Wednesday, May 28, 2014

2008 Honda Civic: By the Numbers

I'm starting new car shopping tomorrow. But before then...let's take a moment to say goodbye to my 2008 Honda Civic. Except for the whole sun visor issue, it was a good car.

I like keeping driving statistics, so, let's recap the life of my 2008 Honda Civic in terms of numbers and stuff.

How far did I drive it?

Right now the car odometer reads 125,150 miles; by the time I make a decision and trade it in, it'll probably be in the neighborhood of 125,300 miles. (UPDATE: The final mileage ended up being 125,249 miles.) That's in 6 years and 7 months of ownership, for an average of around 19,000 miles per year.

Records for monthly and annual miles driven:
- Highest month: July 2010 (5,917 miles)
- Lowest month: February 2010 (153 miles)
- Highest year: 2013 (22,785 miles)
- Lowest year: 2009 (14,775 miles)

Where did I drive it?

The final tally for the Civic is as follows:
- 32 states visited (plus DC), plus 7 Canadian provinces
- 907 counties visited (28.9%), plus 79 counties in Canada (20.1%)

That's a lot of states and counties, and it's way more than I visited with the car before it (a 1998 Saturn SC2). So, I'd think that over the last 6½ years, I'd have taken the Civic to most every county in North Carolina, right? ... Nope, only 73 out of 100. Turns out that most every time we've gone to the mountains or the beach (in-state) over the last 6½ years, we took Amber's car. The Civic never went to Great Smoky Mountains, Mount Mitchell, or the Outer Banks, for instance. But it did climb Mount Washington in New Hampshire. And, of course, it went to Alaska and back.

How far north/south/east/west did the Civic go?
- Farthest north: Chena Hot Springs, Alaska (65.07°N)
- Farthest south: Flamingo, Florida (25.14°N)
- Farthest east: Conway, New Hampshire (71.11°W)
- Farthest west: Parks Highway near Talkeetna, Alaska (150.28°W)

How good was the fuel mileage?

I didn't start keeping track of fuel mileage until I already had the Civic for seven months, but since then, I've averaged 37.1 miles per gallon, which unless you have a Prius or Volt or something like that, is fantastic. I used to average closer to 38 mpg, but over the last couple of years I've been averaging closer to 36.

How much money did I spend on gasoline during the Civic's life span? Since I started keeping track, the total is $9,594.65; over the entire life of the car, it's certainly over $10,000. (This is for the Civic only, not for Amber's car or for any rental cars we've had.) That's an average of $134 per month, and 8.5 cents per mile.

The cheapest gas I got during the Civic's lifespan was a recession-aided $1.459/gallon in December 2008. The most expensive gas (excluding Canada) was $4.199/gallon; that was in New York state, where gas is expensive. (Normally Alaska gas prices are even higher than in New York, but when we visited Alaska, gas prices were much lower in general.) The average price for gas over the life of the Civic: $3.169 per gallon.

How much did I spend on maintenance?

Car maintenance costs can be summarized thusly:
- Tire-related issues: $2,068.60 (includes new tires, alignments, etc)
- Oil changes: $611.86 (19 oil changes, averaging one per 6,250 miles)
- Air filters and wiper blades: $210.32
- New windshield: $100.00 (insurance deductible)
- Other: $331.13 (mostly a new battery and transmission service)
TOTAL: $3,321.91

That's about what they estimated when we bought the thing, I think. Maybe a little lower, because we didn't keep up with all of the preventative maintenance.

How fast did I drive it?

One time I drove the Civic around Charlotte Motor Speedway and hit 90 mph. That may or may not have been my record speed, but I can say with certainty that I never drove the Civic faster than 95, and certainly not 100.

What about the next car?

Whichever car I end up getting, I don't plan on taking it much of anywhere until after kid #2 is born and we start road tripping again. (Give it a couple of months.) But from that point on, we'll probably be taking the car on every long road trip (although we'll consider a rental car should we take any Colorado-like road trips in the short term). The goal for the new car is 200,000 miles and 10 years. We probably won't be taking it to Alaska, though.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Frozen Yogurt

The other day, we decided it might be fun to take Marla out and get some ice cream. So, let's go to Google Maps and find the closest ice cream places! Let's see: frozen yogurt, frozen yogurt, frozen yogurt, ice cream, frozen yogurt, frozen yogurt...

