Thursday, June 11, 2015

I know (a few) people like my blog posts, and I appreciate all the clicks I've gotten over the nine (!) years of the blog's existence...but writing these things takes time, and I don't really feel like doing it anymore.

Instead, I think taking and posting pictures is much faster, easier, more social-media-friendly (no clicks required!), and encourages more frequent updates. So, I've started an Instagram account, and will focus most of my energy towards that effort: instagram.com/chrisallen_nc
(I'll also cross-post most pictures to Facebook, but probably not Twitter.)

I'll still use the blog for whenever I feel like posting some obscure statistics or something. But, Instagram and Facebook will be the best places to find me. (Still not sold on Google+ - just seems like an extra place to have to post stuff.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Bicycling Trip in Asia: Part 2

Skip to the latest update

I ride my bicycle a lot. It's good exercise, and so to help motivate me to keep doing that, I track my bicycling distance and plot it on a map, as if I were on a long cross-continent journey.

I've been doing this since October 2009, during which time I've "ridden" from my front door to Homer, Alaska (28½ months); across Australia, Sydney to Perth (14 months); and halfway across Asia, Singapore to New Delhi (19½ months). Bicycling is a) still fun and b) still good exercise, so let's keep going!

The second half of my fictional Bicycling Trip in Asia will take me 3,586 miles from New Delhi to Istanbul. All this is part of a lifelong goal of mine to ride my bicycle "around the world", in a manner of speaking: North America first, then Australia, now Asia, then eventually Europe, Africa, South America, and then North America again. If I can maintain my pace from Asia Part 1 (46 miles per week), that would put me in Istanbul in summer 2016.

LAST UPDATE: 26 Jul 2016 - complete!

This Google Map shows my progress. Each placemark indicates one week. Blue route = completed route. The routes shown on the map may not be exact, but are close enough for my purposes.



Part 2 statistics:
Total distance: 3,586 miles
Started 3 Jan 2015, completed 26 Jul 2016
Trip length: 570 days (1 year, 6 months, 23 days)
Average weekly distance: 44.0 miles/week

Time spent in each country: (Part 2 only)
India: 59 days (303 miles, 36 miles/week)
Pakistan: 54 days (364 miles, 47 miles/week)
Afghanistan: 113 days (742 miles, 46 miles/week)
Iran: 203 days (1,222 miles, 42 miles/week)
Turkey: 141 days (955 miles, 47 miles/week)

Weekly trip distances:
0 miles: 0 weeks
1 - 9 miles: 4 weeks
10 - 19 miles: 8 weeks
20 - 29 miles: 8 weeks
30 - 39 miles: 7 weeks
40 - 49 miles: 18 weeks
50 - 59 miles: 20 weeks
60 - 69 miles: 11 weeks
70 - 79 miles: 4 weeks
80 - 89 miles: 2 weeks (max: 88)

Trip log
(Only showing country and state lines, and major cities, to make this log shorter)

3 Jan 2015: Start of Part 2 - New Delhi, India
8 Jan 2015: State - Haryana, India
17 Jan 2015: City - Panipat, India
25 Jan 2015: City - Ambala, India
27 Jan 2015: State - Punjab, India
5 Feb 2015: City - Ludhiana, India
23 Feb 2015: City - Amritsar, India
3 Mar 2015: Country - Pakistan (Province - Punjab)
3 Mar 2015: City - Lahore, Pakistan
21 Mar 2015: City - Bhalwal, Pakistan
3 Apr 2015: Province - Islamabad Capital Territory, Pakistan
3 Apr 2015: Province - Punjab, Pakistan (re-entered)
3 Apr 2015: Province - Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
18 Apr 2015: City - Peshawar, Pakistan
21 Apr 2015: Province - Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan
26 Apr 2015: Country - Afghanistan (Province - Nangarhar)
26 Apr 2015: City - Jalalabad, Afghanistan
28 Apr 2015: Province - Laghman, Afghanistan
7 May 2015: Province - Kabul, Afghanistan
14 May 2015: City - Kabul, Afghanistan
17 May 2015: Province - Maidan Wardak, Afghanistan
28 May 2015: City - Behsud, Afghanistan
1 Jun 2015: Province - Bamyan, Afghanistan
13 Jun 2015: City - Panjab, Afghanistan
13 Jun 2015: Province - Ghor, Afghanistan
4 Jul 2015: City - Chaghcharan, Afghanistan
19 Jul 2015: Province - Herat, Afghanistan
2 Aug 2015: City - Herat, Afghanistan
17 Aug 2015: Country - Iran (Province - Razavi Khorasan)
23 Aug 2015: City - Torbat-e Jam, Iran
3 Sep 2015: City - Mashhad, Iran
12 Sep 2015: City - Nishapur, Iran
23 Sep 2015: City - Sabzevar, Iran
3 Oct 2015: Province - Semnan, Iran
26 Oct 2015: City - Shahrud, Iran
3 Nov 2015: City - Damghan, Iran
14 Nov 2015: City - Semnan, Iran
21 Nov 2015: City - Garmsar, Iran
3 Dec 2015: Province - Tehran, Iran
5 Dec 2015: City - Tehran, Iran
8 Dec 2015: Province - Alborz, Iran
11 Dec 2015: City - Karaj, Iran
15 Dec 2015: Province - Qazvin, Iran
20 Dec 2015: City - Qazvin, Iran
31 Dec 2015: Province - Zanjan, Iran
10 Jan 2016: City - Zanjan, Iran
17 Jan 2016: Province - East Azerbaijan, Iran
14 Feb 2016: City - Tabriz, Iran
20 Feb 2016: City - Marand, Iran
25 Feb 2016: Province - West Azerbaijan, Iran
7 Mar 2016: Country - Turkey (Province - Agri)
12 Mar 2016: City - Dogubeyazit, Turkey
21 Mar 2016: City - Agri, Turkey
26 Mar 2016: Province - Erzurum, Turkey
10 Apr 2016: City - Erzurum, Turkey
10 Apr 2016: Province - Erzincan, Turkey
23 Apr 2016: Province - Tunceli, Turkey
23 Apr 2016: Province - Erzincan, Turkey
28 Apr 2016: City - Erzincan, Turkey
7 May 2016: Province - Sivas, Turkey
14 May 2016: Province - Tokat, Turkey
18 May 2016: City - Erbaa, Turkey
21 May 2016: Province - Amasya, Turkey
25 May 2016: City - Amasya, Turkey
1 Jun 2016: City - Merzifon, Turkey
5 Jun 2016: Province - Corum, Turkey
9 Jun 2016: Province - Kastamonu, Turkey
11 Jun 2016: Province - Cankiri, Turkey
18 Jun 2016: City - Cerkes, Turkey
18 Jun 2016: Province - Karabuk, Turkey
18 Jun 2016: Province - Bolu, Turkey
25 Jun 2016: City - Bolu, Turkey
29 Jun 2016: Province - Duzce, Turkey
4 Jul 2016: City - Duzce, Turkey
10 Jul 2016: Province - Sakarya, Turkey
10 Jul 2016: Province - Koaceli, Turkey
13 Jul 2016: City - Izmit, Turkey
20 Jul 2016: Province - Istanbul, Turkey
26 Jul 2016: Bosphorus Bridge into Europe (completed Part 2)

Fake bicycling trip history:
1) Bicycling Trip to Alaska (Durham - Homer)
10/8/09 - 2/21/12, 4,628.5 miles, 37.4 miles/week
2) Bicycling Trip in Australia (Sydney - Perth)
2/23/12 - 4/27/13, 2,472.5 miles, 40.3 miles/week
3) Bicycling Trip in Asia, Part 1 (Singapore - New Delhi)
5/22/13 - 1/3/15, 3,902.0 miles, 46.1 miles/week
4) Bicycling Trip in Asia, Part 2 (New Delhi - Istanbul)
1/3/15 - 7/26/16, 3,586.0 miles, 44.0 miles/week
5) Bicycling Trip in Europe (Istanbul - Tarifa)
7/26/16 - ???, 2,575.6 miles
6) Bicycling Trip in West Africa (Tangier - Lagos)
??? - ???, approx 3,900 miles
7) Bicycling Trip in Sub-Saharan Africa (Lagos - Cape Town)
??? - ???, approx 4,400 miles
8) Bicycling Trip in South America, Part 1 (Punta Arenas - La Paz)
??? - ???, approx 3,000 miles
9) Bicycling Trip in South America, Part 2 (La Paz - Cartagena)
??? - ???, approx 3,000 miles
10) Bicycling Trip from Panama (Yaviza - Durham)
??? - ???, approx 4,200 miles

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Random Stat Updates: 5/19/15

Here are various statistical updates from the past...oh, two or three months? I've got some catching up to do.

