Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cherie Berry





In every North Carolina elevator, you'll see the smiling picture of the state Commissioner of Labor, Cherie Berry. Evidently, elevator inspections fall under her domain, but the side effect of Berry's elevator omnipresence is that she's developed kind of a cult following.

I think it's also a tremendous advantage come election time to have your smiling photo in every elevator in the state. For instance, last November, Berry was the only Republican on the entire ballot endorsed by Durham's left-leaning Independent Weekly. How good a job is Berry actually doing as our Commissioner of Labor (an office she's held since 2001)? Well, as long as our elevators keep working, who cares?

On that note...I'm a bit concerned about the elevator at work. It says just above her picture there that the elevator's last inspection was over a year ago (2/14/2012). The inspection before that was 2/4/2011, which implies that the elevator is overdue for another inspection. In the meantime, is this elevator safe???

Okay, I'm not really concerned. How often do elevators really need to be inspected, anyway?

But what if you're in another state, outside the domain of the all-seeing Cherie Berry? You may have no idea how recently that elevator was inspected. Is that ignorance actually better, as opposed to knowing for certain that the elevator is overdue for an inspection? Probably.

Well, either way, I'm eagerly anticipating the day when the inspection record is updated. It could be any day now!

By the way, for the sake of public health, I highly endorse taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Especially if it's been over a year since the last elevator inspection.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Marbles Kids "Museum"

Normally I ride my bike on Saturday mornings. But when it's raining...well, then, I guess I'm stuck spending time with my family.

So, we went to Marbles Kids Museum. We heard that it was a great place to go, even for children as young as Marla. Confirmed! (She's going on 19 months now, by the way.) The "Museum" isn't really so much a museum, as it is a "large children's play area with educational content dispersed throughout". Well, I guess that's what a "kids museum" is supposed to be, right?

Drop Marla down, let her roam free throughout the museum, and where does she go first? After not really being completely sure where to go at first, she eventually stopped and played with ... a calculator! I love this girl.



After that, we went to ... the fake telephone booth! But Marla had to wait her turn, though. (Basically, anything with buttons is a hit with her.)



Next up: the fake grocery store! (Sponsored by Lowes Foods.)





Silly Marla. You can play with empty plastic bottles at home! (And she does. Oh yes.) Eventually she did settle on a potato, however.



Then, a little more wandering around, and a stop at the area specifically made for toddlers (under age 3), and it was time to go home and nap. (I'm not just talking about Marla here.)







So, that was fun. It was also fun to see a mass of young parents and their similarly-aged kids all in one place. That's a highly underrated aspect of parenting, I think - the interaction with other parents, even those you've never met before and probably won't ever meet again. Having a kid is a great conversation starter, it turns out, and that's something that really comes in handy for the socially awkward among us.

If one of us were a stay-at-home parent, we would probably get a membership and go to Marbles on a weekly basis, because it's a great place for kids of all ages. (Well, 12 and under, I guess.) But instead, we'll stuck with the occasional rainy Saturday morning.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pandas

And now, a completely random topic: pandas! Aren't they cute?

Actually, I confess: this isn't random. We're currently planning a road trip that involves a stop in Memphis, and while looking for things to do there that do not involve going to Graceland (Amber's already been, and it wouldn't be worth the money for me), I discovered that the Memphis Zoo is one of only four zoos in the United States that has pandas.

...that is, for now. You see, the only way non-Chinese zoos can access pandas is to "loan" them for ten years at a time. And when did the Memphis Zoo's loan start? That would be April 2003, which means that by the time we're in Memphis (mid-May), they might be gone. The Memphis Zoo is currently in negotiations to extend the contract, but who knows what the outcome of this will be.

According to that article, of the four United States zoos currently housing pandas -San Diego, Atlanta, and Washington are the others - the Memphis Zoo is the only one that has been unable to produce any panda offspring. That's sad, no? One thing I'm actually not sure about is if any would-be panda cubs are the property of the zoo where they were born, or of China. I'm guessing, China. Jerks.

Well, regardless, pandas are very difficult to breed. They're only fertile for one to three days a year. Makes you wonder how the species made it this far, doesn't it?