How did that happen? When did it get easier to find frozen yogurt than ice cream? Has it always been that way, or is it a recent trend? Seems like a recent trend to me. Maybe the general thinking is that frozen yogurt is "healthier" (which it is, I guess) or "more hip". Or is it cheaper? The fact that they sell it self-serve by the pound instead of in pre-defined containers?

Well, either way...I think I like ice cream better.

Monday, May 19, 2014

New Car Shopping: 2014 Edition

Amber officially becomes "six months pregnant" after Memorial Day. And as has been planned for quite some time now, that means it's time to buy a new car!

Here's the basic idea. Right now, we have two compact cars: a Honda Civic and a Mazda 3. When we go on week-long road trips (as we tend to do from time to time), we fill the car to the brim, and it's a struggle to fit everything we need. And this is with just one kid! What will it be like when we have two kids? Well, the bottom line is, we'll need a bigger car for the next road trip. I've settled on the "small SUV" category (also known as "crossovers"). Small SUVs get pretty decent gas mileage these days, are affordable, and I don't think we'll need anything bigger than that. So, we'll trade in the Civic for a small SUV, and in the meantime try to keep the Mazda 3 healthy for another few years for in-town driving or shorter road trips.

Consumer Reports is my go-to magazine for pretty much everything, and they do a great job with cars. They recommend the Subaru Forester above all other small SUVs (by quite a bit), followed by the Honda CR-V, and then the Mazda CX-5. The Toyota RAV4 would have been recommended if not for a failure in a certain kind of crash test, but I still think it's worthy of consideration. There's also the newly redesigned Nissan Rogue, which was too new for Consumer Reports to include in their most recent car issue, but a later issue gave it the same overall rating as the Mazda CX-5. So, those are the five cars I'll be starting with*.

(* - The Ford Escape has been recommended by many, and as nice as it would be to buy American, the Escape's Consumer Reports reliability score is too low. Reliability is most important to me, given that I would like to get 10 years / 200,000 miles out of this thing. All five of the brands listed above make reliable cars these days, although that hasn't always the case. Just ask my mom about her 1985 Nissan Sentra!)

Test driving five different cars might be overkill, maybe we can do some online research and narrow it down to, say, three. In no particular order, here are the things that are most important to me (at least among those things which can be researched online, as opposed to subjective things like "handling", "feel", "vision", etc.)

All Wheel Drive: This is a priority for me. All Subarus come with AWD standard. With the others, AWD will cost me an extra $1,000 or so, and that's $1,000 I'm willing to spend.

Rear Camera (to help with backing up): Consumer Reports recommends that if you get an SUV, you should get one equipped with a rear facing camera in order to make backing up easier and safer. As someone who's run into stray recycle bins backing out of my driveway before, I agree, so like with AWD, I'll only be considering cars with a rear camera. A rear camera comes standard on all of the cars I'm considering...except the Mazda CX-5, for which I'll need to get the next trim level up, which will cost a few extra thousand dollars compared to the base model.

Fuel economy: All five get basically the same fuel economy (give or take 1 or 2 MPG), and they all take regular unleaded. But if we're interested in splitting hairs, the Rogue has the best fuel economy (25 city, 32 highway), and the RAV4 has the worst (22/29). Perhaps the bigger deal is fuel capacity: the Forester and RAV4 have the largest tank (15.9 gallons); the Rogue has the smallest (14.5 gallons). The CX-5 and CR-V have a 15.3 gallon capacity.

Interior room: This is important, since the need for more room is the reason we're getting a new car, after all. The Forester has the most passenger room, but the least trunk space. On paper, the Rogue is generally the best, with the most trunk space and a moderate amount of passenger room. The Forester has the most passenger room, but the least trunk space. The CR-V and RAV4 are similar to the Rogue, but slightly smaller on both counts. Meanwhile, the CX-5 has the least interior room and the least trunk space. But, these are just numbers on paper. The test drives will give us a better feel here.

Horsepower: All in the 170-185 HP range, although the CR-V and the CX-5 (at least the CX-5 model which has the rear camera) are tops. Horsepower is nice to have, but...I can't justify making decisions based on this alone. Otherwise, I'd be strongly considering the 250 HP version of the Forester. Wee!

