Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sports Gambling

I follow a few people on Twitter, and read a few blogs, written by compulsive sports gamblers. (I don't mean "compulsive" in a bad way, by the way. It's just...the words "compulsive" and "gambler" go really well together.) I think the math behind it is interesting, and that's why I read this stuff, not so much because I have an actual interest in gambling myself. There are a lot of bad sports gamblers out there who think they know what they're doing - or perhaps are just good at convincing others that they know what they're doing - but the good ones all seem to have one thing in common: they're good at math and probability.

Hey, I'm good at math and probability. And, I watch a lot of sports. So why don't I take up sports gambling? If I do my homework, I might even be able to make a little money off of it. And besides, it can be a great form of entertainment, and make a game that you otherwise wouldn't care about a lot more exciting.

Well...here's the thing. The key words in that last paragraph are: "if I do my homework". Even though I do watch a lot of sports, in my experience I've done a really bad job picking "against the spread". I know there are other potential bets out there - over/unders, who the Super Bowl MVP will thank first in his post-game interview (if anyone), etc - but in general, I don't know enough about this sort of thing to be able to recognize which potential bets have "value", and which don't. And, I think the amount of money I would get from it, if anything, would not outweigh the amount of time I would have to invest into it, despite the added entertainment value I might get from it. (I know this blog makes it seem like I have a lot of spare time on my hands, but really, I don't have that much spare time.)

So, there you go. Basically, to summarize the last paragraph, being good at sports gambling takes more effort than I'm willing to put into it. Same goes for the stock market. In general, I'm guess I'm pretty "low risk" with my finances.

If I did feel the need to apply my math skills for financial gain within the gambling universe, I'd opt for internet poker over sports gambling. Even though internet poker is far less interesting of an activity than, say, dropping $20 on the Ravens, I think the margins for someone with my skill set would be much higher over there. That is, if internet poker even exists anymore.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Super Bowl Halftime Shows

When it comes to the Super Bowl, I'm always far more interested in the game than the halftime show. Usually, the halftime show involves a mainstream pop artist or two whom I'm not particularly interested in. This year is no different.

But will that still be true 20 years from now? Perhaps. Not necessarily because my taste in music might change, but because the artists performing in the halftime show will change. Typically - but not always - the artists performing are those who have been around for a decade or more. With that in mind, which artists that have been popular more recently will come back and perform a Super Bowl halftime show in 20 or 30 years?

I don't follow pop music, so I guess Lady Gaga could pull a Madonnna and perform at Super Bowl LXX in 2036. But as far as rock goes, there have been several rock performers at Super Bowl halftimes over the years, but of course, they're almost always from the 60s or 70s (The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, etc). If this trend continues, could we see a 90s/00s rock band like Green Day perform the Super Bowl LXX halftime show? Or...wait for it...Nickelback????

Well, maybe. The thing is, as some might say, rock is dead. Only a select few modern rock bands get any mainstream attention anymore - Green Day, Foo Fighters, Nickelback, and...who else? Turn on the Grammys, and you'll likely see either Green Day or the Foo Fighters playing the role of Token Rock Band. If a sporting event somewhere (non-Super Bowl) is looking for a rock band to perform their halftime show, they usually just get Nickelback by default, because they don't know of any other rock bands that are household names.

Perhaps this is why people hate Nickelback so much. It's not that their music's that bad. For rock, it's quite average. But there is so much more good rock out there. Although, lately it's been trending more towards indie rock, and away from traditional rock-and-roll, and indie rock has less mass appeal, and thus is less Super Bowl halftime show friendly.

Then again, the mainstream's attitude towards indie rock could change in 20 years. A band like Arcade Fire is probably a stretch as a Super Bowl halftime show-worthy performer today, but what will their pop culture status be in 20 years?

Actually...maybe Green Day should already be considered 'classic rock'. I mean, Dookie is, what, 19 years old now?

Monday, January 28, 2013

Curling Recaps: 1/11, 1/25/13

So, my original plan was to do a two-game recap here: one of a pickup game on January 11, and one of the league opener on January 25. However, the January 25 game was postponed due to weather. More on that later; first, let's get that preseason pickup game out of the way:

Career game #205: Pickup - January 11, 2013

End........... 123456 |TTL
--------------------------
Witcraft...... 020102 | 05
Allen......... 102020 | 05

First thing: we only had time for six ends because preseason pickup games often also involve a lot of additional teaching for new curlers. (Half of the curlers in Friday's games were brand new.) Now...normally, when the game is tied after the last end, we go to a shootout to decide the game. But we were already running late, and it was just a pickup game anyway, so this game goes down as my first tie out of 205 career games. Yay?

Well...it's better than losing! The other team had a takeout for three on their last shot of the game, but the shooter rolled out of the house, and instead it was just two. My biggest regret isn't how we played the last end, it's my just-missed, not-terribly-difficult double takeout in the 4th end.

I played Skip in this game, in part to see if it's something I might want to get back to doing in the league. Two observations: 1) having an experienced Vice helps a lot; and 2) I still have a hard time knowing what weight to throw when I'm standing at the other end of the ice all game long, so I should really start using a stopwatch when I'm playing Skip. Give me a stopwatch and an experienced Vice, I think I can do this.