Other things I learned about pandas - by reading the Wikipedia article, of course - are that they're four to six feet tall, and that a "giant panda" and a "panda" are the same thing. I honestly wasn't sure if pandas were, like, koala-sized, or what. I've never seen one in person (as far as I can remember).

Our only incentive to go to the Memphis Zoo is if they still have the pandas there. Otherwise it's just another zoo, right? And even then, it'll only be our second priority. (This is the first.) I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Detroit

And now, some random thoughts on Detroit and its suburbs (a.k.a. "Metro Detroit").

Urban decay has really taken its toll on Detroit proper. But it'll come back. It's only a matter of time before urban revitalization takes hold, and Detroit - even the poorest areas - is cool again.

"But...but...there aren't any jobs here! People aren't actually moving TO the Detroit area anymore, right?" Think again! For instance, one person we curled against last weekend said that they moved from Maryland to Detroit for a job. That's right - FROM Maryland, and TO Detroit. For a job. Suck on that!

(Seriously, though, Metro Detroit's unemployment rate is currently 10.8%, which isn't great, but it's not like it's 20% or something crazy. And, Michigan as a whole actually has a lower unemployment rate than North Carolina. But you wouldn't know it based on the "Detroit is burning" narratives that have percolated in recent years.)

"But...but...Detroit is trash!" Yes, there are parts of Detroit that aren't particularly good places for your car to break down. But Metro Detroit is pretty big. Try spending some time in Oakland County, for instance. I think Oakland County is actually pretty interesting, from what I saw. Yes, the houses are old and have been around a while, but it has character, and even individual suburbs have a different character about them. I think that's kind of neat. Each suburb - and there are a lot of them - has its own identity of sorts. You don't get that in a place like, say, Jacksonville. (Except for the Beaches, perhaps.) If I were to move to Metro Detroit - no plans to move there, or anywhere else, by the way - I'm sure I'd live in Oakland County.

"But...but...Ohio is better!" Is it? This is purely subjective, of course. Comparing two states and declaring one better than the other is dumb anyway. I mean, who does that?

(Seriously, though, I think it depends on where in the state you are. For instance, I would say that Columbus > Detroit > Cleveland.)

I don't really have a point I'm trying to make here, other than that perhaps things aren't so bad in Detroit - or I should say, Metro Detroit - as some people think. In fact, I think things are going just fine, and their problems aren't any worse than what's going on in any other city, really.

By the way: in Detroit, nearly everything is named "Ford". It's kind of like "Duke" here in Durham.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Travelogue and Weatherlogue: 2/15-2/18/13

This is another example of a blog post that I write more so for my own sake (road trip documentation) than anything else.

Road trip notes

Marla got another ear infection last week, and you'd think that a sick Marla would make for a more unpleasant drive...but actually, it's just the opposite. When Marla's feeling well, like she was on Monday (sort of), she's much more antsy.

So, Marla's cooperation on Friday gave us time to take a detour and pick up two more Ohio counties (Carroll and Harrison, just east of I-77): (On Monday, the only detour we made was to a playground in Winston-Salem. Marla won that battle.)


View Larger Map

I now have 12 counties to go in Ohio. I've figured out that I can get the last 12 counties with two more drives to Toledo, plus two day trips originating from Toledo (including one long one that will also finish off I-71 for me). Totally doable within the next two to three years, I'd say.

Closing up the Marla thread: used to be, when we left at 4 AM, it was guaranteed that Marla would fall back asleep once we get in the car, and stay asleep for the next two to three hours. That didn't really work out this time. Now it takes her over an hour for her to get back asleep after we get going, and then she doesn't stay asleep for another two hours at that point, and that means she's behind on sleep for the rest of the day (which might have been part of the problem on Monday). So, we'll have to reconsider our "leaving at 4 AM" policy before our next long trip.

Meanwhile: I love having an E-ZPass compatible transponder! I already knew it would be convenient, but I didn't realize until afterwards the time savings we'd get, too. Not having to stop and physically pay a toll booth operator, plus being able to use the E-ZPass only lanes (which are always shorter than the cash lanes), shaved a few minutes off our drive times each way. ... Of course, the ideal situation would be for there to be no tolls whatsoever on any of these roads, but, well, you know.

