Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Apparently, there were a few cans of "Zevia" soda - whatever that is - lying around at Amber's office. Those that tried it said it was pretty bad, and thus, they were having some trouble getting rid of all of them. I thought I'd help them out.

What is Zevia? Well, it's a brand of diet sodas - this particular one is a cola - sweetened by an artificial sweetener called "Stevia", which I hadn't heard of, either. Wikipedia to the rescue!

Turns out that Stevia has been widely available for years in Japan, but it wasn't approved as a food additive in the United States until 2008 (it was only allowed as a dietary supplement prior to that), and it wasn't approved in Europe until last year. Although, it's possible that the reason FDA approval took so long was due to political reasons (Stevia is grown overseas as far as I can tell), as opposed to actual health and safety concerns.

So, how is Zevia? Well...not so good. It has a pretty bad aftertaste. And, I noticed that the soda was very well carbonated, which I believe is a trick many producers of generic sodas use - increase the carbonation level in order to help mask a lack of flavor (or, in Zevia's case, bad flavor). I didn't finish the can.

However, given all the lead up, I was expecting something as bad as some of the foreign sodas they have at the end of the World of Coca-Cola tour in Atlanta. It's been many years since I've been there, but some of the foreign sodas they have there are truly, truly terrible. Zevia was not in that category. Not even close. But I didn't feel motivated to finish the can, especially since I don't drink much soda anymore anyway.

And hey, now I know what Stevia is. Will packets of Stevia ever join Sweet and Low / Equal / Splenda as standard sweeteners at restaurants nationwide? And if so, what color will their packets be? (Other artificial sweeteners have pretty standard colors: Sweet and Low pink, Equal blue, Splenda yellow. My guess for the packet color of Stevia, if it ever gains nationwide prominence, is green. But if Zevia is the premier Stevia product currently on the market, then that's not a good sign.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Marla's First Birthday

Huge parties aren't really our thing. At the same time, your first child's first birthday is kind of a big deal. Our compromise? Invite some friends over for a couple of hours, and call it a day.

The full set of birthday party pictures can be found in this month's highly recommended "Marla picture dump", in which Marla has some fun with her custom-made cow cake.

(By the way, this will be the last "picture dump" that I'm going to store on Flickr, since they don't give you unlimited free photos. I'm trying to avoid using Facebook, so I think next month I'm going to start using Google+/Picasa.)

Besides the cow cake, there was also a regular cake for the adults, a "backup" smash cake in case the cow cake preparation didn't work out (it came free with the regular cake, which we got at Harris Teeter), and another similar non-cow smash cake that we got the previous weekend for a JC Penney photo shoot. Cake for everyone!

Now...about that JC Penney photo shoot. Organized, formal photo shoots at department stores aren't normally our thing - in fact, we had never done one before, period - but since Amber's parents were in town the previous weekend, we thought they might have some fun with it. You can spend a small fortune for pictures like these, but we stuck with nearly the bare minimum that we could get away with.

For the photo shoot, we had the smash cake, a tutu, and a party hat. She only really cared for one of the three. Wanna guess which one?

Anyway, here's a small sampling of the results. The photographer said that it was the "second messiest photo shoot she's ever done". Should we bring Marla back next year and go for the record?

And since I'm into statistics and stuff... - Marla currently has 5 teeth (3 top, 2 bottom), with the 6th coming in just now (on the top). - She isn't quite walking yet, probably because she's so darn good at crawling. - Haven't weighed her in a while, but on her last doctor visit (June 6th), she weighed 20 pounds, 13 ounces. She's been gaining a little under a pound a month as of late, so my guess is that she's around 22 pounds now. - Marla spent 25 of her first 366 nights away from home (including two in the hospital after she was first born). - Marla "graduates" from the infant room to the toddler room at day care this week, so she'll instantly go from being the oldest baby in the room (by quite a bit) to the youngest. Sorry, Marla - no more bottles! You're a big girl now.

Friday, July 27, 2012

XXX Summer Olympics

(Apparently these are the 30th Summer Olympics, and as such, on the DirecTV program guide, Olympic broadcasts appear as the "XXX Summer Olympics".)

The Summer Olympics may not have curling, but I still enjoy them. I'll be watching plenty over the next couple of weeks, and ignoring most other sports in the meantime. (Hopefully, the Washington Nationals will still be in first place by then.)

Much has been made about NBC's approach to televising the Olympics. Since they are often held in a far away time zone from dawn to dusk (and beyond), rather than air everything live, they typically save all of the "good stuff" (swimming, track and field, gymnastics) for primetime in order to maximize their primetime ratings. Fair or foul?

