Monday, September 29, 2014


Most men probably wouldn't be too open about getting a vasectomy. All the more reason for me to blog about mine!

(This post is more graphic than usual, and nobody's forcing you to read it, but I view other guys' reluctance to talk about this sort of thing as an opportunity.)

We had our second child last month, and that is all the children we're interested in having. We've known this since before we were married, and nothing's changed. So, what's the most reliable way to help prevent an unwanted third pregnancy?

Well, REALLY, the "most reliable" way to keep from having additional children is to stop having sex. But beyond that, it's this: get a vasectomy!* It's safer and more reliable than other birth control methods (tube tying, birth control pills, condoms, etc).

A vasectomy is pretty much permanent, of course, so...we're really, really, really sure about this, right? Yep. Sure, "unforseen circumstances" could come up, such as:
- The death of a child. We discussed this, and even if this should happen, we don't wish to go through another pregnancy.
- Amber could change her mind and want a third child all of a sudden. Again, we discussed this, and she signed off on the vasectomy anyway, so...
- Apparently, many men will later regret the decision because their marriage falls apart, they find a new partner, and want to have children with the new partner. I know many 6-year-married couples feel this way only to get divorced 10 years later, but...that won't happen to us! (I suppose the only theoretical situation in which I would ever want more children is if something happens to Amber and Marla and Bruce...that, of course, would be unbelievably devastating, so let's just hope that doesn't happen.)

There is such a thing as "vasectomy reversal", but it's expensive ($10,000 and up), and it is only effective half the time anyway. Even if "unforseen circumstances" arise, I will never pursue vasectomy reversal.

So...a lot of guys squirm at the thought of a vasectomy because it involves messing with some sensitive body parts. It wasn't the most pleasant experience, but the way I see it, it can't be any worse than childbirth, right?

Presenting a timeline of the whole process:
- May: Asked my primary doctor if I needed a referral or anything from him in order to get a vasectomy. (Nope. I could make my own appointment with whoever I wanted.)
- 9/3: Called a urology clinic that does vasectomies, made an appointment for a consultation.
- 9/9: Consultation! Scheduled it for a Thursday afternoon, so that I could take Friday off, and have plenty of time to "recover" before returning to work the next Monday.
- 9/20: Pretty much the only thing I had to do in preparation was to stop taking my daily vitamin. (By the way, a lot of people poo-poo on daily vitamin supplements, saying they're not necessary. I generally agree, except that a medication I'm on has a side effect of inhibited vitamin absorption, and based on some blood tests which showed some vitamin deficiencies, my doctor suggested I supplement.)
- 9/24: Right, one other thing I had to do in preparation: shave the night before. Wee! I won't go into the details.
- 9/25: Fun time! The vasectomy itself took less than 30 minutes, and only a small part of that was uncomfortable (the cold stuff they put down there at first) or painful (the part where they inject the anesthesia or whatever into your scrotum). I felt sick and almost threw up afterwards, but drove home another 30 minutes later and took some high-level pain medication.
- 9/26: Sat at home all day watching reruns of Quantum Leap.
- 9/27: I'm always leery of controlled pain medication because of its addictive qualities, so I kept my use to a minimum (three pills total - two that day, and one the next morning). The following day, I was medication free.
- 9/28: So, I asked the doctor...should I have any problems urinating after that? He said no, but...let's just say that wasn't quite my experience. Things are (mostly) back to normal now.
- 10/2: One week after the procedure is when I can resume exercise, along with some other fun activities.
- 11/25: I didn't know this at first, but after you have a vasectomy, you aren't immediately sperm free. It takes some time* for all of the remaining sperm to flush out of your system. So, I need to provide a sample for testing in two months. If that test is negative, then I'll give another sample two weeks later, and only if that second sample is also negative will I be declared "sperm free". (This is why I got the vasectomy sooner rather than later. Given Amber's history of blood clots, birth control has always been a bit problematic for her.) Apparently, a lot of guys don't even bother coming back with a sample two months later, thanks to a combination of embarrassment and laziness, I guess.

(* - They say, it takes about 15 ejaculations to flush out the remaining sperm. NO, I AM NOT GOING TO KEEP TRACK. Even I have to draw the line somewhere when it comes to my stat keeping.)