Weather

Let's lead off with this: the Raleigh area got about one inch of snow last Saturday. It's not the first time we've been out of town for a Raleigh snow event, but this one didn't sting as much as the White Christmas event did, because it's not like that was Raleigh's only snow of the season. (It could very well be the last, though.) And, it wasn't really that much, either.

Well, Detroit got snow, too! In fact, some areas got some really nasty snow squalls on Saturday, causing major freeways to close and creating havoc for those trying to make it to/from the curling rink from a distance (including Amber's parents). Fortunately, nobody we know was involved in any accidents. We didn't actually see any of the heavy snow where we were, though. (That "State College effect" really does seem to follow us around.)

As for temperatures, the coldest we saw was 11°F on Sunday morning, which is the coldest temperature I've seen (or will see) this winter. I'm kind of disappointed I didn't experience any single digit cold this season, but regardless, I think that's enough Winter for one year. I'm over it, and I'm ready for Spring. Bring on hammock season.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Detroit Mixed Bonspiel: Recap

We had a great time at the Detroit International Mixed Bonspiel (curling tournament) last weekend. Woo! I'm splitting up the recap into two parts - the curling, and the party. (I'll also have some road trip, weather, and general Detroit-related stuff later this week.)

The curling

So, Detroit Curling Club: been around since 1885 (I think), but the current building in suburban Ferndale has only been around since 2002 (I think). The Detroit club is the 6th dedicated ice club that I've curled at, and it's the farthest west of the six, but not the farthest north (Rochester, NY).



Let's go ahead and get these first two games out of the way as quickly as possible...

Career game #208: 2013 Detroit Int'l Mixed, A Event, Round of 16 - February 16, 2013

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Triangle...... 0102000- | 03
Chatham, ON... 2010525- | 15

Being an "international" bonspiel, there were quite a few Canadian teams represented - maybe 6 out of the 16? I'm glad we got to at least play one of them. These guys were pretty good, and we managed to hang with them for the first half of the game. In fact, in the 3rd end, we could have scored five, if not for the other Skip's last rock draw to the button to save the end.

And then...things fell apart. The next game and a half, we truly sucked!

Career game #209: 2013 Detroit Int'l Mixed, C Event, Quarterfinals - February 16, 2013

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Detroit....... 2016???? | 12
Triangle...... 0100???? | 01

Please forgive me for not remembering the specific end-by-end scores after we have up 6.

So...what happened? Maybe we were tired - Amber and I, along with our teammates Justin and Tabby, each have a one-year-old child, of course. Regardless of what excuse I can come up with, we just didn't make too many shots. It happens. Not much use in discussing strategy here :)

But the good news is that our struggles earned us a spot in the "D event" with three other 0-2 teams. Fair competition, at last! Since the quality of competition can vary greatly at a bonspiel, I think a good bonspiel draw is one that pits the teams that are struggling the most against each other - for example, 0-2 teams against other 0-2 teams - to make the last game or two fun and competitive for everybody. Most do this, but there was that bonspiel a few years back in which we started 0-2, and were "rewarded" with a rematch against the team that had killed us in the first game. The Detroit 16-team bracket - four games for everybody; winners play winners and losers play losers, all the way to the end - is, by definition, as good as you can get in that regard. (Admittedly, it's harder to pull that off with a 24-team bracket.)

We must have all slept better Saturday night, because on Sunday, we played really well!

Career game #210: 2013 Detroit Int'l Mixed, D Event, Semifinals - February 17, 2013

End........... 1234567 |TTL
---------------------------
Detroit....... 200000- | 02
Triangle...... 011211- | 06
(Note - this is a different Detroit team than we played the day before.)

Career game #211: 2013 Detroit Int'l Mixed, D Event, Final - February 17, 2013

End............ 1234567 |TTL
----------------------------
Bowling Green.. 000200- | 02
Triangle....... 213011- | 08

Now that we're actually making our shots, now we can talk strategy. We've had the most success in bonspiels playing a "quiet" game - lots of guards and draws. Generally speaking, a team that curls on dedicated ice regularly is going to be better at precision take-outs than we are, so our best chance of victory is to try to out-draw them. And today, we executed! Woo! Put up some guards, try to draw around them, put as many rocks in play as possible, leave the opposing skip with as difficult a shot as possible. It seems like most of our dedicated ice bonspiel wins involve lots of one-point steals. Our Skip Justin also played made some key shots, including a key take-out for two in the 4th end of the D semifinal.