I don't know if they'll be able to keep this up much longer. Thanks to real time social networking types of things like Twitter, I don't think you can effectively tape delay sports anymore. It's not like it's 1968, when there was really no way to find out who won the 200 freestyle until it was broadcast on television several hours later in primetime. But in 2012, you pretty much have to turn off not just Twitter, but the entire internet, to avoid spoiling results, no?

NBC Olympic coverage has always been the poster child for tape-delayed sports, and I think that's because the Olympics might be the most tape-delay friendly sporting event out there. Not only is there a lot of dead time, but nobody can possibly watch the entire Olympics. I think it's more than reasonable to take the most interesting events of the day and, from that, produce a four-hour daily television package to be aired in primetime. Although...as one with an early bedtime, and who typically tape delays his sports anyway (ironically enough), I wish these four-hour broadcasts started earlier in the day.

It should be noted that all events (even the to-be-shown-in-primetime) are airing live online...except the opening ceremonies. Now there's something I really wish was broadcast live. I'll likely be going to bed around the time the NBC broadcast of the parade of nations reaches, say, Denmark.

So to answer my original question...I am completely against the tape delaying of any sporting event on television, except the Olympics. The Olympics are different.

Finally, here's a post from 2008, in which I ranked all of the Summer Olympic sports from "favorite" to "least favorite". I think the only difference in the event lineup for 2012 is that baseball and softball are out. But table tennis? Still #1. Aww yeah. Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Fridge Space

I'd like to think that we have more space in our refrigerator than many families. Shoot, we have so much space in our fridge, we can all our water bottles their own shelf! It's a goal of mine to never have one of those extremely cluttered fridges, where there's never room to put anything, and stuff may sit in the back of the fridge hidden from view for weeks or months, completely unbeknownst to us.

That's not to say that's never happened to us. The top shelf is pretty much where all of the old stuff is, if there is any old stuff there. And we have purchased, and never eaten, some things that just sat in the back of the freezer for months before we finally threw it out. But overall, I think we've done pretty well keeping our fridge and freezer not only clutter-free, but stink-free.

However...I don't know if we'll be able to keep this up, especially when kid number two comes around. Because when you start cooking full, multi-course meals - something we rarely do now, but will do more of when we have two kids - then you get leftovers. And not only do leftovers take up a lot of space, they are among the most likely food items to sit in the back of the fridge for weeks and become forgotten.

Five years from now, it might be good for someone to remind me to check the back of my fridge for any long forgotten items. Actually...this is a good thing to do on a monthly basis, if not weekly. What's in your fridge?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Kroger v. Harris Teeter

There's a chance much of this will overlap stuff I've already written, but, oh well.

By my count, there are nine area grocery stores for us to choose from:
- Harris Teeter and Food Lion. No matter where you live in the Triangle, you probably live fairly close to at least one of these.
- Kroger and Lowes Foods. Not as common as the first two, but still fairly widespread in the Triangle.
- Walmart and Target, provided they happen to have a grocery section, which is becoming more commonplace these days.
- Aldi, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods, which are more specialty-type stores. (I think. I've only ever been to one of the three.)

Each of the eight has found a niche of some kind:
- If you care about price, and nothing more, and don't mind waiting in line for 10 minutes or parking 5 miles from the front door of the store, you go to Walmart.
- If you care about price but don't want to wait in line for 10 minutes, you go to Food Lion. (I've never really been a fan of Food Lion.)
- If you have to go to Target to get some other things anyway, then you may as well do at least some of your grocery shopping while you're there. (I've found Target's meat and produce to be substandard and/or expensive, but they're good for most other things, and their store brands are getting better.)
- If you like specialty and/or foreign food, then you go to Trader Joe's.
- If you like specialty and/or organic food and don't care about price - like, at all - then you go to Whole Foods.
- If you (To Be Determined), then you go to Aldi. (I don't know what the deal with Aldi is, but they seem to be thriving. I've never been to one. Future blog post!)
- If you don't really care either way, and Lowes Foods happens to be the closest grocery store to your home, then you go to Lowes Foods.
- Or...if you're me, and there's a Kroger within 10 minutes of your house, you go to Kroger, above all else.

I've always thought that our Krogers have the best combination of everything - price, selection, service. Krogers around here are also often on the newer side (unlike in the Midwest, where Kroger is based and has been around for a long time; Krogers up that way aren't always as well kept).

