Friday, February 28, 2014

Sports Friday: 2/2/8/14

Now that the Olympics are over...what else is on?

(Warning: the teams I root for are generally doing poorly right now, so the tone henceforth won't be particularly positive. I'll at least keep this quick.)

College basketball - Locally, it's been an exciting couple of weeks in college basketball between Duke/UNC, UNC/NC State, and Duke/Syracuse. I've been watching less college basketball this season, but maybe I should really be watching more, because it's probably the most interesting thing going on right now (post-Olympics). Disclaimer: I feel obligated to at least acknowledge that none of the teams I mentioned above are actually leading the ACC; that would be Virginia, who would surely be getting a lot more press and have a much higher ranking than they do - currently #12 - if their name were "Duke" or "North Carolina" instead. (Although to be fair, Virginia's intraconference schedule is the weakest in the ACC so far.)

Part of the reason I haven't been watching quite as much is that Florida State has been a bit of a disappointment this season, hovering at or below .500 in the ACC, likely putting them out of the NCAA Tournament. I really thought the guys that were "young" and "raw" last season would learn how to play Leonard Hamilton defense and get back to dominating defensively again this season. But, it hasn't really worked out. Also, here's another side effect of ACC mega-expansion: fewer Florida State games on local television. The ACC Network (a.k.a. Raycom, which broadcasts games on local affiliates) has had to go with more "regional" broadcasts this season in order to air all of the games. Usually what happens here is that if an ACC Network game features a North Carolina team, then WRAL will air it; if it doesn't feature a North Carolina team - for example, Florida State versus whoever - then rights-holder WRAL will either bury it on their alternate channel or not even air it at all. So, that was kind of an early season turnoff.

I haven't been paying attention to Penn State basketball much this season, but I hear they beat Ohio State twice, so good for them!

NASCAR - Now...I could write a piece here about how NASCAR's new system for determining a champion is going to ruin the sport, but, you know, they can do what they want. Once we get away from a championship system that is about determining who the best driver/team is, and towards one that is more about entertainment than anything else - and NASCAR more or less did that when they started the "Chase" in 2004 - then you may as well go "all in" and have a winner-take-all finale.

...I have one concern, though. NASCAR says this new championship format is all about winning. However, advancement in the "Chase" will still be consistency-based for most drivers. Sure, winning one of the first three "Chase" races guarantees you a spot in the next round, but there will still be at least nine drivers who advance via points. If you're Jimmie Johnson, surely you'll recognize that the optimal way to approach those first three "Chase" races is NOT to go all-out for a win, but instead to avoid the bad finish and get home around 10th or so. Unless you win one of them, you ABSOLUTELY MUST avoid the bad finish in ANY of those three races to avoid elimination. Three top 10s, or even three top 15s, will surely be enough to put you in the top 12 out of 16 after three races. Even in the second round, three top 10s will likely be good enough to put you in the top 8 out of 12. The third round of the Chase (races 7-9) is where this is going to be most interesting, in my opinion.

I think it's interesting that NASCAR is willing to work so hard just to get a nominal ratings boost in the final race, perhaps at the expense of other races. Really, though, if NASCAR wants to draw a big rating in the season finale, then instead of tinkering with the championship format, maybe - just maybe - they shouldn't put it head-to-head against the NFL? Just a thought.

Soccer - With the season winding down, Fulham is currently in last place in the Premier League; if they finish bottom three, they get relegated to the next division down (the "Championship"). So, the question is: if Fulham is relegated, will I continue to follow the team, keeping in mind that I didn't just arbitrarily pick them to begin wish? (The Jacksonville Jaguars owner also owns Fulham, and Fulham is supposedly going to play a "friendly" in Jacksonville this summer, so that's what this is about.)

Well, here's what would probably happen:
- Because of the Jacksonville connection, I'll still pay attention to how Fulham does in the Championship. I think the "beIN Sports" channel airs one Championship game per week, so Fulham may get a few games on TV. But that'll be a sharp downgrade from having almost every game on TV this year.
- I'll follow a different team in the Premier League, though. Not Arsenal, as I originally planned, because I've come to my senses on that one. Rooting for a top-flight team is lame. I'd probably go with Newcastle United.
- Should Fulham get back in the Premier League - and sometimes it takes quite a while for teams like Fulham to make it back up - I'll immediately follow Fulham again, as long as they're still owned by the Jaguars owner.

