Monday, June 30, 2014

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

3rd Annual (Wilmington) Beachspiel: Recap

Now in its third year, the Coastal Carolina Curling Club's "Beachspiel" has more or less become a sort of "party bonspiel". That is to say, some people attend more for the party than for the curling. For many people, that's why they come, and that's great!

For me, though...I don't know. Over the last couple of years, as I've started traveling less frequently to out-of-town bonspiels, I've felt more detached from the traveling curling circuit, I guess you could call it. Travel to a bunch of bonspiels across the Southeast - as a lot of people in our club, and other regional clubs like Charlotte, do - and you start seeing the same people over and over again. Curlers are pretty swell people, so this is a good thing, if you make the effort to keep up those relationships. Once you start dialing back the curling traveling, though, you start feeling like more of an outsider compared to before, because you don't necessarily know as many people as everyone else does, and you haven't been going to all of the other bonspiels like everyone else has. At least, that's how it feels for me. I don't really feel like as much a part of the broad curling community as I used to. Let's just say, priorities have changed, and the truth is, it's not like there are many parents of young children at these things. Our club has had a lot of young adults join and really get into it, but once they started having kids, they never came back. At least Amber and I are still curling at all, right?

Okay, now that I have that out there, let's talk about the curling! In past Beachspiels, our team has finished 1st and 2nd overall. How about this year?

For those who know the club, my team lineup was: Chris J. at Skip, me at Vice, Andrew F. at Second, Ken K. at Lead. (I don't like spelling out full names in my blog, for privacy reasons, and because I don't want my blog to come up in Google searches for other people.)

Career game #249: Beachspiel Game 1 - June 22, 2014
(my team: "Triangle")

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Triangle...... 10111201 | 07
Charlotte..... 01000010 | 02

A 3-game, 16-team tournament isn't long enough for a full bracket single-elimination format, so instead, the Beachspiel is a "pointspiel": 5 points for a win, 1 point for each end scored, 0.25 point for each point scored in the game. So, we earned 12.75 points in the standings for this game (5 for the win + 6 ends scored + 1.75 for our 7 points scored). Taking 6 out of 8 ends is great given the point system, but teams in other games actually did even better, and so we were only in 3rd place after the first round of games.

It doesn't feel like we dominated the game, and we didn't, really; we just made a few key shots. The Charlotte team was a worthy opponent and actually went on to win their last two games, and I think finish ahead of us in the final standings. So, I suppose the draw wasn't entirely lucky from our perspective, given that we got a tough opponent in our first game.

Luck wasn't really on our side today in general. We actually lost the coin flip in all three games. But, can't really blame luck for the next result:

Career game #250: Beachspiel Game 2 - June 22, 2014
(This was against a different Charlotte team than the first game.)

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Triangle...... 00001001 | 02
Charlotte..... 11210220 | 09

This is our third year here and we hadn't really had a bad game yet, so it was bound to happen eventually. Couldn't get our weight, couldn't figure out the ice, highly skilled opponent that made take-out after take-out, while we were unable to counter. (Games 1 and 3 were on Sheet A, which we had figured out pretty well; Game 2 was on a different sheet, which we could not figure out at all. By the way, the ice folks at Coastal do the best they can given the time and resources they have, but without things like an ice scraper on hand, what you get is still going to be "arena ice" with falls and whatnot.)

But hey, at least we won two ends! That ended up being key, because that put us in the top 8 after two games (barely), which put us in the final draw instead of the penultimate draw. So, that's something? It would have taken something truly miraculous for us to finish on the podium at this point, though.

Career game #251: Beachspiel Game 3 - June 22, 2014

End............ 12345678 |TTL
Triangle....... 00410102 | 08
Wauwatosa, WI.. 13001010 | 06

A last-end win wasn't miraculous, certainly, but it was a solid end to the day, and it was good enough to move us up into 6th place overall. That's our worst Beachspiel finish in three years, but still plenty respectable, especially given that we played three tough teams. Under a different set of circumstances, our team could have contended for the win. Another Triangle team (skipped by Murray J.) won the trophy for the second straight year, making it three Triangle wins in three Beachspiels. Maybe one year, we'll actually get to play Murray head-to-head at this thing?

So, even though I talked about how I feel like the bonspiel circuit might be leaving me behind, I still want to make the Beachspiel a priority, for a couple of reasons: 1) It's the closest out-of-town bonspiel we have, and that's not going to change. As long as they keep having it, of course. 2) Because at both bonspiels, teams who participated last year usually get the first opportunity to sign up next year, and I'd like to keep our spot.