Yet, when Harris Teeter and Kroger are located near each other, the Harris Teeter often wins out. For example, the Wakefield Commons location of Kroger (near the curling club in Wake Forest) closed last year due to low sales. There also happens to be a Harris Teeter across the street, which I can only assume does a pretty good business.

But is the tide turning in Kroger's favor? I say this because our neighborhood Kroger (intersection of Highway 54 and Fayetteville in Durham) also happens to be located across the street from Harris Teeter. Yet, last week when I went to both stores in succession, I noticed that the Kroger was at least twice as busy as the Harris Teeter.

In general, the Harris Teeter versus Kroger comparison goes like this. Overall, Harris Teeter is more expensive than Kroger. But Harris Teeters are also generally nicer than Kroger and have better service, and that's why they generally do good business, especially in nice parts of town (e.g. Cary and north Raleigh). But south Durham is more middle class, and thus, price is going to be more of a sticking point in this part of town. Advantage: Kroger.

And, as with just about any chain grocery store, Your Mileage May Vary. The Harris Teeter in question is on the older and smaller side. Meanwhile, the Kroger was recently renovated, is quite large (much larger than the Harris Teeter), and is in excellent condition. And, the employees at this particular Kroger are nicer. I've found the cashiers at this Harris Teeter to be kind of inconsiderate. (That would never happen at Publix.) And...there's also a newer and much nicer Harris Teeter just down the road (at Highway 54 and Hope Valley), and if you're going to go to Harris Teeter, you're better off going to that other one instead. Suffice to say, the deck is stacked against this Harris Teeter location.

In this particular competition, localized to the intersection of Highway 54 and Fayetteville, Kroger is king. I'm actually kind of surprised that they kept this Harris Teeter open when the other one opened. It looks bad for business to flat out close a store, but if you're simply "relocating" a store (i.e. closing one and opening a new one nearby), that doesn't look bad in the least. But it's too late for that. So is this Harris Teeter still profitable? Might they close it (or "relocate" it somewhere else completely) some day?

I actually hope they keep this location open, because across-the-street competition is good, and helps keep Kroger honest. They may not have put as much effort into making this Kroger what it is if not for the Harris Teeter across the street.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Who Wants to Read Another Joe Paterno Opinion Piece???

I've long resisted writing about Joe Paterno and the Penn State child abuse scandal, because one thing the internet does not need is more Penn State / Joe Paterno opinion pieces. Most of said opinion pieces can be classified into one of two categories:

1) "Child abuse is WRONG! Those involved should be punished to the fullest extent of the law! The Freeh Report proves that Paterno was involved and complicit! Penn State should - no, MUST - take down Joe Paterno's statue, shut down the football program altogether, or something in between!"
2) "This is a media-led witch hunt! The Joe Paterno I know couldn't POSSIBLY have been complicit. Don't blame him, blame Spanier/Curley/Schultz/etc.! I mean, look at all of the good things Joe Paterno has done!!!"

And, subsequently, the authors of the #2s - who often have some kind of Penn State connection - are then met by some kind of strong, emotional, slandering rebuke from the people who wrote the #1s.

In case you're wondering where this piece will fall on that spectrum, I'd say...1.2? 1.3? That's the goal, anyway.

I own degrees from both Florida State University and Penn State University. While I root for both schools' sports teams, I generally follow FSU sports more; however, until recently, it would be accurate to say that I was "more proud" of my Penn State association. Florida State has had its share of scandals over the years. But not Penn State! Penn State is - well, used to be - all that is well and good in college sports. Those scandals that happen everywhere else don't happen at Penn State. We're better than that. And best of all, we have Joe Paterno, who has done a tone of good for the community and university, and is as far removed from scandal as you can get. And he's ours! Take that, Ohio State!

That's why this is so hard for some Penn Staters to accept. As it turns out, we're just like every other corrupt collegiate athletic program. Actually, we're worse than everyone else. MUCH worse.

"But...but...he's Joe Paterno! Look at all the good he's done! This must be some kind of big misunderstanding. Spanier can rot in hell, but the REAL Paterno, the one I know, is better than that." Well...here's the main point I want to make here. You may think you know who your heroes are, but really, you don't. Yes, you see them a lot on television and such, and you may have been met them or worked with them in person. But the truth is, outside of your family, you don't really know anyone. Many of us have secrets. Some of us have darker secrets than others. And there is absolutely no way for you to know the difference. This came to mind when NASCAR suspended A.J. Allmendinger for a failed drug test two weeks back. Yeah, it seems out of character, and it's possible that it was a harmless over-the-counter supplement that triggered the positive. But that's what they all say, and how do we know for sure that Allmendinger isn't a methhead or something? We don't. There is simply no way for us to know.