I have to say, from an objective standpoint, I like the idea of promotions/relegations in professional leagues. It makes the leagues far more interesting than American-style "franchised" leagues, where teams like the Florida Marlins can spend the bare minimum and never have to worry about being demoted to Triple-A as a result. Given the amount of TV money that Premier League teams get, the pressure to stay up is huge. I don't think there's an equivalent in American sports. On the other hand...from the perspective of a fan of a particular team, I kind of appreciate the security of knowing that one bad season won't force the Jacksonville Jaguars out of the NFL. In fact, a bad season in American sports might even be a good thing, because you get a good draft pick out of it!

NHL - The Carolina Hurricanes season has pretty much gone like this: they'll go on a winning streak that puts them in playoff position (albeit only barely), and then they'll follow it up with a losing streak and drop 5+ points out of a playoff spot again. That's where they stand right now after losing to Dallas last night: 5 points out. And they're very fortunate to be only 5 points out; if they were in any other division, they'd be even farther behind.

Sports Club Stats has the Hurricanes at 21.7% to make the playoffs. If they don't, that will mean they'll have had only playoff appearance in the eight years since I moved here. Awful. All of a sudden, the Hurricanes are about as irrelevant (and about as successful) as, say, the Blue Jackets or the Panthers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Windows 8.1

I think 6 years is a good life cycle for a personal computer. I bought a new desktop PC in 2002, and another one in 2008. Now it's 2014, and so, time for a new one! Hooray! My existing PC is still running decent, but it's time to upgrade. Maybe we can pass my old PC down to Marla, once she's old enough to navigate a computer on her own. (It'll happen faster than you think!)

I actually decided to go with a laptop instead of a desktop this time, but instead of talking about that (or about "tablets", which I still don't think are worth the money), I'm going to talk about the change in Windows operating system versions. For you see, my old PC still had Windows XP on it. When I bought it in 2008, my two options were Windows XP or Windows Vista, and Windows Vista had a pretty bad reputation, so I steered clear. Windows XP was just fine, and there's a reason it hung around for so long, even though it's now, what, 12 years old?

(Side note: I briefly considered ditching Windows and going the Apple route, but...nah.)

When I was doing my research and trying to figure out which laptop brand and model I should buy, from reading reviews and whatnot, I learned a couple of things:
- Every single company that makes laptops has models that are good, and models that are not good, so it's not really sufficient to say, "Well, I'm going to get a (insert brand name here)". Generally, all of the top brands make reliable computers these days, and it's up to you to look at the specs and the price and see that you're getting what you're paying for. (And also not to overload it with performance-sapping junk and/or viruses once you get it.)
- For the laptop that I bought, most of the reviews went something like this: "The laptop itself is nice, but Windows 8 sucks!!"

Yeah, kind of like Vista, Windows 8 doesn't have a great reputation, although the reasons have more to do with appearance and usability, instead of performance like with Vista. People really, really hate the new Windows 8 "Start Menu" and their effort to make a PC home screen look just like a mobile phone home screen. Nevertheless, unlike with my past PC, I had one and only one choice of operating system this time around: Windows 8.1, and that was that.

Well, worst case, if I decide I hate Windows 8.1, and I go and buy a copy of Windows 7 instead. I have Windows 7 at work, and I like it. But you know, after using Windows 8.1 for week, I don't think it's that bad. Certainly not enough for me to go out and "downgrade" to Windows 7.

What's the difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8.1, anyway? From what I've gathered, Windows 8.1 is designed to act more like Windows 7, if that's how you like it. The "Start Menu" button in the lower left? It's back! Do you want the PC to go straight to the traditional Desktop look (which has been around since Windows 95) on boot? With Windows 8.1, you can! Windows 8.1 is also supposedly a little less intrusive, in that you don't have to sign quite as much of your soul over to Microsoft in order to do basic things. (No, I would not like to associate my laptop with a Microsoft account, thank you very much.)

