California trip, Part 2

After my earlier wanderings in California, and my adventures at Wheel of Fortune, we tried to figure out a good spot to eat lunch. We decided on the Stinking Rose, a “garlic-themed” Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills. We made our way over there (through traffic, of course!) and it took awhile to find somewhere to park, but then I realized that there was free on-site parking (score!) Lunch was good. I had the ravioli which was not overly garlic-y, though I did have a bit of PJs garlic pizza which was quite garlic-y. When lunch was over, and the waiter came back offering dessert, we asked him if there was anything with garlic. We thought we were so clever, but in the voice of someone who has probably heard that 1000 times, he did mention there was garlic ice cream (eww?).

By the time that we were done with lunch, it was around 3pm, and Anne and PJ decided to head back home. After some consultation, Kerry and I decided to head down to Santa Monica. So after we changed out of our WoF clothes and into something a bit more casual, we headed out. Traffic actually wasn’t TOO much of a pain but it took us a bit of time once we were down there to find somewhere to park. We ended up in an $8 public lot right by the Santa Monica Pier. I had brought a swimsuit to potentially go ocean diving but I had failed to get a towel. I remember intentionally not packing one figuring I could pick one up from my aunt and uncle. And while I’m sure I could have, I had forgotten to actually DO that :-D .

We walked up and down the pier for a bit, checking out the sights. Kerry rode one of the carvinal-style rides, and we checked out the markers denoting the end of the famous Route 66 highway.

We got an ice cream which was decent yet over-priced, and I found a penny (one of only 2 coins found during my whole trip!) While we were walking back on the pier we saw a crowd forming and looked over and it appeared that someone was shooting a movie there! Nobody I recognized and judging from the looks of it, probably a minor / indie project but it was still cool.

After that, I swung by the bathroom there and changed into my swimsuit and we headed off the pier down to the beach. Having had quite the experience in jumping in large bodies of water, it was fun, and I even got in a sweet wave jump. After a bit of playing around, we headed back to the car and back to Calabasas. Rather than going back via the interstates, we decided to drive back via the Pacific Coast Highway and Topanga Canyon which was nice.

We had dinner with Larry and Anne and I turned in pretty early in the evening. The time zone differential, coupled with knowing I’d have an early start the next morning made me feel awful tired. Got up about 3:45 the next morning to take Kerry back to Sacramento. Well, to take Kerry back AND FOR COUNTIES!!!! I had a route planned out which would let me pick up 25 new counties in California. When I explained to my aunt about how I was going to drive to Sacramento and back to LA in one day, she totally thought I was crazy. And frankly, who’s to say she was wrong? :-)

First problem was when we were trying to get onto I-405 north from US 101. You know how lots of times when you’re driving on Interstates, and you see electronic signs alerting you to lane or exit closures at some crazy early time and you kind of ignore them because who drives in the middle of the night? Well, alas, that happened to us. The exit ramps to NB 405 were closed until 5 a.m., and it was only about 4:25. So we had to detour around which thankfully didn’t take too much time or effort. After that, it was a pretty straight shot from I-405 to I-5 to CA-99. Thanks to the time change, even though it was awful early, I was still able to call home and talk to Carolyn for a bit. I did feel a bit sleepy while it was still dark, but once the sun came up, I didn’t have much of a problem. Kerry slept most of the early morning, until a slight detour off of CA 99 to get Kings County. While we were there, we stopped to get gas and some snacks, and I regaled the attendant with my amazing celebrityhood. We took a wrong turn to get back to the highway and drove down the main street of Kingsburg, which is apparently famous for its “Swedish Festival“.

Continuing on Route 99 through Fresno (the most populous US city without an Interstate in its borders), we got Kerry back home to Sacramento a little before noon. I spent an hour or two hanging out with her and her family, which was nice, as I hadn’t even met my youngest niece and nephew and hadn’t seen the other one in many years.

I had brought them each a little present so I could try and cement my status as “the cool uncle” :-) , and it was good to see everyone. But I couldn’t stay too long, as I still had about 10 hours before I’d be back to my bed, so after some directions to a grocery store (to pick up the obligatory “Dan travel snack” of lemon cookies), I was on my way.

