September 21, 2016

Panic!

After a strong start to the month, my stats started to dive off a cliff.

statdrop

Okay, that’s not really reason to panic. The above graph from the Google Webmaster Tools, and shows the organic search clicks on my website. I also use Google Analytics, which showed a 44% increase in users in the past 30 days compared to the prior period, further supporting my theory that my business was growing, not shrinking. Diving into the Google Analytics metrics I see two to three times as many organic search clicks from Google than reported in the Google Webmaster Tools, which indicates Google Webmaster Tools may be under reporting. I also had a likely culprit: the switch from http to https. So there really wasn’t much reason to panic.

It turns out that Google Webmaster separates out traffic by protocol, so I needed to create another property to capture the https data. No reason to panic.

At least not over that.

When I was digging into the problem I came across a couple websites that showed their average click rates. From there I could get a better picture of how much traffic “top” websites get, and a potential ceiling for my business. It looks like it’s much lower than my ultimate target. On top of that, while I nearly doubled revenue this year compared to last, I’d need to keep doubling for the next seven years in order to reach my target. That’s a long time to go without a steady paycheck, not to mention a pretty unsustainable growth rate to maintain.

Datayze, in it’s current conception, may be infeasible.

All is not lost. I am not giving up, but I do recognize the need for a new strategy.

September 17, 2016

Hello, Alexa!

echo

Technically it’s “Hello, Echo!” We had to change the wake word since ‘Alexa’ and ‘Alexis’ are too phonetically similar.

Last Amazon Prime day I purchased the Echo. It’s sat in it’s box until now. I clearly have not learned my lesson. At least this time I didn’t buy two.

I admit I wasn’t sure how much use case we’d get out of Echo. With our push for a smart home, it seemed like a tool that would one day control everything. At the time I didn’t realize that it could talk to our new irrigation system at the time of purchase. I did think it would be nice to ask Echo about the weather while busy trying to dress the kids in the morning. It’s not often I have a hand free to crack open my laptop or check my mobile device. It would also be nice to have a way of playing Christmas music. We gave up the only stereo we had when we downsized, and laptop speakers don’t work as well.

When Amazon had its sale we figured we’d grow into Echo.

Now that it’s set up I can say it’s worth it now.

Nicole is constantly asking it to play songs, only she doesn’t know their titles so her request of “please play Elsa” falls on confused digital ears. Domingo has been referring to Echo as “the robot” and now Nicole is eager to build a robot of her own. That makes this engineering Mama extremely happy to hear.

Alexis, for her part, runs around chanting “Ek-oh! Ek-oh!” When Alexis woke up from her nap this afternoon I asked her if she wanted to play with Nicole. She only blinked at my groggily. I asked if she wanted to play with Echo? “Ek-oh!” She puts too much of a pause between the syllables for Echo to understand her, but I’m sure she’ll get the hang of it in no time.

It took the girls less than 20 minutes to figure out they could add crackers to Mommy’s shopping list. That may be off putting to some. Had it not been possible to disable voice purchasing I would have been annoyed too. Since I can, and don’t need to worry about spurious photos, I’m eager to see my kids learn how to interact with all kinds of technology. Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to hire Nicole as an App developer. She’s already inspired enough to build a robot.

So that’s speakers, future proofing for our smart home, a toy for the kids and fostering our love of robotics all for just $141 (with tax). Well, and an additional $7.74 so Nicole could listen to the full songs from Frozen, and not just the 30 second free samples.

September 17, 2016

Camera Ready

alexis_posing

Who is this child, and what did they do with my Alexis?!

Alexis has long been my child who merely tolerates the camera. She’ll cooperate for me, provided I don’t over do it. But others? Nope. Her last round of school photos were a complete bust. She started crying the minute the she was brought into the room, so the photographer had her sent back to class without attempting a single frame. I admit I was more than a little bummed about that. This is the same studio that did the vintage style photo for the playroom, and I was looking forward to an updated version.

Rather than just be bummed, I decided to reach out to the JCPenney’s photographer we had success with. I called up and asked if they could do a similar vintage shoot. I also needed an updated family photo for our living room. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

That was last Friday.

By the end of the shoot a transformation had taken place. Alexis was eating up all the praise she was getting for holding a pose and smiling, and the photographer kept doting on her for being so cooperative. It created a bit of a feedback loop and my camera shy little girl was behaving much more like her camera loving big sister.

Today I got out my camera and asked Alexis to sit in the chair so I could take a picture. She posed herself, and held it long enough for several snaps. I shot Nicole next. Once Nicole was done, Alexis climbed back up into the chair with her teddy bear.

Before today it’s been four weeks since I last picked up my camera. I had been feeling rather uninspired. Now that I have two eager models I will have to make up for lost time!

