January 5, 2018

3 for 3 in Extra Innings

This pregnancy continues to keep me on my toes. I’ve had a number of pre-labor symptoms, including some short bouts of prodromal labor this past week. According to the pregnancy websites I read most of my current pregnancy symptoms are signs that “things are moving in the right direction” and “labor will likely start in two to three weeks.” I would hope so! Today is my due date. I was convinced something was happening yesterday, that labor would officially start and I’d be having a baby on my due date. Nothing materialized, and now we’re heading to extra innings.

At my last OB appointment we discovered I have made more progress than I had with either of the two previous pregnancies before going into the induction, which confirmed that the prodromal labor is I’ve been experiencing has not been completely false starts and something is happening, albeit slowly.

One of the differences I’ve noticed this week is a return of nesting energy. Or maybe ‘nesting desire’ is the better phrase since I’m feeling rather run down an energyless lately. I have a number of smaller tasks on my to-do list that I really want to get crossed off before our littlest one’s arrival:

– I have end tables that need to be assembled (which I plan to keep by the rocking chair.)
– The Datayze website needs to be backed up (waiting for my host to resolve an issue first.)
– Baby clothes are all washed, but some have stiffened over time and I’d like to see if a liberal dosing of fabric softer can help.
– Put the new registration sticker on the car

All total there are just nine things left on my to-do list, three center on getting the nursery ready. None of those things should take much time, once I find the energy to get up and do them. I’ll probably try and tackle a few mid morning, when I’m usually feeling the best, from her until this girl decides to make her appearance. Should she keep me waiting a while, I’ll hopefully finish off my list. If not, well I won’t complain.

Last month followed the predictable pattern laid out from the previous December: strong first half of the month, abysmal second half. The majority of my December income, $588.04, was earned in the first three weeks, then everything slowed to a crawl through the holiday. Users were up 13.5%, again due to a strong first half of the month performance. This time I knew what to expect, and didn’t let my dropping numbers discourage me too much.

Overall this puts my total income for 2017 at $3,456.27. Not where it needs to be, but not to shabby, especially compared to last year. That’s about a 7x year-over-year growth. Another 7x growth would put me at ~$24,000 for the year, equivalent to minimum wage in California.

One of the neat things was watching my stats around midnight new years eve. I just happened to have my analytics page open around 9 PM PST (midnight for East Coasters) and I watched the the hits to my Time Until app climb sharply until they reached 4X normal traffic volume. I had initially designed my app to be more of a long range count down over multiple days, so I was surprised by the interest, but I’ll gladly take it! I couldn’t resist staying up to see how my apps did as midnight approached Central time, Mountain Time and Pacific time. I was sure the west coast numbers would be equally strong, but to my surprise I had far more users in the Central Time Zone.

Time Until is one of the apps that’s going to get a serious redesign in the new year. I hope my audience likes it!

Moving forward, January was the month I intended to start pushing updates again, however I’m running into challenges with my webhost. They recently made changes to their text editing tool, and now I can’t save files. I have a walk around, but I want them to fix their issue first since their editing tool has become a part of my standard work flow. There are also two other pending potential issues with the host that could throw a hiccup into any update I push, and with the pending arrival I’m wearing of doing anything that might leave the site in a bad state while I’m out of commission for a few days. We’ll see what January brings, but as of now I’m expecting minimal updates to trickle out.

December 29, 2017

Toward A Better Heating System

Our nest went haywire again last night. It only happens when in heat mode, and hasn’t happened since we got the replacement a year ago, but it’s still exceedingly disappointing to be happening again. The problem? Nest’s temperature sensor gets confused. As a result, Nest sometimes forgets to turn the furnace off. We woke up in the middle of the night to 80 degree temperatures and the heater still running. That’s wasted energy (and money) not to mentioned a lost night of sleep for no reason.

Part of the challenge of heating our house is that it’s a dual zone system. Both thermostats are in relatively the same location (the hallway by the stairs), just on different floors. Heat rises, so how often the downstairs zone is running effects how warm the upstairs hallway is, which in turn effects how frequently the upstairs zone runs. The upstairs zone is the only zone that effects the bedroom. There’s a lot of guess work involved to figure out the optimal settings so the bedrooms remain comfortable overnight. (Quite frankly, the goal is the kids room. I’m happy to suffer if it means the kids sleep through the room.) It reminds me of how the first refrigerators with freezers were designed.

