Monday, December 29, 2014

Holiday Travel: 2014 Edition

As I have well documented here, we like to take road trips, and bringing young children with you makes road trips harder.

We traveled to Jacksonville for Thanksgiving and Toledo for Christmas. These aren't short drives: 7 hours to Jacksonville and 9.5 to Toledo, not counting stops. And, we'd like to keep doing this sort of thing in the future. So, what have we learned?

We bought a portable DVD player for Marla. We used to be against this to the hilt, based on this notion: "We didn't have this sort of thing when we were kids. Our children aren't going to rely on electronics. They'll entertain themselves the old fashioned way, darn it!" But, here's how we justify it now: when we were kids, we also didn't have to sit in highly restrictive car seats that don't really allow you move around or do anything. Really, it's no fun being a kid in a car anymore. Times have changed, and so I am more than happy to use technology as best we can to let us do what we want to do.

(Speaking of which, only recently did I start listening to music in my car streamed via Bluetooth from my phone. This is just the kind of thing I didn't even know I could do. What other technological advances am I missing out on simply because I don't know they exist? Maybe this is one reason why you have kids.)

I'd say about half of the driving time was spent with the DVD player on. Marla spent the other half of the time napping or eating, mostly. Pre-Bruce, one of us (usually Amber) could sit in the back with Marla and help entertain her, but now the back seat is full, so technology does the entertaining for us.

For longer drives, leaving at 4 AM is still the way to go. Usually it goes something like this. For the first two hours, both kids sleep, then we stop, then Marla watches TV for the next two hours, then we stop again, then we start eating, then Marla gets tired and naps again, and then maybe after another two hours of TV, hopefully we've made it to our destination.

But really, it's just a lot easier on us if we start the drive when the children are sleepy. Normal wake up time - 7 AM, give or take - might be the WORST possible time to leave. The last thing Marla wants to do upon waking up full of energy is sit in a car for a while. Better to shift the last two hours of her sleep into the car, and then let her release some energy at the first rest stop. We've also found that it's best to arrive at our destination at least two hours before bed time, because the kids aren't going to want to go right to bed when we get to our destination. Also, leave any earlier than 4 AM and we're sacrificing too much sleep. Leaving at 4 AM is the way to go, maybe even for "shorter" drives (6 to 8 hours).

It's good to know where the playgrounds are. A unique challenge to traveling with an infant is that you have to stop to bottle feed him every three hours, and each feeding normally takes 30 minutes. It's one thing if you only have the baby with you, but what if you also have an older kid with you that you have to entertain during feeding time? Then, it's best to find a playground, so that Marla can go run around and play while we try to feed Bruce. Rest areas are okay, too, because there is plenty of space for Marla to run around. (The more energy Marla burns off at each stop, the better.) Gas stations and restaurants are not good places to feed Bruce, unless it happens to coincide with meal time, in which case Marla can eat at the same time.

So, yes: lots of playground stops, both ways, and we also stopped at a friend's place in Columbus for a "play date". We were fortunate that it was both dry and warm-ish during the Jacksonville and Toledo drives. It was 45°F when we left Toledo early Saturday morning. That's a bit warmer than it was in Toledo in January 2009.

As far as finding the playgrounds, Google Maps and the Garmin aren't the most reliable, because you never know if a place called "Lincoln Park" is going to have a playground or not, or if it's just a ballfield. So, I did a lot of research beforehand and located a playground every 30 miles along both the Toledo and Jacksonville routes, because you never know when you're going to need to stop. Rest areas, too. (This proved most challenging in West Virginia and South Carolina: not much there in the way of playgrounds.)

(By the way, I've kind of gotten away from the playground reviews. Too many playgrounds are too much alike for me to justify writing up individual reviews anymore, but I am still adding all newly visited playgrounds to the master spreadsheet. I even gave out a 0/10 "upkeep" score recently! Turns out, Northwest Florence isn't exactly the best part of town.)

There will be plenty of time for county collecting later. Usually when we go to Toledo, I would pick a route that might be an hour or so longer than the baseline route, just so I can visit a new county or two. There are still six counties in Ohio I haven't been to yet, but since these drives are already taking long enough as it is...we didn't do any county collecting this time. So, no new counties for me this Christmas, or even Marla. (Bruce got several new counties, this being his first time in both Jacksonville and Toledo; he's now up to 84 counties in 7 states.) In fact, I haven't added any new counties in eight months. EIGHT MONTHS! AAAHHH!! Maybe I'll have to do something about that soon.

No matter how well the drive goes, you'll be pretty exhausted afterwards. I thought our drives to both Jacksonville and Toledo went really well, and yet, we were exhausted afterwards. So, I don't know when our next big road trip will be, but I suspect we won't do anything "major" - farther away than, say, Charlotte - until spring or summer, at least.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Loucks Family Christmas

We spent Christmas with Amber's family, the Loucks Family. It was a bit crazy, at least compared to what I'm used to: 5 kids, 4 "middle-aged" people (i.e. my age), and 3 grandparents/great-grandparents. I guess that's really not THAT many people, but even my largest Christmases growing up only involved 10 people, including at most 3 kids.

Anyway, I decided to count how many presents each person got, as best I could. So, here's a chart:


Each person's age is in parantheses. I don't know Paul's age, but he's Dawn's husband, so I assume he's in the neighborhood of 40.
Also, Amber and I (and also Marla and Bruce) would have gotten more than we did, but we didn't bring all of our presents with us, and we also still have presents coming from my side of the family. For everyone else, I don't know whether that was "everything" or not.

As you'd expect...the kids were the big winners! Except for Bruce. Poor Bruce.

This is what 172 wrapped presents looks like:


Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2014

83.3 miles

In some ways, my bicycling ability has plateaued. I've already done a 100K (three, actually), and it's not that I CAN'T do anything longer than that; it's just that doing anything longer than that would just take a really long time, and I'd rather not spend an entire Saturday away from my family. But if I have an extra vacation day to use, I COULD take the day off from work, and ride my bike for 7 hours or so. That's what I did yesterday: drove east of Raleigh, then got on my bike and rode from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Total distance: 83.3 miles.


(This isn't why I took this picture, but yes, I did use that toilet.)

Most bike rides are fun for the first 40 miles or so. Then, muscles and things start to hurt, and it becomes not fun. Between that and the time factor, I keep most my rides at 40 miles or less. But, sometimes it's fun to push my limits.

...although if I really wanted to push my limits, I would have driven west to (somewhat) mountainous Stokes County and ridden this 45-mile route that I plotted a while back, but have never gotten around to doing, because despite the shorter distance, it's still a huge time commitment: 1.5 hours of driving each way on top of ~4 hours of bicycling. But rather than go to the mountains, I decided I'd rather just post a large mileage number. ("I rode my bike 83 miles" sounds more impressive than "I rode my bike 45 miles in the mountains", right?) So I drove east of Raleigh, parked the car, and then headed for the relatively flat terrain of Nash County.

So...do I think I could do 100 miles? Probably, but it wouldn't be fun. Simple math, really: if the first 40 miles of a bike ride are fun, then the last 60 miles of a 100-miler would not be fun. Plus, completing a 100 miler would take me even longer than this ride did. I think I'd have to do it in Spring or Summer when we have more daylight. But then, it'll also be warmer, which in some ways is worse for long bike rides because it means I have to pack more water. (Water is heavy.) I could do a supported 100-miler, but the kind of people who do supported 100-milers are much faster than I am. Or, I could plan a route such that there's a water fountain at the halfway point or something, but what if I get there and find that the water fountain is broken? (Water fountains, or "bubblers" as they call them in Wisconsin, aren't the most reliable things out there.) If I couldn't refill my water halfway through, then to complete a 100-miler in mild-to-warm weather, I'd have to bring at least a gallon of water with me. (That's not an exaggeration: I consumed about 3 quarts of fluids during the 83 miler, and I still felt dehydrated afterwards. On a warmer day, surely I would have needed to drink even more.) Suffice to say there are some logistical challenges to doing a century, and so I don't know if I'll try one next year or not. Maybe it'll depend on how much vacation time I have to spare.