It took some configuring, but I have Windows 8.1 set up to my liking, so that it's really a lot like the Windows 7 I use at work, with a couple of enhancements. And, I think I actually like the new large-icon-based mobile-phone-looking "Start Menu". There really aren't all that many programs (I refuse to call them "apps") I use on a day to day basis, so I don't need to wade through that huge program list every time. The "Start Menu", which is customizable, has everything I need, nothing more. Sure, I could use traditional desktop icons for that like the old days, but starting a program that way requires two clicks. Via the Start Menu? One click. Well, two, if you count the click to get to the Start Menu in the first place. But I like having a relatively clean desktop. There are a lot of different ways to quickly access your most-used programs and files in Windows, but that was true with XP also.

So, my point is that while Windows 8 got off to a rough start, Windows 8.1 is fine. It's certainly better than Windows XP - I mean, it's 12 years newer, so it better be - and I also won't be going out and buying a copy of Windows 7 instead. Credit Microsoft for addressing some of the issues with Windows 8, and in a reasonably quick time frame at that.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Curling Recap: February 2014

The Winter Olympics are over, and that means no more curling on television until...well, whenever NBCSN decides to show it again. When will that be? Fortunately, we still have 13 Olympic curling matches saved on the DVR that we haven't gotten around to watching yet. We're going to take our time with those.

So, now it's time to get back to my own curling adventures. A week or two ago, we finished up a four-week "mini-league", specifically designed to end before the Olympics ended, so that our club can make way for "Learn to Curl" session after "Learn to Curl" session. How'd I do?

Career game #241: 2014 Winter Friday Mini-League - January 24, 2014
(my team: Wright)

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Wright........ 0314022 | 12
Hobbie........ 1000100 | 02

Career game #242: 2014 Winter Friday Mini-League - January 31, 2014
(my team: Wright)

End........... 1234567 |TTL
Wright........ 2130011 | 08
Mitchell...... 0002100 | 03

Career game #243: 2014 Winter Friday Mini-League - February 7, 2014
(my team: Wright)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Franklin...... 11010111 | 06
Wright........ 00202000 | 04

Career game #244: 2014 Winter Friday Mini-League - February 14, 2014
(my team: Wright)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
M. Jackson.... 00010002 | 03
Wright........ 21103310 | 11

So, three solid wins, and one close loss. Pretty good! I think it's interesting that we only surrendered an end of two or more points in 2 out of 30 ends. Officially, we finished in 3rd place in the mini-league out of 6 teams.

I'll take two things away from this mini-league, mostly. For one, I was the Vice on a 3-person team, which meant that I threw three rocks per end. Gotta say, throwing three per end - and as the Vice rather than the Lead, so that you get more shot variety - might be the best practice, outside of real, actual practice, anyway. I played some great games in these four weeks.

Also, the ice conditions are getting worse, because the concrete under Sheet 3 is heaving, causing some nasty falls on the ice that they can't really do anything about until they take the ice out completely, which they're not going to do anytime soon. Good time to start building our own building, eh? Hopefully all the new curlers that start up with us over the next few weeks will have fun anyway, despite the less than ideal ice conditions.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Travelogue: 2/15-2/16/14

A lot of people only go on road trips when the weather is warm. Not us! We think winter is a great time to go for a drive. There's less traffic, and if there's snow cover, it helps make otherwise familiar scenery seem completely different. Sure, you might have to drive through snow every now and then if you're unable to plan around it. And most tourist attractions will be closed. And you can't do a whole lot outside, really...but hey, the driving itself is nice.

We were a bit stir crazy last weekend after being stuck in the house for a lot of the week, so...who wants to drive to Virginia??? May as well spend our first night away from home this year while we're at it, since we didn't have any overnights at all planned until April.

View Larger Map

This was as good a time as any to check off some of those road trip goals I set at the start of the year, so that was basically - alright, entirely - the basis for the route we took. I finished off Interstate 66, visited 3 new counties in Virginia, and also visited the only county I had remaining in West Virginia.