When I first heard about Keen Home Smart Vents over a year ago I thought it was the answer to our problems. If the vents open and close automatically, then we in theory won’t cook the kids over night. Problem was “smart” at that point meant automatically opening and closing based on a predefined schedule or the app on your phone, not the current temperature of the room. Since we usually don’t wake up until it’s too late, that wouldn’t work for us.

Since our heater went haywire last night I decided to look into smart vents again. Keen is now coming out with temperature sensors! Even better, there are competitors in the smart vent space. In another year or so the technology will mature and we may finally be able to get a more temperature balanced house!

December 25, 2017

Not A Christmas Baby Afterall

For a brief moment, it looked like we were going to have a Christmas baby.

I had finished nearly all of my Christmas prep work early: tree trimmed, presents purchased and all but one wrapped (it was a last minute addition by a family member). I’m trying to stay off my off my feet as much as possible, feeling what could be the start of contractions since early to mid December. That meant no baking for me. Instead of making Grandma’s Cinnamon rolls from scratch we bought the Pillsbury kind which turned out pretty reasonable, especially given the effort to end product trade off. After the kids went to sleep on Christmas Eve the only thing left was for Santa to stuff the stockings and put out the special presents, and then (of course) to take the last photographs of everything finished and done.

I went to bed shortly after 11. I had been uncomfortable all day, with lower back pain, but no measurable cramping or contractions to speak of. By around 11:30 I was still awake and tossing uncomfortably, noting the back pain was now radiating down into my legs in waves like it did when I was contracting with Nicole. That’s when I noticed the discomfort I was feeling was not the baby moving, but a tightening in my abdomen. For a moment I thought this was it. Fortunately by 11:45 everything stopped and I was able to finally fall asleep.

By morning everything was back to normal. I am still uncomfortable, but no signs of early labor. I was even able to get up early with the kids and take some photos of them with their stockings. I’m still getting used to my new camera in low light situations, but I walked away with at least one really nice shot and I always treasure those.

A mild cold has been making it’s rounds through our house, and by mid day it was clear it was my turn. So it’s contractions and a cough for me for Christmas this year! So far it’s just a dry cough and a sore throat.

Domingo is insisting I spent even less time on my feet than I already was. We’re hoping to make it at least to 39 weeks, which will be Friday. I’d prefer January, but logistically things get a lot easier if we could make it to at least Friday. It’d also be nice if I can go into labor at full strength, so I’m resting, running the humidifier and drinking as much hot tea as possible.

Now watch as I go all the way to induction day again. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

December 21, 2017

Sarah Brain

Whether it’s lack of sleep, seasonal stress or the mythical “mommy brain” my cognitive functions appear to be lacking I’m making some really epic level of mistakes lately. Let me count the ways in just the last couple of weeks:

  • I very carefully measured out the single portion of the home made chili I’m allowed to eat per my pregnancy gestational diabetics diet, put the rest in the microwave and my portion back in the fridge.
  • Fat fingered not just my account number, but also the bill amount while paying online. Still trying to get that resolved.
  • Lost my phone and the *first* place I look, without thinking, is the refrigerator. (Thankfully it was not there.)
  • Forgot about my ~38 week appointment until the end of the day when Domingo got home from work and asked how it went.

Oopsies.

At least we are continuing to make good progress through our to-do list.

The infant car seat has been checked over for any weak spots in the plastic, cleaned and installed in the car. I even found the newborn insert for it! The rocking chair is assembled and upstairs. The nursery is still a disheveled mess, but we have a rock n’ play that the baby will likely sleep in for the first couple weeks or months anyway.

One source of stress during both Alexis’ and Nicole’s first year was the baby book. There were many, many months struggled to find a workable onesie for the monthly photo in time for the photo shoot, often settling for something that was over priced that I didn’t really like. I decided to do things a little differently this time around. I took advantage of a year end sale, found a onesie that would have matched both girls’ complexion and purchased it in all-the-sizes, that is from newborn to 18 months! I plan to keep them separate from all the other baby clothes so there’s little change it’ll get stained before it’s needed. At the end of the year, they’ll be very gently used and I can easily donate them at close to their full value.

I also decided to purchase both girls a new dress for newborn/sibling photos, again taking advantage of the year end sales.