September 12, 2016

Secured

Yesterday I came across an article from Tech Crunch about google heavily pressuring website owners to move from the http protocal to the more secure https. In the article they’re discussing about chrome in the article, not search, but I think it’s a reasonable assumption that a similar policy may be in place in search, if not now than in the near future. If two websites have comparable content, why not favor the one with the better user experience?

I admit as of late I’ve been a bit more reactive and not enough proactive than I’d like. Still, it seemed like good timing to make the change since I was already going through all this renaming pain. I recently opted to remove the ‘www’ subdomain from all my URLs which appears to have affected the google index for my websites. Just as the URL http://www.domain.com is technically different from http://domain.com, https://domain.com is technically different from http://domain.com. While it would have been better to have gone from http://www.domain.com to https://domain.com in one step, making the change would at mean any pain from renaming would at least overlap a little instead of costing me twice.

It would be nice to log into my blog over an https connection so I don’t have to fear a man in the middle attack any time I write a new blog post. I’m also considering eventually adding an ad-free datayze.com experience for a nominal fee which would necessitate a secure connection.

The final driver towards making the https plunge was the discoery that dreamhost offers and SSL certificate for free. Yesterday I added the Let’s Encrypt! certificate to sktyler.com. When that went off smoothly I went ahead and added one to datayze.com.

I have no idea if it’ll help my search rankings, but at least it couldn’t hurt. Probably.

September 7, 2016

Cognitive Leaps

Tonight, as many nights, Nicole was playing with her foam letter bath toys in the bath tub. She’ll hold up a letter and ask “what letter is this?” After answering her, I’ll follow up with “what sound does it make?” or “what words begin with it?”

Tonight she handed me the E. I told her it was the first letter in the word “eh-eh-elephant” and asked her if she knew what it was.

“L!”

She’s made this mistake before, with the same letter and word. Last time I corrected her, which seemed too discouraging in retrospected. This time I found the L and held it next to the E. “Yes! The E makes the Eh sound and the L makes the Elle sound so it’s E-L-ephent, Eh-Elle-ephent.”

Seeing those two letters next to each other, something clicked in her for the first time. She suddenly understood the connection between a string of letters and the word they spelled. She wanted to spell and sound out the entire word. The letter set only has one instance of each letter so we spelled ‘Elphant’, followed by ‘Princes’. (Hey, it’s the process that’s important not the exact letter sequence, right?!)

I’m a proponent of free play, and not really comfortable with the notion of formal preschool at such a young age. The research that free play sparks curiosity really resonated with me because it echos the experience of my childhood. Yet here we are, studying phonics in the bath tub.

I don’t have as much confidence in this whole parenting thing as I’d like to believe. We’re in a highly competitive area academically speaking. Some of the other kids can already read and recognize words. I was afraid Nicole kindergarten significantly behind her peers. I didn’t want her teacher forming a negative impression of her ability. Impressions, deserved or not, can be difficult to change. So we started going over letters and numbers. I even signed her up for phonics and math class at her preschool, though not without some hesitation. Sometimes it feels like a giant waste of money Sometimes I just wish other parents would relax. But most of all I wish I didn’t let the peer pressure get to me.

At least she seems to be enjoying her letters and numbers.

September 5, 2016

Alexies

I enjoyed sharing some fun stories of Nicole, which I dubbed Nicolies. Now that Alexis is stringing words together in simple sentences and phrases, we can share some Alexies as well.

“No, Fries!”

At meal time we give the girls a little of everything. They have to eat the request amount of everything before they can recieve more of their favorites. This works, even for Alexis, although she does sometimes try to barter. We’ll point to the vegetable and say “first!” and she’ll stuff a piece of fish in her mouth instead before repeating her request for her favorite foods.

The other day we were trying to get Alexis to eat more green beans before she could have a sip of water from the big girl cup. (She can have as much as she wants from the sippy.) Domingo said “first!” point to her green beans. Alexis glanced down at the plate, looked up and said “No, Fries!” holding up her last french fry offering to eat it instead.

“Daddy, Down!”

Little siblings tend to learn quite early to blame their older siblings on owies. Alexis will run up to us, point somewhere on her body and say “Owie, Nicole!” to indicate big sister did it. She’ll do it even when big sister isn’t around and could not possibly be the culprit.

This weekend I was coming downstairs and I noticed Domingo scolding Alexis for being on the landing. She came running up to me with all the same urgency that she says “Owie Nicole!” only this time it was “Daddy, Down!”.

“Did Daddy take you down from the step?” I ask.
“Yeah!” she says emphatically.
“Because we aren’t allowed on the step?”

