As predicted, it’s been a mixed month. Despite clicks being up 12% and users being up 13%, income was down 22% this past month. In January I earned just $80.95. That’s four times higher than this time last year, but sill lower than the trend. Despite that I’m cautiously optimistic about February for a few reasons:

– My users searches per day, my preferred metric, was actually down the first half of the month, and didn’t start to get back on track until the 16th. The second half of the month was much stronger (user search wise) than the first half.
– I’m in the process of changing my mobile strategy so hopefully I can start boosting those metrics more.
– I’m seeing near immediate effects from the improvements I’ve made to the site this past month.

This month I spent mostly fine tuning my website. I ended up redoing much of the supporting page layout and content management scripting. The one is more streamlined while offering greater flexibility in terms of setting meta parameters and descriptions. Two days after the change I noticed a large bump in search engine traffic. And that was the second noticeable bump in traffic after a change this month! I don’t want to jinx it, but at the current growth rate 1,000 unique visitors a day, everyday, including weekends, in February may be possible.

In addition to the overall site update the Word Analyzer and the Pregnancy Week by Week got a significant upgrade.

It took over a week, but I finally finished the first pass of a synonym list for the Word Analyzer. Now the Word Analyzer can suggest easier (and harder, if that’s what you’re after) words with greater/lesser audience familiarity. The synonym list is by no means complete. Only 35% of the words entered into the analyzer so far have had synonyms. Since the word analyzer is a relatively infrequently used app (currently between 10-15th most popular) it’s not clear if the effort to improve the list will be worth it. On the other hand, improving the apps functionality may draw more visitors.

The Pregnancy Week by Week’s update was more design focused. My favorite feature about the Pregnancy Week by Week comparison was the hand sizes. I loved seeing when a baby would be as big as mom’s hand, or a theoretical big sister or brother. The feature was somewhat obscured, and the old layout made seeing the full calendar and important dates more difficult. The new layout is much nicer, though admittedly a little slower.

For February I have a new app and two new articles planned already. February is a short month, but I’m optimistic.

January 27, 2017

Violating my Parent Rules

Like with all my other time my pre-child never-ever-would-Is, I find myself once again eating my words.

Nicole’s pre-kindergarden class has started assigning homework. She’s occasionally had art projects to do at home, but now they’re giving her a few activity pages a week to help prepare her for kindergarden, which is now only a little over six months away.

I’ve been using it as an opportunity to praise process. We reiterate that it’s okay to not know the answer, and okay to get the answer wrong, but it’s not okay to not try. We also get big praise whenever we come up with a new strategy to solve a problem. When we started she was inclined to just say “I don’t know” and guess randomly. Now she only guesses randomly when she’s over tired and having troubles focusing. She knows to sing the alphabet song to see what comes next, or find a number line if she’s having troubles associating a number with it’s written form. She’s getting better at trying, and she’s enjoying the extra one-on-one Mommy time. Often when Mommy decides we’ve reached our homework limit for the night, it’s met with protests and requests for “just one more.”

We’ve found that her homework fits in nicely with our bedtime routine after bath and before story time. We ended up purchasing some additional activity books so we can keep doing “homework” on a more regular basis. I’m still worried about over doing it, and I don’t want to break the positive association she has with homework, so we keep it to just a few pages a days. Sometimes we’ll skip it all together if she seems overly tired to begin with.

So what does homework have to do with my never-ever-would-Is? Before kids I was aghast to learn how lax the late homework policies in grade school have become. When I was growing up, I’d be docked a whole letter grade for each day late. Here, you can turn it in months after the fact without much penalty. Never ever would I let me kids turn in their homework late. Never ever would I let them turn it in incomplete.

This never-ever-would-I lasted until week four. I picked up her homework late this week, so we didn’t start her official homework until Wednesday night. Nicole was in need of an earlier bedtime this week and really struggling to concentrate. I figured sleep was more important so we’d turn it in a day late. Then the next day I figured we’d turn it in incomplete.

