Monday, September 30, 2013

Curling Recaps: September 2013

So, yes, I've been slacking off on my blogging. I mean, the other weekend we drove to Kitty Hawk - not a short drive, by the way - and I didn't even make a blog post out of it. And here we are, three weeks into the curling season, and I'm only now writing about it? Those of you who were wondering whether how long I'd be able to keep this up once we had a kid...well, it took a couple of years, but here you go.

In any case, yes, curling season is well underway now, which is very exciting for me. We don't have anything new to publicly announce with the building yet, so for now, it's back to the same old Friday night league, starting with a pick-up game from a few weeks back:

Career game #228: Pickup - September 13, 2013
I won, 3-2, in 6 ends

Yep, I didn't even bother writing down the end-by-end score! (These are dark times in blog history. If you're still reading at this point, I appreciate it.)

Seriously, though, we had several new curlers in this game, so the pace was a little slower and more instruction-oriented than normal, hence why we only played six ends. And, it's not like the experienced curlers among us played all that well, either. The first end was blanked, but not because anyone was trying to blank it. Five points in six ends is about right. But hey, it's a win, and it counts! (At least in my stats, it does. My career record in pickup games is now 20-7-1, so clearly I take these games more seriously than I should be.)

By the way, this was NOT my first ever 3-2 game. Career game #3 - way back in July 2007 - also ended 3-2, although that game was only four ends. (While my blogging may be slacking as of late, my stat keeping is still pretty solid.)

Career game #229: 2013 Fall Friday League - September 20, 2013

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Jaun.......... 1001101 | 04
Allen......... 0120030 | 06

It wasn't necessarily my intention to play Skip in the league again this time around, but we were short on people who could or wanted to Skip this season, so here we are.

The basic theme of this game: there were predictable lines that rocks would follow, so if you could get a rock to stop off of those predictable lines - via an angle raise, or a hit-and-roll - you were golden. We had some very fortunate rolls and bounces in this game, which allowed us to get points when we needed it. The 3-ender in the 6th end was obviously huge; I think that was set up by getting two rocks in the house off of the predictable line somehow, and leaving the predictable line wide-open. We then traded take-outs on the predictable line, and since we had last rock, we scored that one, plus the other two.

But, things were more interesting in one of the other games. Trailing by one in the last end, without last rock, Team A managed to get all eight rocks in the house and in scoring position. It looked like this: (look, a real actual curling photo!)

Our club has never had an 8-ender in its history. Really, it wasn't all that likely to happen here, either, because Team B had lots of targets to choose from. Surely, they would hit something, right? Then again, you never know; it's entirely possible that the last shot could have come in wide, wicked off the left side of the left-most red rock, moving that red rock closer to the center, and the yellow rock out of play. That's probably the most likely way Team A could have gotten away with the 8 here. But instead, Team B's skip Sue made the hit for 1, which not only avoided the 8-ender, it also won the game, since giving up 1 would have tied it. Clutch!

Career game #230: 2013 Fall Friday League - September 27, 2013

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Allen......... 2221132 | 13
(redacted).... 0000000 | 00

I feel kind of uncomfortable talking about this one, about that nice weather we've been having lately? (Actually, the weather has been really nice the past couple of weeks.)

Last year, I went on a 7-game losing streak as a Skip. But right now, I'm on a 7-game winning streak as a Skip, dating back to March 8th. Of course, now that I've mentioned that, I'm ripe to start another long losing streak this weekend, right?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dialect Map

Lately, this quiz has been floating around the internet called a "Dialect Quiz". Authored by a statistics Ph.D student at NC State, you answer a bunch of questions (25 or 140 depending on how much time you have) about the words you use to refer to certain things (e.g. soda or pop), or the way you pronounce words like "caramel" or "pajamas". Then, at the end, it shows you a color-coded map of the US, indicating which part(s) of the country your dialect is most similar to, based on your answers.

