next time I'm going to visit a county I've never visited before? Well, if everything goes according to plan, tomorrow!

"But tomorrow's Thursday! Don't you have work?" Well, you see...back when I started my current job in 2006, I got two weeks vacation. Back then, vacation time was extremely valuable, and that meant doing things like working on a Sunday prior to a planned three-day trip so that I could avoid using a vacation day. But now we have a kid, and...well, we just don't feel like going on that many vacations anymore, and going on a long trip just isn't that practical or convenient anyway, at least right now. And there's plenty for us to do at home as it is. That, and the fact that I now get three weeks vacation, means that for the first time ever, I actually have vacation time to burn. (Not so for Amber, who had to use all of her vacation time during maternity leave.)

So, I'm taking a random Thursday (tomorrow) off from work. I'm thinking of going for a drive and filling in a nearby statistical gap in my roadgeek quests - specifically, I-64 between Richmond and Beckley. That'll give me two new counties in the process, too. Yay!

I probably won't blog about this drive afterwards, because I expect absolutely nothing notable to happen. (Hopefully.) I'll save the interesting, scenic drives for when we have the whole family with us.

Have a good Thursday!

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

LG Phone Fail

So the other day, I was doing ordinary stuff on my smartphone - a T-Mobile G2x, a.k.a. LG Optimus 2X, that I purchased four months ago - when the phone suddenly froze. No big deal, just take the battery out and reboot. This isn't the first time I've had to do that, except that this time, the phone wouldn't turn back on. A couple of hours later, I headed to the T-Mobile store, where they declared the phone dead, and ordered a free under warranty replacement to be shipped to my house the next day. The new phone arrived on time, at which point I shipped the old phone back, and began the long inconvenient process of reinstalling all of my apps, etc.

So...what the heck? This phone only lasted four months? That's terrible. LG has definitely lost some points. Fortunately, I don't think I own any other LG products. Our TVs are Samsungs, and aside from a stubborn green dot, they've been working fine. What else does LG make other than TVs and phones?

Of course, when I say "free replacement", that assumes the folks at T-Mobile won't find something with my old phone that would void the warranty. I never did anything to it that could explain its sudden demise (e.g. drowning it, or accidentally slamming your car door on it after it fell out of your pocket), so I don't know what they could find, but you never know with these things. I suspect that I take better care of my smartphone than at least 50% of all smartphone users.

The G2x generally works fine, and it's definitely faster than the G1 I used to have. However, it's also much less stable, and has been suspect to random reboots, occasional extreme slowness or unresponsivneess, and the occasional need to take out the battery and try again. (And then hope the phone turns back on.) But it was also $100 cheaper than the equivalent Samsung smartphone (the Galaxy S II), so I guess you get what you pay for. And, better for the phone to break before the warranty ran out, and during a relatively slow week at home, too. (Apparently, nobody tried to call or text me in the 22 or so hours in which I was phone-less. Not being popular has its perks!)

And no, this is not enough to sway me towards the iPhone. Android all the way. I'll just try to steer clear of LG phones next time.

Monday, May 07, 2012

Vote Against Amendment One

I try to keep my mouth shut on most political issues, and I am generally successful...but not this time. Sorry in advance. (I promise not to make a habit of this.)

Tomorrow is primary election day in North Carolina, and in addition to a bunch of primaries that I don't really care about (hooray voter apathy!), something called Amendment One is on the ballot. Amendment One concerns the issue of gay marriage. In a nutshell: marriage is already defined by law in North Carolina as being between a man in a woman, and Amendment One would further solidify that by adding it to the state constitution, to make it harder for us to change our minds later. In addition, Amendment One also bans any other type of "domestic legal union" (e.g. civil unions).

Tomorrow, I will be voting against the amendment.



Why vote against? Well, there are a lot of reasons to vote against the amendment, regardless how comfortable you are with the idea of gay marriage. For me, as a supporter of LGBT rights (straight allies, we're called), it's a no brainer. As for everyone else...we'll, let's discuss.