Bicycling Trip in Asia update: I haven't added yesterday's distance yet, but my fictional bicycle ride across Asia, which started in Singapore 19 months ago, is now only a few weeks away from New Delhi. The last 7 months have been spent in India, and the last 2 months have been spent in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. At 462 miles, Uttar Pradesh is the longest state (or province or region or whatever) on the entire 10,064-mile Singapore-to-Gibraltar route. Also, at a population of ~200 million, it's also more populous than any other country (excluding India of course) on the Singapore-to-Gibraltar route. I wonder how bicycling-friendly the roads of Uttar Pradesh are?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nap Time

Before Bruce came along, the weekend routine was set: be home between 1 and 3 PM for Marla's nap. Well, about the time Bruce was born was also when Marla decided to not really nap anymore. I think it's been a few weeks since we had an actual, on schedule, in bed, afternoon nap. Usually Marla just plays and talks until 2:30, at which point we give up and say "we'll just put her to bed early" (which often doesn't happen either). Pretty much the only way we can get an afternoon nap to happen is if one of us stays in her room and naps with her, or we're in the car and Marla falls asleep on her own.

A no-nap Marla is much less cooperative before bedtime than a nap Marla, but still, she's much less dependent on naps than she used to be. Used to be, she had to nap, or else the afternoon would be completely awful. Now afternoons are fine, and evenings are just slightly more difficult.

If your kids still take regular afternoon naps...lucky you!

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Parkwood Christmas Parade

Our neighborhood, Parkwood, has its own Christmas parade. We never really much bothered to go before we had children who might enjoy it.


People generally laugh when I talk about our neighborhood Christmas parade, as in, "Aww, it's really cute that your neighborhood has a parade." Yeah, well, our parade is kind of a big deal - it's the largest holiday parade in Durham! So there.

Marla's favorite thing about the parade? The free candy, probably. Or maybe the marching bands, I don't know...I just assume that candy always wins. (The parade had three high school marching bands and one middle school band. Pretty good turnout, although I've learned that the bands are paid by the neighborhood to appear. Is it typical among holiday parades for marching bands to get appearance fees?)

Personally, I liked that Smokey the Bear made an appearance.


Also, I like that we can walk to a Christmas parade. Parking is always an issue with parades, not this one! (Parking isn't really a problem even for people who drive; there's plenty of close proximity street parking.) And it's kind of neat that the moment we walked out the front door, we heard the bands in the distance. Inconvenient if you live here and have somewhere to be, perhaps.

It took 30-45 minutes, for all of the parade participates to march by, which certainly makes this smaller than, say, the Raleigh parade. Maybe it's on par with a typical small town holiday parade, which it turns out, is just our style. The parade might be the best thing about Parkwood, other than being 3 miles from my work, of course.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Karting

Now that I've (mostly) caught up on sleep, I can blog about our trip to the karting facility while visiting Jacksonville last weekend.

Your local children's arcades have always had go kart tracks, but the cars go slow, and all you have to do is mash the gas and never use the brake. Not quite a true test of driving skill. But recently, a few go-kart-specific establishments have opened up, marketing themselves as "go karts for adults", or just "karting". (Karting is a real thing with major world championships and everything, and is where many top NASCAR and Formula One drivers got their start.) Here, the cars go much faster, and you'll never actually reach the kart's top speed. And more importantly, you actually have to use the brakes, such that putting in a top lap takes significantly more skill. (And, it's also much more expensive than the go-karts at Frankie's Fun Park or Adventure Landing, but more on that later.)

We have one local karting facility called Rush Hour Karting. I've never been there, but while visiting Jacksonville for Thanksgiving, we went to a similar place called Autobahn Indoor Speedway, located in an old warehouse in an office park. All you have to do is show up, sign the waiver, pay up, wait 30-60 minutes (depending on how crowded it is), and then you get a 14-lap race, At ~23 seconds per lap, one race takes 5-6 minutes to complete. Wee! A few of my friends joined me, plus one guy named "Quagmire". (More on him later.)


Surely, given all my experience playing racing video games over the years, I would be able to do pretty well at this even though I have no prior karting experience right? Well, sure...I was able to beat all of my friends (also first-timers), both on track and in terms of fastest lap. (They returned the favor in Mario Kart afterwards.) Quagmire, on the other hand...he brought his own helmet, so I'm guessing he comes here a lot. He turned the fastest lap of the entire week during our race. (He also screwed us out of an extra lap, because the race ends as soon as the leader completes 14 laps, even though he was at least a full lap ahead of the rest of us. Why don't they do timed races instead?)


The hardest part for me was controlling the car under braking, applying just the right amount of brake without scrubbing too much speed off, yet enough speed to still make the corner, all while keeping the car on the optimal racing line. Steering is hard too - my arms were pretty tired after just 14 13 laps. I would love to do this more often and see if I could ever get as good as, say, Quagmire. (For the record, I think I could.)

Problem is...this is a pretty expensive hobby. Not counting the one-time $6 "license" fee, a single 5-6 minute race costs $20. Sure, you can get discounts the more times you race, but still, doing this often can get rather pricey. A lot of people think curling is expensive, but with curling, $20 gives you two hours of activity, not just 5-6 minutes. If you ask me, curling is a much better value than karting. Actually, auto racing in general is one of the more expensive hobbies one can have, to the point where if Marla ever tells me she wants to be the next Danica Patrick or whatever, my response will be, "Sorry, but auto racing is too expensive. Wouldn't you rather be the next Jennifer Jones or Debbie McCormick instead?"

That said, I would like to go to Rush Hour Karting sometime. Who wants to join me?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Arena Curling: A Tribute

Big day in the history of the Triangle Curling Club yesterday: our last ever game on rented arena ice. The club has been around in some form for 19 years, and every single game the club has ever played (at least at home) has involved renting 2-hour blocks of ice time from a local arena. For at least the last 8 of those years, we've curled at the Polar Ice House in Wake Forest.

We're still on track to open the new building in January (it'll be here before you know it!), and Sunday marked the last game of the Fall League, our last league on arena ice. I wasn't there, but Amber tells me there was a full ceremony prior to the last game, not unlike what you'd see before the last draw of a bonspiel, except that the bagpipe music was piped in (no pun intended) over the loudspeaker instead of via an actual bagpiper.

Curling on dedicated ice is better than curling on arena ice in almost every way. (Why else would we be going through all this trouble?) But, there are some things I'll miss about curling on arena ice:

- Reading the ice conditions. This is a game in and of itself. Where are the "zamboni lines"? Where are the grooves in the ice which will dictate where the rocks will go? Can you actually throw both turns and get the rock in the house? It's different every week! Kind of frustrating at times, sure, but reading the ice was the #1 challenge for a Skip, and I think I was actually pretty good at it. On arena ice, I can beat a much better Skip head-to-head, if I'm better at reading the ice. I've had a lot of success on arena ice in the seven years I've been with the club. On dedicated ice, not so much. I've always had a harder time calling strategy on dedicated ice, because there are many, many more shots available to you - and to your opponent. If you ask me, "real" curling is a much more complex game than what we play on arena ice.

- Totally dominating dedicated ice clubs at arena ice bonspiels. This kind of follows from the first point. If you've never curled on arena ice before, then you have no idea how to read arena ice. So, when teams who are quite excellent on dedicated ice come down to an arena ice bonspiel and have to play a "home team", they usually struggle. That was always fun. Of course, I'm kind of joking here...I'm more than happy to trade a slight (and perhaps unfair) competitive advantage at arena ice bonspiels for the opportunity to curl on dedicated ice every single week. And as much as dedicated ice teams struggle on arena ice, we've always struggled even more when we go up to compete on dedicated ice. Maybe now when we travel up north to compete, we'll actually stand a chance!

- Friday night curling. As long as we've been with the club, we've always curled on Friday night. (Except for this last season.) Friday night curling was something to look forward to during the week. Hey, it's Friday, and that means CURLING! In the new building, we won't have a Friday night league, so I'll be curling on Monday and Tuesday instead. People generally have other things to do on weekends, so weeknight leagues are more practical, but I'll miss the old Friday night league. Maybe once our club grows and we can sustain more than just a few leagues, we can bring back a Friday night league of some sort.

