Thursday, September 27, 2012

Vermont/New Hampshire Trip: Preview #2

Today is our 4th wedding anniversary. Perfect excuse to go on a road trip. Less than 24 hours until this year's Big Road Trip, to Vermont and New Hampshire, begins!

I previewed this preview, if you will, last week. Now, I'm going to get into a little more detail, because we did a wee bit more planning for this trip than we did for, say, that Alabama trip. You know, the one where we didn't even know we were going to Alabama until the day before we left. (I hate to keep pooping all over Alabama. It's not Alabama's fault; that trip just happens to be a good example of a poorly planned road trip. We could get away with a lack of planning pre-Marla, but not anymore.)

So...what's our plan this time?


View Larger Map

(Note: the routes highlighted above aren't necessarily the ones we're going to take. Usually not, actually. I also didn't label our specific destinations in Vermont / New Hampshire; I'll save those maps for the recaps.)

Day 0: A two-plus hour head start

Pre-Marla, it was very common for us to begin a road trip immediately after work, and drive until 10 PM or so. Post-Marla, the rules have changed - no driving after dinner, if we can avoid it. But we should be ready to hit the road around 3 PM tomorrow, so why not get a two-hour head start Friday afternoon? And while we're at it, we'll visit my aunt and uncle, who live two hours north of us in Nottoway County, Virginia.

One reason to wait until Saturday to leave would have been so that I could go curling Friday night. But curling Friday nights are late nights, so that would already put me behind, sleep wise, before the trip even began. More importantly, this two-hour head start is really going to come in handy on Day 2.

Day 1: Drive to Albany, NY

Just driving today, but we do plan on taking at least one "scenic" route: the Taconic State Parkway in New York. Ideally I'd also like to take US-301 through Maryland, but we may not have time to do both. Gotta reach our destination before dinner time, you know.

Day 2: Mount Mansfield and vicinity

That two-hour head start on Day 0 gives us two extra hours in Vermont today. Hooray!

The primary stop is Mount Mansfield, the highest point in Vermont. On the way there, we'll probably stop at a waterfall or two, and perhaps fight traffic, too. This will be a Sunday, and I know a lot of "leaf peepers" (as we're called, apparently) love to clog the roads of Vermont and New Hampshire this time of year. I'm kind of expecting "tornado chasing traffic in Oklahoma" type of traffic, at least today. Hopefully Monday through Thursday won't be as bad.

The road to the top of Mount Mansfield is a toll road that charges $27/car. Seems expensive, right? Well...that's the going rate for things to do up here, it seems, so, we'll pay up. This is a vacation, after all.

After Mount Mansfield, it's off to our cabin in the woods south of St. Johnsbury, where we'll be spending the next five nights.

Day 3: New Hampshire

The New Hampshire day is going to be the highlight of the trip, for me. Mount Washington has always been on my 'bucket list'. It's well known as a magnet for bad weather, it's the highest point in the state, and there are also those bumper stickers. It's a must stop for us!

(I'm undecided on whether I'm going to get a bumper sticker of my own, but regardless, I probably won't put one on my car. I generally don't put vacation-y stickers on my car, e.g. "OBX" oval stickers or "Mile 0 Key West". I think they're a little too trendy for my taste. It works if you have a whole bunch of them from lots of different places on your car, especially if they're uncommon ones, because that's neat. But just having one vacation-y sticker on your car is kind of lame, because you're kind of saying, "I think this one place is better than EVERY OTHER PLACE EVER!" And no, I do not consider my Canada flag sticker a "vacation-y" sticker. Why? Because I said so. Besides, Canada IS better than every other place ever.)

Of course, the problem with being a magnet for bad weather is that the road to Mount Washington (which will cost us even more than Mount Mansfield, by the way) is often closed due to weather. So if the weather looks bad, we'll swap this day's itinerary with one of the next three days. No big deal.

Whichever day we head this way, our next stop after Mount Washington will probably be a drive down the widely acclaimed Kancamagus Highway, one of the best scenic drives in all of New England, apparently. Woo! Then we'll probably go to Franconia Notch after that, which is home to a bunch of touristy areas that cost money, including the former site of the iconic Old Man of the Mountain. Those three destinations will probably fill up the New Hampshire day, but we have more options lined up if necessary.

Day 4: Québec

We considered spending the entire week in Québec, but decided there would be more for us to do on the American side of the border. But hey, we'll be close! So, instead, we'll just go to Canada for a few hours. We haven't been to Canada in any capacity since the return trip from Alaska, almost 27 months ago.

We don't have to get a passport for Marla - a birth certificate is sufficient for children under 16, if crossing into Canada by land or sea - so we already have everything we need from a documentation standpoint for a border crossing. Passing through customs isn't exactly my favorite thing to do, but at least this time we won't have to explain all of the stuffed animals. Actually, having a young child with us might make us less suspicious, no?

Well, anyway, a day trip to Parc National du Mont-Orford should give us our Canada fix. It'll also be the first time we've been to Québec together (we've both been separately). The plan is to also stop in Derby Line along the way and visit the Haskell Opera House, which straddles the international border.

I doubt southern Québec gets too many "leaf peepers". Everyone probably either sticks with New England or goes farther north into Québec, right? The Sherbrooke area of Québec is kind of "in between" everything and doesn't strike me as much of a tourist magnet, regardless of the time of year. And if I'm honest, if we had more time, we'd go farther north, too.

Day 5: White River Junction area

New Hampshire is east of our cabin, and Québec is north. Next up: south!

We've booked tickets for a train ride that departs from White River Junction, so I guess this is the one day that isn't flexible. We have to do this day in order, regardless of the weather.

