Wednesday, August 31, 2011

High School Reunions

Amber and I both graduated from high school - different high schools in different states, of course - in 2000. Since then, both of our high schools have (sort of) held a "10 year reunion". Even though we would each like to see our friends from high school again, neither Amber nor I attended our respective high school reunions. Why? Well, hmm...let's see if I explain without hurting anyone's feelings or sounding elitist...

Both Amber and I tended to (although not exclusively) hang out with, let's call it the NHS crowd. You know, smart and/or nerdy people. This crowd also happens to consist of the people who are most likely to leave town once they graduate. I don't have the numbers to back this up, but I have to think that "level of education" is well correlated with "likelihood of taking a job in a city far from where they went to high school", since looking for a specialized kind of job will often require packing up and leaving town. And, obviously, "living in a city far from where they went to high school" means "nowhere near as likely to attend your high school reunion". Amber was under the impression that the crowd at her high school reunion would be dominated by your "jock" and "cheerleader" types - you know, popular people - which she (or I) didn't hang out with so much. Amber never even considered going to her reunion, I don't think. (UPDATE: The real reason Amber never considered going to her 10 year reunion is because it took place during last summer's Alaska trip.)

As for my high school reunion...well, the short explanation is that we never really had a 10 year reunion. The long explanation is this: 1) Last year, efforts to organize a 10 year reunion never materialized. 2) Class reunions are traditionally organized by the senior class president, which is a problem when he is an alleged felon. (True story! Let the record show that I voted for somebody else.) 3) Other classmates organized a "one year late 10 year reunion" this past weekend, but despite their best efforts (and I feel really bad for them, I should note), hardly anybody showed up.

Why didn't anybody show up? In the organizers' defense - and I know they put a lot of effort into it, and ultimately lost money - they were pretty much doomed from the start. The most important thing with respect to a high school reunion is to establish a "buzz" and ensure that people will actually show up. Gathering the "buzz" - that is, establishing to everyone that this is really a thing and that "like, everyone is totally going to be there!" - is difficult. And, it's pretty much impossible when you have a "10 year reunion" in year 11, for two reasons. For one, the "buzz" that had been building the previous year for a 10 year reunion had already faded, and people have moved on. But also, reunions need to sound "official" to get that "buzz" (and to get people to come in from out of town), and you can't really do that by having a "10 year reunion" in year 11. What I imagine happened is that most people - including myself - thought, "I don't think this is going to be well-attended, so I'm not going to make the effort to go." Not even the classmates who still live in the Jacksonville area went to the reunion, from the sounds of it. Basically, we missed our chance last year. This reunion had to be held last year for it to have a chance, and our next chance won't be until year 20.

Speaking in general terms, some say that the popularity of social networking makes the idea of high school reunion pointless. I think there's something to that, because I already know what many of my high school friends are up to these days, so there isn't as much incentive to go to a reunion. (Side note: I've connected with many of my high school friends on Facebook, but I feel kind of weird seeking out and "friending" any more high school friends at this point now that it's been 11 years.) People also seem to be moving around the country more than they used to, making a high school reunion far less practical. Will high school reunions soon become a thing of the past, an outdated relic of the 20th century? Maybe...but there's something to be said for seeing these people in person. There is no substitute for that. I've always thought that an official, formal high school reunion would be a fun thing to be a part of.

Either way, I guess we'll revisit this in 2020, hopefully with better results.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Road Trip Baby

We have every intention of raising a "road trip baby" - that is, one that is used to taking frequent road trips. So we're very pleased to know that, at least for now, Marla is very calm when riding in the car. (This is typical for newborns, so objectively, our baby is nothing special in that regard.) We're not yet comfortable enough to put Marla in the car and drive out of state; that day will come, probably within the next few weeks. But for now, we're slowly increasing the length of our Marla drives. Saturday's drive to practically nowhere was over 70 miles:


View Larger Map

We weren't trying to give Marla another Brand New County, but Harnett County ended up being Marla's fourth county visited in her now 33 days of postnatal existence. I thought she'd be stuck at three (the three that are closest to home) until at least October. But, nope...the Allen family has a hard time just sitting around at home.

I should note that while I do obsess over expanding my personal counties visited map, I'm not going to go out of my way to arbitrarily increase Marla's counties visited count. We do not intend on taking Marla to all 100 of North Carolina's counties (all of which I have already been to myself) just for the sake of doing so. I'm only keeping the stats at this point so that there exists a complete record from day one. In fact, I'd actually like to keep her counties visited total down for now. Don't want to ruin all the fun for her, you know? It would have been kind of a letdown if my parents told me, "Oh, you've already been to every county in North Carolina. We took you there before you were old enough to remember anything." But, still...we like to drive, and we'll go pretty much anywhere, so Marla is already likely to have a county count in the low hundreds by the time she's old enough to say "Pasquotank".

Going on random drives is the kind of thing we used to do anyway, so now the only difference is that we're bringing a third person with us! And, yeah, it's a little more inconvenient, but we haven't taken a long enough drive to require a mid-trip feeding or diaper change, yet. But we'll get there. Heck, we might even get there this weekend. It's a three day weekend, and what else are we going to do?

On another statistical note, Marla weighted 8 pounds, 3.6 ounces at yesterday's "one month" doctor's visit. I was hoping for 8 or more pounds, so I was happy with that. Sure, that's only 21st percentile, but my weight - compared to other 29-year-old white males - is also between the 20th and 25th percentile (source).

Monday, August 29, 2011

American Express Gift Cards

This surely wasn't the case everywhere, but in our neighborhood, I'd say Hurricane Irene isn't really worth blogging about. Instead, let's talk about something else! Although I've actually talked about this before.

The video card I bought last month came with a $20 mail-in rebate, which I received a week or two ago. These rebates used to come via check. Now, they come via prepaid gift card.


This is not the first time I have had an American Express Gift Card. And let me tell you...these things are not easy to use. You can't use them at gas stations, you can't use them online, you can't use them anywhere that doesn't take American Express, and at some places, they just plain don't work. I have less than a 50% success rate when I try to use these things. And even when they do work, it doesn't give you the remaining balance on the receipt like with a store-specific gift card.

