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.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Race Is On

There's a lot to look forward to for the rest of 2014. Amber and I will welcome our second child any day now, which is obviously the best and most important thing. But that's not all I'm looking forward to.

The Triangle Curling Club has been working on our new building in Durham for nearly two years now. I still remember our first visit to the site after the club purchased the land. That was in October 2012. Now it's August 2014, and the finish line is in sight! Construction is now full steam ahead, and we plan to be open not for the Fall curling season, but for the Winter season. December, maybe? Definitely by January unless there are any unexpected hiccups. (And there are always unexpected hiccups, but hopefully we've already gotten past most of those by this point.)

Meanwhile, Publix is opening up its first store in the Raleigh area in "2014". When in 2014? I've always figured it would be in December, and I forget why, exactly, but it's hard to tell from driving by the place, of course. Nothing resembling an opening date, or even an approximate opening date, has been announced so far. December sounds about right. Publix's second planned location in the area is facing local opposition, so who knows when the Triangle is going to see its second Publix. (Why anyone would be opposed to a Publix opening near their house is beyond me. I mean, if the Charlotte area is getting 14 Publixes, surely Raleigh deserves more than one.)

So, which will open for business first: the Triangle Curling Club in Durham, or Publix in Cary? Either way, we all win!

(For the record, my prediction is that Publix opens first, but that the curling club will follow within the next two weeks. I just hope they don't both open on the same day, because I can't be two places at once.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Imagination Station of Wilson, NC

There are plenty of nice indoor places to take young children in Raleigh and Durham - children's museums and whatnot. Problem is, these types of places can get pretty crowded, especially if the weather isn't suitable for outdoor activity. Marbles Kids Museum is great, but I wouldn't even think about taking Marla there on a rainy Saturday morning.

Instead, I asked Amber how far away from home she would be willing to go this close to the due date (3 weeks to go as of last Saturday), and then proceeded to look for kid-friendly museums within a one-hour drive (give or take). And so, we ended up here:

This is Imagination Station Science Museum in Wilson, NC. It's only $5 per adult, and 3 and under (including Marla) is free. Can't beat that!

Imagination Station - which is a pretty common name for a science museum, by the way; there's also an "Imagination Station" in Toledo - is pretty small compared to the comparable museums in Raleigh and Durham. We spent most of our time in the 5 and under room having a dinosaur birthday party.

Aside from that, there are some snakes and turtles (real live ones) on display, a room or two related to North Carolina history (didn't spend much time in there), and an interactive room with lots of neat physics-type stuff to mess around with (more for elementary age children than Marla), plus an old courtroom, because the current Imagination Station is a former Federal Courthouse (also a former post office).

Obviously, a science museum in Wilson isn't going to be as well-funded as a science museum in Raleigh and Durham. But it'll definitely be less crowded! I also think it's great that smaller cities such as Wilson have their own science museum. You never know where the next generation of scientists is going to come from, right? Who's to say the next Albert Einstein can't come from a place like Wilson?

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Chris Allen's Guide to Watching Sports by DVR

I'm a bit of an expert at watching sports efficiently on DVR delay, so I thought I'd write up a little guide.

What's this about?

Almost all of the sports I watch anymore, I don't watch live. Instead, I record the games I'm interested in and watch them later, on my schedule. Ultimately, this allows me to spend more time with my family, and watch more sporting events than I would if I watched everything live.

Time-shifting regular television shows is much more common than it was a decade ago, but most people still watch sports live. But if you ask me, it doesn't have to be that way. Here's how I do it.

Step 1: Avoid spoilers

This was a lot easier before the days of social media. Used to be, all you had to do was keep away from certain sports channels and websites. But now, to avoid spoilers for some sporting events, you have to disconnect yourself completely. If you're the type who likes to refresh Twitter every 10 minutes, this can be difficult. Sometimes I'll go an entire weekend without checking Twitter or Facebook, on the off chance that somebody posted something about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers game on Friday night that I haven't had a chance to watch yet.

For major sporting events - and this includes most every college football or NFL game, really - I've found that you also have to avoid radio, and, just to be safe, most social interaction. This is why avoiding the result of an NFL game - any NFL game - for more than a day is mostly impossible, unless you just don't leave the house, that is. (There does become a point where it's not worth the trouble.) It's not just football, though; for example, if I haven't finished watching the UNC-Duke game before heading to church the next morning, I'm taking a big risk. (At least, around here, I am.)