Here is a link to the quiz. (Your mileage may vary as far as whether you'll actually be able to take the quiz, since the server is often under a pretty heavy load due to the quiz's popularity.)

I've been looking forward to taking the quiz, because I think I'm an interesting case. I'm not from a part of the country with distinct dialect, such as New England, Minnesota, or Alabama. I'm from Florida. Is there such a thing as a "Florida dialect"? If there is, is Jacksonville included in that, or is Jacksonville more like the rest of the South? And what impact might my parents - both born around New York City - have on all of this? And how about Ohio-raised Amber? She's already converted me from pa-JAHM-as to pa-JAM-as without me even realizing it.

I took the full 140-question quiz, and here's what it gave me:

According to the quiz, I talk more like a SOUTH Floridian than a North Floridian. And, I also talk more similarly to someone from the New York City area, which shows the effect your parents have on your dialect. (It's significant!) My #1 most similar city was Newark, followed by Miami.

But I don't know what this says about the "Florida dialect", if anything. A lot of the people who now live in Florida originally lived in New York, of course. So, you might think that a "Florida dialect" really just equals a "New York dialect" ... until you go here, select Miami, and see that New York doesn't really glow any more than any other city. I think all this means is that my dialect is a weird mix, influenced by both my hometown (Florida) and my parents (New York); NOT that your average Florida resident talks similarly to your average New York resident. It should also be noted that red on the map doesn't mean "perfect match"; it just means "highest score". The colors are all strictly relative.

As for how much of an impact Amber has had on my speech...maybe we can give her credit for that hot spot in Cleveland. Maybe.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Playground Review: Harris Lake County Park

Harris Lake County Park - New Hill-Holleman Road, New Hill, NC
Visited: Saturday, September 14, 2013 | Google View

Summary: Last time I came to Harris Lake County Park, it was to play disc golf. (March 7, 2009, according to my records.) Now, we're going they have a playground - better yet, one that Marla hasn't been to yet. So, how good is it?

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 6/14. Here, you'll find the standard 2-5 and 5-12 play sets. At what point will these reviews all start to sound the same? Are we already there?

No swings, though. But since swinging seems to be, like, ALL Marla wants to do anymore, and Marla entertained herself plenty on what they did have, we were quite alright with that. Nevertheless, I still gave one point fewer than I would have if they had swings.

Uniqueness: 4/10. Two things stuck out to me as "unique": the rock climbing thing you see pictured above (unfortunately, a little too big for Marla), and this other spinny thing that I don't even know how to describe. It's a ring about 4-5 feet above the ground, and it rotates, and the kids can hold on, hang from it, and spin. (Well, I guess I just described it.) But that too was too big for Marla.

Upkeep: 9/10. Very clean park, and the equipment appeared to be in great shape. I might have given a 10 had Pullen Park not already set the curve in this category.

Crowd: 4/10. I was actually a little surprised here. This park is located in a pretty rural area. It's 30 minutes from Raleigh, 35 minutes from Durham, and 25 minutes from Cary. The closest city of note is Holly Springs, about 10 minutes away. (Then again, Holly Springs is booming these days.)

This park gets a lot of use for other recreational activities: boating, fishing, mountain biking, disc golf. I figured, given how out of the way this place is, nobody comes here just for the playground, right? Wrong. I wouldn't say the place was too crowded, but I was surprised.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. As far as Marla is concerned, this park was another winner. Perhaps helping Marla's stamina were not only the seasonable weather, but also abundant shade. From that perspective, this is a great summer playground. Maybe that's why this playground is more popular than its location would suggest.

TOTAL: 27/49, ranking 6th out of 13. Now...a note about tiebreakers. The more reviews I do, the more ties we're going to have. Since ties are dumb, to get around that I added a tiebreaker column. Basically, I just decide which playground I like better, and that playground wins the tie for the purposes of the rankings. In this case, I decided to rank this playground ahead of the other playground with 27 points, that being Arlington Community Park in Ohio.