"But...but...everyone has flaws! Just lay off the guy already. I mean, he's dead." Well...helping to cover up sexual crimes against young boys is a pretty big flaw. Yes, Paterno did do a lot of good things for a lot of people. But was that because he was truly a "good person" (whatever that means), or was that all a part of building this mythological, flawless image of himself, which he helped parlay into a long and successful coaching career? We'll never know what his true motives were. And you could say that about any person or organization, really. I always think this when I see major corporations or sports leagues promoting their charitable work. Does the NFL really give a crap about the United Way, or do they only do charity work for business reasons / publicity? And is it okay for a corporation to donate to charity strictly for the publicity, or do they have to, I guess, mean it? My opinion: a world in which corporations donate to charity strictly for the publicity is better than a world in which corporations do not donate to charity, so good for them, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that companies like BP / coaches like Joe Paterno are really interested in anything except money / winning.

"But...but...how do we know the Freeh Report is correct and unbiased? Look at all the skeletons in Louis Freeh's closet!" Come on now. I know it's hard accept given that he was one of the supposed good guys, but it's time to move on.

And what does moving on mean? Removing the Paterno statue? Shutting down football altogether? I think the issue of the statue has been overblown, but my opinion is that it should be moved from the stadium to a museum of some kind, accompanied by a biography which includes the good, and the bad. And I also think that people who write that Penn State should end football, even just temporarily, are simply trying to appear more righteous than the next person and/or trying to draw attention to themselves.

I was always fond of Paterno, and he was part of what made me proud to be a fan of the Penn State football team. I did think that, perhaps, the media was being a little overzealous in painting everyone at Penn State in a bad light when this scandal first broke. That's that the media does - they build people up, and then they tear them down. An awful lot of self-righteous, #1-type pieces in the media immediately followed, and I tried to see through all that at first. But for me, the Freeh Report pretty much settled all of that. It was hard to accept, sure, because we all had this image of the Penn State football program as being "above" the nonsense that goes on everywhere else, and that image ultimately proved to be wrong.

It's time we get away from the idea that a university and its football program are one and the same. Being proud of the football team (no longer true) and being proud to be a Penn State alumnus (still true) are two different things, and Joe Paterno has never had anything to do with the latter. I still wear Penn State apparel with pride, despite the football program, and despite the school's past administration.

Whether I remain a "Penn State football fan" long term, however, remains to be seen. Some of my friends give me crap for steadfastly changing my rooting interests in sports. (Speaking of which, how about those Washington Nationals???) But isn't overly blind support and trust how we got into this mess in the first place?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Television Update: 7/17/12

(Note: this blog post is spoiler-free.)

I haven't talked about television in eight months. Let's discuss!

DirecTV versus Viacom: As you may know, DirecTV and Viacom are currently in a carriage dispute, and thus, many channels (of which Comedy Central and Nickelodeon are most relevant to us) are currently unavailable, at least to us. Now...normally you can watch full episodes of The Daily Show online, but when I try going there today, I am first bombarded with an anti-DirecTV ad, followed by a message that online episodes are not available at this time. Coincidence? Keep in mind that there's no way for dailyshow.com to know that I happen to be a DirecTV subscriber.* So are they turning off online episode viewing for everyone until the dispute is resolved? (Correction - as of today, full episodes are back online again, including today's.)

(* - Some websites require you to "authenticate" your television service before viewing content online; for example, entering in my DirecTV username password. NBC does it with their online Olympic broadcasts. The Daily Show website does not do it. Yet.)

This sort of thing happens with every TV provider sooner or later. DISH Network is currently in a dispute with AMC. Time Warner Cable has never carried the NFL Network or MASN. Regardless, though, I'm certainly not considering switching just over this. It's unfortunate that the only say we have in these carriage disputes is to screw over our television provider and switch to a competitor. Is there any way for me to stick it to Viacom?

The good news is that Marla isn't old enough to know what Yo Gabba Gabba is yet.

Breaking Bad (and other AMC shows): During every new episode of AMC's Mad Men or The Walking Dead, my Twitter feed is pretty much swamped with people talking about them. I couldn't get into Mad Men (although I may give it another chance sometime), and the fact that The Walking Dead is about zombies is a non-starter for me (I place zombie shows/movies in the same category as vampire shows/movies). Breaking Bad, however...yes.