The train ride isn't until 2:30 (after Marla's nap time, ideally), so until then, we might check out the nearby Quechee Gorge, Calvin Coolidge birthplace, Dartmouth College campus, or maybe head deeper into New Hampshire. Lots to see and do around here!

By the way, the plan is to schedule scenic drives, such as the Kancamagus, so that they coincide with Marla's usual 12 to 2 nap time. Planning!

Day 6: Montpelier / St. Johnsbury / remainder

The closest town/city to our cabin is St. Johnsbury. Why not, you know, actually visit St. Johnsbury? There's a national history museum in town, and a corn maze (could be fun) nearby. Farther west in Montpelier, there's the state capitol and a maple syrup farm, because if you're going to go to Vermont, it only seems appropriate to do something, for lack of a better term, maple syruppy.

Also near Montpelier is the Ben and Jerry's ice cream factory/whatever it's called, but...we won't be going there. It seems like everyone who goes to Vermont pays them a visit, and that is precisely why we are not paying them a visit. Too trendy. And too indoors-y, too. I mean, it's October! We're not going here for ice cream.

It's always good to work in a slow-paced "remainder" day into the schedule. Apparently, a complementary canoe and nearby lake come with our cabin rental, too, so that might be a good activity for the "remainder" day. We have a Marla-sized life vest and everything!

Day 7: Drive to Cape May, NJ (ish)

Time to head home. So...if you'll recall, that Alabama trip was originally going to be a New Jersey trip, but we switched it up because of the weather forecast. Part of the New Jersey plan was to ride from Cape May to Lewes, DE, so I decided to incorporate that into this trip instead.

It would have been nice and convenient if we could have found a cheap hotel in Cape May, but...here's the thing. Even in October, which hardly seems like beach season to me, hotels are still charging exorbitant rates. Some even carry four-night minimums. In the summer, I get it - Cape May is a popular beach getaway. But in October? I don't understand. If I tried hard enough, I could have probably found at least one hotel on Cape May that would let us stay for just one night and for a reasonable price, but instead, we're staying 30 minutes north of the cape in Marmora. That just means we'll have to wake up 30 minutes earlier in order to catch our early morning ferry ride the next day. Day 8: Drive home

And, that's the trip!

Dumb statistics

Yeah, I can't help but consider how many new counties I might visit when planning a road trip. There aren't many holes left for me to fill on the East Coast, but New England is one of them. I'll save the specifics for the recap, but I stand to gain around 15 counties from this trip. Marla is obviously going to gain a bunch, since this will be her first ever trip in this direction. Actually, the heck with counties...this trip will give Marla seven new states. (Plus one Canadian province! Assuming the Québec day actually happens.)

Anyone who's driven in the Northeast knows that toll roads and bridges are unavoidable. According to my calculations, depending on which routes we take, we will be paying a minimum of $31.20 in tolls throughout the trip, and a maximum of $64.80 in tolls. That sounds like a lot, and...well, it is.

Live tweeting

I'll try to live tweet parts of the trip and post pretty pictures en route, but I don't think I'll have cell phone reception at the cabin, and I know I won't in Nottoway County, Virginia. So, we'll see.

See you in a week!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Church Nursery

Lately, we've been going to church every two or three weeks or so. At first, going to church with Marla was (relatively) easy: just carry her into church right in the car seat, and most likely, she'd sleep through most of the service, or at worst, you'd have to hold her or entertain for a little while. (Well...that's not exactly the "at worst" scenario.)

These days, Marla is a little more mobile (she's walking now!) and antsy, so, keeping her entertained, calm, and relatively still for an entire 75-minute service...well, it's hard work, which makes us want to go even less.

The church nursery to the rescue! A couple of nice ladies hang out in the church nursery, and we (and anyone else) are more than welcome to drop Marla off for some or all of the service. It's officially a "free service", but we voluntarily increase our weekly offering when we use it (which is probably what most people do). I think it's great for families with kids of Marla's age, because the 1-2 age range is probably the hardest in terms of bringing kids to church. Without something like this available, most families like ours probably wouldn't even bother, which is perhaps why they think it's in their best interest to have the nursery open during church in the first place. (Our church doesn't have a separate "cry room" like the church I grew up with did; that would be better, but that's pretty rare.)

So, great! On the other hand...now what's our excuse if we miss church two or three weeks in a row?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Sports (whatever)day: 9/24/12

I meant to write something like this before the weekend rather than after, but I didn't have time, so...let's talk about games after they happened for once!

We're going on vacation next week, and to be honest, I could kind of use a vacation from sports, too. Every weekend, I load up the DVR schedule, and trying to watch everything that I record...well, it's kind of exhausting. I could use a break. All of you who watch wire-to-wire-to-wire football all weekend long, I don't know how you do it. I can barely sit through one game anymore without wanting to get up and do something else, let alone three consecutive games. (Note: having a young child who has recently discovered how to walk also makes this task far more difficult.)

Well, regardless, I can still write half-assed commentary about my favorite teams and/or sports! What will I be missing the next two weekends, and what can I expect to see when I get back?

Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL)

Last weekend: My take is that the Jaguars didn't win because of Blaine Gabbert; they won despite Blaine Gabbert. He made one great play to win the game, of course, but aside from that, he looked pretty bad, to the point where I'm not sure 8-8 is attainable this year. Sure, it's great to get the win, but they were very fortunate. How many more of these are the Jaguars going to get this year? (By the way, would Cecil Shorts have been better off going down at the 1 instead of scoring a touchdown, kind of like Maurice Jones-Drew did a few years back, in order to set up a game winning field goal as time expired?)

The next two weekends: Two home games, versus Cincinnati, and versus Chicago. Do they win either? If I get back from our trip and the Jaguars are anything but 1-4, I'll be happy. (In case you can't tell, I'm not overly encouraged by what I've seen so far. Where is Justin Blackmon?)