So...I've decided I pretty much hate these things. It can be quite a burden to burn through one of these things, even one that's only worth $20. Thankfully, we never get these generic "prepaid credit cards" from friends or family. (And don't you start! Stick with checks and store-specific gift cards, please.) Why does the corporate world see this as a superior method of cash transfer? I guess it's a matter of convenience on their end. Or, they see the "American Express" label as "prestigious" or something. Like, ooooo, look what I've got, it says American Express on it! Personally, these gift cards have done nothing more than turn me off of American Express, even more so than I was already turned off of the brand due to the rather snooty aura surrounding American Express. Then again, I'm pretty much anti-credit cards in general. I have never carried a balance on a credit card in my entire life.

On a somewhat related note, Wells Fargo (with whom I am now a customer thanks to their acquisition of Wachovia) will be charging $3/month debit card use fees in select states (not North Carolina). If and when this is introduced in North Carolina, will that get me to change banks? Perhaps. We'll see. You know, we should probably switch to a credit union regardless.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Irene: Preview

Needless to say, I've been keeping my eye (no pun intended) on Hurricane Irene all week. Will it hit Jacksonville? Will it hit Wilmington and head straight for our house? Or will it only brush North Carolina and aim for New England, almost completely sparing Durham in the process? All have been distinct possibilities over this past week, and I know how these forecasts can change over time, so I'm not the type to get overly worried when I see a forecast that says a hurricane is heading straight for us five days out. That's why I haven't blogged about Irene before today. But now that we're less than 36 hours from landfall, we have a pretty good idea of what impacts this storm will have, at least south of the Mason-Dixon line.

Sooner or later, I recognize that the Triangle will get another direct hit by a storm that is still hurricane strength by the time it reaches us. And when it does, I'll deal with it, because I've been extremely lucky in my life when it comes to hurricanes. This storm won't that direct hit, though. According to the latest NHC wind probabilities (Friday 11 AM), Raleigh has a 47% chance of experiencing tropical storm force winds, and no chance of hurricane force winds. But that's in Raleigh; I live about 20 miles to the northwest. Will we experience tropical storm force winds? Maybe, maybe not. Either way, it will be a good test for the anemometer I installed on our roof a while back. (The anemometer only kind of, sort of, works. Due to the trees surrounding our house, and the fact that it's no longer standing upright and I don't feel like going up there to fix it, it never accurately measures the true surface wind.)

So...I have mixed feelings with these things. On one hand, death and/or destruction are not good, whether it's in North Carolina or anywhere else, and especially when it directly or indirectly impacts people you know. On the other hand...I am a weather geek, and hurricanes are part of what inspired me to study meteorology in the first place. I am certainly NOT looking forward to seeing what this storm will do. But the fact is, this hurricane is coming regardless, so I am...let's say, curious. I also have a lot of pride as a meteorologist of sorts, so when I hear trusted weather personalities give grim forecasts, in the back of my head I can't help but think: "Gee, I hope they're at least partially right, or else meteorologists everywhere will be accused of poor forecasting and/or fear mongering". I think there has been a bit too much fear mongering going on the last couple of days, but I guess that's what it takes to get everyone's attention. We'll see whether it was justified after the fact. There is a fine line between encouraging an appropriate response from the people, and completely overreacting.

What's going to happen along the Outer Banks and in the Northeast? I'll be glued to the Weather Channel and/or the computer all weekend to find out. What's going to happen in Durham? I'll live-tweet the events if the storm ends up being rather interesting on our end, but I'm not expecting a whole lot. I should note that at the Allen household, we are always prepared for an extended power outage, so don't mistake my attitude for a lack of preparation.

I'm actually considering playing an ultra-windy round of disc golf on Saturday. Hey, it might be fun! As for the rest of you...be safe.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Bananas For Now, Bananas For Later

Buying bananas at the grocery store often consists of wading through piles and piles of them, looking for ones that have just the right amount of ripeness based on personal preference, and when you think you'll get around to eating them. Well, Kroger is trying to make it easier on us:


I think this is absolutely brilliant. How do you like your bananas? If you like then mostly yellow with perhaps a few brown spots, then take some from the left. If you prefer your bananas in shades of green, or don't plan on eating your bananas for a few days, then take some from the right. Brilliant! I'm sure other stores do this too, but this is the first time I've ever seen it.

I will actually only eat bananas when they exhibit at least a little green and virtually no brown spots. I love the taste of a greenish-yellow banana, but I am not a fan of the general banana flavor you get from those in the "bananas for now" pile. The flavor you get from a "for later" banana is completely different, and that's a flavor I like. So for me, "bananas for later" are really "bananas for now", and "bananas for now" are "bananas for never". This makes me appreciate the sorting even more.

Type or say the word "banana" enough time, and the word starts to lose its meaning and sound like mere gibberish. Try it!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Parental Leave

According to the Family Medical Leave Act, both Amber and I have the right to take up to three months (not necessarily paid) off from work to care for our new child, and must be restored to our original job when we return. Even that places the United States well behind most of the rest of the developed world in terms of parental leave policies, at least in the mother's case. For sure, it is not unreasonable for at least one parent - usually the mother, particularly if she is breastfeeding - to take the full three months off, at least. But what about the other parent?

Well...for me, I think four weeks was enough. After 21 days off from work, I returned to work today, even though I could have taken more paid time off (albeit at the expense of my leave balances). I actually told my employer that I'd be taking "up to six weeks" off at first, and that was approved. I wouldn't say that I was starting to get bored, but things have settled down over the last week, mother and daughter are doing fine, and I was actually starting to miss work a little bit, believe it or not. There's something to be said for having a routine.

Every situation is different, though. Had Amber undergone a C-section, which has a longer recovery time than a "traditional" birth, it might have been necessary for me to take more time off. Some kids are more difficult than others; based on what I've heard from other parents, I think Marla is a little less difficult of a child to care for than the average. And, I live only three miles from the office and have a flexible work schedule, so I can come home at any time if, say, a situation arises. It's a pretty good situation, really.