There was some bad construction / traffic on I-80 westbound just west of Sacramento, but it cleared up before too long. I was listening to an Orson Scott Card book called Pastwatch, which I found quite enjoyable. I had read the book a few years ago but it was definitely a good listen also. I did one out and back on my way to San Francisco (to pick up Contra Costa County) and then approached San Francisco from the north. I got off of 101 right before the Golden Gate bridge and went up into the foothills to take a few pictures.

It was hard finding somewhere to park but I managed okay. It was here that a wave of sadness hit me in that I was getting to see all these cool sights and I had to do it all alone :( . It just wouldn’t work out that Carolyn and/or the kids could come with me, and there was nothing that could be done about it, but it still made me sad.

After crossing the Golden Gate into San Francisco, I made my way over to Lombard Street, billed as the “most crooked street in the world”. Traffic was moderately heavy in-town, but it got worse as I got going up the hill to the top of Lombard. The hill was pretty steep (of course) and I had to resort to driving with two feet – left one on the brakes and right one to push the gas. There was a lot of peeling out from cars, both from myself and from other cars. As I got closer to the top of the hill, I decided to pull an audible and instead of driving down the street, I parked off to the side and just walked the block and a half to the top and then walked down the crooked part.

With not a ton of time to spare, I figured that would work. I’ll have to remember next time if I’m in the area that it’s probably best to approach Lombard from a side street near the top of the hill. At the bottom, I decided to use my iPad to record a video of me trying to set a record for the fastest time to run up the steps. I didn’t get a great time (too many people in the way!) but it was fun.

Then it was back in my car and I drove down to Fisherman’s Wharf. I had some directions printed out about where to park but while driving, I decided to pull an audible and parked underneath Ghirardelli Square. I had planned on buying some chocolate there so I thought I could get some validated parking. But first, I hoofed it over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I took in the sights and stopped by the Musee Mecanique, which was pretty cool. Then I ordered a crab sammich (seemed like the thing to do) and by then it was time for me to head back to my car. I stopped into the Ghirardelli store and bought some chocolate, but not nearly enough to get my parking validated. It worked out okay though because I had only been there a little bit so the parking charge was not egregious. There was one guy painted all silver who was “posing” as a statue

Then I drove along the bay on the Embarcadero. Passed one homeless guy begging that I thought had a funny line – he would tell passersby “I’m looking for a down payment on a hamburger”. A little bit later, I passed AT&T Park and apparently there was a Giants home game – even though it was only about 5pm local time, there were a lot of folks dressed in orange and black. I was wearing my orange Browns shirt, so at least I was fitting in color-wise :-) . A little south of that, I got back onto the highway and then it was a long drive back to Los Angeles. For the most part (350+ miles) I was on US101, with only a few detours around (for counties!) A little north of Los Angeles, my route had me cut over on CA134, which saved a few minutes versus just staying on 101. Tragically, a few miles in, I was pulled over by the cops. The officer said I didn’t have my lights on, as well as that I was “following too closely” to the car in front of me. It turned out that I just had the running lights on, even though I had had no problem seeing things. He only cited me for the following though, which turned out to be a $247 ticket (!)

I got back to my aunt and uncle’s house around 10:30 p.m. and headed off to bed. I had another early morning – had to be up on the road by 530 or 6 in order to make it to the airport for an 8:15 flight. No real problems there – I had a bit of trouble finding the Avis dropoff but no big deal. Flight was normal and got back home around 3 or 4 in the afternoon. All in all, a very fun trip!

2009 Staycation, Part 3

Part 3 of the great 2009 Staycation! (Part 1 and Part 2)

Saturday and Sunday we hung out at my parents house. For some reason we didn’t really take any pictures, so…. sorry! Saturday we had some friends of ours (the Olmsteds and Broadbents) that had moved from Cincinnati to Cleveland over for a BBQ. Unfortunately the weather did not really cooperate (it rained all day) but it was still fun.