Hospital bag is not packed, but was also not really used either previous delivery. I am slowly gathering a few things (e.g. going home shirt/blanket). It’ll be easy enough to throw those things in a plastic shopping bag on our way out the door, and in an emergency I can send Domingo home to pick them up if we forget them. The only other thing of importance is my camera, but I plan to use it between now and then so pre-packing it makes no sense.

My modus operandi these days is whatever reduces stress and makes my life easier. Can you tell?

December 15, 2017

Staying in

This pregnancy continues to be vastly different from my other two. With both Nicole and Alexis I used being hours away from my induction as an excuse to walk around the mall. I felt annoyingly fine, and was anxious for things to started. This pregnancy? Moving at all has been a struggle for weeks.

Z3 is super low. I feel her in my hips as I walk, pushing against my pelvic bone. By the time I get to the store from the parking lot I’m usually in need of sitting down. Yesterday I thought I’d preserve and power through for the last of my holiday shopping least Domingo be left picking out nail polish colors for the girl’s stockings.

When I was nearly done the discomfort started to intensify into undeniable pain. The kind of pain where I wasn’t sure I could physically make it out of the store. I leaned against my cart, breathing deep and slow waiting for the feeling to pass. My spare hand was resting on my 8.5 month pregnant belly.

All of a sudden my cart was pulled out from under me. I nearly hit the ground, but luckily my grip on the card was strong enough that I was able to stay up right. I glanced over to see an older woman with her hand still on my cart. She gestured that I was blocking the merchandise. No “excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” Thanks lady. I would have moved out of your way had you given me the chance.

I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn’t notice my big pregnant belly under my T-shirt. Even so, moving an object someone is leaning against is still a jerky thing to do, even if they’re physically fine.

Nail polish was not acquired. I left as soon as I felt able.

Domingo and I decided that, jerks aside, it would probably be best that I not tax myself like that again in the future. Especially by myself. I’m still going to do daycare/school drop-offs solo, partially out of necessity and partially because I usually feel the best in the morning. We’ll stick to reheating meals in the evening so Domingo can help me with pick-ups. Even if that means cooking them the night before, after the kids are asleep.

One more week until vacation starts. Two more weeks until we have family in town to help out. Five more weeks at most of pregnancy. According to my Labor Probability Calculator, there’s a 10.5% Z3 will come before vacation starts, a 14.1% she’ll be here before Christmas and a 30.6% chance she’ll be born in December. Fingers crossed we make it to January. We can do this.

At least Santa was able to finish the shopping online.

December 13, 2017

Mery and Done! (Almost)

The stars have aligned and I’ve been able clear out my Christmas task list in a major way.

Christmas cards can take weeks for me to finish, since I like to do everything from take the photo to designing the actual card. This year I didn’t even have a design concept I was happy with coming into the weekend. I have been mulling over just using past photos of the kids, and maybe even an old card layout when an idea struck me Saturday night as I was going to bed. I told Domingo my plan Sunday morning and we were able to do a mini photo shoot with the kids that afternoon. After the kids went to sleep I managed to design the cards in what felt like a lightening fast two hours. Check it out, I think it’s one of my best. One day, people. I have never designed anything so fast.

To send out the cards I opted to use Shutterfly’s addressing service for the Christmas Cards again. It’s not as nice as hand addressing them, but I figure most of our friends and family won’t mind. I don’t mind. Life’s busy for everyone, do what you got to do. Besides, I have a better excuse for not hand addressing the cards this year than last since I’m roughly the size of a beached whale with an energy level that ranges from almost non-existent to flat-lining. At least they’re done early enough that recipients should receive their cards before the holidays. Last year a few cards didn’t arrive until the day after Christmas.

Santa needs to find one more present and a few stocking stuffers, but all non-Santa presents have been ordered and sent. All presents that I have received from out of town friends and family have been wrapped and are under the now trimmed tree. I know a few more presents are on their way, but nothing that will require too much energy to wrap. They may even come wrapped.

The house could use still use some tidying up (when does it not?).

That only leaves taking the kids to see Santa which we’re planning on doing this weekend, and getting a nice family photo by the tree. I won’t stress it if the family photo happens after Christmas again. For that matter, we can always do decorating cookies or gingerbread houses after the holidays again too. The kids will be home for two weeks, starting Christmas day, anyway, and it’s a nice way to prolong the season.