So, just because I only took four weeks doesn't mean that it's not appropriate for other fathers to take more. I'd say that three weeks is an absolute minimum for the father, although I definitely would have felt rushed if I returned last week. And three months is plenty for the father, except perhaps in extreme cases.

Meanwhile, Mommy is taking the full three months, so she still has two more months to go before she returns to work. By then, we'll be well info Fall, and college football season will be more than half over. That seems weird.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What Earthquake?

Word is, there was a magnitude 5.8 earthquake in Virginia today that was felt up and down the East Coast. Many of our friends in the Raleigh area felt the earthquake. But did we? Nope. And it's killing me.

One thing Twitter is best for is "Breaking News". Instantly, word of an earthquake was all over Twitter (and Facebook too) from users up and down the East Coast. So, I knew that something happened, and where, almost immediately. But I felt nothing. And that really bothers me. Believe it or not, I would consider "experiencing a minor earthquake" an item on my "bucket list". Mostly, it's curiosity: how would I react if the earth started shaking? It might be kind of scary at the time, but at the end of it all, I'll probably be thinking something to the effect of, "THAT WAS AWESOME!!!!" People enjoy roller coasters (I do) and horror movies (I do not) for similar reasons. It's about the surprise, and the thrill - and, of course, the fact that everything is okay afterwards. It has to be an incredible experience. Pretty much any earthquake we'd get in North Carolina would be minor, so I don't think I'd get too worried once it started. Different story were I to feel something in California or Alaska, where strong earthquakes are obviously more common.

So, yeah, I'm totally jealous of everyone that felt the earthquake today. The instant online buzz made it seem like some kind of awesome party that we weren't invited to. "Hey, did you feel it?" "Yeah!" "Me too!" "I did also! It was incredible!" Yeah, well...you all suck.

Maybe next time.

Co-ed Kickball: Season 4 Preview

A few months ago, I openly questioned the future of the Knightdale co-ed kickball league I've been playing in for the last year and a half, for a couple of reasons. With participation in steady decline, would the league even be back for another season? And if it was, would I even be participating in it given our recent addition?

Well, the league is back for another go, and participation has gone up! There are six teams this time, which is way better than four. (Side note: I think one of the teams is composed of Town of Knightdale employees. Is this their "bailout" plan?) Perhaps I was a little quick to write the league off, but I think the other Triangle kickball leagues don't necessarily have a sterling reputation, either, which is good for Knightdale.

As for me...here's basically where I stand. I want to get out of the house and play, sure, but I don't want to spend too much time away from Marla or wear myself out, either. So, I'm going to limit my play to once a week, which works out to playing in up to seven of our team's games. Our first game is tomorrow night, and I'll be there.

Will other teams have caught on to my bunting strategy and finally find a way to shut me down? Hopefully not, but it's going to happen eventually.

Will I pitch more than 3 strikeouts this season? I doubt it, based on my limited schedule, and the fact that batters have already caught on to my pitching technique.

Will our team finish next-to-last yet again? Despite our acquisition of some new talent, I think it's best to assume that our team will lose most of our games, again. And if that ends up not being the case, great!

One more note: at a practice last week, we briefly practiced with what is apparently a "regulation" kickball ball. This ball is much heavier and harder than the balls Knightdale usually uses, which means that it's harder to spin a pitch, and it's easier to kick a ball far. I think the "regulation" ball. which is used in various other leagues, would make for a better game by de-emphasizing "smallball". However, I think the lighter balls give us a better chance to win, because a "regulation" ball would benefit the power teams by enabling them to kick the ball even farther over our heads than they already do. And, it would handicap my pitching, too. So I'm certainly not itching for a change to "regulation", but I am kind of curious how things would play out with the heavier ball.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Traffic Light Sensors for Bicycles

I didn't expect to be able to maintain my regular bicycling regimen after Marla was born. But I'm still averaging 35 to 40 miles of bicycling per week, at least for the time being. It will get much tougher to keep that up once I return to work.

Here's something I discovered during one of last week's rides that I had never seen before:

One of my "bicycling pet peeves" is traffic lights that will never, ever change if there's a bicycle waiting, and also have no button-enabled crosswalk. At intersections like this, one of which I pass through every day to and from work, bicycle traffic has to either 1) wait and hope a car comes and trips the light, or 2) run the red light. I usually choose option #1 on weekdays, and out of necessity, #2 on weekends.


But at the above intersection, which is along a very popular bicycling route, they apparently installed a traffic light sensor that will respond to a bicycle sitting on top of it rather than a car. Hooray! No more running red lights or waiting for car traffic to trip the light! At least, not here. Unfortunately, I don't come down here on my bike all that often.

(Side comment: Near this intersection, US-64 at Farrington Road near Jordan Lake, there is also a portable toilet which exists specifically for bicyclists. So that's nice.)

Does this bicycle traffic light sensor work? I don't know, because when I showed up at the intersection, there was a car already there. I actually think the sensors should be over on the right side of the lane, or on the shoulder, instead of in the center of the lane. Because as bicyclists, we're supposed to keep to the right, right? (At traffic lights, I always stay as far to the right as possible so that I don't hold up any of the car traffic once the light turns green.)

Will we see bicycle-specific traffic light sensors at other intersections? I doubt it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Marla: Week Three

It's now time for: Miscellaneous Notes Regarding Our Three Week Old Baby, Marla (Plus A Couple Of Token Pictures)!

I've referenced our strict baby name rules a lot, and the name Marla passes them all. One thing I love about the name Marla is that you don't need to spell it to anyone over the phone. Every one knows how to spell Marla. However...here's something that was missing from our baby name rules: "Marla" looks a lot like "Maria" on paper, which of course is a much more common name. This has come up a couple of times: her doctor's office had her name down as "Maria" at her first appointment, and the local birth certificate office about made me crap my pants when the clerk read "Maria" on her computer screen. But the birth certificate does in fact say Marla; the clerk simply didn't read it right off the screen at first. Close one! I don't think this will be a chronic problem for Marla, though. When written in all caps, it is clearly MARLA. And, not one friend or relative of ours has made that mistake, which is impressive because many first learned of her name by reading it off of their computer screens. (Thanks everyone!) Everyone knows her name is Marla, except for her doctor, apparently...but we'll get that fixed.