Variable intermittent windshield wipers: This may sound like a trivial thing, but Amber's Mazda 3 has variable intermittent windshield wipers, where you can vary the time between wipes while on the intermittent setting. My Honda Civic does not have this, and I want my next car to have it. Given the trim levels I'm considering, variable intermittent windshield wipers come standard with the Forester, Rogue, and CX-5...and not the CR-V and RAV4. As much as I want this feature, I can't justify the extra $2,000 or whatever for the next trim level up on the CR-V and RAV4. Sad face. (The other features offered on the next trim level up don't really do it for me. For instance, I don't need or care about a moonroof.)

Outdoor thermometer: Another trivial thing, but Amber's Mazda 3 has one, and my Civic doesn't. Fortunately, all five cars come with an ambient temperature display standard. (Well, I don't actually know about the RAV4, but...spoiler alert: I'm not getting the RAV4.)

Real time fuel mileage data: I've had this on some rental cars, and being a stat geek who's also obsessed with fuel mileage (and driving my car the right way in order to maximize fuel mileage), I want real time fuel mileage data on my new car. The CR-V and Forester have this standard; the CX-5 does not; don't know about the RAV4 and Rogue.

Brand loyalty: I'm reasonably happy with my Honda Civic, so does that mean I'm more likely to stick with the brand and get the CR-V? ... Not necessarily. You see, the thing is, Hondas are boring. I'm not particularly excited about the prospect of getting a CR-V. And, like, everyone has one, it seems. It would be incredibly lame for me to get one also. I'm pretty much looking for any excuse not to get one. However, if there are things about the other cars that I can't get past, or if I'm offered a good deal on a CR-V, I'm prepared to take it.

Price: I did the whole "build my car" thing on each car's websites, looking for the options / trim level I wanted (including All Wheel Drive and the rear camera), and here are the numbers:
- Subaru Forester: $23,195
- Nissan Rogue: $24,140
- Honda CR-V: $24,370
- Toyota RAV4: $26,105
- Mazda CX-5: $26,215

Bottom line: Given the options I want, the CX-5 and RAV4 are the most expensive, and they also have other shortcomings compared to the competition, so I can pretty much eliminate them right now. That leaves the Forester, Rogue, and CR-V.

So, I'll test drive those three cars sometime after Memorial Day. On paper, I think this is pretty much the Forester's to lose. But when I test drive the Forester, I'll try to act like it's not already my preferred choice, so that maybe they'll give me a better deal. In theory, it'll help that I'm currently driving a Honda and that I'm mostly happy with it. That will give me better leverage with non-Honda dealers, because I can be all like, "Well, my Honda has treated me pretty well..." Wish me luck!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Backup Your Files

If the burglary of our home (including our laptops) has taught me one thing, it's this: it's a good idea to backup your files, and frequently. Consider this a "public service announcement".

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to do this. For instance, there are many online "cloud storage" options out there nowadays, including from Google (Google Drive) and Microsoft (OneDrive, formerly SkyDrive). Benefits: accessible anywhere, automatic backups, Google and Microsoft aren't particularly likely to lose your data. (I'm not as confident in some of the smaller companies offering "cloud storage" that are out there.) Drawbacks: someone can theoretically hack into your account, and you only get so much free space.

Or, you can get an external hard drive or thumb drive. I recently discovered that Windows 8.1 has a feature called "File History" that will automatically backup your stuff to an external physical hard drive (or a network drive) automatically without you having to do anything. And, compared to cloud storage, you only have to pay an upfront cost (for the drive) as opposed to a monthly fee (for additional OneDrive or Google Drive storage). That's all well and good, but of course, if a fire burns down your house, your external drive isn't going to be any more likely to survive than your primary storage is. (I think larger external drives are better for this than "thumb drives" - thumb drives are more expensive, and are easier to lose, not to mention steal.)

Perhaps the best way to go is a combination of all of these things: some level of "cloud storage", some level of physical backups in your possession (or in possession of a friend), weighing all of the security concerns with the need for redundancy. For security reasons, I'm not going to say exactly what I do; suffice to say, I did perform some level of file backup before, but I can, and will, do a lot better from now on.

Backup your files!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My Vote Counts!

I try to participate in most elections, and will take some time to research the candidates beforehand. (Even the judges!) I know it's important for everyone to do their "civic duty", and that's why I do it. But sometimes, I can't help but think: "I know my vote isn't going to make that much of a difference. The same person is going to win whether I vote or not. Not only that, there's no way for me to confirm afterwards whether or not my vote was actually counted." When your vote is but one of thousands or millions, it's easy to get discouraged. Surely I'm not the only voter who's thought that.