Other NFL teams

Last weekend: Lots of great games on Sunday! But aside from the Jaguars, I didn't watch much of it. I'm having trouble getting into the goings on in the rest of the league this season.

The next two weekends: Hopefully by Week 6, the games will seem a little more meaningful, and I can get excited about the 4:00 games again.

Florida State football

Last weekend: HUGE win versus Clemson, obviously. Lots of work yet to be done, but now is an okay time to start talking about things like "National Title" and such. They're in the hunt, and that's exciting. Clemson is a good team, and they brought everything they had on Saturday.

The next two weekends: On the other hand...they still haven't played a road game yet, and I'm not going to take a single one of them for granted, even though they'll likely be huge favorites in two of them (South Florida, Maryland) and modest favorites in the other three (NC State, Miami, Virginia Tech). FSU plays South Florida and NC State the next two weekends, and given where I live, it would be really nice if they didn't lose to NC State...

Penn State football

Last weekend: At times, I considered the possibility that Penn State would start 0-4. Well, they beat Navy and Temple (woo?) to start 2-2, and the Big Ten is awful this year, so who's to say they can't go 7-5, even?

The next two weekends: At Illinois, versus Northwestern. I think 2-4, 3-3, and 4-2 are all possible outcomes by the time I get back from Vermont.

Washington Nationals

Last weekend: Including today's Nationals win, Atlanta gained a half game on Washington over the weekend to move within 5 games of the division lead with a week and a half to go. It would be a truly epic collapse at this point, but still, it's not over yet! The Braves are playing really well right now, and the Nationals aren't necessarily playing poorly, but you kind of get the sense that they're basically just treading water at this point.

The next two weekends: I don't know when the Wild Card games are going to be played, but hopefully, the Nationals will still be playing when I return from vacation. They only way they won't be is if they fail to win the division, and then go on to lose the Wild Card playoff game. Don't blow it, guys!

NASCAR and Formula One

Last weekend: In NASCAR, despite not winning either race, I think Jimmie Johnson has asserted himself as the favorite two races into the Chase. It's him versus everyone else. In Formula One, it's Fernando Alonso's championship to lose, but Sebastian Vettel is more than capable of making a late-season run (ala 2010).

The next two weekends: Even after my vacation, there will still be six NASCAR races, and five Formula One races, remaining. On one hand, that's great...on the other hand, how is it that F1 has fourteen races from March through September, and then six in October/November alone? (The answer is that all of these new races - Abu Dhabi, India, Korea, Austin - are getting late-season dates, for some reason.)

NHL

Last weekend: Still no agreement between the owners and the players.

The next two weekends: Still no agreement between the owners and the players, most likely.

Curling Recap: 9/21/12

Curling season is officially underway! ...with a loss.

Career game #196: 2012 Fall League - September 21, 2012
(my team: K. Jackson)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Jaun.......... 11001121 | 07
K. Jackson.... 00110000 | 02

I'm the Vice on our team this season, but our usual Skip was out, so I had to play Skip on Friday (unfortunately). With that in mind, I'm not beating myself up too much over this one. We were shorthanded, playing with just three; and not only did the other team show up intact, they played well. Really well. They immediately capitalized on every mistake we made (of which there were many).

Most of our mistakes involved misplacing guards. The ice had two predictable lines, so the key was to get early position and then guard the heck out of those lines. Occasionally we did get early position, but we could never guard it. Usually, our guards were too heavy, which on a couple of occasions resulted in promoting one of their rocks into the house, out-counting ours; that was followed by a well-placed guard by the other team, and then all of a sudden, the other team has shot rock and two guards, at which point we were basically screwed.

Very rarely did I have a simple shot: usually, I was left to try complicated raise take-outs or something ridiculous like that, because that's all that was available. But even when I did have a simple shot available to me, such as, you know, a guard...well, that didn't work out either. All I had to do to score two points in the 4th end was place a guard anywhere between the house and the hog line. Simple! And guards are usually my specialty. But I was waaaaay light, so instead, we only scored one. That might have been the only shot I had all night that didn't involve some kind of a raise.

I'm not sure what I did from a strategy standpoint to keep leaving myself with no shot end after end, but after winning only 5 of my last 18 league games as Skip, I think it's time for a complete strategy reboot. The strategy I've been using for the last two-plus years is obsolete now. It worked well when combined with poor ice conditions and the occasional missed shot by the other team, but the ice conditions at our rink are a lot better than they were in 2010, and the quality of play in our club has never been better. It's not just me, either; at least one other Skip in our club (not naming names) who uses a strategy similar to mine has gone from a League Championship to the bottom of the standings within the past year. So...forget everything I've ever learned about arena ice curling strategy! I'm starting over and am going to have to come up with a new approach. Maybe after a year of learning from more experienced Skips, I'll give it another go.

Until then, I'm looking forward to my next game, which due to a scheduling fluke won't be until October 26. Will our team be 2-1 by then?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Vermont/New Hampshire Trip: Preview #1

Normally when we plan a big road trip ("big" meaning a road trip lasting a week or longer), we plan it well in advance, so much so that I usually write a preview of it weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Well...I've been busy. So this trip preview is coming only nine days before we leave!