Yeah, it's cliché: "Oh, the time will just fly by! She'll be all grown up in no time!" Thing is, though...when you happen to be counting the days since your daughter has been born, that saying kind of goes out the window. Marla is three weeks old as of today, and it seems like it's been three weeks. It may not seem like three weeks to you, however, because not only are you not counting, you're not spending all of your time with her, either. For me, other people's kids always seem to grow up fast. On multiple occasions, co-workers of mine have had a second child, prompting me to think: "Wait...didn't they just have their first kid??" only to find out that their first kid is already three years old. So, here's what I think: kids do grow up fast, but only if 1) they're not yours, or 2) you're not counting. And while Marla certainly seems like a three-week old at this point, the month of August has, in fact, flown by. Is it seriously already August 18th? (Side comment: here's an old blog post I wrote on the perception of time.)

Big news on the statistical front: Marla has now visited her second county! On Monday, Amber and I took Marla to eastern Wake County for kickball practice. (My fourth season of kickball begins next week, although I'm only doing a partial schedule this season because of the baby. Preview to come.) This was Marla's first trip outside of Durham County, so Marla is now up to two! Marla has behaved very well in the car so far, which is good, seeing as how we intend on raising a road trip baby. Speaking of which, at some point, we're going to drive to the nearest interstate rest area*, practice changing her diaper on one of the rest area changing tables, and then immediately come back home. Why not?

(* - Which interstate rest area is closest to home? Three rest areas are all 45 to 50 minutes away: I-40/85 near Burlington, I-85 near Oxford, and I-40 near I-95.)

More statistical news! A couple of people have recently asked how much Marla weighed now. That caught us off guard a little, because Marla hasn't been weighed since her last doctoral visit two weeks ago. So yesterday, we took an official measurement on our scale at home. Marla + me weighs 7.8 pounds more than just me. So, there you go...although that is a very unofficial number due to the questionable number precision of our scale. But if that's an accurate number, then she's gained a whole pound in the last two weeks. Wow! (Newborns typically gain one pound every three to four weeks. Also, if you're curious how much I weigh...I've been in the 150 to 155 range for most of the last few years.)

How's that whole sleeping at night thing working out? Well, I knew that wouldn't last forever. Newborns sleep 16 hours a day coming out of the hospital. Marla doesn't sleep that much anymore, so we're not getting as much sleep now as we did two weeks ago. I don't consider myself sleep deprived, but then again, I'm not able to do any of the feeding, either, so...I can only speak for myself. Marla had been on a pretty predictable sleep schedule the last few nights - sleep in the afternoon, awake in the evening, sleep from 11/midnight until at least sunrise (with feedings mixed in at three-hour intervals) - but that's been changing the last couple of nights.

And, finally...what do you do with a three week old, anyway? They're too young to play with toys, interact, or really do much of anything other than just sit there. At this point, she seems more like a "pet" than a "child", to be honest. That will change eventually, but in the meantime, there are a few ways to have fun with a newborn. For instance, here's "fish lips Marla", followed by "Marla with a finger up her nose":



This is how we're going to do baby pictures, by the way. Nothing against formal, professionally done studio pictures, but that's not my style. My style is more informal, around-the-house, silly pictures like those pictured above, so that's what you're going to get. Speaking of which, we have about two and a half months to decide on a Halloween costume for her.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Hey, I Know That Guy

Forgive me for sounding arrogant, but the reason I went to Penn State for grad school is because it's one of the, if not the, top meterology schools in the country. (Nothing against Florida State, or the other grad school which accepted my application, Utah.) With Penn State Meteorology being what it is, I met a lot of smart people while I was there, both faculty and fellow students. These people are, or are on their way to becoming, accomplished research meteorologists. So occasionally, I'll see one of my friends from Penn State on some random weather-related television show. Most recently, I saw Jacob Haqq-Misra on the Discovery show Curiosity on Sunday, talking speculatively from a scientific perspective about what it would be like if our planet were invaded by aliens. (No, that's not exactly meteorology, but I suppose Jacob is more "astrobiologist" than "meteorologist".) I've also occasionally seen friends and Penn State professors make apperances (usually brief and in the background) on Storm Chasers and other tornado-related documentaries. Every time I do, it validates my decision to go to Penn State even more, in a weird sort of way. (As if the fact that I met Amber at Penn State isn't reason enough.)

So why aren't I on television, hmm? Well...because I decided I'd rather get a regular job than stay in academia. Any regrets? Nope. Academia and the research life isn't for me, and I made that decision long ago. If I'm ever on television, it'll be a local news story about the curling club, rather than about the weather. Although I do admit, tornado research would have been a lot of fun. (And no, I'm not just talking about tornado chasing.)

But if you're a professor at a leading academic institution, is it really a good thing to be on television? Are you a "sell out" if you do the Discovery Channel? Or, is it more noble to strictly stay grounded within academic circles, letting your research proliferate through journal articles and conference presentations rather than by appearing on Through the Wormhole With Morgan Freeman? (Nobody I know has appeared in that series, for the record.) Well, regardless, here is a fact: if I were a university professor and the Discovery Channel ever called me, I certainly wouldn't say no, at least not the first couple of times. I certainly don't hold it against Josh Wurman for all of the television appearances he's made over the years, although I imagine some in the academic community probably do, due to the "sensationalist" nature of some of these shows. For example, here's what University of Oklahoma adjunct professor Chuck Doswell thinks of what he calls "tornado crockumentaries".

Getting back to the "why aren't I on television myself" question...it's actually kind of funny, because when I was 18 and told everyone that I was going to major in meteorology, the most common response was: "So, are you going to be on TV?" That's what the general public thinks of first when they think meteorology: the weatherman on the local news. I never considered going that route, because I quite frankly wouldn't be any good at it. Either way, you'd think that it would be more common for me to see someone I know from school on a local weather broadcast than on the Discovery Channel, right? Well...I do know a few local news meteorolgists, but I never see them on television, because they're on local news somewhere else, of course. The only on-camera meteorologist whom I know from college - in this case, Florida State - that I've ever seen in action on television is the Weather Channel's Stephanie Abrams.