Sunday we had church and then a bunch of family came over for a big pancake / waffle brunch. We had my uncle Rick and aunt Jackie along with all of their kids and grandkids, as well as my aunt Pam and uncle Greg and family. It was nice to see all of them and have our kids play with some of their second cousins.

Monday we packed up and headed home. But not before forgetting quite a bit of things at my parents house (grrr)

First stop of the day was exciting Campbell Hill. (Well actually before that we stopped for lunch). Campbell Hill is the highest point in Ohio (1529 ft)

The high point is actually on the campus of the “Hi Point Career Center” (a vocational school). We passed it up first because we were not sure if that was it or not.

I know 1529 ft sure seems “real” high, especially for those of you out west who are used to much higher elevations. I’m sure you’ll be even more impressed when I tell you about our “grueling” ascent to the summit. (You can drive all the way to the top :-) ). It reminded me a lot of our trip to Reddish Knob last year in Virginia.

100_5554
Here is the marker.

100_5558
The fam in front of the sign.

As I was signing the logbook, Carolyn made some sort of joke about how if that was where losers like me signed in. And I said of course! and then noted that already today, 2 other folks had already been here! Kind of crazy. Also saw a group that was trying to do all 48 state highpoints in 3 weeks. Sounds like my kind of folks!

There was a grassy hill off to the other side of the high point, which we sent the kids running down and up a few times to tire them out. But then, having had NEARLY our fill of excitement, we loaded everyone back in to the hill and headed west!

For yes, one highpoint is NOT enough. Hoosier Hill is only about an hour or so west, just across the Indiana border. Kids were glad to know that Ohio “won”, since the highpoint of Indiana is only 1257 ft.

Also a driveup, though the approach is even less well marked.

100_5565
Kids in front of the Hoosier Hill sign.

100_5568
And here is Carolyn, showing her true feelings of contentment, happiness and joy upon reaching the highest point in Indiana.

100_5569
And this is Carolyn pretending to be annoyed at having to drive out of the way to visit this exciting part of Americana!

We got home about 5:30 and unpacked and hung out and such. Carolyn and I celebrated by getting a pizza and root beer and playing Mario Kart, a nice throwback to our early married days!

Remember, the budget is $250.

Earlier days: $83
Saturday: $3 for watermelon (though that does not count the $1.92 in coins I found while out shopping!)
Sunday: nothing
Monday:

  • $30 in gas
  • $13 for Wendys
  • $33 in gas
  • $8 for the pizza and root beer

Total so far: $170

EFC

So one of the things that they do at work is offer occasional lunch seminars.  They have a free lunch and have various topics.  Some are interesting, and some I just go for the free lunch.  Okay, that’s a lie – I go to all of them for the free lunch.  But nevertheless, some of them just turn out to be interesting :-)

So over the past few weeks, I’ve attended two interesting ones – one was about retirement planning in a down economy, and another was about saving for college.  Of course, as I said to one of my co-workers – the first thing about saving for retirement is taking advantage of free lunches!

The other day at the college one, I learned about EFC.  Now, I think of EFC as <a href=”http://everywhatever.blogspot.com/2007/12/efc-ohio-table-of-contents.html”>Every Freakin County</a> but in the context of college savings, EFC is the Expected Family Contribution.  Basically when filling out financial aid forms, the government looks at your income and assets and determines how much you are expected to contribute to your child’s education.

It was interesting.  There are of course a plethora of online calculators for EFC.  I used <a href=”http://www.finaid.org/calculators/finaidestimate.phtml”>this one</a>.  I just plugged in my tax info and assumed it was 10 years from now (one of the things it asks for is the age of the oldest parent).  It came up with an EFC of $6,000.  So then I ran a few spreadsheet simulations to figure out when different folks would be in college.  Accounting for missions and such, and assuming 5 years per kid, it looks like we will have 3 in college in 2025, 2026 and 2029.  The EFC is not per student but per family, so if you had an EFC of $6,000 and 2 kids, it would be $3,000 per kid.  Though your EFC goes up (but not double) as you have more kids in school.  So with 2 kids in school maybe your EFC would be $7,000.