"One man, one woman" is already law in North Carolina. So why is the state even bothering with this amendment? Here's how I see it. Acceptance of LGBT rights is gaining traction nationwide, and the Republican-controlled legislature recognizes this, and they don't like it. The amendment is an effort to delay the inevitable shift to fully and widely accepted gay rights for as long as possible. Even most Republicans believe that eventually, gay marriage (or something equivlent to it) will be recognized on a national basis.

As much as I see this as strictly a civil rights issue, with most political issues, I try to see things from both sides. So, let's look at this from the opposite perspective for a minute or two. I think people who vote for the amendment will do so for one of two reasons. The first reason is because they are a conservative Christian with an ingrained belief that homosexuality is wrong, a sin, etc. The second reason is because that while they don't have anything against gays, they've always known marriage as "one man one woman", and the concept of two men getting married just seems weird.

As much as I'd like to spend seven paragraphs ripping this misleading, offensive, fear-mongering, and mostly false pro-amendment article to shreds, we can't do anything about the first group in the short term. There's no point in getting into an argument with these folks. They are set in their ways.

But the second group...well, this is why I'm writing this blog post. Why are LGBT rights slowly gaining traction nationally? Why are people my age solidly in favor of gay marriage? Because as time goes by, people are finally realizing that homosexuals are people, too. They're trying to live their lives just like everyone else. And a world in which gays have equal marriage rights? You know, it's not so bad. You can still marry someone of the opposite sex (and divorce, too!) just like you always have, and your marriage won't be affected or "cheapened" in any way. And the whole "what is happening to our society???" notion...well, many had similar thoughts when we started giving black people rights, too.

And despite what the afore-linked "Threat to Marriage" article might claim or imply, churches in gay marriage states are NOT required to start marrying same-sex couples. Churches in states like Massachusetts are not obligated under law to change what they consider to be a marriage. And, that's fine with me. Churches should be (and are) allowed to do as they wish. After all, I personally see "marriage" as a religious construct first and foremost.

HOWEVER, at some point, society decided to get into the business of tracking marriages outside of the strictly religious context. In today's society, filling out and signing a marriage license gives you all kinds of super awesome perks and privileges! (Joint income tax returns, health insurance benefits, hospital visitation rights, and so on.) So why are we only allowing straight couples to have these perks and prvileges?

Maybe the issue is with the word "marriage", which like I said, is a mostly religious construct. But hey, what if there was a different term out there other than "marriage" that we could use for gays? You know...something that's just the legal equivalent of marriage but isn't called "marriage", per se?

A civil union sounds like the perfect compromise to me: let's give gays the same rights as married people, all while leaving the "traditional definition of marriage" as it is. Everybody wins, right?

Except...not. Amendment One outlaws civil unions, too. And this is where it becomes a civil rights issue. This isn't about continuing to allow churches to operate as they wish. This is about discrimination against gays.

Beyond the issue of gay marriage, there are apparently a bunch of other unintended consequences associated with Amendment One, too, such as effects on domestic violence protection for unmarried live-in couples. (Oh, right, it's "wrong" for unmarried couples to live together, too. ) Since I linked to a pro-amendment website, here is a link to an anti-amendment website which goes into some of that. (And yes, that page is also guilty of fear mongering. I'm not particuarly fond of the whole "Amendment One HARMS CHILDREN!!!" thing, but hey, at least they source some of their claims!)

I, of course, only have one vote. But I'm trying to do my part beyond that. The more people come out in favor of LGBT righs and against discrimination, the more people in that "second group" will re-think their initial stance on this issue. Many of my friends feel the same way, and I am confident that soon, those who tolerate gays and accept LGBT rights will become the overwhelming majority.