Pre-kindergarden doesn’t count, right?

January 19, 2017

Index Prunner

After using my Sitemap Index Analyzer to analyze Datayze, I came across something peculiar. Notice anything… odd… about the following search results?

I don’t know about you, but if I ever reach 48 weeks & 6 days pregnant, miscarriage will be one of the last things on my mind.

The above search result is problematic for a couple of reasons. (1) The page linked to has no useful content. The Miscarriage Reassurer only accepts input up to 20 weeks. (2) It’s taking up a valuable spot away from another page that could have useful content. And (3) If no users click on the link, a distinct possibility given it’s unlikely to be relevant to anyone, the search engine could view the lack of clicks as a negative signal and may penalize the entire domain.

One could make an argument that users might be more inclined to click on wacky and clearly ridiculous search results. Curiosity is strong motivator. That could explain why such a weird result was promoted to the first page to begin with. Still, those still aren’t useful clicks, and are likely to lead to lower engagement.

Counterintuitively, it’s better to have a smaller number of high quality pages indexed by the search engine than have a large number of useless pages. I have no idea what led Google to this particular page, or what made Google index it, but it has to go.

Up until now I have largely been using the x-robots-tag header response to signal when pages should expire from the cache. That’s because up until now my impression of useless pages were mostly links to individual Labor Probability Calculators with long past due dates. Since the Labor probability calculator only calculates the probability of a labor for an existing due date, a page associated with a long past due date will have no useful content. The x-robots-tag header isn’t recognized by all major search engines, but right now my Google index far eclipses other major search engines, so it’s the one I tend to focus on. An expires tag isn’t so helpful in this case where the data is invalid from the start. The problem of spurious results might be a little more pervasive than I initially thought, its time to do a more substantial prune.

I had to modify my page set up so I could set the NOINDEX robots meta field. Now I just have to wait for the Googlebot to recrawl my website and do it’s thing. Good thing I already have an app to help me get started!

January 11, 2017

More Alexies

Despite this being my second go around, I’m still constantly amazed how quickly language developes. Just a few months after our last ‘Alexies’, we have a whole new round.

Goldfish for Dinner
A constent topic of conversation in the car on our drive to and from daycare is what’s for dinner. (It doesn’t help that there’s a McDonalds on our route, and Alexis recognizes their sign.) The other day we were driving and Nicole asks what’s for dinner.

Nicole: What’s for dinner mommy?
Me: Fish!
Alexis (hopeful): Gold fish?

Nice try kiddo.

Why?
I knew we’d hit the why phase with Alexis, but I kind of expected it to happen a little later when it was easier to understand her toddler-speak. Often she’ll say a long string of sentences of which I understand only a few words, and then ask “why?”. If I say I don’t understand, she’ll repeat the same syllable sequence, syllable for syllable of which I still only understand the same few words.

Other times our “Why” conversations usually go a little differently. I present to you an actual conversation with my two year old.

Alexis: Alexis wants Donalds (McDonalds)
Me: Not today. We had that yesterday.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Because you asked for it yesterday.
Alexis: Why?
Me: I assume because you like it.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Probably all the fat and sugar in it.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Fat and sugar is yummy.
Alexis: Why?
Me: … that’s a good question.
Alexis: Why?

Alexis Funny
Alexis is definitely a little goof, and she knows it. Sometimes she’ll start laughing for no apparent reason. I’ll ask her what’s so funny and she’ll respond “Alexis funny!”

Alexis do it
A very common phrase around here is “Alexis do it!” She’ll insist she be the one to request a new song from echo. Only Echo doesn’t quite understand that “echo, ay luv is open door-ah” translates to “Echo, play ‘Love is an Open Door'” in toddler-speak. I’ve gotten into the habit of making the request when Alexis’ request fails. She scream “no, Alexis do it!” and then repeat her request when echo is thinking. Then, when Echo starts playing the song she beams with pride saying “Alexis did it!”