Anyway, my (really rough) calculations said that 5 kids at 5 years per kid will cost us about $100,000.  And that is just to pay our EFC – the rest would have to be either loans, grants, scholarships, or additional savings.  But it definitely made me feel a little better about things.

Vacation road trip report

So those of you who don’t subscribe to my other blog Every Whatever might have missed a recap of the various trips that we recently took to / from North Carolina.

Day 1: Cincinnati to Hershey: 27 counties (7 new)
Day 2: Hershey to Kitty Hawk: 21 counties (19 new)
Day 3: Kitty Hawk to Blacksburg 25 counties (22 new)
Day 4: Blacksburg to Cincinnati: 21 counties (16 new)

Of course, it has not escaped my attention that the reason you might not be subscribed to Every Whatever is that you find road trip reports intensely boring. In that case, feel free to head on over to Carolyn’s vacation report

Tour de Madeira 2007

I successfully ran the Tour de Madeira 2007 yesterday. Full recap over at Every Whatever

With the 52 miles I did on Saturday, that gives me a new weekly record (102.8 miles), and also puts me at 952.5 miles for the year, meaning I need to do just 47.5 miles the rest of the year to snag the record.

My tentative plan is to do a 15-20 mile workout at the Y tomorrow, then one 10-15 miler while I’m on vacation, and finish it off New Year’s Eve after we get back.

Lasik / Counties

Well it’s been one week since my LASIK surgery. Things are going very well. At the one week timeline, I guess I can stop using my drops, though I will probably still use them till they run out. I have stopped wearing my goggles at night and I guess I can rub my eyes and let the water hit my face in the shower, but I’m afraid :-) . Overall, I have been extremely happy with the surgery. I can see stuff! I do have some halos around lights at night, but the doctors said that should get better over the next few weeks / months.

Tomorrow I am taking the boys on a “boy party” to the farm out in Pennsylvania to visit my dad and grandma and other assorted family members. We’ll be staying the weekend. I’m taking the day off work tomorrow and driving out, and then probably coming home on Sunday afternoon after church.

Of course, I can’t bear to take a road trip without picking up a few extra counties!!!! :-) I did a careful examination of my county map

and spied 13 new counties that could be visited, all in West Virginia. So we will take a slight detour on the way out to snag Mason, Jackson, Wood, Wirt, Calhoun, Ritchie, Pleasants, Tyler, Doddridge, Wetzel and Marshall counties, and a slight detour on the way back to pick up Brooke and Hancock. The actual routes themselves have not yet been finalized, but you can rest assured that my West Virginia county total will be raised from 19 to 32 (out of 55, soon to be 58.2%)

You will undoubtedly have noticed that annoying white blotch in NE Kentucky. That would be Greenup county. This is an injustice that will need to be rectified the next time we do things my way (on the AA Highway).


Why yes, I have been having fun with MS Paint this morning – why do you ask? :-) Investigation reveals that this proposed detour has a total out and back distance of 2.6 miles, or less than 5 minutes. Even Carolyn can’t argue with that I think! My graphics didn’t turn out as well as I was hoping – the red line is the normal way we travel down to Virginia and places like that on the AA Highway – the purple line is the detour we’d have to make to the dotted county line.

If you go to my county map, you can see a few swatches around the homelands. It is in my plans to take a Saturday morning one of these weekends to take a little road trip. If I leave way ear-lie in the morning, then I should be able to be home by noon or so. The plans that I have (though no routes yet devised) are (with the number of new counties each trip would pick up):

NE Indiana (26 counties)
W/SW Indiana (36 counties) – though these 2 may be combined if I do EFINC.
S Kentucky (21 counties)
SE Kentucky (30 counties) – this one may be broken into 2 sections to also include my needed counties in S WV and SW VA.

I know, I’m crazy.

It’s blue baby!


That’s (part of) my map from the county counting website. Click it if you want to see the full-size picture. It’s pretty big which is why I just linked to it.