More on that last point. As the sport of curling has grown, bonspiels in places like Knoxville, Charlotte, Maryland, and Pittsburgh, are getting more popular, and as a result, harder and harder to get in to. Registration opens, and then it fills almost immediately. Teams from the previous year always get priority, and since these events are getting so hard to get in to, they almost always renew their spot, because if they don't, it may be years before they get it back. The end result is that it's getting extremely difficult to get in to bonspiels in which I've never participated before. It can be done, but it either takes a lot of planning (which is hard to do too far in advance when you have children) or having connections (see paragraph #2 above; also, people pretty much assume that I can't join their bonspiel team, which is generally correct, but, still). Bonspiels up north are more plentiful and are actually easier to get into, but the farther north you go, the tougher the curling gets. Sure, it'd be fun to attend a bonspiel in Minnesota...if I was a better curler. (A much better curler.) And, of course, it's harder to get to a bonspiel far away from home, and I've also found it's significantly harder to find teammates who want to go more than a few hours from home, even to places that are relatively close by our standards (e.g. Ohio). But most of all, I either have to leave my family and go alone, or if Amber wants to curl with me, we need child care, and that's actually a bigger hurdle to bonspieling than anything else. (Which is why you don't see many parents of young children at these things.)

So, I've generally concluded that out-of-town bonspieling is more trouble than it's worth. As much as I'd like to curl in Knoxville's "Rocky Top" bonspiel, for instance, it's just too hard to get in, plus all of the other obstacles, and I've basically given up on it. But I'll try to keep going to the Beachspiel as long as I can, if nothing else for reasons of convenience. Besides, once we have our own curling ice here in Durham, there will be less reason for me to travel for curling anyway.

Friday, June 20, 2014

3rd Annual (Wilmington) Beachspiel: Preview

No better way to celebrate the first day of summer than with curling, right?

This Saturday is the Coastal Carolina Curling Club's 3rd annual "Beachspiel". It's only a two hour drive to the rink in Wilmington, and once again it's just a one day event, which is actually one thing I like about this bonspiel compared to others. I don't have to take any time off work, I'm home by Sunday morning, and I still get my three games. I've gone to the first two Beachspiels, and this Saturday will make number three.

Our teams have done well in the first two Beachspiels - 1st and 2nd overall, respectively - and we're mostly intact for this year's edition. No reason why we can't do it again in 2014...but at some point, this bonspiel will attract a highly skilled team from "up north", one who will totally wipe the floor, right? This year could be that year! Although I have no idea who else will be at this year's Beachspiel or who our opponents might be. (Just as well - I find I'm less stressed going into a bonspiel when I don't know our first opponent going in.)

If we're going to take home any hardware on Saturday, though, I'll have to curl better than I did last Saturday. In last week's two-game "mini-bonspiel", my team finished in 6th place out of 6. Probably would have been 4th had I not missed a take-out for the win with my last shot in Game 2. I won't beat myself up too much for it, because I drew for a single point against two in one end, and I drew for a single point against four in another end...either way, best that I'm not the Skip this weekend. It's back to the relative comfort of Vice for me.

Career game #247: Olympic Day Pointspiel Game 1 - June 14, 2014

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Allen......... 00010020 | 03
Jaun.......... 32101102 | 10

Career game #248: Olympic Day Pointspiel Game 2 - June 14, 2014

End........... 12345678 |TTL
Allen......... 10111000 | 04
Franklin...... 01000211 | 05

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Estimated Delivery Date

Recently, I ordered something from Amazon. The estimated delivery date they gave me for my order was "Thursday, June 12 - Tuesday, June 17". I received the item on Wednesday, June 11.

Around the same time, I also ordered something on eBay. Estimated delivery date: "Wednesday, June 18 - Saturday, June 28". I received the item on Monday, June 16.

So, to summarize: occasionally, websites such as these give you a wide range of possible delivery dates, which, in theory, should capture all of the possible delivery dates. Except that they don't.

This has to be intentional, right? There are two reasons why Amazon/eBay/etc would intentionally overestimate how long delivery would take: 1) to try to get you to pay for "faster" shipping; and 2) because you'll think more favorably of your Amazon/eBay experience if you receive your order sooner than expected.

The lesson here is, of course, this: never, ever pay for 1-day or 2-day shipping.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The World Cup Name Game

I've been watching a lot of the FIFA World Cup so far, and I think it's been immensely entertaining.