So...last week, I filled out a Republican primary ballot*, which listed, among other things, 8 candidates for the US Senate seat currently held by Kay Hagan (D). Whoever wins the primary will challenge Hagan in November.

The candidate I voted for, Alex Lee Bradshaw, finished in 7th place with 0.7% of the vote. (By the way, I'm not going to get into why I voted for Bradshaw over the other candidates, or even why I chose to vote in the Republican primary*, because I don't want this to turn into Heated And Divisive Political Debate.) The results weren't surprising, of course, but voting for one of the least popular candidates does have its perks. Let's have a look at the (un)official election results from Durham County (source):

Turns out, I was the only person who voted for Bradshaw in my precinct. So, that "1" you see there in the (un)official results? That's me! I think that's pretty awesome.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily confirm my vote was, in fact, counted. What if there were actually two votes cast for Bradshaw in my precinct? There's no way to know for sure. But if that was a 0 instead of a 1, that would be a bit troubling. (It's not that I don't trust our elections officials; it's just that humans make mistakes. Why else would they have recounts?)

(* - I'm an unaffiliated voter, which means that according to North Carolina law, I can vote in whichever party's primary I choose. I take a Democratic primary ballot more often than I take a Republican primary ballot, but it depends on which races I find the most interesting.)

Friday, May 09, 2014

E.T.: The Game

The E.T. video game for the Atari 2600 has been in the news recently. I'm going to weigh in, because I actually played this game as a kid. Back then, I didn't think the game was that bad. In fact, I might have even - gasp - enjoyed playing it! (To a point.)

Sometimes, I wonder how many of the people who bash the game have actually tried playing it themselves. And even if they did try playing the game, I have to wonder how many of them understood how the game works, or - gasp - read the instructions. The game was obviously a huge commercial failure - can't dispute that - but in terms of "worst video games ever", I don't know about that.

(screenshot from Wikipedia)

Gameplay can be summarized thusly. There are six screens, and many of them have deep pits, and you have to go into those pits looking for pieces of a telephone so that you can, you know, "phone home". Along the way, eat a bunch of "Reese's pieces" (a.k.a. dots) so that you don't die. Collect all the telephone pieces, and then search around aimlessly looking for the very spot somewhere in those six screens (there's only one) where the icon at the top of the screen indicates that this where the spaceship will come pick you up. Then, press the button on the joystick, and the spaceship takes you home. You win! Would you like to play again?

(Also, depending on the game settings, you may also have a scientist and FBI agent chasing you around. I always played the "Children's Version", which meant that I basically had no enemies.)

Now, a few points I'd like to make in the game's defense:
- This was 1982, not 2012. Games had pretty simple premises and gameplay back then.
- Falling into pits over and over again searching for pieces of a telephone gets old after a while, sure. Can't the same be said for every basic mechanic you do in a video game? Especially in that era?
- Searching around the map aimlessly looking for something can get old after a while, but this is basically a staple of "adventure" or "role playing" games, even today, right? You need to find something. Where is it? I don't know! You have to find it, and it might take you a while. "E.T." is hardly the only game ever created that's like this.
- One pit per game had a flower, and if you found it, the icon at the top of the screen turned into a smiley face, and that was nice. For me, finding the flower was as much a part of the game as assembling the telephone.
- The game sold 1.5 million copies. It's not like the game came out was immediately labeled as one of the worst video games ever. They sold a lot of copies. Sure, it has some flaws, but they're not game-breaking flaws, and certainly not worthy of "worst game of all time" in my book.

I don't think this game would be considered the worst of all time by anyone if it weren't for the millions of unsold cartridges, and the now famous story about how they were buried in a landfill. It's kind of like when a 85,000-seat football stadium has, say, 15,000 empty seats. Everybody starts talking about how bad attendance is and how the fans don't support the team, even through there are still 70,000 people at the game. It's not that the fans don't support the team; it's just that they overestimated demand and built too many seats! In the same way that empty seats at a football game look bad, so do millions of unsold game cartridges.

As far as which game actually deserves the title of "worst video game of all time"...oh, I don't know. But if we're going to stick with the Atari 2600, I'd say the worst/dumbest/least fun/most confusing Atari game I ever played is something called Swordquest. But, then again, I never read the instructions, so...