Restaurant serving times

Last weekend, it took Red Robin of Raleigh 45 minutes, 40 seconds - from when I order to when the food arrives - to serve my dinner. Going back 20 years, that's the 5th slowest of all-time, and the slowest time anywhere since our wedding rehearsal dinner in 2008. And I was one of the lucky ones: other people in our party got the wrong order, or didn't get their food at all. Overall it was the most putrid performance by a restaurant in quite some time, and one for the record books for sure. (Our three prior Red Robin visits all clocked in under 20 minutes, however, so I haven't written them off forever...just for a while.)

With a 3-year-old and a 0-year-old, it's hard to go out to dinner these days. If we do go out, it's either fast food or fast casual (e.g. Boston Market) - neither of which is eligible for timing. Or, we go early enough to beat the crowds - as in, 4 or 4:30 for dinner, in order to minimize the amount of time we have to sit there waiting with two impatient and/or tired children, not to mention get the kids to bed on time. So, 2015 will likely be my first year with fewer than 20 eligible restaurant visits. (Last year's total was 21.)

But, I do still have to go to Lexington BBQ and Ideal Hot Dog this year. Between them, they've won "fastest time of the year" for each of the last four years. The fastest of 2015 so far is Danny's BBQ, at 9:35 - that's fast, but that likely won't stand for the rest of the year.

County visitation

Last weekend, my roadgeek friends and I drove US 360 from (almost) end to (almost) end: (Didn't have time for the whole thing, but we did most of it.)



Except for some, well, downtrodden parts of Richmond, it wasn't the most interesting of drives. But, combined with the drive up into Virginia, I got two new counties out of it! Only six more Virginia counties to go! Also, I've now visited every county within a 200-mile radius of home. Charles City and Essex counties were the two counties closest to home I had yet to visit; now the closest is Bath County, VA.

As a family, we haven't done many road trips this year. I've been to Louisiana and San Diego this year, but the rest of the family has only left North Carolina once in 2015, and that was for a funeral. The year after our second child was born always figured to be our least-traveled year, so it's alright, but I think it's time we start doing family road trips again. We're staying home for Memorial Day, but we have several trips planned for the summer and fall.

Since I don't publish my "by the numbers" page anymore, here are our current county totals:
- Chris: 1,731 (55.1%)
- Marla: 533 (17.0%)
- Bruce: 89 (2.8%)
- Subaru: 114 (3.6%)

Bruce is nearly 9 months old now; by the time Marla was 9 months old, she had already visited 173 counties. You've got some catching up to do, Bruce!

Bicycling

My fictional "Bicycling Trip in Asia" is now in a place I will almost certainly never visit, let alone bike in: Afghanistan. Afghanistan is the most desolate section of the entire Singapore-to-Gibraltar route, in terms of points of interest and landmarks that can help keep me motivated to ride a little extra each weekend. But, it can't be any more desolate than Adelaide to Perth was, right?

Our weekends at home often revolve around our exercise schedules: Amber gets time for a run, and I get time for a bike ride. Once you add in curling (Amber curls Sunday afternoons), church (every 2-3 weeks on average), a family outing of some kind, and errands like the weekly Publix trip, the whole weekend is pretty much gone. Staying motivated to maintain our exercise routine is harder than it's ever been, but we've been able to do it to this point.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Curling Recaps: 5/3-5/12/15

The Triangle Curling Club has its own building now. Have you heard? This week is the third week of our first set of leagues on dedicated ice, and it's been a learning experience. Everything I learned about curling strategy on arena ice? Throw it out the window! Watching hours upon hours of championship curling helps some, but it's no substitute for experience.

Let's start with something extremely simple. You're the yellow team, and you have one rock in the house, and that's it. What do you do?


On arena ice, your options were really limited. If that yellow rock was on a "predictable line" that was easy to hit, you'd pretty much have to throw a guard along that line. Alternatively, you could throw another one in the house, depending on the ice conditions and "zamboni lines". Really, those were your two and only two options, and often, the ice conditions told you which play was the better play, and whether or not you had hammer really didn't affect the strategy much. But on real curling ice...you can make pretty much any shot you want! More importantly, the other team can also make pretty much any shot they want. Sure, you can still guard or split the house, but if the guard's not perfect, the other team could still reach your rock, depending on how good they are. But if your team is struggling with weight, there are more "plan B" shots available if you throw one on the same line, but then maybe you set up a double take-out. Aaahhh! And this is with just one rock in play! On top of that, you had better know where to put the broom, because that rock will curl, and if you're a few inches off (or the shooter is a few inches off the broom), that makes a big difference! That's what I've been struggling with the most so far. That and, of course, making my own shots, which when you're the Skip is kind of important. We can talk strategy all we want, but I still have to hit the broom...

As of today I have still only Skipped a total of 15 games on dedicated curling ice. My opponents have Skipped hundreds, maybe even thousands. So, I am a long, long way from having figured it out yet. There are SO many variables; I don't know if I'll ever be able to look at a situation and immediately know the optimal call. Arena ice was "the great equalizer" - I could occasionally beat some of the club's best and most experienced curlers head-to-head on arena ice. On dedicated ice, though, it's a lot harder to make up that gap, both in terms of strategy and shot-making. So far, we're 0-2. Also, we haven't scored more than one point in an end yet. Something to shoot for tonight!

Monday League: May 4, 2015

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Allen.......01010011 | 04
Hunneyman...10104000 | 06

Monday League: May 11, 2015

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
M. Jackson..31311011 | 11
Allen.......00000100 | 01

But, I did win a pickup game as Skip earlier in the month:

Sunday Pickup: May 3, 2015

End.........123456 |TTL
-----------------------
Feinson.....020001 | 03
Allen.......302130 | 09

But in the Tuesday league, where I play Vice - probably my best position - and don't have to worry about strategy or anything other than shot-making and occasional sweeping, we're 2-0:

Tuesday League: May 5, 2015
(my team: Jaun)

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
K. Jackson..20101100 | 05
Jaun........01040023 | 10

Tuesday League: May 12, 2015
(my team: Jaun)

End.........12345678 |TTL
-------------------------
Jaun........01500010 | 07
Mitchell....10001202 | 06

I curl again tonight, and tomorrow night, and twice next week, and twice the week after that...I mean, isn't this great? Better yet, this building is permanent, and I have DECADES of this to look forward to!

(By the way, we won't always be curling in May and June. We are this year because that's how long it took to open the building. October through April or May will be the curling schedule most years.)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Jury Duty II

The first time I had jury duty in 2011, I was really excited! I ended up on a jury almost immediately, and the trial went into a second day. In the end, I was actually a little dissatisfied with how the trial went down.

So when I had to back for jury duty again this week...meh. I'd willingly serve on a jury if I was picked, but I would rather not be picked. And, that's what happened. After getting a ridiculously long lunch - at 11, they said "We won't need anyone until after lunch, so come back at 2:30" - a bunch of prospective jurors were taken to a courtroom. Actually, they wanted to take everyone to the courtroom just so everyone could watch the proceedings, rather than be stuck in the jury pool room. But the courtroom wasn't big enough for everyone, so instead, 15 people were chosen at random to stay behind and not go to the courtroom. I was one of those 15, so I never left the jury pool room. But I still had to stay all the way until 5 PM in case I was needed, which I wasn't. So, back to work the next day.

Just as well. Maybe in another four years, or however long it takes to get another jury summons, I'll be excited about the prospects of being a juror again.

Speaking of sitting around and waiting, between flying last week and jury duty this week, I thought that would have been plenty of time to listen to the entire "Serial" podcast from start to finish. (Yeah, "Serial" was so last year, but I like to stay a few months behind social trends.) But, nope. Still three episodes to go. Once I finish, though...blog post!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Housewarming Bonspiel

The brand new Triangle Curling Center is open, and our first big tournament/bonspiel starts today! I'm not even playing in it and I'm still really excited!


The new curling center actually opened provisionally last week. By "provisionally", I mean:
- At first, we didn't have parking lot lights installed, so we could only be open during daylight hours. (That's been taken care of since then, so now we can stay open all night, I think...although we can't serve beer and wine all night, of course.)
- There are still a lot of touch-up type things to do - landscaping and whatnot - in the next month or so, otherwise the City of Durham won't extend our Certificate of Occupancy beyond 30 days. Nothing we have to "worry" about, other than just making sure we do what needs to be done.