We're Fall foliage geeks. For example, we planned our entire wedding around being able to enjoy peak foliage during our honeymoon. It takes priority over pretty much everything (even the curling league!). We've made one Fall foliage road trip every year since Amber moved to North Carolina, ranging from day trips to the mountains, to full two week vacations:
- 2007: US-64, Manteo to Murphy
- 2008: Northern Ontario, Michigan/Wisconsin/Minnesota
- 2009: Watkins Glen and the Adirondacks
- 2010: Quick Blue Ridge Parkway day trip
- 2011: Cherohala Skyway / Great Smoky Mountains

Well, it's getting to be about that time. And after some of our more recent road trips, I think it's time we go somewhere, you know, nice. The last real long non-family road trip we've done was the Alabama trip back in March, and...well, Alabama wasn't terrible, but it wasn't exactly a prime vacation destination. And we didn't do a whole lot of planning beforehand, either, so we just ended up driving around a lot (which when you have a young child, isn't an optimal way to spend a vacation). I think we deserve a real vacation.

So where do we go this year? Here are the four options we considered:
1) Shenandoah National Park (peak foliage: mid-October). We've never been there together, and could make a nice, low key, four day weekend out of it.
2) Vermont / New Hampshire (peak foliage: early October). The impression I have is that Fall in northern New England is better than Fall anywhere else, period. I've always wanted to go here for Fall. Is this the year?
3) Québec (peak foliage: late September). Marla's never been to Canada before. Let's take her there! The Laurentian Mountains north of the St. Lawrence River are supposed to be really nice. And we can visit Quebec City (which I've never been to) while we're there. (By the way, children under 16 only need a birth certificate, not a passport, when crossing the Canadian border by land or sea.)
4) Arkansas (peak foliage: late October). Don't laugh! Arkansas has a lot of mountains, too, and it certainly won't be as crowded as those other places. Not to mention, I haven't been to Arkansas in over 19 years, which is a longer gap than any other state. (To put it another way, I've been to all 49 of the other states since the last time I was in Arkansas. I'm due.)

Basically, it came down to #2 and #3. And once I realized that the only reason we were considering #3 was just because it was Canada, and that there would probably be more for us to do in Vermont/New Hampshire, that pretty much settled it. After all, Vermont is close enough to Québec, we could just drop in one day while we're up there. Vermont/New Hampshire it is!

Typical Chris and Amber road trips feature lots (and lots) of driving, and not a whole lot of staying in one place. In fact, out of all of our non-family road trips (and there have been a lot of them), we have only stayed in the same place for more than two nights in a row TWICE: four nights camping near Asheville, and four nights at a hotel near the Potomac Curling Club.

Well, now that we have a kid, we're going to slow things down a little bit and adjust our usual road trip habits:
- We booked a centrally located private cabin in northern Vermont, near St. Johnsbury, for five nights. It's going to be really nice. I think we got a great deal on it, too! - We used to be able to drive over 900 miles in one day, which would allow us to get to Vermont in just one day. But with Marla, the limit is now between 500 and 600, so we'll be splitting up the drive rather conservatively.
- Once we're in Vermont, in order to prevent us from doing too much driving while we're there, we'll be adhering to the following rule: we must always stay within two hours of our cabin.
- Also, to prevent us from doing too much driving, I'll have lots of potential activities and destinations planned out, so we don't have to drive around aimlessly looking for things.

What is there to do within two hours of St. Johnsbury, Vermont? Quite a bit! We chose that particular location because it's in the middle of everything, and we should have no problem whatsoever filling up our five days in the area, even with our self-imposed two hour rule. I'll go into the details of our "plan" in next week's "Preview #2", but basically, we'll spend one day west of the cabin (Green Mountains / Mount Mansfield), one day south (White River Junction area), one day east (White Mountains / Mount Washington), one day north (Mont-Orford National Park in Québec), and one day in the immediate area. At least, that's the plan. The only activity we're "committed" to is a train ride on one of the days, so we can play it by ear. This is our most ambitious Marla vacation yet, so we don't want to overdo it.

Our trip starts after work on September 28th (a week from Friday), and we'll be gone for a little more than a week, returning the following Saturday. Can't wait!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Curling Recap: 9/14/12

It's curling season again! Yes!

This is going to be a fairly fragmented season for me, because I'm going to miss two consecutive games due to an upcoming vacation (which I'll preview tomorrow, or the next day, or sometime), and then the league takes the next two weeks off after that. So after this Friday's league opener, I won't curl again until October 26th. Sure, we could have timed our vacation around the curling schedule (and we have in the past), but in terms of planning, peak fall foliage takes priority over pretty much everything. Why else would we have had our wedding during football season?

With that in mind, I made sure not to miss Friday's "preseason" pickup game, because I don't really have that many games left this year.

Career game #195: Pickup - September 14, 2012

End........... 1234567 |TTL
---------------------------
Yantis........ 1100300 | 05
Allen......... 0012013 | 07

The main reason why we have these 'preseason' games, in order to give new curlers a 'bridge' between the Learn to Curl session and the leagues. (Even though we assure them that they're league ready straight out of the Learn to Curl, because you know, we're not that good.) So even though I've gone on record lately (multiple times!) saying that I don't really enjoy playing Skip anymore, since these pickup games often have a much higher percentage of new curlers than a typical league game, I usually end up playing Skip in them anyway. If nothing else, it did give me a good opportunity to break a losing streak: before Friday's game, I had lost seven consecutive games at Skip, going all the way back to February.

Both teams had two new curlers (or curlers with only a game or two of experience), so it was pretty even in that regard. All of the new curlers played well, and my front end probably played their best in the middle ends, which - not coincidentally - are the ends in which we scored a lot of our points. (Except for the 5th end, in which opposing Skip Bill drew into the house twice, and I left both of my draws short.)

But despite my 5th end failing, I came back and drew to the four foot with last rock in the 6th end to score one and keep us in the game. And then in the 7th and final end, my team put us in great position, I put my second shot exactly where I wanted, and the other team wasn't left with a whole lot of options on their last shot. So, losing streak over! Hooray! But in a way, we all lost, because none of the new curlers in our game have proceeded to join the upcoming league. (Yet. Today is the deadline.)

