Friday, May 19, 2017

Bowie Restaurant Project: (97) Taco Bell (Bowie Gateway Center)

Taco Bell,
16300 Heritage Blvd,
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 4/12/2017
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars

I will recall this quote by a friend from the review of Bowie's first Taco Bell:
Nobody WANTS to eat at Taco Bell--myself included. But when you need 4000 calories in under 4 minutes, for under $4, there are worse options!
Well, now Bowie has a second Taco Bell, and the same thing still applies. One day I hadn't brought my lunch, so I thought I'd knock out another review of a new Bowie eatery. I went on-line to speed the process. It was actually nice how you could customize the order to add lettuce and onions or leave off sour cream. You couldn't, however, order a Dr. Pepper, only a Pepsi. So I placed the order for inside pickup so I could get my own drink. But then it would not let me place an order. I tried installing the app. The app installation took the length of the drive, but I still decided to use it to order from the parking lot to make the customization easier. It didn't work either.

When I went inside, I just went with "no sour cream" because I lost the energy to further customize. It turned out that the Pepsi was broken, so I had to get Dr. Pepper anyway. And the food took way more than four minutes. I'm not sure why I am giving it that extra half star.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Google Local: 200K Views and Two More Photos

In March, I hit 100,000 views of my photos on Google Local, and I noted that four photos made up about 70% of those views. I started trying to figure out how to increase my views.

Well, this week I've hit 200,000. And now it's six photos that make up 70% of my views.
#6 Rubio's, San Diego, CA, 17,375 views, August 2016. (Was 16,470 last time.) This is the dumb picture of my drink, some hot sauce and my order number. It is a good example of how some photos stop getting me hits after a while.
#5 Wendy's, Chantilly, VA, 22,665 views, August 2016. (Was 21,600 last time.) This one has also stopped garnering hits.
#4 Office Depot, Bowie, MD, 22,854 views, December 2016. Though not a new picture, this got a lot of views in the past two months. It further confirms my "interior pictures get more hits" theory. And it's a terrible picture.
#3 Jumping Jack Sports, Ashburn, VA, 24,891 views, January 2017. (Was 14,840 last time.) This continued to get hits, though the weekly tracking e-mails Google sends me says it hasn't been a top photo of mine since April 11.
#2 Michaels, Bowie, MD, 30,952 views, December 2016.  Another one from last December that has really taken off in the past couple of months. Not as bad as the Office Depot one.
#1 Arby's, Beltsville, MD, 32,053 views, January 2017. (Was 21,263 last time.)

So interiors of either chain restaurants or non-grocery chain stores seem to have done the best. My top two last week were interiors of Dollar Trees, so that seems to continue to be true. I have not done a good job at accelerating my views. I had 10,966 in the past week. While that's slightly above the 9,246 I had for the week I saved the e-mail in March, I had three weeks of 17,000+ in April. I really don't understand the algorithm well enough to figure out how to turn that around. All I've figure out is more pictures are better and interiors beat exteriors most of the time.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Geocaching Update: Four Caches in April, One Souvenir and One County

April was another relatively slow month for my geocaching. The opportunity to make finds that checked certain boxes was the main motivator.

Geocaching reached three million active caches in April. To celebrate, Geocaching HQ released a "souvenir". Souvenirs are digital achievements. Most of them that I have are geography-based, so I have one, for example, for finding a cache in Austria:
A number of geocaching souvenirs are date-based, and this one was awarded for finding a cache the weekend after the three million mark. I had one on my to do list for some time. It was hidden inside a "little free library" (a place where people can exchange books). I had trouble finding it, but I poked around, and eventually it fell on me. That earned me this souvenir:
That was Souvenir 32 for me. (Earlier in April, I got #31 retroactively for finding one in Germany. Previously, souvenirs were only issued for individual German states, but I got the newly-issued Germany one.)

My second of the month was an unexceptional one inside a lamppost. It was outside a CVS I needed to visit. I hate to criticize cachers who put these things out there for other people to enjoy (so I won't link to this specific one), but it really a half-hearted container that didn't protect the baggie containing the soaking log. Oh, well.

My third find was also in a lamppost, but a lamppost near Potomac Mills. This allowed me to claim my first cache in Prince William County, County 33! Also, my first cache in Minute 38 of 38 Degrees North (20 down, 40 to go).

My FTF streak came to an end at three months. Still, I hated to have the month end without finding an April 2017 cache. When I miss a month (like September 2016), it can be surprisingly difficult to go back and fill it in, as caches get archived. So I headed out behind a strip mall to find a recently-placed one. I got it, keeping me at 72 missing months. It was a neat container, but I don't know how long it is going to survive.


Saturday, April 01, 2017

Geocaching Update: Slow February and March

Not surprisingly, December/January/February tend to be my slowest months geocaching. (Keep in mind that the ten years represented here include a lot of years where I only found one or two caches.) The weather tends to want to keep me in my car rather that out searching. This year, March was mostly lousy around here too, so I ended up only finding 3 caches in February and 6 in March.

Two of the caches I claimed were FTFs, and the other almost was. On that one, I was poking around for a while when another cacher showed up with his daughter. I said hi and explained my thought process about where I had searched. He ended up finding it in one of the places I had previously looked; I guess I wasn't thorough enough. There's probably a lesson in there somewhere. Too bad I missed it, as it would have been my first Montgomery County FTF.

Anyway, all three were hidden in February 2017, so that was an easy month to cross off and keep myself even on the months found (Jasmer) challenge.