We may already be the overwhelming majority in the Triangle. Drive around Raleigh or Durham, and you'll see a LOT of anti-amendment signs in people's yards. There are a few pro-amendment signs in the area, but they are far outnumbered by the "Vote Against" signs. One thing I've noticed is that the "Vote For" signs around here are often not in people's yards, but are placed at high visibility locations along major roads. This suggests to me that it's not the people placing the "Vote For" signs, but the campaigning "first group" I talked about earlier. The people - those who have actually thought this through - are strongly against the amendment.

But once you get away from the cities, that's where you start seeing a lot of pro-amendment signs. The culture in the rural South is still a bit intolerant towards gays, in part because they don't have a presence there. If you're a homosexual couple, you certainly aren't going to move to Laurinburg, of all places, right? You'd rather move to a more gay-tolerant state, or if you must move to the South, one of the big cities. This is a hard pattern to break. Increasing acceptance of LGBT rights in areas where homosexuality is strictly a "distant evil", and nobody has actually ever met a gay person in their life, is our biggest challenge.

And, unfortunately, this is likely why the amendment will pass. Nate Silver isn't wrong often, but I hope he's wrong this time.

Well, this is the best I can do. Thanks for reading, and if you're registered to vote in North Carolina, I strongly encourage you to VOTE AGAINST tomorrow.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Sports Saturday: 5/5/12

MLB - It's been an interesting couple of weeks for the Washington Nationals. Their best two offensive threats* are currently on the Disabled List, and not coincidentally, they lost five games in a row. But they followed that up with two straight wins (as of Friday afternoon) to keep them in first place at 16-9. It still seems like they're hanging on by a thread, though...

* - Actually, one could argue that rookie 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper is already one of the team's top offensive threats. He's started his career 6-for-16 with 3 RBI, which is pretty impressive...but let's give it a little more time. He hasn't even been in the major leagues a week yet. But he's another reason to get excited about this team. Nats Fever!

This weekend, the Nationals host the Philadelphia Phillies in what the team is calling "Take Back the Park" weekend (or something), in response to the fact that past home series against the Phillies have seen some very pro-Phillies crowds. We'll see if the promotional effort worked. And, the Sunday game is the ESPN Sunday Night game, which is the first time I can remember the Nationals getting a Sunday night game. Big weekend ahead! Philadelphia at Washington - Sat 1:00p, MASN; Sun 8:00p, ESPN

I'm personally looking forward to seeing a Nationals game on a network other than MASN. ESPN Sunday and FOX Saturday are the only MLB exclusive broadcast windows (I think), so any other time a national broadcaster shows a Nationals game, the national broadcast is blacked out in favor of the MASN broadcast. The MASN team isn't terrible, but they're pretty big homers, and it'll be nice to get a different perspective. By the way, MASN is still not carried locally on Time Warner Cable, which means satellite TV is still the only (legal) way I can watch the Nationals. This also means that this Sunday night is one of the rare opportunities all season long when Time Warner Cable customers will be able to watch the Nationals.

NHL - Well, the Florida Panthers almost proved every single prognosticator wrong and made it out of the first round after all, losing both Games 6 and 7 in overtime. On one hand...hey, at least they didn't get swept! But still, ugh. And Ottawa lost Game 7 on the same day, too, which means the four remaining Eastern Conference teams are all I-95 northeast corridor teams. For me, that absolutely blows. I wouldn't say that I've completely lost interest in what's left of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but I'm less interested in them now than I have been since, well, who knows when. NY Rangers at Washington - Sat 12:30p, NBC; Philadelphia at New Jersey - Sun 7:30p, NBCSN

Thank goodness for the Western Conference! Chicago and Detroit are gone, leaving four teams that have never won the Stanley Cup (St. Louis, Phoenix, Nashville, and Los Angeles), , and none of which are shoved down our throats by NBC, either. I can't watch too many Western Conference games given the whole time zone thing, but I'll be rooting pretty hard for the Western Conference team in the Stanley Cup Final, whoever it is. And at the moment, it looks like that won't be St. Louis. (They're down 3-0 to the Kings.) St. Louis at Los Angeles - Sun 3:00p, NBC (I'm surprised that NBC took Blues/Kings and pushed Flyers/Devils to NBC Sports Network this Sunday, but it's possible that was dictated by Staples Center scheduling needs.)