Well, it turns out, I will be playing Skip in the coming league. Last Friday would have been our league opener, but last Friday also featured a minor ice storm, which iced over all of the roads, causing massive traffic jams and crashes and the like. So, we postponed the league opener one week. That's right: curling was canceled due to ice. I'm sure that makes us the laughingstock of curling clubs everywhere, but, well, you don't know what it's like down here! We've curled when it's snowing before, but icy roads make for a far more dangerous situation.

Actually, if we had any curling rocks of our own, we may have gone curling on our driveway:


I call this a "minor" ice storm because we didn't lose power or anything like that. I've still yet to experience that kind of ice storm in my time in North Carolina, the kind where you get a half-inch of ice on all of the trees and such. But, this amount of ice - a tenth of an inch or two - is plenty enough to drive everyone crazy around here and jam the roads. Lots of red and black on Google Maps traffic last Friday.

So, we'll give it a shot this coming Friday, and I'll have a stopwatch in hand.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Animaniacs

Watching reruns of old 1990s cartoons is nothing new for me, but lately I discovered that a network called "The Hub" was airing Animaniacs multiple times a day. Set your DVRs!

Rewatching a show that you watched 15-20 years ago, but haven't seen since, is an interesting experience. You get a much different perspective rewatching these things as an adult. And, it's interesting to see what I still remember after all these years, and what I don't. (For example, the episode "Potty Emergency" was particularly memorable for some reason. Pretty much every "Pinky and the Brain" short, too.)

Also: back in the 1990s, Animaniacs just seemed like a normal cartoon, because I watched a lot of "Looney Tunes" type stuff. But now, the "Looney Tunes" style is much more distinct. I'm not just talking about the cartoon violence (anvils, dynamite, etc), I'm just talking about the general zaniness of it all. It's hard to describe, but Warner Brothers cartoons all have similar elements. I think we need more "Looney Tunes"-style throwback cartoons, something for today's generation that someone like Marla can enjoy. (Animaniacs is very well done, I think, but there are too many 1990s pop culture references for it to be truly "timeless".)

Actually, this works out pretty well, because Marla is getting to the age where we need to be a little more careful regarding what we put on the television when she's in the room. No more violent and/or profane primetime dramas after dinner for us. (Well, Animaniacs is technically rated TV-Y7, but...meh. Close enough.) Now we just need Tiny Toon Adventures to pop up on some obscure cable channel, and we'll be all set.

Bicycling Temperature Threshold

I've long defined temperature scales for myself to help me decide what to wear when I go outside (pants or shorts, jacket or no jacket, gloves or no gloves, etc). Mostly, it's to keep me from having to make tough decisions. So when it comes to riding my bike, how cold is too cold?

Here's my rule:
- For short rides, including work commutes, my threshold is somewhere between 20° and 25°F. Any colder than that, and I won't ride. Wednesday morning, for instance, was too cold (low of 18°F). This morning, however, was much warmer (low of 29°F).
- For longer weekend rides, however, I wait until the temperature is at above freezing before starting a ride. Once upon a time I tried starting a long bike ride with the temperature in the 20s, and it was a very unpleasant experience. Painful, even. Not only that, but my water bottle froze, too.

So, there you go. I'd like to go for a long ride this Saturday, but I might have to wait a while for the temperature to inch above freezing.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Grandfather Mountain

Several weeks back, we felt like spending the day in the mountains, so we got in the car and started driving west. About the time we got to Winston-Salem, Marla threw up. Trip over!

Saturday, we tried again - this time, puke free! (Hooray!)


View Larger Map

Actually, maybe it was just as well that we made this trip this weekend, instead of in November. While we only got less than an inch of snow on Thursday, the mountains of northwestern North Carolina got more. Way more. Amber likes snow, so often when the snow doesn't come to us, we go to the snow! (This drive to Danville in December 2009 comes to mind.)

Of course...the problem is, that while the main roads in the Boone area were all clear, the same could not be said for, say, the Elk Knob State Park entrance road. We'll have to try Elk Knob again some other time. (As far as being able to claim that we've "been to" this park, I don't think this counts.)


After playing in the snow for a little bit, we meandered on down to Grandfather Mountain. Last time we were in this area (June 2007), we drove by the privately owned and operated Grandfather Mountain attraction, scoffed at the relatively high entrance fees ($14/person at the time), and went to an obvious tourist trip instead. (Makes perfect sense, right?)

Grandfather Mountain has since raised their fees to $18/person. So why go now and not then? Well...perspective, I suppose. When we were in Vermont and New Hampshire three months ago, that kind of price was pretty much the going rate. The Mount Washington Toll Road, for instance, was $33/car. In comparison, this isn't that much different. Besides, since we live in North Carolina, I think we were bound to pony up and visit this place sooner or later. May as well do it now while Marla's admission is still free, right?

So, what is there to do at Grandfather Mountain? Well, they give you an audio CD to listen to in the car, just like on Mount Washington. (However, you do not get a "This car climbed Grandfather Mountain" bumper sticker. Just as well.) The Mount Washington CD was very well done, I thought. Grandfather Mountain? Well...the road to the top is too short (only 5 minutes each way), so nothing really synced up right, even if you followed the instructions (e.g. "If you're not stopping at this pullout, skip ahead to Track 7"). It's hard to make a CD for a road that's only a 10 minute round trip. But they did include a couple of instrumental bluegrass tracks at the end of the CD, which was a pleasant surprise.