Avoiding spoilers is much easier to do with sporting events that aren't likely to come up in "water cooler" discussion, but you still have to be careful when it comes to your various electronic devices. In particular, you have to watch out for that pesky "Bottom Line" that most sports networks feature nowadays. The Bottom Line generally requires that you watch sporting events in chronological order, unless you know that a particular broadcast won't show a Bottom Line. For instance, they occasionally show live NFL scores during a NASCAR race on ESPN, but they won't show NASCAR results during an NFL game on CBS or FOX. This means that if I want to watch both, I have to watch the NFL first.

Sometimes, avoiding spoilers can be extremely difficult, especially for high profile events. But with practice and experience, you'll get a feel for where and when you're likely to stumble across them, and for which games. I have years of experience with this, and if you ask me, it's worth the effort. Watching a sporting event unfold without knowing what happens beforehand is what it's all about, whether you're watching it live or not.

Step 2: Record more games than you plan on watching

If you think you'll have time to watch two games start-to-finish, record four games. You can always delete the games you don't end up watching, and you don't have to watch every game from beginning to end. There is no obligation to watch every single thing you save to your DVR. (Sometimes it feels that way to me, though. If I end up deleting all 10 episodes of Halt and Catch Fire without ever watching them, I'll consider that a failure.)

I especially recommend recording multiple games for college football. Let's say you're a Florida State fan, and they're playing NC State at 3:30. Record the game? Obviously.. But, also record one or two other games at the same time (if you're able to given the limitations of your DVR equipment), just in case the game ends up being a dud. If Florida State jumps out to a 35-0 1st quarter lead or something ridiculous like that, it's nice to have the option to bail on that game and switch to a more interesting one from the 2nd quarter on.

(By the way, if there is one sport that is still best to watch live, it's college football on Saturdays. The games take forever, sure, but there are just so many games on at once, and the nature of college football is that you never know which games are going to be the most memorable ones. For instance, I never would have recommended recording the Florida-Georgia Southern game.)

The NCAA Tournament is another good time to record more games than you plan on watching. I try to record every single one if possible, because you never know where the upsets and buzzer beaters will happen. Or, you could just watch live, I guess, if you happen to have no job, no family, and unlimited free time.

Step 2A: Don't forget to record an extra hour at the end!

College basketball games are given a two hour window on television. But how often does a college basketball game actually end in under two hours? Almost never. If you only record those two hours, you'll miss the end of pretty much every college basketball game.

My rules for extra recording time are as follows:
- Generally, recording one extra hour will be good enough.
- Record 1½ extra hours for basketball, baseball, and college football (especially if the game only has a near impossible to meet 3-hour broadcast window).
- For playoff hockey, record 3 extra hours.
- For soccer, unless it's a tournament where extra time is a possibility, the vast majority of games will end within their 2-hour broadcast window. But I always add an extra 30 minutes for soccer to safeguard against some fluke delay. For tournament games, I add an extra hour, and that's usually enough, even if it goes to penalties.
- Keep an eye on the weather as best you can (while avoiding spoilers at the same time - tricky!), and add additional time to the end of the recording if it looks like the game might be delayed by weather. This is harder to keep up with for NASCAR than it is for any other sport, especially if the end of a long-delayed race gets moved to a different channel (which can happen).

Step 3: During the game, spend time with your family

Not only is family time important and rewarding, but your 3-year-old daughter isn't going to blurt out the score of the Washington Nationals game that you're recording.

Step 4: Watch the game

Once the children are in bed, it's time to hit "Play"! But don't look at the TV screen the second you turn the TV on. Wait until you have the recordings list on-screen. This is because the final score of the game you intend to watch from the beginning could be the first thing that pops up on-screen when you turn your TV on, especially if it's tuned to a sports channel. Or, maybe you're recording the maximum number of games right now, in which case one of those games will pop up on-screen when you turn the receiver on. Don't look!

Now before I get into what you do once you actually start watching the game, here's a little trick for those of you who have DirecTV. You know the 30 second fast-forward button on your remote? By default, you press it once, and it fast-forwards 30 seconds, although the fast-forwarding itself can take a couple of seconds on its own. (This is called "30 second slip".) You can actually change the behavior of the 30 second button so that the moment you press it, it jumps ahead 30 seconds instantaneously. (This behavior is called "30 second skip".) Here is how to set up the 30 second skip.

I use the 30 second skip a lot when I watch sports, and it's key to being able to watch sports efficiently. There's more to it than just skipping through commercials, although that's a big part of it. For example, let's start with baseball:


For each commercial break, skip ahead 2.5 minutes. (Or, press the 30 second skip button 5 times.) You may miss the first pitch of the next half-inning, but usually, nothing happens on that first pitch anyway.* Sometimes, if the pitcher is taking an especially long time to warm up, you can skip an additional 30 seconds. For some national broadcasts, you can safely skip 3 minutes between innings.