On one of the FTFs, I left a geocoin of mine that had finally resurfaced after many years in the house. I used to enjoy tracking them, but I haven't found any since I've started caching in earnest again. Sadly, though someone picked it up the next day and promised to move it along, he hasn't. I should probably send him a message.
Also on that FTF, it was the first 3.0/3.0 difficulty/terrain combo I'd found, bringing me to 29 out of 81 combos needed for the D/T (Fizzy) challenge. It was probably not appropriately rated, but I'll take it.

March opened with the grabbing of a couple random Anne Arundel County caches. They were targets of opportunity, but one of them happened to be an August 2013 cache, which was a month I was missing. Since I had yet to find a March 2017 one, that kept me where I was at the end of January with 75 missing months.

After that it was time for a "historic" cache. Geocaching has only been around since May 2000, so caches from 2000 are rare. In fact, there's only one in the State of Virginia. So when I was driving nearby, I decided to cross this one off my to do list. It was nice enough, but hardly a challenge -- the hint says it is "8 paces from the exact center of the road" (pictured). So that was my first cache from December 2000 (down to 74 missing months) and my first cache at N 38° 45'.

Because of a bug, I had a heck of a time attaching the above picture to my log. That reminded me why I don't take pictures more often, even though I think they improve logs (and these blog entries). The bug is supposed to have been fixed, so maybe I'll try to do that more often.

The next day, I had a "I need to get of the car and stretch" moment, and luckily there was a cache nearby. Quick and pleasant, it was my first cache in N 38° 46.

The day after that, I snagged my first March FTF, and my tenth overall. That also meant I was down to 73 missing months.

I closed out the month with a find on another old cache. From July 2001, it's the 17th oldest active cache in Virginia. (I have also previously found the 3rd oldest.) It was somewhat underwhelming. The original container is long gone, and it isn't really being maintained any more, so there's a camouflaged pill bottle with a soggy log inside. But still, down to 72 missing months.

And I found two of the four oldest ones I've found in March, so that's something.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Bowie Restaurant Project: (96) Chipotle Mexican Grill (Marketplace)

Chipotle Mexican Grill,
15475 Annapolis Rd,
Most Recent Foursquare Check-in: 3/23/2017
Total Foursquare Check-ins: 1
Pre-Foursquare Visits: No
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

As I noted in my review of Chick-fil-A, I am not really keeping up with the Bowie Restaurant Project, but if I happen to visit a restaurant in a way that enables a review, I'll add it to the list.

As I noted in my 2012 review of Chipotle's original Bowie location, I don't like Chipotle. On the other hand, one of the inspirations for the Bowie Restaurant Project was overhearing someone remark that since he was in Bowie, he was going to eat at Chipotle. That was fine if that was his favorite restaurant, but part of my goal has been to find better options for people.

Anyway, I found myself in possession of a $10 Chipotle gift card, so fate was telling me to write this review. First, I used the web to create an order. The estimated total was $10.02. When I tried to plug in the gift card, it told me that I didn't have enough money to pay for my lunch, and offered me no way of kicking in the two cents in another way. So I changed my selection to "pay at restaurant", and the web site told me that it was now too late to get my food when I originally asked for it. In the ensuing chaos, I accidentally ordered it for over an hour in the future.

The person at the restaurant was very nice about fixing my error when I called, and they were unnecessarily apologetic when the food wasn't ready when I arrived. I definitely give them high marks for customer service (though low marks for the web interface). As it turned out, the web site actually knocked the extra 2 cents off when I finally placed the order. That was nice, but it was dumb of it to complain about my gift card balance if it was going to do that.

The food was fine. As noted before, one of the reasons I don't eat at Chipotle is the resulting digestive disruption I experience. Because of this, I can't rate it too highly. Hopefully soon we will have real Mexican food back in Bowie.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Google Local: Four Photos

My phone has been prompting me to add pictures to various places I've visited, so that Google can display them to people who are looking for the establishments in question. Free labor for one of the world's most valuable companies? Sure, why not?

For example, if you search for "D&D Cleaners" in Virginia, you will see featured a photo I took (mostly to make a joke about the name).

Google from time to time will e-mail me with a total number of views on all of my photos (as I look now, the D&D cleaners photo has 432 views). As that number got into the tens of thousands, I conceived of the goal of getting a million views.

My reasoning was that the number of views each photo gets should go up linearly over time. If I contribute photos at a steady pace, the total number of photos should also go up linearly. So, the total number of photos should go up quadratically. (You did know I'm a mathematician, right?)

As my number of views passed 100,000 this week, I thought I'd take a look at how my theory is working out. Well, as it turned out, roughly 70% of my views are from just four photos. That sort of blows apart my theory that quantity of photos is key to upping my views. (Unless more photos means a greater chance of having one of the "good" pictures.)

Here they are:
#4 Jumping Jack Sports, Ashburn, VA, 14,840 views, January 2017.
#3 Rubio's, San Diego, CA, 16,470 views, August 2016.

#2 Arby's, Beltsville, MD, 21,263 views, January 2017.
#1 Wendy's, Chantilly, VA, 21,600 views, August 2016.




I have no idea what the lesson of this is. I guess three out of four are panoramas of store interiors, so maybe I should concentrate more on interiors than exteriors. I had switched to exteriors lately on the theory that it would be more helpful to show people how to find the place. I guess if exteriors really are better for views, those will shoot up the rankings, and I can correct. I don't really see what's going on with the Rubio's picture. That seems singularly unhelpful, yet popular.

I guess I will try for more interior panoramas. I really don't want to spend much time on this project, so time spent while waiting to order or waiting for my food (or watching my kid play at a birthday party) seems like a good time to add to my totals.