There are two main places of interest along the Grandfather Mountain road. One is the museum/visitor center and mini-zoo (with otters, cougars, and bears, only some of which we actually saw). Rather than spend a whole lot of time in the museum or mini-zoo, Marla instead just played in the snow for a little bit with her brand new snow boots, which she may or may not ever get to wear again:



After the halfway point, you pretty much just go to the top, and that's that. Woo. But one reason we decided to pay up today, of all days, was because there were no fog or clouds. My favorite thing about the view at the top: look one way, and there's snow on the ground. Look the other way, and there's no snow at all!



They also have a "mile high swinging bridge" at the top which spans from one minor peak to another. For some reason I interpreted "mile high" as "a mile above the ground", which of course is ridiculous; it's actually just a mile above sea level. (Clever marketing, though.) The bridge was neat, I suppose, but I was actually picturing something a little more spectacular. The bridge was also pretty crowded, being the primary attraction and all.

On a normal day, you can also go hiking on one of several trails at the top of the mountain, but the trails were all closed due to snow. Even though we had the backpack with us just in case, we wouldn't have hiked there, anyway, due to time constraints.

Sure, Grandfather Mountain is a nice place with nice views. I'm glad we went, and we made a great day trip out of it. But what's "special" about it? I haven't figured that out yet. The thing is, there are a million nice places with nice views in this part of the state. I mean, if you want to go hiking or something, just get on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and there's a nice view every couple of miles, and plenty of hiking trails to choose from. If you live in North Carolina, I think you may as well come to Grandfather Mountain once, just to do it (like we did). But if you're here on vacation from out of state, there are plenty of other places to go that are just as nice, and don't cost $18/person.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Winter Weather: 2013 Edition

Two years ago, we bought a snow shovel. We don't get a whole lot of snow here, but big snow events aren't out of the question, so I figured it would be a nice thing to have. Well, predictably, two years later, we haven't used it once. In fact, I'm not 100% certain it's still hanging in our carport, even, or where it might be if it's not.

But what's this? Winter Storm Warning? Hooray! Is it time to finally use the snow shovel? Maybe. I don't think we'll need it, but it might make for a fun activity tomorrow morning.

Actually, here's something else we have to consider now with these snow events: day care closings and delays. Last year, the only snow event was a lame half-inch on Presidents Day morning, and day care was closed that day anyway due to the holiday. So this is new ground for us, because we've never paid attention to what local day cares usually do with winter weather before. I'm guessing that day care will at least open late tomorrow morning. But how late? (Hopefully no later than 10.) Or will they close it down for the whole day? (Hopefully not.)

Well, either way, should be a fun 24 hours! But no more than that, because I fully expect any snow that falls tonight to be completely melted by tomorrow night, except maybe in some shaded areas.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Writing Checks

Twenty or thirty years ago, you'd pay for a lot of things with checks. Now? Of course not. If you can pay with plastic, you do, and most places you go, you can. And you can pay for a lot of things electronically, too. But you still can't pay for everything electronically, and so, I still have to write a check every now and then.

But how often? That's what I'm going to find out! I'm counting the number of checks I write in 2013, starting from January 1st. For simplicity's sake, I'm only counting my checks, not Amber's checks.

Most of the checks I write these days can be classified in one of these four categories:
- Day care. I don't think there's a way to pay our day care "tuition" electronically, so this transaction is still done with ink and paper.
- Sports leagues (curling and kickball). I pay league and membership fees, and curling tournament (bonspiel) fees, with check. Our curling club gives its members the option to pay online via PayPal, but PayPal charges an extra fee for that; even when you consider that most banks charge for more when you run out of checks, writing a check is still much cheaper in this instance.
- Church. Dropping a check instead of cash into the collection dish at church allows us to track our church giving for tax deduction purposes.
- Personal transactions. If I owe person X more than $50, I'll usually just cut him or her a check instead of a stack of 20s.
Come to think of it, I've already written one check in 2013 that doesn't fit under any of those categories: our Homeowners Association dues. But that's just one check a year. We'll see if anything else comes up.

I'm expecting the number of checks I write in 2013 to be in the neighborhood of 40, with about two-thirds of those going to the church. (So far, I'm already up to 5. Fast start!) That's more than I would have had to write a few years ago, back when we didn't go to church, and didn't have a daughter (and, thus, no day care costs). Although back in our apartment days, we did have to pay rent via check, whereas now we make our mortgage payments electronically.

When I first opened a bank account in North Carolina, the bank gave me 150 checks, and it took me over six years to use them all. Six years! That works out to 25 a year, or about two a month; however, the actual number is less than that, because at least a few of those 150 were ripped up and never actually used. (As in, "Oops, I wrote the wrong thing, gotta start over with a new check".)

I guess you could debate whether a messed up check is actually "used" or not. I'm saying it's not, because the point of this exercise is to see how many checks I need to write in a given year.

Check back (pun intended) in January 2014 to see the answer.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dorky Bike Shorts

I ride my bike a lot, so I figured it was time to upgrade my bicycling wardrobe:


Up until now, I had been wearing padded mountain bike shorts, which - unlike these new ones - are baggier, don't look as dorky, and have pockets. I had also been wearing normal t-shirts and sweatshirts, which aren't as visible to drivers as this flourescent green shirt. The shirt also has pockets in the back, making up for my new shorts' lack of pockets.