Auto racing - A couple of weeks ago, I said NASCAR appeared to be done throwing questional debris cautions as an excuse to bunch up the field. Finally! And then, at Richmond last weekend, out comes a caution with less than 20 laps to go for what Tony Stewart (who basically lost the race as a result of the caution) claimed was for a plastic bottle well outside the racing groove. NASCAR says there was a piece of metal on the track, but...did FOX ever show it or talk about it? Nope. And now, this is an issue once again. (I refuse to let this go, because this is my least favorite thing about NASCAR.)

Says NASCAR official Robin Pemberton (via SB Nation): "Sometimes, some people are a little more needy than others and they want to see that for whatever reason. And whatever their thought process and beliefs with the governing body (are), they think they need proof. Sometimes you see (the debris) and sometimes you don't, and that's based on TV coverage, basically."

In the NFL, if a referee calls a penalty, the TV network broadcasting the game often shows a relevant replay in an effort to show the penalty taking place, and perhaps comments on whether the referee's call was correct. But this doesn't happen in NASCAR. The TV networks don't always make an effort to show whether NASCAR officials' claim of debris is legit or not, and Larry McReynolds and Darrell Waltrip rarely ever talk about whether a particular caution flag was really necessary. Instead, the discussion is usually just "Oooh boy, this is going to be exciting" fluff. Why is this? FOX holds NFL officials accountable for their work, so why don't they do the same for NASCAR officials? Because NASCAR doesn't want them to? Pushing as much under the rug as possible in an effort to deflect potential criticism, and telling the public that we should bascially just take NASCAR at their word on pretty much everything...well, that's how they've always run their sport, I guess. For me, the idea that NASCAR encourages non-transparency on this issue proves that at least some of these debris cautions are not about "safety" at all. And this isn't a trivial issue, either, because of the drastic effect one caution flag can have on the outcome of the race.

Fortunately, this weekend is Talladega, so we can forget about this nonsense for at least one week. NASCAR Sprint Cup at Talladega - Sun 1:00p, FOX

There's also the Kentucky Derby this weekend, which is worth at least a few minutes of my time, I think.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Restaurant Locations

Remember that restaurant "Oh! Brian's" very near our house (Hwy 55 at Hwy 54, Durham) that closed in 2009? No? Well...the old building stayed vacant for over two years, and I was wondering if and when another tenant would ever take it. Well, at last, the "Oh! Brian's" building is now home to a brand new restaurant: a Mexican restaurant called "El Agave". Which is too bad, because that means Amber and I won't be going there. (We don't do Mexican. At least, not when we get to choose.)

Is El Agave a chain restaurant or a standalone? There are many other Mexican restaurants called "El Agave" across the country, but it looks like they're all independent, because they all have different web addresses. (For example: elagave.com, el-agave.com, elagave-restaurant.com, elagavemexican.com, elagavemexicanrestaurant.com, and so on and so forth. Why is "El Agave" such a popular name for a Mexican restaurant, anyway?) So, it appears it is not a chain.

And, that's not surprising. Save for Golden Corral, there are no chain sit-down restaurants along this stretch of Highway 55, and all of the non-fast-food restaurants - like this one - are independent. Instead, all of the chain sit-down restaurants seem to have congregated over by Southpoint Mall. The most recent one to open in that area is a Buffalo Wild Wings.

This is pretty common across the country, I've noticed. Why is this? Why do the chain restaurants all seem to congregate around the major shopping centers, while independent restaurants are left to rot in completely random areas? This has to do with money, right? If you're Chili's, you can afford to place your restaurant in a high-rent, high-visibility location. If you're My Sister's Kitchen, you have to settle for the old Greek restaurant on Highway 55.

I think it's unfortunate that it's worked out this way. Where would you rather have your favorite restaurant be: near a major shopping center with lots of traffic, or on some other road that is much easier to get in to or out of?