Recently we had a meltdown over a band-aid coming off in the bath tub, including tears down the cheeks. Nicole tried to cheer her up by hugging her, when that didn’t work, Nicole pretended to sympathy cry. Alexis came to a dead stop, said, “No, Alexis do it!” and then resumed crying at the top of her lungs.

She did not understand why we all found it so funny.

January 7, 2017

Our First Gingerbread House


Daddy’s side of Alexis’ house, as he tried to show her what the house was for.

One of the things we wanted to do this past Holiday season, and never seemed to get around to, was decorating gingerbread houses. We bought the kits on Black Friday (and saved $1, wahoo!), and they’ve been on our kitchen counter ever since.

No time like the present, right? It’s not like the kids care that the holiday has already passed.

Nicole has been asking about the gingerbread kits since they first appeared on the counter back in November. She’s always had a love for all things creative. Combining crafts with candy? Pure perfection. The first thing she asked me this morning was whether I remembered promising we would decorate the gingerbread houses today. She was not going to let me forget!

Nicole and I set up while Alexis was napping. Mommy was on construction, while Nicole inspecting the quantity and quality of the different types of candy. When Alexis woke up, Nicole ran to go show her that everything had been set up and we were ready to start. I asked Alexis if she wanted to decorate the gingerbread house. Alexis replied, “No, Alexis eat it!”

Both kids had a blast. I wasn’t sure what to expect (besides copious candy consumption). I was really impressed with the ideas Nicole came up with. She made a Christmas light strand out of mini gum drops, and put holly in the windows. Even Alexis got into putting candies on her house and not just in her mouth, eventually. I predict a start of a new tradition.

Lessons for next time:

– Use a knife to shave down the sides of the ginger bread prior to assembly. I have vague recollections of doing this when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me to shave down the excess gingerbread along the edges until the first time a house collapsed. The excess gingerbread prevented all the edges from touching at once, making it harder to hold together the house while the icing set.

– Assemble overnight and give plenty of time to set. The instructions indicated the icing only needed 15 minutes, but that wasn’t my experience. Over an hour after assembly and decoration I moved the houses so I could take a photo of each of them. As I was moving Nicole’s it collapsed. Nicole heard my “oh no!” from the family room and came running. I was really proud of her for not getting overly upset. She didn’t cry, and understood it was an accident. I’m not sure I would have had that level of maturity at four.

I did manage to get it back together, but it’s a lot harder once the icing has partially set, and it collapsed a third time on me.

– Extra candy is not really needed. At least not when one of your kids is just two. Another vague recollection I had from decorating gingerbread houses as a child was that the candy the houses came with wasn’t enough, so I bought some extra candies. My fear was premature. Alexis could really only eat the gum drops that came with the kit, so we supplemented her with left over holiday m&ms. That meant there was a lot of extra kit candy for Nicole. I plan to hold on to the supplemental candy set for next year since there’s no expiration date. It may get a little stale and maybe even chewy, but the kids won’t mind.

– Extra icing, on the other hand, is an excellent idea. The kit comes with a large tube of thick royal icing. I had two kits and two tubes, and only needed one. The challenge is that the tube is really hard for little kids to handle. The grocery store sells tubes of icing that are actually much easier for little kids and rather inexpensive. I could also make my own icing and use icing bags, but that seems likely to dramatically increase the mess factor.

This past month I earned $103.91, making my 2016 grand total $495.90. I’ve finally reached the second target of $100/month! December was roughly 5 times greater than January, which is nice progress, even if most of it seemed to happen at the end of the year.

Last month I worried that Thanksgiving would affect my metrics, but the impact ended up being minimal. I was lulled into a false sense of security going into December. My numbers continued to climb and I was on track for another month of 32% growth. Then Friday December 16th – the first major travel day of the season – hit. Everything cratered from that point on through the end of the month. Visitation and income were down dramatically and continued to fall through the 25th. It looked like I was going to rocket past the $100/month mark and instead I just inched passed it! User growth ended up being just 15.4%, well under projections.