As I've said before, the thing with Skipping - for me, at least - is that much more so than the other positions, it's fun when I play well, and it's not fun when I don't play well. So, I had fun on Friday. But is it enough to make me reconsider and want to Skip the upcoming league? ... Nope. I know better. Besides, our club has plenty of capable Skips these days.

The league begins this Friday, in what will be my last game until late October. Better make the most of it!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Sports Friday: 9/14/12

College football

I've tried not to get too caught up in all of the conference realignment madness, but I'll talk about this one: Notre Dame to the ACC! Well, sort of - full members except in football, where they'll stay independent, while still playing five ACC teams each year.

The main reason I'm happy about this actually has nothing to do with Notre Dame itself. Sure, Amber is kind of sort of a Notre Dame fan due to her dad being a big Irish supporter, but I can tell when I talk to her about Notre Dame these days...suffice to say, she's got other things on her mind. Which in a way is fine, because it means I'm not obligated to put on the Notre Dame game :)

Speaking of which, last week's Notre Dame game was preempted by the local NBC affiliate, in favor of Western Kentucky v. Alabama on the SEC Network. Apparently there was a contract conflict, and NBC 17 opted to show the Alabama game instead of the Notre Dame game, a decision that makes no sense to me. Did they really think more people would be interested in Alabama versus cupcake (the final score was 35-0) than a competitive Notre Dame game? Not that I really cared about it one way or the other, but objectively, it seemed like a really strange decision to me. Do people actually watch those garbage cupcake games? I don't. Not even ones involving my favorite teams. Sure, every now and then you get a major upset (e.g. Lousiana-Monroe over Arkansas last weekend), but in those cases you might as well just tune in for the 4th quarter if it's close. And if any team is going to lose to a cupcake, it's probably not going to be the #1 team in the country.

Holy crap, I got sidetracked. Well, anyway, the reason I'm excited about Notre Dame (sort of) joining the ACC is because it prompted the ACC to drastically increase their exit fee, and pretty much guarantees that Florida State is staying put. As an FSU fan living in an ACC market (the ACC market, really), this is a good thing. Even if it means having to play Wake Forest every year. Wake Forest at Florida State - Sat 12:00p, ESPN

Now, the obligatory Penn State note: sheesh. Sure, last week's game was close (very close), but 0-4 to start is still a real possibility. We could be well on our way to the "worst case scenario". But hey, at least their games are still on television. Actually, so far, they've been getting more TV exposure than usual - but for all the wrong reasons, of course. Navy at Penn State - Sat 3:30p, ESPN2

Other games:
Florida at Tennessee - Sat 6:00p, ESPN: There seems to be more optimism than usual on the Tennessee side...again, I'm skeptical. Like Florida State fans, Tennesse fans in September always seem to think that they're "back" and that "this is the year".
Notre Dame at Michigan State - Sat 8:00p, ABC: This is a great matchup year in and year out, but what will happen with this series once the ACC business kicks in?

NFL

Here's the thing with football compared to other sports. Lose your opener in the NHL or MLB, no big deal - lots of games left to play. Lose your opener in the NFL, and it seems like a big deal, because you only play 16 games. So, last week's Jacksonville Jaguars overtime loss to the Vikings...it hurts. Especially since an 0-2 start is now fairly likely (although certainly not a certainty) given that the Jaguars' next opponent is the defending division champions and overwhelming favorites to repeat, Houston. 0-2 is tough to recover from. Still, though, I think 8-8 is attainable this season. Houston at Jacksonville - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

Auto racing

I feel like I've talked about this before at some point, but I think it would help a NASCAR team a lot if they had a meteorologist on the payroll. Not necessarily full time; just for race days. I bring this up now because during last week's Sprint Cup race at Richmond, the caution flag came out with 150 laps or so remaining. Kyle Busch's crew chief, Dave Rogers, looked at the radar and thought the rain would be strong enough to end the race, and so, they didn't pit when most other cars pitted. But the rain quickly passed and the race went the full distance, and that decision ultimately cost Kyle Busch a spot in this year's "Chase" and a shot at the championship.

Here's my point. Crew chiefs aren't meteorologists, and their weather-based decision making isn't going to be as good as a real meteorologist. So why not hire one to make all of the race day weather decisions? Sure, most of the time, a crew chief could make as sound a decision regarding the weather as an actual meteorologist. But there's that one race every year where somebody lucks into a win because it rains at just the right time. But this doesn't have to be luck. A trained meteorologist could make the difference, and almost certainly would have informed Dave Rogers that the rain wasn't going to be strong enough at that time to end the race then, saving their season in the process. All they really need is a meteorologist on the other end of the instant messenger saying "The race is not going to end now", but if they wanted to be really good about it, they could bring a Doppler On Wheels to the track and have real time, high resolution weather data on demand, which I think would give them a tremendous advantage over the other teams when it comes to the weather. (They would only need to bring the DOW to the track when race-day rain is a possibility, of course.)

This is a multi-million dollar business, and the gap between first and last is so very small. So what's their excuse? NASCAR Sprint Cup at Chicagoland - Sun 1:00p, ESPN

MLB

While everyone is focusing on the decision to shut down Stephen Strasburg for the season, I should point out that his replacement in the rotation, John Lannan, pitched 5 2/3 scoreless on Wednesday en route to a 2-0 win. So, there.

The Nationals are now up 8 1/2 games in the division. That's a pretty big gap; however, they play the second-place Braves this weekend, and a sweep would narrow the gap to 5 1/2 with still a lot of games remaining. So, this isn't over yet. Washington at Atlanta - Fri 7:30p (MASN), Sat 4:00p (FOX), Sun 8:00p (ESPN)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Price of Milk

We buy one or two gallons of milk a week. And every week, I look at the price of milk at our neighborhood Kroger in order to answer this important question. Which is cheaper: two half gallons, or one gallon? If the half gallons are cheaper, like they were this week ($1.50 for a half gallon, $3.19 for a gallon), then I'll just buy two half gallons (or however much I need). Otherwise, I'll go for the gallon.