Thursday, May 08, 2014

The Highest Point in Delaware

I've been to the highest points of a few states now. Marla has, too. Let's go pick up another one! But since Marla is at the age where she's too big for a hiking backpack and much too small for a "real hike" (especially the type normally associated with a state highpoint), let's get an easy one.

This is the "Ebright Azimuth", as it's known: the top of a hill on Ebright Road in Wilmington, Delaware, only a block or two from the Pennsylvania border, in fact.

So, is this spot the highest point in Delaware? Well...not really. This plaque says it's the "highest bench mark monument in Delaware" and that it's "in the vicinity of the highest natural elevation in the state". The truth is, the real highpoint is in an adjacent neighborhood west of here, on private property. Maybe at one time, this spot was believed to be the true highpoint.

Meh, close enough. I mean, this is just Delaware we're talking about. I'm counting it. Besides, this particular spot does actually look like a local maxima, at least, which is more than I can say about the highest point in Indiana. I mean, look at this hill! (The "highpoint" is at the top of this hill. We parked close to the highpoint, but then walked down the street a bit and then back again so that we could get the feeling of "hiking up" to it.)

And look at the view at the top! I mean, you can see the next state over from here! (This is actually true. The houses pictured below are in Pennsylvania.) That's more than you can say about a lot of highpoints, actually.

This makes 8 state highpoints for me, and 4 for Marla. Maybe we'll make the next one a little more challenging.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Travelogue: Windsor - Toronto - Ottawa - Montréal

Our two nights in a Quebec "national" park was nice, but of course, first we had to get there. For us, that's half the fun! We were coming from Toledo and heading towards New York afterwards:

Link to full Google map

Let's touch on a few things:

Yay Canada!

No place we go truly makes us feel like we're on vacation as much as Canada does, so we'll take any opportunity to go there. Lately there haven't been too many opportunities: prior to this trip, 6 hours total north of the border since the end of our Alaska trip (July 2010).

One thing this trip did not do, however, is give me the opportunity to watch Canadian television, since our cabin didn't have TV. For me, watching sports on TSN and the catchy tune of The Weather Network's local forecasts (which I assume has probably been changed 2010) have been particularly memorable parts of past Canadian road trips. I'll make sure we spend at least one night in a hotel on our next Canada trip, whenever that is. (Might be a while, unfortunately.)

(Television side note: Buckeye Cable in Toledo carries the Windsor CBC affiliate, and now in HD! Although the HD might only be temporary, since the CBC HD feed occupies the channel slot usually claimed by the Toledo NBC affiliate, which is currently off of Buckeye Cable due to a carriage dispute that's been going on since before the Winter Olympics, even.)

Ontario highway service centres

Usually in the United States, full service highway travel plazas - the types with gas and food available, as opposed to just normal rest areas - only exist on toll roads, such as the Florida Turnpike or the New Jersey Turnpike. There are a few free expressways in the US with full travel plazas, but they're rare.

Well, Ontario's expressways are free, and Highway 401 has some pretty swanky "service centres":

I think we stopped at three of these along the way. There was never a reason for us to exit off of the freeway, really. The centres seemed really fancy at the time, but really, they're pretty similar to those found along the New York Thruway and New Jersey Turnpike. Except that the Canadian ones have Tim Hortons.

Toronto traffic

I kind of knew before the trip that we'd be hitting the "Greater Toronto Area" (GTA) right near the end of morning rushhour. Fun! Then again, Toronto is the type of city where traffic sucks pretty much all day long.

There was really no convenient way around the GTA; we had to go straight through. I found three options: 1) Stick with 401 the whole way. 2) Take 403 to Hamilton and approach Toronto closer to the lake. (Google Maps traffic patterns suggested this would be a worse idea than sticking with 401.) 3) Take the 407 toll road, a.k.a. the "Express Toll Route".

The Express Toll Route

Now, about this 407 toll road. It's all electronic with no toll booths, and the "bill by plate" option (similar to North Carolina's Triangle Expressway) is, like on most fancy new toll roads, rather expensive. Especially for a one-time use like ours, because they tack on a fee of $3.95 for first-time "bill by plate" users. So, I was kind of hoping we wouldn't have to use the toll road, but...yeah, we did.

The toll calculator on the website puts our total trip bill at something like $16 (Canadian). But will we even have to pay it? The Wikipedia page for 407 says the following: "Only the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, and the states of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, New York, Maryland, Maine, Georgia, Florida, New Jersey, Delaware, and possibly several adjacent states and provinces provide 407 ETR access to their registry databases due to the privacy laws of these states [citation needed]. This has resulted in motorists from other jurisdictions being able to travel on 407 ETR without receiving a bill."