The final season of Breaking Bad started last Sunday...sort of. Apparently they're splitting up the 16-episode final season into two parts, with eight episodes airing this summer, and eight next summer. Seriously?

But I'm going to watch to the end regardless, of course. I'm kind of curious where they go from here. The last episode of the previous season could have served as a perfectly viable season finale, if they so chose. So, now what?

Meanwhile, Amber is more excited about the return of Leverage, which, interestingly enough, had its season premiere the same night.

Crime dramas: There are a million crime dramas on television these days, and half a million of those are on CBS alone. (Slight exaggeration there...maybe.) I've kind of grown weary of the genre, but...I can make room in our admittedly short playlist for a couple of crime dramas.

My dad recommended the NBC show Awake (even though he eventually stopped watching it), which is about a detective who, following a car crash, is simultaneously living two lives - one in which his wife survived the crash but his son did not, and another in which his son survived the crash but his wife did not. He has no idea which reality is "real" and which is a dream, and both feature a different psychologist who is insistent that the reality in which he/she appears is the "real" one.

The crime solving aspect of the show (about 75% of it) was "meh", but the remaining 25% of the show had some nice twists between the two realities* and managed kept my interest...only for the show to get canceled. Was this crime drama too "sophisticated" for the general CSI-watching public to accept? Was it not mind-bending enough for fans of shows like Lost? Yes and yes, but I think its biggest problem was that it was on NBC, and nobody watches crime dramas on NBC unless the show has "Law and Order" in the name.

So, in the wake of Awake, now we've started watching Person of Interest, which is on CBS, and therefore, has viewers. Haven't watched enough episodes yet to have an opionion.

Summer documentary-type shows: When summer hits, and most scripted shows are in reruns, many people turn to reality television. We usually turn to documentary type stuff on channels like History, Discovery, Science, etc. Of particular note this summer for us are Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman (the best "science nerd" documentary on television?), the Hatfields & McCoys miniseries that History aired over Memorial Day, and another History show called the United Stats of America.

Now...about that. It's a show about statistics! That's enough for me, but an hour long show about statistics is going to be too boring for most people. So how do you make a show about statistics interesting? Number one, you hire comedians to host the show (specifically, these guys, who are kind of annoying at first until you get used to their style). Number two, you only have them talk about statistics for a small portion of the show, and have them "doing interesting things" for the rest of the show. For example...one second, they're talking about how the percentage of the population that lives on farms has decreased over the years. Then for the next five minutes, we're learning how to milk cows!

The series lasted for six episodes, which is probably all you can do for a show about statistics, but it wasn't even enough for someone to bother making a Wikipedia page for it. I liked the show, but I'll be surprised if there's a "Season Two".

A word regarding reality television, including much of what airs on TLC: This is when I reveal Amber's guilty pleasure: Say Yes to the Dress. She just likes looking at the wedding dresses. That's fair. Meanwhile, I gave Extreme Couponing a try, because it's about grocery shopping, and I'm kind of a grocery shopping nerd. There was also this show called My Strange Addiction. That was TLC, too, right? I don't think we made it beyond two episodes on that one.

Many reality shows, especially those that air on TLC, look the same to me. They all focus on manufactured drama. Will Emily meet her COMPLETELY ARBITRARY GOAL of saving $300 on this order of groceries??? If they talked about the numbers more and the actual coupons they're using and how much they're saving (which they mention a couple of times before going back to manufactured drama), then perhaps I would have stuck with Extreme Couponing. I guess people must like all this manufactured drama? I really don't get it. There's no need for all this drama. It's GROCERY SHOPPING. (I can't speak for everyone, but my trips to the store are mostly drama-free.)

I see My Strange Addiction as more of an exploitation show, e.g. Hoarders. Although it's not really exploitation, because they all agree to do the show, right? It's an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, yes, they all agree to do the show. On the other hand, perhaps these people don't actually realize how weird they are? You know, come to think of it...does this qualify as a "strange addiction"? Perhaps, but it seems perfectly normal to me. Well, anyway, I think those shows are only interesting when you first meet the people, and then they kind of drag on for the rest of the time while they manufacture drama.