After each at-bat is completed: skip ahead 30 seconds. Again, you may miss the first pitch of the next at-bat, but more often than not you won't, especially if there are runners on base. (It always takes the next batter longer to get into the batters box when there are runners on base, for some reason.)

Conferences on the mound: Use manual fast-forwarding.

Between pitches: I really wish I had a 15 second skip button, because if I did, I would absolutely use that between each and every pitch. But with a 30-second button, you can't really do much to speed up the action between pitches.

Game length: Following these practices, I can watch a 3-hour game in about 1.5 hours. Those 30-second skips between at-bats really add up!

(* - Disclaimer: Occasionally, fast-forwarding as liberally as I do, I miss something. Every press of the 30 second button is a risk. But they're all calculated risks, and I personally don't need to see every single action during the game. Especially a baseball game.)


For a sport that reportedly only contains 11 minutes of actual game action in a 3-hour window, watching a football game efficiently is actually harder than it would seem.

For each commercial break, skip ahead:
- 2 minutes for the NFL*
- 2.5 minutes for college football
- 3.5 minutes for college football at the end of the 1st and 3rd quarters
(* - Sometimes CBS will squeeze in a single 30-second commercial during a team timeout late in the game, even though it's not a full media timeout. So when a team timeout triggers a commercial on CBS, skip ahead 1 minute at first; if you're still in commercial after that, that means it's a full commercial break, so skip ahead 1 additional minute.)

Skip ahead 30 seconds after each of the following (unless any of the following result in a commercial break, in which case, see above):
- A kickoff or punt
- A penalty flag (unless you like watching referees announce penalties)
- A touchdown (unless you like watching dumb celebrations)
- A turnover, including a missed field goal
- A team timeout (often times you can get away with a 1 minute skip here, but it's usually too close to call for me)
- A failed 3rd down resulting in a clear punting situation (you may miss the punt itself, but you likely won't miss the return; if the punt is blocked or faked, you may miss that, but this is another one of those 'calculated risks')

Skip ahead 1 minute between a PAT/successful FG/safety and the ensuing kickoff (if no commercial).

Do manual fast-forward for injuries and replay challenges.

Got all that? Even with all that skipping, it still takes me between 1:45 and 2 hours to watch a 3-hour football game.


For each commercial break, skip ahead:
- 2 minutes for local NBA broadcasts (maybe more between quarters?)
- 2.5 minutes for national NBA broadcasts (maybe more between quarters?)
- 2.5 minutes for most college basketball
- 3 minutes for the NCAA tournament*
(* - Just like with the NFL, CBS also likes using single 30-second commercials during team timeouts that aren't full media timeouts. Same for NCAA tournament games on other networks such as TBS.)

For each team timeout, skip ahead 1 minute. For some team timeouts near the end of the game, you can safely skip ahead another 30 seconds on top of that if they're still in the huddle after 1 minute.

I also skip ahead 30 seconds when somebody is awarded two free throws, because I don't need to sit through every single free throw. When somebody fouls out of the game, you can skip ahead 1 minute, at least with college.

By the way, it's useful to know when commercial breaks are coming during a basketball game. Here's a primer:
- College: Excluding team timeouts, the first stoppage with less than 16, 12, 8, and 4 minutes left in each half is a commercial break. (When you hear announcers talking about the "under 16 timeout", for example, that's what they're talking about.) The first team timeout of the second half is a full commercial break. In the NCAA tournament, the first team timeout of the first half also becomes a full commercial break.
- NBA: The first stoppage with less than 6 and 3 minutes left in each quarter becomes a commercial break. Also, the first stoppage with less than 9 minutes left in the 2nd and 4th quarters only, is also a commercial break. But, if a team takes a timeout prior to a scheduled media timeout, then often times the team timeout will then become a full commercial break in place of the media timeout that was coming up.

Following these guidelines, I can watch a college basketball game in 1 hour, and an NBA game in 75 minutes. Can't beat that!


Pretty simple here.

For each commercial break, skip ahead 2 minutes. Commercial breaks happen at the first stoppage with less than 14, 10, and 6 minutes left in each period, except after a goal, after an icing, or during a power play. All games - local broadcasts, national broadcasts, even the Stanley Cup Final - have the same lengths of commercial breaks. Playoff overtime periods do not have commercials, but the first stoppage with less than 10 minutes left in a playoff overtime period results in a break that is just as long as a commercial break, so you can skip 2 minutes for that.