So, if you want to see people you meet in college on television years later, don't try to become and actor or something. Get a Master's degree in meteorology!

Monday, August 15, 2011

1990s Children's Television: Revisited

Five years ago, in a blog post about children's television shows that I watched growing up in the 1990s, I had a suggestion regarding the "Nickelodeon Games and Sports" channel (abbreviated "Nick GAS"). Instead of re-airing GUTS ten times a day, why not turn Nick GAS into a channel that re-aired all kinds of old Nickelodeon shows from the 1980s and 1990s? I'd watch (at least at first), and based on some of the "online buzz" I've seen within the past week or two regarding this topic, I know I'm not alone.

Well, guess what happened? They did! Well...sort of. Last month, the "TeenNick" channel, which kind of replaced "Nick GAS", started re-airing old 1990s programming in a two-hour block called "The '90s Are All That". Currently airing in the "The '90s Are All That" block (midnight to 2 AM, weeknights) are the shows All That, Kenan & Kel, Clarissa Explains It All, and Doug. Other shows will eventually be rotated in. Also, some cartoons from the 1990s - including Rugrats and Rocko's Modern Life - are being aired overnight on the "Nicktoons" network. Yes! Time to fire up the DVR!

Well...maybe. I have to be honest. I never watched or liked All That or Kenan & Kel, and while I did watch Clarissa Explains It All, it didn't leave a good taste in my mouth for some reason. Rugrats was alright, but it was too popular for my taste. So, actually, the only shows among those mentioned above that I would like to see again, and will record onto the DVR, are Doug and Rocko's Modern Life.

(Side comment: According to ssa.gov, the female baby name "Clarissa" peaked in popularity in...wait for it...1994. Coincidence? Clarissa ranked 236th in 1994; it is currently 550th.)

Any other Nickelodeon shows from the 1990s I'd be interested in seeing again? Sure! I see three categories of old Nickelodeon shows:

Cartoons - For me, the three best ones are (in order) Ren and Stimpy, Rocko's Modern Life, and Doug. I already own Ren and Stimpy on DVD, and the latter two are already airing in reruns, so we're all set as far as I'm concerned. At least until Nickelodeon (or someone else) acquires the rights to, and starts airing, old reruns of Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. But as a fan of the show, I do hope Ren and Stimpy makes it into the rerun blocks.

Game shows - Nickelodeon used to have a lot of game shows, many of which aired in reruns on the old "Nick GAS" channel: GUTS, Legends of the Hidden Temple, Finders Keepers, Get the Picture, Nick Arcade, and obviously, Double Dare. This got me thinking, though: does Nickelodeon even show game shows anymore? Double Dare is educational and fun, and shows like GUTS can encourage children to be more physically active. But has Nickelodeon phased out shows like this in order to make room for more SpongeBob SquarePants and iCarly reruns? If so, that's too bad.

(UPDATE: A little Wikipedia research reveals that there is one - and only one - game show currently in active production among the Nickelodeon networks, called BrainSurge. Well, better than nothing.)

Live action shows - I didn't enjoy these as much as the cartoons or the game shows, but I did enjoy Salute Your Shorts and The Adventures of Pete and Pete, and I tolerated Hey Dude. I'd be surprised if these three shows don't make it into the "90's Are All That" lineup at some point. I should also point out that, unfortunately, You Can't Do That On Television was an 80s show rather than a 90s show.

In any case, if you want relive your childhood Nickelodeon-style, you had better take advantage of this opportunity while you can! The nostalgia - and therefore, the ratings - will wear off fairly quickly, and that TeenNick could go back to airing whatever it is they used to air at midnight before too long. The thing is, the people most likely to watch these shows are your 20- and 30-somethings (like me) that watched them as kids. And, let's face it: these are kids' shows. We won't enjoy them as much now as we did back then. So don't expect these shows to have the same shelf life as, say, reruns of Seinfeld.

I realize that you can probably find any old Nickelodeon show you want on the internet somewhere. But it's better when they're on actual television.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Laundry and Garbage

I've never kept track of "number of loads of laundry per week" or "number of bags of garbage generated per week", so this is only going to be an estimate. Since Marla was born, we've had to do laundry three times as often, and have been generating three times as much garbage. Sure, it's easy to say our two-week-old child is responsible for all of the increase...but is she really?

On the laundry front, yes. It seems like we've done a load of laundry every day since we came home. The primary reason for that is because, well, babies will pee on pretty much anything.

As for the increase of garbage...it's not so clear. Yes, babies go through a lot of diapers. We've been doing through approximately 12 dirty diapers per day. (I quit keeping track of diaper changes, so I don't have an exact number.) That generates a lot of garbage, but I think that only accounts for about half of our increased garbage generation. The other half can be attributed to us being home all the time instead of at work or elsewhere, and having additional house guests - her parents, then my parents - for the better part of the last three weeks. It used to be, we only generated enough trash to need to put the garbage bin out on the street every three weeks or so. But we're going to come close to filling it up just this week.

Things will change once we 1) go back to work, and 2) start using cloth diapers instead of disposables. The plastic covers that come with the cloth diapers are a little too big for Marla at this point, so we're stuck with disposables until she grows a little more. After the switch over to cloth, I imagine we'll revert back to our original rate of garbage production, or maybe slightly more. But at the same time, we'll be producing even more dirty laundry. Yay!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Strollometer

Early parenthood is a lot of work, but one thing I have been looking forward to these first few weeks is taking little Marla on stroller rides.


As we strolled Marla around the neighborhood the other day, a thought occurred to me. In order to expand my obsessive stat tracking even further, I need an odometer specifically made for strollers. They do make those, right?

Well...sort of.


Introducing the award-winning "Strollometer": the world's first - and apparently only - speedometer/odometer specifically made for strollers. Yes! Sign me up! Where can I get one?

And therein lies the problem. A Google search for "Strollometer" suggests that you can get one at Amazon, REI, and Toys 'R Us. But every single retail web site I visited says that the Strollometer is out of stock. My conclusion: the Strollometer is no longer in production. I was able to find one on eBay, though, which I immediately bought. In fact, that eBay listing - there was only one - quite possibly may have been the only Strollometer available on the entire internet. So thanks to me, the internet is now sold out of Strollometers. Sorry! (Maybe not, but I feel like I looked everywhere. And as far as I'm concerned, if Google can't find it, it doesn't exist.)