Cartoons: We don't get Nickelodeon at the moment, but we still get Boomerang and Cartoon Network! I've recently set up the DVR to record two cartoons: Adventure Time (not that familiar with it, but it's supposed to be good), and The Powerpuff Girls. (Yes, really. How have I never discovered this show before? It's brilliant!) So you see, even when you temporarily (hopefully) lose a few television channels, there's always something on.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Butner, NC

My latest edition of "bicycling somewhere else" took me to the town of Butner, about 20 minutes northeast of Durham off I-85. Pretty much all I knew about Butner prior to Saturday's bike ride was that there's a federal prison there, and that it has kind of an interesing layout according to Google Maps.

View Larger Map

About that interesting layout: the town is rather low density, and there is no real "downtown" area. The residential part of town is actually pretty nice - the houses are moderately sized and in mostly good shape, and everyone owns a decent cut of land.

Why the interesting layout? Because according to Wikipedia, it's the former home of an Army base (and is thus likely a planned military town of sorts), and the town was actually managed by the state until 2007, when it was incorporated as its own town. So Butner is relatively new compared to other small North Carolina towns, which helps explain why it was in such good shape.

But once you get out of the nice residential area, things change a bit.

This is the Whitaker Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facility, a.k.a. a mental hospital for adolescents. Fun! Seriously, this place looks like it's straight from a movie set. I could totally see a character in a movie being "admitted" here. I don't mean to trivialize the work that's going on at this place, it was actually kind of creepy.

Also in Butner is the Central Regional Hospital, which is a mental hospital for people of all ages. I missed that one, sadly.

Then, farther out of town...

Mostly, I just wanted to "check in" at the federal prison on Foursquare. But did you know that Butner is also home to the Polk Correctional Institution, a state prison for 19-25 year olds?

So Butner has two mental hospitals, a large federal prison complex, and a state prison. Sounds like a fun place to be, doesn't it?

You know, I think it might be fun to tour a mental hospital or prison. I might have gone on a field trip to the Duval County Jail when I was a kid, but if I did, I don't remember. I've seen these types of places so much on television, it would be interesting to see what an actual one looks like from the inside. (Provided I am free to return home at the end of the day, of course.)

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Curling Recap: 7/11/12

Career game #185: Pick-up - Wednesday, July 11, 2012

End......... 12345678 |TTL
Hartman..... 20050111 | 10
Allen....... 00101000 | 02

I figured a laid back, mid-summer, Wednesday evening game might be a good time for me to try to break my 6-game losing streak as a Skip. Well, perhaps it was on paper, but instead it ended up being more of the same. The big end, key shots missed by me, you name it. And I got pretty frustrated, again. So now I've lost seven consecutive games as a Skip.

But why should I get frustrated in a pick-up game? Perhaps, I would enjoy it more if I didn't keep detailed stats. I might not have even known I had lost my last six games as Skip if not for the stats, especially since I had won my last three overall. And, losing a pick-up game only matters because it gets recorded in the stats, right? Otherwise, it all gets forgotten as soon as we get to the bar after the game. And besides, the reason I curl in a summer pick-up game in the first place is because it's fun, not because I'm trying to inflate my career won/loss record.

Let's go a little deeper into my stat obsession. I think there are two main reasons I'm obsessed with statistics. One is general curiosity and the discovery of "interesting statistical tidbits". For example, out of 185 career curling games, this was the first time I had ever curled on a Wednesday! Isn't that interesting??? (Well, I think it is. By the way, Tuesday is now the only day of the week on which I have never curled.)

The other reason I keep track of statistics is because it's rewarding to know that, for example, I will likely curl in my 200th career game before the end of the year. I think that's kind of neat. Whether it's how many counties I've visited (1,450), how many miles I've ridden my bicycle (5,557), how many runs I've scored in kickball (46), or how many curling games I've played (185), I look at the numbers, and I sense accomplishment. (Side comment: I don't really view the 67 minutes I've spent mowing the lawn this year as "accomplishment"; I keep that statistic strictly for the curiosity aspect.)

One side effect of my stat keeping is, of course, getting frustrated during an otherwise meaningless game of summer pick-up curling. But in the end, I think it's all worth it. For now.

The Triangle Curling Club has one more game of pick-up curling scheduled for next week, but I'll likely have to sit it out. That means my next game will be the opening game of the Carolina Classic (August 3rd), with Debbie McCormick as Skip. Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Pants Storage

This is how I used to hang up my work pants in my closet:

And, this is how hand up my work pants in my closet today:

I didn't even know about these types of hangers until I moved in with Amber, and it took a long time for me to adopt them for myself. Seriously, what was I thinking all these years?