So: D event champions! It's the first event final I've won, or even played in, at an away bonspiel (pointspiels excluded). But I can't count this as making the final draw of a bonspiel, because the D event final was actually in the next-to-last draw time. So, we didn't get piped onto the ice by the bagpiper. Which I think is fair, really, because basically, the teams that went 3-0 or 2-1 in their first three games played in the final draw, while the 1-2 and 0-3 teams (including us) played their last game in the penultimate draw. Even though we did win the D event, in some respects, we actually just finished 13th out of 16 teams, if you treat all of the "losers brackets" as consolation playoff games. ... Well, 13th doesn't sound that great, so I'm going to stick with saying that we went 2-2 on the weekend and were the D event champions. Yeah!

Regardless of how you add it up, I think we represented Triangle very well, and I'm really proud of how we played this weekend. It is a primary goal of mine to play in the final draw of an away bonspiel, and I'll get there someday.

The party

For some, the party atmosphere is the reason you go to a bonspiel. For us, it may not be *the* reason, but it's part of it.

How did the Detroit bonspiel "party atmosphere" stack up? I'd place it top 3 out of all the bonspiels I've been to, for sure. There weren't any games at all scheduled for after 5:30 on Saturday; after that, it was dinner + costume party. I appreciate a bonspiel that takes Saturday night off and has an actual off-ice "event" scheduled. (I think about half of the bonspiels I've been to have done that.)

The theme of the costume party was "Famous Foursomes". We didn't have a whole lot of time to put something really sophisticated together, so our team did the "Four Seasons" (the actual seasons, not the band). Not particularly original, but it was an excuse for me to put on a Spring dress, I suppose. There were actually three guys in drag at the costume party on three different teams, and none of us won the contest, of course. Crossdressing normally doesn't win these kinds of things. (We don't do it to win, we do it because it's fun, amirite?)

I don't know what does win costume contests, usually, because I don't think I've ever agreed with the final decision, even once. Personally, I thought the Hungry Hungry Hippos should have won:



I know that's not a well-lit picture, but that's actually the only one I have from the costume party. Sorry, folks. (Or perhaps, in some cases, you're welcome.)

Oh, and one more thing: complements to the "chef", or whoever organized the food menu. Every meal was excellent, and I was particularly impressed that Sunday lunch was a fresh, new meal, and a good one at that (pulled pork and beans). Every other bonspiel I've been to, Sunday lunch has been leftovers, or non-existent. But not here! Of course, it is different when the bonspiel doesn't start until Saturday morning, but, still - I just assumed we'd get leftover dinner on Sunday.

Well, anyway, stick a bunch of curlers in a room together, preferably near a source of alcohol, and you'll have a good time. Guaranteed! I'm already looking forward to my next bonspiel.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Detroit Mixed Bonspiel: Preview

This weekend, we're curling in a tournament (bonspiel) in Detroit. Woohoo! We're leaving Friday and coming back Monday. This is a good weekend to make this trip, since Monday is Presidents Day (meaning Marla's day care will be closed).

Let's tackle this in parts:

Curling

Our team is the same as at our last bonspiel in Charlotte, except the order is slightly changed. Being a mixed bonspiel rather than open, we have to alternate male/female in the throwing order, and that means I throw Second. But I think I'm still going to be holding the broom for the Skip's rocks.

Usually in these bonspiel previews, I go in-depth regarding our potential opponents, game times, how many games we might play, what it'll take to get to the final draw, and so forth. But not this time, because I haven't seen the draw! All I know is that our first game is 9 AM Saturday, that the bonspiel ends no later than 5 PM Sunday, and I'm assuming we get the standard three-game minimum. So, it's a relatively short bonspiel. I also have no idea who we might be playing, or even how many teams will be there. ... You know, actually, that's kind of refreshing. I'm looking forward to going into our first game with a clear mind, for once.