My Strollometer arrived on Monday, so I installed it and gave it its first test drive this afternoon. Here it is, attached to the right side of the handlebar:


In case you're wondering how this works, there is a magnet attached to the right rear wheel and a sensor hanging over it. Every time the magnet passes the sensor, it sends a signal to the primary unit, which converts that to distance traveled based on a user-determined wheel diameter. In other words, it's just like a bicycle odometer, except it's designed for stroller-size wheels rather than bicycle-size wheels.

The Strollometer did okay on its test drive. Google Maps verified the distance reported by the Strollometer - approximately 1.8 miles - as accurate. However, I have two serious issues with it: 1) The odometer resets at midnight every day, so it doesn't give you an overall odometer total (which is what I want). Instead, I have to record the distance at the end of every single trip in order to track "total stroller distance traveled". Lame. It's much cooler, and more genuine, to see total miles traveled right there on the display. 2) The device mysteriously reset halfway through today's stroll. What the heck?

Alright, so the Strollometer has some bugs and shortcomings. But the fact is, there is no alternative. This is the ONLY odometer/speedometer available for strollers. So why isn't it in production anymore, and why isn't there any competition? Well...here's what I think. The target market for the Strollometer seems to be actively exercising parents who take their strollers on long walks or jogs. And I'm thinking that if you're the type of person who cares how far they walk or jog, then you probably already have a device which does that for you, e.g. a smartphone app, GPS, or pedometer. So what do you need the Strollometer for? (The Strollometer was far more accurate than my smartphone, by the way.)

In any case, I'm happy with my Strollometer purchase, because after all...this is so me. Stroller Mileage is now a By the Numbers feature. Including strolls from before I received the Strollometer (estimated via Google Maps) as well as after: 3.3 miles and counting!

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Gillette Fusion

In 2000, I fell for an absolutely brilliant marketing ploy. The folks at Gillette sent me a FREE MACH 3 RAZOR for my 18th birthday in the mail. Yay! Or so I thought, because in the 11 years since then, I have spent hundreds of dollars on Mach 3 refill blades. Well done, Gillette.

More recently, I also happened to acquire a free Gillette Fusion razor, which is the ridiculous five-blade razor that they came out with a few years ago. I've been holding onto it for several months, but only within the last couple of weeks, when my neighborhood Kroger was out of Mach 3 refill blades, did I decide to actually try it.

So...here's my verdict on the Fusion blades. It does give a better shave than the Mach 3, but only slightly. To quantify it, I think a Fusion shave is 10% better than a Mach 3 shave. That means that I'd be willing to pay 10% more for Fusion blades than Mach 3 blades. This will dictate which blades I get when I need refills.

But there's another factor at work here. Do Fusion blades last longer than Mach 3 blades? If so, then maybe I would actually be saving money by buying Fusion blades instead of Mach 3 blades, even though Fusions are more expensive - sometimes significantly more expensive - than Mach 3s. The jury is still out on this one, since I'm still only on my first Fusion blade. But there hasn't been a noticeable decline in shave quality or discomfort two weeks after I started using the Fusion, which is not what I see with the Mach 3s, so...hmm. Perhaps Fusion blades might be worth up to 50% more. (Side comment: I get more life out of blades during the summer than the winter regardless, because higher humidity -> less skin irritation -> less of an aversion to a dull blade. So maybe we can thank the weather for the long life of my first Fusion blade. The real test of the Fusion's longevity will come in winter.)

But who says the Mach 3 and Fusion are my only choices, anyway? Refill blades are expensive, costing between $2 and $3 per blade. So when I say I've spent hundreds of dollars on Mach 3 refill blades since I turned 18, that's not an exaggeration. I think $100 per year on refill blades is a reasonable ballpark estimate. So what are the alternatives?

- Disposables. I've tried these, and yuck. I'd rather pay $100/year to shave with the fancy Gillettes than use these for free.
- Low-end brand name razors, for example, the old two-blade Gillette Sensor? That's actually what I started out with as a young adolescent. There was enough of a difference in shave quality between the Sensor and the Mach 3 - much more so than between the Mach 3 and the Fusion - that I decided the Mach 3 was worth the extra money. Does Gillette still make any of the old two-bladers? I looked for them yesterday at the store and didn't see them.
- Some brand other than Gillette, for example, the four-blade Schick Quattro. Quattro refill blades are just as expensive as the Gillettes, of course. But the fact is, I've never even tried shaving with a Schick product. Why not? Simple: they've never given me a free one.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Teslin

I'm fairly confident that until now, you've never heard of anyone with the name "Teslin", either first, middle, or last. So perhaps we have a little explaining to do, beyond our original "we want to use Canadian-inspired middle names" explanation.

As Canadian place names go, the small town of Teslin, Yukon, is extremely obscure. Only people who a) live in the Yukon, or b) have driven the Alaska Highway (and were paying attention) have heard of it. But that was sort of the point; if we wanted to be obvious about it, Marla's middle name would be "Alberta". Besides, Teslin does hold some personal significance, for a couple of reasons.

When Amber and I think Teslin, this picture from last summer's drive to Alaska is what comes to mind:


That's Teslin over there on the right, on the other side of the Nisutlin Bay Bridge. I don't think we actually went to the town itself; the Alaska Highway kind of bypasses it. Chances are, the town itself is nothing special. But we did eat lunch the day that picture was taken in the little gazebo-type thing in the forefront of the picture. That picture - which will soon be hanging up in Marla's room - is one of our favorites from the entire vacation, and eating lunch there that day is one of our most vivid memories of the trip. Or, more accurately, it was one of the most vivid memories of the trip which happened to be associated with a somewhat viable middle name. Muncho Lake may have been the highlight of the Alaska Highway, but Muncho is not a viable middle name. (Well, not for a girl, anyway. For a boy...maybe.)

Also notable: the stranded motorist we helped out on our return trip was from Teslin, although the actual encounter was an hour or two farther east.