Of course, one could not hang up their pants at all, and just fold them and store them neatly in a dresser. That's what I do with my non-work pants. But I guess by hanging up my work pants, I can kind of sort of get away with never ironing them, ever.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Travelogue: 7/4-7/8/12

The days of crazy long road trips are over, at least for the time being. It could be years before we even cross the Mississippi River again, let alone reach the Pacific Ocean. So when it comes to visiting (or at least driving through) new and exciting places, our best bet of late has been to take some rather creative routes to and from the places we visit for family reasons, such as Toledo, or last weekend's trip to Warren County, Pennsylvania. It may not be the same as driving to Utah, but it's something!

And, yes, there are also my various "roadgeek" quests, such as visiting as many counties as I can, and driving as many miles of interstate as I can. The nice thing is that "visiting new and exciting places" and my roadgeek quests tend to go hand-in-hand. (That's how I justify it, anyway.)

Let's start with the July 4th drive up to Pennsylvania. Business as usual until we get to Charleston...

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Taking I-77 to I-79 via Charleston (instead of US-19 via Summersville) is 40 minutes longer, and is $3.60 more expensive in terms of tolls. But we've never done it before, and it accomplished two of those afore-mentioned "roadgeek quests": 1) Two new counties! And a third, too (Calhoun County), which required getting off at Exit 40, driving a rather pleasant five miles north on WV-16 to the Calhoun County line (point C on the map), and then turning around and heading back to the interstate. 2) If I followed I-79 all the way to I-80 in Pennsylvania (which we did), then that would make I-79 my 12th completely clinched interstate. Done and done.

The I-70/I-79 junction in Washington, PA, is always under construction, it seems. I don't think I've ever seen it not in construction, and when I was a kid, we made this drive every year! According to my uncle, apparently there's some kind of underground mine in the area which causes subsidence and forces the intersection to be perpetually under construction, or something along those lines.

I was curious how much traffic there would be on the 4th. As a holiday Wednesday, which could serve as either the first or last day of a long weekend, would it be a big travel day? ... I'd have to say, not really. Most people who are traveling this week probably just took the entire week off, I guess. It also helped that we left home at 4 AM that morning. (The full drive took 12:31 total, including 10:30 of driving time, which is pretty much the maximum we can reasonably do in one day these days.) As expected, traffic volumes were much higher on the Sunday return.

We decided to split the return trip up into two days. Here's what Day 1 (Saturday) of the return trip looked like:

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This ended up being a bit more complicated than originally planned, and we can blame my roadgeek quests for that. (Specifically, I decided to add Columbiana County, Ohio, on top of the many other new counties I would be getting along the way. Might as well get as many as possible now, right?)

Here's a roadgeek curiosity of sorts that we discovered: multiplexed routes that are consecutively numbered (in this case, 6 and 7)! I-73/74 in North Carolina is the only other such instance of this I can think of, although I'm sure there are many more out there.

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The Ohio River Valley between Parkersburg and Wheeling was a gaping hole in my county map, and I devised a way to get all of the counties on either side of the river. Basically, it involved crossing the Ohio River FIVE times.* This works because there's a road closely paralleling the river on both sides, so you can switch back and forth with relative ease. I think the Ohio side (OH-7) makes for a better drive than the West Virginia side (WV-2), by the way, because the Ohio side has fewer towns, less traffic, and better views of the river. (But there aren't as many counties on the Ohio side...)

(* - We actually crossed the Ohio River a total of NINE times between Saturday and Sunday. On top of the afore-mentioned five, we crossed the main channel twice more while touring Wheeling, and two more times on top of that due to our hotel being back on the Ohio side of the river in Marietta. We would have preferred a hotel on the West Virginia side, but every Parkersburg hotel we called was full, and the Marietta hotel also filled up after we got in. Holiday weekend demand, I suppose?)

But I wasn't done with counties even after that; on Sunday morning, we took a little detour through Wirt County.

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The nice thing about West Virginia roads is that, if you like what we like, you really can't go wrong. Almost all of them are pleasant. It'll be a shame once I'll have visited every county in West Virginia, and since I only have four counties to go, that might come sooner rather than later. Then what will we do? (Answer: Kentucky!)

Here's the total roadgeek quest damage from the weekend:
- 16 new counties visited, including 11 in West Virginia. I now only have four counties in West Virginia, and three counties in Pennsylvania, remaining. (And yeah, I've already started thinking about the best ways to get them. Tucker County, WV, is going to be a tough one.)
- 283 new interstate miles, giving me all of I-79, plus all of West Virginia.