But I'd say that only happens one out of every, oh, six weeks or so. Most of the time, two half gallons of milk are not cheaper than the corresponding gallon. In fact, there have been times when half gallons and gallons were the same price ($1.99 for each, most recently). That week, even though we only needed a half gallon of whole milk for Marla, I went ahead and got the gallon, knowing we may have to toss it before we finish it. I mean, if it's the same price, and there is room for it in the fridge (not an issue for us), then why not?

My question is this. Do most people not pay attention to this sort of thing? Do they just buy the gallon without even noticing that two half gallons or cheaper, because "one gallon of milk" is what they came to the store for? Because if everyone noticed, then why even bother selling whole gallons of milk at all if two half gallons are going to be cheaper?

I think that not only do most people not notice, they might not even care. I'm reminded of back when I worked at Publix (2002), was busy restocking the beer shelves, and noticed that someone was buying a 24-pack of something. I mentioned to her that two 12-packs of that same brand were cheaper than the 24-pack. But you know what? She still went ahead and bought the 24-pack. I didn't get it then, and I still don't. Even if it's only, like, ten cents we're talking about, why not take the ten cents? Is only having to carry one case of beer (albeit one that's twice as heavy) into the house instead of two worth ten cents to you?

I'm not much of a "coupon clipper", because I don't think I get enough of a Return On Investment to make it worth the trouble. But noticing that two half gallons of milk are cheaper than a gallon...that doesn't take any effort at all. Sure, being a math guy helps, but Kroger often puts a per-ounce price on the price label (not just for milk, but for everything), so that you can always see which size gives you the best deal, with no math required. And this is important, because there are some items where, unlike with milk, the smaller quantities are actually cheaper most of the time. For example, 16-packs of Kroger sliced cheese - or, I should say, processed cheese food - are, most of the time, cheaper per slice than the corresponding 24-packs.

I guess Kroger is counting on its customers not paying attention when they go shopping. And given how well the grocery chain has done over the years, apparently, that's a safe bet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

U.S. Highways Driven

Over there on the right, you'll see links to my two primary "roadgeeking" statistical quests: counties visited, and interstates driven. In general, it's a good way for me to visualize parts of the country that I've been to, and parts of the country that I haven't been to.

But what about the areas where I've already visited every county, and driven every mile of every interstate*? There are two states in which I've already completed both quests: my home state of North Carolina, and the state with both the fewest counties (3) and the fewest interstate miles* (23), Delaware. As someone who longs to go to as many different places and drive as many different roads as I can, what do I do in these states from now on?

(* - Three-digit interstates don't count, in part because there are a lot of dumb ones out there. Although, I believe I have driven every mile of three-digit interstate in North Carolina, regardless. But not Delaware.)

Well, I can think of two logical next steps.
- Townships. Pennsylvania is among several states that further subdivide counties into townships. However, North Carolina and Delaware are not. And even if they did, we would be talking about way too many of them. Pennsylvania alone has to have over 1,000 townships, right? (I don't feel like counting myself.) Township boundaries also don't appear on most mapping software, making this even more complicated. So...next idea.
- U.S. Highways. The next level down from interstate highways, and they're easily mappable and researchable. Yeah!

Well, here you are: a comprehensive report on all of the US highways I've driven, but only in North Carolina and Delaware, for now. Once I visit every county and drive every interstate mile in a state, that state will be added to the spreadsheet. Until then, I won't really worry about those other states. Although my plan is to finish off Connecticut next month, so is it too early to start thinking about that state now?

As with the interstates driven, US highway mileage only counts when I'm the driver, or when Amber is the driver and I'm riding with her. With that, here are the numbers I came up with:
- North Carolina: Out of 5,894 total US highway miles among 35 highways*, I've driven 3,481 miles (59%) on 31 highways (89%). I've driven every mile of highway in the state on these 5 highways: 64, 117, 220, 264, 701. (* - I'm considering 19E to be part of 19, and 19W to be a separate highway altogether.)
- Delaware: Out of 216 total US highway miles among 6 highways, I've driven 39 miles (18%) on 3 highways (50%), and haven't completely clinched any of them.

59% sounds like a lot, but that leaves nearly 2,500 miles of unexplored, unspoiled road for me to check out. And actually, some of those miles are very close to home. I couldn't confirm that I've ever taken US-70 (Glenwood Ave) between downtown Raleigh and I-440 (Crabtree Valley), for example, so I didn't count it. I could go take care of that in less than an hour if I wanted to.

Of course, many of North Carolina's remaining highway miles are way out in the mountains, so I expect it'll be a while before I completely finish this off. And even though I only have 177 miles to go in Delaware...I mean, it's Delaware. Why go to Delaware? (Actually, we'll be driving through next month, and should finish off those last six miles of US-9 while we're there. Yay?)

One problem with keeping track of this is that U.S. Highway alignments change far more frequently than interstate alignments. If they change the routing of US-311 (again), then I'll have to change my spreadsheet to reflect that, right? That's assuming I even know about it. I'll try to keep up as best I can.

Oh, and if you're reaction to this is, "You have way too much spare time"...well, it's not like I put this together overnight. It took me a few weeks to add all of this up. And that was just for two states! This is why I'm not really worrying about the other 48 yet. (Actually, 46, because Alaska and Hawaii don't have any U.S. routes. Hey, that's two more down!)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Handwriting

Presenting my first ever handwritten blog post! Click the image to get a larger version.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Sports Friday: 9/7/12

I always write these on Friday, so why not just post them on Friday from now on, too?