Wow, that was a really boring paragraph. I guess the point I want to make is this: when some people take up a new hobby, they get all the top of the line "stuff" right away. But I don't do that. I ease into things very, very slowly. To each his own.

It took me 3½ years, and over 6,000 miles, to get a "real" bicycling shirt and shorts, thus making me look like a "real" cyclist. Now I have the wardrobe, and a good bike, too: no excuses now! But at this rate, I'll get around to finally trying clip-on bike shoes around the year 2020. (I do plan on getting a second bicycling shirt, a short-sleeeved version, in March or April, though.)

So, just to close the clothes topic: back-of-shirt pockets are more practical for bicycling than traditional shorts pockets. And, Amber reports that she can see me a lot better now when she drives by me on my bike-to-work mornings. Those are the two main differences here, besides just replacing an older pair of shorts with a newer pair of shorts.

Meanwhile, in my fictional Bicycling Trip in Australia, I'm still on the Nullarbor Plain (a.k.a. the middle of nowhere), but I am expecting to reach the Indian Ocean and complete my second cross-continent journey by the end of May. At which point, I will magically transport myself to Singapore and start heading west across South Asia (in a fictional sense, of course). Fun!

Monday, January 14, 2013

License Plate Registration Stickers: 2014 Edition

The post-Christmas season - a.k.a. January - is always kind of a letdown. So thank goodness for the debut of a new year of North Carolina license plate registration stickers!

I blog about this every year, but to recap: In North Carolina, the license plate registration stickers are a different color every year. Other than the fact that colors are never used twice in a three-year span, I haven't detected a pattern yet. And that's what makes this so exciting!

Back in the day, Florida had a four-year rotation with their sticker colors: green, red, blue, and yellow. (I think that was the actual order, too, with the greens falling on the divisible-by-4 years.) It always followed the same order, and while colorful, it was kind of boring. But it was still preferable to what Florida does now: yellow stickers, EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

Starting from the year before I moved here, the sticker colors in North Carolina have been as follows:

2005: blue
2006: red
2007: green
2008: blue
2009: purple
2010: green
2011: goldenrod
2012: red
2013: blue

Last year at this time, I predicted green or purple for 2014. And the winner for 2014 is: green.


Green was last used four years ago, but I'm not sure if these new stickers are the same shade of green as was used in 2010. I recall the 2010 stickers being more on the bluish side of green; the 2014 stickers are a little lighter, I think. It's subtle, but I think it's important, because the lighter shade makes the 2014 stickers look not that much different than the 2013 blue stickers from a distance. And isn't that supposed to be the reason you change the color every year, so you can easily tell from a distance whether someone has a current registration or not? Oh well. I would think an effective policy would be to alternate "warm colors" with "cool colors" each year, which is pretty much what Florida did back in the day (red/yellow in odd years, green/blue in even years).

So, the last three years, the NC DMV has stuck with traditional colors: red, blue, and green. That means next year is anyone's guess. Do we go back to red and stick with a three-year rotation? (Hope not!) Do we reintroduce purple (2009), goldenrod (2011), or something similar? Or do we introduce an entirely brand new color that has never been used before, such as orange or black? (I think black could work. Why don't they ever use black?)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Sports Thursday: 1/10/13

NHL - So, there will be a hockey season after all. Hooray!

Really...I think we fans took this a little too far, myself included. How dare they wait three months to start the season! Well, in the grand scheme of things, this really wasn't that big a loss. From a competitive standpoint, I think a shorter season actually benefits a team like the Carolina Hurricanes. Smaller sample space = higher playoff odds for the underdogs, right?

So all is forgiven, right? Well...the thing with sports is that we enjoy it more when we don't think about the ridiculous sums of money that are involved. And that's all this lockout was about: money. Players and owners fighting over money. Nothing more. I'd love it if the NHL were more popular in this country than the NBA, but these things don't help, and as a hockey fan, that's infuriating, too.

On the other hand, hockey is entertaining, and in cities with an NHL team such as Raleigh, it's a source of hometown pride. So will I watch the Carolina Hurricanes' games? Of course! Will I watch the rest of the league? Probably, but maybe not as much as before. Will I spend any money on hockey tickets or Carolina Hurricanes merchandise this season? Probably not. It'll take some time for the passion to come back.

Maybe next time I write one of these, we can actually talk about the games! I'm looking forward to that.

Oh, and one more thought: the one thing Gary Bettman could do that would help win fans back more than anything else? Resign.

NFL - Among Washington's pro sports franchises, it appears we have two diametrically opposite approaches to player injury:
- The Nationals approach: Sit your star player down for the last month of the season, and the playoffs, as a precaution to prevent further injury, even though he is healthy at the time.
- The Redskins approach: Keep your star player in the game even when he's already obviously hurt, and risk further injury along the way.

Obviously, some middle ground would be best. But as fan, if you had to choose between the Nationals approach and the Redskins approach, which would you choose?

It's easy to say "the Nationals approach" given the way the Redskins/Seahawks game went down last weekend, but...think about it a little more. Let's say your favorite team is in the Super Bowl. Your team's star player is injured, but still capable of contributing, even at the risk of additional long term injury. Keep him in the game? I say, yes! I mean, it's the Super Bowl! Your team may never get back here again. I hope my team would be willing to risk "future assets" if a clear opportunity to win the Super Bowl presents itself.