Amber was pregnant for 18 months, so being uncomfortable for a few days for the sake of family planning? It's the least I could do.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Weekend Grocery Shopping

For a few years now, it's been my routine to do the weekly grocery shopping on either Monday or Tuesday between 5:30 and 6 PM. But, now we have two kids instead of one, and so we have to figure out our routines all over again. Trying to cram grocery shopping in between dinner and bedtime with two children at home isn't optimal, it turns out.

So...what about grocery shopping on the weekend? I've avoided doing our grocery shopping on weekends because a) it's crowded, and b) we're usually busy on weekends, with road trips and curling and bike rides and church and whatnot. But, we're currently less busy on weekends, at least for the time being. So, let's try grocery shopping on weekends! Maybe I'll do it either Saturday or Sunday morning, depending on how the weekend plans are shaping up.

Well, here's one problem with that: even though our neighborhood Kroger opens at 6 AM on Sundays, it's self-checkout only for at least the first couple of hours. Self-checkout is fine when you only have a few items, but when you're doing a full weekly trip, self-checkout ruins what would otherwise be an enjoyable grocery shopping experience, at least for me. I try to avoid it at all costs. Not unlike shopping at Walmart Neighborhood Market, shopping at Kroger at 8 AM on a Sunday is great, until you're forced to spend 10 minutes wrestling with the self-checkout machine.

Does Kroger post the times in which they staff the checkout lanes with cashiers? Not that I've seen. I think this will just come down to trial and error. Hopefully I'll be able to find a weekend time in which there are cashiers, and it isn't too busy. Also complicating things are the pharmacy hours: 9-6 Saturdays, 12-6 Sundays. We don't need the pharmacy every week, but it's frequent enough that it's an important consideration. So, maybe Saturday morning is best? Except that Saturday morning is most often when I do my longer bike rides.

Actually, this is just making me anticipate the opening of the Cary Publix even more. Certainly, Publix isn't going to be self-checkout only on Sunday mornings...right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Sports Friday: 9/19/14

College football - Sports are fun to watch and follow, but unfortunately, some of the athletes who participate in said sports are idiots. So what if one of those idiots happens to be on a team you root for? And what if he goes on to win a Heisman Trophy and helps your team win a national championship? Are you a bad person for cheering anyway?

It's complicated. Sure, I could talk about how the media blows everything he does out of proportion (which they do), but that could be construed as defending the guy, which I don't really want to do, either. Honestly, I'm just tired of the nonsense. It'll be a lot nicer in many ways when Winston is gone, because then this nonsense will be over, and FSU will still be able to say "2013 national champions". (Assuming nobody broke any NCAA rules last year, of course.)

As for the question of whether it's "good" for someone like Jameis Winston on your team - very talented at football, but stupid and irresponsible* and always in the news for the wrong reasons - I'd say, yeah, but not for more than a year or two. After that, fatigue sets in.

* - It's important to make the distinction that being "stupid and irresponsible" is not the same as being a criminal, which...yes, Winston was cited for shoplifting and accused of rape, but technically, he's not...right, I decided I wasn't going to try to defend the guy, because you'll judge me for that, right? See why I'm tired of all this?

NFL - Just one quick thought on the recent "let's suspend everyone accused of domestic violence" crusade. If the NFL had a more lenient stance on recreational drugs, maybe that "two game suspension" would have actually seemed harsh instead of lenient, and not drawn the scorn of the populous? Because that's what started all this, right? "Smoking pot gets you suspended for a year, but assaulting a woman gets you two games??" I'm fine with these suspensions provided that the players are actually guilty, but what happens to these guys in court matters far more to me than how many games the NFL suspends them for.

So, the Jacksonville Jaguars stink again, but it's not necessarily time to put Blake Bortles out there yet. It's actually not (mostly) the quarterback's fault this time: the offensive line is awful, there is no running game to speak of, wide receivers keep getting hurt or suspended, and while the pass rush is much improved, the secondary has had some problems so far (which hopefully should be helped by Johnathan Cyprien's return this week). Let's leave Chad Henne out there a few more weeks, and see where we stand after, say, Week 6.