NFL - Football season is here! And by that, I mean professional football. Err, American professional football.

(By the way, NBC Sports Network has been showing a few CFL games over the past couple of weeks. In fact, they're airing Calgary at Edmonton tonight. Wee!)

So, Maurice Jones-Drew decided to report after all, which isn't surprising. That's obviously good for the Jaguars. But I'm more interested in seeing how Blaine Gabbert and his new receiving corps does. It seems like quite a few NFL teams are playing a quarterback who is only in his first or second year, so if some of them are succeeding while 2nd-year Gabbert isn't, then...no excuse! Fortunately, I think Gabbert looks like a brand new player this season, compared to last. (And not just because he cut his hair.)

As for the receivers, Laurent Robinson has underwhelmed in preseason, but I do like how rookie Justin Blackmon looks, a lot. No more DUIs, m-kay?

Minnesota is a pretty good game to have first. A quarterback (Christian Ponder - he is still the Vikings' starter, right?) with a similar experience level to Gabbert, and a team that the Jaguars can beat on a good day, even on the road. Let's go! Jacksonville at Minnesota - Sun 1:00p, NFL Sunday Ticket

It's taken some time, but my interest in the "local" (not really) Carolina Panthers is growing. Maybe they just needed to, you know, not suck. Don't know if I'd give them "second favorite team" status yet, but they're getting there. Carolina at Tampa Bay - Sun 4:25p, WRAZ

The beauty of Week One is that every single game is watchable, because you don't know who's good and who isn't yet. Even Seattle-Arizona!

College football Week Two of the college football season is often when teams schedule their one interesting non-conference game, and is also when some teams have their conference openers, which makes it the most interesting weekend of the month, usually. Unless, of course, if you're Florida State, who is favored by 70.5 points against Savannah State. (Seriously, if you're betting on a game with a 70.5-point line...what is wrong with you? How can you definitively say whether FSU is going to win this game by more or less than 70?) Savannah State at Florida State - Sat 6:00p, ESPN3

I'm not heartbroken that Penn State lost to Ohio. In fact, if they're going to go 11-1, I'd rather the '1' have come against Ohio than anyone else. (Yes, really!) Ohio actually has something to play for - they have a somewhat realistic chance of going undefeated, so, good for them. That loss wasn't as bad as it may seem for Penn State. But if they start 0-4, which would include home losses to Navy and Temple, then I think we can start talking about those "worst case scenarios" as far as the future of the program is concerned. They may lose tomorrow, but I think they'll surely win at least one of those next two home games...right? If not, then that's what they get for not scheduling Savannah State. Penn State at Virginia - Sat 12:00p, ABC

Other games of interest: Florida at Texas A&M (SEC debut for the Aggies), South Florida at Nevada (yes, AT Nevada), Michigan State at Central Michigan (yes, AT Central, according to my program guide...is that right?)...actually, you know, aside from that UF/A&M game, maybe this week isn't quite as interesting as I thought.

MLB - I've already given my Stephen Strasburg piece, so no need to revisit that again. Instead, let's talk playoffs! (Yes, it's fun to be talking about Washington Nationals playoff scenarios in September. Heck, it's fun to even be watching meaningful baseball in September at all!)

Under the previous playoff system, there wasn't much difference between winning the division and getting the wild card. Now there's a huge difference, because that one-game wild card playoff is basically a crap shoot, so making the playoffs as a wild card effectively cuts your World Series chances in half, compared to winning the division. So...win the division!

As of today, Sports Club Stats has the Nationals' playoff odds at 100.0% (rounded, of course - they're a ways away from clinching outright), and their division title odds at around 98%. But I have to wonder what the playoff odds for the Braves and the Red Sox were at this time last year... Miami at Washington - Fri 7:00p, Sat 1:00p, Sun 1:30p; MASN or MASN2

Auto racing

With NASCAR and Formula One, I always have a hard time coming up with, you know, "analysis". That doesn't mean I'm not watching it, that just means it's hard to analyze sometimes. For instance...Jenson Button won last week's F1 race. Why? Because his car was faster than everyone else's! (And that allowed him to get the pole, which allowed him to avoid the usual Romain Grosjean lap one crash...)

Well, anyway...don't take a lack of analysis to mean a lack of interest. I'm still watching.
NASCAR Sprint Cup at Richmond - Sat 7:30p, ABC
Formula One Italian Grand Prix - Sun 8:00a, SPEED


Soccer - So, last time I talked about this new soccer channel, beIN Sport, upon which I've been watching the French soccer league "Ligue 1" (which, a few weeks in now, I'm actually finding quite interesting). There's no "Ligue 1" this weekend, though, because it's a FIFA World Cup qualifier weekend. The United States team is in action tonight in Jamaica...and, hey, wouldn't you know it, look what channel tonight's USA game is on! Don't you wish your cable/satellite package was as awesome as mine? USA at Jamaica - Fri 8:00p, beIN Sport

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Save the Ferry?

(Disclaimer: If you're looking for an in-depth discussion regarding the merits and cost effectiveness of car ferries, including lots of well-researched facts, figures, and statistics, then you've come to the wrong place.)

So, there's this auto ferry that crosses the St. Johns River in the Jacksonville area, right about here:


View Larger Map

The ferry doesn't really get used enough to justify the cost, though. There's a toll-free bridge kind of nearby, and the north bank of the river isn't all that developed there anyway, and as a result, expenses > revenues. And of course, if they were to raise the ferry toll, even fewer people would use it, right? The only way to stop them from losing money might be to shut down the ferry altogether.

Well, not so fast!


