May saw a 18.8% growth in users and a total revenue of $209.59, making it my most profitable month yet.

The month started out exceedingly strong. I was on track for a 40% increase in users, but midway through the month I had a huge set back. Within a period of 24 hours search result clicks dropped nearly 20%, which set my daily totals back to where they were nearly four weeks. By the end of the month things seemed to have settled at about a 13-14% loss from my early month peeks. Thus May is not only my most popular and most profitable month, but it’s the first month in a long time where user counts were lower at the end of the month than at the beginning.

After digging around it looks like I was on the wrong side of a google algorithm update. Or at least, the timing of the drop in performance exactly correlates with an update. Performance is down similarly across all apps. Statistically speaking, there is no one app disproportionately affected (or not affected). Click position is fluctuating a little bit, as is click through rate, but it doesn’t appear that my competitors are suddenly more competitive. Most of my apps have a competitor, but most competitors only compete on a single app, so if one was suddenly more competitive I wouldn’t expect a uniform drop the way I’ve been seeing.

So the main question is why am I suddenly getting less clicks? One theory I came across is that Google may be prioritizing AMP pages. Converting to AMP is something I considered, but since the majority of my apps use Javascript, it isn’t feasible, let alone practical. Another theory is that my site might be two slow. I got a couple alerts from Google Analytics that my top landing pages were significantly slower, however that appears to have occurred after the drop in traffic. None the less, site speed has been something I’ve been concerned with, so I spent the majority of the month focused on it and got overall load times down 23%.

I also decided to do some tricks that improve the appearance of speed, and thus user experience, even if they technically add a few extra miliseconds to the load time. For example, the Pregnancy By Week Calendar initially just used JavaScript to populate the calendar. The benefit of the JavaScript is that the user can change the imput (such as the due date) and the calendar updates without needing a page load. The drawback is that JavaScript didn’t execute until the DOM was ready, meaning the user saw an empty table for a few (possibly hundred) milliseconds. I’m now using PHP to initialize the table. Since there’s increased functionality in the PHP code, it takes slightly longer to execute, and slightly longer for the page load, but the user sees a populated calendar sooner. The main reason why I haven’t done this sooner is that it means I have PHP and Javascript code that effectively do the same thing, which introduces the potential for inconsistencies.

There are a few other places I can make similar updates.

I still need to work on my Time to First Byte (TTFB). Moz did an experiment that indicated TTFB was likely the speed criteria google was using in ranking. (I disagree with the experiments methodology, but TTFB does appear to be correlated with rank.) Moz recommends a TTFB of 500ms. My most popular page currently has a TTFB of 750ms!

Fortunately the most important factor in ranking is content, and by all metrics I have extremely strong content quality signals. I have a small bounce rate (2.5%), an average session duration of 2 seconds, and a large returning user rate (greater than 40%). This shows that, in general, when users discover my site they use my apps and come back.

The other good news is that while my search result clicks may not have fully recovered, my projections still show that I’m on track to hit the $1000/month goal by December. June is still going to be a bit of a question mark. A month of no growth is certainty possible. After the long run I’ve had, I feel due for an “average” month. Here’s hoping my efforts in speed start paying off.

May 4, 2017

Plantmageddon

The congestion in my nose lessened, the fatigue slowly went away. All symptoms from my cold were dissipating, except for one: a dry, persistent cough. I had my voice back, but continued to have uncontrollable coughing fits. In fact, the cough seemed to be getting worse. I was now occasionally wake in the middle of the night coughing. Then not so occasionally. Then multiple times a night. It was feeling all too familiar.

The pollens. They be back for another year. This time, I’m prepared(ish). Once I realized the likely culprit behind my coughing fits I started taking the allergy medication again.

I’m pretty sure the particular type of plant that’s triggering my allergies is the tale grass beyond our property. It’s about three feet now, and sporting seed pods. Although I admit that could be coincidental timing and confirmation bias or I may be misremembering, I remember the same coughing fits going away last year after the grass was cut back by the city. (It’s a fire hazard in the summer.) Truth be told, I’m pretty sure my allergies were actually worse the week the grass was cut, when all the pollens were kicked up into the air.

The good news: regardless of what is triggering my allergies, if it’s the same culprit as that behind last year’s allergies, it shouldn’t last all summer. If I recall correctly I only needed the daily allergy pill for a few weeks. I may have even taken it slightly longer than I needed to. It’s not always easy to tell whether the coughing stopped because the irritant has gone away, or the medication is doing it’s job. The over the counter allergy medicine worked wonders for me.

