July 13, 2015

A Different Economy

Three years ago Domingo and I needed furniture. The guest room was become a nursery, so we decided a pull out sofa bed was in order for the office. We paid $800 for one from Penney’s. We are once again in need of couches. We found ourselves once again in Penney’s. That same sleeper sofa now sells for $2,000. It’s a different economy. Prices are up.

Quality, it seems, is down.

I have returned a large number of our purchases to date; there was the picture frame with the shattered glass, the cube organizer with the giant gash across the top panel. Then there were the items I kept but needed to order a replacement piece for; the patio chairs with the gashes in the back pieces, and the media storage unit with the warped screw holes. Finally there were the purchases I didn’t return, but I’m not happy with; the dented dresser, and the garage shelving with rust. We purchased two new office chairs. Neither one had the assembly instructions or user manual! I could understand the assembly instructions being absent from one box, but what are the odds of both our office chair boxes being sans instructions?

The two area rugs I purchased are nice, and the dinning room table, but my batting average isn’t great.

On the bright side, I haven’t had a single issue with customer support. In each case I took photos of the damage, but customer service took me at my word and was quick to accept the return or send the replacement. In my hunt for the assembly instructions for the office chairs I visited the manufactor’s website. I kid you not question 6 on the frequently asked questions specifically addressed missing assembly instructions!

On the one hand these experiences are frustrating. It’s adding to our delay in fully moving in. But it’s not aggravating enough to adjust my price point to match the new economy. In my experience price is not necessarily an indicator of quality. My current laptop is a prime example. We spent nearly twice as much my current laptop than I’ve spent in the past in hope that it would last a little longer. It’s been a major disappointment. Less than a year old it will occasionally restart when I set it down. Besides, prices vary widely. I’ve seen as much as 225% on the same product from two different, comparable merchants. Let that be a lesson to always comparison shop! My favorite method these days is a reverse image search on stock photos.

I’m unwilling to spend more if I’m not assured of quality. At least I do eventually get the product I want at the price point I want. It just takes a little more effort on my part.

We’re nearly there with furniture!

July 10, 2015

Targeting Mismatch

Personalized Re-targeting is a type of advertising designed to turn would-be customers into actual customers. You may have noticed that some products and merchants seem to follow you around the internet. You may have viewed a product on one website, and then noticed an advertisement for the same product on another. Advertisers are hoping to lure you back to their site to complete the transaction. After all, you must be at least a little interested in the product to have viewed it the first time. Or so their logic goes.

Personalized Re-targeting has been around for years. I’ve encountered this behavior before back in 2011. Only then re-targeting made sense. The past few weeks the re-targeting I’ve witnessed has just been a waste of advertiser dollars.

Domingo and I are in the middle of furnishing our new home. High on that list was a new dinning room table. I spent a few days browsing different tables online before making a purchase. For the next week my facebook feed was filled with ads, not just for the table I purchased, but for the other tables I viewed as well. All from the same merchant. “Still on your mind?” the caption for one ad reads. “Don’t let this one slip away!” reads another. I didn’t. I had made the purchase.

I suspect it’s extremely rare for someone to purchase the same dinning room table from the same merchant in two transactions. If I’m being generous I would assume it’s slightly less rare for someone to purchase two different dining room tables from the same merchant in two different transactions. The ad broker monitoring my behavior and tracking me as I viewed all those dinning room tables should have also noticed I added one to my cart. But no. If the ad broker did observe the check out process, they decided to remain blissfully ignorant of the transaction. As a result I’m shown ads that don’t interest me.

This afternoon I purchased a kitchen table. My news feed is once again filled with advertisements featuring the new table. Same problem but different product and different merchant.

I’m all for personalized advertising. (Yes, please do help me find good area rugs that go with the furniture I’m purchasing – I’m overwhelmed trying to make everything match!) Targeting advertising doesn’t have to be a nuisance. In order to not be a nuisance, however, it’s going to have to get a bit smarter.

July 5, 2015

We Be Three

And just like that another year has passed.


three
I can’t believe how fast time is flying, or how big my little girl is getting.