And by "we", I don't mean, me, specifically. Being with the kids has taken priority, and what free time Amber and I have on weekends we often set aside for our respective exercise routines, so we haven't been able to help much at all with the building work and whatnot. Mostly, we've been limited to helping out with things we can do from the comfort of our own home (for example, putting together the draw for this weekend's bonspiel). So, a huge thank you to all of the club's volunteers who helped make this happen. This was a lot of work. The building opened later than originally expected, but in hindsight, I think it's amazing it happened this quickly! Only 13 months from ceremonial groundbreaking to doors open.

It was always the plan to have a "housewarming" bonspiel including lots of out-of-town teams soon after the building opened. So, we were kind of cutting it close there on time...but not that close, right? It's not like the parking lot lights were just installed today.

Amber and I have put curling in weekend-long bonspiels on the back burner for the time being while the kids are young. We'll get back to it eventually, but we'll still have plenty of opportunities to curl coming up soon. The first leagues in the new building will start in a week or two, and then Amber and I will be curling three times a week between the two of us. (Twice a week for me, once for Amber.)

We also got out on the ice during "open ice time" last week. I played in a pick-up game, which I lost...

End.........1234567 |TTL
------------------------
Foulger.....2032030 | 10
Allen.......0300301 | 07

Curling on dedicated ice is a) GREAT, and b) much more complicated from a strategy standpoint because of all the different options you have. I haven't figured it out yet, especially what to do when I don't have last rock. I know what the "curling textbook" says to do - first two rocks on the center line, remove any rock of the other color whenever possible, and if you get an opportunity to steal a point or two, great, but the most important thing is not giving up 3 or more - but I haven't been able to put this in practice yet. We'll be revisiting this topic in the future. (Keep in mind, I have still only played 12 games ever as a skip on dedicated ice.)

One thing that was nice about open ice time was, we could bring Marla on the ice, too! Of all the sports I watch on television, there's really only one sport that grabs Marla's interest for any length of time, and that's curling. (It's true!) And we watched a lot of curling this winter, to the point where Marla is now independently drawing curling stones on her whiteboard:


So when we took Marla out to our new curling facility, where the lines and circles and rocks look just like they do on television (mostly), she just ate it up.


I enjoyed watching Marla go up and down the ice more than I enjoyed curling myself. Eventually she was actually throwing rocks down the ice, for real! (Well, sort of...let's just say, there may have been a few hog line violations.) Hog line violations aside, she even made her own take-out, without assistance!* My proudest moment as a father.**

(* - I swept her rock to hold it straight, but that's legal assistance, of course.)

(** - Well, maybe not my #1 proudest moment as a father, but it's in the conversation.)

Basically, Marla starts in the hack with a rock in front of her like a real curler, starts running down the ice with the rock (her everyday shoes can actually handle the ice extremely well), and then she lets go whenever she feels like letting go - usually past the hog line, and usually with take-out weight. It's pretty awesome. I'm glad we came out with her when we did, because giving Marla ice time may not be so easy once the ice gets busy with leagues and such.

So, it's been a fun week of curling, culminating with this weekend's Housewarming Bonspiel, for which I'll be a spectator. And this is just WEEK ONE of our new building! We have a lifetime of curling in our new building to look forward to. And I mean, that, too: I've purchased a lifetime membership. (For myself, not for Marla. We thought a lifetime membership for Marla would be jumping the gun too much at this point.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

San Diego

I spent three days / four nights in San Diego this week for work. What did I think about the place?

The weather: San Diego is a very popular location to hold a conference. I assume that's because of the weather: you're pretty much guaranteed it will be in the 70s and clear, virtually any time of year. (Although in June, it actually gets cloudy, which is a big deal to the locals.) Some would say San Diego has the nicest weather in the entire country. Personally, though...sure, it was very nice for when I was there, but I would get bored with it. I like changing weather, and it would drive me nuts if I lived in a place where the weather was the same every day, even as nice as it is here. But the local weatherman's job isn't quite as boring as I would have thought, for a couple of reasons. One, he/she has to issue several entirely different forecasts every day: one of for the coast, one for the mountains, one for the valleys, one for the deserts east of the mountains, etc. Also, fire danger is an important thing to stress in a place where it is persistently warm (ish) and dry.

Places to go: No shortage of things to do in this city. So, let's say you get out of your conference mid-afternoon and have a few hours on your hands. Where do you go? ... San Diego has a good train system (locally referred to as the "trolley") which can take you a lot of places, but my hotel actually had a rental car place on site. So, my co-worker and I rented a car for 24 hours and drove to Torrey Pines...


...and also went east on I-8 (or, as the locals famously refer to freeways, "the 8") into the mountains.


When we took the family to Colorado a couple years ago, we were almost overwhelmed by the recreational opportunities, many of which we couldn't do anyway because Marla wasn't the right age for any kind of "hike". Southern California isn't quite Colorado in terms of recreation, and you're much more limited in where you can go (ocean on one side, Mexico on another), but it's still a great place to be if you like spending time outdoors in the mountains. Plus, there are good places to take the whole family such as the world famous San Diego Zoo. This is definitely a place I'd like to (re)visit with the family.

Traffic isn't THAT bad: Southern California traffic is awful, right? In Los Angeles, most certainly. In San Diego, however...it really isn't any worse than any other city of its size. And it clears up quickly in the evening: by 7 pm Tuesday night, San Diego freeways were nearly 100% green on Google Maps. Maybe because San Diego is a Navy town, the local population's work hours skew early, and the roads clear up quickly in the evening? Either way, I'd say (based on a small sample space, of course) than San Diego's traffic is more tolerable than even Denver's traffic.

Seriously, why don't more people live here? The San Diego television market is only the 28th most populous in the United States, and only the 4th most populous in California. Why don't more people live here? Especially compared to the massive Los Angeles metro? I don't actually know. Does Los Angeles have a better job market? Is Los Angeles more affordable? Is it just the "Hollywood" appeal of Los Angeles? All I know is, I'd never consider living in or near Los Angeles, but I could be talked into moving to San Diego. (There are still too many logistical challenges to living in California for my taste: water shortages, wildfires, congestion, pollution, earthquakes, and so on. But people put up with it because the weather is nice and the scenery is beautiful, right?)

So, if you're in charge of planning some kind of academic or professional "conference" of some kind and aren't sure where to have it...have it in San Diego! Everyone else is.

Meanwhile, back home...the Triangle Curling Club is pseudo-open! I get to check it out on Friday.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Flying in 2015

I'm flying to San Diego next week for work. This will be the first time I'll have been in an airplane in seven years. (I always drive instead of fly when I can, but...can't really drive to San Diego in a timely manner. I'll gladly take advantage of the fact that two airplane rides can get me from Durham to San Diego in just eight hours.)

How much has the airline industry changed in the last seven years? I did my research so that I'm prepared. I've gathered that the two most drastic changes are:

- No more "turn off all electronic devices until such and such time", right? Not only that, many flights - including all four of my flights - will have in-flight wi-fi, for a price. Smartphone wi-fi access for shorter flights is only $2 on Delta, apparently. Don't know what it'll cost for my cross-country flight, but I'm thinking that if it's $10 or less, it'll be worth it, especially since I'll be stuck in a middle seat, and because I have zero interest in the in-flight movies. But then will my phone battery last that long? Well, here's another recent development: Many major airports have installed phone charging stations.

- Baggage fees. I think these were just starting to take hold last time I flew in 2008. Now, they're standard. EVERY checked bag costs money now, at least on Delta (which is what I'm flying). Of course, my employer would foot the bill for my baggage fees (I assume), but it has always better to carry-on if you could anyway. No waiting at the baggage conveyor afterwards; no chance of your luggage getting lost. (Very small sample size, but I've never had the "so-and-so airline lost my luggage" experience.) Now there's even more incentive to carry-on. I haven't figured out if I can fit all of my stuff in a small enough bag for carry-on yet, but if I do have to check a bag, at least I'll get those printed labels with the airport code on it as a souvenir. I've always liked those. At least, I'm assuming those are still a thing.

Also, food is no longer complimentary, it seems; I'll have to pay for it separately. We'll see how the timing works out. And, I'm assuming that security screenings are even more intrusive than they were back then. Other than that, I'm not expecting much to have changed since 2008.

By the way, I have never been to San Diego County before. Hooray for new counties! Even if it's only one.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Daddy-Daughter Grocery Day

I do my grocery shopping at Publix every week, usually early Saturday or Sunday morning. Sometimes, Marla comes with me. I don't force her to come, either: it's her choice. (I'm so proud!)

I can't imagine grocery shopping is all that exciting for a kid, so why does Marla actually want to come with me? Well...I try to give her incentives. One incentive is to get to ride in the "green cars". I don't have my own picture - taking pictures at the grocery store when you have a 3-year-old with you is a) difficult, and b) not a priority - but they look like this:


Kroger has kiddie cars, too, but the kiddie cars ride along the ground rather than up top; Marla has a lot better visibility in the Publix ones. Also, these cars have more room to put groceries than the Kroger equivalents do, and they are easier to maneuver. (As if I didn't already have enough reason to make the longer drive to Publix.) Riding in the green car loses its novelty after three straight weeks of it, though, so usually Marla will lose interest in going to the store, only to gain it back again a few weeks later.