(By the way, before any of our Knightdale friends ask us...yes, we are going to visit the brand new playground in Knightdale before too long. But probably not this weekend, because then I'd basically be setting it up for a Crowd rating of 1/10. I'm assuming it will be crazy busy this weekend.)

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sports Friday: 9/20/13

College football - Last night, Clemson visited NC State in a game that was starting to look eerily familiar to last season's Florida State at NC State Thursday night game, except that NC State actually lost this year. In any case, the pregame narrative that I noticed on Twitter seemed to be this: "If NC State wins, that's bad for the ACC, right?"

The argument goes like this. Clemson and Florida State are supposed "elite" teams. Therefore, the best thing for the ACC is for Clemson and FSU to both go undefeated, aside from when they play each other next month, of course. That will look best for the conference, and will give the conference its best shot at a) a BCS Championship Game berth for the Clemson/FSU winner, and b) a BCS at-large berth for the Clemson/FSU loser.

Me? I don't get caught up in all that. I'm growing weary of these "what's best for the conference" arguments, because it just highlights how flawed college football is, and I don't really care which conference as a whole is "better" anyway. Why are so many people obsessed with this idea?

NFL - Now that they have a head-to-head loss to one of the league's other potentially bad teams, and demonstrated incredible ineptitude in the process, the Jacksonville Jaguars are the odds on favorite for the first overall pick in next year's draft, right? Not so fast! The Cleveland Browns might be making a run at it, too. Why else would they trade their top running back for a draft pick now? But, I think the Browns are going to struggle to be as bad as the Jaguars. (By the way: Jaguars at Browns, December 1st, 1:00 PM.)

To be honest, as bad as they've been, I think the Jaguars can win two games this year, again. The defense really isn't that bad. I think the defense can win the Jaguars at least a game or two on their own. And the offense will be a lot better with Justin Blackmon and Marcedes Lewis in the lineup. But neither of those things is going to happen this week against Seattle, so...0-3, coming up.

Soccer - Saving this for last so that everybody who doesn't care about European soccer can bail... (Thanks for reading!)

I've decided that outside of the World Cup, the most exciting soccer can be found in the UEFA Champions League. That's in terms of quality of play (the best professional teams in Europe), the urgency of the situation (much higher stakes than in a single Premier League match), and the fan atmosphere. And, more importantly, it doesn't seem like you get as many 0-0 games in the Champions League. In fact, out of this week's 16 Champions Leagues games, none ended 0-0, and only one ended 1-0.

My rooting interests in the Champions League are, of course, the French teams, particularly my favorite French team, Olympique de Marseille. Unfortunately, Marseille got extremely unlucky with their group draw: they ended up with Arsenal (they're pretty good), Borussia Dortmund (the defending runners-up), and Napoli (don't know a thing about them, but they're apparently pretty good too, so I'm told). So, chances are, OM is going nowhere in this Champions League. Maybe they'll win a game or two, but I think they're headed for a last place finish in the group. The other French team, Paris Saint-Germain, got a much easier group draw, and unlike Marseille they won their first game. So, basically, all of French football's hopes lay with you, PSG. You and your billionaire Qatari owners.

Meanwhile, my thoughts regarding Fulham (my newly adopted English team) is that it's still a little too early to be spelling doom and gloom. Although, how bad would it look for Shad Khan if Fulham does poorly this season? Buy the Jaguars, and they instantly go 2-14. Buy Fulham, and…relegation? Too soon for that discussion, I think.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


For better or for worse, Marla is getting to the age where she's starting to enjoy watching television in small doses. But Marla isn't yet old enough to voice her preference for one particular show over another...with one exception.

Other than a healthy dose of the British children's cartoon Peppa Pig (one of Amber and I's favorites among Marla-appropriate shows), we almost exclusively watch PBS children's programming with Marla. (This is, in part, a deliberate effort to keep Marla away from Dora the Explorer and the Disney Channel for as long as possible. We recognize we won't be able to keep that up forever.)