She gave me that look she gives when she doesn’t want to answer the question. Despite knowing she wasn’t allowed on the stair, she seemed genuinely perplexed Daddy wasn’t scolded. I guess she views me as the one in charge around here.

“Owie, Owie, Get Down!”

Most of our little monkey’s sayings these days revolve around owies (real, phantom, and pending) and getting down.

Last weekend we took the girls to the circus. The opening act was the acrobats. When the lights turned on and Alexis saw them up on the apparatus she pointed and shouted “Owie, Owie, Get Down!”

“Fwee, Four, Ive!”

The thing that amazes me the most is that Alexis can count! If you start her by saying “One, Two” she’ll reliably go to five, and occasionally six. I’m sure at this point it’s just like singing the alphabet song, all rote memorization with no real understanding, but it’s still adorable to watch. I need to get it on video.

This month was another poor preforming month, but there’s reasons to be hopeful. I earned $19.61 cents, a little over double what it was last year, even though it’s half of what I was making just two short months ago. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that traffic to my website has returned to the pre-new name launch. Clicks have steadily increased since July to about 90% of what they previously where. It’s been close to, but not quite two months since I purchased the new domain name. Everything I had been reading seem to imply it could be two to three months before a return to normal, so it looks like I may even be a little ahead of schedule.

augustclicks
Actual clicks reported from Google Webmaster Tools

If you spend any part of your day coding, you’ve probably heard the expression “premature optimization is the root of all evil.” Apparently that holds true for search engine optimization as well. After the site map issue, I burned myself again with the canonical URLs.

Despite the missteps, the optimization seems to be paying off in the long run. Google is now indexing way more of my site. We’re up to about 24% of my entire (paramaterized) site being indexed. I’ve also noticed some additional traffic from those additional paramaterized URLs. One of the URLs paramaterized was the Miscarriage Reassurer. For example, https://datayze.com/miscarriage-reassurer.php?weeks=5&days2 now jumps you to the odds for 5 weeks, 2 days. Seeing a few of those paramaterized URLs for landing pages makes me realize how much more common it is to query for “miscarriage odds at 5 weeks 2 days” than generically “miscarriage odds.” I only started to see this behavior in the last couple of days, so I’m hoping this trend will continue and make for a strong September, if nothing else in terms of user base.

I’ve also been working on site speed. I’ve set up browser caching and minified my CSS and Javascript. I had to write my own custom minifier after a few I downloaded didn’t work. It turns out Javascript can be particularly nasty to minify when doing a shallow parse, especially when your code contains regular expressions which are not quoted.

Finally I’ve been working on making my site mobile friendly. Half the apps have already been converted and another couple will be finalized in the next day or two. The last few will be a bit challenging since they generate large tables which won’t fit nicely on small screens. After minifying Javascript I feel ready for the challenge.

I’ve been continuing to work on behind the scenes improvements, so I don’t have any new apps to report (though I do have a few nearing completion.) Next month.

On the one hand it feels a little premature to write this post now. I don’t know yet if I will be a success or not. Somehow, despite the uncertainty, I’m somehow still here after a year. I’ve had my share of ups and downs. These tricks have helped me get though the challenging periods, now and at other times in my life (like grad school.)

1.) Have your fight song cued up and at the ready

I think the most frustrating thing about entrepreneurship is the number of elements that are out of your control. For me, I’m greatly impacted by changes to the Google search engine, and advertising payment rates. It can make you feel helpless when these things seem to be conspiring against you. And there will be times when it feels like their conspiring against you.

I have a collection of girl power ballads I like to play when getting discouraged. My current favorite is Fight Song, which dethrowned the long time champion – Watch Me Shine by Joanna Pacitti.

Music can be a great influence. Find what makes you feel invigorated, and be prepared to play it on loop in the background. Or maybe full volume. Whatever you need to get past the humps.

2.) Retreat to your strengths (even if their not your core business)

Sometimes the music pick-me-up isn’t enough. Sometimes the best way to boost your ego is to work on something you excel at.

I’m a good coder, but even the best coders get stuck sometimes. Rather than keep hitting my head into the wall when I’m getting frustrated with a particular bug or trying to implement a new feature, I sometimes refocus on another activity. Sometimes it’s a different app. Sometimes it’s photography. The trick is to find something that can help rebuild your confidence in yourself. It usually doesn’t take long before I feel my self efficacy start to return to it’s former state. A well planned half hour break can make me feel re-energize and ready to re-tackle that problem. If you suffer from impostor syndrome, like I do, self-efficacy breaks are a necessity.