That said, I think that's only justifiable in extreme circumstances; i.e. in the last round or two of the playoffs. Not in a Wild Card game, and certainly not in a regular season game, even if you have to win said regular season game to make the playoffs. Because yes, Stephen Strasburg pitching in the NLDS might have made the difference between winning and losing, but they might have lost to the Giants in the next around anyway.

As for this weekend's playoff games: Go Texans!

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

I've Been Everywhere...?

I'm surprised I've never checked this before. Of all the places mentioned in the classic song "I've Been Everywhere" - you know, "I've been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto...", and so on and so forth - how many have I been to?

Red means I haven't been there, green means I have. For the purposes of this exercise, driving by a city without stopping counts as "been to" as long as I got sufficiently close to the city. For cities that are located in multiple states, I usually count the first one that comes to mind; this is footnoted where it's not obvious.

First verse (12 of 23): Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota, Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow1, Sarasota, Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma, Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma, Bangor, Baltimore, Salvador2, Amarillo, Tocopilla, Barranquilla, Padilla

1I'm counting Winslow, Arizona.
2Not really sure which "Salvador" he's referring to - could be shorthand for El Salvador - but regardless, I don't think I've been to any place called Salvador.

Second verse (13 of 23): Boston, Charleston3, Dayton, Louisiana, Washington, Houston, Kingston4, Texarkana, Monterey5, Ferriday, Santa Fe, Tallapoosa6, Glen Rock7, Black Rock8, Little Rock, Oskaloosa, Tennessee, Hennessey, Chicopee9, Spirit Lake, Grand Lake, Devils Lake10, Crater Lake

3I've been to both South Carolina and West Virginia, multiple times.
4I'm giving Ontario the nod here over Jamaica, but either way...nope.
5Monterey, California, or Monterrey, Mexico? The Wikipedia article spells it with one 'r', implying California, so I'm going with that.
6Tallapoosa, Georgia, comes up first on a Google search. It's located just off I-20, so I'm counting it, although this is admittedly kind of a stretch. Although I have also been to Tallapoosa County, Alabama. 7Glen Rock, New Jersey, I guess? I suppose I've been as close to Glen Rock, NJ as I have to Tallapoosa, GA, but I can't count this one.
8Another questionable one. Black Rock, Connecticut (near Bridgeport) comes up first on a Google search, and I-95 grazes its boundaries according to Google Maps, so...check?
9Chicopee, Massachusetts.
10Devils Lake, North Dakota.

Third verse (10 of 22): Louisville, Nashville, Knoxville, Ombabika, Schefferville, Jacksonville, Waterville11, Costa Rica, Pittsfield, Springfield, Bakersfield, Shreveport, Hackensack13, Cadillac, Fond du Lac, Davenport, Idaho, Jellico14, Argentina, Diamantina, Pasadena, Catalina

11Waterville, Maine.
12A classic debate: which Springfield is most famous - Illinois, Massachusetts, or Missouri? (Or the one from The Simpsons?) I've been to the one in Massachusetts, so I'm counting it.
13Hackensack, New Jersey...another oh-so-close one that I can't count in good conscience. I-80 would count, but the Turnpike does not.
14I had never heard of Jellico, Tennessee, but apparently I've been there! (Or at least driven by on I-75.)

Fourth verse (14 of 23): Pittsburgh, Parkersburg, Gravelbourg, Colorado, Ellensburg15, Rexburg, Vicksburg, El Dorado16, Larimore, Atmore, Haverstraw, Chattanooga, Chaska, Nebraska, Alaska, Opelika, Baraboo17, Waterloo18, Kalamazoo, Kansas City, Sioux City, Cedar City, Dodge City

15Ellensburg, Washington - only about 75% sure I've actually "been" there.
16I've been to El Dorado County, California...BUT, El Dorado, Arkansas comes to mind first. So, nope.
17Don't think I-90/94 comes close enough to Baraboo, Wisconsin, to count it.
18Waterloo, Iowa.

TOTAL: 49 of 91, or 53.8%. So, no, I have not been everywhere...yet.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Five Guys

So, Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Never been. I've always been curious because of the reputation it has, but I've been putting it off for years now. Well, yesterday was the day.

Five Guys is often compared to the West Coast chain In-N-Out Burger. They're very similar: short menu, greasy food, loyal cult following. I went to In 'N Out in 2009 on a trip to California, and while it was good, it gave me massive indigestion. That's kind of what I was expecting here. (See why I've been putting this off for so long?)

First impression: the price. Burger and fries? $9, plus tax. This had better be good! But I suppose while $9 is a lot for fast food, this isn't really supposed to be fast food; Five Guys' objective is sit-down restaurant quality food with fast food-type service. And, $9 is about what you would pay for a burger and fries at a place like Applebee's (before the tip). Thing is, though, if I'm going to pay $9 for a meal, I want the full sit-down restaurant experience.

Second impression: I already knew the food was greasy, but the bag is, too!


That's actually grease from the french fries. Suffice to say, there was a bit of fry spillage in the bag. That's what happens when you try to fit two cup-fulls of fries into one cup. Not that I'm complaining, but I mean, why not just use bigger cups? Maybe they think that customers are happier when you give then an overflowing cup of fries, compared to an appropriately-sized cup of fries, even if the actual quantity of fries is the same. There might be something to that: the illusion that you're getting more than you paid for.


(In other words...yeah, it's $9, but you get a lot.)