This year we thought it would be fun to kick off her birthday party with a big surprised. She loves balloons, so what better way to celebrate the big ‘3’ than waking up with a 3 foot high helium balloon? Before going to sleep ourselves, we snuck the giant balloon into her room. Wouldn’t you know it was the first night in weeks she woke up to go potty in the middle of the night? She spotted the balloon instantly and was so excited I was afraid she’d never go back to sleep. She kept talking about the balloon that ‘Santa’ brought. We decided to just go with it. Santa brings birthday balloons now, don’t you know?

So much has changed these past couple of months. New home, new daycare, new classroom, new routines. Nicole missed her old daycare (and told us so!) but is adjusting to the new one well. They have a ton of activities, and bouncy castles. We’ve been here about a month and they’ve already bounced in an inflatable bouncy castle twice. I’m not planning on switching daycares any time soon, but if I were, bouncy castles are clearly a new requirement.

My most precious memory of this age is the way she expresses herself. For the longest time ‘Sure’ was her affirmative response to yes/no questions. “Would you like a cupcake?” Sure, she’d say with a slight head nod as though her answer was anything less than an emphatic yes. These days ‘little bit’ is her new yes. As in “Are you the cutest thing ever?” Little bit. Little bit, indeed.

June 26, 2015

Alexis at Seven Months

Dear Alexis,

This month has been our first month in the new home, and your first month with a room to yourself. When we first moved into the house we had you briefly in Mommy & Daddy’s room again. I was worried the new place would feel too new, and your room too foreign for your to sleep well. Instead, it was mommy and daddy who disturbed your sleep! Every time we stirred you’d lift your head and cry for us to pick you up. Once in your own room you were sleeping through the night again.


sevenmonthsmile

Speaking of your new room, you seem quite pleased with it, especially with the jumperoo. It is your favoritest.thing.ever. You’d jump in it until you’d pass out from exhaustion if Mommy let you. You get so excited when I put you in it.

This month began #ToothWatch2015. We think. We’re still debating whether or not we see tooth buds starting to appear. Sometimes when the light catches your gums just so we think we see actual teeth getting ready to come through. A quick finger check says no, not yet. You are drooling more and chewing on everything, so we think they are not far from now.


gym

This month we tried to switch your binkies. Silly mommy thought you were sucking on 0-6 month soothies. Turns out they’re just 0-3 month. Woopsies. I purchased a whole new set of 3+, but they have not met with your approval. You don’t seem to like how thick and tough they are. We tried giving them too you several times, but you noticed them right away and rejected them each time. I even tried giving one to you as you were drifting off to sleep in my arms, but you woke up and cried. Since they were the same size as your current binkies, and not a choking hazard, I decided not to push it. You can choose which ever pacifier tickles your fancy.


fingerbinky

The funny thing, though, is the newborn soothies are too soft for you. So what do you do? You like to insert your finger into the back of the binky, just likely mommy and daddy did when you were little when you needed a little extra help to fall asleep. It’s the funniest thing. At first your daddy and I swore it couldn’t be intentional, but you do it all the time. You seem to have learned it gives the binky a little more structure as you suck.

You are growing up so fast. I cannot get over how different you look now that just a few weeks ago. Your hair is filling in, and now looks quiet brown now. Your eyes are starting to appear green in certain lighting. I’m pretty sure you will have my eyes, but I will keep my fingers crossed you have your daddy’s vision. Trust me, you don’t want mine.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

June 20, 2015

Handy

“Is your husband handy?” was the question posed to me in the middle of Home Depot this afternoon while I was talking to the sales associate about flooring. I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she figured I must be since I was the one standing there with the shopping cart full of goodies.

Here’s my project list for the new home:

Flooring
Flooring is my primary issue with our new home, from the carpeting to the linoleum. The former owners had a small dog. As a pet owner myself I recognize the tall tale signs of animal tummy troubles in the carpet. It happens. Even without the spots, the carpet is also super old and the padding has no more give. In the laundry room the linoleum is stained, ripped and coming up.

I’m sure I’ll be hiring a contractor for this one.