Now I just need to finish getting ready for the baby. Putting the car seat in the car and assembling the crib would be a good idea before hitting 37-weeks/term on Friday. Tidying up the nursery would be nice too. Baby clothes up to 12 months have been cleaned, sorted and put away in the dresser. The rest are sitting in piles on the floor of the nursery, or in the not put back together crib, waiting to be put away. I’m also planning on using a heavy dose of fabric softener on the older clothes. Time has not been super kind to them.

We’re getting there, and it’s helping with my stress level.

The biggest sense of relief this past week came in the form of two offers to watch the girls should Z3 decide to make an early arrival. Z3 is head down and very low. My doctor was initially pretty sure I’d need to be induced again, but seemed much less convinced when she checked on Z3’s position. I have been feeling what might be off and on again contractions. Could be braxton hicks. Could be somersaults. I know it sounds weird or a 3rd time mom to not be sure, but I had made next to no progress before either induction. I am not entirely sure what it feels like when things start to kick off on their own!

December 10, 2017

Order Fails

One sign you’re doing too much shopping? A number of orders get messed up all at once. Tomorrow I need to call three different companies and ask “What the heck?!”

The first is the photography company that does the school photos at Nicole’s school. The level of fail with these guys is impressive. I paid for Nicole’s Kindergarten portrait back at the end of August. I volunteered on picture day. I saw her get her photo taken and physically handed the check & order form to the photographer.

In October Nicole’s teacher sent out an email reminding parents of retake day the next day in case they weren’t happy with their proofs. What proofs? I went through Nicole’s bookbag and the parent folder. Nothing. I double checked my check had been cashed in August. Fearing a mixup I signed Nicole up for retakes, just in case. Worse comes to worse I’d pay for two sets of photos. First thing in the morning I called the company asking about the missing proofs. They didn’t have a record of Nicole having her photo taken (besides the cashed check) but it didn’t seem like this situation was too unusual, and they said they’d look into it.

In early November I got an email from the photography company. They couldn’t find Nicole’s missing photo and would be returning my money. I asked if they had her photo from retake day. No response.

In December, a full 3 months after I paid for the silly things, I finally received Nicole’s official Kindergarten portraits. They were all the quality you’d expect from a school photo, but at least they were non-theoretical!

The company takes the kids’ photos against a green screen, so I decided to order another image with a different color background that goes better with Nicole’s complexion. Unlike my first order, this one came quickly, but came watermarked! Tomorrow I will be calling and asking for the Non-watermarked version.

The second issue is with my Target bookshelf order. Domingo and I are setting up a Homework/project nook area in the living room. We needed a place to store Nicole’s book bag that wasn’t the middle of the floor (where it currently is.) The space is small, and there’s a window with a ledge so I needed the two-tiered, 2 shelf case. The 3-tiered one arrived. I’m sure in most cases that would be a nice surprise upgrade, but it doesn’t fit!

The final issue is with the light up deer lawn decorations we ordered. The baby deer is missing a piece. Not an important piece, we can make do without it, but we shouldn’t have to!


Edited to Add:

And the photography company continues to impress me with their level of fail. The customer service rep kept insisting that all images come watermarked (then why didn’t my first order?) and Walmart (their suggestion) can remove the watermark for me if I were to take the digital image file to them to print (Ridiculous. The technology to do it is in it’s infancy and not publicly available. Besides, there are legal implications for a commercial entity to remove someone else’s watermark).

We are out of luck with the bookshelf. The two tiered version is out of stock, and no longer listed on Target’s page. I’m dissappointed because it was an awesome deal on a really cute bookshelf that’s twice as expensive anywhere else, but they’re letting me keep the three tiered one for free. I can maybe make it work somewhere else in the house, just not for the intended purpose. At least I’m no worse off than if I hadn’t ordered it.

The missing part on the baby deer is also out of stock and the company isn’t sure when they’ll be able to restock it, so it may be a while before they can send one to me. Luckily we can make do without.


Edited a second time.

I had given up getting a resolution with respect to Nicole’s photos, but then I got a response back from the Photography company this (Tuesday) morning that irritated me so much I couldn’t let it go. Eight more back-and-forths and we may have reached a resolution I’m satisfied with.