Now...that Wikipedia snippet may have been written prior to North Carolina changing its own privacy laws so that it could join E-ZPass. But to find out for sure, I went to the 407 web site and entered in my "licence plate". The response: "We are not able to locate a licence plate that matches the information entered." Sweet!

Well, maybe. It's quite possible that the monthly billing cycle or whatever hasn't completed and that the record of my taking the 407 two weeks ago just hasn't gone through yet. Or, maybe we just won't get a bill at all. Well, either I'll get a bill in the mail, or I won't.

Ottawa traffic

Leading up to the trip, I was so focused on Toronto traffic, I completely neglected to research Ottawa traffic. Oops!

There are only a few bridges crossing the Ottawa River between Ottawa and Hull / Gatineau, and we needed to cross one of them. Problem is, all of the bridges are downtown-ish, and none have a direct expressway link on both sides of the river. Which bridge is the best choice at, say, 4 PM? I did basically zero research beforehand on that one, other than "let's take the most direct one". That was probably the wrong choice. Great timing on our part to hit Toronto morning rush and Ottawa afternoon rush, eh?

We'll have to come back to Ottawa some day and see the changing of the guard on Parliament Hill and their other attractions.

(This hurried picture was as close to Parliament Hill as we got. How well do you know your Canadian provincial flags?)

Quebec roads

I would love to just spend a whole week in Quebec, driving around and touring the province and whatnot. We've already spent a week vacation in New Brunswick / Nova Scotia, and a week in Northern Ontario / Manitoba; eventually, we'll do a week in Quebec, a week in Newfoundland, and a week in British Columbia / Alberta. We have a lot of years of traveling left.

On our way back, we hit Montreal around 9:30 or 10 AM - long enough after rushhour, apparently - so I do not have any boring traffic stories to tell.


So, I took four years of French in high school. But I didn't stick with it after that, and let's face it, high school was a long, long time ago. (14 years!) I know a few key phrases and words, but nowhere near enough to be able to understand it or speak it. Nevertheless, I tried to occasionally humor the locals and throw some French into my speech, but I had trouble even with saying the simple things that everyone knows like "merci" and "bonjour". The thing is, when you've spent 30+ years saying "thank you" and "hello" all the time, it's a tough habit to break. Especially when you have virtually no experience in places where English is not the first language. Quebec is the only place I've ever been where that is the case. Perhaps it would have been good for me to visit Quebec while I was taking French in high school, non?

All the more reason to travel to Quebec more often, if you ask me! After all, it is the second-closest Canadian province to home. (The first-closest Canadian province has a lot of traffic issues, it appears.)

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Co-ed Kickball: Season 8 Recap

(As some of you know, our house was broken into yesterday. But I don't really want to talk about that. Not yet. Let's talk about kickball instead.)

So...when I wrote my kickball season preview, I wondered how long it would take for the league to get stale and/or for some of the teams to stop showing up, given that there were a record-low three teams total in the Knightdale co-ed kickball league this season, and that there was a considerable gap in talent between those teams.

First, let's get this statistic out of the way. Excluding forfeits, we lost all six games we played against the eventual champions, and conversely, we won all six games we played against the eventual last place team. So when I talk about the "wide gap in talent" between the teams...yeah. The outcomes were a bit predictable. This was a bit like having a football conference made up of Florida State, Louisiana-Monroe, and a Division III school. In this analogy, we were Louisiana-Monroe: we'll always beat the D-III school, and on a good day we might beat Florida State...but most of the time, no.

Sometime in mid-April - maybe halfway through the season - I fought through I-540 traffic to make the 7 pm start, only to find that just four people - four people - bothered to show up. (This was the last place team I'm talking about.) At that point, I this it? Have they given it up? Thankfully, no - they did field full (enough) rosters the rest of the way. Give them credit for sticking with it. I've never been part of an 0-12 season, but then again, there were also many more teams (and just as importantly, many more inexperienced teams) back when we joined eight seasons ago.

Two of our six games against the better team, including the championship game, were actually pretty close. As in, within a run or two. But those were nearly perfectly played games by us...and, we still lost. No shame, though.