Oh yeah, and there's Marla, too! Marla is just along for the ride, of course, but all of the county craziness I've been doing as of late has already given Marla 226 counties and 13 states, all before her first birthday. That's a lot more than I thought she would have at this point. But that should be it for Year 1; county #227 will likely come after her first birthday.

Oh yeah, and there's my car, too! During this trip, my 2008 Honda Civic surpassed my old 1998 Saturn SC2 in terms of counties visited. It took 4 years, 8 months, for the Civic (now at 539 counties) to pass the Saturn (522 counties), which I had for about 5½ years. The Saturn still leads the Honda in terms of states visited, however (24 to 21, not counting DC).

We're getting better at this "road tripping with Marla" thing. Amber may disagree, but now that we know what to expect, it doesn't even seem like that big a deal anymore. This is what we do. I'll gladly go on another long road trip...eventually. I need a nice long nap first.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Marla Picture Dump: June 2012

I waited until now to post the monthly set of Marla pictures so that I could include last weekend's trip to Pennsylvania, which included Marla meeting one of her two remaining great grandparents (my dad's mom) for the first time (she's already met Amber's mom's mom), and also two of her second cousins. How many kids get to meet their second cousins? That's one thing I like about the Allen family - we stick together. And it doesn't hurt that at least a few of the Allens don't mind the occasional road trip, which makes these kinds of meetings possible.

(Statistical note: On average, when a child is born, how many of his/her great grandparents are still alive? For Marla, it was two, and both are still going. For me, it was definitely at least one; not sure if it was more than that.)

Here is this month's "Marla picture dump".

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Warren County, Pennsylvania

Seems like most everyone is going on some kind of vacation this week. Now it's our turn! Tomorrow, we're driving to Warren County, Pennsylvania, to visit some of the "extended Allen family" whom a) we don't see all that often, and b) haven't met Marla yet (e.g. my grandmother / Marla's great-grandmother). It's been a while since anyone in the "extended Allen family" has gotten married (or, for that matter, died), so we haven't been up this way in, what, six years?

Let's talk about the road trip ramifications! The fastest route to Warren County is to more or less take the old State College route until we get north of Altoona, and then to head northwest through Clearfield and the Allegheny National Forest to Warren. But...been there, done that, no new counties, no new anything, really.

Here's what we're doing tomorrow instead:

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If I drive I-79 from Charleston to the junction with I-80, then that will make I-79 the 12th interstate I'll have clinched from end to end. And, I'll get two new counties, too. Sounds good to me! Of course, this makes the drive much longer than it needs to be, and thus, the "leave at 4 AM" policy will be in effect tomorrow morning. This drive is about the maximum amount we can do in one day with Marla.

Since it is kind of a long drive, the plan is to split it up into two days on the way back, which will let us have some real fun:

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This route will get me 11 new counties, by way of crossing the Ohio River four times along the West Virginia/Ohio border, starting in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia (a.k.a. "West Virginia's middle finger", an expression I just learned this week). Crossing the river four times gets me all counties along the river in both states. And since both West Virginia 2 and Ohio 7 closely parallel the river on either side, I don't have to go too far out of my way on any of the river crossings, either. Yeah! It should be a nice drive, too, and by splitting it into two days, we won't feel as rushed. Should be fun! You know, it's too bad we don't have any family in, say, Arkansas.

So...happy 4th! There likely won't be any fireworks at all where we'll be, and given Marla's age and bedtime, that is quite alright with us.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Shaded Parking Spot

I don't get to work quite as early as I did pre-Marla, but I still get to work earlier than most, usually by 7:30 AM. My reward? Not only do I get to leave work earlier than most, too, but I get my choice of parking spots.

This time of year, this spot is my choice. This spot has it all: it's fairly close to the front door, nobody can park directly to the left of me (which means I can open my driver's side door as wide as I damn well please), and most of all, it's in the shade! It's nice to not have to ride in a 130°F car after work. It's been especially handy during this week's heat wave, in which Raleigh tied its all-time record high on consecutive days (105°F on Friday 6/29 and Saturday 6/30).

This parking spot is actually preferable all year. In winter, that tree has no leaves, so my car gets a healthy amount of sun, which in winter is kind of nice. (It's nice to have a warm, 80°F car waiting for me after work.) The one downside to this parking spot is that being below a tree, my car tends to get more than its share of bird droppings.

But we're supposed to be moving to an adjacent building in a few months, so I'm going to have to come up with a new system. And I'll probably write another blog post about it, too, next time there's a slow news week.