- Curling in August. Our new building is not going to be open year-round. Maybe 8 months at the most. So, that means no more curling in the summer. Our traditional August "Carolina Classic" bonspiel? Not in August anymore. Now if we want to curl in the summer, we'll have to travel to places like Wilmington and Knoxville. (Although we've already been doing that anyway, because summer bonspiels are fun. Also, see my second point.)

- The GNCC Arena Club Championships. That bulldog trophy? I'll never see it again.

Except for the occasional away bonspiel, my career curling on arena ice is now over. I played 209 games at the Polar Ice House in Wake Forest, winning 126. Here's the box score from my last game:

Career game #254: 2014 Fall League - November 9, 2014
(my team: Wright)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Zwiefel........ 00502011 | 09
Wright......... 24020200 | 10

Should I start my career game count over at #1 in the new building? Because in a way, it's like I'm starting my curling career over. Sure, I do have some experience on dedicated ice, but only 28 games' worth, and none since February 2013. ... On second thought, nah. My first game in the new building will count as game #255. But I will track my stats on dedicated ice separately.

Can't wait!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Snow Day Forecasts

It was cold this week. The Raleigh-Durham airport (RDU) recorded a record loW of 19°F Wednesday morning. That's plenty cold for mid-November, but cold enough to cause the local schools to delay opening? ... Nope, not even close. If last winter is any indication, it takes, at minimum, a "Wind Chill Advisory" - issued for wind chills below 0°F - for schools to delay simply because it's "too cold", and even then, not every Wind Chill Advisory results in a delay.

Speaking of which...last winter was cold, too, and there were plenty of school delays and closings. Wake County schools had 9 snow days last year, delayed opening twice, and closed early twice more. (None of those were in November or December, by the way.) Schools farther north in Virginia had even more snow days than we did. And in the lead-up to each winter weather event, of all the meteorologists I follow on Twitter and read on the internet, this question generally went unanswered: "Given the forecast, how likely is it that schools will be closed or delayed?" The excellent Capital Weather Gang communicates the likelihood of school closings on a scale of 0 apples to 4 apples, but that's the closest thing I've seen, and I'd prefer something more percentage-based anyway. (And, of course, something local to the Triangle.)

I actually thought about doing this myself. I could start up a Twitter feed and/or blog and/or something that specializes in "snow day forecasts". I wouldn't be forecasting the weather itself, because I know I couldn't do any better than NWS Raleigh or the local TV meteorologists. Instead, I'd read all of the forecasts and technical discussions, compare that to past events - I chronicled each potential event last winter in order to determine the thresholds for school delays and closures - and combined with the uncertainty in the weather forecast itself, come up with something like, "Durham County Schools are 40% likely to be closed for the day on Thursday, 60% likely to have at least a delay". I think I could make snow day forecasts as well as anyone. Maybe even better than the school systems themselves!

Forecasting snow days might even be harder than forecasting the weather itself because of the element of human behavior, on top of the already uncertain weather, so I expect this to be a bit challenging. Maybe that's why nobody does it!

So, what's stopping me from starting now? Well, first off, given that we just had our second child a few months ago, now is probably not the best time to start a new project. But also, I think I need one winter to "practice". So, maybe I'll tweet out some "beta" snow day predictions this winter on my personal Twitter. We'll see how it goes, and if it goes well, maybe I'll start something a little more formal the following winter. Hopefully I'll get plenty of opportunities this season! But not too many.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

#sports: 11/11/14

Having a two-month old baby at home actually means I've been watching more sports - more time at home, much of which needs to be spent with somebody holding and/or feeding a baby, which a lot of the time can be done in the room that has the television in it. But, this will swing wildly in the other direction once Bruce starts walking, 6-12 months from now.

College football

Due to a combination of on-field success and off-field news, everybody hates Florida State now, right? Other FSU fans encourage that we "embrace" the villain role. That would be perfectly fine - fun, even - if the hate were strictly football-related. But, hey, we've gone several Friday afternoons in a row now without any new New York Times anti-FSU hit pieces! Instead, the most recent anti-FSU stories have had absolutely zero substance. (By the way, any journalist/columnist who runs with a story like that, you should probably not trust them in general.)

So...the football: I really thought Florida State would lose to Louisville, but for some reason I'm more confident about the Miami game, even though FSU is favored by (slightly) fewer points against Miami than they were against Louisville. Eventually, this win streak will come to an end - most likely this season - and that would be okay. (Just as long as the streak doesn't end against Florida. That would be awful.) Especially considering the Clemson and Notre Dame games, the Seminoles are very fortunate to have won this many games in a row. Whether or not a 12-1 ACC Champion Florida State would make the 4-team playoff probably depends on what happens in other conferences. I think it's better than 50/50, but not guaranteed: if Mississippi State/Alabama/Oregon/TCU all finish with one loss, then do they all finish ahead of a 12-1 FSU? Do one or more 2-loss SEC teams end up ranked ahead of a 12-1 FSU? Thing is, though, at this point in the season, we just kind of assume teams like Oregon and TCU will win out when making bowl projections, but then they end up losing a game or two.

Might Penn State actually be better off if the bowl ban were still in effect? It appears their best hope at this point is one of those crappy bowls that pits two 6-6 teams against each other. And given how awful Penn State games have been to watch lately, does anyone really want an additional Penn State game on the calendar? (Seriously, though, the bowl ban being rescinded is good for the program.)

NFL

In hindsight, maybe it was unrealistic to expect the Jacksonville Jaguars to have success this season. Sure, last year was rebuilding, but this year is really re-rebuilding, with rookie quarterback and other fresh young players. It's hard to predict when teams that are as far off as the Jaguars will "turn the corner", or whether it will happen at all without getting rid of the GM/coach/QB all over again. We're still at least 2½ seasons from the point where the team should consider any front office firings, I think; hopefully by then, Blake Bortles will quit throwing so many interceptions. Without the interceptions - 14 on the year, by far the most in the league, even though Bortles hasn't played every game - I think he's actually playing pretty well, but turnovers are killer in the NFL. The Robinsons (Denard at RB, Allen at WR) look good, and the defense is improving...or, I thought it was, prior to the Dallas game. Pretty much any attempt to find positives with the Jaguars is a reach until they start winning more games. 1-9.

(So, right after I wrote this...Allen Robinson: out for the season with a foot injury. Ugh.)

NASCAR

I can't lie: this NASCAR "Chase" elimination-style format has been pretty entertaining. I'd still prefer a 36-race "no chase" championship format, if nothing else to make the first 26 races of the season more meaningful, and because I like the idea of the best driver over the course of a 36-race season being the champion. But once this elimination format gains credibility, I think the fans who don't like it will stop complaining about it.

Here's why I say that. Out of the major sports, Major League Baseball has the most random and/or arbitrary post-season: after a 162-game season, you play a wild-card elimination game, then everybody must win a best-of-5 series to advance. Baseball is pretty random to begin with - even the best teams only win 60% of the time - so the outcome of a 5-game series against two good teams is pretty random, even if one team is slightly better over the course of a 162-game season. And yet, the reaction when the Washington Nationals lost, was, "they just didn't get it done in the playoffs", without acknowledging the inherent randomness of MLB's playoff format. Yet, in NASCAR, when two of the best drivers get eliminated while two others who have had much less successful seasons advance, then it's just because the format is broken?

There are many difference between baseball and NASCAR, but the reason the fans react the way they do is this: MLB has had 5-game divisional series for the last 20 years. The format has been around for a while, and so fans have accepted it (perhaps begrudgingly). So when the Giants win the World Series despite being the 5th-best National League team over the course of the season...oh, that's not luck, that's CLUTCH! This is year 1 for the NASCAR format. By year 20, people will talk about how "clutch" Ryan Newman was in the Chase despite not winning a race all year. (Except that Newman hasn't really been that "clutch"; he's just avoided bad finishes. That's REALLY what this Chase is about: avoiding bad finishes. Or, win races, but only one guy can win each week.) For a somewhat arbitrary playoff format to gain acceptance and credibility, it just takes time. Hopefully Brian France realizes that, and that his best move at this point is to not tinker with it anymore and keep it the same for the next 20 years or longer. Or...if there are 10 laps to go and it looks like winless Ryan Newman is going to win the championship, throw a debris caution! (Seriously, watch for that, because it is in NASCAR's best interest for Harvick or Logano to win.)