Well, regardless of what we end up putting on the TV, Marla's reply is usually the same: "Elmo! Elmo!" So, yes, we watch our fair share of Sesame Street. Haven't we all?

Kids love Elmo, obviously. It's no coincidence that Elmo is, to date, the only fictional character Marla can name on her own. But his popularity didn't really explode until after my childhood, so he doesn't really hold, shall we say, a "special place in my heart". Instead, I can't help but think: how did we get to this point? All those other Sesame Street characters that we grew up with - Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Cookie Monster, the Count, etc. - you hardly see them anymore. In fact, in the episodes we've watched, the only time we've seen those characters at all was during the opening and closing credits. Instead, now it's nearly all Elmo, all the time. (Plus this new character named Abby. Apparently she was introduced in 2006.)

Well, I guess the moral of the story is, this ain't your father's Sesame Street. But they have every right to introduce new characters and phase out others as times change, sure, especially given how long the show has been on the air. There's no rule that says that Sesame Street has to be exactly the same as it was 25 years ago. Just as long as Marla likes it.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Social Media Baby Peer Pressure

If you're my age (31), and are on, say, Facebook, then many of your friends are likely posting lots and lots of pictures of babies. Is everyone our age having children?

Of course not. But sometimes on Facebook, it can seem like it, to the point where I think it's an effective form of peer pressure. Like, "Look at what we have. Don't you want one, too?" Were Amber and I were still childless at this point, seeing everyone else's children would help encourage us to have our own, I would think. Sure, there is the occasional "OMG WHY WON'T MY BABY GO TO @#$%ING SLEEP" kind of post, but the vast majority of child-related stuff people post on Facebook is positive, or at least cute. All I know is that if Amber and I wanted kids, but were unable to have them, then it would be pretty tough to look at Facebook every day.

On the other hand...maybe there aren't as many child-related posts on Facebook as it seems. Having my own child actually makes me more interested in your child, not less, since I can relate more. Maybe all these child pictures were there all along, before Marla was born, and I just didn't really notice like I do now. Baby pictures really stick out now.

Well, in any case, I thought it would be worth checking if we're in the midst of a "baby boom", or if it just seems like it thanks to social media. According to the CDC, the birth rate in the United States hasn't changed much since the 1970s. If anything, birth rates have gone down - but not in a statistically signifcant sense - the last two years (source).

So, if today's internet society does provide more "child bearing peer pressure" than we used to have, it certainly doesn't show up in the national statistics*. Surely, there are much more important societal factors which encourage, or discourage, couples our age from having children.*

(* - Obviously, this is nothing even remotely resembling a full statistical analysis. Even if the birth rate did go up over the last few years, we could hardly pin it all in social media.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Shenandoah Trip: Preview

Nothing makes me look forward to fall more than a 90 degree day in September*! So, let's talk about our next road trip.

(* - I shouldn't really complain, because this has been a pretty tame summer. Only one day over 94°F all summer!)

We make it a point to drive somewhere see pretty leaves every fall, whether it's just for a couple of hours, or a full week. Sure, it'd be nice to spend another full week somewhere nice again this fall, but the realities of work vacation time balances - money, too, since these trips cost us more than they used to - mean that we're only doing a weekend trip this year.

When deciding where to go on vacation, I often just look at my county map. Where haven't I been before? If we had a full week to work with again this year, I might have suggested either Michigan's Upper Peninsula, or Arkansas. (Because who wouldn't want to spend a week in Arkansas??) But since we're only making a weekend of it, it basically boiled down to Cumberland Gap (NE Tennessee / SE Kentucky / SW Virginia), or Shenandoah National Park. I chose the latter.