Also, I let her pick one item of her choice off the shelf (with limitations), whether it's food (i.e. candy, chocolate-flavored cereal, cereal with marshmallows, or chocolate-flavored cereal with marshmallows), or one of those random cheap toys. I've never really thought about those cheap toys they put in random locations in the aisles, but now I know why they they're there: to take advantage of 3-year-olds with sucker parents. Seriously, though, I'd rather spend $3.49 on a toy xylophone than on a box of Lucky Charms.

After about 15 minutes in the store, though, it's, "I'm bored". Especially when I spend 5 minutes in the baby aisle getting all the different flavors of baby food Amber asked me to get for Bruce. (Bruce will eat just about anything we give him! Except prunes.) And, when Marla starts grabbing things off the shelf when you're not looking...that's not good either. I just have to be vigilant as to where I put the cart: not within arm's reach of anything that looks interesting. Also, not within arm's reach of the touch pad at checkout. And if she does grab something and ask if she could have it..."Well, you can't have that thing and this other thing. One thing only, remember?" That actually works pretty well. Haven't had any major meltdowns at Publix so far! (Which is saying something, because at home, even a simple "No, you can't have that thing / do that thing right now" can sometimes spiral into a major tantrum.)

Speaking of checkout...Publix gives kids the hook-up. Crayons, coloring books, stickers...it's almost overwhelming. I don't have the heart to tell the cashiers that we already have six packs of Publix crayons from prior weeks, because the cashiers are so nice. Last week Marla even got a free balloon. And not just any balloon, a helium balloon!

I also enjoy the occasional "teaching moment" at the grocery store. After a few weeks, I was able to teach Marla the concept of "aisle numbers" - where the aisle numbers are posted in the store, and the idea that such-and-such can always be found on aisle 14, for example. Publix has a feature on their website where you can enter in your shopping list, and it will tell you which aisle in the store everything you need is on; that way, you can put your shopping list "in order". (You can also access your list from your smartphone when you're there, but I still think it's easier to look at a paper shopping list than a smartphone shopping list once you're in the store.) But I'm thinking that after a few more trips, Marla will be able to tell me herself which aisle the cereal is on, for example. ... Actually, that's silly, because there are so many other things - useful things - we could be teaching her. No need to clog her brain with the layout of the local Publix. For now I'll just settle for the fact that when I ask Marla what the name of my favorite store is, she says excitedly, "Publix!" (That's not the first grocery store name I've taught her, by the way: "Piggly Wiggly" was the first. Piggly Wiggly was easy to teach - the logo is a pig, and I have a shirt with a giant Piggly Wiggly logo on it. The name Publix was much harder to teach.)

Also, taking Marla to the store helps us explain during the week - to give an example - why we're out of juice boxes, and how long it will be before we have more juice boxes. Now she understands the process by which we buy food, so she doesn't ask us about it all week leading up to it. ... Actually, she does keep asking us about it, but she accepts our answer of "next time we go to the store" more so now than she used to. Even when Marla doesn't go to the store with me, she knows that she can find more juice boxes in the cabinet after I get back, without us telling her. (Good thing, or bad thing?)

Marla and I don't have much one-on-one time away from the house, but for now, we've got our Publix trips. Father-daughter bonding at its best if you ask me.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Subaru Tire Replacement

Ten months in, I'm as happy as can be with my decision to buy a Subaru Forester. However...

So, Amber is in a few "mommy Facebook groups" where moms (and sometimes dads too) ask a wide range of questions. Usually it's about kids pooping in the bathtub or something like that, but there was a car question the other day to the effect of, "I want a small SUV. What should I get?" Amber responded "We like our Subaru!"*, but the author's response was that Subarus have high maintenance costs. We didn't follow up, so I don't know if they were just talking about the fact that the Forester requires synthetic oil instead of conventional (which makes oil changes quite a bit more expensive), or if there was more to it than that.

(* - By the way, almost EVERYONE will tell you that his or her car is the best.)

Well, here's something. All Subarus are All Wheel Drive cars. That's great, and I generally like having an AWD car. However, here's one problem with that: it is very important that all four tires be matched. If the circumference of one tire is longer or shorter than any of the others, because of the way the AWD works, it can break the transmission. And I don't just mean mixing/matching different types of tires; even if one tire is simply more worn than the others - if the difference in tread is 2/32 of an inch or more - that's enough of a difference to cause a huge problem, more so with Subarus than with other AWD cars (source). This doesn't seem to be a thing that car repair places are simply exaggerating for the sake of profit, either. It's a real thing.

The bottom line is this. If you have a Subaru with four partially used tires, and one of them gets punctured beyond repair and has to be replaced, that means you have to replace all four tires. Boo! With every car, there's always something that gets you, it seems.

So, yeah, I had a flat the other day. (Only took 10,000 miles to get my first flat with the Subaru!) Fortunately, it was patchable, so I didn't need a brand new tire...or four brand new tires.

Hopefully every flat I get over the life of the Subaru is a) patchable, and b) happens close to home, because driving on a spare - even a full size spare - for more than just a few miles can cause the same transmission issues as mismatched tires. How likely am I to get that lucky? Well, my Honda had three flat tires in 125,000 miles of driving; two of the flats were patchable, one was not. So...we'll see.

Because of the synthetic oil - and because I pretty much have to rotate the tires with every single oil change to keep the wear as even as possible - I've already resigned myself to the fact that I'll be paying more for maintenance with the Subaru than I did with the Honda. With the Honda, maintenance costs came out to around $500/year over 6½ years. (Most of that was spent on tire-related issues.) With the Subaru, if each oil change + tire rotation is already going to cost me a full $100 - that's how much the first one was, anyway; I may shop around some and see if I can get a better deal - then those costs are going to add up.

On the other hand, Consumer Reports says that Foresters are as reliable as any small SUV on the market (one big reason why I got one), so I am less likely to need major work down the road with the Subaru than with other small SUVs. As long as I keep the tires closely matched, of course.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New Hope Church Road

Many roads in rural North Carolina are named after whatever church happens to be on that road. I don't know the official history behind all this, but the churches have been around for a while, so perhaps before the roads got their official names, that's just how people referred to the roads: "Take the road that goes by New Hope Church" became "Take the New Hope Church road", and then when road names became formalized, "New Hope Church Road" became the official name of the road. (That is 100% speculation on my part, by the way. I have done no research.)

There seem to be a lot of churches named "New Hope Church", and as such, there also seem to be a lot of roads named "New Hope Church Road". There are three in the Triangle area alone, and all of them are completely unrelated to each other (Raleigh, Orange County, NE Chatham County).



This got me thinking: how many "New Hope Church Roads" are there in the entire state? If there are three in the Triangle alone, might every single county in the state have their own "New Hope Church Road"?

Not quite. Via OpenStreetMap (which is actually better than Google Maps for doing this kind of search), here is (I think) the complete list of roads named New Hope Church Road in North Carolina, sorted by county name:

1) Allegheny County (near Laurel Springs)
2) Caswell County (Leasburg)
3) Chatham County (west of Cary / north of Apex)
4) Cumberland County (east of Fayetteville)
5) Edgecombe County (east of Rocky Mount)
6) Montgomery County (Star)
7) Orange County (between Chapel Hill and Hillsborough)
8) Randolph County (near Seagrove)
9) Sampson County (between Clinton and Warsaw)
10) Union County (Marshville, northeast of Monroe)
11) Wake County (Raleigh)

So, there are 11 roads named New Hope Church Road in North Carolina. Let's drive them all!

Now...not every church named "New Hope Church" is on a road named "New Hope Church Road". There appear to be many, many more New Hope Churches in North Carolina then there are New Hope Church Roads. There are also many more "New Hope Roads", or other things named "New Hope" something or other, such as the New Hope Commons shopping center in Durham. How many of those are there in North Carolina? That exercise is left for the reader.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Internet Based Television

Let's start with what's good about streaming television over the internet: I can watch more curling than I ever have before. And now that I have a Chromecast, I can even stream it directly to my television. It's pretty sweet.