And, we've got a child due at the end of August. We already have a name picked out for him (he's a boy). But what if we didn't have a name already picked out? Could we use the World Cup as inspiration?

On that thought, I came up with a fun game for any soon-to-be parents of boys who may be going into labor during the World Cup, and haven't picked a name yet: Last player to score a World Cup goal before the baby is born, that's his name. That would be a fun game, wouldn't it? Watch the games, see who scores the goals, think "Hmm, Lionel would make a nice name"...and then someone named Vedad from Bosnia and Herzegovina scores a meaningless goal in the 85th minute and ruins the propsect of having a kid named Lionel.

(Again: we are not actually doing this. We have a name already. This exercise is for entertainment purposes only.)

Through Sunday's games, here's where the name game would have stood: (all times Eastern and approximate)

Prior to June 12 4:11 PM: Andres (this goes back to the 2010 WC final)
June 12 4:11 PM - 4:29 PM: Marcelo
June 12 4:29 PM - 5:51 PM: Neymar
June 12 5:51 PM - June 13 1:21 PM: Oscar
June 13 1:21 PM - 3:27 PM: Oribe
June 13 3:27 PM - 3:44 PM: Xabi
June 13 3:44 PM - 4:13 PM: Robin
June 13 4:13 PM - 4:25 PM: Arjen
June 13 4:25 PM - 4:32 PM: Stefan
June 13 4:32 PM - 4:40 PM: Robin
June 13 4:40 PM - 6:12 PM: Arjen
June 13 6:12 PM - 6:14 PM: Alexis
June 13 6:14 PM - 6:35 PM: Jorge
June 13 6:35 PM - 7:52 PM: Tim
June 13 7:52 PM - June 14 12:05 PM: Jean
June 14 12:05 PM - 1:18 PM: Pablo
June 14 1:18 PM - 1:53 PM: Teofilo
June 14 1:53 PM - 3:24 PM: James
June 14 3:24 PM - 4:14 PM: Edinson
June 14 4:14 PM - 4:17 PM: Joel
June 14 4:17 PM - 4:44 PM: Oscar
June 14 4:44 PM - 6:35 PM: Marco
June 14 6:35 PM - 6:37 PM: Claudio
June 14 6:37 PM - 7:10 PM: Daniel
June 14 7:10 PM - 9:16 PM: Mario
June 14 9:16 PM - 10:24 PM: Keisuke
June 14 10:24 PM - 10:26 PM: Wilfried
June 14 10:26 PM - June 15 12:22 PM: Gervinho
June 15 12:22 PM - 1:08 PM: Enner
June 15 1:08 PM - 1:53 PM: Admir
June 15 1:53 PM - 3:45 PM: Haris
June 15 3:45 PM - 4:08 PM: Karim
June 15 4:08 PM - 4:32 PM: Noel
June 15 4:32 PM - 6:03 PM: Karim
June 15 6:03 PM - 7:25 PM: Sead
June 15 7:25 PM - 7:45 PM: Lionel
June 15 7:45 PM - June 16 TBD*: Vedad

(* - I haven't watched today's games yet.)

There are actually a lot of viable names on this list. If you're looking for a name with international flavor, then this might not be such a bad idea. Hate to get stuck with something like "Gervinho", though. This could have made the night of June 14 a long, long night of labor. "Hey, honey, can you keep the baby in there a little longer, at least until the Switzerland game starts?" On the other hand, it would be kind of a letdown to go through all this craziness only to end up with, say, "Tim". (No offense, Dad!)

I suspect 99.999999% of mothers would be totally against this least in this country. Brazil might be a different story. How many babies named "Neymar" are going to be born in Brazil over the next few weeks, especially if Brazil wins the Cup?

As far as who is going to be the last goal scorer of the World Cup, Neymar is probably the favorite, being the player most likely to score on the team most likely to win. But given that Brazil has to get to the final first, it is very, very likely the last goal scorer of the World Cup will be somebody else. (In this hypothetical, penalty shootouts wouldn't count, but the third place game would be considered in the event that the final ends 0-0.)

Either way, we're not naming our kid Neymar, or Karim, or Arjen, or anything else on this list. In fact, nobody in this year's World Cup shares his name with our future son.

UPDATE: The last player to score a goal in the World Cup was Germany's Mario Götze. So it's a good thing we're not following through with this, because having two children named "Marla" and "Mario" would have been really confusing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Playground Reviews: Laurel Hills Park; Tall Pines Park

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

Laurel Hills Park - Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh, NC
Visited: Saturday, June 7, 2014
- Google Satellite

Summary: Scouring the web for a nice playground to visit last Saturday morning, I stumbled upon Laurel Hills Park, which according to the pictures looked a lot like the 4th-ranked Kelly Road Park in Apex: a playground with large wooden climbing structures, as opposed to the standard smaller plastic sets. Let's check it out!