How many years has Shad Khan owned the team now? This is his 3rd year of ownership, and so far, no success; just really large scoreboards, fancy swimming pools, and one fewer home game in Jacksonville per year. (But hey, the Jaguars are now the 9th most popular team in the UK!) Shad Khan is obviously a brilliant businessman, and he's popular with the fans...but as the owner of two sports teams, can he produce a winner? Because so far, things haven't gone particularly well on that front. (Also see "Soccer".)

MLB - The Washington Nationals have had an incredible second half of the season, and that means I get at least 3 playoff games. Hooray! I'm looking forward to it, in part because of all the professional teams I root for, the Nationals are the only ones who have had a sniff of success this decade.

I think the team is well set up for the playoffs, too, in part because they've been fairly fortunate with respect to injuries. All five starting pitchers have been (mostly) healthy all year, and have also (mostly) produced in a big way. And the offense has been great, too, and has stayed (mostly) healthy as well, except for Ryan Zimmerman. None of the pitchers or position players are MVP candidates; instead, the team's strength is its depth. There isn't that much a dropoff as you go down the batting order or through the pitching rotation.

The Nationals could easily make a World Series run...or they could flame out in the Division Series, because it's baseball, and baseball can be pretty random. Either way, should be fun! And since I'm not as invested in the Nationals as I am the other teams I follow, I'll be able to handle a tough playoff loss a little more easily.

NASCAR - Television ratings have been consistently down all year. I was thinking, the new Chase makes the regular season even less relevant by making it easier than ever to get into the Chase, so maybe fans are losing interest in the regular season? Maybe NASCAR will see a ratings bump once the Chase starts? … Nope! Ratings for the first Chase race were down as well compared to recent years.

You can't say the new championship format is bad for the sport just because ratings are down this year - ratings have been going down for the last several years - but you can say that it's not helping, at least so far. Even if the Homestead rating ends up being huge, NASCAR will have to ask itself if it's worth sacrificing ratings all season long just to get a small ratings bump in the last race. (Although, the more they tinker with the championship format, the less credible and more arbitrary it seems; maybe the steady decrease in TV ratings over the last few years is a manifestation of that. So if I were Brian France, I'd make as few changes as possible from this point forward. Or, go back to the old system - the best driver over the course of 36 races is the champion. Really, that would still be my preference.)

What would really be beneficial for NASCAR is if their entire Chase wasn't head-to-head against the most popular sport in America. If it were logistically feasible, maybe they would consider reworking the schedule so that it ends in August, making the Chase a summer event instead of a fall event. But, it's not logistically feasible, if nothing else because the TV contracts for the next 10 years are already signed. They could try weeknight races in the Chase, but the problem there is that weeknight races hurt attendance, since so many fans come to NASCAR races from out of town. And, it may not help TV ratings anyway - back when the Daytona 500 was rain delayed to a Monday night primetime telecast, the final ratings number ended up being not that much different than from when the Daytona 500 takes place on Sunday afternoon.

All that said...I still plan on watching the Chase, at least as much as I have time for.

Soccer - So, last year, I started following EPL team Fulham, since they're sort of a "sister team" to the Jacksonville Jaguars. And, they were instantly relegated to the second division, a.k.a. the "Championship". But surely, Fulham will be able to immediately compete for promotion back to the Premier League, right? … Nope! So far, Fulham is in dead last in the Championship, they just fired their manager again, and they're in danger of being relegated again if they don't turn it around. It's still early; 39 games of 46 are still to be played. That's a lot of games.

Side note: the last team to get relegated from the top division to the third division in consecutive seasons was Wolverhampton, and this was actually pretty recent: Premier League in 2011-12, Championship in 2012-13, League One in 2013-14. (And back in the Championship again for 2014-15, along with Fulham, who Wolverhampton has already beaten 1-0 this season.)

Meanwhile, back in the Premier League...with Fulham gone, I decided to start watching Newcastle United games. Newcastle is a good "middle ground" team, at least on paper: not one of the biggest richest clubs, but big enough so that they might finish Top 6 and quality for European competition every few years, and also not all that likely to get relegated. ... Or are they? Four games into the season, Newcastle currently sits dead last in the Premier League. Maybe I should just give up and root for Arsenal like I originally planned.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The DirecTV Genie

I went back to work this week after three weeks of paternity leave. During those three weeks, we had a lot of time to watch TV, to the point where the DVR was mostly empty by the end. (Except for some lower priority shows that we didn't really care too much about. The priority shows were all done.)