I was really worried that something other than just the holiday season was affecting my numbers. After all, the free fall started on the 16th! Even though I said I was going to focus on new content this month, I ended up spending a lot of time monitoring the health of my website. There I was, on my parents computer, remote connected to the server, long after everyone else had gone to bed on Christmas trying to identity and fix any possible problem.

I’m not sure how big an impact it had, but I did discover my website was running needlessly slow. Checking my speed performance I was getting an warning message that text files (including css, javascript, etc) were not compressing. I don’t remember ever seeing that warning before, so I’m not sure if something changed in the server configuration. (The joys of shared hosting…). Since I was already minifying Javascript and CSS, I thought I’d also minify HTML as well. And I thought minifying Javascript was non trivial. Minifying HTML with embedded javascript and PHP is a whole different can of worms. My solution works for the way I code, but isn’t general enough to make it to a how to article.

I did end up with two new pieces of content this month.

The first is Time Between which is just like Time Until, but allowing you to specify the start time.

The second app I’m really proud of. It’s the Sitemap Index Analyzer.

I wanted to get a better feel for how Google was indexing my site. The consensus online was to use proxies to query google and aggregate the results. That approach is a violation of Google’s terms (another reason for proxies – to escape detection), and I’m too much of a strict rule follower to ever consider something like that. I realized that I could work backwards. The Sitemap Index Analyzer profiles the sitemap, not Google’s index! It reduces the problem space to a few queries that are easy for a human to do. It then uses a statistical significance test to identity sections not being indexed. Same result, but with a way that doesn’t violate Google’s terms!

This month I’m going to work on more site improvements. There are a few things I can work on to enhance to professionalism of datayze, and I think as I continue to pass new thresholds of users that is becoming more and more critical to help maintain growth.

I am worried that revenue might fall in January. Now that we’re out of the shopping season, users may be less “clicky” and the worth of a click might be less. As long as I have strong user numbers, I can consider other ways to monetize.

December 31, 2016

An Odd Realization

You know what’s an odd realization? For the first time in six years, we’ve had a year without a major life changes.

In 2010 Domingo and I got married. After what felt like an eternity of trying, we became pregnant in 2011. In 2012 we welcomed our first child, Nicole, to the family. I graduated, started a job and we moved in 2013. In 2014 we welcomed Alexis to the family. In 2015 we bought a house in the suburbs and drastically changed our lifestyle.

What happened for the Colon/Tyler Clan in 2016? Not much out of the ordinary. Domingo continues to work for the same employer doing much the same work, but is traveling a few times a year now. I continue to try and get my company off the ground, and continue to pretend like I’ll find time to put the house together. The girls are at the same daycare/preschool, though I will register Nicole for Kindergarden in a month and she starts in the fall.

Now that’s another odd realization: I will soon be the parent of a kindergartner.

Things are moving forward, just slowly. My business finally got a name, and has been finally started to gain traction, but it’s still small potatoes compared to what my salary once was. There’s potential there, but it’s not there yet.

My hope for 2017 is more of the same.

If Datayze continues to grow at it’s current rate it could replace my previous salary sometime in 2018. Of course I’d love to get it there earlier! I have a couple of ideas that could help spur some more episodes of rapid growth, but with the kids home the past couple of weeks there hasn’t been much of a chance to test my ideas. I’m dying for a work day! I stated my goal at the beginning of the year was to reach $100/mo, perhaps this coming year I should aim for $1000/mo. That would raise revenue by a factor of 10 in 2017 compared to 2016’s factor of 5. Feels like a stretch, but in theory doable.

I plan on continuing to work on weight loss. I was disappointed the daily exercise wasn’t helping as much as it once did, but at least I know what does work for me – counting calories. Dang my sweet tooth.

My hope for the house is that our roof holds out until the solar roof becomes a reality. Supposedly it’s cheaper than a traditional roof, and lasts way longer with the added benefit of giving us solar power and cutting down on our energy bills. It’s supposed to hit the market next summer, but the initial roll out may not include our area. We have 3-4 years left on our roof (weather permitting). It would be preferable to not be an early adopter, if possible. Here’s hoping the timing works out.