NHL

Due to injuries to some of its best players, and the fact that they didn't really improve the roster in the offseason, I had zero hope for the Carolina Hurricanes this season. And, they responded by losing their first 8 games. Season over? Time to start positioning for a top draft pick? Apparently, there are two "can't miss" prospects in the upcoming draft, so if you're going to tank for draft position / lottery odds, this is the season to do it.

Well, the Hurricanes won 5 of their next 6, so it appears they are, in fact, too good to get a top draft pick next season...but still not good enough to make the playoffs, probably. In other words, this season is shaping up to be just like every other damn season! ARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH.

I guess what I'm saying is, I'm finding it hard to truly celebrate the team's recent success. Maybe if their Sports Club Stats playoff odds ever get back over 50%, then I can start really cheering the wins in earnest again. Still reading this streak as false hope for the time being.

NBA

The Charlotte Bobcats are now the Charlotte Hornets. I tried to coax myself into being a "Bobcats fan" multiple times in the past, but it never stuck, mostly because the team has been terrible. But, the Hornets name and colors have plenty of positive equity - not just in Charlotte, but in the whole state of North Carolina. And, unlike the Hurricanes, the Bobcats/Hornets have turned it around and are coming off a playoff year, and actually have a shot at going back this year too. So, count me in!

I've always thought the key to NBA success was one of the following:
- Be the type of "glamour" franchise that is attractive to superstar free agents (not the Hornets)
- Suck for several years in a row and get a bunch of top draft picks, or if you're really lucky, an MVP-caliber player

The Bobcats have done plenty of sucking, and so they have some decent talent on the roster...I would assume. Actually, their best player - Al Jefferson - was signed as a free agent. So, I don't really know what I'm talking about here. I've never really followed the NBA that closely. But, safe to assume that the Hornets will stink again in a few years' time (maybe sooner?), so if I'm ever going to follow the Hornets, now is the time.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

"Time-Speed-Distance" Road Rally

A while back, somebody on a roadgeek Facebook group that I follow posted about an upcoming "road rally", just east of Raleigh, organized by the Tarheel Sports Car Club. The premise: given a set of complicated driving directions, follow the directions as best you can, and pass through each of several checkpoints not in the shortest amount of time, but in a precise amount of time, based on the directed average speed. (According to Wikipedia, these types of rallies are called regularity rallies, or time-speed-distance (TSD) rallies.)

Anyway, this combines three things that I am very good at: following directions, road navigation, and math. Sign me up! Fellow roadgeek Adam will be the driver, I'll be the navigator (since I'm good at math), and Amber will stay home and watch the kids for the day. (This is the kind of thing Amber would enjoy, too, but she encouraged me to go. The rules allow you to bring children under 10 with you, but...no.)

Now, before we begin...when we signed up, we had the option of two different "classes". One where you can use as many aids as you want - including smartphone apps built for the specific purpose of "cheating" in a TSD rally - and one where the only allowable aids are the equipment on your car, pen, and paper. Naturally, we signed up for the second category, a.k.a. the "fun" category. (We also used my wristwatch, which I think was accepted because we had to know what time, to the second, to leave each of the checkpoints. I only used the standard clock, though, not the stopwatch functionality.)

We had no idea what to expect, but the event started by us pulling into a gravel parking lot across the street from a Hardee's in rural Nash County. Doesn't sound sketchy at all, does it? But, several other teams and cars were already there, and so it looked legitimate enough. Turns out, 15 teams entered, including us. Not bad! First up was the competitors meeting, in which they gave us the driving instructions along with some VERY IMPORTANT HINTS (more on those later). Then, starting at 1:30 PM, cars began the rally, one per minute. We were car number 14, so we started at 1:44:


Being the 14th car to go is better than being the first car to go, because it made the timing checkpoints much easier to spot from a distance: we'd always see several other cars there already. The disadvantage is if we're behind on time and get stuck behind another competitor farther ahead, but that only happened to us once. And I think we did it to someone else, too, who made a wrong turn and got stuck behind us. But that's their own fault.

(By the way, this kind of event is very difficult to pull off logistically, if nothing else because you have to staff each of the checkpoints. You need at least a dozen volunteers for something of this scale. They even went so far as to mow the grass at each of the checkpoints! And, of course, putting together a good route and directions takes a lot of work, but I think aspect of it would be fun.)

Here is a sample of the driving directions. Three or four pages like this:


It's not just "turn left on [name of road]", because that would be way too easy to follow on GPS. (Again, we didn't use GPS at all; we did it the hard way.) It's also "turn left after [landmark]", or "take second turn after bridge", or "turn right at STOP". Still, none of it was really that hard to follow as long as you were able to spot the landmarks, but they did throw us some curveballs:
- One direction referenced "Hardee's", but it turns out, this was NOT a Hardee's restaurant. It was a sign with the name "Hardee's" on it (in reference to a construction company or something by the same name). So if you kept cruising down Highway 97 looking for a Hardee's restaurant, then, whoops!
- For the purposes of the rally, dead end streets and dirt roads do not exist. So if you come to a stop sign, and your only two options are "turn left on a dead end road" or "turn right on a road that isn't a dead end road", you have to turn right, and THAT TURN DOES NOT COUNT AS ONE OF THE INSTRUCTIONS. (That last part was one of the things they made clear during the competitor's meeting. Glad we were paying attention!)
- Sometimes the direction was just "Turn". As in, turn at the next available opportunity, where an "opportunity" (this was clearly defined in the rules) means a legal turn on any non-dead end, non-dirt road. And if it just said "Turn", not "Turn left" or "Turn right", that meant it wouldn't be a crossroad; it would just be a left-only or right-only option.
- If a name was on quotes, like "Hardee's", that meant look for it on a sign, and that it wouldn't be the name of a road. ... Or was it? One direction referenced "Ada Taylor", in quotes, except that this WAS the name of a road in this case. Better yet, if you missed the turn, it would take you straight to the next checkpoint...except that you'd get there a few minutes too early. But if you turned down Ada Taylor like you were supposed to, and the instructions that followed, you'd end up right back down the same road again, except now you'll get to the checkpoint on time. Fun, eh?

There was also the average speed component. The directions would say "average 44 mph" or something like that, then a few directions later, give you a new average speed. I was expecting round numbers like "45" or "50", but nope - 42 mph, 36 mph, 47 mph, whatever. Also, the directions also occasionally directed us to pause for 45 seconds or a minute. All this made the timing math much harder to do with pen/paper (easy with a smartphone, but what fun would that be?), but basically I thought of it this way. When traveling at 45 mph, one mile takes you 80 seconds; at 40 mph, 90 seconds. So if the directed average speeds over the last 10 miles were somewhere between 40 and 45 mph, then we should have completed those 10 miles in more than 800 seconds (13:20) but less than 900 seconds (15:00). It was hard to do precise calculations on the fly, but I did my best to give meaningful input to make sure our timing was at least in the ballpark as we approached each checkpoint. (They didn't tell us where the checkpoints would be, by the way.) I think we were slow more often than we were fast, because maintaining an average speed of 45 mph means you have to drive faster than that most of the time, when accounting for stop signs and turns and whatnot. In general, it's best to go faster than you think you need to go, because you can always slow down again before the next checkpoint.

(One side note: the first 10 miles was a "odometer correction section", designed to get you up to speed, and also for you to check your odometer accuracy. Turns out the odometer on Adam's Ford Escape is a bit slow: it read 9.8 miles at the 10.00 mile mark. This info helped some, because some of the instructions referenced a specific mileage.)