Bad news: after a particularly wet winter, they’re forecasting a terrible allergy season.

A few more weeks. Then I can enjoy the outdoors again.

You know what’s a cool feeling? When you realize one of your apps that you thought was getting very little attention is actually being visited a non trivial number of times a day. Time Until is receiving close to 100 users a day! One thing I’m realizing: the more popular my most popular apps become, the greater the likelihood that collateral apps get a ranking boost.

This month users are up 8.13% Not bad considering this is a shorter month with an extra Saturday and Sunday. Revenue ended up at $165.47 for the month.

This was a light progress month due to illness, but I did finally get that Website Spell Checker finished. I then proceeded to find 238 misspelled words on datayze.com. That’s not 238 instances of a misspelled word, but 238 uniquely incorrect spellings. I was perhaps a tad over due.

The new spell checker necessitated an massive update to the suite of website apps, refactoring internal code as well as the overall look and feel of the apps, in order to be useful. Even though I made improvements to the underlying spell checker, there were still a number of domain specific words that my spell checker would never be able to recognize as correct. Words like “datayze” which would be misspelled in any other context. 336 such words on my site, to be exact. When I ran the Website Spell Checker over my site, it identified 578 possibly misspelled words, only 41% which were actually misspelled.

The website spell checker is unusable with so many false positives. The time required to go through a list of that size makes it less likely that I’d check the spelling of my site with any regularity. I wanted to be able to dismiss words the spell check should ignore, and to save my work so I didn’t have to keep dismissing the same words every time I wanted to use the tool. Thus I added an “export to CVS” button. Now after I tell the spell checker which words to ignore I can export the list and save it for next time.

Since this seemed like a handy feature I went ahead and added an “export to CVS” function for all data tables in my other website apps as well. Now you can save a copy of the html errors with the Site Validator, or the number of unique phrases with the Thin Content Checker.

Sadly that’s pretty much the end of the updates in April. Ah well, May is a new month (with an extra Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.) I should have better progress this month. We’re only 15 hours in to May and it’s already looking to be a very strong day.

April thus far has been derailed by illness. Early in the month Nicole came down with the stomach flu. After a few days home from school with Mommy, Nicole started feeling better but then I came down with. I’m grateful we were sick sequentially rather than simultaneously, but it meant nearly a week of lost work. Then there were the colds. I was just getting passed the mild first one, when the killer second hit. I lost my voice for nearly a week, and barely had the energy to spend any time out of bed.

Lack of progress is understandable when one’s been sick, but it’s frustrating nonetheless. Factor in the fact that Datayze has seen (predicted) slowdown in growth for April, the leak that caused our master bathroom to rain down in the living room (and corresponding hole the plumber needed to make that I’ve yet to have patched), and a general frustration of still yet not having the house organized after two years and you can see why I’m going a little stir crazy.

Today I opened up my Time Until app and realized I have a little under 1800 potential work hours left in 2016. Seems like so many, but I know from experience how quickly that time can go. I was also surprised to realize both I’m currently working 50 hours a week, and that I only have about 50 reliable kid free hours a week. I guess that’s why I haven’t had a chance to get the house where I want it to be?

My goal for the next 1800 kid-free, chore & work hours in order of likely easiest to likely hardest:
– Furnish all the rooms. Seriously the living room is still completely barren, and the playroom could use some kind of organizational structure for the excess toys.
– No more piles of anything, anywhere. Our apartment was never tidy, but I got to the point where everything had a place, even if it wasn’t in it’s place. I’d like to get to that place again. Aside from the master closet, the upstairs closets are pretty empty and there are piles of stuff in various corners of various rooms. I could just shove everything into the closet, but I’d really rather be organized about it.
– Get Datayze per day and per month user count up. I’d really like to have a minimum of a quarter million monthly users and a 10,000 daily users. That’s about a factor of five from where I am now, and corresponds to an average 23% growth rate over the next 8 months.

I love after holiday sales. This year I snagged not one, not two but SIX chocolate bunnies. The initial plan was just one for myself, but then I started thinking about how they’re best by date wasn’t until the end of the summer, and how excited the girls would be to surprise them with a chocolate bunny in the middle of the year. I wasn’t sure how I would surprise them, but I was confident an idea would come to me.