After each stoppage of play, skip ahead 30 seconds.'ll often miss the faceoffs, but you usually (not always) won't miss any goals. Again, this is a calculated risk, because sometimes players will score a couple seconds after a faceoff, especially if it's a faceoff in the offensive zone. If this is too risky for you, you could choose to skip 30 seconds only prior to faceoffs in the neutral zone (much lower risk of missing a goal), or only after a penalty is called (which is pretty safe, since faceoffs almost always take 30+ seconds to happen after a penalty). I've found that faceoffs following icing often happen more quickly than other faceoffs since only one team is allowed to change lines, so skipping ahead after an icing is often the most risky. Also, I also won't skip ahead after a goal so that I can see the replay.

If I'm really liberal with my fast-forwarding and skip ahead 30 seconds after every faceoff, I can watch an entire NHL game in about 1 hour, usually without missing any goals. If you only skip the commercials and intermissions, it's more like 1.5 hours - still not bad, but not as nice as 1 hour.


Soccer doesn't have commercial breaks, but I have learned where I can skip ahead during games to provide a nominal benefit without missing any action.

Skip ahead 30 seconds prior to each of the following:
- A goal kick (usually the goalkeeper takes a while to gather the ball and kick, and then it takes a while for one team to get possession and attack)
- A free kick in the attacking third (free kicks elsewhere on the field are often taken quickly, but when you're close to the goal, everyone's gotta line up just right before the kick)
- A substitution
- A penalty (usually the offending team spends at least 30 seconds complaining to the referee about it)

Corner kicks are sometimes taken in less than 30 seconds and can lead directly to goals, so I don't skip ahead prior to a corner kick.

For injuries, manual fast-forward is appropriate.

This way, I can watch a soccer game in about 75 minutes, as opposed to 95 minutes (including stoppage time) if the only fast-forwarding I do is at halftime. That doesn't sound like much, but given how much World Cup soccer I watched, those minutes added up.

Auto racing

For racing, I do manual fast-forward only, through commercial breaks and caution flags (except pit stops and the occasional crash replay). Commercial breaks during races don't seem to have a set length, in part because if something happens on-track during the commercial, the broadcast may rejoin the action immediately. Caution flags definitely don't have a set length. I skip through all commercial breaks, even breaks featuring a "side-by-side" box on-screen.

Aside from that, the only skipping I'll do is during long green flag runs where not much is happening. If I'm getting really impatient, I'll just skip ahead to the next caution flag.

In all, I can watch a 3 hour race in between 1.5 and 2 hours, depending on how patient I am with the middle parts of the race.


I haven't figured out how to watch golf efficiently. It's hard because the broadcast jumps around to different golfers without warning, so if you want to watch all of the shots that get aired on television, you can't really skip ahead at all (except during commercials). And golf can take a long, long time.

Instead, the best I can do if I'm worried about efficiency is focus on a single group, and watch only those two golfers' shots, and fast-forward through everyone else. Only then can I hope to watch 18 holes in under 2.5 hours, and even then you're missing a lot, because what if somebody in a different group is making a run at the leaders? So, I don't have any DVR advice to offer regarding golf.

That's the end. Happy sports watching!

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Playground Review: Old Chapel Hill Road Park

Old Chapel Hill Road Park - Southwest Durham Dr*, Durham, NC
Visited: Sunday, August 3, 2014
| Google Satellite

(* - Yes, the main entrance to "Old Chapel Hill Road Park" is not on Old Chapel Hill Road.)

Summary: We were just looking for a playground close to the place we wanted to go to dinner in Durham, but this turned out to be a pretty good find! We've had a hard time finding good playgrounds in Durham, but this is one is the only playground we've been to in Durham (so far) that stacks up against the best playgrounds of Wake County.

(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: 12/20. Swings, a small slide, a few things to climb on...sounds pretty standard, but it's actually pretty unique:

Uniqueness: 9/10. Definitely not the boring plastic green and yellow playground we've grown accustomed to. The "uniqueness" rating was made for playgrounds like this one. And there are several play sets that I haven't seen anywhere else, such as this ring which spins around and around, and which Marla loved:

Marla wasn't old enough for everything on the playground, including some kind of skateboard type thing (another play set I hadn't seen before) and a rope set.

Upkeep: 9/10. Everything is in great shape, but the playground was only built in 2011, so I can't give a perfect upkeep score (although I can go above the 8/10 score I give to brand new playgrounds, I decided). No trash, either, other than a bag of chips that another family left on one side of the playground before walking over to the other side of the playground. (I didn't count that against the playground score, because I assumed they would retrieve their bag of chips before they left.)

Crowd: 4/10. It's quite a walk from the parking lot to the playground, and so I didn't expect it to be particularly busy...but nope, it was busy. Nothing atypical for a nice Sunday afternoon, though.

Marla enjoyment: 4/5. Could have maybe done 5/5 here, but I think we spent too much time on the swings for that.

TOTAL: 38/55 (★★★★½). The best playground in Durham! So far.