December 28, 2016

Holiday Travel With Kids

We’re back home from visiting family for the holidays, and this was – without a doubt – our most painful traveling experience. It was rough all around, but our trip out was pretty epically bad.

Flying from West coast to East we pretty much had two options: wake the kids up early, or keep the kids up way past their bedtime. We opted for the latter. I figured interrupting their morning sleep would set up a painful rest of the day, even if they went to bed at a reasonable time, whereas if we kept them up late we’d just experience a bad evening. We had a short hop to Vegas and then a long lay over. Up to this point things were going reasonably smoothly. The girls were super excited about the whole process, and very well behaved for the first plane. Vegas is where it all went to pot.

After lunch we made our way to the gate to discover our next plane was delayed. How delayed? Well, it was almost boarding time, and the airline had made a decision to wait and hold the flight for additional passengers from another flight. There were 30 people scheduled to take our flight out of Vegas, who were arriving from Los Angeles. Their plane out of Los Angeles hadn’t even taken off yet. We were waiting for passengers who weren’t even airborn yet!

I can’t really blame the airline for their decision. There were no other available seats between then (the 20th) and Christmas. The airline’s choice was to inconvenience a hundred people, or ruin Christmas for 30. They made the right call, even though it made things painful for us.

Vegas is most definitely not a family friendly airport, and probably one of the worst to be stuck in. Any open area is occupied by slot machines, and the kids are not allowed to be near those machines, which means there’s no real place to let them stretch their legs. By the time it was boarding we had some very wired and very tired kids.

We took off about an hour after Alexis’ effective bed time. She was mighty cranky and overtired. I got her to nap on me about 45 minutes into the flight, but sleeping on the plane proved incredibly difficult for her. The next three hours were spent in 20 minute nap cycles and 5 minute crying cycles. Adding insult to injury Nicole started to get really tired about an hour before landing. At this point she had been up four hours after bedtime. She kept asking when it would be her turn to sleep on me. Oh how I longed for four arms and two laps.

The only saving grace was that Alexis was just a few weeks beyond two. Technically she’s supposed to be in her own seat, and we did have a seat for her, but the stewardess assumed she was under two and let her stay in my lap for landing. Normally I’m one of those really annoying strict rule followers, but I figured the difference in safety had to be minimal. After all there were some 18 months old bigger than her who would still be allowed on a lap!

Our return trip was a bit smoother. Alexis fell asleep during take off and slept the entire first hop. No mid nap fussing. That meant both kids stayed awake the second flight. We kept the entertained by singing songs, and lots and lots and lots of snacks. Alexis also had a ton of fun feeding her stuffed cookie monster by shoving gold fish into his mouth. Cookie monster is most definitely in need of a bath.

By the end of the flight Alexis was so deliriously tired that she’d burst into google fits when ever I’d wiggle her stuffed cookie monster in front of her. She did request to sleep on me about a half hour to landing, but we thought it best to keep her awake, rather than wake her just as she’s getting into a deep sleep.

A while back I said it was good our difficult flight was the return trip so we didn’t spend our entire vacation dreading flying. With our difficult flight being up front this time, we definitely dreaded the return. The benefit of having the smoothest flight being our final flight is that the girls ended up making a lot of friends around them. After we landed no less than four people praised them for being such good fliers. It’s nice to end travel on a positive note.

December 19, 2016

Coming Together

Don’t you just love it when things work out?

santababy

There’s nothing like waiting until the last minute to ratcheted that stress level up to eleventy. Today starts our winter vacation, tomorrow we get on a plane to visit family. Before leaving I wanted to get a nice photo of the girls in their Christmas pjs to print and frame. I have been planning this for a few weeks. Today was our first attempt, you know, hours before I needed the photo. I am smart. S-M-R-T.