The drive was nice, too, except in a few spots. Manassas, Manassas Park, and Falls Church are not exactly the most conveniently located "counties". Even suburban DC is pretty densely populated. Getting to the east end of I-66 via a road other than I-66 is also difficult. But hey, now it's done, and we had a good time while we were at it.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Playground Reviews: Southern Community Park; Piney Wood Park

Southern Community Park - US 15/501, Chapel Hill, NC
Visited: Sunday, February 2, 2014
| Google Satellite

Summary: I haven't done a single playground review in Orange County yet, so on Sunday we went to Southern Community Park in Chapel Hill. Wake County has excellent playgrounds - my top 5 playgrounds to date are all in Wake County - but what about Orange County?

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

Things for Marla to do: 7/14. The usual age 2-5 and age 5-12 playsets, with a few slides and whatnot, plus swings and a couple other things. Pretty standard. There's also a small hill inside the play area, which I thought was a nice touch - plus, Marla enjoyed running up and over it. You don't always have to provide fancy equipment for the kids to enjoy themselves. (Apologies for the inadequate lighting in the pictures. It was pretty late in the day.)

I might have given an 8/14, except that most of the "climbing" stuff, Marla couldn't do on her own, even in the age 2-5 play area. So, perhaps this isn't the most toddler-friendly playground, now that I think about it.

Uniqueness: 4/10. A playground that has the "standard stuff" but doesn't seem completely generic will usually be given a score of 3 or 4.

Upkeep: 7/10. The equipment was in good shape; trash level was average.

Crowd: 5/10. Pretty average crowd for what you would expect on a nice Sunday afternoon. (Sensing a theme here? Hooray average!)

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. As Marla gets older and she's better able to entertain herself, these "enjoyment" scores are starting to creep up. Although...I wasn't so sure for a while, because she really didn't want to get out of that swing. I don't care how fun the swings are - and the ones here were, of course, average - if that's the only thing at the playground that Marla is interested in, I don't think I can give a score higher than 3/5. But, she did voluntarily get off of the swing eventually. (Disclaimer: I do have a bit of anti-swing bias, because Marla swinging requires continual effort out of us, her parents. I'm happy to oblige, of course...for a little while.)

TOTAL: 27/49, ranking 10th out of 24. Our first Chapel Hill playground experience suggests that their parks are well maintained, but compared to the high standard set by Wake County, the playgrounds themselves - while adequate - are nothing special or memorable. Is there such a playground in Chapel Hill or Carrboro? We'll have to do some research.


Piney Wood Park - Woodcroft Parkway, Durham, NC
Visited: Monday, February 17, 2014
| Google Satellite

Summary: Another playground close to home (less than 10 minutes away). Worth a shot!

Things for Marla to do: 6/14. So, it turns out that both of these playgrounds that I'm reviewing today are pretty standard. Swings, a small kid play area, and a large kid play area. This playground is a bit smaller than Southern Community (hence the score of 6 instead of 7).

Uniqueness: 3/10. Slightly less interesting than the average playground, but as long as there are some things (usually climbing-type things) that I don't exactly see at most other playgrounds (usually contraptions you can climb), I'll usually give at least a 3 here.

Upkeep: 7/10. Trash level was above average; equipment was in decent shape.

Crowd: 7/10. Tough call because of the weather: upper 30s, and still some snow on the ground, although it didn't really affect Marla's ability to enjoy the playground. One other family was there when we got there, but soon left; another one showed up as we were leaving; and that's it. I suspect this playground gets a little more use in nicer weather, so, 7/10 sounds good.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. Marla had a blast playing with one of the other kids who was there (who was born within 5 days of her, it turns out), but once her friend left, Marla lost interest pretty quickly and started exploring the rest of the park. Normally that would mean a 2/5, but then a while later...she came back to the playground! For a little bit.

TOTAL: 26/49, ranking 15th out of 24. I think it's safe to say that any playground that scores in the 26-28 range is pretty much "average", "standard", "typical", or whatever. Both of these playgrounds are right in that range.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Pregnancy Secret

Amber announced this on Facebook a week or two ago, but we're expecting child number two in late August. Hooray! (We asked Marla if she wanted a little brother or sister. She said, "No." Sorry, Marla!)

Obviously, we've known for a while. A couple of months, I think. So why didn't we tell anyone? Why is it that when people announce a pregnancy to the general public, it's usually not until the pregnancy is two or three months in, maybe even longer? far as we're concerned, I leave Amber completely in charge of this, because she's the one carrying the baby. Miscarriages are more common in the first trimester than they are thereafter (so I'm told), so you don't want to go through the process of announcing, only to have to again announce later on that, well, it didn't work out.