I actually have been to Shenandoah National Park before, though. Twice! But both of those visits were a long time ago, so it'll be basically new. (Those counties are still blank on my county map - Greene, Madison, and Rappahannock - because I'm not sure where in the park I went on those visits, or which routes we took to and from. I didn't sweat it, because I knew I'd make another Shenandoah trip some day.)

So, to maximize our fall foliage experience, when should we go? Peak foliage in the mountains of northern Virginia appears to be mid-to-late-October, perhaps a little before then at the highest elevations. So, I think the ideal time to go would be either of the last two weekends in October. ... BUT, instead, we're going over Columbus Day weekend (Saturday 10/12 through Monday 10/14), for two reasons: 1) Marla's day care will likely be closed on Columbus Day, so we may as well be out of town that day; and 2) that's an off weekend in our curling leagues. (Hey, we take our curling seriously.) This means we'll be a week or two before peak, but I think it'll be close enough.

What are we going to do while we're up there? Take it easy, first and foremost. We have a cabin reserved for Saturday and Sunday night, and we learned on our Vermont trip that if we end up spending a lot of time at the cabin, as opposed to out seeing things, that's quite alright. One thing we won't really be able to do, that we did some of last fall, is hike, since Marla has outgrown the hiking backpack. So, our Shenandoah National Park experience will likely be limited to driving the length of Skyline Drive, and stopping at a few overlooks along the way. Aside from that, we'll just be taking it easy. And there is this place called "Dinosaur Land" located a few minutes north of the park that could be kind of fun for Marla.

Shenandoah National Park, and our cabin (near Luray), are only five hours from home. Easy! By our standards, maybe I shouldn't even be calling this a "road trip". But hey, it's something, and it'll be nice.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Sports Monday: 9/9/13

NFL - I was originally going to put something up on the blog last week, to the effect of: "The Jaguars are going to stink this year". But, I figured, maybe they should actually play a game that counts first before I pass judgment.

Time to pass judgment! The Jaguars have had some clunkers over the years, but, holy crap, that was bad. It was especially tough to watch their 28-2 loss to Kansas City when I flipped around to other games and watched other teams, you know, move the ball, and score some points. Seriously, watching a Blaine Gabbert-led offense compared to the rest of the league, it's like the Jaguars are playing a completely different game then the rest of the league. Everything that looks so easy for everyone else, looks so difficult for the Jaguars. And I know the team management wanted to give Gabbert one more shot to prove himself, and that it isn't entirely his fault (it never is, right?), but any notion of "Maybe Gabbert really isn't as bad as you all think!" reeks of confirmation bias to me.

Well, on the bright side...another high draft pick coming up next year, at which point they will, hopefully, draft a quarterback! That has to be the plan, right? Hope they get the right one. And, the defense actually isn't terrible, in my estimation. Regardless...this season is going to be really, really hard to watch. And those helmets won't make it any easier, by the way.

... Right before I clicked "publish", it was announced that Blaine Gabbert would miss this Sunday's game due to a hand injury. So, there's that. (He's bad, and injury prone!)

College football - But, hey, Florida State is pretty good! Sure, their first opponent was "just Pittsburgh", but it was on the road, and the Seminoles have lost their share of mid-level ACC road games like that one over the years. And the win was pretty convincing, too.

FSU's new quarterback, Jameis Winston, is awesome. It's so nice to be one game into a freshman quarterback's career, and NOT have to think, "We're stuck with this guy for four more years???" So, I'm plenty excited, although their upcoming schedule isn't all that interesting: Nevada, Bethune-Cookman, at Boston College, Maryland, bye week. Then, they play Clemson on October 19. That seems like an awfully long time from now. Nobody get hurt between now and then, okay? (Disclaimer: I acknowledge that they could lose between now and the Clemson game, but they'll be double-digit favorites in all of those games, right?)

As for Penn State...gotta be honest, I have no idea what their prospects are for this season. But, it's kind of nice to not have that burden of "expectations". I don't even know any of the players' names, including even the starting quarterback (Heisenberg?). So, I'm a pretty pathetic Penn State fan, really. But I'll always have that Master's degree on my wall (or wherever I keep it these days), so, Go State!