Most importantly, the Ohio section is awful blue. EFC BABY!

Prepping for the Tour

It will likely be next Saturday or the Saturday after that for the big 50 mile Tour de Madeira. I haven’t ridden much lately, just due mostly to time constraints. I went out for a ride this afternoon and it went fairly well.

I had talked some with PJ this week to try and coordinate a ride, but didn’t come up with anything. I believe he is riding also this afternoon. He is going to ride with me in the TdeM. Most of his training rides seem to be “real” rides – you know, where you actually go somewhere, whereas most of my rides are crazy ones where I loop in and out of various side streets, similar to the TdeM. It will be interesting to see if that makes any difference – if there’s any intrinsic difference between the two styles of riding.

I ended up on a route that went north of my house – mostly through Indian Hill, though also through parts of Madeira (obviously), Sycamore Twp and Montgomery. Cycle computer distance was 18.08 miles, which I completed in 1:33:03, which is about 11.7 mph.

I did set my new max speed, at 28.8 mph, which was coming down Lyncris Dr in Montgomery. Of course, as is the case with most rides of mine where I’m doing a lot of circles and ins and outs, what goes down must come up – coming up the flip side wasn’t much fun… I probably could have gotten even faster had I realized the topography over on Blome Rd. I came flying down that hill at around 25 mph, but had to slow down to turn right into a subdivision. Then when I was done, I again got up to 25 or so continuing down the hill. If I had realized it, I would have done that subdivision a different way (from Finley) and just busted down the hill. At the bottom of the hill is the one lane covered bridge going over Raiders Run. This was actually the 2nd time in my route I had crossed Raiders Run (previously on Keller near Montgomery), so to celebrate, I will comment that it is very difficult to find any information on Raiders Run while doing a Google search that does not talk about football.

I did have to walk up some of the flip side of the hill coming up from Raiders Run, but one interesting thing I found was on the subdivisions off of Blome – at the end of them they have sort of traffic circles (with a grassy area in the middle) instead of regular cul-de-sacs – perfect for a rider like myself.

I amused myself through most of the ride while humming one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard. Oh and thinking of things to entertain you in my blog posts :-) . The other thing I saw was that one of the places I had previously visited while GeoGolfing

All in all, a fun ride – as always check out my cycling log which is off to the side

EFCK

No, that’s not a swear word up there! A few weeks ago, a co-worker of mine suggested, in the vein of EFC, that I should visit every Wal-Mart in Ohio. After a bit of searching, I came across this pretty cool map – it lists the location of every Wal-Mart in Ohio. I started trying to figure out if this was doable in 24 hours, but I don’t think it is. I started out at the Marietta Wal-Mart (SE Ohio just north of Parkersburg WV) and started going up the eastern border of Ohio, but it was taking an hour or so to get between Wal-Marts. Since there are 79 of them, and that’s not even considering the time it would take at each one (it was decided that you had to at least go inside and see the greeter), I scrapped it.

A week or so later, I thought it might be cool to visit every Kroger in the area. Hence the name EFCK – Every Freakin Cincinnati Kroger. I think this conversation came up from talks of the Kikkoman deal that has been going on for the past few weeks (I think it ends today – I’ll recap in a few days). I went to Kroger.com and pulled up their list of the Cincinnati region Krogers. Kroger’s Cincinnati region also includes Dayton (as far north as Sidney OH), and out to Hillsboro and Maysville KY, and to the west includes Connersville IN and Batesville IN – here’s the full list of 108. Actually that list includes some Krogers that are closed now and missed a few that have recently opened.

So I decided to see if it was possible to visit all 108 in 24 hours. I started out trying to figure out the best path by hand, but then tried to use a program. This trip is very similar to a classical mathematical problem – the Traveling Salesman Problem. Though, since I don’t have to start and end in the same place, it’s somewhat different – it’s actually called a Hamiltonian Path. There’s actually quite a few programs out there that implement good algorithms to the TSP – though there is no actual solution yet that works for all problems. One good web site is here. It has a computer program called Concorde, but the problem with Concorde is that it only lets you input nodes in X-Y format. But since that computes distances “as the crow flies”, that wouldn’t be quite accurate, since I would have to actually travel on roads and such.