Roadgeeking knowledge came in handy, but not as much as I thought it would have: even though the route was 75 miles long, it doubled back on itself multiple times and largely avoided roads that we would know anything about (with the exception of NC Highway 97). In hindsight, this makes sense: a route that revisits the same landmarks multiple times (but with different instructions each time so that it all seems fresh) is a lot easier logistically, because the same people can staff multiple checkpoints without having to drive far. One part of roadgeeking that did come in handy was road signs: where to find four-digit state road numbers on signs, and also what something like "BAILEY 9" might mean. (Those are white signs at intersections that mean "9 miles to Bailey if you turn down that road". A common sight in rural North Carolina.) This brings up another fun "curveball": One instruction was 'turn right at "BAILEY 9" after "45 MPH"'. There were two roads with "BAILEY 9" signage, but only the SECOND one came after a "45 MPH" sign. The first one came after a "35 MPH" sign; turn down that road instead, and a few instructions later, you'd still end up at the next checkpoint...on the wrong side of the road. Penalty! (At least two teams did this.)

Not everyone was able to follow all of the instructions. We know this for a couple of reasons: 1) Someone made a wrong turn in front of us, taking the first left after a bridge instead of the second left (as clearly directed - I mean, how hard can this be?). We didn't let that fool us, though: we were confident. 2) Even though we were the 14th car in line, we beat several cars to most of the checkpoints, despite never passing anybody directly.

The scoring: at each of 6 checkpoints, you get 100 points for each minute that you're early or late. (Points are bad; lowest score wins.) There were also some questions which, if answered correctly, would reduce your score by 50 points. (For example: "To whose memory is this road dedicated?" Look for the "Adopt a Highway" signs. Or, "What do you put a HOTT DOGG in?" We thought we missed that one, until we came upon a cemetery featuring tombstones inscribed with the name "BUNN".)

So...did we win? We don't know! We had to leave the after party early, before all of the scores were tabulated. The organizers said the results would be posted online, but I don't seem them yet. Regardless, I'm very confident we finished top 5 out of 15 (electronic aids or not), at the very least. There's a chance we might have even won the thing. I think we averaged less than 1 minute off per checkpoint, including one checkpoint where we were within 6 seconds of the target time - that's pretty good, right? Doesn't really matter, though, because it was a lot of fun! Great mental exercise for the navigator, too. Apparently they don't have these TSD rallies all that often around here - this was the first one in six years, apparently - but we'll be on the lookout for the next one.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Publix Grand Opening

Some people wake up early and stand in line outside a store on Black Friday, or whenever Apple starts selling a new iPhone, or when tickets for the new Star Wars movie go on sale. Me? I'm not interested in any of that...but I am passionate about grocery stores.


Today was a VERY EXCITING DAY! The Triangle's first Publix opened its doors at 7:00 AM this morning. I got there at 6:35 AM, and that was only good enough to be 30th or so in line. One local news team (ABC 11) was on the scene, and the Green Hope High School drum line was performing while everyone waited.


I'd say the majority of the people waiting outside were women, because that's who usually does the grocery shopping in most households? I guess. Not in our household! I actually enjoy grocery shopping. Perhaps that's because I grew up with Publix, "where shopping is a pleasure". (If I grew up in a town where the only options were Winn-Dixie and Walmart, maybe I would hate grocery shopping.) I also gathered that for most of the people waiting in line before 7 AM - well over 100, maybe even 200 - this was not their first Publix experience. Chances are, more than a few of us waiting in line this morning were Florida natives.

Then, at about 6:57 AM - three minutes early! - the first person in line was awarded the privilege of cutting the ceremonial ribbon, and the store was open. Let's GO GO GO!!


By the way, there is nothing like using a brand new grocery cart. This thing practically pushed itself! (Although, if I'm honest...Kroger's shopping carts are a bit bigger. This will be my first of many Publix v. Kroger comparisons, and some of them will actually be pro-Kroger, believe it or not.)

My first stop? The bakery to get some cookies.


In hindsight, I should have used the "theme park" strategy. When a theme park first opens, the most crowded attractions are those near the front entrance, so you're better off starting at the back and then working your way from there to the front, or at the very least turning left and going clockwise instead of going counterclockwise through the park. Same thing happened at Publix this morning: The bakery and the deli - the first stops if one were to turn right upon entering the store - were where most people went first. But the bakery, deli, and other specialty areas - for example, the seafood department - actually stayed pretty busy throughout. The aisles themselves? Not that busy, yet. It seems, of all the people waiting in line this morning, I was only one a few who intended making this early morning stop a regular grocery shopping trip. In fact, I may have been the first person in the history of the Cary Publix to grab a box of cereal off the shelf. (Publix brand Corn Flakes, by the way.)

As with any blog post I write about Publix, here's the obligatory "What's so great about Publix, anyway?" section. As grocery stores go, the service is second to none, the employees are always available to help and are friendly, checkout is fast and enjoyable, and they even offer to take your cart to your car and help you load your groceries. (That's always been a long Publix tradition.) Publix stores are always clean, always have excellent selection, have a deep stock of store brands, occasionally great sales (even if overall their prices are a bit higher than a store like Kroger), and excellent bakery and deli departments. And, of course, they hold sentimental value for me, being a Florida chain that I grew up with. Publix stores all have a similar feel: it's like I'm back home!

As for whether Publix will be successful here...well, I don't see why not! Although not official, they are looking into more Triangle locations, beyond just the North Raleigh one that's been facing local opposition. I'm rooting for Publix all the way, of course...but competition is good, too, so I don't really want them to put Harris Teeter out of business altogether. And that won't happen anyway, given all the equity Harris Teeter has built up with longtime North Carolina residents. Best case scenario, in 20 years, there are just as many Publixes in the Triangle as there are Harris Teeters.

Now...about our neighborhood Kroger. I've been going to the same neighborhood Kroger for nearly 6 years now, and I know that Kroger front to back to front. It's plenty adequate as a grocery store, and it's more convenient (5-10 minutes from home, compared to 15-20 for Publix), a bit cheaper, and the pharmacists know our names. Am I going to give up on all that and start shopping at Publix every week? ... Well, not every week. We'll keep Kroger as our pharmacy of choice, and Kroger will still be the place to stock up on things that are cheaper and/or more widely available at Kroger - namely, snack crackers*, some cereals, and Kroger brand macaroni and cheese. Sorry, Publix, but Kroger's selection of store brand macaroni and cheese is superior. At the same time, there are a lot of things that Publix has in stock that our neighborhood Kroger does not, it turns out - for example, certain flavors of Lean Pockets(TM) and yogurt. Plus, Publix's bakery is a LOT better than Kroger's.

(* - That is, when they're not out of stock. Seems that every time Reduced Fat Cheez-Its are on sale, the shelf is empty.)

Well, we'll see how it goes after the first couple of months. I've only been to the new Publix once so far. Can't wait until we need to go shopping again!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fall Mountain Trip 2014: Recap

Let's get this out of the way first: road tripping with little ones is hard and can drive you crazy sometimes, but it's (sometimes) worth it, and can even be enjoyable (sometimes). The primary things we learned from our weekend overnight road trip were:
1) We might need to upgrade Marla's car seat before the next trip. (She was constantly complaining about it.)
2) Staying in a hotel for just one night isn't really that nice. We already knew that, but it's especially true now. Six trips to the car and back to get all of our stuff. For just one night!

We knew it wouldn't be easy, but we really wanted to make that annual fall mountain trip before the foliage peaked. And, it had been 6 months since we went an overnight road trip. (Duke Hospital doesn't count.) Scenes like this made it all worth it:


That was off the Blue Ridge Parkway northeast of Asheville, which is where we saw the best foliage of the weekend. Some more pictures from up there:


(These are mostly Amber's pictures, and she's already posted these on Facebook. I decided not to worry about picture taking or live tweeting the trip, because I didn't need any additional distractions.)

We also went to Mount Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Bruce's first state highpoint! #5 for Marla. This is at least the 3rd time I've been here, and out of those three, I doubt the weather has been as nice as it was that day.