Things for Marla to do: 9/14. Since I can't help but compare this to Kelly Road Park...this is basically a smaller, older version of that playground, which slightly less stuff to do. It's larger than the average playground and has lots of places to climb and hide (most of which someone of Marla's age can handle), but it isn't as large as Kelly Road Park, and doesn't have a sand play area, for instance. (The ground is all sand, but there isn't an area with sand toys and whatnot.) It does have swings and a few slides, though. They also had a four-or-five-foot tall small basketball hoop, which I thought was neat. Even Marla can shoot into that hoop! (Well, almost.)

Uniqueness: 8/10. Kelly Road got a 9/10 here, so 8/10 sounds about right for Laurel Hills.

Upkeep: 3/10. Trash was an issue, and the playground is clearly old and shows its age. The slides are the old metal kind, and so if you touch them with your skin (which is hard to do if you're wearing shorts), you basically stop.

Crowd: 6/10. As is often the case when we go to a playground on a Saturday morning, it was mostly clear when we arrived, and getting busy when we left, although that had a lot to do with a birthday party that was about to begin at the park. (Marla wanted to join the party, but I told her that it's not polite to come to a party uninvited.)

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. Pretty much every playground we go to anymore, Marla has an "average" amount of fun, so...

TOTAL: 29/49, ranking 8th out of 32. Pretty good score, because the park is a little different than your typical playground, although the comparable Kelly Road Park is better.


Tall Pines Park - 9th Avenue North, Jacksonville Beach, FL
Visited: Saturday, May 24, 2014
- Google Street View

Summary: This is a small neighborhood park with a couple of old, small playground sets, the type you go to more for convenience than for anything else. (And also because the park is very well shaded, and this is Florida.)

Things for Marla to do: 6/14; Uniqueness: 3/10. Your basic playground setup: a "big kid" and "small kid" play set (both a bit smaller than average), plus quite an inventory of swings.

Upkeep: 2/10. Attention playground owners: visible writing on the playground equipment will detract from your upkeep score.

Crowd: 8/10. Normally not busy, but it's in the middle of a residential neighborhood, so the park does get some use.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. See my note in the previous review.

TOTAL: 22/49, ranking 28th out of 32. To date, the three playgrounds I've reviewed in Florida are ranked 23rd, 25th, and 28th out of 32. What's going on here? Maybe next time we go to Jacksonville, we should go to the fanciest playground we can find to help balance it out.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The North Carolina Transportation Museum

Since we're somewhat grounded this summer, we'll be focusing on some of the more "local" attractions for the next three months. By "local", we basically mean within North Carolina, less than two hours from home. For instance, on Saturday we went to the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, NC (near Salisbury).

It's basically an old railyard-turned-museum, so most of the stuff there is train-themed. They offer a short little train ride around the museum grounds, which Marla enjoyed. In fact, the promise of a choo choo train ride was how we convinced Marla to want to come in the first place. Choo choo!

(How about those comfortable seats! Much more comfortable than our last train ride.)

There are plenty of old trains and such to look at and explore, plus lots of exhibits that are going to be less interesting for a two-going-on-three-year-old. It's not all train stuff, though; there was also a room about aircraft - including the obligatory Wright Brothers replica plane, since this is North Carolina and all - and some car stuff. I think Amber's favorite building was the one with all of the classic cars. That building also had some old road signs and maps for me:

(Those old computers were in the aircraft-themed room. I think they were for reservations or something. Either way, I think old computers look neat. And the state map is from 1930, by the way.)

As far as kid-friendly stuff besides the choo choo train ride, they have a play area with play tools and a few other things, which Marla spent a few minutes at.

Nice place to visit, although I'd recommend going on a cooler day - especially if you're currently in your third trimester - because much of the museum grounds are either outdoors or not air conditioned, being a converted railyard. So, our next "local attraction" will probably be indoors...

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Church Timing Statistics

Years ago, I floated the idea of timing how long church services take. (Because, you know, timing things is what I do.) A couple of years ago, I started doing just that at our home Episcopalian church (which shall remain nameless in order to protect the innocent), and now I have over two years worth of timing data. Hooray!