A few days ago Nicole started telling me about a dream she had involving a treasure hunt. She followed a map to chocolate coins. Hello, idea!

We thought we’d do a treasure hunt with the girls. We’re not reading yet, and riddles are a bit advanced for them, so we opted for what I dub picta-clues: picture clues that told them where to go.

The idea was to exercise their spatial reasoning skills while playing a fun game. I took the pictures from all kinds of different angles. There was the areal view of the rocking chair and the behind the couch of the fire place. The next clue was hidden in an area circled on the photograph. Ironically the only one that posed any kind of challenge was the straight forward, eye-level photo of the windowsill behind the dinning room table.

Nicole enjoyed the hunt so much she was actually disappointed to find the bunnies after the fifth clue because it meant the hunt was over. When I asked her how many clues we should have next time, she quite emphatically told me twenty. I’m not sure there are twenty places to hide clues in our house!

The experience got me thinking again about one my business venture ideas. A few years ago I got this idea for “Mathematical Mama”, a website for parents of preschoolers and elementary aged kids with fun activities to promote stem skills. I even purchased the domain, mathematicalmama.com. (Well, technically I misspelled it and purchased the correctly spelled version just last August. Curse you dyslexia!) I was hoping to differentiate myself from other early learning websites by picking concepts like numerical literacy or base counting and breaking down the concept so a parent who isn’t particularly stem inclined can understand what it is their trying to impart on their young child.

If only it didn’t take so long for these websites to grow organically. Even if Datayze continues at it’s current rate of ~30% a month, it’ll be another 20 months to reach my goal. The original plan was for Datayze to be just one item in my business portfolio, but that may have been naive on my part.

April 11, 2017

Hallmark 2017

For the first time in three? four? years I’m really excited about Hallmark’s yearly collection of keepsake ornaments. There are a lot of great ones, and not just of the traditional style ornaments I tend to like. If you’ve ever wanted a collection of just Disney, or even just Disney princesses, or just star wars ornaments, this would be a good year to do it.

It’s early yet, and most merchant websites don’t have product pages set up yet. I’ll do my best to link to the item I’m talking about, but that won’t be possible for all of them. If you’re interested, you’ll have to scroll through the dreambook to find the ornaments I’m talking about.

The ornament I’m most excited about it Father Christmas’ Reindeer. It’s similar to last year’s tabletop of the same name and a limited release. I love the old fashioned Santa’s and reindeer. The dream book lists it for $20. Since it’s a limited release I will likely purchase it at full price.

This years’ Snowball and Tuxedo, Cookies for Santa is next on my list. I love the way they incorporated baking, one of my favorite holiday activities. Normally I wait for the after Christmas sale on this series, but I suspect it may not be around if I wait and I’d be sad to miss out on it.

Next are the mini ornaments. I like Petite Penguins and A Creature was Stirring (the one with a mouse reading a book). Guessing I will get those at full price as well.

Penguin Express, the unofficial Kris’ Penguin’s series ornament, is on my list, but likely as an after Christmas sale. It’s adorable, but I’m not very excited about trains in general. I’d like to have it on my tree, but I won’t be heart broken if it’s not.

Welcoming Wreath, and Beary Festive (Mary’s Bears Series) are also in this category. I’m more inclined to spend the time to hunt down Welcoming Wreath and Beary Festive than Penguin Express at an after Christmas sale. I like them, I’d like to have them on my tree, but they’re also generic and I’m sure they’ll be another one in the series that I like just as much should I miss out on them.

I’m underwhelmed with this years Season’s Treatings (Cherry pie) and Cookie Cutter Christmas. A good deal, or a plea from Domingo could entice me.

The only ornament I’m really disappointed with is Inside Story. I became aware of the three ornament series when I saw a black and white sketch of this year’s version. I thought I would love it. Since it’s only three ornament series I decided to go ahead and try and collect them all. Normally I only collect the ornaments of a series I like, but a three ornament series doesn’t have much wiggle room I purchased the 2016 version at a slightly higher price than I would have normally done off ebay fearing a price increase. That yellow color of the 2017 ornament? Cannot stand it. Would not put it on my tree if it was free. That will teach me to purchase early. I feel like I wasted my money.

At least my overall love of Hallmark has been rekindled.