Since we're not heading back until Monday, this would be the perfect weekend for me to make the final draw of an away bonspiel for the first time. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. As always, the goal is to win a game, any game. In my By the Numbers curling stats, I have a record for "Bonspiels in which I lost every game". Right now, it's 2 out of 17. Let's make it 2 out of 18!

Logistics

We thought Detroit would make a good curling destination because we could see Amber's family in Toledo on the same trip. We're staying with them on Friday and Sunday nights; on Saturday night, Amber and I are staying in Detroit - well, Madison Heights, technically - while Marla stays with her grandparents (Amber's parents) back in Toledo.

The Detroit Curling Club is, like pretty much everything that's "in Detroit", not actually in Detroit. It's in Ferndale, 9 miles north of Detroit (i.e. near 9 Mile Road), in southeastern Oakland County.

Bowling Green would make an even better curling destination than Detroit, because we wouldn't have to get a hotel while we're up there. The Bowling Green Curling Club is only 20-25 minutes from Amber's parents, whereas the Detroit club is more like 90 minutes. But, alas, the Bowling Green club doesn't really do weekend bonspiels anymore, as far as I can tell.

Roadgeek stuff

Yep, gotta talk about this. This will be our first trip to Toledo since our NC Quick Pass toll transponders became E-ZPass compatible. That means, no more paying with cash on the West Virginia Turnpike (or the Ohio Turnpike if we venture that way)! I am WAY more excited about this than I should be. It's been a long time coming. I was curious about a couple of notes related to this, too:

Many states give E-ZPass customers a toll discount over cash customers, but some of them restrict the discount to E-ZPass accounts purchased in-state. According to their respective websites, West Virginia does not offer their E-ZPass discount to out-of-state transponders, but Ohio does. I just thought that was interesting.

My NC Quick Pass account is set up as follows: whenever the account balance falls below $10, my debit card is charged $20 that evening to bring the account balance back to near $30. If you never leave the state, that's fine, because you're never going to spend more than $10 in tolls in a single day in this state. (Unless you drive back and forth on the Triangle Expressway multiple times, I guess.) But what if you're going to a state like New Jersey or New York, where it's pretty easy to spend $20 in tolls in one day? Will the automatic account replenishment catch up in time and prevent the account balance from ever going negative? I asked the NC Turnpike Authority that question, and their response was as follows: "For trips outside North Carolina we advise an advance replenishment is made to the account to keep your account from going negative."

I'm assuming hardly anyone else thought of this, so I can't wait until someone incurs an "overdraft" fee (or something) in New Jersey/New York despite their account being linked to a debit/credit card, and then complains to the News and Observer about it.

Meanwhile, I may or may not visit a new county or two on this trip. We'll see. Friday and Monday will pretty much be standard Toledo drives.

Weather

No major snowstorms expected where we'll be this weekend, which is good from a logistical perspective (but not necessarily Amber's perspective). We may see some light snow showers on tomorrow's drive, though. Aside from that, the main weather issue will be that it'll just be cold this weekend: lows in the teens, highs in the 20s. Perfect curling weather!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"The Americans" (as in, a TV show by that name)

(Note: this post contains no spoilers.)

We don't watch as much television as we used to, and we almost never watch shows from the beginning. But I thought FX's new show The Americans sounded interesting. Basic premise: Russian spies living as incredibly convincing undercover Americans in the early 1980s.

I guess I've always had a kind of infatuation with the Cold War era. I'm too young to have lived it (mostly), so it's strictly history to me, and I'm kind of curious from a historical perspective what things like were then with the Soviet Union, compared to today with countries like Iran, or something. Russia also has this "mystique" about it - maybe it's just their wacky alphabet - that interests me in a strange way. So, it's refreshing to see a Cold War drama where the Russians are the main characters, rather than the other way around.

The series is two episodes in, and so far, I like it. This show is kind of like Breaking Bad where the main characters are the bad guys, but not completely, because they're humanized far more than your typical villians. So, it's tricky: are we supposed to be rooting for these guys, or not? With Breaking Bad, do we want Walter White to get caught, or live happily ever after with his millions of dollars? Same thing with The Americans - do we want the Russian spies to be successful, or do we want the U.S. Government to win?