The chips were stacked against us. The thermostat went a little AWOL last night again, and the low extra temperature combined with Christmas vacation excitement meant for light sleep all around. The girls were a little wired to begin with, and not in the most cooperative moods though happy(ish). We did have a few temper tantrums today, not going to lie. Such is life with over tired little kids.

I took 110 frames in 8 minutes and 22 seconds (fastest shutter finger in the West, thank you very much), and most were pretty bad. Alexis thought it would be fun to pull her hat down completely over her head. Big sister thought it was hilarious and started copying, just as we convinced Alexis to leave her hat atop her head. At various times one or both of the girls would leap up from in front of the tree and run away. We got 109 frames of out takes and one perfect shot. I was shooting in continuous mode, like always, and this is still the only frame of both girls looking directly at the camera and smiling. The fact that it’s also the best cropped photo in the bunch and in focus? Icing on the cake.

How rare is it to get a photo I’m completely happy with? Let’s put it this way, I’m getting quite good at head swapping. The one with the good expression is the one where my camera settings are wrong, or it’s poorly framed. As long as it’s not a motion blur or depth of field issue I can usually fix it up in post processing. That’s usually my goal: fixable in post processing.

The above exposure is one of those rare times where the good expression coincides with the good settings and the good cropping. I brightened the image a scotch to post it online, but the original raw was what I used for both family and face book.

The good thing about taking a lot of photos? Sometimes you get lucky!

December 16, 2016

Finally Trimmed

I was on top of things last year. This year? Hah.

treetrimmed

“Santa” brought our Trees after Thanksgiving. Normally Santa sets them up before going to bed, but got tired before trimming our main tree. Three weeks later, on the day of the kid’s Christmas party at school, and four days before flying out, I finally found the time to finish our last tree.

Nicole and Alexis noticed the difference right away. Alexis kept pointing and screaming “Tree! Tree”! Nicole wanted to know “Who did that?!”

“Santa?” I propose.

“No, Mommy!”

Someone is already on to me. Adding insult to injury, we purchased two of those little foil trees to put on the girl’s dressers. I wanted to claim Santa put those up as well, but Nicole caught me sneaking into her room. She was quite annoyed at me when I tried to convince her she was mistaken, that it was actually Santa disguised as Mommy.

I am not ready for the Christmas magic to be over yet!

Trimming our main tree this year proved to be a little more challenging because I just didn’t like the ornaments we had.

Our white light tree uses shatter proof ornaments, as does the kids’ tree. The later was out of necessity, the former because I fell in love with the champagne set that only came in the shatterproof variety. They’re realistic enough to pass for typical balls. Shatterproof ornaments have come a long way. You used to be able to spot them at a distance. Now you have to get close, and even then it’s not always obvious. I can attest that they are, indeed, quite hardy. I dropped two on the hard wood floor with the kind of thunk you would have thought would wake the kids. Ornament survived. Not so sure about my hardwood floor.

Sadly many of our non shattered resistent ornaments have bitten the dust over the years, and what we’ve been left with is a miss match collection of balls for our main tree. So miss-match hodgepodge-y that it’s noticeable, even on our tree with five different color lights and collection of non-ball, non-collection ornaments. We barely put any balls on our main tree last year, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it again this year. As I was going through the ornament box I discovered two sets of shatter resistent mini balls I had purchased a few years ago in an after Christmas sale. It was forty little balls, just red, green and white/silver, but it worked. I think I’ll probably stick to the same color scheme. While the mini balls really make the hallmark ornaments stand out, I think I want to experiment with some traditional sized balls as well.

Alas, the store does not have any in the right color pallet. Trends tend to change from year to year. The ones I have are deep green and slightly blue tint. The current green ones at the store are leaning more into a lime direction. I dislike yellow greens, and fuschia pinks and neon oranges which appear all the rage these days. It may take a few years for the colors I like to come back in style, so I’ll have to wait.

I finished Christmas shopping yesterday, and the cards went out earlier this week. That just leaves baking, and getting some Christmas themed photos of the girls. I can do this.

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