Painting
The only thing holding me back from carpeting the upstairs right away is the painting. Our closets are, umm, interesting colors. Nicki’s closet is Orange, Alexis’ is deep blue and ours is a kind of pinkish Mauve. The purple in Alexis’ room also needs to go. It’s too dark and absorbs too much light making it difficult to take photos in it. (I’m sure as a six month old she doesn’t care what color her room is.) Since I’m doing her room, I figured I’d do Nicole’s as well. For the rest of the house I plan to leave the colors the same. I think I’d like to paint the kitchen green instead of blue, but the current paint job looks pretty good, so it’s on my ‘some-day’ list.

The painting I was thinking of attempting myself. At least I figure I cannot make it worse. If I hire a professional it will cost the same, whether or not I tried to paint first myself.

I also purchased some touch up paint for the master, hallway and office. Everyone keeps telling me I can’t match paint. I disbelieve. I am hopeful. Again, I figure it can’t hurt to try.

Blinds
Most of the house has wood blinds, but there are still aluminum blinds in the kitchen, master and master bath. The kitchen and master bedroom blinds are in good shape, but old. The master bathroom blinds were badly bent and the valance was falling off.

I replaced the master bath blinds with faux wood ones. It ended up being super easy once I got the old mounts which had been painted to the wall, multiple times off. I want to replace the rest of the aluminum ones as well, but I need to find the right sizes first. I also want to see if I can match the kitchen blinds to the family room blinds.

Fans
The fan in Alexis’ room is in sad shape. The blades are actually ripped. The fans in Nicki’s room and the playroom are also not in fabulous shape, but if I’m going to replace one I will probably replace them all.

I am scarred to do anything electrical myself.

We’re still in boxes. I suspect we will be in quite some time. Longer than I’m sure I’ll want to admit here. Once our keys to our old apartment were returned, the need-to-finish-things feelings have quickly dissipated. For the first time in a long time there’s no need to rush.

I love relaxing in the evenings, even surrounded by boxes. I love falling asleep to the serenade of crickets rather than the sound of sirens. I love that it takes half the time to drive to new daycare, even though the raw distance is the same. I love that we can make a quick store when I didn’t realize we were almost out of bread, and still be home in less than a half hour.

This is my happy place.

But is it Home?

When we first started planning our exit from Silicon Valley we considered moving out of state. It’s been a dream of mine to return to the East Coast for quite some time. I miss the seasons. I miss thunderstorms and muggy summer afternoons. I even miss snow, something I never thought I’d admit. The possibility of such a move was the real reason I spent so much time organizing. But moving across the country with two small children, including a newborn, felt impossible. We need a place to live right away, and daycare. Waiting lists can be months long, as I soon found out. Places that look great online sometimes underwhelm in person. We could do a house hunting trip one weekend, but who knows if an offer would be accepted, or how long the close process would take. Everyone we know who had accomplished such a move had to send one of the adults ahead to set up shop. That arrangement didn’t work for us. So we put the idea of a big East Coast move on a back burner and started looking local.

We were both a little worried our move would feel like the defeat of missing out on our cross country trek rather than the step up from apartment back to a house.

This afternoon I was driving to the store. The marine layer had come in, along with it a cool humid breeze. It reminded me of the fall back East. As I drove I started thinking about Thanksgiving, and how the last time I had been on this road was the fall prior to our move to Silicon Valley. I thought of our past falls here in the East Bay, my favorite time of year. I thought about the last Black Friday where we shopped in person, at the very store I was on my way to visit. I thought ahead to this year’s Holiday season, picturing the tree by the fireplace. Our fireplace.

Yes, I am home.

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This afternoon I decided to take advantage of the rare June rain to break out my macro lens to practice photographing some water kissed flowers from our garden.

