Friday, November 30, 2012

Cheez-Its: Reduced Fat vs. Regular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Bicycle: 11/29/12 Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Holiday Travel: Thanksgiving 2012 Recap

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

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

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

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

The Marla Picture Dump: November 2012

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Time Shifting

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Curling Recap: 11/16/12

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sports Friday: 11/16/12

People still read these things, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Movember Fail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Winter Storm Names

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 12, 2012

Curling Recap: 11/9/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next week: career game #200!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Sports Friday: 11/9/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2012


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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

New Bicycle: 2012 Edition

Last weekend, I went for a 33 mile bike ride. Nothing special, really, but it was slow. Very slow. It took me 3 hours, 15 minutes to complete the ride, for an average speed of about 10 mph. I could have blamed my sluggishness on any number of things - my route choice, the wind, or me not being in shape - but naturally, I blamed the bicycle instead. It's old and slow, I said! So the very next day, I bought a new one.

Well...fact is, I've had a new bike purchase on the radar for a while now. The bike I've been riding is 3½ years old and has over 6,000 miles on it, and it's had its share of incidents. I think I've gotten my money's worth out of it. Back in February, it underwent a major and somewhat costly repair job, which had the bike running "like new" again...for a little while. A few months back, I decided not to put any more money into it except for flat tire fixes, and that one year after the major repair job, I would get a new bicycle. And by "one year", I of course meant "nine months". Close enough.

But the biggest thing with the bicycle I've been riding is that it's not really a "road bike". It's a "hybrid", meant to be ridden on dirt roads as well as pavement. That's great, but in comparison to dedicated road bikes, it's heavy and slow. Every weekend when I go out, all of the "real" bicyclists blow past me. And, yeah, it's kind of demoralizing. Pretty much since my first long ride, I've wanted a "real" road bike.

Now I have one!

This new bike is made for road cycling. Yes, it cost twice as much as my original bike, but it'll be worth it. If I got 6,000 good miles out of the hybrid, I'm thinking I can get 10,000 miles out of this one.

First impression: it's super light! Coasting down hills was one area in which the hybrid bike actually had an advantage, but that's just because it was heavier, and of course, I paid for that going back up. I haven't taken my new bike up too many hills yet, but in theory, it should be a lot easier now, which could have a huge impact on my long ride endurance. Also, the tires are narrower, which seems to make it harder to ride. (This isn't a beginner's bike.) And the handlebars are lower, which makes me have to hunch over more. (Just like a "real" cyclist!)

So yes, I should be able to go faster on my road bike than my hybrid. But how much? I'm thinking, maybe 1-2 mph. That doesn't sound like a lot, but if I completed last weekend's 33 mile ride at 12 mph instead of 10, then I would have saved a full 30 minutes. All the "real" bicyclists will still pass me every single weekend, but at least I won't be embarrassing myself as much anymore.

I'll still keep the hybrid around for shorter rides and Marla rides, and it might actually be better for mid-week exercise. (Slower bike = more calories burned, right?) It's hard to believe I actually did a 55 mile ride on that thing once. There is no way I could do that in the bike's current condition. With the hybrid, anything beyond 30 miles is tough now. Of course, the hybrid wasn't really made for long distance riding in the first place. I've talked about doing a 100K for years now, and now I actually have a bike that I can realistically do it with.

Well...let's not get ahead of ourselves. This weekend, I'm going to take the new bike along the same 33 mile bike route that I did last weekend with the old bike, for comparison purposes. I've ridden the new bike around the neighborhood a couple times and it did seem a little easier than normal, but I won't really see the difference in endurance and speed until I go long with it. I'm hopeful that I can complete the ride in under 2:45, which would give me that 2 mph boost. (Although, to be fair, I set the bar pretty low last weekend.)

By the way, here is a graph showing my usual average speed according to the length of the ride. I'm optimistic that my new bike will bump this up by a mph or two, especially on the longer end.

So, this weekend, 33 miles. Then, next weekend: 50? Yeah, there's a charity bike ride that I'm planning on doing. I'm jumping right in, aren't I? A couple weeks back I mentioned that I've been having trouble motivating myself to ride lately. Well, buying a new bicycle is one way to do it!

Now...there are other ways I could theoretically help my speed and endurance, such as more aerodynamic clothing, and clip-on bike shoes. But I'm not ready for either of those things yet. One step at a time.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Curling Recap: 11/2/12 (also: Curling Building News)

Before I get to this week's usual Curling Recap, big news from the Triangle Curling Club. We're buying land!

The plot of land we're buying - which is contingent on successful re-zoning, among other things - is located in Durham, just north of Research Triangle Park, and well south of The Part Of Durham You Don't Want To Be In Late At Night. More specifically, it's here. It's 10 minutes from our house! Naturally, I love the location.

How are we paying for it? Well...I'm actually not sure how much financial information I'm allowed to be putting in my unofficial curling blog, and financial stuff isn't my area of expertise anyway. (Maybe in another life, I'll major in economics and work on Wall Street.) Suffice to say, the cost of the land is taken care of, and we plan to get a bank loan to cover the building costs using the land as collateral; over time, club membership fees will pay back the loan, and also cover the original cost of the land.