More about the name "Teslin":
- The name Teslin is taken from the Tlingit word Teslintoo, which means "long narrow waters". (source)
- Also containing the name Teslin: geographical features Teslin Lake, Teslin River, Teslin Mountain, and Teslin Plateau; unincorporated communities of Teslin Lake, Little Teslin Lake, Teslin River, and Teslin Crossing.
- Nisutlin Bay, pictured above, drains into Teslin Lake, both of which eventually drain into the Bering Sea. Would it surprise you to know that Teslin Lake is long, narrow, and contains water?
- According to the 2006 Census, 141 people live in the village of Teslin, about 38% of whom identify as "aboriginal".
- On my fictional Bicycling Trip to Alaska, I rode past the village of Teslin just yesterday.
- The above picture was taken on June 29th, 2010; had it been one day earlier, it would have been exactly 13 months before Marla was born (July 28th, 2011). So close!
- PPG Industries manufactures a substrate called Teslin®.
- Part of the reason I conducted the middle name poll was to assure ourselves that using "Teslin" as a middle name wasn't completely ridiculous.
- Speaking of "completely ridiculous", should we have considered naming our daughter "Tess Lynn Allen"?

Feel free to steal the name "Teslin" for your own child. Maybe it'll catch on! Or not.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Planters Peanut Butter

I noticed something new on the peanut butter aisle at the store this week:


Planters-brand peanut butter, eh? That's new.

I guess it makes sense that Planters would make peanut butter, considering how well known their peanuts are. Why did they - and by "they" I really mean their parent company, Kraft - wait so long to make peanut butter?

Well, I did a little Google research, and found the following: 1) Planters peanut butter did once exist, several decades ago (source), long before it became part of Kraft. 2) Kraft has never sold peanut butter in the U.S., but they do in in Canada. That's interesting, because I'd think I would have noticed it on at least one of our Canadian grocery shopping excursions.

This begs the question: is the Canadian Kraft Peanut Butter the exact same product as the new Planters Peanut Butter available in the U.S., only repackaged? It really could go either way, because some products have different packaging but are exactly or nearly the same in the two countries (e.g. Milky Way and Mars bars), while other products have the same name but are entirely different on the other side of the border (e.g. Wheat Thins).

In any case, I think the reason Kraft has abstained from entering the U.S. peanut butter market is because it is hard to gain traction in a marketplace dominated by three brands: Jif, Peter Pan, and Skippy. But according to the NPR story I linked to above, Kraft sees an opening. The three afore-mentioned peanut butter brands are primarily marketed towards children, even though two-thirds of U.S. peanut butter consumption is by adults, and the adult peanut butter market is what Planters/Kraft is going to go after. Can Planters/Kraft loosen the Jif-Skippy-Peter Pan chokehold?

Despite the Planters name recognition, it's going to be tough. But, of course, it will depend at least partially on how good the product is. My initial impression after trying it is "not as good as Jif or Peter Pan, about as good as Skippy, and better than generic". (I don't care for store-brand peanut butter.) We'll continue buying it as long as it's still being sold at the super-discounted introductory price. After that, we'll do the same price comparison we've always done with Jif and Peter Pan to decide which brand we buy at the store on a given occasion. Usually, 18-ounce Jif is the cheapest brand-name peanut butter (on a price-per-ounce basis) available at our neighborhood Kroger.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Sleep Schedule

When I wrote about sleep deprivation several months ago, you may have been thinking: "If getting 10 hours of sleep over two nights makes you 'deprived', just wait until you have a kid!" Well, that time is here.

Going in, I figured I would be sleeping as much during the day as at night, at two to three hour intervals. But instead, we've actually slept better so far than I would have thought going in, so much so that I'm still maintaining roughly the same sleep schedule I always do during a work week. (Well, except with late night diaper changes mixed in.) But does attempting to sleep for nine hours straight with two or three feedings / diaper changes mixed in get me the most productive and efficient sleep, or is it better to separate those three-hour intervals throughout the day and night?

It has to be better to get as much sleep as possible at night, right? You're already kind of tired when you're done feeding / diaper changing at 2 AM, and you can usually fall back asleep immediately. On the other hand, it takes me long time to fall asleep at the start of an afternoon nap, and I never feel all that refreshed afterwards. And, of course, it's more convenient to be awake when it's light outside, for a variety of reasons: that's when other people are awake, when doctor's appointments are, and when we can go do stuff outside.

When I go back to work in a few weeks, I won't have a choice; I'll have to attempt the traditional sleep schedule. But will Marla let us keep that up until then, or will my sleep become progressively more scattered throughout the day as time goes on these next few weeks? I'll revisit this later this month, but so far, Marla has been surprisingly cooperative. Most nights.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Duke or Rex?

Between that whole blood clot thing three years ago and this baby we just had, we have now stayed multiple nights at two of the Triangle's most well-known hospitals: Rex Hospital in Raleigh, and Duke University Medical Center in Durham (more commonly known, perhaps, as "Duke Hospital" - or at least that's what I've been calling it all this time). Which one is better?

Well...it's hard to say. This is not an apples-to-apples comparison, as we spent time in entirely different areas of each hospital. Still, here's a summary of our experiences in each:

The care itself: Obviously, this is the most important thing. I suppose Rex did well because Amber still has her leg, but they kept her in the hospital for a long time (over a week). But the care at Duke, at least in the Birthing Center, was nothing short of outstanding, and has been throughout the entire pregnancy. Maybe that's just a Birthing Center thing, though; I imagine the mood and atmosphere in that part of the hospital is a heck of a lot better than in other parts of the hospital, in any hospital. Also, our Hypnobabies instructor mentioned that Rex is not a good place to have your baby if you want to have as "natural" a birthing as possible, as we did.

Side note: there are two sides to the Duke Birthing Center. One side is where babies are actively born. The "other side", which has smaller rooms and fewer staff, is where babies and mothers go after the babies are born. Interestingly, the nurses were much younger, pretty much across the board, on the "active birthing" side than on the postpartum side. Why is that? Is this because aspiring nurses are all gung ho and "I want to help deliver babies!" when they enter the job market, only to get tired of it after 10-15 years and request a switch over to the less hectic and less stressful postpartum side of the Birthing Center?