So, that basically means keeping it a secret for up to two months. Much easier for me to do than it is for Amber, because when someone asks Amber why exactly she doesn't feel well, or hasn't been running lately...what does she say? She doesn't like lying. Sometimes, she just had to spill the beans. I mean, some people - especially those who have been through this themselves - are probably going to figure it out on their own anyway. They know the signs. I know I've "figured it out" with some of my friends before they publicly announced, too. (Although, I have also been guilty of guessing "you think she's pregnant?" incorrectly.)

Anyway, I just think it's a funny quirk of the way our society works, the timing and presentation of pregnancy announcements and whatnot. If all goes as planned, this will be last time we go through this. After kid number two, we're pulling the plug on the baby making machine.

By the way, I think we're going to want to know the gender of kid number two as soon as it becomes available, rather than making it a surprise at birth like it was with Marla. But again, that's Amber's call.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Olympic Curling: 2/17/14

With sports, I always think it's interesting to see how a fan base reacts to success or failure. Or, even, what they would consider to be a success or failure. For example, in the upcoming World Cup (this is soccer I'm talking about now), if the United States were to advance to the final 8 and then lose, that would be viewed as a major success. However, if Brazil did the exact same thing, that would instead be viewed as a massive failure. It's all about expectations.

So, after reading thoughts from people about how USA's curling teams performed in Sochi - some from people who follow curling regularly, some who only pay attention every four years - I think I need to offer some perspective before we "blow everything up and start over". Here's my summation of how our beloved curling teams finished:
- The John Shuster-led men's team finished in 9th, which is probably about right; they were the very last team to qualify for the Olympics, after all.
- The Erika Brown-led women's team finished 10th (last), only winning one game - by any measure, a disappointment, especially when you consider that this same exact team finished in 4th place in last year's World Championships.

Now, back to the men for a second. With a little positive variance, and if they had the won that dang Russia game in which they were tied with hammer in the 10th, then maybe they could have ended up 4-5 instead of 2-7. I think 4-5 was probably the best possible outcome for them. They were never really a medal contender. 6th place would have been fine, maybe even great. I don't think they're that far off. And the women's team, well, they pretty much had a meltdown. It happens. This team is capable of much better play, because we've seen it.

Nevertheless, now everybody - even the TV commentators - is talking about how USA curling needs to completely rethink how they prepare for the Olympics. Do they?

Well, it depends. As they themselves will admit, being in the Olympics is crucial towards growing the sport of curling in the United States. The "casual fan" is far more likely to pay attention and keep watching if they have a rooting interest, and for most Americans, that means the USA has to be there. Even if they lose most of their games. The USA doesn't have to be the best at everything. And, it's not like the countries at the Olympics are the only countries fielding competitive curling teams. "Last place" does NOT mean "worst in the world", it means "worst among the 10 best". Is being the 9th or 10th best curling country in the world really all that bad? I don't think so, even if the TV commentators made you think for a minute that we're actually much better at curling than that. (As much as like Fred Roggin, I think he focused too much on the USA teams' medal hopes, as if they were favored to medal.) Call that "10th best in the world" viewpoint "PR spin" if you want, but that's reality. These USA teams did not get free passes to the Olympics; they earned them.

That said, USA curling has a decision to make. Other countries are bankrolling their teams so that they can focus on curling all the time, instead of having working "full-time" jobs on the side like all American curlers do. That's what China and other counties have started doing, and it's paying off for them, at least in terms of Olympic success. China only has a few hundred curlers in the entire country, yet, both their men's and women's teams can compete on the world stage, because their Olympic committee made a commitment. Does USA curling want to do that? That's a call they'll have to make.