December 6, 2017

First Time Charm

My best photo shoot is usually my third. Unless it’s something I’m shooting on a regular basis, I usually take a few iterations to figure out the best settings to lessen the chances of unintentional blur (both depth of field related, camera shake and motion). So when I decided to try a modified low key maternity photo in front of the Christmas tree, I was pretty stoked to get this on my first attempt.


ISO 5000
F/36 (to produce the star light effect)
2 Second Shutter Speed

It was a difficult shot. I’m kneeling so my bump is against to the widest part of the tree (you can see the floor in the background to the right.) I had troubles sitting still for so long, and ended up leaning against Alexis’ training potty so I could hold my position better. Even still there’s a bit of noise, but it’s not horrible. Given the difficulty of the shot, I think the end result was rather impressive. I was using normal noise reduction, and could experiment with pushing it to the max. If I used a star filter (something I didn’t yet own) I could create the stars with a wider aperture and not rely on such a high ISO setting or long shutter speed. If this is what I got when I didn’t quite know what I was doing, imagine what I could get with a little work!

All other attempts have been flops.

The stars created with a small aperture are small and dense with 14 rays that don’t stretch very far from the point light. The star filter set I purchased produce a maximum 10 rays. I was hoping there wouldn’t be much of a difference between 10 and 14 rays, but the 10 rays looked mighty thin compared to the 14 rays. Adding insult to injury, the greater the difference in contrast between point light to the rest of the photo, the longer the rays. The end result? Long streaks of light that didn’t really look like stars stretching across most of the photo. The darker the photo, like these low key setups, the worse the filter stars looked.


With star filter

Results with increased noise reduction were ok, but not remarkably better.

Sadly for me and my perfectionist tendencies, the further along I get in this pregnancy the less energy I have to try for better photos. I’m also getting impatient with the still yet untrimmed tree (I worry the ornaments will detract from the photo) so I decided to declare this photo attempt done after five tries. I did take a back up shot with an increased the aperture (bye bye pretty point light stars) which at least doesn’t suffer from noise or blur. I’m convinced that somewhere out there is a program that can add stars to point lights after the fact. If it doesn’t exist now, I’m sure it will at some point.

In the mean time, I ran my best photo (above) through every single photo manipulation app on my phone. Here are my two favorite results.

The first is from an app called Camera+ using the faded filter. I love the nearly black and white look with the stars supplying little bursts of color. The color tone is a nice touch as well.

Next up is Prism with the Curly Hair style. It’s another mostly black and white image, this one looks almost like a drawing.

Tomorrow while the kids are at school I plan to trim the tree while blasting Christmas music. My goal: be done with my to-do list early enough that I can relax the week leading up to Christmas and get plenty of sleep before the chaos that is Christmas morning. I did it before, I can do it again!

November was another strong growth month, but income still fell short of projections. Datayze saw a user growth of 19.2% and earned $569.45.

I won’t meet the $1000/month target by the end of the year, but I can’t be dissappointed with the growth I’ve seen this year. Average monthly revenue has increased by a factor of 4 and will likely continue to increase. I’ve hit all the targets I set for myself just under two years ago.

Next goals include:
– $1000/month (I consider this the point of viability)
– Covering the kids’ daycare/afterschool costs
– Replacing my previous full time salary

One of the differences I noticed right away between this year and last was in the impact of Thanksgiving on audience size. Last year Thanksgiving didn’t seem to have much of an effect on audience size. There was a markable dip on the day off, and a small dip the day before, but audience size recovered quickly over the weekend. This year my user stats started to drop on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and remained slightly lower than expected the following week. It’s further evidence that my demographics may have shifted with the change in relative App popularity.

One of the nice things about increased traffic is I’m starting to see a non trivial number of Amazon affiliate links. Over a year ago I implemented a backup ad system that served Amazon affiliate links for users who use ad blockers. (It’s against my terms of service to use an ad blocker on my site, but I realize some corporate networks don’t give users a choice.) Clicks is the first step to conversions, which is the next step before creating a steady revenue stream. I spent a lot of time designing the system to be unintrusive, fast and light weight, but not a lot of time selecting products so there’s at least that potential avenue for improvement.

I’m setting my expectations low for December. Last year my audience size decreased in the middle of the month and it took about a month to recover. I noticed a similar winter dip the year before. The January lull will give me a chance to launch a whole bunch of new content and site improvements I’ve been holding off from (assuming a little miss doesn’t make an early appearance.)

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