And aside from a stop at a playground on our way out there, and because we had to drive all the way to Greenville, SC to get to our hotel (Greenville hotels are WAY cheaper than Asheville hotels), that was pretty much all we had time for the first day. When you have two little kids with you, stops that would normally only take the two of us 15 minutes can take upwards of 90 minutes.

On day two, we first went to Caesars Head State Park, just on the South Carolina side of the state line. I think Upstate South Carolina has some underrated scenery. I'm assuming most North Carolinians probably don't bother coming down here:


Our next stop was Carl Sandburg National Historic Site in Flat Rock, NC, which was a nice setting...except that we didn't make it to the house or the goat farm itself, because we had the stroller with us, and the paths weren't stroller friendly, and we didn't feel like walking all the way to the car and back again to get the baby carrier. Whoops! (And, it was lunch time, and we were hungry.)


Finally, ice cream in Gastonia as we worked our way back to Durham. (Tony's Ice Cream is excellent, by the way.)


And, that's that! Lots of work, but it was (mostly) worth it, and we learned a lot for the next road trip.

Statistical stuff

The full weekend route is mapped out here.

This was the first time we took Bruce out of state. Bruce is now up to 32 counties - 31 in North Carolina, 1 in South Carolina. Marla's county total is now 532, including 74/100 in North Carolina. Marla had been to South Carolina before, of course, but this was the first time she's overnighted in South Carolina. (Bruce's map, Marla's map)

This was the first big road trip for the Subaru, and it handled the mountains great, although it's not as much fun to drive as a smaller car, of course. I also enjoyed getting "99.9" miles per gallon on our descent down Mount Mitchell:


About 32 miles per gallon for the entire trip, which is exactly what the Forester's highway mileage is advertised as, so, hooray!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Triangle Curling Club Championship

I haven't been talking curling much lately, because I haven't been doing much curling! The Triangle Curling Club is only having one league this fall, its final league on rented arena ice. And since Amber had been on the sidelines pregnant all year, I let her curl in that league, with me just playing a couple of times in her place.

(By the way, my predictions regarding the opening dates for the Triangle Curling Club's new building, versus the Cary Publix, were a bit off. Not because the curling club is behind, but because Publix is opening much earlier than I expected: next week!)

One thing that's nice about having your own curling building is that you can have as many leagues as you want, whenever you want! It's limited by how many people are available to curl in them, of course, but we're currently planning on something in the neighborhood of 5-6 leagues. We've got all of that outlined here: two "open" social leagues, a men's league, a women's league, and a "competitive" league. (Plus another league geared towards instruction.)

I've been the League Coordinator for the club for several years now, but with so many leagues, I'm not going to coordinate all of them, of course. Each league will likely have a different coordinator, and with that in mind, I specifically requested that I coordinate the "competitive" league. I'm really excited about it. Have been for years.

What's so different about the competitive league?
- MAKE YOUR OWN TEAMS. We've never allowed club members to form their own teams for league play before. Want to form a stacked team that can compete at bonspiels? Now you can! Want to form your own team with your friends, regardless of how much experience (to a point - see next item) you have? Now you can!
- Minimum one year curling experience, since this is the "competitive league", after all. (All other league offerings are open to everyone regardless of experience, provided they've at least done the "Learn to Curl" session.)
- The winner of this league will be declared CLUB CHAMPION for the year, and will get their names engraved on some kind of permanent plaque/trophy/something that will go on display at the club to commemmorate all of the club champions in the history of the Triangle Curling Club. (At least, that's what I'd like to see. I don't know how far my authority reaches with this.)

Speaking of which, calling this league the "competitive" league...well, it's descriptive, but I think the league needs a more glamorous name. Something simple: how about "The Club Championship"? Or even just "The Championship"? Some folks in the club may want the league to be named in honor of one of the club's founders, and/or someone who has made large contributions (financial or otherwise) towards the building of our club. We'll think on that, For now, it'll just be the "open competitive" league. ("Open" means that teams can be made up of any combination of men and women.)

Another thing that's nice about our own building: we're not necessarily limited to 8 teams per league. We can expand to two draw times in any given night and have up to 16 teams! We won't have that many teams in any one league from the start, certainly, but eventually we will, just like the Potomac Curling Club's leagues. (Speaking of Potomac, they call their competitive league the "Capital League". That's kind of what I'm talking about with the name. Something that sounds serious and prestigious and gets people talking, but at the same time is simple and elegant. Something that would sound fantastic if the late Pat Summerall were to narrate it, similar to how he always used to say CBS Sports...presents...THE MASTERS.")

We won't really be able to do this until we go well beyond 8 teams (perhaps well beyond 12 teams, actually), but eventually I'd like to institute a "tiered" system within the competitive league. Not unlike European soccer leagues, the bottom team(s) in the top tier will be "relegated", and the top team(s) in the next tier down will be "promoted", something like that. This is probably 2-3 years down the road, though, at least; probably need to have at least one full 16-team season without tiers under our belt before we can institute tiers. The benefit to tiers is that you get more games against similar competition, and it also increases the prestige of the league in general, I think. Plus, it's fun! The Utica Curling Club's men's league has promotion/relegation between four tiers, with 12 teams in each tier! If we can ever get something that deep in our club, that would be so, so unbelievably awesome.

So, yeah, this competitive league is sort of my baby. I've been thinking about it since the day we started planning our own curling facility. Can't wait! And, the other leagues will be fun, too.

===

Since I insist on documenting every single game of curling I ever play, here's the one game I've played so far this Fall season, a loss. I didn't play all that great, but this was also my first game in over three months, so...

Career game #253*: 2014 Fall League - October 5, 2014
(my team: M. Jackson)

End............ 12345678 |TTL
----------------------------
Jaun........... 02111010 | 06
M. Jackson..... 10000201 | 04

(* - The last game I recapped was labeled as game "251", but it was actually "252", and this game makes "253". There was a pick-up game on May 18 of this year that I never put in the blog. That game was a 7-2 win.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Green Acres Farm

Going to a pumpkin patch or farm in October is very popular these days. Has it always been this way, or am I just now noticing?

Last year we went to Hill Ridge Farms. This year we decided to go somewhere else, for variety's sake: Green Acres Farm in Cary.


It's a pretty similar type of place, with a play area, farm animals, a hayride, pumpkins for sale, etc. But they also had a corn maze, which we spent about 15 minutes in before Marla wanted out:


Maybe some other year, we'll do the entire corn maze.

We thought last year's Hill Ridge Farms was slightly better overall than this place. Except for no corn maze, Hill Ridge had a little more to do, plus it was in a rural setting. Green Acres Farm is actually right in the middle of the suburban Cary sprawl.



That makes me wonder: why haven't they sold the land? They could probably make a fortune selling their land to a developer - several million, at least. Then, they could buy new land farther out in the country for less, and keep the profits. Zillow values their property - 80 acres - at $7.5 million. Meanwhile, here is an 80 acre "recreational property" in Warren County which just sold for $200,000. What's stopping the owners from pocketing a one time profit of over $7 million?

Well, for one thing...their location is, of course, great for business, much more so than if they moved to a place like Warren County. They charge $10/person, and some of the activities (which we tried to avoid) cost additional money on top of that, so...how much do you think they rake in a given Fall season? $1 million? Maybe not that much, but certainly six figures, right? Move the farm into the country, and it would be but a small fraction of that. But maybe the best location for a place like this to be is the "exurbs": affordable, rural in nature, and close enough to a large metropolitan area to attract large crowds. That's exactly where Hill Ridge Farms is: less than 30 minutes from much of north Raleigh, and the value of their 50-acre property is an affordable $935,000 according to Zillow.

Or, maybe the folks at Green Acres are being patient and waiting for the right time to cash out. I mean, as Cary continues to grow and attract new residents, it's not like the land is going to become less valuable any time soon. In another 20 years, maybe this plot of land will be worth $15 million. At some point they're going to have to sell, right?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Bruce's First Road Trip: Medoc Mountain

Fall has arrived! Perfect time for our first full-family "road trip test". Later in October, we're embarking on a 2-day/1-night road trip to the mountains, so before we do that, since we've never done this sort of thing with two children before, perhaps we should do a mini road trip "test".