The flip side of that approach is, of course, that hand-picking a team and putting all our resources behind those few curlers for four years - or more - basically means shutting everyone else out. If you're Scottish, and want to curl in the Olympics...too bad! Eve Muirhead's team basically has that position locked away for the next 15 years or so. Access to the Olympics - admittedly, a very remote possibility - is actually one of the pitches our curling club has made over the years. Following the China model would take that away. But would that hurt USA curling? I don't think so. I mean, I know I'm never going to curl in the Olympics, or even anything close to it, but that doesn't stop me from curling. 99% of curlers in the United States feel the same way, I would suspect. The Olympics serve to show people that curling exists, and that it can be interesting, and the folks at NBC did a great job of reminding people that there is probably a curling club near you. (Unless you live in Jacksonville, Florida, unfortunately. Maybe some day.)

In any event, I would actually support a move to the "China" model: bankrolled, full-time curlers, at the expense of "shutting everyone else out" of the Olympics for the next decade or so. That's the only way we're ever going to compete with the Swedens and Scotlands of the world, because they're playing the game at a much higher level right now, and it's not close. Canada doesn't have full-time curlers, but they don't need to, either, because Canada has a LOT of good teams as it is. The Canadian provincial and national championships also do a great job of preparing Canadian teams for a world championships or Olympics, because the level of play in their own country is as good as, if not better than, what you get at the Olympics. In the United States, you can't possibly prepare for a game against Switzerland unless you leave the country and play teams from other countries frequently. The depth of curling talent in the United States just isn't there right now.

On the other hand, I'm kind of okay with the current system also, as long as we can keep qualifying for the Olympics. Like I said, being 9th best in the world isn't all that bad.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Winter Weather Update: 2/13/14

Alright, brief timeout from curling to talk about the weather. This week, we got the most interesting sinter storm we've had since I moved to North Carolina in 2006. Woohoo! (The Christmas 2010 snowstorm doesn't count, because we were out of town for that.)

Wednesday, we kept an eye on the weather situation, so that we wouldn't get stuck in snow-induced gridlock craziness, the kind that happens in any major city in the South if it starts snowing mid-day while everyone is at work. The right time to leave work was right about noon, which is exactly when we did. (Marla's day care closed at 1.) Because at 12:30, the snow came, and it came fast. Ground temperatures were cold, and so, everything stuck immediately, causing complete chaos! Although I wouldn't say it was anywhere near as bad as it was in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago, because the roads were mostly clear of gridlock overnight, whereas in the infamous Atlanta episode, the issues bled into the next day. Not that roads are really all that good right now; it's just that most people aren't on them anymore. Fewer people live here than in Atlanta, of course, and I think more people heeded meteorologists' advice and made their way home early here than in Atlanta two weeks ago. Although obviously, not everyone did.

(Side comment: I feel kind of bad for Atlanta, because for the foreseeable future, every major Southern snow event that causes traffic chaos will be compared to Atlanta.)

These storms don't always deliver, but this one did! I measured just over 5" of snow at our house before it changed over to sleet. The RDU airport a few miles east of us only officially measured 3.3".

So, that snow shovel we bought three years ago? For the first time, we finally got to use it! I kind of wanted to give the shoveling a try, but Amber insisted. She misses this.

We figured we better start shoveling now, because the shoveling would become much more difficult after the snow became covered in a thin layer of sleet and freezing rain. And, yep...the snow on Amber's car is pretty well caked on there right now. It's not going anywhere today, that's for sure. Thankfully, we both have flexible jobs that allow us to work from home.

I was kind of afraid that the ice would cause power outages, and there have been some. But as far as we're concerned, so far, so good! The power did actually flicker on and off for a second, though. Nervous moments indeed!

And actually, this winter storm isn't done yet. We're expected to get a few more inches on the backside of the low later today, which could push this into "personal record snowstorm" territory. The largest snowstorm I've ever personally experienced is 6", when I was at Penn State. Hoping to break the record later today! Because at this point, what's a few more inches, anyway?

UPDATE 2/14: The Thursday afternoon snow looked really pretty, but it underperformed, giving us no more than an additional inch. So, can't call it a personal record.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Olympic Curling: 2/11/14

(SPOILER ALERT: I allude to the results of the first two USA men's and two USA women's games in this post. This does NOT include the USA/Great Britain women's game that airs at 5 PM ET today.)

Since the performance of the USA curling teams hasn't been all that great so far this Olympics, let's talk about the television coverage instead!

I think NBC has done an outstanding job with the curling coverage so far. Not just the volume of it - it's hard to keep up with all of it, honestly - but the quality. Although I have to ask...I haven't seen the telestrator make an appearance yet. Do they have one available?