Thinking long term for where this show might go, here's the most likely scenario: the Russian spies eventually defect, and everybody wins! (Except for the big bad USSR, of course.) Of course, that's not going to happen for a while, or else there's no show. Well...I suppose the the show could evolve from "Russian spies versus America" into "former Russian spies versus Russia", but I hope that doesn't happen for a long while, if ever, because I think the current premise is far more interesting and unique.

Here's another Breaking Bad parallel: while Walter has his brother-in-law Hank, the DEA agent who has been trying to catch Walter (unbeknownst to him, of course) for the better part of five season, the Russian spies have a neighbor who happens to work for FBI Counter Intelligence. How long before the FBI agent figures it out? Will it take him as long as it took Hank? ... Actually, here's something: why don't the Russian spies, you know, move? Not right away, of course, because that would be suspicious - in fact, the FBI agent is already a little suspicious of the undercover Russians - but maybe after a few months?

So, anyway...Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX. Yeah.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sports Tuesday: 2/12/13

It's been a while since I've done one of these, and I'll be out of town this weekend, so...let's see how my favorite teams are doing.

NHL - As of press time, the Carolina Hurricanes are leading the division! Wow! Then again, this is only the Southeast Division we're talking about, and they are only one point from being out of the playoffs completely as it stands now.

I'm actually pretty encouraged by what I've seen so far, at least offensively. Their best players, including the new guys (J. Staal and Semin specifically), have been living up to expectations. The defense - pretty much ignored completely in the offseason - hasn't been great, though; the Hurricanes are currently 5th in goals scored per game, and 23rd in goals allowed per game. But if the offense can keep the team afloat, I think this is a playoff team. I would consider even a first round loss in the playoffs to be a successful season. Just don't finish in 9th place again, please. Carolina at New Jersey - Tue 7:00p, Fox Sports Carolinas

College basketball - I'm not quite as optimistic over here, though. Florida State is 5-5 in the ACC, which isn't bad, but that's with a point differential of -76! Safe to say, thanks to Michael Snaer's late game heroics, the Seminoles are overachieving a bit. I've said this before, but Leonard Hamilton's defensive system means his teams rely more on experience than other teams would, and given how young the team is this year, this isn't the year. They should be better next year, though. Miami (FL) at Florida State - Wed 7:00p, ESPN2

Speaking of Miami (FL)...I've actually watched more Miami games this season than I care to admit. (Fun game: during a Miami basketball game, see how long it takes them to mention that Miami's Shane Larkin is the son of Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin. Seriously, they mention it every game.) I don't know if they're "for real", because the ACC is pretty weak - NC State was clearly overrated in the preseason, no? - but they could do some damage in March. I've rooted against Miami (FL) ruthlessly in football over the years, but it's a little harder to do that with basketball, so I actually wouldn't mind seeing a Miami Final Four run. Actually, a Final Four of Miami, Florida, Michigan, and Ohio State - my four least favorite teams on the football side of things - is certainly plausible.

Meanwhile, Penn State is now 0-11 in the Big Ten. Anyone else longing for the Ed DeChellis era? 2009 NIT champs, baby! Memo to the Penn State athletic department: next time the basketball team makes the NCAA Tournament, you should instantly give the coach a lifetime contract. Iowa at Penn State - Thu 9:00p, ESPNU

Soccer - Ever since I started paying attention to European soccer last year, the biggest "can't miss" soccer game yet takes place this week, as far as I'm concerned. Not because of who's playing (Real Madrid and Manchester United), or because of what's at stake (UEFA Champions League Round of 16), but because of who will be doing the play-by-play on Fox Soccer Channel: Gus Johnson.

In the past, American networks taking play-by-play men from other sports and sticking them on soccer games has gone poorly. Similarly to hockey and NASCAR, soccer play-by-play requires a much different skill set and style than baseball/football/basketball. So, I can kind of understand why the "soccer purists" completely hate this. I'm definitely not a soccer purist, but I can understand why many people think it's only right to have British announcers calling European soccer games. Not only will a soccer-first announcer like Ian Darke do a better job (generally speaking), but in order to have a purely European-style experience watching the game - which is why many watch - you need an announcer with an English accent. You just do. It doesn't sound right to have an American call an English Premier League match, even if it's a competent American. That may be true with strictly European soccer, but I don't agree with the notion that we need Brits calling American soccer matches such as MLS games or World Cup qualifiers. (Speaking of which: whatever happened to JP Dellacamera? I liked him.)