That said, why are major shopping centers considered the most desirable locations for a restaurant, anyway? I think it's because they're "higher visibility" - you're likely to go to a major shopping center for other reasons, and then say, "Hey, there's a Restaurant X here! We should go there sometime." Then again, wouldn't "visibility" be more important for the independents than for the chains? If you're a Chili's, people are going to find you wherever you end up, because everyone knows Chili's. But if you're My Sister's Kitchen, you have to put your restaurant in a location where it will be noticed. Might it be worth a few extra bucks to put your restaurant directly across the street from the Old Navy and the Babies"R"Us?

Except that that's what the chains are doing, and perhaps My Sister's Kitchen doesn't feel it would do very well if there was, say, a Cracker Barrel next door. I suppose the cheaper locations are also "less competition" locations, which might actually make them more desirable for a small startup. If you're a small startup hardware store, certainly you wouldn't want to be right next to a Home Depot or Lowe's, right? You want to be away from the major shopping centers. There's a True Value close to our house, and the only reason we ever go there is because Lowe's is farther away. Maybe the same idea works for independent restaurants.

I'm kind of going in circles here, so...in conclusion: Amber and I do not prefer Mexican food.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Time for Air Conditioning?

When it comes to some things - many things, actually - Amber and I are pretty cheap. Just look at our thermostat settings: 65 in the winter, 77 in the summer. (It used to be 78, but last summer Amber was pregnant, so we "splurged" and moved it all the way down to 77. This summer, I think we're going to maintain our newfound lavish lifestyle and keep it at 77.)

This wide range of acceptable temperatures certainly helps us save on our energy bills, particularly in the spring and fall when we can often go days at a time without using either the furnace or the air conditioner. And for that, this was pretty much the Best Spring Ever. Average temperatures in March were way above average (60.6°F, according to a quick hand calculation based on NWS data from the RDU airport), so much so that the average temperature in April (60.0°F) was actually lower than in March. How often is the April average temperature cooler than the March average temperature? That has to be pretty rare, right?

The April energy bill is usually one of the lowest of the year to begin with. And this year, you could sort of say that we had two consecutive Aprils. Bonus savings! Not only that, but the end of April was cooler than average, so we were able to postpone our turning on of the air conditioner until later than we (probably) ever have before. Today is May 1st, and it still hasn't had to come on yet. Yep, we live in North Carolina, and we left the air conditioner off until May. Pretty sweet. (I think we usually make the switch in mid-April.) As for today, it's currently 75 inside and 85 outside as of 4 PM, so I don't think we'll even need it today, either. (Certainly by the end of the week, we'll need it.)

That said, our house is in a good spot for minimal air conditioner use, i.e. the shade. Most of the newer neighborhoods around here are devoid of trees, it seems. Which is silly from an energy perspective, because ideally you want to surround your house with deciduous trees so that it's shaded during the summer and sunlit in the winter, right? But the trend you see in newer neighborhoods is for only a few trees here and there because it "looks nicer", I guess. Or maybe because fewer trees = fewer bugs? Either way, I won't be surprised if we start trending back towards shaded neighborhoods sometime in the future, like next time we find ourselves in our next big energy crisis or something.

Here's another thing we don't have to worry about: heating/cooling a two-story house. Our house is single story, so we don't have to worry so much about the whole "warm air rises" thing. I remember living in a two-story apartment in college in which at times, the temperature discrepancy between the upstairs and the downstairs could be as high as 10 degrees, maybe more! Hopefully the central air systems in today's two-story houses are engineered better than in FSU's McCollum Hall.

Well, anyway...the point of that paragraph was that many people around here, those with fewer trees around their house, a smaller range of temperature acceptance, and multiple-story houses, probably turned on their air conditioners way back in March. Neener neener! Of course, your winter heating bills are probably lower than ours.

UPDATE: We needed the air conditioner today after all - it came on at 8 PM. Yay?