A couple months ago, I came across a DirecTV offer: "Upgrade to our latest DVR system, 'The Genie', for free!" (Provided you agree to a two-year commitment.) Our current "Whole Home DVR" system that we've been using for the past three-plus years, while perfectly functional, is pretty slow, and so I've wanted to upgrade for a while now. But the problem with upgrading a DVR is, when you turn in your old DVR, you lose everything that you recorded on it*. But now that we've had time to watch most everything, the timing is right.

(* - Why don't these things come with detachable storage, so that when you upgrade DVRs, or when the DVR fails, you can keep all of your shows?)

Our old system was basically two HD DVRs - better than one because it gave us twice the storage, and allowed us to record four programs at once instead of two. And, we could watch anything from either DVR on either TV. But, communication between DVRs was slow (in terms of watching shows stored in the other room) or non-existent (in that we had to program each DVR separately, and couldn't see a list of future recordings from one DVR on the other DVR). And, the DVRs were just older and slower in general. Pressing a button on the remote didn't always result in an immediate response. These DVRs must have been pretty outdated, because when we got the new one, DirecTV told us not to send the old ones back.

So, DirecTV sent us the main "Genie" unit, plus a "Mini-Genie" which basically piggy-backs off of the main unit. The Genie can record 5 things at once (although watching something on the Mini-Genie counts as one of the "recordings"), and you can program the main unit from the Mini-Genie and see all future recordings from either unit. So, they behave like they're both the same unit, which is nice. And they respond faster, too! (The Mini-Genie is slower than the main unit, but it's still faster than our old DVRs.)

The Genie has twice the disk space of an older HD DVR (1 TB, which comes out to 200 hours of HD programming), but since we had two HD DVRs previously, we actually have the same amount of space as we had before, except that it's all in one place instead of split between two devices. (That amount of space has always been more than sufficient for our needs, so no need for more.)

The new DVRs are also a lot smaller than the old HD DVRs. Compare the old HD DVR with the new "Mini-Genie":

(The main unit is also a bit smaller than the old HD DVR, but not that much smaller.)

The Genie has a feature where it will automatically record shows that it thinks you might enjoy based on your viewing habits. I keep that turned off, if nothing else because given all of the "Peppa Pig" and "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" recordings we have on the DVR, I'm afraid that Marla's viewing habits would result in automatic recordings of a bunch of other children's cartoons that we want to avoid (read: "Dora the Explorer").

And, the Genie supports picture-in-picture. Sweet! Comes in handy for football. I've always thought, if the DVR can record two things at once, why can't you also watch two things at once? Well, now we can.

(I think I like the side-by-side option better than true picture-in-picture.)

I don't know for sure how the Genie compares to the DVR offerings from other cable and satellite providers, but from what I've read, it actually falls a bit short of Dish's "Hopper". The Hopper offers the same whole-home and PiP capability as the Genie, but can record 8 things at once and has a 2 TB hard drive, compared to the Genie's 5 simultaneous recordings and 1 TB hard drive. But I'm pretty sure the Genie is still better than anything Time Warner Cable offers. Just a hunch.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Playground Reviews: Jordan Dam; Pearsontown Elementary; Little River Park

B. Everett Jordan Dam - Jordan Dam Road, Moncure, NC
Visited: Sunday, August 31, 2014
- Google Street View

Summary: We thought we'd take the family - one-week-old Bruce included - out to Jordan Dam, which Amber and I visited on our own many years ago (even before Amber moved down here). But wouldn't you know it, they have a playground here! Lucky Marla!

(Note: The individual scores are calibrated so that 50% is an average score. "Perfect" scores are rarely given. The star rating system takes all this into account, such that an "average" playground corresponds to about 3½ stars.)

Things for Marla to do: 10/20. So, this is a pretty standard playground. Big kid set, small kid set, swings.

(By the way, I think Bruce will need to be 18 months old before I can rename this category "Things for Marla and Bruce to do". 18 months is about when Marla could start really doing things at playgrounds, other than just the toddler swings.)

Uniqueness: 2/10. I reserve the 1/10 score here for smaller playgrounds than this one.

