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Scott Catron

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Black Friday

Well, I did something I never thought I would - set an alarm for 4:30 am on the Friday after Thanksgiving so I could go to a 5 am sale on Black Friday.

Circuit City had a Sharp 19-inch LCD HDTV on sale for $250 - normal price is $429.99. I've been wanting a new TV for our bedroom for a year or more. The current one was 19-inch also, but much larger then an LCD, and the video RCA input was dicey. I'd have to jiggle it every time I popped a tape in the VCR to get any image. Also, we use rabbit ears, and the reception of the channel we watch the most was terrible - snowy would describe it best. I knew the over-the-air HD signals would be a nice change, and the analog channels are disappearing altogether in January 2009.

I'd been looking at prices on Amazon.com and the local Costco. Similar-sized TVs were in the $350-400 range, so the sale price was very attractive.

So I got up and got to the store at 5 am - only to see the line was around the block. I figured 19-inch TVs weren't going to be the big draw, and I had a list of other places to hit so I went to Old Navy to get sweater for Girl 1. 30 minutes later the Circuit City line is only around the corner of the building, so I get in line. 25 minutes later, I'm in.

First, let me drop some advice - scope out the check-out lines before choosing one. Find one that leads to the most checkers. For example, the line that leads to three registers instead of one. It will probably move three times as fast as the line with one checker. Don't listen to any employee if they suggest you shift to another line. They don't care how long you wait - even if it's 2.5 hours. Or more.

Can you see where this is going?

By the time I was done (about 8:45 am), I had the TV - there were plenty available - three Cruzer 2MB USB drives (for $8) and a camera case for $5.

I was worth it, I guess - saving at least $100 for 175 minutes of my time in line. Plus, the HD reception is something to behold. The extra channels are nice too. There's a weather-only channel that's great if you miss the forecast on the news.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

The most boring road

We've done some considerable driving this year - to Southern California, Wisconsin and Western Oregon. We've driven across the full width of the following states: Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota (via I-90), South Dakota, Oregon & Nevada. By far, the drive along I-80 across Nevada is the worst.

It didn't help that there were multiple fires in the area, leaving the sky a dull brown and reducing any mountains in the area to ghostly outlines. Rivers or creeks along the way were dry, the scrub brush was either a dull gray or burned from previous fires. The whole 410 miles was other-worldly, and not in the cool-it's-an-alien-world way, but more like a this-is-where-aliens-send-exiles kind of vibe.

We passed the time by watching an empty soda can vibrate around in the cup holder. I even took video of it.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

How sweet is it?

I love Sweet Tea. We used to see it a lot when we lived in Missouri - Catfish Annie's in Lee's Summit, for example - but haven't seen much of it it Utah.

Then we got a Chick-fil-A nearby and discovered they have Sweet Tea on the menu. They serve it like iced tea should - not pre-chilled, but poured into a cup full of ice. Now, Arizona Ice Tea has their own sweet tea - the 23.5 oz cans are 99 cents at the nearby Harmon's.

I was curious about how much sugar this stuff has, and was sort of amazed to find out it has about 25% less sugar then Mountain Dew. The Arizona Sweet Tea has 23g of sugar and 80 calories per 8 oz. A Dew has 31 g of sugar and 113 calories.

I've tried to make it on my own using my Mr. Coffee ice tea brewer with mixed results. The brewer works like a drip coffee machine, with tea bags used in the filter instead of coffee, and it drips into a pitcher full of ice.

I should be able to figure out how much sugar to add to the filter with the tea bags. Referring to the Arizona label, there's 23 grams of sugar per 8 oz of tea. If my pitcher holds 1.5 quarts, I should use about 5 ounces of sugar - about 13.5 tablespoons, or just over 3/4 cup. That seems like a lot, but I'll give it a try.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Recent Gas Prices

Here's the recent price movement at the Costco near my home in Sandy, Utah:

(price per gallon, all for 85 octane - we're at 4500 feet here)

Feb 14: $1.999
Feb 28: $2.069
Mar 19: $2.309
Mar 27: $2.399
Apr 09: $2.539
Apr 11: $2.549
Apr 20: $2.639
Apr 25: $2.739
May 10: $3.049
May 23: $3.129

That's a $1.13 increase in 98 days, or 56%.

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Fantasy Baseball 2007

I'm a fantasy sports nerd. I started in the early 80s with the Strat-O-Matic basketball game we had. I had cracked the code to make new player cards using current stats, but I also made my own 8-team league using a random-player generator I developed and played a 56-game season.

From there I started participating in a turn-a-week basketball league run by L&L Activities in Terre Haute, Indiana. I'd write down my lineups and mail them in with a weekly fee dependent on whether I made any roster moves or not. I even won the overall (across all basketball leagues) championship one year with the mighty Maulers.

With the spread of the Internet, all the work and expense for players has gone away. No longer do I need to sit and run through the free agent listings with my calculator to see if anyone is worth picking up - Yahoo! ranks them for me in their free fantasy leagues. It even keeps track of my results over the years (you have to log into Yahoo to view, however - go to the Fantasy Profile page, log in, then enter 'zaui' in the COMPARE PROFILES area and click 'compare') - since 1999 I've been in 35 baseball, football or basketball leagues and have finished 1st 5 times, 2nd 4 times and 3rd 9 times.

Anyway, enough of my fantasy cred, I'm in 4 baseball leagues this year, but only really care about one and a half of them. One league I created, but only got six teams (I started late - after the season started), so everyone has an all-star lineup. This makes is much less interesting then a normal 12-team league, so I'm only caring about it half of what I should. The league I care the most about is a 12-team public head-to-head league, just because it's very competitive.