Edited to add better links

April 5, 2017

Potty Cheer Squad


Teddy bear potty

Alexis has always been Nicole’s mimic. When Nicole announced she didn’t like pants with buttons, Alexis went through a phase of insisting “no buttons!” while getting dressed, even though none of her clothes have buttons in the first place. So it was no surprise she showed an interest in using the potty after watching big sister Nicole do it. Shortly before turning two she would announce “Potty!” while running to the bathroom whenever she had to go. Alexis would then sit down on the little kids potty and use her diaper. We were sure potty training in earnest wasn’t far away. Before she ever gave us enough advance warning to remove her diaper in time, however, she lost interest.

Domingo and I like to use mini rewards to encourage emerging behaviors like peeing in the potty. Nicole’s always liked the fruity, gummy candies best so she got gummy bears. For our little chocolate lover, we decided to offer M&Ms when her interest in the potty returned.

At first Nicole was a bit miffed to learn Alexis would be rewarded for using the potty. Four year old logic is all about equality, not equity. She had forgotten all about the days of gummy bears, and wanted the same reward for the same deed. While I could understand where she was coming from, it seemed rather indulgent to give Nicole, whose been a potty pro for over 18 months, a reward for continued potty use. Our compromise was to give both girls the same reward when Alexis successfully peed in the potty. Rather than risk a jealous divide, we thought we’d try to unite them onto the same team. The result was a big sister cheer leader who was the first one to tell Alexis she could do it, and sing her praises when the deed was done. We needed to make sure Mom and Dad were aware and could dole out the rewards, after all!

March’s numbers are the strongest yet for my business! Income wise, Datayze earned $182.98, nearly double February’s total. My lowest per day user count was 1,505 this month, making it my first month with 1,500 users each day, in addition to my first month of 1,000 users each day! Overall, users are up 37% throughout the month.

Even though users are up, growth appears to finally be slowing down a bit. The numbers rose much slower each week in March than they did in February. If I account for the fact that March has 3 extra days compared to February, than users are only up 25%. I’m also starting to see what I believe is a summer pattern. Search result clicks on the weekends have been largely unchanged while weekday clicks are still raising, albeit more slowly than before. The hourly patterns of when users are active is also shifting. I’m anticipating only a 10-15% growth in April as a result.

Despite the desire to start focusing on content again, this was another mostly maintenance month. Some big changes: the tab menu will now resize on browser resize to remain a single, unbroken line, and the top submenus will reposition to fit in a mobile browser. I’ve also changed the blue colors on the site. I loved the old header color on my laptop, but it displayed as gray everywhere else. Since I’m building a business, and not a personal website, I decided to go with a color that would look great everywhere else, even if that meant I wouldn’t like it as much on my personal device.

As for new content, I did write another how to article: Understanding Scientific Studies (Miscarriage Edition). I wrote it after being incredibly annoyed at the number of misquoted studies, since they almost always misinterpret risk to be higher than it actually is which can cause undo stress and increase anxieties. My hope is that someone reading this article will be better equipped to spot this kind of exaggeration and ignore bad statistics on the web.

I’m trying something new for April. My to-do list is currently standing at 26 items, 11 have been marked as priority to be addressed in April. New content will be pushed as it becomes available, but fixes will be pushed all at once (and likely just once) at the end of the month. I’m hoping this will help keep me on tract to produce new content.

As two STEM parents, Domingo and I want to raise children strong in the sciences. To that end, we’re always looking at STEM toy recommendations online. Trouble is, I often disagree with what counts as a STEM toy. One list had My Pal, Violet as a “STEM” toy. It’s electronic, sure. But STEM? I just don’t see it.

Here’s this data scientists pick for STEM toys for young kids.

Different kinds of Building Toys

Building toys are the staple of any stem list. Everyone knows building blocks like legos are great for their budding engineer to learn spatial reasoning, and develop of love of design. Peg based connector toys (Lego, Duplo, Mega Blocks, etc) are great but why stop there? By varying the type of toy and how the pieces connect, you’re reinforcing the concepts by introducing new types of challenges, new ways to design and new ways of thinking to your little engineer.

There’s magnet based connectors like Magformers and SmartMax. Gear connectors like Gears! Gears! Gears! is another fun one. You can also go with disc connectors like Brain Flakes and Mighty Molecules. A big hit in our home right now is Think n’ Link.