On the other hand...it's Gus Johnson. How many of us have dreamed of what it would be like to have Gus Johnson call a soccer game? I have, and I can't wait. Sure, it could end up being a total disaster, but that would be okay, too, because then we'll all have another reason to make fun of Fox. Real Madrid v. Manchester United - Wed 2:30p, Fox Soccer

Makes me wonder, though: does this happen in other countries? For instance, who does the play-by-play for NFL games broadcast in other English-speaking countries like England and Australia? Do they use American announcers, or British announcers? If Sky Sports - or whoever broadcasts NFL games in England - replaced the American announcers with British announcers on their NFL games, would everybody freak out? Or do they already use their own announcers? Serious question.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Curling Recap: 2/1, 2/8/13

After a one-week weather delay, it's time for the Triangle Curling Club Winter League! My re-entry into playing Skip has gotten off to a good start.

Career game #206: 2013 Winter League - February 1, 2013

End........... 1234567 |TTL
---------------------------
Franklin...... 0230000 | 05
Allen......... 1003112 | 08

Career game #207: 2013 Winter League - February 8, 2013

End........... 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Allen......... 01032040 | 10
Wright........ 10200201 | 06

The biggest change to my Skipping approach for this season: the stopwatch. Every opponent rock, I timed from the "far hockey blue line" to the "hockey red line" (because those lines are easier to see from a distance than the actual curling lines), to give me a read on how fast the ice was playing. The main idea was to help me know how hard I need to throw it when it came my turn, and from that perspective, it only helped me a little; I still need more reps in order to translate the stopwatch times into my weight. But actually, the thing the stopwatch helped me the most with was mental focus. As in, it keeps me mentally engaged on every shot, because when you're the skip, you need to watch EVERY shot, from BOTH teams. On that end, I felt like I read the ice better than I ever have before in these two games. I'll definitely be keeping the stopwatch.

And, the ice conditions were also conducive to my old-time strategy of "get early position, then guard the heck out of it". It was not particularly take-out friendly on either night, which played to our benefit. But I have to give credit to the rest of my team, mostly. They played very well both weeks, and rarely did I have to make any major "rescue" shots. Usually, we were in pretty good shape by the time my turn came up, and I just had to throw a guard. (Which I sometimes made, and sometimes didn't; I left at least three rocks short of the hog line last Friday.)

Anyway, I'm going to move on, because it's a big week in our curling world, for a couple of reasons:

1) For the first time since the last Winter Olympics, there is live curling on American television this weekend! NBC Sports Network is airing the U.S. Finals this Saturday at 10:00 AM (women's) and 4:00 PM (men's). The more obscure Universal Sports Network is also airing the semifinals the day before. Go watch! Increase those viewership numbers so that they air more curling! (If you're wondering why NBC Sports Network is airing the national curling championships this year, it's part of a promotion for next year's Winter Olympics.)

2) As for us, Amber and I are heading to Detroit for a quick two-day bonspiel this weekend, that I'll talk more about later in the week.

Curling takes place much of the year, but the season peaks in February, March, and April, which is when the national (U.S. and Canada) and world championships take place. My favorite time of year!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Crayola

Marla loves crayons. Many kids do.

We haven't bought any crayons specifically for her yet, because Amber still has a good selection of crayons from her youth. But when Marla finishes scribbling with and/or eating all of them, and it comes time to buy some more, we're going with Crayola, right? Of course. Why wouldn't you?

Every now and then you see "RoseArt" crayons pop up somewhere, like in schools. (Because, you know, schools are cheap.) I Googled "Crayola versus RoseArt" just to see what came up, and, well, it's universal: everybody prefers Crayola over RoseArt and the rest. In fact, many people are very passionate about this.