Then I found this – which will do exactly what I need. It’s kind of funny that there are people (lots of people – including this guy) who have done PhD dissertations on this topic, and here I am using it to just mess around. Several people have commented that if only I could harness all this energy for good :-) . In any case, I have taken some time over the past few days to figure out the travel distances between each of the 108 Krogers. Actually though, I only computed the nearest few Krogers for each one. As an example, for the Madeira Kroger, I only computed the distances between Madeira and the Kenwood, Mariemont, Montgomery, Blue Ash, Loveland, Milford, Roselawn, Hyde Park and Norwood Krogers (5, 8, 9, 10, 15, 12, 13, 12 and 12 minutes respectively). My thinking was that the optimal path is never going to have you going from Madeira to, say, West Chester, without hitting a few other Krogers on the way. This cut down the total number of distances from 108! (which is approximately 10 to the 174th power) down to a reasonable number of 762 distances – 381 pairs. I put in each pair separately because due to one way roads or highway exits or whatever, the distance / time from Kroger A to Kroger B is not necessarily the same as the distance / time from Kroger B to Kroger A, though usually it’s the same or at least close. Technically, since I’m sure you all care, that makes this an Asymmetric Traveling Salesman Problem.

In any case, I finished out all the distances. Then I wrote a computer program to convert the times from my spreadsheet into the format that this program was expecting, and then I ran the program.

And….. it actually worked! I was not really expecting it to actually work, but it did. Popped out the optimal tour within 5-10 seconds. Because I’m crazy, I wrote a Google Map website with a picture of the tour. Please note that although the lines between Krogers on the website show straight lines, the distances were actually computed using real road travel times. I just didn’t feel like making the map that complicated. The total time was 1346 minutes, which is about 22 1/2 hours. Though this is for a circuitous route, so I can probably get that down to 21 hours or so, but that doesn’t include any in and out time. It was decided for this trip that you’d have to buy something to get a receipt with a timestamp.

So when I saw how long that would take, I thought I would limit it to just what I consider actual Cincinnati-area Krogers. After culling all the non-Nati ones, I came down to a list of 58. Since I already had the distances, it was an easy job to come up with this site. It says 434 minutes for this tour, which is just over 7 hours, so certainly doable. It remains to be seen if I’ll ever actually do this (probably not).

Why do you think they call them counties?

That’s right, folks. Not content with my madness on visiting all 88 Ohio counties in 24 hours, I have endeavored to find routes to visit all the counties in other states in 24 hours. Consulting this list of states by land area, I put the practical limit on 24 hour county trips somewhere around Alabama (28th in land area and 30th in total area). Though some of the larger states are also doable due to their small number of counties. Specifically, I have already figured out routes for Nevada (7th in land area and 17 counties) and Arizona (6th in land area but only 15 counties). I think Utah (12th in area and 29 counties) might be doable, but I wouldn’t count on getting Texas done in 24… :-)

My latest project has been the neighboring state of Indiana. Slightly smaller than Ohio, but with 4 more counties (92 to 88), it seemed definitely doable. Here is my first completed route:


This route is estimated at 22 hours, 48 minutes. But now it’s time to spend a bit of time refining it. From my experience (and I am the self-declared world’s top expert in such matters), the best way to do this is to first get one completed route. Once you can see it graphically, it is easier to determine where you might be able to tweak it and save some time.

For instance, my first thought was whether or not it was worth time to cut north on the west side of Hendricks county (west-central) and pick up Marion county from the east after Hancock. It’s not.

It does cut 7 minutes off to get Hamilton (just north of Indianapolis) from the south off of I-465, which allows a straight line east from Howard to Madison to Grant (north-central), since you then don’t have to cut down south to get Hamilton. So the current best time is 22:41, but I have a few more ideas.

As always, I will keep you posted, even though I know nobody but me cares :-)