(Now, before I go any may seem wrong or disrespectful to time how long a church service takes, sure. But in another way, it helps me stay more focused towards what's going on at the altar, especially during the sermon. It isn't a distraction to me or others for to time the length of service; I just need to remember when to start and stop the watch. And after two years of doing this, I can do that without even thinking about it. It's as automatic as responding to "The word of the Lord" with "Thanks be to God". Besides, it's not like I'm breaking out my smartphone during the service.)

So, here's what I do. I start the timer when the opening hymn starts, I stop the timer after the priest "dismisses us" (a few seconds after the closing hymn ends), and I also take three "split times" during the service: before and after the sermon, and when we kneel for the Eucharistic Prayer. The split times separate the service up into four parts, each of which is timed individually, including the sermon start-to-finish. (One thing I don't keep track of is how often the service starts on time, but if I were to guess, I'd say the average is 2-3 minutes late.)

Now...I know the proper way to present data is in snazzy charts and graphs and stuff, but I'm lazy, and I'm not good with visualizations anyway. This ain't FiveThirtyEight, you know. This is a personal blog, a spectacularly mediocre one at that, and I only expect, at most, 50 people to read this. So, numbers in bold text + bullet format is what you get.

The average length of our regular church service (as opposed to the early service, which is shorter) is: 75 minutes, 30 seconds. The longest on record is 81:51; the shortest is 63:17.

The average sermon length is: 13 minutes, 43 seconds. The longest on record is 24:47; the shortest is 4:41.

Those are probably the most meaningful numbers to come out of my data. Here are some other odds and ends:
- We had a guest priest for six weeks at one point; his services were, on average, 2½ minutes faster. His sermons were longer, but the rest of the service was often much shorter.
- This should come as no surprise, but the longest communion has ever taken was on Easter Sunday. (We're always out of town for Christmas, but Christmas communion probably also takes a long time due to the large crowd.)
- My experience in my years of church going (off and on) in different denominations is that Catholic priests are in much more of a hurry to get the service over with than Episcopalian priests, and that Catholic services are shorter in general. Catholics are also much, much more efficient with communion.
- We attended a different Episcopal church in another city for Easter this year, and the length of that service was on par with those at our home church, suggesting that maybe, my statistics might be representative of Episcopalian services in general.

I also track who gives the sermon each Sunday, so I could post an average sermon length for each person...but I'm not naming names here. That really would be wrong/disrespectful/etc. I think our regular priest gives really good, engaging sermons. Not everyone does, of course. Let's just say that our regular priest gives the sermon about half the time.

Monday, June 02, 2014

2015 Subaru Forester

New car shopping is complete, and the winner is: the Subaru Forester.

The Forester was the favorite going in, so no real surprise,but I actually strongly considered the Nissan Rogue. The Rogue has the most trunk space, which would really help us on our road trips, but three things bugged me about the Rogue. It doesn't drive as well as the Forester, because it's heavier and slower on acceleration. It has poor visibility in the blind spots, even for an SUV. And, its reliability record isn't as proven as Honda and Subaru. As for the Honda CR-V...well, I just found it incredibly boring. The CR-V was the fallback choice in case the others didn't work out, after all.

I found the Subaru Forester to be better in most every way, except that it has less trunk space than the Rogue, and the Rogue gives actual tire pressure readings as opposed to just giving you a vague warning light when one of the tires is low. That's pretty much it.

So, hooray! New car! I'm pretty excited. One of my favorite things about the car: trip stats! I wanted a car that gave detailed fuel economy statistics and whatnot, and I got one.

That rear backup camera I was so interested in? It's pretty nice.

Also nice: the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT). Stick shifts can be fun, but man, the CVT drives nice. And it used to be, you could get better gas mileage with a stick than an automatic...but not anymore! CVTs are pretty standard nowadays, at least for your more economical types of cars.

It's kind of fun having such a low odometer reading - I drove it off the lot at 19, and it's now at 56 - but what isn't really as much fun about a new car is the "break in" period. For the first 1,000 miles, I'm not supposed to accelerate or brake hard, go above 4,000 RPMs (which I wouldn't really do anyway), or, interestinglu, stay at the same speed for too long. Apparently, getting on the freeway and keeping the cruise control on 70 mph for hours upon end is bad for a brand new engine. That's something for me to keep in mind for the first 1,000 miles or so.

I don't expect the Forester will get out and play much for the next few months, given that we'll be spending most of the summer sitting around in the air conditioning waiting for the baby. But we plan on taking lots and lots of road trips with this car, eventually. 200,000 miles or bust!