I like to think I have a pretty good handle on my most used lenses – the 30mm and 50mm primes. I know what shutter speeds about I need to freeze fast moving toddlers (1/320s-ish), and what aperture I need to bring their whole faces into focus (f2.8 – f3.2 usually does the trick). I use my 60mm f/2.8G Micro for macro photography. With a focal length so close to my 50mm prime, I expected it to handle about the same. One thing that immediately struck me was how large an f-stop I needed to get the whole flower in focus.


f33
f8
Even at f/8 little of the flower was in focus, and flowers are not that big!


f18
Here’s another example, at f/18

So why the incredibly shallow depth of field? Distance to subject seems an obvious culprate. A quick search lead me to the mathematical formula for calculating the nearest in focus point, and farthest in focus point using depth of field from distance, focal length, aperture and something called circle of confusion.

Approximations:

NearestInFocusPoint = s x f2 / (f2 + N x c x (s – f))
FarthestInFocusPoint = s x f2 / (f2 – N x c x (s – f))

Where

s is distance to the subject being focused on
f is Focal Length
N is the f-Number and
c is the Circle of Confusion

Then the total depth of field can be calculated as the nearest in focus point subtracted from furthest in focus point and simplifying. For simplicity, let Dn be the denominator of NearestInFocusPoint, and Df be the denominator of FarthestInFocusPoint:

DoF = FarthestInFocusPoint – NearestInFocusPoint
DoF = [s x f2 / Df] – [s x f2 / Dn]
DoF = [s x f2 x Dn / (Df x Dn)] – [s x f2 x Df / (Df x Dn)]
DoF = [s x f2 x (Dn – Df)] / [Df x Dn]
DoF = s x [f2 x (Dn – Df)] / [Df x Dn]

Where
Df x Dn = (f2 – N x c x (s – f)) x (f2 + N x c x (s – f))

From the above equation my hypothesis appears to be correct; as distance approaches zero, the numerator approaches zero and the denominator approaches (f2 + N x c x f) x (f2 – N x c x f) or (f4 – (N x c x f)^2). For my camera, c = 0.02mm with a maximum aperture of ƒ/32, far less than the 60mm focal length. Thus (N x c x f)^2 is far, far, smaller than f4. Thus the denonimator, Df x Dn, is positive and non zero. Thus as distance approaches zero, DoF approaches zero.

Of course there are practical limitations and focusing distance to subject cannot be zero. My 60mm lens has a minimal focusing distance of about 7.5 inches, or 190mm. Using my camera’s specs, if the flowers were only 10 inches from my lens, at f/3.2 the dept of field is just .1 inches. At f/8 the depth of field is just 0.17 inches. I’d have to back up another foot to have a depth of field at least 1 inch wide.

Values of 0.02 – 0.03mm seemed to be pretty typical circle of confusion values, at least according to the sites I visited while researching this blog post. Even with a very wide angled lens, capable of a very narrow aperture, I suspect my hypothesis would still generally be true. Nikon has a 6mm fisheye lens, and even for that lens the math holds.

I view my job of mother as that of encourage. I try my best to encourage my girls to love the things I do. I may have a thing against ‘girl toys’ but as long as they’re not really hurting anything, I hold my tongue. The girls are allowed to have their own interests. They’re allowed to like girlie things.

Back at Nicki’s old day care there was a teacher who would paint all the little girls’ (and some of the little boys) nails. One afternoon Nicki came running up to me, hand fully extended to show me her new artwork. Her teacher had given her a little smilie face on one nail. Nicki was in love and wanted all her nails done. How could I say no?


pinkglitter
Pink Glitter. So much better than the pepto bismol esque Barbie color

Painted finger nails on toddlers is not my cup of tea. I’m not a make up person, even as an adult. Photography is my thing. I take a lot of photos. Even though getting her nails done was a rare treat, I soon found my photos filled with orange, green, & pink nails. I was comfortable removing Nicki’s nail polish for big events, like Christmas and visiting Santa, but it didn’t seem right to ask Nicki to remove her nailpolish every Friday because there might be an adorable moment I wanted to capture on the weekend.

Enter glitter nail polish.


purpleglitter
Purple Glitter

I knew she would love glitter nail polish from the start. What I didn’t know was that glitter polish can be incredibly subdued. The white glitter polish and pink glitter polish are hard to notice in photos. Even the purple glitter in the above photo isn’t that noticeable, for being, you know, purple. Nicki gets “sprinkles” on her nails, and I get the photos I want.