There aren't many brands out there that have such a chokehold on #1 in their respective disciplines as Crayola does. Why is this? Surely Crayola crayons are of better quality than the competitors, but are they really that much better? I don't know, but I think it comes down to this: choosing RoseArt over Crayola is a sure sign of being "cheap". I mean, why else would you buy non-Crayola crayons? Here's a quote that I'm particularly fond of: "If your parents never bought you at least the 64 count Crayola box with built-in sharpener, they didn't love you."

Don't worry, Marla, you're getting the Crayola 64 pack. If you're a good girl, we'll even take you to the Crayola factory! And you know, the Crayola factory (Easton, PA) isn't terribly far from Hersheypark, either. How's that sound for a fantastic kid-friendly vacation?

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Unwanted Free Newspapers

For a couple of months now, an issue of The Durham News, a locally-oriented paper (as opposed to the News and Observer, which covers the entire Triangle), has appeared at the foot of our driveway twice a week. Here's what we do with them:


Yeah, we don't really have time to read these things. So, thanks, but no thanks. In fact, these things are actually kind of a nuisance, and my attempts to get the Durham News to stop sending me these have so far proven unsuccessful. (I haven't found a phone number on their web site, they haven't yet responded to anything I've sent via the online "Contact Us" form.)

But nobody wants to hear me complain about that, right? So let's look at this from a different angle: why are they sending these papers out, unsolicited, for free?

Well...the Durham News is, in fact, owned by the same folks that own the News and Observer. Perhaps this is a form of advertising. "See, aren't newspapers great? There's more where this came from. Subscribe to the N&O today!" And by giving us no choice in the matter, maybe they think that after a few months, people like me will submit to their will and actually start reading the things. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the N&O group started this initiative at about the same time they instituted a paywall on their website.

Speaking of which, I've been choosy about the stories that I read on the News and Observer's web site post-paywall, and thus I have yet to hit the free limit of 15 stories in a 30-day period. I'm not saying I'll never pay for full online access - which costs a reasonable $70/year, by the way - but so far, I haven't. And honestly, getting these unwanted Durham News papers twice a week makes me less likely to want to pay these guys. I refuse to submit!

Surely, these people aren't the only ones who occasionally drop unsolicited advertisements on our lawn or in our mailbox. But junk mail is one thing. What happens when we go away for a week or two, and these things start piling up on our driveway? Then, unless you have someone occasionally dropping by your house while you're gone (which I suppose we would have anyway with our cat and all), your home becomes a target for burglars. With a normal newspaper, you call them up and ask them to stop delivery, and then they do just that (usually). But like I said, my attempts to stop delivery of these papers has so far been unsuccessful.

So, yes, it is a bit ironic that while I have chosen not to pay the News and Observer for full online access (so far), I am also complaining about the News and Observer giving me something for free. But, that's where we are.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Store Brand Microwave Popcorn

Yeah, I'm blogging about microwave popcorn. It's going to be one of those kinds of weeks.

I've found that store brand microwave popcorn is good enough compared to the name brands (Orville Redenbacher's, and...well, are there any other name brands?). So, that's what I get. I also usually get the light variety.

Now, with most grocery stores' store brand popcorn, even though the box has the store's name on it, the bags do not. The bags of popcorn themselves are truly generic; all they say is "MICROWAVE POPCORN" or something like that, and don't list any brand names on them whatsoever, including the name of the store. This is true with Target brand popcorn, certainly. The Kroger brand, however, is an exception:


The bag has Kroger's name on it! Wow! And I think their popcorn is better than Target's popcorn, too. More often than not, Kroger's name brand products are noticeably better than that of their competitors, and I think that's one of the chain's main strengths. I suppose that when you're a national mammoth conglomerate such as Kroger, you have the resources to make solid store brand products, much more so than smaller regional chains such as Lowe's Foods. Publix has a solid store brand product line, too, but I actually don't know if they can compete with Kroger in that regard.

Getting back to microwave popcorn: I wonder if Target, and other stores that sell completely generic bags of microwave popcorn, all get their generic popcorn from the same few places. I suppose I could go to all the area grocery stores and beyond, buy a box of store brand microwave popcorn from each, and compare the packaging, to see if Piggly Wiggly's popcorn is exactly the same as Winn-Dixie's popcorn, for example. But...I won't be doing that. Maybe in my younger days, I would have.