NASCAR - Time to complain about NASCAR again! I enjoy watching it, but every now and then, something really dumb happens.

So...the background. Last Saturday's race at Richmond was the last race before their contrived 10-race "Chase for the Cup", so Saturday was everyone's last chance to qualify. With a few laps remaining, things weren't looking good for Michael Waltrip Racing driver Martin Truex, Jr. Ryan Newman was leading and cruising to victory, and Joey Logano was far enough back such that he would fall outside the top 10 in points and need to use a "wild card" to make the Chase (Truex could only qualify via one of those wild cards). Truex basically needed Newman to not win, AND Logano to gain another couple of positions, to make the Chase. With only a few laps left, that certainly wasn't going to happen on its own...

So, Truex's Michael Waltrip Racing teammates helped him out. First, Clint Bowyer intentionally spun himself out (and it was pretty obvious upon review that it was intentional), triggering a caution flag that would ultimately cost Ryan Newman the win, and his spot in the Chase. Then, after the last restart, Bowyer and his other teammate Brian Vickers drove the last couple of laps very very slowly, specifically to allow Logano to gain those couple of spots that he needed in order to vacate the second "wild card" for Truex.

Well, on one hand, it worked, I guess. But on the other hand...drivers intentionally causing cautions and manipulating race results so as to help their teammates out? I try not to be the type to go crazy whenever someone games the system in sports - happens all the time, and it's part of it, regardless of the sport. (Steroids, anyone?) In particular, Bowyer/Vickers pulling over in order to change the finishing order in Truex's favor doesn't really bother me a whole lot. But, I think intentionally causing a caution flag so that it benefits your teammate should be penalized fairly harshly, especially in this circumstance. And, let's be honest: Bowyer and his team did a really crappy job of faking this. NASCAR has to set a precedent here to prevent other teams from doing the same thing, right? Unless we want to allow teams to freely cause caution flags, that is. Maybe instead of that, we should just give each team one "timeout". How about that? That's basically what we're doing, if there is no penalty.

(Actually, now that I think about it, giving each car one timeout per season might be kind of fun. When would you use it? When you're in 2nd place with 4 laps to go? When you need to get a lap back? Right after Jimmie Johnson makes a green flag pit stop?)

We'll see if NASCAR has the balls to do anything about it, though. I have my doubts, because NASCAR management has a tendency to be pretty tone-deaf at times, in a kind of insulting "Nothing to see here, move along, see you next Sunday!" kind of way. (Same goes for certain FOX TV personalities.)

Friday, September 06, 2013

Playground Reviews: Arlington Community Park; Woodlands Park

Arlington Community Park - Park Street*, Arlington, OH
Visited: August 30, 2013 | Google Satellite View

(* - A park on Park Street! Small town America at its finest.)

Summary: When we're on a long drive and need a stop, any playground we can find is a good one. ... Well, most playgrounds. The playground in Statesboro, GA, still ranks last on my table. How will Arlington Community Park in the small town of Arlington, Ohio, fare?

(Note: The scoring system is designed so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given.)

Things for Marla to do: 5/14. A small town like Arlington gets a relatively small playground:

But, they did have swings, and high-amplitude ones at that. Why Marla would prefer sitting in a swing over other playground activities after sitting in the car for nine hours is beyond me, but hey, whatever floats her boat. She did run around for a little bit, though, and go down the slide once or twice. (Speaking of which, there's no way for a child of Marla's age to get up to the taller slide on her own - no stairs - so we had to get her up there ourselves.)

Uniqueness: 3/10. The playground as pictured looks as generic as can be, but there was this other set on the other side of the playground, and a couple of other little things scattered around the park that children could, I suppose, play with:

Marla steered clear of whatever that wooden contraption is, but did sit on one of the bouncy things for a little bit. The bouncy seats at most playgrounds hardly budge at all, but these? LOTS of bounce. I appreciated that.