The goal is to open the facility before the next Winter Olympics (February 2014), but there's still a lot of work to be done. The re-zoning and legal stuff will take the longest; once all that's taken care of, the actual building contstruction won't take that long. So it'll be several months before I can start taking pictures of partially completed buildings, or anything even remotely along those lines. Regardless...this is very exciting! This would be the southernmost dedicated curling facility in the United States, but some of the clubs located at a lower latitude than us could also be looking to build.

Until then...we still have the good old Friday League:

Career game #198: 2012 Fall League - November 2, 2012
(my team: K. Jackson)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Chick......... 01100003 | 05
K. Jackson.... 30011110 | 07

Two things here: for one, this was Kathy's game (our Skip). She made everything, and often difficult shots, too (raises, etc). At least one of those "ones" you see in the 4th through 7th ends could have easily been four or five points against if not for her heroics.

As for me, I thought I actually played better last week than this week. But in terms of strategy and reading the ice, I think my input was more useful this week. I was more mentally into the game than usual, and I was reading the ice better, too. (Our club painted in center lines over the summer, and when you're a sweeper, that helps a ton in terms of reading the ice.)

I'm now back up to 18-19 for 2012. I actually added a Sunday League game to my schedule, which means I have four, not three, games remaining this year. (Five, if we make a miraculous comeback and make the League Championship game.) I need to go 3-1 to finish the year above .500. Let's do this!

Friday, November 02, 2012

The Latest Sunrise of the Year

I pay more attention to this than most, because the viability of bicycling to work depends on when sunrise is. Fact is, this week - the last week of Daylight Saving Time - might actually be the worst week of the year for me to bicycle commute, because this week also has the latest sunrises of the year. Tomorrow in Durham, the sun will rise at 7:41 AM, but during Standard Time, sunrise only gets as late as 7:27 AM (source). That makes tomorrow the latest sunrise of the year, before Standard Time kicks in and sends sunrise back an hour the next morning.

That got me thinking: where else is the latest sunrise of the year not around the Winter Solstice, but on the last day of Daylight Saving Time? Or, to put it another way: how far north do you have to go in order to lose another 60 minutes of morning daylight between now and the end of December? (In Durham, we're only going to lose another 44 minutes.)

Well...turns out, you have to go north of 47°N before the dead of Winter overtakes the last day of Daylight Saving Time for "latest sunrise of the year" honors. For instance, in Seattle (located at 47°38'N), tomorrow's sunrise is 7:57 AM, but on New Year's Day, sunrise will be 7:58 AM. Go a little further south to Tacoma (47°14'N), and tomorrow is one of many days (the others of which are in December/January) tied for the earliest sunrise of the year. But everywhere south of 47°N (approximately), the latest sunrise of the year will be tomorrow*.

Other cities in this "buffer zone" just north of 47°N, where you lose exactly 60 more minutes of morning daylight, include: Fort Kent, ME; Houghton, MI; Bemidji, MN; and Great Falls, MT. year, it'll be completely different! In 2013, the last day of Daylight Saving Time will be November 2nd instead of November 3rd, and that will push the "buffer zone" a half degree or so south. But as long as Daylight Saving Time ends in the first weekend of November, if you live south of 45°N, the latest sunrise of the year should always fall on the last day of Daylight Saving Time*.

(* - This is all provided your state actually observes Daylight Saving Time, of course.)

Thursday, November 01, 2012

So Many Princesses

Yesterday was Halloween. Marla was a plumber, complete with mini-plunger:

Our day care hosted a little Halloween party of sorts last Saturday morning, and last night we went to our friends' neighborhood (where trick-or-treating is far more prominent than in our neighborhood) in Knightdale. So, we've seen lots of other kids in costume this week. And among the girls, there was a theme: lots and lots of princesses. At least half of them, I would think.

This trend is nothing new, of course. But now, we have a girl of our own. Is Marla going to want to be a princess for Halloween in a few years, once she's old enough to care?

That's okay if she does, of course, and I completely understand it. In kids' stories where the main protagonist is female, it's most often a princess of some kind. Little boys have plenty of male heroes to choose from, but girls' choices are a little more limited. There are princesses, and then there's everything else. On top of that, princesses get to wear frilly dresses, and that's fun, too.

But there's no guarantee that Marla will want to be a princess for Halloween in a few years. Amber never really wanted to be a princess when she was a kid. Also, so far, I think we've mostly steered clear of Disney-type stuff and have gotten mostly non-Disney toys, books, and the like for Marla. I say that because the princess meme is mostly a Disney thing, after all. This isn't us being "anti-princess", by any means; I just think the marketing that Disney does towards children is so good, it's actually borderline brainwashing. ("Anti-princess", no; "Anti-Disney", maybe.)

Well, regardless of who or what Marla wants to be for Halloween, we'll be happy to accomodate. (Provided we can do it for under $25. Or, $30 if she wants to be Princess Bubblegum.)