Sure, the internet gives you more viewing options than ever before, but regardless, I'm not really a fan of this trend towards internet-based television. It used to be, you just had to pay your cable or satellite provider so much money per month, and you would have access to pretty much all of the television that's out there. Back then, all the best television shows were on widely-available television networks, either on cable or over-the-air. Today, if you want access to all of the best television shows that exist, you have to:
- Pay for a Netflix subscription
- Pay for an Amazon Prime subscription
- Pay for a super fast internet connection that allows you to stream high definition video
- Pay your cable/satellite provider more than you did 10 years ago, even though a much smaller share of the good content is available through cable/satellite compared to 10 years ago
- Pay extra on top of that for channels like HBO and Showtime, which used to just show movies, but now have a lot of very good original programming

So...who says we have to keep that cable/satellite subscription, anyway? Especially now that you can get an online HBO subscription separate from cable/satellite? Well, here are several reasons why cable/satellite is still the best way to watch television, compared to internet streaming...

You need to pay more for internet. I currently pay $30/month for a "basic" 6 Mbps internet connection. It's good enough for my purposes, but it's not quite good enough to stream a single consistent HD picture, let alone multiple HD pictures at once, in case you don't want to watch whatever your kids are watching. If you do a lot of internet streaming, you really need to pay at least twice that much for internet.

Picture quality through cable/satellite is still superior, and much more reliable. Even if you do have a super fast internet connection, video quality through cable/satellite is still superior to the internet, both in terms of picture quality, and reliability. Especially reliability. People complain about the DirecTV signal going out when it rains, but that happens very rarely for me, certainly much less often than when the online service you're streaming from goes down, or the internet in general goes down. Satellite television is actually extremely reliable in comparison.

Commercials. Internet streaming forces commercials on you, and you can't do anything about it like you can with a DVR.

Sports. If you like sports, you can't get by (legally) without a cable/satellite subscription. Many professional sports leagues offer internet-based subscriptions, but they're expensive, and only worth it compared to cable/satellite as sports viewing options if you were thinking of paying for MLB Extra Innings / NHL Center Ice / etc anyway in order to watch a non-local team.

About sports, which is what keeps many people from "cord cutting": it may not take that long - a decade? - for enough online streaming subscriptions to pop up for sports, which will cover the majority of the sports that are currently available on cable/satellite. When that happens, you'll probably start seeing even more "cord cutting"...but when we get to that point, are the cord cutters really going to be saving any money? People talk about the "a la carte" model, where you pay only for the channels you watch, but the general consensus is that if the TV industry went full "a la carte", most of us would end up paying more for television, not less. The online television marketplace is pretty much already "a la carte". It didn't seem like it at first when it was just Netflix, but now you have all these other companies trying to get their foot in the door, and it's only going to get more crowded, not to mention more fragmented. Before long, even the "cord cutters" will be paying over $100/month for television. Hopefully by then, internet streaming will be as reliable and crisp as cable/satellite.

I'm actually glad internet television exists and is growing, because somebody needs to keep the cable/satellite industry in check, but the growing number of shows you can only watch online bothers me. There may come a day when watching television through the internet is better than watching television through cable/satellite, and at that point, everything will be fine...but we're not there yet.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Carol Glover: 1928?-2015 (plus other less important topics)

Rather than write a bunch of different blog posts on a bunch of different topics, let's just cover

Last week, we made an unplanned trip to Toledo due to the death of Amber's grandmother, Carol Glover:


(By the way, they pronounce "Glover" so that it rhymes with "clover", as opposed to the way Danny Glover is pronounced.)

I'm pretty bad at writing sentimental stuff, so I generally try to avoid it, so I'll leave it at this: Amber and her grandmother were pretty close, as close as they could be given how far away we lived. Personally, I find it much easier to accept the death of someone who lived a long, productive life - when you make it past your 80th birthday, you've done well, and Carol made it to 86 years old*, just long enough to meet all of her great-grandchildren, assuming none of us have any "oopsies" down the road. (* - That's her official age - she was adopted, so we don't really know her actual date of birth, hence the question mark in the post title). Regardless, she'll certainly be missed.

Now, the not-awkward-at-all segue to other less important topics:

Road trip notes

And, last week wasn't a particularly fun week, even though we did get an extra road trip out of it. (By "extra" I mean it didn't cost me any vacation time, because company policy gives up to 5 days off if your grandmother-in-law dies and lives over 400 miles away.) I can't say we were really in the road trip mood, though: it's hard these days with the young'uns, and I just drove to Louisiana and back two weeks prior. But, we did learn a couple of things. Normally we start the Toledo drive (to and from) at 4 AM, but due to the suddenness of all this (and other factors such as weather), we started both drives around noon. Turns out, that's not such a bad time to leave, because after sunset, the kids fall asleep, and you can just keep driving as long as you need to. Problem is, you get there late, so I think the super late arrival is only doable if you're driving to somebody's house, rather than a hotel.

One more road trip statistical note, about county visitation: I've wondered how long it would take for Bruce to visit a county that Marla has NOT visited. Marla is older, and the kids always travel together, so Bruce's county map would always just be a subset of Marla's county map, right? Well...Bruce had a really, really hard time napping at Amber's parents' house, and so I took him in the car, without Marla, and drove around northwest Ohio for a couple of hours just so he could nap. (Parents: we've all done the "take the baby in the car because he/she refuses to nap at home" thing, right?) That drive took us to Henry County, Ohio, which Marla has yet to visit. So, congrats, Bruce! You've now visited a county Marla has not. (Marla still has a pretty big lead, of course: 532 to 85.) The next question is how long it will be before Bruce or Marla visit a county that I haven't been to. Somehow I don't see Marla taking a trip to Idaho without me anytime soon.

The weather

This wasn't the absolute worst time to make an emergency trip away from home, because one of the days we were gone, schools and day cares were closed due to 6" (give or take) of snow. We're pretty much over school / day care closings for this winter. On the other hand...we missed a major snowstorm! Oh well. Lots of people actually lost power due to the heavy, wet nature of the snow, which collected on trees and broke lots of branches and whatnot. We didn't actually lose power at our house, though. (I know that because the clocks on our microwaves were still correct when we got back home.) Missing snow is a bigger deal when you have kids, because then you miss a snowman / sledding opportunity, which we don't get too many of around here. We did get a round of sledding in the week before, though, with an inch of sleet-type substance. That stuff wasn't good for making snowmen, though. And of course, by the time we got back home, it had almost all melted, except for plowed piles of snow along the sides of streets and in parking lots.

But, Chris...I bet there was lots of snow in Toledo, right? Well, yes. There was a healthy 6" of snow cover at Amber's parents' house, and we got another few inches on top of that last Sunday. But it was also very cold (for us), so we didn't go outside and play in it or anything. I also passed on a chance to experience below zero temperatures, because I just didn't feel like going outside in it. Missed opportunity!

It's March now, so that means winter is over, right? NO. Last year, local schools had another two to four snow days from March 1st onwards. We may not get that many snow days again this March, but schools will probably be delayed Friday morning due to black ice, with closures possible if it's bad enough. Next week looks to be warm enough to preclude any wintry junk, but that doesn't mean we're in the clear for good. Last year's final snow day of the season wasn't until March 18th.

Did Amber's grandma leave us a huge inheritance?

Uh, no. But I did claim this:


Sadly, I can't get the printer to work.

Any road trip plans for March?

No way. We're staying put for a while.

When is that curling club going to open, anyway?

Hopefully, next week gives us the warm/dry weather we need in order to finish the construction of the Triangle Curling Club. The parking lot is the last major piece we need, and the last two weeks have basically been a complete loss due to all the snow. We're so close!

Speaking of curling, a funny thing happened. I've been watching so much curling - mostly the Canadian championships on ESPN3 - that the other night, given the choice between watching "curling" and watching "something other than curling", I chose "something other than curling". I thought that day would never come, but I think it's a good thing, because it means we've reached saturation in terms of the amount of curling available on TV and online (as least as far as I'm concerned).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Winter Weather: 2015 Edition

You didn't really think we would make it the entire winter without a major snow or ice event, did you?

Prior to this week, RDU Airport's official snow/ice total for the entire 2014-15 Winter was "trace". Now, it's 1.4":


Pretty much every forecast in the 48 hours prior to Monday had more freezing rain potential than the previous forecast, to the point where by Monday afternoon, the forecast discussions mentioned potentially crippling amounts of ice. I was pretty worried about the prospect of a long term power outage, given that this event would be followed by record-breaking cold later in the week (during which it would be nice to have functioning heat), and also because we have two young children. So, one inch of sleet? Great! Just enough to take Marla sledding on Tuesday.

(In defense of the "crippling amounts of ice" forecasts: Winter weather forecasting is extremely difficult, especially when you're in the vicinity of that 0°C line, either at the surface or aloft. And, they did get 0.25"-0.50" of ice accrual farther south towards Fayetteville, which did result in scattered power outages down that way.)