My favorite aspect of the television coverage so far, though, has been the Fred Roggin / Pete Fenson "studio analysis" that made an appearance during last evening's CNBC broadcast. During the 5th end break - a.k.a. "halftime", although we curlers don't call it that - CNBC cut away to their Stamford, Connecticut-based studios, where the never-dull Fred Roggin and analyst Pete Fenson (from the 2006 bronze-medal-winning team) gave us a proper "halftime show", the type you normally see with other sports at halftime. It seemed so much like what you see with other sports...except that it was about curling! It was great! Not only are they going to show curling, they're going to analyze it too! I can't be the only person who has dreamed of a "curling halftime show" on par with the treatment other sports get.

The two provided post-game analysis as well, in which they had a little back-and-forth that went something like this: (DISCLAIMER: This is brutally paraphrased, and probably not even close to what they actually said.)

Fred: "What do the USA men need to do to turn it around?"

Pete: "Rock placement - you know, putting their rocks in the right place."

Fred: "Isn't that what curling is, though??"

Pete: "Well, yeah..."

Anyway, I was amused.

Hopefully later this week, USA curling will turn it around, and we can get on with talking about some wins! Surely, both teams won't finish in last place again, right? Besides, there's no use in us dwelling on the losses. That's Fred and Pete's job.

(Side note: If this week's winter storm knocks our power out for several days or longer, preventing me from watching, or even recording, the rest of the Olympics...I'm going to be absolutely devastated.)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

2014 Olympic Curling: Almost

Sure, the 2014 Winter Olympics technically start today...but not really. I'll probably watch some of the NBC coverage over the next few days, but really I'll be thinking ahead to 3 AM Monday morning. That's when NBCSN airs their first curling match. No, I won't be setting my alarm for that one...but I will be waking up for the game that starts at 5 AM Monday morning on USA Network. (The 5 AM game is the first USA match, the USA women live versus Switzerland, broadcast live.)

It used to be, the only time curling was ever televised in the United States was during the Olympics. That's changed to some extent over the past 12 months: NBCSN and Universal Sports Network have broadcast portions of the national championships, the world championships, and the Olympic trials. It's been pretty awesome. But that doesn't take away from the novelty of the wall-to-wall coverage you get with Olympic curling.

By my count, there will be a minimum of 32 curling matches televised over the next two weeks, starting on Monday, and ending on Friday 2/21 with the men's gold medal match. I am recording every single one of them, and I'll eventually watch every single one of them, too. (Well, maybe. My DVR fried before I could get around to watching all of the curling broadcasts from Vancouver.) Generally, they're airing three games per day, with "curling primetime" being the daily 5:00 to 8:00 PM time slot on CNBC. None of those CNBC games will be live, of course, but that will likely be when Olympic curling gets its best ratings. (Don't see all that many people waking up for the live broadcasts at 5 AM.)

So, I'm really excited! Can you tell I'm excited? It's going to be ALL CURLING, ALL THE TIME for the next two weeks. It doesn't even matter how well the USA does this time. ... Well, alright, it'd be nice if they did well. But given that the men's team was the very last one to qualify for the Olympics, it stands to reason they'll probably finish near the bottom in Sochi. I'd be happy if they finished the round-robin with a 3-6 record, regardless of where that puts them in the rankings (probably 8th or 9th out of 10). The women's team actually stands a chance at medaling, though. They finished 4th in the most recent world championships, and if they have their best games at the right times, they could put themselves medal contention. I think anything lower than 7th would be pretty disappointing for them. Win or lose, though, my recaps will be much more supportive than they were in 2010. (Especially now that I've met, and curled with, one of the Olympians. Go Debbie go!)

While the USA aren't medal favorites, Canada/Sweden/Great Britain will contend for gold on both the men's and women's sides. It's not out of the question, but I'd be pretty surprised if the gold medal winners came from outside of that group. Amber is a big fan of the Swedish men's team, so she'll be pulling for them. Personally, I'd like to see Jennifer Jones's Canadian women's team win gold (if the USA doesn't, of course). On the men's side...meh.