The Mayport Ferry provides a select few a very valuable service, but is it worth it? That's the (literally) million dollar question.

This dilemma is no doubt facing auto ferries across the country, they become increasingly a) more expensive to run, and b) obsolete. North Carolina's ferries are also losing money, but they're a bit more of a necessity than the Mayport Ferry, since there is no other way to get to Ocracoke Island, for instance. Since they are more of a necessity in North Carolina, tou can't shut all of them down, of course. But you can raise the tolls, which one political party in the state wants to do, and the other doesn't. I forget which party is which (does it matter?), but for now we're stuck with the status quo, which is a still unprofitable ferry system.

So what's the solution? Well...maybe we need a little innovation. Today's automobiles are much more efficient than they were 30 years ago. I'm guessing the same cannot be said for auto ferries. If someone out there figures out a way to cut auto ferry operational costs in half, either by way of a new boat design or soemthing else, they'll make millions! ... Or, not, because the demand isn't there. Like I said, auto ferries are becoming increasingly obsolete.

"Why does a ferry system have to be profitable, anyway? Roads aren't profitable, you know; taxes pay for them. Why can't ferries just be paid for by taxes, too? Or at least subsidize them?" Well, sure! That is, if you can argue that the ferry is still necessary. Charge a reasonable fee to use the ferry, and cover the rest with taxpayer dollars (preferably local tax dollars), for the good of the community. I guess that's fine, provided the ferry is really "necessary" (as some of the North Carolina ferries are). If we're just wasting money, though, maybe it's time to end it.

In the case of the Mayport ferry, there is no perfect solution, so maybe they should put it up for a vote among Beaches residents. "Choose one of the following options: 1) The Mayport Ferry stays open, subsidized by a tax increase (sales or property, perhaps) that only applies east of the Intracoastal in Duval County. 2) The Mayport Ferry closes, and your taxes stay the same." Democracy!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Vending Machine + Microwave = Fun

A few weeks ago, I stopped at the North Carolina Welcome Center (I-95 near South of the Border), and spotted this:


Basically, you make your purchase, and it drops your food item of choice into a microwave, and then spits it out. It's a vending machine! It's a microwave! It's both!

I would have loved to have tested it out; alas, my stomach was still working on a tasty Maurice's BBQ sandwich that I ate less than two hours prior, and so, I wasn't hungry. But now that I know this is here, I can plan ahead, and not eat an unnecessarily large lunch next time I'm heading up this way.

I'm a fan of the Hot Pocket brand (well, Lean Pockets, really), so that was an obvious choice for me. Hot pockets were sold in the vending machine microwave combo thingy for $2. Other available hot food items included hot dogs ($2.50) and hamburgers ($3), which begs a couple of questions...
1) Does it seem backwards to anyone else that the hot dogs were more expensive than the Hot Pockets?
2) You can buy a hamburger for $1 at McDonald's, and a hot dog at a gas station like Sheetz for even less than that, usually. And those burgers and dogs are certainly going to be of higher quality than what you're going to get out of this thing. So what's the point? Ready-to-eat Hot Pockets, on the other hand, are much harder to find on the road.

Normally when I cook a Hot/Lean Pocket at home (or at work), I microwave it for about two minutes. How long did this thing take to warm up my meal? Try 70 seconds! Must be a good microwave. Still, though, 70 seconds is a long time to be standing in front of a vending machine, waiting.


One thing I was curious about was the "crisp sleeve", or whatever they call it. Hot/Lean Pockets you buy in the store come with a paper sleeve that you slip the sandwich into prior to cooking, and that's supposed to help make it crispy. Well, the vending machine Hot Pocket didn't have one, and so, it was kind of soggy.


But still, it was good, and - this is important - sufficiently warm throughout. So...pass!

Nevertheless, I probably won't be making any more appointments with the North Carolina Welcome Center vending machine microwave combo thingy any time soon. Vending machines are fine for drinks and snacks, but if you want a real lunch, you're either going to pack it yourself, or stop at an actual restaurant, not get it from a vending machine. Next time I make the Jacksonville drive, it's back to Maurice's BBQ for me (I-95 Exit 98 in South Carolina). But I am curious to see how many more of these vending machine microwave combo thingys we're going to see at an interstate rest area near you.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Marla's First Beach Trip

Last weekend, we visited my parents, who now live in Neptune Beach, FL. They live within a couple of miles of the ocean, giving us a great opportunity to take Marla to the beach for the first time. Hooray!


Going in, we knew that a) Marla liked water, and b) she would probably try to eat the sand. Marla had a great time with the waves, and yes, she probably ingested a decent amount of sand. But she seemed to enjoy it a lot. We timed the tide perfectly, too (although not on purpose) - the outgoing tide left behind some shallow and relatively quiet pools, which were perfect for Marla. And, the water was plenty warm, probably in the mid 80s. (Nothing against North Carolina beaches, but they can't compete with Florida's water temperatures. Especially the Outer Banks.)

Marla lasted about, oh, maybe 1½ to 2 hours, before she got cranky. And that's the main reason why we waited so long to take her to the beach. Sure, we could drive 2½ hours to Topsail Island and take her to the beach there, but for a one or two hour stay on the beach*, is it really worth it? Not to mention, we don't know how much a sandy Marla would enjoy a 2½-hour car ride immediately after the beach. (Well, we have an idea...)

(* - We expect Marla to have a much, much longer beach attention span when she's in the 5 to 10 year old range.)

Well, anyway, we've decided that any beach trip with Marla should be accompanied by an overnight stay somewhere near the beach (within 30 minutes at the most). Or, we could just limit our beach trips to when we visit my family in Florida. For us, one beach trip per year is probably just right.

A couple of other beach pictures, plus several other miscellaneous ones, are in this month's Marla Picture Dump.