Upkeep: 3/10. Trash level was worse than average, and the playground equipment has a lot of spider webs on it. Like, a lot of spider webs.

Crowd: 8/10. There was another family there that morning, but I'm taking the spider webs as a sign that this playground doesn't get a huge amount of use. Mostly, people come to the dam to fish.

Marla enjoyment: 3/5. Marla didn't care for the spider webs, but otherwise was able to entertain herself.

TOTAL: 26/55 (★★★). They didn't have to install a playground at Jordan Dam, of course. This playground is better than no playground. But, you shouldn't come here just for the playground. They have a nice visitor center and walkable trails with some nice views of Jordan Lake, and it's also a popular fishing spot. If any of that sounds good to you, then by all means, make the drive to Jordan Dam - and bring the kids, because did you know they also have a playground here?


Pearsontown Elementary - Barbee Road, Durham, NC
Visited: Saturday, September 6, 2014
- Google Street View

Summary: Last time I reviewed an elementary school playground, I said that we should go to more elementary school playgrounds. So, here we are.

Things for Marla to do: 11/20. Two playground sets, although I can't really call them "big kid" and "small kid"; the smaller set was still really for "big kids", which makes sense because this is at an elementary school, after all. Big kid swings only; no toddler swings.

Uniqueness: 4/10. A few climbing things that you don't see at most playgrounds.

Upkeep: 7/10. The equipment was in good shape, and trash was average.

Crowd: 9/10. I thought about giving 10/10 here, but the problem is, you can only come here when school is out of session, of course. (By the way, Pearsontown is a year-round school, according to the sign.) Elementary school playgrounds are generally going to be less crowded; I think the primary reasons are 1) no public bathrooms or other facilities, 2) nothing else to do around the playground, 3) this feeling that the school grounds are private property and that you're not really allowed to be here. (Speaking of which...are we allowed to be here? Are we trespassing?)

Marla enjoyment: 2/5. A couple of falls, and that was that.

TOTAL: 33/55 (★★★★).


Little River Regional Park - Guess Road, Rougemont, NC
Visited: Sunday, September 7, 2014
- Google Satellite

Summary: North of Durham, you'll find Little River Regional Park, which appears to be a popular mountain biking destination. We went here primarily for a picnic in the woods, but there's also a small playground.

Things for Marla to do: 6/20. Just one playground set here, with a few slides; no swings or anything else.

Uniqueness: 3/10. I would have given 1/10 here, but a couple of the slides were "tiered" (or bumpy or whatever), which Marla really enjoyed. Other than that, this playground is pretty generic.

Upkeep: 7/10. (copied and pasted from the previous review) The equipment was in good shape, and trash was average.

Crowd: 7/10. This is another case of "people don't come here for the playground alone", so occasionally the playground will pick up some stragglers who are on their way in or out of the woods.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. Even though the playground is small, we had a really hard time getting Marla away from it.

TOTAL: 27/55 (★★★). Honestly, I almost wish this playground wasn't here. The reason you come to Little River is to do other nature-y things, like hike or mountain bike, except that there's a playground front and center, which probably just distracts the children and ruins your plans more so than anything else. At least, that's how I see it.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Equal Opportunity Statkeeping

I've kept a lot of stats related to Marla over the last three years. Now that we have two children, that means twice the stats! But can I keep it up? I better; otherwise, I'm playing favorites with my children, no?

Sure, I shouldn't have any trouble with the county maps (Marla, Bruce), but a couple of issues could come up. It might be easy for me to miss a new county for Bruce, for instance - a nearby county that the rest of us have visited long ago, but that I don't realize at the time that Bruce hasn't been to yet. (That's not going to be a problem in the short term, since Bruce is currently sitting on a total of 2.) But it might be more difficult to keep this up: not only have I tracked Marla's county visits, I have recorded the exact day in which Marla has visited each new county. That allows me to make a neat graph such as this, which shows how Marla's overall county count has increased over time:

Can I keep this up for Bruce so that we can compare and contrast their county visits? I hope so! I'll also keep track of Bruce's "nights by county", same as Marla, although that is much easier to track than every single county visit. (By the way, Bruce's first overnight outside of Durham County is expected to be in late October at about the two-month mark. Marla's first overnight was at about three months.)