The building: Duke Hospital is more vertically oriented (more floors), while Rex is more horizontally oriented, which makes it easier to get from Point A to Point B. So, in terms of the design of the building, I'm giving the nod to Duke. Neither hospital was cleaner or in better shape than the other from what I could tell. Rex had better waiting rooms from what I saw, but again, maybe that's just a Birthing Center thing; I did not see other parts of the Duke Hospital.

Food: Duke has a cafeteria where you can get burgers/fries and pizza pretty much any time you want. Win! I did get tired of those choices by the end of our stay, though. They do have other options, such as a barbecue pork sandwich and Salisbury steak, but those other options rotate. Regardless, you have to go down to the cafeteria to get them. At Rex, even as a guest, I could order off a menu just like the patients, and they would bring the food to us and tack it on to the hospital bill. The food was pretty good, too. Duke didn't let Amber order off a menu until the last day, and I was never given that option. Before then, Amber was given some random dish, one which she often didn't end up wanting or eating anyway. So, advantage Rex.

Parking / Location: You have to pay for parking at Duke. Not so at Rex. Duke is a few minutes closer to home than Rex, although neither is difficult to get to.

According to U.S. News: Duke is the 9th best hospital in the country, and the top hospital in the Triangle; Rex is 5th best in the Triangle. I think Duke is highly ranked because they are a research hospital and are on the "cutting edge" in a lot of medical fields. Many of the top-ranked hospitals nationally are affiliated with universities.

Advertising: This is what bugs me the most about Rex Hospital. Among locals, Rex is arguably the most well-known hospital in the area, which has less to do with the actual quality of the hospital than it does the amount of advertising they do. (And the fact that it's in Raleigh rather than Durham or Chapel Hill.) I also think the tone of their advertising is sort of arrogant, as if to suggest that "most well-known" and "most advertised" implies "best". That's not to say that Rex isn't a good hospital, but you see, there are a lot of good hospitals around here. When it comes to health care in the Southeast, you can't do much better than the Triangle. (I originally wrote "worse" instead of "better". Whoops! NOT what I meant!) I'd certainly rather be here than in, say, rural northwestern Pennsylvania, which is where I happened to be when I broke my wrist in 1992. (I'll save that story for another day.) But Rex has been able to create for itself an undeserved extra level of prominence over the other area hospitals, and that bothers me a little. On the other side, Duke likes to tout their high U.S. News ranking on billboards and such, but at least their name isn't plastered all over the Carolina Hurricanes' home ice at the RBC Center.

Conclusion: I'm giving a slight edge to Duke, but only slight.

Duke and Rex aren't the only hospitals around here, of course. There is also the UNC Hospital, WakeMed Cary, and two other Duke-affiliated hospitals (Duke Raleigh and Durham Regional). Maybe we'll go to one of those next time, just because.

Monday, August 01, 2011

A Whole New World of Statistics

Becoming a father for the first time is, of course, very exciting on its own. But given my obsession with silly statistics, one thing I'm very excited about is the nearly limitless opportunities for new statistics that is provided by a new human being into the world. Yay stats!

So...here's one thing you had to know was coming. Marla now has her own county map! Yes, I have already taken the time to set this up, even though so far Marla has only visited a grand total of...one county. Here it is (click for the entire country):


Marla was born in Durham County, and she has yet to cross the county line in any direction, so Durham County is currently her one and only county. I expect her to pick up Wake County and Chatham County within the next few weeks, bringing her total to three, before we take Marla on her first "road trip": a short trip to the North Carolina mountains in late October or early November.

Why am I keeping track of Marla's county visits already? Two reasons: 1) It's fun! 2) If Marla takes after her daddy and starts caring about this sort of thing a couple of decades from now and wants to start tracking it herself, then I'll be able to give her a certified, 100% accurate county map that covers her entire life from birth up until that point. I like the idea of having a visitation map that was started the day she was born, because while my county map covers most of my childhood vacations, I'm not 100% sure about all the places I went when I was less than 10 years old. But even if the young adult Marla turns out to not actually care about this or want to pick up where I left off - and, let's be honest, that's the most likely scenario - I'll still have had fun in the meantime, and there is a chance she will care, and both of those things make this worthwhile. Marla's county map is now permalinked over there on the right (in a section that has been renamed "The Good Stuff") and is featured in By the numbers.

Also featured in "By the numbers": Marla's Nights By County, which I am also starting from the beginning for the same reason. "Nights By County" refers to the county in which someone spends each night, which is something I've kept track of myself since 2006, and will keep track of for Marla from the beginning. Again, Durham County is the only county Marla has even visited so far, so this is pretty boring for now.

Now...how about some other baby statistical curiosities? There are two new baby-related things I'm keeping track of at the moment, neither of which I am going to publish, yet:


Feeding and pooping: We're actually keeping track of this because the doctors told us to, to make sure Marla was getting fed well enough. Both the frequency and duration of feedings, as well as the number of times she pees and poops, are indicators of this. Specifically, we're looking for the following each day at this stage of Marla's life: 8-12 feedings per day lasting around 20 minutes each, 6-8 pees, and 2-3 poops. But this seems like the kind of thing that you don't want to know, so I'm going to keep this data to ourselves (for now), aside from the above picture. But I will mention that Marla has been a very poopy baby so far, which is actually a good sign.

Baby weight: As I mentioned last week, Marla weighed 7 pounds, 2.3 ounces at birth. But did you know that babies actually lose weight in the few days after they're born? I didn't, but babies aren't able to maintain their weight the first few days out of utero. Today at the doctor, Marla weighed 6 pounds, 8 ounces, which is a "normal" amount of loss. (Then again, it seems as if doctors like to say everything the baby does is "normal" in order to not make the parents worry.) Before leaving the hospital, Marla was 6 pounds, 9 ounces. Those are the only data points I have so far; I'll collect one every time Marla goes to the doctor (the next visit being Wednesday). I'm going to hold onto these numbers for now, but plan on converting the data into a neat little line graph or something later on.