Looks like fun, except that at least one of us has been sick at any given time for the last week, so...maybe this wasn't the best time to be stuck at home for a few days. (Really it was 4½ days, including the 3-day weekend that preceded the sleet.) Working from home is extremely difficult when you have young kids around, especially when one of them, plus your wife, are sick. Honestly, it's been a pretty tough week, and in hindsight, I could have done without this storm. Also...I'm assuming this meant that there was zero construction progress at the Triangle Curling Center this week.

Next up: Friday morning is expected to be the coldest morning in Raleigh since I moved here. I think the coldest temperature recorded at RDU since I moved here (2006) is 7°F, recorded 1/30/2014. Friday's low could approach 0°F. If you ask me, if it's going to be that cold, then let's go negative! But, we probably won't be going negative tomorrow morning. Then, we've got another cold week ahead next week (although probably not this cold), which means if we get any more precipitation next week, it may not be plain old rain.

School closing analysis

The last blog post I wrote about school delays/closings due to the weather got very few clicks, too few for me to justify keeping that up here. So, I'm taking that effort off my personal blog/Twitter and will instead think about directing that info to a more specific audience, for example, a pre-existing Facebook group for local parents.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Silly Solo Trip to Louisiana: Recap

There are a lot of things I could have done with my three days of vacation time. Why did I decide to spend it driving nearly 2,400 miles?


Well, this road trip thing is sort of a fun game. Let's start with the primary goal: how can I visit as many new counties as possible in as little time as possible? I think this is a pretty fun math / map problem to figure out. My chosen route through Alabama-Mississippi-Louisiana gave me 48 new counties (colored dark red on the linked map) - not necessarily the absolute most I could have gotten in three days' time starting/ending from home, but good enough. Since I had three days, I also wanted to take advantage of the time and get farther away from home, even though I could have probably gotten more counties staying a bit closer to home and driving back and forth across Kentucky and Tennessee, perhaps. And, of course, "How likely is Amber going to want to take a vacation here someday" was also a consideration. (We've actually already done road trips to both Alabama and Mississippi. Unlikely to do another one.)

By the way, if you're wondering how much this trip cost me...I spent $155.45 on gas and $131.85 on hotels, for a total of $287.30. That seems like a lot of money to spend for three days of driving, and you're right. Roadgeeking is not the cheapest of hobbies. On the other hand...
- It's not like we've been spending much on travel lately.
- If I had taken this same exact trip one year ago when the average price of gas was $1.15/gal higher, then the trip would have cost me an additional $80.
- If I had taken my Subaru Forester instead of Amber's Mazda 3, then I would have gotten slightly worse gas mileage, and had to spend an additional $40 on gas.
- Really, the most efficient way for me to get the maximum number of new counties would have been to fly to Dallas and rent a car for three days. If I did that, the total trip expense might have even breached $1,000. I have to draw the line somewhere.

Here's another thing that makes this a fun game: timing. How accurate are the Google Maps projected trip times? How much driving can I do by myself in a given day, anyway?

The Google Maps projected trip times are as accurate as they've ever been. Google said the entire trip would take me 35:54 (that's the "no traffic" time, excluding stops). If you subtract out the 12 minutes I spent sitting in Atlanta traffic, the entire trip took me: 36:18. (The Garmin time pictured above is unofficial because it also includes taking exits to gas stations, things like that.) Gone are the days in which map software assumed you would drive 60 mph on the interstate or something silly like that. Google is much more reasonable now. (As for other map websites...who cares? THERE IS ONLY GOOGLE MAPS.)

The drive time distribution over the three days was 12:48, 13:01, and (including the Atlanta traffic jam) 10:41. Was that too much driving? Nope! At least, not in terms of personal stamina. It would have been nice to see some of these places during daylight hours.

So...what did I see on this road trip, anyway? In southern Louisiana, I saw lots of bridges.


And, I saw a lot of French-sounding names.


Seriously, "Acadiana" (as it's known) might be the only part of the country where having a French-sounding name is actually good for business. If your last name is something like "Thibodeaux" and you want to get into politics or law, there's no better place to be than here. Somebody named "Thibodeaux" is far, far more likely to win an election in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country.

The Northern Alabama mountains were scenic - at least, the parts that I saw during daylight hours - but that's about it for scenery. But for some reason, I still enjoy driving through the rural South. It's interesting.

Here's the (approximate) entirety of the route: (Google Maps embedding doesn't work with more complicated routes, apparently. Sorry.)

The reason I took I-75 and I-20 through Georgia on the way back - not part of the original plan - was because I realized that would give me every mile of interstate in Georgia. Hooray! Also, I'm now only 360 miles short of having driven exactly half of the entire interstate highway system. Which has me thinking...if I wanted to, what's the most efficient way for me to get those 360 miles?

On second thought, that's enough of this craziness for a while. By the third day, I was pretty lonely and questioning whether I should have gone on this trip in the first place. In hindsight, two days would have made for a more enjoyable trip than three days. But I couldn't have made it to Louisiana and back in two days, either, so...well, I don't know. Either way, at least now I've been to Avoyelles Parish.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Silly Solo Trip to Louisiana: Preview

Alright, here's the deal. I have five days of vacation time I need to use between now and the end of March, or else I lose it. Amber has pretty much no vacation balance at the moment, and even if she did, now isn't really the optimal time for big family road trips. Other than visiting family, and maybe a quick overnight trip or two to some place close (e.g. Charlotte, the beach), we're holding off on any longer road trips until after Bruce's first birthday. (Just in time for fall!)

I'm saving two of my five vacation days for potential snow days, but for the other three, I'm going on a solo trip to Louisiana next week.


That's a picture I dug up from 2004, when my friends and I drove from Tallahassee to Louisiana for the day. This was one month before I graduated from FSU, because I figured Tallahassee was as close to Louisiana as I was going to get for a while. (I've actually been back to Louisiana a couple times since then, though.)

Why Louisiana? Because I've gathered that of all the places in the US, the "Deep South" is Amber's least favorite place to go. Louisiana may not be 50th out of 50 on her list of "favorite vacation states", but it's gotta be close. I don't want her to miss anything on this trip she would particularly enjoy. But also, I'm going here because there are a lot of counties parishes in Louisiana that I haven't been to yet. And that's really going to be my primary goal on this trip: county collecting.

Actually, there is one drive in Louisiana I think Amber would enjoy: the road from New Orleans down to the Mississippi Delta.



But, I'm not going to do that drive on this trip, not only to save it for another time, but also because that drive would be very inefficient in terms of county collecting. I only have three days*, you know, and most of that time will be spent just getting to and from. Out of these three days, I only expect to spend a total of 7-8 hours actually in Louisiana.

(* - Pre-children, we would make a five-night trip out of three days' vacation, leaving after work on "Day 0", and then being away for three weekdays plus a weekend after that. I'm not leaving for Louisiana until Monday morning, though, so that I don't miss any weekend time with the family. Normally I might use extra vacation time to go to an out-of-town curling bonspiel, but to do that I would have to miss weekend time at home, instead of limiting my time away to work days.)

So instead of going down to the "end of the road", here is the route I'm taking through Louisiana:



(I really hate the new Google Maps embedding, by the way. The old Google Maps was so much better for this.)

Nothing all that exciting, really, but I am going to get lots of newly visited counties parishes out of it! (And, US-90 from New Orleans to Lafayette has always intrigued me for some reason.) The routes I'm taking through Mississippi and Alabama were also specifically designed to maximize my county intake. The goal for the trip is 47 new counties/parishes, which will put me at nearly 55% for the country.

Am I going to be doing any sightseeing during these three days? Nope. Just driving. Louisiana is far enough away from home, three days isn't enough time to go down there and sightsee. Besides, anything worth stopping for, I would want to have the family with me anyway.

Gas prices are low, curling season hasn't started yet, and the weather forecast looks good, both at home and in Louisiana. (By "good" I really just mean "not icy/snowy".) Now is the perfect time for something dumb and silly like this. Weeee!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Kindergarten: Not Too Soon Edition

When the kids are old enough to start kindergarten*, usually the parents are like, "It's WAY TOO SOON for my baby to be starting school already!!" Not us. We'll be prepared.

(* - The word "kindergarten" is long, and hard to type, so for the rest of the post I'm just going to use the letter "K".)

Marla turned 3½ yesterday, and so she's still 19 months away from her first day of K. Too soon to be looking into what we'll need to do this time next year to get her in a good school? Nope. Not at all. Like I said, we're going to be prepared.