Of course she has the other non-glitter variety sometimes too.

June 2, 2015

Coming Together

Despite all that effort getting organized, it’s clear packing is going to take longer that our previous moves. Between the two kids there’s we often lack set of free hands unpack boxes during the day, and we can’t work much at night for fear of disturbing their sleep. Still, it is nice to have a few boxes that can go right into storage in our garage or in the storage space under the stairs. I shutter to think how far behind we’d be had I not spent the time organizing before our move.

Slow and steady is the goal. Thankfully the one thing I can always do at night is shop, and look for deals!


dressup
Nicki exploring her dress up clothes.
A coat rack from target. It was on clearance sale since our local target is reducing the home section to make more room for seasonal gifts. Win for me! It comes in 3 sections, I put together two, skipping the middle so it would be the perfect toddler height for dress up clothes. Double win.

One of the big areas we’re lacking in right now is furniture. We purged most of our previous stuff in the move to Sunnyvale. I miss our end tables. I wasn’t super found of them, so I’m surprised to hear myself say that. What I am found of is not spending money. It also turns out I’m super picky.

Our first thought on the furniture front was to buy ‘nice’ things to match our ‘nice’ new home, but I’ve since changed my mind. My new goal is stuff-that-will-survive-the-kids. If our new kitchen table makes it to Alexis’ fourth birthday I will be thrilled.

This week I ordered 2 dressers, 3 desks, a dinning room table and chairs. Still to go: a curio/tv stand of some kind, computer chairs, and a place to sit in the family room. Call me crazy, but I’m actually looking forward to assembling the furniture while the kids are at daycare! Now if only I could motivate myself to unpack during that time.

This place doesn’t feel like home yet. I’m hoping once we’re out of boxes that changes.

May 29, 2015

Alexis at Six Months

Dear Alexis,

I’m beginning to understand why parents have a tendency to baby their youngest. As a parent of one I had free time to read ahead. I was always researching what comes next, what emerging skills to look out and how best to prepare for them. With two I’m lucky if I have time to shower. I’m so used to thinking of you as my little newborn it only occurred to me a few days ago that you should be eating solids soon. In my defense, you also only recently started to show signs that you’re interested in food. I guess you aren’t hitting all your milestones super early!


sixmonthsmiles

We had a bit of a rocky move to the new house. I didn’t time things well which meant a rush hour drive from silicon valley to east bay when both you and your sister were tired and hungry. What should have been a smooth hour drive turned into 120 minutes of slow going. Not that I can blame you for getting a little stir crazy towards the end. Part of the desire for our move was to escape this kind of rush hour traffic! Painful drive aside, both you and your big sister love the new place. You quickly learned the high ceilings made impressive echoes and enjoyed showing off your voice in delightful squeals and screams.

Speaking of voices, you have been using more and more of yours. You’re jabbering a ton. You enjoy talking to mommy, daddy, big sister, even your binky. The latter we discovered one day after you seemed to be having an incredibly long nap. We peeked in on you and saw you having quite the conversation with the binky. You love your binky even more than your sister loved hers.


fasinating

You are also getting more and more into your toys. This month we broke out the rest of the infant toys we had still in storage. You love each and every one of them. You chomp on the nodule atop Chan Poo’s (our nickname for the Vulli’s blue chan pie gnon teether) head, spin the egg in the jumperoo, and bang the monkey and elephant rattles together. You’re an equal opportunist when it comes to toys, and will gladly accept anything we – or your sister – gives you to play with. It keeps us on our toes as your sister loves to fetch both your toys and her toys to share with you. The other day she said while giving you back the taggy blanket you had dropped. “Baby likes toys. Nicole likes toys. Nicole has lots of toys.” You are one lucky little girl!


happybaby

Life here in the suburbs is quieter and more relaxed than what we’ve experienced before. We fall asleep to the sounds of crickets instead of sirens. I’m so excited to be starting this next chapter in our lives.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

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