I didn't take any pictures of my cheeseburger, because I downed it pretty quick. Yeah, it was good, but I want to comment on the sizing. At a lot of restaurants, they have a standard size, and then a large size that you can "upgrade" to. At Five Guys, it's just the opposite: the regular burgers are the large burgers, while smaller versions are called "little". I would assume that the "little" ones are quarter-pounders, and that the regular ones are half-pounders.

The burger was good, yes. The fries, on the other hand, had too much salt on them. WAY too much. I didn't finish them. Yes, fries are only the side dish, but I think they're an important part of the "burgers and fries" experience. I usually spend more time eating the fries than I do the burger itself. That was kind of disappointing, because I really liked the In-N-Out fries. But on the bright side, at least I didn't get massive indigestion this time. (Hooray!)

So: In-N-Out, or Five Guys? Who wins? If I had to choose, I guess In-N-Out wins on the strength of the fries, but really, the answer is nobody. Since I would like to live to see my 60th birthday, I only let myself do this kind of thing - that is, eat an extremely unhealthy meal - once a month, at the most. And I still prefer Bojangles' chicken over either In-N-Out or Five Guys.

Actually, just for fun, let's compare and contrast the Five Guys cheeseburger+fries meal with the meal I usually get at Bojangles' (breast and wing, fries, biscuit):
- Calories: Five Guys 1,460, Bojangles' 1,135
- Grams of fat: Five Guys 85, Bojangles' 67
- Grams of saturated fat: Five Guys 32, Bojangles' 24 (but no Trans Fat in either, woo!)
- Cost*: Five Guys $9, Bojangles $6

(* - Does not include any associated medical costs.)

If I ever need motivation to ride my bike more, that'll do it.

So, anyway...that was fun, but no more Five Guys for me.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Sports Friday: 1/4/13

NFL - Yeah playoffs! I am recording all four games this weekend and aim to watch all four start-to-finish. (Except when I invoke the "blowout rule", usually 21 points or more.)

It's not that hard to find NFL game predictions or analysis on the internet. And let's face it, it's mostly rubbish anyway. So instead, let's talk about what really matters: who I WANT to win.

Cincinnati at Houston - Sat 4:30p, NBC: For the second consecutive year, the Bengals and Texans face off on a Wild Card game, and for the second consecutive year, they get the Saturday afternoon time slot, a.k.a. the "nobody cares about this game" time slot. (As a Jaguars fan, I know all about that time slot. Yes, the Jaguars have been in the playoffs before, believe it or not.) It's interesting, because Houston is a pretty big city (10th largest media market in the country), and yet, they only get a very small fraction of the national press that the Northeast Corridor gets. That's not just true with the Texans, it's true with the Astros and Rockets, too. Jeremy Lin plays well for the Knicks and it's "Linsanity"; Jeremy Lin plays well for the Rockets, and, well, did you even know that's where he was playing this season? I think it's time Houston gets its due. Personal preference: Houston

Minnesota at Green Bay - Sat 8:00p, NBC: I said I was pulling for the Vikings several weeks ago in part because of their FSU alumnus quarterback. Why stop now? Personal preference: Minnesota

Indianapolis at Baltimore - Sun 1:00p, CBS: Stupid Colts. I still can't get over the fact that it only took them ONE FREAKING YEAR to rebuild and get back to the playoffs. Personal preference: Baltimore

Seattle at Washington - Sun 4:30p, FOX: Really tough one here. Rooting for the Nationals has actually warmed me up to all of Washington's sports teams (except the Capitals). They haven't had a whole lot of success as of late, and their fan bases are nowhere near as annoying as those from New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. So if one of the NFC East teams is going to do well, it may as well be the Redskins. But on the other hand...Russell Wilson! Yeah! I think that settles that. Besides, it's probably better for the Nationals if the Redskins don't win the Super Bowl. Personal preference: Seattle

College football - I figured this is how the Orange Bowl reaction would sound if Florida State won. Northern Illinois didn't belong after all, they say! Has anyone actually given credit to the Seminoles throughout all of this? That said, it's a BCS bowl victory, and that's something ACC teams have a very limited number of. Also, I still maintain that NIU deserved a spot in the game more so than a team like Oklahoma, but I don't really care that much, because it's a dumb system anyway.

So, that leaves the National BCS Championship game, which will kick off way too late for my taste. I've gone to bed at the end of the first quarter for each of the other BCS bowls, so that's probably what will happen Monday, too. Notre Dame v. Alabama - Mon 8:30p (if we're lucky), ESPN

College basketball - Conference play begins in earnest this weekend, which means it's time to really start watching. I already knew Florida State took a little step back this year, but yikes! Maybe I underestimated how big a step that was. Based on how they've played in non-conference, this is nowhere near an NCAA tournament team. But neither is Clemson, probably, so...perhaps they can still start 1-0 in the ACC? Florida State at Clemson - Sat 4:00p, Fox Sports South

I normally try to watch Penn State's games when they're on, even when they stink (like this year). But given how competitive the Big Ten stands to be this year, I can't justify watching a Penn State game over some of the potentially more interesting games at the top of the Big Ten. If this makes me any less of a Penn State fan, then...well, I watched the Penn State v. New Hampshire game, which I'm guessing you didn't. So there. Ohio State at Illinois - Sat 2:15p, BTN

Other stuff - Regarding a couple of the sports that I've been watching in lieu of the NHL...