I went into this knowing virtually nothing about the logistics of sending our kid to K in Durham, other than that there's an elementary school in our neighborhood, and that there are also these things called "charter schools" and "magnet schools". Here's basically what I think I've learned about how it works in the Durham Public Schools:

- By default, your kid will go to your neighborhood school.
- You can apply to send your kid to a magnet school instead. Entry into magnet schools is 100% lottery based. There is one central lottery encompassing all of Durham Public Schools' magnet schools. Magnet schools are either tailored to a specific subject (e.g. science), or a style of teaching (e.g. Montessori), or are "regular" schools that just happen to be on a year-round calendar, if that's your thing.
- Durham also has free-to-attend charter schools, which might do things a little bit differently than the regular public schools do, I guess. Just like with the magnet schools, admission to charter schools is lottery-based, except that each charter school has its own lottery that you need to apply to separately.

First question: is our neighborhood school any good? Well...I've heard that it's "good enough", but it's not one of the best elementary schools, either, and that some of the magnet schools and charter schools are better options, if we're lucky enough to win their respective lotteries.

Speaking of the lotteries...this year's Durham magnet school lottery (for the 2015-16 school year) closes at the end of January, with results announced in March, and at least one of the charter school lotteries closes at the end of February, with results announced soon thereafter. K registration at neighborhood schools opens in March, so we can wait until after the lottery results before registering at the neighborhood school. (This is the main thing I wanted to look into right away: the deadlines. Don't want to be caught with our pants down this time next year.)

And actually, two of the Durham magnet schools have a pre-K program, which we could send Marla to, for free...if we win the lottery. We applied for those schools this year, although my understanding is that our chances of being selected are next to nothing. May as well apply, though, right? And if even Marla is selected, that doesn't commit us; we can decline the spot for whatever reason.

So, now we already know what we're going to do this time next year when it comes to K registration for Marla. We know which magnet schools, and at least one charter school, we're going to apply to this time next year, and we know when we need to do it. And, we're satisfied "enough" with the local neighborhood school, we won't panic if we don't win any of the lotteries.

And by the way, private schools are too expensive, so...no.

COMMENTARY

If you ask me, this is all kind of silly. But this is what happens with neighborhood-based school systems: schools become segregated, and certain schools end up with a disproportionate number of students from low-income families. Those students typically perform worse on tests, so those schools end up looking bad by all of the various metrics, no matter how "good" the actual school itself is, or the teachers at that school are. The result is a few schools in the district for which the parents are like, "No way I'm sending my kids to that school!" And once a school is stigmatized that way, it is a very, very difficult label to shake, and it only gets worse as time goes on.

The workaround for this problem, so that parents in certain neighborhoods don't get "stuck" sending their kids to "bad" schools? Some districts move kids around in a kind of "hybrid neighborhood" approach, such that each school ends up with similar demographics. Not only does this desegregate the schools, but it also means that there aren't really any "bad" schools in the district. This is what Wake County used to do, to much acclaim...until a few school board members thought that the kids shouldn't be spending so much time on the bus, so they reverted back to neighborhood schools. (That's my understanding, anyway. I don't exactly know what kind of system they use now, or how many magnet / charter schools are in Wake County.)

What most school systems, do, though, is give parents a "choice"...sort of. First, there are magnet schools, often which are located in the poorest areas of town (i.e. the would-be "bad" schools), designed to attract students from all over the county. In cases where that isn't enough, "charter schools" pop up, which are basically the same thing as magnet schools, except that they're independent and not run by the county school system, but are still taxpayer funded and free to attend. But low-income families deserve a "choice", too, so you can't really make attendance at these schools merit-based (i.e. for smart kids only). But since the demand for these alternative schools is, no doubt, overwhelming...lottery it is! So, while it seems like we have options, it really comes down to luck of the draw. As someone who likes to plan ahead - for example, thinking about schools 19 months before either of our children will start attending them - that's a bit disconcerting.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Curling Night In America: The Debut

Even though it's not an Olympic year, it's never been a better time to be a curling fan in the United States. All major Canadian curling championships are available on ESPN3, and now we also have NBCSN's "Curling Night in America", which debuted last Friday night.

What is "Curling Night in America"? It's a made-for-TV tournament that USA Curling hosted back in December, featuring top American teams plus teams from China, Japan, and New Zealand. NBCSN taped the event over a few days with plans to broadcast the curling as part of "Curling Night in America", a six non-consecutive-week series of curling broadcasts airing late night on Friday.

11 PM is waaaaay to late for me to be awake these days, so I DVRed the CNIA debut and watched it the next morning with my kids. (Marla: "I wanna watch 'Mickey Mouse'! Dad: "Sorry, Marla, Mommy and Daddy are watching curling!")

(Actually, in all seriousness, curling grabs Marla's attention more than any other sport I watch on TV. Perhaps because she's actually seen her parents do it? Or, it's just because curling is awesome.)

This is a USA Curling production, so obviously, the goal is to promote USA Curling, particularly the top teams selected to be part of the "High Performance Program" (HPP), aimed at improving our results at the Olympics. The HPP curlers could prove to be very good in another three years, but given that the majority of the curlers in the HPP have zero experience at Olympic or World Championships, they're not there yet. This is a four-year-plan, not a one-year-plan. So, the foreign teams that were invited to participate in CNIA...they aren't the best of the best, exactly. At best, they're comparable in skill level to the USA teams. At worst, they're here just to make USA Curling look good.

Game #1 featured a women's team from the HPP, skipped by Nina Roth (née Spatola), defending national champion. (Roth/Spatola won the national championship last year with a slightly different team.) The opponent was a Chinese team I wasn't familiar with. (It wasn't the top Chinese women's team.) The US team mostly played well, but China won, mostly because of a strategy error by the US in the 4th end in which the US mistakenly gave China an opportunity for three points, which they took. In my limited experience playing Skip on real curling ice, I've had plenty of "Oops, I didn't know that I left them that shot for three" moments. (Except that it was usually for four or five.) That's the sort of thing you learn through experience, and that's one benefit to the HPP program.

"Curling Night in America" is great, but how can it be even better? I've got some ideas:

- It needs to be on every week. One reason the NFL is so popular is because it has consistent timeslots. For example, everyone knows that if it's Monday night, there's football on. (During the season, at least.) Not that curling will ever be the NFL, but the best way to build an audience is to have a consistent weekly timeslot. For next year, double the length of the CNIA series and have it on every week from mid-January through early April.

- More spectators, louder spectators. Watching the Canadian events with large audiences, you can definitely feel the buzz and the excitement from the crowd. The site of the CNIA broadcasts, the Four Seasons Curling Club in Blaine, Minnesota, seemed awfully quiet. (Maybe this was the 9 AM draw?) Since this is a made-for-TV event, they should have done what they could to fill the bleachers to the max and encourage the spectators to CHEER! Don't just clap politely when the USA makes a nice shot. Go nuts! They still should not cheer for opponent misses, though.

- A better time slot...maybe. Friday at 11 PM doesn't sound like a great time slot, but...here's why I'm actually warming up to it. Curling has a "cult following", right? I think it makes perfect sense to broadcast a "cult following" sport at this hour. Curling fans are dedicated, and they'll find it whenever it's on. And there's little competition to speak of at that hour, so CNIA has the potential to take over the timeslot, if you will. It's Friday night? TIME FOR CURLING! Although, while there has been plenty of social media buzz in the days/weeks leading up to Curling Night, there was very little buzz during the broadcast, even among all of the curling people I follow on Twitter and Facebook.

- Broadcast some non-US events. It was logistically easiest to film the entire six-week series in one weekend, sure. But CNIA would be better if it featured games from different tournaments. It doesn't have to feature a US team all the time, either. Maybe feature something international, either from Canada or the World Championships? Maybe find the Norwegian men's team - you know, the one with the pants - and film whatever tournament they happen to be playing in next weekend? Even casual curling fans would recognize the Norwegians. Of course, that would have to be up to NBCSN, not USA Curling, and CNIA is as much a product of USA Curling as it is NBCSN, if not more so.

Curling Night In America continues...not this week (see what I mean?), but the following Friday, February 6, at 11 PM Eastern.

By the way...I MISS CURLING SOOOOO MUCH. I have played a total of two games in the last six months, and it's killing me. All this curling on television and whatnot is great, but it's making me miss playing that much more. The new Triangle Curling Club building can't open soon enough.

Fun Fusion Indoor Playground

I don't do playground reviews anymore because by now, I've seen it all. INDOOR playgrounds, however...

So, it's Saturday, and it's raining. You want to get out of the house, ideally somewhere where your child(ren) can play. But you don't really feel like going to the usual children's museums like Marbles or the Museum of Life and Science, either, because you've already been to each of those places, like, a lot. (But not so often that it's worth getting a membership, either.) Where to?