Upkeep: 7/10. That wooden contraption likely hasn't been touched in over a decade. They'd probably be better off just taking it out entirely, honestly, even if it's over there on the other side of the parking lot. But the primary playground set, and surrounding area, are in pretty good shape. In terms of trash, the park was almost spotless, because...

Crowd: 10/10. I couldn't find any evidence that this playground gets used, ever. Not only was the playground trash-free (aside from little wrapper fragments that can be found at any playground if you look hard enough), but even the trash can was pretty much empty. Given that Arlington's population is only 1,455, I think this is the right time to hand out my first 10/10 crowd score.

Marla enjoyment: 2/5. Marla never really gives a playground its due in the middle of a long drive. And, the playground was small, so she started wandering off into the grass and parking lot after about 15-20 minutes.

TOTAL: 27/49, ranked 6th out of 12.


Woodlands Park - East Boundary Street, Perrysburg, OH
Visited: September 1, 2013 | Google Street View

Summary: Of all the playgrounds within a 10 minute drive of Amber's parents' house, this one looked the most appealing on the internet. Any time the playground itself has its own special name - in this case, "Fort Imagination" - it usually means it's quality.

Things for Marla to do: 10/14. Over in the 2-5 year old section, you have a standard playground set, along with...what's this, a merry-go-round?

Of the 12 playgrounds I've reviewed, this is only the second one that's had a merry-go-round of any kind. This one has horses on it.

The 5-12 year old section - which Marla always insists on checking out, of course - was among the bigger ones I've seen.

You know, now that I think about "Things for Marla to do" score is pretty well correlated with the size of the playground. I guess that's okay?

Uniqueness: 6/10. It's getting harder for me to explain the rationale behind these "uniqueness" scores. It's kind of based on "feel" more than anything. How do I explain that, other than, "Well, this park seemed slightly more unique than most other playgrounds"?

Upkeep: 5/10. The biggest beef I have with this park is the squeakiness of the swings. Lubrication is lacking, and the swings have some years on them, so the designated swing pusher (a.k.a. me) has to exert more energy to keep the swing going than normal. Still, while the playground equipment wasn't exactly new, it was far from "run down" and still has many more good years in it. In that, it's pretty similar to our neighborhood park, which I also scored 5/10. The trash level was average.

Crowd: 5/10. As is often the case when we get to a playground between 8 and 9 am, it was mostly empty when we got there, and then started to fill up by the time we left. I bet this place is pretty busy on nice weather weekends, but it wasn't terribly so for us.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. We spent over an hour here, and Marla had a good time all the way to the end. (As opposed to a great time, which would score a 5/5. Like I said, I'm pretty stingy with my perfect scores.)

TOTAL: 30/49, ranked 4th out of 12.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

My Shortest Cedar Point Recap Ever

Prior to our weekend trip to Toledo, Amber's mom got a pretty good deal on some Cedar Point tickets. Sounds good to me! Besides, I don't think Amber and I have been back to Cedar Point since our honeymoon.

But, of course, we wouldn't be riding roller coasters all day, because we have a kid now. Let's start with that: what is there for Marla to do at Cedar Point?

Cedar Point has several kid areas with rides that Marla can ride, which is great, except for a couple of things that prevent Marla from experiencing them to the fullest. Let's start with this: is Marla old enough to understand the concept of waiting in line for more than a couple of minutes? Not really. She'd rather just run around and do whatever. But we did manage to get her on a couple of rides, which I think she enjoyed.

Actually, the bigger issue was nap time. A one-year-old can nap in a stroller at a theme park, no problem. A three-year-old can perhaps make it through the day without a nap if he/she has to. But a two-year-old like Marla is somewhere in between. She really needs a midday nap to be in a good mood in the afternoon, but can't really get a good nap in a loud theme park like a baby can. This is kind of a tricky age for a lot of reasons, actually, not just nap logistics.