I've made two trades so far this year, which is rare these days, just because folks are afraid to screw it up.

My first was to get rid of Barry Bonds. The league draft was auto-pick, meaning the Yahoo computers ran the draft and players were assigned by their default ranking in Yahoo.

My team started out like this:

(round, pick#, player)

1. (1) Albert Pujols
2. (24) Travis Hafner
3. (25) Derek Jeter
4. (48) Garrett Atkins
5. (49) Carlos Zambrano
6. (72) Gary Sheffield
7. (73) Billy Wagner
8. (96) J.J. Putz
9. (97) Matt Cain
10. (120) Josh Barfield
11. (121) Chad Cordero
12. (144) Álex Ríos
13. (145) Scott Podsednik
14. (168) Bob Wickman
15. (169) Pedro Martínez
16. (192) Bengie Molina
17. (193) Nomar Garciaparra
18. (216) Barry Bonds
19. (217) Ken Griffey Jr.
20. (240) Ted Lilly
21. (241) Kelvim Escobar

Since dropped: Kelvim Escobar (hurt), Ken Griffey Jr. (old), Nomar Garciaparra (old), Bengie Molina (slow start), Bob Wickman (hurt), Scott Podsednik (hurt), Chad Cordero (no room - didn't need 4 closers at the time) and Josh Barfield (slow start)

Picked up: Ryan Doumit (replaced Molina), Hunter Pence, Reggie Willits, B.J. Upton, Howie Kendrick, Dan Uggla, Ryan Zimmerman, Dan Wheeler (replaced Wickman) and James Shields (replaced Escobar)

Of my top 5 guys, 3 have been disasters this year - Pujols (the #165 player right now, according to Yahoo!), Atkins (#699) and Zambrano (#878).

It's no surprise I'm 37-32-1 and 6th place - but that's not bad - the top six teams make it to the playoffs at the end of the year.

Bonds was a surprise right out of the gate - rocketing to a top-10 ranking in Yahoo. But I knew it wouldn't last - he's too old to stay healthy or be very consistent. So I put a note out to the league that I would entertain trade offers for him. There was only one team that responded. After some back-and-forth, they offered Joe Blanton and Mark Hendrickson for Bonds, then Luis González, Joe Blanton and Roger Clemens for Bonds & Shields.

I rejected those and offered Bonds for Scott Kazmir - his 2nd or 3rd best starting pitcher. He took it right away, which made me think I may have been able to do better. But Kazmir is 23 and had a good season last year, so I thought it was worth the offer.

Since the trade two weeks ago, Kazmir has been OK - 2 starts, no wins, 9 innings, 3.00 ERA, 13 K, 1.78 WHIP (walks + hits per inning).

But Bonds has been awful. While I had him he was hitting .318/.520/.753 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 11 HR, 23 RBI and 24 runs. Since I traded him, he's 4-25 (that's .160 - all singles) with 4 runs and ZERO RBI. He's now hitting .282/.503/.618.

I'M KING OF THE WORLD!!!!!!

Ahem, anyway I've made another trade that will be in effect this weekend - Upton and Pence for Carl Crawford. Pence and Upton are two flavors-of-the-month this year - both doing very well (Upton is #22 and Pence is #75 after almost a month of play) after being ranked in the hundreds (Upton #187 and Pence #743) at the start of the year - but Crawford is a legitimate top-10 player. He's only ranked #43 by Yahoo right now, but he's too good to stay down for long. So basically I'm getting a first-round guy for two I picked up for nothing.

I'M KING OF THE WORLD!!!!!!

I have to come up with at better war cry.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Diet Coke Plus Caffeine Report

Harv asked about caffeine in the new Diet Coke Plus. My initial reaction was, "Don't know", but thinking about it more, perhaps the label can give us some clues. The first clue is the list of ingredients - Caffeine is after Acesulfame Potassium (an artificial sweetener) and before Zinc Gluconate. This should be enough to do a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the the upper and lower levels of Caffeine, since ingredients are supposed to be listed by descending amount.

The lower bound is easy - the second clue on the label is that there is 15% of the daily recommended value (RV) of Zinc in one 12 oz bottle. A quick Google search found the RV for Zinc to be 8-11 mg. Picking 10 mg, 15% of that is 1.5 mg. Using the mole ratio of Zinc Gluconate to Zinc (455.685/65.39), the amount of Zinc Gluconate in the 12 oz bottle is about 10.5 mg.

The upper bound is a bit more tricky, but at this site, discussing safe levels of Acesulfame Potassium consumption, it states that there's 900 mg of Acesulfame Potassium in roughly two gallons of beverage. This works out to be about 42 mg in a 12 oz bottle (12 oz/256 oz (two gallons) x 900 mg).

So the amount of Caffeine is between 10 and 42 mg. Looking at a table of Caffeine content, this looks like it should be in the ballpark - Diet Coke has about 46 mg, Coke Classic has 34 mg.

So Diet Coke Plus probably has a similar amount of Caffeine that 'normal' Diet Coke has.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Jazz-Warrior series

I thought the Jazz were going to fall into the same trap in their second-round series against the Warriors that the Houston Rockets did against the Jazz in the first round - win two close games at home, get blown out in two games on the road, win a close one at home, lose badly again on the road, then lose game seven at home. Well, no such luck for Golden State fans.

The young Jazz grew up a lot last night, down three entering the 4th quarter of game 4 last night in Oakland, they blow by the Warriors, outscoring them 40-23 on the way to a 115 - 101 win and a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

If anyone told you at the start of the season that the Jazz would end up one game away from the Western Conference finals, you'd think they were nuts.

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