Locally, two places come mind: Defy Gravity, an indoor trampoline park of sorts, and Monkey Joe's, which has a bunch of inflatable castles and slides and stuff. (I think. Their website isn't particularly detailed as far as exactly what they have there.) We've never been to either of them because we just assume that, like Marbles, they're always insanely crowded on rainy Saturdays. According to the online reviews, Monkey Joe's is an absolute mad house. As for Defy Gravity, it seems a little too "big kid" for a 3-year-old.

We're no strangers to driving out of town to smaller attractions because they're likely to be less crowded than anything in Raleigh or Durham. So, we drove to a place called "Fun Fusion" in Mebane, 30 minutes from our house. (By our standards, that's pretty close.) There you'll find inflatable castles and slides and trampolines and stuff.


Marla loved it! Big win for us, and it wasn't crowded at all, at least at first. It started to fill up later in the afternoon.

Fun Fusion is relatively new business, such that if you look it up on Google Street View, you'll see a sign that says "Opening Summer 2013!"



The pricing is very affordable: parents are free, infants are free (not much for old Bruce to do there yet), and Marla was $8.50. So between that and the (lack of) crowds, and this place's "newness", and the fact that it's hidden in a nondescript office building in downtown Mebane, it makes me wonder: can they stay in business? I hope so, because we really liked it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Snow Day Forecasts: 1/7/15 - 1/15/15

Back in November, I said that I would try my hand at predicting when Triangle-area schools would delay or close due to the weather, with a focus on the following public school systems: Wake County, Durham County, Orange County, and Chapel Hill-Carrboro. The last couple of weeks gave me some opportunities, so let's see how we did:

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Synopsis: It's cold! The forecast low was 11°F with wind chills below 0°F, and a Wind Chill Advisory was issued for the entire area. But is that enough to prompt schools to delay? ... Well, maybe. Last winter, there were Wind Chill Advisories on two separate days: one delayed all schools two hours (1/7/14), and one did not (1/24/14). I thought this would be cold enough to prompt delays.

What actually happened: Many rural school districts delayed schools by two hours, but Wake County and Durham County did not delay. Wind chills never actually got below zero in the Triangle, but they got close.

Bottom line: That 1/7/14 cold snap was especially unique, giving the Triangle its coldest temperatures / wind chills in over a decade. Plus, everyone was panicking about the "polar vortex". (1/7/14 was basically "peak polar vortex panic".) So, maybe that was an exceptional case, and that it takes the kind of cold snap that only happens once every few years to close the largest area school systems (Wake and Durham counties). Most everyone else in the area, though, including Orange County and Chapel Hill-Carrboro, did post a two hour delay. Haven't yet figured out exactly what amount of "cold" it takes to delay schools, but it's clear that a Wind Chill Advisory is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition.

(By the way...I'm not taking it upon myself to judge whether the schools' decisions are "right" or "wrong", or whether schools should have been delayed or closed or whatever. All I'm trying to do is analyze and predict what they do, not whether that's what they should have done.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Synopsis: Freezing rain was a near certainty, but...how much, and where? Throughout the week the forecasts went everywhere from "nuisance event affecting only bridges and elevated surfaces" to "possible 1/4-inch of ice resulting in scattered power outages". While we were under a Winter Storm Watch for a time, the final forecast was closer to the "nuisance event" side of things: Winter Weather Advisory for around 0.10" of ice, with higher amounts east of the Triangle along I-95. I figured school delays were all but certain, and that closings would depend on the impacts, with closings more likely east.

What actually happened: Tuesday night, all schools announced a two-hour delay. Ice totals underperformed the forecast region-wide (I think), and RDU only reported 0.02" of freezing rain. But that was still enough to cause icy roads and several accidents Wednesday morning, and that prompted all local schools to close for the entire day...except Wake County, which kept the two-hour delay intact. Because ice amounts were light everywhere, roads were actually worse north/west (Durham / Orange) than they were east (Wake), due to colder temperatures.

Bottom line: It doesn't take much ice to close schools for the day. Basically, the threat of freezing rain - any freezing rain worthy of a Winter Weather Advisory or more - will, at minimum, delay schools. Then, schools usually wait until the morning to decide whether or not to close for the day. Generally speaking, lots of weather-related accidents = closed for the day, although larger school districts like Wake have a larger threshold for that. Although, being a large school district, Wake County also has to consider conditions in the entire county, which can vary greatly. See how complicated this is? Still, I thought I had a pretty good feel for what would happen here.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Synopsis: So, the "ice storm" is over. We're out of the woods now, right? ... Nope! Temperatures will drop back below freezing overnight, so any remaining puddles / wet spots will refreeze, resulting in a new black ice threat. Although, the NWS technical discussion (my primary source for weather forecast info) only said the threat would be "isolated" or "patchy" - I forget the exact word they used, but the black ice threat wasn't enough to prompt a new Winter Weather Advisory, only a less severe "Special Weather Statement".

What actually happened: Most schools delayed two hours (Chapel Hill-Carrboro a notable exception), citing conditions on untreated secondary roads. Temperatures largely stayed at or above freezing across the Triangle, and roads were mostly fine - certainly nothing like the day before.

Bottom line: Even after a small ice or snow event, it sometimes takes longer than it seems it should for schools to return to normal schedule. That's because secondary roads are low on NCDOT's winter maintenance priority list, meaning they won't return to "normal" until they melt/dry on their own. That can sometimes take a couple of days, especially in January. Thus, depending on how quickly temperatures moderate, public school delays/closures tend to linger after ice/snow events, even if everything looks fine at your house. This is more true in county-wide schools districts than it is in a city school district such as Chapel Hill-Carrboro, which saw fit to open on schedule Thursday morning. These kinds of "residual" storm-related delays are very hard to predict more than a day in advance, I'm finding. I honestly thought we'd all be back to normal schedule by today, but "no Winter Weather Advisory" does not mean "all clear".

Snow day totals for the season

Wake County: 0 closed, 2 delayed, 0 closed early
Durham County: 1 closed, 1 delayed, 0 closed early
Orange County: 1 closed, 2 delayed, 0 closed early
Chapel Hill-Carrboro: 1 closed, 1 delayed, 0 closed early

Still have a long way to go to match last season's totals.

The week ahead

No more weather-related delays/closures are expected for at least the next week. But, the medium and long range folks are saying that the end of January / early February could be quite interesting. If so, hopefully it will be more "snow" than "ice".

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Frontier DSL

We've gotten our internet through Time Warner for the last six years. I've been reasonably happy with it, because it's more reliable and consistent than our old BellSouth/AT&T DSL was. But, one thing that's bothered me about Time Warner is that we don't have access to ESPN3. If you get both television and internet from Time Warner, then you do get ESPN3. But, if you're an internet-only Time Warner customer like me, then ESPN3 is blocked. Like Time Warner, Comcast also takes a lot of crap for being an awful telecom provider, but even they give their internet-only customers access to ESPN3. (This is sort of separate from WatchESPN, which does require a TV subscription, no matter who your provider is. This only concerns ESPN3's online exclusives.)

ESPN3 airs a lot of low-grade college football and basketball, and also the CFL, among other things. I've always figured I could live without all of that in the name of better internet service. UNTIL NOW:

ESPN today announced it has acquired the rights from the Canadian Curling Association to deliver more than 300 hours of live action from the Seasons of Champions curling events on ESPN platforms [i.e. ESPN3] in the U.S. through March 2015.

First off, what took so long? If you ask me, the Canadian curling events - specifically, the women's and men's championships (a.k.a. the "Scotties" and the "Brier") - are as good as it gets. Given how many other obscure sports ESPN3 has in their catalog, why did it take them so long to add Canadian curling? Surely, the broadcast rights for the Canadian curling events couldn't have cost ESPN that much.

In any case, now I have a choice to make: downgrade my internet back to DSL so that I can watch ALL THE CURLING? Well, good news: DSL technology is better than it used to be, and the company offering DSL in my current neighborhood - Frontier - is (supposedly) better than AT&T. And, Frontier offers the same (advertised) internet speed that I currently get through Time Warner, but for $20/month cheaper.

We actually switched to Frontier three weeks ago. So far so good, and today we get to watch curling!

(Side note: Literally less than a week after we switched to Frontier primarily so we could access ESPN3, DirecTV/ESPN announced a new agreement that would offer authenticated WatchESPN + ESPN3 access to its television subscribers, including us. But, it sounds like that won't be implemented until later this year, likely after curling season is over. So, we made the right move, plus we're saving a good deal of money on a seemingly - so far - equivalent product.)

(Side note #2: Everyone says that Time Warner likes to make it hard to cancel your service, but the guy I talked to on the phone wasn't difficult at all. Still, I'm half-expecting them to keep sending me bills.)