So in another year or so, when Marla is less nap-dependent and more able to understand the concept of how theme parks work, she'll have more fun. And then in a few more years after that, once she's 48 and then 54 inches tall...oh yeah.

As for Amber and me, we left Marla with her grandparents for a bit so we could ride the "Gatekeeper" This is Gatekeeper by the front entrance: (Since it's located right behind the front gate, the ride really is the park's "gatekeeper". I didn't make the connection at first.)

Gatekeeper is a "winged" coaster, which is like an inverted coaster in which you "dangle" (nothing below you), except that the track is next to you instead of above you. Other than that, the ride is pretty similar to a traditional inverted coaster in terms of twists, turns, etc.

It was fun, although my head can't handle the twists and loops as much as I used to be able to. So later on, we rode perhaps my favorite roller coaster of all, Millenium Force: no loops here, just pure speed. Woo! Cedar Point, you've still got it.

And those were the only coasters we rode all day, because, you know. Parenting and whatnot.

What's the Fastest Route to Toledo NOW?

Lately, we've been taking all kinds of crazy routes on drives north to Toledo, mostly for statistical purposes. (For example, on Friday we drove through Boone and Lincoln Counties, WV.) But on return trips, it's still about getting home as quickly as possible. So, I still time our various routes through Ohio, for the purposes of keeping up with which route is the fastest.

There are three main candidates for "fastest route to Toledo" that I've chronicled over the years, mapped here:

View Routes to Toledo in a larger map

When I first started driving to Toledo to see Amber's family (2006-2007), the stopwatch told me that the blue route - which I call the "Athens" route - was the best. But a couple of things have changed since then.

Along the red route (which I call the "Chillicothe" route), parts of US-35 in West Virginia have been widened to four lanes over the last few years, with a generous speed limit of 65 mph. That shaved a few minutes off the average red route time, such that it's currently about the same as the blue route time. About half the length of US-35 in West Virginia remains two lanes, upon which you're almost certain to get stuck behind a big truck.

The green route (which I call the "Cleveland" route) has long been a distant third place. (By "distant", I really only mean "about 10-15 minutes slower".) But recently, speed limits on rural interstates in Ohio have been increased to 70 mph. The Turnpike has been 70 mph for a year or two, but now all rural interstates in the state are 70 mph. That can make a big difference, given how much time the Cleveland route spends on Ohio interstates. By my calculations, the increased speed limit should improve the Cleveland route time by 10 minutes, making it comparable to the other two theory. (That takes into account that much of the Cleveland route is urban, and is still signed at 65 mph or lower. On I-77, only sections south of Exit 99 - a bit south of Canton - are signed at 70 mph.)

We tried the green route on Tuesday, and...well, we didn't see a 10 minute improvement. Extensive construction on the Turnpike mostly cancelled out the time savings we gained by driving 5 mph faster in the non-construction zones. We'll try the green route again some other time.

But, we're not done! A major improvement to the blue/Athens route is scheduled to open before Thanksgiving: the Nelsonville bypass. Nelsonville is the biggest bottleneck along US-33 between West Virginia and Columbus. Part of the bypass is already open, but not the part that bypasses Nelsonville itself (i.e. the only part that matters). Once the bypass is fully open, I suspect it'll save us up to five minutes. That'll make the Athens route the unquestioned fastest route once again*. At least until they widen the rest of US-35 in West Virginia (not happening anytime soon because it's not funded), or increase speed limits on the Ohio Turnpike even more (ha!).

* - A disclaimer. Amber's parents live on the southwest side of Toledo, near the suburb of Maumee. For us, that makes a route which approaches Toledo from the south more attractive. But for traffic heading to downtown Toledo, or north to Detroit, I'd say the green route (to I-280 and then I-75) is the fastest, if you don't mind the tolls and construction.