Season batting (8 games): 18 H in 26 AB (.692), 3 RBI, 12 R, 4 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 0 BB, 0 K

I had a pretty good season offensively. That .692 average is pretty close to my career average, which is .700. But 12 runs in one season is a career high, and I also got my first triple (two of them!) and my first home run this season. That home run was pretty awesome. (Basically, the way someone like me - who bunts almost all of the time - gets a triple or a home run is if the throw to first is way off. Like, waaaaaaaaaay off. And no, there are no scored errors in kickball, as far as I'm concerned.) For me personally, the home run is the highlight of the season.

Season pitching (8 starts): 4-4 record, 4.36 ERA (31 ER in 64.0 IP), 1 K, 1 BB (1 IBB)

Strikeouts are pretty rare anymore with the smaller strike zone, but hey, I got one! And despite playing half of our games against team that's quite a bit better than we are, I did lower my career ERA a notch or two this season (from 4.99 to 4.91).

As far as whether this is "it" or not...I have a hard time predicting these things, but I'm pretty sure I don't have any interest in participating in another 3-team kickball league. I did enjoy playing again, but there's gotta be something better out there, right?

Friday, May 02, 2014

24: Live Another Day

I used to talk about the television show 24 so much, I gave the show its own tag. That was many years ago; the show basically ran its course, and they picked a good time to end it, if not a season or two later than ideal. But four years after it ended, Jack Bauer is back! For 12 more episodes, anyway.

Ever since 24 and Lost ended within a couple nights of each other, I've been watching for shows to "take their place", if you will. There are have been many television shows since then that I've enjoyed - or, more to the point, been as obsessed with - nearly as much as those two (Breaking Bad being at the top of the list). There are also a few other shows that I don't watch, but other people are obsessed with to similar levels as with 24 and Lost. (The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones fall into that category.) Bascially, these are the types of shows where "everybody is talking about it", and you really can't wait for the next episode.

But here's the thing: today, almost all of these "high buzz" shows are on cable, and not over-the-air network television. What happened to network television? Most of the shows on over-the-air network television these days are boring, run-of-the-mill, non-serialized police procedurals or crime shows that are "safe", and certainly a lot of people watch, but really aren't all that interesting or buzz worthy. ("Hey, did you watch NCIS last night? Wasn't it awesome?!?! I can't wait for next week!" I have NEVER heard that conversation.) I guess that's always been the case, but 24 and Lost stood out to me. A few shows have come out on network television since then that are trying really really hard to be like them, but none have really done it for me.

Now, the types of shows I enjoy the most are now on cable networks like HBO and Showtime, AMC, and more recently FX. These cable channels now have higher budgets than ever before, and are trying to put out the sort of "critically acclaimed" dramas that, in my opinion, are far superior compared to most everything on over-the-air network television. Some of these shows - The Walking Dead in particular - get better ratings than even CBS/ABC/NBC/Fox in the same timeslot. As AMC has proven, all a cable network really needs to be viable is two or three really good shows, as opposed to an over-the-air network which needs lots of different shows to air (including many reality shows), most of which are not all that interesting. These cable networks don't even need full seasons! 13 episodes per season is more than enough, as opposed to the 20 or 22 that is standard on network television.

The main point I'm trying to make here is this. For various reasons, network television ain't as good as it used to be. So, Fox's decision to bring 24 back is likely just an attempt to recapture the glory of years gone by, no?

So, anyway...I have no idea if 24: Live Another Day is going to be any good, but if it isn't, maybe I'll just recapture the glory days myself and re-watch Season 2 on DVD instead.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Curling Recap: April 2014

I played two pickup games in April, which included a lot of new curlers that just "learned to curl" after the Olympics. I think they're hooked!

Career game #245: Pickup - April 4, 2014

End........... 12345 |TTL
Benson........ 00020 | 02
Allen......... 23101 | 07

(Note: pickup games involving new curlers are slower than normal, hence why we only played 5 ends. My April 13 game was a 3-on-3 game in which we only threw 6 rocks per end, which is why we were able to get 8 ends in.)

Career game #246: Pickup - April 13, 2014

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Allen......... 00100122 | 06
Hartman....... 22013000 | 08

Meanwhile, construction at the future home of the Triangle Curling Club is well underway! Although at this point, it's more "destruction" than "construction". As of the last time I went by there (April 17), the vast majority of the work to date has been tree removal.

Upcoming curling schedule! A few pickup games this summer, a one-day bonspiel in Wilmington, and then curling in our own building in October?