Enjoy the curling! Because that's pretty much all I'll be thinking about (and blogging about) for the next couple of weeks.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Snow Day Analysis

Debates about whether or not schools should be closed for snow, cold, or whatever can get pretty heated. On one side, you have the "They're closing school for THIS?!?!?" crowd. On the other side, you have the "How DARE you put our children in danger!!!!" crowd. There's usually a lot of yelling.

Well, no yelling here. No debating the appropriate threshold should be for school closures in Central North Carolina. Instead, I'm just going to try to figure out what that threshold is, so that I can reasonably predict well in advance (i.e. before I go to bed the night before) whether my daughter's day care - and when she gets older, her school - will be closed for inclement weather. What does it take to close or delay schools around here?

This winter, I've been paying more attention to this sort of thing. I'm primarily tracking three institutions: Wake County schools, Durham schools, and my daughter's day care. After a pretty uneventful December, all three had several days, and some closures, in January. Let's analyze each one, because they all provide some useful data points:

January 7, 2014: the "polar vortex" cold outbreak*
(* - This is not an endorsement of using the term "polar vortex" as the name for this or any other cold snap.)

No snow, but it got cold: lows in the single digits, wind chills below zero, both the lowest seen here since the 1990s. Everybody freaked out, and so, Wake, Durham, and our day care all delayed by two hours.

That begs the question: does a Wind Chill Advisory result in a school delay? (In Central NC, a Wind Chill Advisory is issued for below zero wind chills.) I thought so, but then on January 24, another Wind Chill Advisory was issued. But did Wake/Durham/day care post a delay? Nope; they all opened on time.

I think the moral of the story is that perhaps the first Wind Chill Advisory of the season is enough to prompt a delay, at least if there's enough media hysteria surrounding it. Any Wind Chill Advisories after that, no big deal, I guess? Again, I'm not here to debate what the appropriate threshold should be; I'm just trying to figure out what that threshold is. Calls to the Wake County Public Schools were not returned.

January 21-22, 2014: Light snow, mostly east

A Winter Weather Advisory was issued for an expected inch or two of snow, mostly accumulating on elevated/grassy surfaces and not on the roads (too warm), starting Tuesday at 4:00 PM. That was not enough to force schools to close early, but it did cancel after school activities. The next morning, after less than an inch fell across the Triangle (more so in eastern Wake County than anywhere else), Wake, Durham, and our day care posted a two hour delay.

I think any measurable overnight snow that produced at least some accumulation will always lead to at least a delay, even if it melts quickly.

January 28-31, 2014: Snow, for real this time!

Here's the big one. The Winter Storm Warning went into effect at Tuesday 12:00 PM, expecting 1-5" (depending on where you live) through Wednesday morning. Wake County closed completely on Tuesday; Durham closed three hours early; our day care closed two hours early. As it turns out, snow didn't arrive until after sunset, but given that the NWS Advisory went into effect at noon - and given what happened in Atlanta - everyone will generally err on the side of caution in situations like this. Some more than others, I guess you could say.

Everyone in the Triangle got at least an inch of snow; people in eastern Wake County got close to 4". And with temperatures staying below freezing on Wednesday, everything was closed.

Now, for those who don't know how it works here: after it snows here, they plow the main roads, and then eventually they might get around to all of the secondary roads, maybe. Because of those pesky secondary roads, schools generally won't reopen until the snow on those roads melts naturally. Wake County is a pretty big county, so if there are still ice-covered roads somewhere in the county, their entire school system stays closed.

With that said, Wake County kept schools closed Thursday and Friday, making for four consecutive snow days. (All of which they'll have to make up, by the way.) Durham re-opened Friday, albeit with a three hour delay. Our day care reopened Thursday morning on a one hour delay.

My takeaways from this are:
- Schools stay closed until ice-covered secondary roads clear up on their own, because NC DOT doesn't have time or resources to get around to all of them. How long that takes depends as much on how warm it gets after the snow hits, as it does how much snow we get. So, a January snow event would, in theory, keep schools closed longer than the same snow event would in March.
- Our day care stays open more than the public schools do, which is nice for us. (For the time being.) I used to think they just followed the lead of Durham Public Schools, but, nope.

That's what we've learned so far. Until the next winter weather event!