Curious George the Astronaut

To me a good STEM toy is one that gets a child interested in a STEM topic, and not necessarily building a critical STEM skill. If you don’t encourage kids’ interests they can sometimes fade. One way to do that is to include a plushy toy they can role play with. When the girls showed interest in space we encouraged it with a Curious George the Astronaut plushie and an Astronaut custom. We build rocket ships for George out of Mega Blocks.

We noticed a similar impact with our Alexa. It sparked Nicole’s interest enough to get her thinking about robots. Even though it’s not a toy, we did get a STEM benefit from it.

Microscope/Binoculars

Anything that helps kids look at their world differently is going to help inspire them to think about their world in different ways. In this category I really like the Geosafari Miscroscope and Geosafari Kidnoculars. Both are designed well for little faces, and don’t require focusing which make them very easy to use. The binoculars in particular are a favorite because the rubber grip eye piece makes it super easy for even Alexis to use.

We take our Binoculars (or nock-lers as Alexis calls them) to the Zoo and in the back yard. Even though they only have a 2x magnification, they proved a huge hit at the zoo. We were having an issue where Alexis would lose interest and want to move on to the next Animal before Nicole was ready. By introducing the Binoculars everything is new and interesting. If Alexis got bored with the Animals, she’d use her binoculars to people watch, or examine the trees giving Nicole all the time she needed.

We’ve looked at all mannors of things though the Microscope, including our princess necklaces and bugs. My favorite thing to look at through the microscope, however, is cereal. You can see the holes in the rice krispies!

March 15, 2017

Let there be LEDs

We lost another ceiling fan. That’s the third one to die in under two years. I suspect it’s another issue with the ceiling fan controller. That’s the issue claimed the previous two fans. So we’ll be making our third call to an electrician in less than a year. le sigh. Could be worse I suppose.

There’s a part of me that wonders if the problems we’ve been having may be a wattage issue. We noticed our outside bulbs had a ridiculously short half life until we went with a lower wattage. Could lower wattages help the ceiling fans last longer? Either way, it seems like a good excuse to finally make that switch to LEDs that we’ve been considering.

Of course I first thought of our experience with Hue light strips. I recently learned that Hue is making a line of white bulbs that let you choose the warmth/cool color level of the light which is appealing. You can set the light color temperature to what’s appropriate for time of day or activity, like photography. On the other hand I spent a lot of money on those light strips that are still in the closet, yet to find a good place in our new home. Then there’s the bulb size issue. Hue is coming out with a candelabra/candle but it won’t be available until later this year. Given all the grief I’ve gone with other new to market products, I have lost my desire to be an early adopter to anything. I decided to pass on Hue and it’s customobility… for now.

Instead I went with a lower wattage yellow light LEDs that bathes the room in an inviting glow. It’s not perfect for photography, but as long as the lighting temperature is consistent, I simple white balance adjustment will be fine. I opted to go with replacement bulbs in the recesses fixtures, rather than new recesses fixtures to give me the flexibility to change my mind on the color temperature later.

I started with the first floor, candelabra ($2-9 per depending on the shape) for the living room and dinning room and recessed lighting bulbs ($4.28 per bulb) for the kitchen. Hue is more typically $30 a bulb, but can range from $25-50 depending on a number of factors. I paid a lot more than that when the technology was brand new.

As for shopping, there wasn’t much of a selection in brick and mortar stores for the candelabra base. I had one option with each globe shape and couldn’t choose the color warmth. Online offered a way better selection, but prices varied wildly. It can also be really hard to gage whether it’s the right size bulb. It helped that the only non-medium (the standard household bulb base) base I needed was that candelabra.

To keep the price down, I bought in bulk and didn’t worry too much whether I was getting a “low quality” LED. From my research, quality in the LED world corresponds to longevity of the bulb. Even cheap LED are supposed to have something like 10 times the life of traditional bulbs. Good quality LEDs might have twice that life span. Either way, it’ll be a long time before I need to replace any of them. Given that, I set some extremely low price watches on CamelCamelCamel for replacement bulbs. That way I can be thrifty, and prepared at the same time.

Cheaper LED bulbs that last longer and require less energy than traditional bulbs. It’s the hat trick of saving!

One last tip which may sound kind of nutty: I separated my bulbs based on color temperature. Warm light bulbs are on one shelf, cool light bulbs on another. That way I can easily replace a burnt out bulb for another like bulb. I cannot stand mixed warmth lighting.

Older Posts »