I think my Charlotte Bobcats infatuation has worn off. Yes, they just ended their 18-game losing streak on Monday, and I think that's actually why it's worn off. A team on a long losing streak makes for great television. Is this the night they break the string? How are they going to blow it this time? But now that the streak is over, that's gone, so...why watch now? Especially now that college basketball conference play has started? Cleveland at Charlotte - Fri 7:00p, SportSouth

My soccer infatuation hasn't worn off yet, though. The French Ligue 1 is currently on a three-week winter break, but the English Premier League takes no such break, so I've watched a couple of English games recently. I've had trouble getting into English soccer before, but now that I can compare French soccer and English soccer side-by-side, it's obvious: English soccer is better. More fans, more excitement, better announcers, a higher quality of play, more parity (maybe), and perhaps most importantly, more goals. (One French team, Saint-Etienne, hasn't scored a single goal in their last SIX GAMES. And these guys are in 10th place!) But despite all the evidence that I should really be watching the Premier League instead, I still have a soft spot for the French, and for my newly adopted team, Olympique de Marseille. So there.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Curling Recap: 1/1/13

For the last few years, our beloved Triangle Curling Club has held a one-day, two-game event on New Year's Day. And Amber and I have always missed it, because we're always out of town. Not this year! Hooray curling! Tuesday was also the first time Amber and I got to curl together since August. (And it was another noteworthy first, which I'll get to later.)

The basic idea: play two games, earn points based on how many games you won, how many ends you won, and how many points you scored (i.e. "pointspiel" format), and the team with the most total points over the two games wins. So, run up the score as best you can! But try to win the game first, of course. Winning a two-game pointspiel without winning both games isn't impossible, but it is difficult.

Career game #203: 2013 New Year's Pointspiel Game 1 - January 1, 2013
(our team: Jaun)

End........... 1234567 |TTL
---------------------------
Zwiefel....... 1202100 | 06
Jaun.......... 0010021 | 04

Well, so much for that. But the thing is, the type of people who come to a New Year's Day two-game curling event aren't your casual curlers; they're your serious curlers. (Mostly). So some of the teams, including Team Zwiefel, were pretty stacked. Our team was kind of stacked, too, but not that stacked.

Well, anyway, the other team played better, they deserved it, blah blah blah. Game two!

Career game #204: 2013 New Year's Pointspiel Game 2 - January 1, 2013
(our team: Jaun)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Jaun.......... 11031102 | 09
Wallace....... 00100010 | 02

It's not that we played poorly in the first game, but we were really hitting our stride in the second game. Which, I guess that's what you'd expect from the second game of a back-to-back, along with being kind of sore the next day. And we won enough ends and scored enough points to finish the pointspiel tied for 2nd place (out of six teams). I'll take that. In fact, I actually thought the prize for 2nd place (chocolate) was better than the prize for first place (a club drinking glass, which we already have several of).

Now, I'm going to go all statistical on you. The New Year's Pointspiel was the first time I had ever curled on a Tuesday, ever. Tuesday had been the only day of the week I had never curled, so now I've curled on every day of the week. Yay! (I know this because I have a spreadsheet listing every game I've ever played. By the way, Amber has still never played on a Wednesday.)

So, how many games have I played on each day of the week, anyway? And what are my won-loss records on each day?
Friday: 69-55 (61% of all of my games have been on Friday)
Saturday: 18-11
Sunday: 20-12
Monday: 3-3
Tuesday: 1-1
Wednesday: 0-1
Thursday: 5-5

So while I've curled on every day of week, I haven't won on every day of the week.

And while I'm at it, here are my records by month:

January: 12-4
February: 15-14
March: 8-11
April: 12-12
May: 3-4
June: 11-2
July: 4-3
August: 18-8
September: 11-6
October: 7-10
November: 12-9
December: 3-5

Sure, I could analyze this, but...nah.

The "Spring" League starts on January 25, and I'll probably do one pickup game before then, too. By the way, I think I may do only one curling recap post per two games this year, because as you may have noticed, there are only so many ways you can say "we won!" or "we lost!"

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Statistics Galore: 2012 Year in Review

It's time for end-of-the-year statistics!

Restaurant Serving Times: This year's restaurant serving times competition turned out a lot like it did last year.

Fastest of the year: Ideal Hot Dog of Toledo, OH (4:38, December 22). This is their second consecutive title, which means I think we need to make an annual visit - but only one per year - to Ideal Hot Dog to see how long they can keep up the streak. Ideal Hot Dog joins the legendary Waffle Shop of State College, PA as the only two-time champions, and also as the only restaurants with two entries in the all-time top 10.

Second fastest was Cracker Barrel of Montgomery, AL; its time of 8:34 would have been the slowest to have ever earned "fastest of year" honors had it held up. Meanwhile, the only Triangle restaurant to have ever been crowned "fastest of the year" is still Red Hot and Blue of Cary, in 2006. But that location has since closed, which means that no currently open Triangle restaurant has ever been the fastest of the year, even though this is obviously where we do most of our dining. We have yet to find a consistently fast restaurant anywhere in the Triangle that can compete with the likes of Waffle Shop and Ideal Hot Dog.

Slowest of the year: Tribeca Tavern of Raleigh (30:11, February 1). This is the second consecutive year - and third time in the last four years - in which the slowest time of the year came with a party of 10 or more, which makes perfect sense, of course. To be fair to Tribeca, I went back in April with a party of 6 and they timed in at 15:06, which is decent. The Company Christmas Lunch a few weeks back - also with a party of 10 or more - came within two minutes of Tribeca's time, but came up short.