3.) Spread out your weaknesses

Most people who start a business focus on the skills they have, and forget about all the other aspects that go into making a business work. A photographer is more than someone who excels at photography, a tutor is more than just a masterful teacher. There’s marketing, budgeting, financial record keeping, etc.

One of my bigger weaknesses is technical writing. If I ever decide I no longer want to be a non-employer, and I get successful enough, I’m hiring a technical writer. Or maybe a technical writer/social media manager. Since that’s not an option now, I like to spread out the technical writing and do a little each day. It may be tempting to put it off, but that makes for really unpleasant days when I do nothing but technical writing, get tongue tied over word choices and start to feel frustrated. I’m much more likely to get discouraged those days.

4.) Track Metrics

You don’t know how well you’re doing unless you track your progress. This month is shaping up to be a bit worse than last month, but at least it’s still twice as good as last year. If I wasn’t tracking how my business was operating year-over-year, it’d be easy to lose track of my overall growth.

I like to keep lists of accomplishments for the day. The more things I’ve gotten done (business related or otherwise) the more energized I feel to keep going. I’m more likely to be productive in the evening, and hit the ground running the following morning.

I have been talking about getting “nice” screwdrivers forever. For years we had been using the cheep ones you find at discount stores. You know the time, $1.50 for a screw driver, or $10 for a pack of 8. They keep wearing down on me and loosing the grips. I mentioned the desire for good screw drivers to my dad and he asked me what constitutes “good.” I didn’t really have a good answer other than something that will last a bit longer. He figured it was better to just replace the screwdriver whenever it wore down.

No offense dad, but you are so wrong.

The playhouse was a bit of a beast to assemble. I started at 8 and didn’t finish until two hours later. In that process I sent Domingo to the store for another screwdriver because I was just so frustrated with our last remaining screwdriver losing it’s grip and dropping the screw in the dark. He came back with the only one the store had, which was somehow less effective than the one I was using.

Domingo and I decided to bite the bullet and and ordered a better screwdriver the very next morning. We went with a cushion grip screwdriver. If nothing else I figured it would spare my hand from some of the after-assembly soreness. I had one of those magnatizers so I didn’t think the magnetic tip was anything special.

That’s where I was wrong.

Today I re positioned the blinds I had previously installed. The magnetized tip was stronger than any of the screw drivers I had, and did a much better job of holding onto the screw. This was very handy as the blinds are not in the most convenient of places and it’s difficult to get the right angle on the screw driver. The cushion grip was much easier on my hand. I got the job done in half the time it took to install the blinds in the first place.

Will this screwdriver last? I don’t know, but the lifetime warranty does give me hope. Even if I’m replacing this screw driver every year instead of the $1.50 screw driver, I still think it’s money well spent.

August 15, 2016

Another Home

cottage

When we moved from Silicon Valley we managed to fit everything on one moving truck. Everything except our old Christmas Tree, the corner desk, and the Step 2 play house. That was both by design and a bit of luck. The old desk wouldn’t fit the new office (and one of the movers said he’d like if if we weren’t keeping it.) The Christmas Tree was a pre-lit tree, and the bottom section of lights worked only sporadically. The Step 2 house was assembled out on the patio and wouldn’t fit through the doorway without being disassembled first. As tends to be true of toddler toys, it was also missing a piece.

Of the three the one I sometimes regret is that Step 2 house. I convinced myself it wasn’t in the best of shape, wouldn’t have survived the disassemble/reassemble process, and wouldn’t have fit into the truck even if was disassembled. The last point is probably the most true of them all. Still, I felt bad that Nicole wouldn’t get to play with her house anymore, and that Alexis would never have the chance.

I was thinking about it last weekend and decided to do some poking around online. Wouldn’t you know it, Walmart was having a sale. It wasn’t as good as the Black Friday purchase we had previously gotten, but a decent deal. In the cart it went.

There are apparently at least two different cottages with the same basic coloring. The really ironic thing? The one we had previously from Amazon (without the grill) matched the image on the product page on Walmart. The one that just arrived from Walmart (with the grill) matched the product page of the one we previously bought on Amazon. If I had to pick, I think I like the current one (with the grill) better, if only because there were three screws to secure the sink instead of one and it seems more stable. Alexis loves to climb through the window and she does that by grabbing the sink and putting all her weight on it. Then again, the old one had two seats which also would have been nice given the two kids.

Both girls were super excited for their new house. Alexis rang that door bell for hours, and Nicole spent quite a while making strawberry salad on the grill.

Truth be told I am still a little frustrated with myself that I made the same purchase twice. Not very frugal. Than again, if it didn’t fit on the truck it would have cost us much more to have it moved than it was worth. I just need to keep reminding myself that. Hopefully we stay put now for a very long time. Moving is expensive in so many ways.

Older Posts »