(Note: This picture was actually taken over a month ago when Bruce was still only one week old; at six weeks, Bruce is a bit bigger now.)

As for where to go on Saturday, I looked for interesting nature-y places within a two-hour drive that I hadn't been to before, and settled upon Medoc Mountain State Park. Medoc Mountain is located east of Raleigh near I-95 (Roanoke Rapids-ish), and it isn't really much of a mountain; it's just the remnants of an eroded ancient mountain. I didn't see anything really "special" about the place, other than that it's a State Park, but it provided a very nice picnic spot plus walk in the woods.

An important thing to remember when planning nature-y trips with little ones: sure, a park might have interesting things to see, but can a 3-year-old walk to them? Marla can do a 1-mile walk, so for now we limit our hikes to 1 mile or less, easy terrain only. Thinking ahead, the time will come in which Bruce is too big for a baby carrier but too small to do too much walking on his own, at which point we won't be able to do too many walks in the woods at all for a time, unless the trail is paved and we can use a stroller. (For Marla, that was between 21 and 27 months, which just so happened to be when we were in Colorado, of course. So, no major national park vacations for us between May 2016 and November 2016.)

Regarding driving with two kids, we've always had someone in the back seat to help entertain Marla during the drive, which we can't do anymore. But in some ways, Marla is actually easier to entertain when we're not in the back seat with her, because she's less demanding and more willing to entertain herself. The challenge will be with Bruce when he's between, say, 12 and 18 months. For now, he sleeps almost all of the time when we're in the car, so it's relatively easy. Better get our weekend mountain getaway in soon!

We did learn some things with the road trip test, though:
- VERY IMPORTANT: Ask Marla to go to the bathroom before we leave. I mean, this has got to be road trip rule #1, right? Right on cue, she asked to use the potty before we even made it out of Durham County.
- It's nice that we only have one kid in diapers at a time.
- If we're bringing yogurt with us for our picnic, also bring spoons.
- For family road trips, even a small SUV is a lot nicer than a Honda Civic.

Maybe the reason Marla was so interested in the hike was because I pointed out the numeric reference markers to her ("Okay, there's the 6, let's go find the 7!" "YAY!!!!"), and also the blue rectangles painted on the trees which served as the trail markers.


County statistics: Bruce has now visited 10 counties (was 4 prior to Saturday). He has not left the state of North Carolina, but that will change later this month. Marla visited her first new county in over five months (Halifax County), and my Subaru has now been to 14 counties, all in-state. Also, here is a map of the route we took, which included a little bit of roadgeeking (completing US-158 between I-85 and I-95).

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Race Is On: October Update

Back in August, I declared a competition between the Triangle Curling Club and Publix to see who would open their new building first - either the new curling facility in Durham, or the Triangle's first Publix in Cary. Both are expected to be open before the end of the year.

Let's start with the curling club. The building is starting to take shape!


Still a ways to go before we have actual curling ice in there, of course. We're unofficially targeting our traditional January 1st one-day bonspiel as our first big event in the new building, although the "grand opening" may happen sooner than that.

Meanwhile, down at the intersection of High House Road and Davis Drive in Cary...


Wow! I hadn't been down here in a while, but I didn't expect the building to be there with Publix signage and everything already. Yahoo! Have to say, it is very strange (and awesome) to see Publix signage in the Triangle.

Of course, they still have to fill out the inside of the store, and this being a large grocery store, that might take a while. So without walking up to the windows and taking a peek inside (maybe next time), I can't tell how far along construction really is, and Publix still hasn't announced anything resembling an opening date. But it does seem that Publix is closer to its open date than the curling club is.

On the other hand, Publix won't open until it's 100% finished and spotless, while there are no such restrictions on the curling club. As soon as we have functional curling ice and working bathrooms, we're opening. Either way, I think December is probably still the target for both.

I'll give another update in November, at which point maybe we'll have a better idea of when each building might be open for business.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Vasectomy

Most men probably wouldn't be too open about getting a vasectomy. All the more reason for me to blog about mine!

(This post is more graphic than usual, and nobody's forcing you to read it, but I view other guys' reluctance to talk about this sort of thing as an opportunity.)

We had our second child last month, and that is all the children we're interested in having. We've known this since before we were married, and nothing's changed. So, what's the most reliable way to help prevent an unwanted third pregnancy?

Well, REALLY, the "most reliable" way to keep from having additional children is to stop having sex. But beyond that, it's this: get a vasectomy!* It's safer and more reliable than other birth control methods (tube tying, birth control pills, condoms, etc).

A vasectomy is pretty much permanent, of course, so...we're really, really, really sure about this, right? Yep. Sure, "unforseen circumstances" could come up, such as:
- The death of a child. We discussed this, and even if this should happen, we don't wish to go through another pregnancy.
- Amber could change her mind and want a third child all of a sudden. Again, we discussed this, and she signed off on the vasectomy anyway, so...
- Apparently, many men will later regret the decision because their marriage falls apart, they find a new partner, and want to have children with the new partner. I know many 6-year-married couples feel this way only to get divorced 10 years later, but...that won't happen to us! (I suppose the only theoretical situation in which I would ever want more children is if something happens to Amber and Marla and Bruce...that, of course, would be unbelievably devastating, so let's just hope that doesn't happen.)

There is such a thing as "vasectomy reversal", but it's expensive ($10,000 and up), and it is only effective half the time anyway. Even if "unforseen circumstances" arise, I will never pursue vasectomy reversal.

So...a lot of guys squirm at the thought of a vasectomy because it involves messing with some sensitive body parts. It wasn't the most pleasant experience, but the way I see it, it can't be any worse than childbirth, right?

Presenting a timeline of the whole process:
- May: Asked my primary doctor if I needed a referral or anything from him in order to get a vasectomy. (Nope. I could make my own appointment with whoever I wanted.)
- 9/3: Called a urology clinic that does vasectomies, made an appointment for a consultation.
- 9/9: Consultation! Scheduled it for a Thursday afternoon, so that I could take Friday off, and have plenty of time to "recover" before returning to work the next Monday.
- 9/20: Pretty much the only thing I had to do in preparation was to stop taking my daily vitamin. (By the way, a lot of people poo-poo on daily vitamin supplements, saying they're not necessary. I generally agree, except that a medication I'm on has a side effect of inhibited vitamin absorption, and based on some blood tests which showed some vitamin deficiencies, my doctor suggested I supplement.)
- 9/24: Right, one other thing I had to do in preparation: shave the night before. Wee! I won't go into the details.
- 9/25: Fun time! The vasectomy itself took less than 30 minutes, and only a small part of that was uncomfortable (the cold stuff they put down there at first) or painful (the part where they inject the anesthesia or whatever into your scrotum). I felt sick and almost threw up afterwards, but drove home another 30 minutes later and took some high-level pain medication.
- 9/26: Sat at home all day watching reruns of Quantum Leap.
- 9/27: I'm always leery of controlled pain medication because of its addictive qualities, so I kept my use to a minimum (three pills total - two that day, and one the next morning). The following day, I was medication free.
- 9/28: So, I asked the doctor...should I have any problems urinating after that? He said no, but...let's just say that wasn't quite my experience. Things are (mostly) back to normal now.
- 10/2: One week after the procedure is when I can resume exercise, along with some other fun activities.
- 11/25: I didn't know this at first, but after you have a vasectomy, you aren't immediately sperm free. It takes some time* for all of the remaining sperm to flush out of your system. So, I need to provide a sample for testing in two months. If that test is negative, then I'll give another sample two weeks later, and only if that second sample is also negative will I be declared "sperm free". (This is why I got the vasectomy sooner rather than later. Given Amber's history of blood clots, birth control has always been a bit problematic for her.) Apparently, a lot of guys don't even bother coming back with a sample two months later, thanks to a combination of embarrassment and laziness, I guess.

(* - They say, it takes about 15 ejaculations to flush out the remaining sperm. NO, I AM NOT GOING TO KEEP TRACK. Even I have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to my stat keeping.)