It's been quite a while since we've had a very slow time. Tribeca Tavern's 30:11 isn't that bad, really, but that's the only time over 30:00 that we've seen the last two years. In fact, only one of the ten slowest of all-time has come since Amber and I got married in 2008. Have restaurants just gotten more efficient over the years? Or are Amber and I just not the type to choose a fancy restaurant that would take over 40 minutes? I think it might be a little of both.

Nights By County: Every night since January 1, 2006, I've recorded the county in which I spent the night. Obviously, Durham County will be #1 every single year by a wide margin until we move somewhere else, so the main items of interest here are a) which county finishes #2, and b) how many nights we spend away from home total in a given year.

Here are the totals for 2012, for both me (C) and Marla (M):

Durham NC - C-325, M-329
Lucas OH - C-10, M-13
Duval FL - C-8, M-7
Caledonia VT - C-5, M-5
Mecklenburg NC - C-3, M-3
Warren PA - C-3, M-3
Oneida NY - C-3, M-0
Hillsborough FL - C-2, M-0
Broome NY - C-1, M-0
Six other counties - C-1, M-1 (Nottoway VA, Washington OH, Etowah AL, Montgomery AL, Cape May NJ, Albany NY)

A little more variety this year than last because, well, we went more places this year than last. I spent 41 nights away from home, which isn't that far off from the numbers I put up in the years before Marla was born (49 in 2010, 43 in 2009, 40 in 2008). So if you're wondering if having a kid would slow us down, the answer is still yes, but not that much, really. This was the second consecutive year in which we never crossed the Mississippi River.

Also, just because, here is how many nights I have spent in each state and province since 2006. I was curious which state would come in 5th behind the "big four"; turns out it's New York, on the strength of two curling bonspiels and the 2009 Watkins Glen camping trip.

North Carolina - 2,119
Pennsylvania - 196
Florida - 77
Ohio - 65
New York - 11
Maryland - 9
Virginia, Alaska - 7 (Alaska is highest among states west of the Mississippi)
Manitoba - 6 (highest among Canadian provinces)
Georgia, Vermont - 5
Michigan, Nebraska, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Yukon - 3
AL/CA/CT/DC/KY/ME/NJ/SC/TX/WI, NB/SK - 2
CO/KS/MN/MS/MO/NV/ND/TN, AB/BC/PEI - 1

Pennsylvania is #2 because this includes my last half-year at Penn State. If you exclude 2006, then not only does Pennsylvania drop to 4th, but Ohio jumps to 2nd; Florida stays 3rd. And as often as we drive through the state, I have spent exactly zero nights in West Virginia since 2006.

Car Mileage: Our decision to take my car on more road trips than Amber's car, due to my planning to get a new car sooner than her (late 2015?), resulted in my highest annual miles driven total since 2007...but only slightly.
- I drove my car 19,817 miles in 2012, which is a few thousand miles higher than last year, but only a few hundred miles more than the 2010 and 2008 totals. I've stayed under 20,000 for six straight years now, even though 20,000 a year used to be my benchmark.
- I also drove a rental car to Tampa and back in August, which would have added another 1,665 miles to that count if I included rental car mileage.
- Amber's car only went ~12,000 miles in 2012 (unofficially). I think Amber's car only left the state twice all year, compared to around eight times for my car.
- One more stat that only I find interesting (probably): I drove my car over 2,000 miles in five separate months this year, compared to only one month last year.

My car will reach 100,000 miles in a few months, which is great, but it will likely kick off a round of expensive preventative maintenance, which to this point I've been able to mostly fend off. So far, I've replaced the tires, the battery, and...that's it. (Well, I've also replaced the wiper blades, air filter, and cabin filter multiple times. And the oil, of course. I'm averaging one oil change per 6,250 miles thus far. … Oh, and there was this, too, although I ultimately didn't have to pay for that. Hey, that reminds me...if I have another sun visor failure after 100K, I'll have to pay for it myself! Crap.)

Bicycling Statistics: I averaged 40.6 miles per week of bicycling in 2011, and 35.9 miles per week in 2010. This year's average? 37.8 miles per week. So, I took a step back, but we also spent more time away from home this year than last. My long weekend rides are critical to keeping my bicycling average up, and if we're not home, then I don't ride. So, there you go.

County Visitation: Yeah, I talk about this an awful lot, but between the trip to Alabama in March, the drive down the Ohio River valley in July, the Vermont/New Hampshire trip, and last week's joy ride in Michigan, I had a great year on the "visiting new counties" front. I checked off 101 new counties just this year, bringing my lifetime total to 1,504/47.9%. Eventually I'm going to run out of new counties to visit, but I'm a long ways away from that, because there are still only four states in which I've visited every county (Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, North Carolina). South Carolina? Nope. Virginia? Still 20 counties to go. And in relatively nearby Tennessee and Kentucky, I'm not even at 50%! There's still plenty of fun to be had here, but pretty much the only way to get 100+ new counties in a year anymore is to head west of the Mississippi.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Marla Picture Dump: December 2012

The holiday season provides plenty of opportunity for picture taking, and so, here are a few Marla pictures from December (a.k.a. the occasionally monthly picture dump). Wee!