I also recorded Marla's weight each time we took her through the doctor, but I got lazy and stopped doing that after her 2nd birthday. I owe it to Bruce to do the same, and then maybe I can make a graph comparing those numbers too. Here's Marla's weight as recorded by each of her doctor visits through her 2nd birthday:

This graph faces a couple of issues: 1) the doctor visits come far less frequently after the first month, and 2) at least two of the weight measurements taken at the doctor are highly questionable (one obvious one at four months, and also the very last measurement at the two year mark, which was probably too low). Still, gotta record all of Bruce's weights also! It's only fair. Actually, this information is coming in handy, so that we have a benchmark to compare against. For instance, Bruce lost 8 ounces between birth and his first doctor visit on day #3. Is that normal? Yes, because Marla lost 9 ounces between birth and her first doctor visit on day #4. Also, Bruce gained 3 ounces back by day #5; Marla gained 2 ounces between days #4 and #6. So, we're on track.

In terms of milestones, here's what I have down for Marla:
- Rolled over*: day #138 (4.5 months)
- First tooth: day #191 (6.25 months)
- Crawling: day #262 (8.5 months)
- Walking: day #414 (13.5 months)

How will Bruce compare? Not that I'm going to declare one kid the "winner" and the other the "loser" here, I just think it's interesting. All I know is, as far as walking is concerned, Bruce can take as long as he wants. No rush, kid. Take your time.

(* - Marla rolled over from her back to her tummy before she could roll over in the opposite direction. Most babies are able to roll over from tummy to back first. I'm not sure how I'll score this for Bruce if he does tummy-to-back first like most babies do. Will I record that date, or should I wait until he does back-to-tummy?)

In any case, I promise to be as thorough with Bruce as I was with Marla, so that I can embarrass each child equally.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Family's All Here

I've always envisioned that my "ideal family unit" would include two children. Maybe three years apart. One boy and one girl, preferably.

Hey, guys, we did it!

So, that little guy is named Bruce Logan Allen. We named him Bruce because that name fits all of our criteria, but most notably, it's easy to spell, not terribly common these days (the 416th most popular boy name in 2013, per Social Security), and sufficiently manly. (If Bruce is like me, he's likely to get picked on in school, so we didn't want to make matters even worse by giving him an overly nerdy name.) And yes, I am aware that the current GM and president of the Washington Redskins is named Bruce Allen, but I figure that since these are the Redskins we're talking about, he'll probably be fired within the next couple of years anyway. The middle name Logan is inspired by Mount Logan, the highest point in Canada (as explained here).

Bruce was born at 9:09 AM on Saturday, August 23, 2014, which is kind of neat because weekend babies are less common than weekday babies. (Although I was actually pulling for an August 22nd birthday, because then he would have had the same birthday as his deceased great-grandfather. But August 23rd is fine too, if nothing else because we know several other kids, including our niece, who have birthdays on the 23rds of other months.) And yeah, I've already started his county map. Marla didn't visit her second county (Wake County, obviously) until she was 18 days old; I don't expect it to take that long for Bruce, because we're feeling much more in control of things this time around and are more likely to take him out places sooner.

Some say that going from 1 kid to 2 kids is even more of an adjustment than going from 0 kids to 1 kid, but three days after birth, I wouldn't say so, at least not yet. Sure, it's harder to have 2 kids, sometimes a lot harder, but it's not as big a jump as going from none to one. Mostly, we know what to expect this time around in terms of how much sleep we're going to get, what to do with a newborn, etc. We'll get less sleep in the short term compared to a year from now, but I think the hardest part will be when Bruce is just learning to walk, and then run, and we'll have to follow him around the house everywhere all the time, while we also have a 4-year-old to look after as well. Sooner than that, things will get tougher when we both go back to work. Even sooner than that, things will get tougher this weekend, when we won't be able to drop Marla off at day care and concentrate on Bruce between 8 and 5. (We were discharged on Monday, which is nice in that we get four more days of paid day care for Marla before our first weekend together.) But for now...I wouldn't say it's been easy with Bruce so far, but at least it's been predictable.

I feel a much greater sense of satisfaction this time around, compared to when Marla is born. Marla's birth was obviously wonderful, but now there's a sense of completeness that we didn't have before. As in, we're done making babies, our family is complete, and now we have the rest of our lives to look forward to.