Amber was pregnant for 18 months, so being uncomfortable for a few days for the sake of family planning? It's the least I could do.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Weekend Grocery Shopping

For a few years now, it's been my routine to do the weekly grocery shopping on either Monday or Tuesday between 5:30 and 6 PM. But, now we have two kids instead of one, and so we have to figure out our routines all over again. Trying to cram grocery shopping in between dinner and bedtime with two children at home isn't optimal, it turns out.

So...what about grocery shopping on the weekend? I've avoided doing our grocery shopping on weekends because a) it's crowded, and b) we're usually busy on weekends, with road trips and curling and bike rides and church and whatnot. But, we're currently less busy on weekends, at least for the time being. So, let's try grocery shopping on weekends! Maybe I'll do it either Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on how the weekend plans are shaping up.

Well, here's one problem with that: even though our neighborhood Kroger opens at 6 AM on Sundays, it's self-checkout only for at least the first couple of hours. Self-checkout is fine when you only have a few items, but when you're doing a full weekly trip, self-checkout ruins what would otherwise be an enjoyable grocery shopping experience, at least for me. I try to avoid it at all costs. Not unlike shopping at Walmart Neighborhood Market, shopping at Kroger at 8 AM on a Sunday is great, until you're forced to spend 10 minutes wrestling with the self-checkout machine.

Does Kroger post the times in which they staff the checkout lanes with cashiers? Not that I've seen. I think this will just come down to trial and error. Hopefully I'll be able to find a weekend time in which there are cashiers, and it isn't too busy. Also complicating things are the pharmacy hours: 9-6 Saturdays, 12-6 Sundays. We don't need the pharmacy every week, but it's frequent enough that it's an important consideration. So, maybe Saturday morning is best? Except that Saturday morning is most often when I do my longer bike rides.

Actually, this is just making me anticipate the opening of the Cary Publix even more. Certainly, Publix isn't going to be self-checkout only on Sunday mornings...right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sports Friday: 9/19/14

College football - Sports are fun to watch and follow, but unfortunately, some of the athletes who participate in said sports are idiots. So what if one of those idiots happens to be on a team you root for? And what if he goes on to win a Heisman Trophy and helps your team win a national championship? Are you a bad person for cheering anyway?

It's complicated. Sure, I could talk about how the media blows everything he does out of proportion (which they do), but that could be construed as defending the guy, which I don't really want to do, either. Honestly, I'm just tired of the nonsense. It'll be a lot nicer in many ways when Winston is gone, because then this nonsense will be over, and FSU will still be able to say "2013 national champions". (Assuming nobody broke any NCAA rules last year, of course.)

As for the question of whether it's "good" for someone like Jameis Winston on your team - very talented at football, but stupid and irresponsible* and always in the news for the wrong reasons - I'd say, yeah, but not for more than a year or two. After that, fatigue sets in.

* - It's important to make the distinction that being "stupid and irresponsible" is not the same as being a criminal, which...yes, Winston was cited for shoplifting and accused of rape, but technically, he's not...right, I decided I wasn't going to try to defend the guy, because you'll judge me for that, right? See why I'm tired of all this?

NFL - Just one quick thought on the recent "let's suspend everyone accused of domestic violence" crusade. If the NFL had a more lenient stance on recreational drugs, maybe that "two game suspension" would have actually seemed harsh instead of lenient, and not drawn the scorn of the populous? Because that's what started all this, right? "Smoking pot gets you suspended for a year, but assaulting a woman gets you two games??" I'm fine with these suspensions provided that the players are actually guilty, but what happens to these guys in court matters far more to me than how many games the NFL suspends them for.

So, the Jacksonville Jaguars stink again, but it's not necessarily time to put Blake Bortles out there yet. It's actually not (mostly) the quarterback's fault this time: the offensive line is awful, there is no running game to speak of, wide receivers keep getting hurt or suspended, and while the pass rush is much improved, the secondary has had some problems so far (which hopefully should be helped by Johnathan Cyprien's return this week). Let's leave Chad Henne out there a few more weeks, and see where we stand after, say, Week 6.

How many years has Shad Khan owned the team now? This is his 3rd year of ownership, and so far, no success; just really large scoreboards, fancy swimming pools, and one fewer home game in Jacksonville per year. (But hey, the Jaguars are now the 9th most popular team in the UK!) Shad Khan is obviously a brilliant businessman, and he's popular with the fans...but as the owner of two sports teams, can he produce a winner? Because so far, things haven't gone particularly well on that front. (Also see "Soccer".)

MLB - The Washington Nationals have had an incredible second half of the season, and that means I get at least 3 playoff games. Hooray! I'm looking forward to it, in part because of all the professional teams I root for, the Nationals are the only ones who have had a sniff of success this decade.

I think the team is well set up for the playoffs, too, in part because they've been fairly fortunate with respect to injuries. All five starting pitchers have been (mostly) healthy all year, and have also (mostly) produced in a big way. And the offense has been great, too, and has stayed (mostly) healthy as well, except for Ryan Zimmerman. None of the pitchers or position players are MVP candidates; instead, the team's strength is its depth. There isn't that much a dropoff as you go down the batting order or through the pitching rotation.

The Nationals could easily make a World Series run...or they could flame out in the Division Series, because it's baseball, and baseball can be pretty random. Either way, should be fun! And since I'm not as invested in the Nationals as I am the other teams I follow, I'll be able to handle a tough playoff loss a little more easily.

NASCAR - Television ratings have been consistently down all year. I was thinking, the new Chase makes the regular season even less relevant by making it easier than ever to get into the Chase, so maybe fans are losing interest in the regular season? Maybe NASCAR will see a ratings bump once the Chase starts? … Nope! Ratings for the first Chase race were down as well compared to recent years.

You can't say the new championship format is bad for the sport just because ratings are down this year - ratings have been going down for the last several years - but you can say that it's not helping, at least so far. Even if the Homestead rating ends up being huge, NASCAR will have to ask itself if it's worth sacrificing ratings all season long just to get a small ratings bump in the last race. (Although, the more they tinker with the championship format, the less credible and more arbitrary it seems; maybe the steady decrease in TV ratings over the last few years is a manifestation of that. So if I were Brian France, I'd make as few changes as possible from this point forward. Or, go back to the old system - the best driver over the course of 36 races is the champion. Really, that would still be my preference.)

What would really be beneficial for NASCAR is if their entire Chase wasn't head-to-head against the most popular sport in America. If it were logistically feasible, maybe they would consider reworking the schedule so that it ends in August, making the Chase a summer event instead of a fall event. But, it's not logistically feasible, if nothing else because the TV contracts for the next 10 years are already signed. They could try weeknight races in the Chase, but the problem there is that weeknight races hurt attendance, since so many fans come to NASCAR races from out of town. And, it may not help TV ratings anyway - back when the Daytona 500 was rain delayed to a Monday night primetime telecast, the final ratings number ended up being not that much different than from when the Daytona 500 takes place on Sunday afternoon.

All that said...I still plan on watching the Chase, at least as much as I have time for.

Soccer - So, last year, I started following EPL team Fulham, since they're sort of a "sister team" to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And, they were instantly relegated to the second division, a.k.a. the "Championship". But surely, Fulham will be able to immediately compete for promotion back to the Premier League, right? … Nope! So far, Fulham is in dead last in the Championship, they just fired their manager again, and they're in danger of being relegated again if they don't turn it around. It's still early; 39 games of 46 are still to be played. That's a lot of games.

Side note: the last team to get relegated from the top division to the third division in consecutive seasons was Wolverhampton, and this was actually pretty recent: Premier League in 2011-12, Championship in 2012-13, League One in 2013-14. (And back in the Championship again for 2014-15, along with Fulham, who Wolverhampton has already beaten 1-0 this season.)

Meanwhile, back in the Premier League...with Fulham gone, I decided to start watching Newcastle United games. Newcastle is a good "middle ground" team, at least on paper: not one of the biggest richest clubs, but big enough so that they might finish Top 6 and quality for European competition every few years, and also not all that likely to get relegated. ... Or are they? Four games into the season, Newcastle currently sits dead last in the Premier League. Maybe I should just give up and root for Arsenal like I originally planned.