Archive for March, 2013

March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

easter
Happy Easter!

Setup for our Easter photos was very last minute. Easter just snuck up on us. Friday night I sent Domingo to the store for an Easter basket and some plastic eggs. The eggs were decently stocked, but the baskets? Not so much. The only one left in white wicker had an ugly yellow cloth lining. After Saturday’s morning nap we made a quick trip to the store to get some decorative ribbon. After her afternoon nap it was off to a different store to get an Easter dress, and after she went down for the Night I sent Domingo to the fabric store to get a backdrop. Crazy last minute.

Our first attempt at photos was right before naptime. I know, rookie mistake. I woke up with a bad headache and it was the earliest I could pry myself out of bed. We only managed one smile (the above photo) in the morning, but what a smile! I think this is one of the very few times where she actually looks younger, partly because she has a mostly toothless grin. We were more successful after her nap when the lighting was better. She loved playing with the eggs and got so excited when we got out her Easter basket again. When I put her down in front of it she started doing the arm waving happy squirmy baby dance.

somanyeggs

reachingforeggs

She started out taking the eggs out of the basket two at a time, but quickly learned dumping the whole basket was a lot faster.

tippedbasket

eastersmile

March 28, 2013

3rd Anniversary

3rdanniversary
Self Portraits with a baby are hard!

Yesterday was our third anniversary. It amazes me how quickly it has gone by, and how much life has changed in what felt like a blink of an eye. We celebrated our -1 (the year before we got married), 1 and 2nd anniversary with a four course fondue dinner. This year we had Olive Garden take out after Nicki went to bed and watched some TV together while snuggling on the couch. You know what? I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, I have to admit that while packing Nicki’s bottles for day care this morning I couldn’t help but think how lucky I am. I have an amazing husband who also happens to be the best dad ever. He can always make me laugh, no matter how bad my day has been. He supported my crazy idea to go back to school, even on days when I’m ready to throw in the towel. He puts up with my momtographer crazy tendencies, and has gotten quite good himself. He even drove an hour round trip to pick up Olive Garden the night before. It’s been 5 years and I still feel incredibly lucky and blessed that he wanted to marry me.

I also lucked out in the daughter department. Nicki is such a happy baby, even when sick! She’s a (mostly) excellent sleeper. Last night? She slept from 7:15 pm to 7:50 am – 12 hours and 35 minutes! That’s the most sleep she’s gotten since I’ve been keeping track. We’ve had some rough patches for sure, but a typical night is eleven plus hours. I can tell she’s incredibly bright. Maybe even too bright. We tried to teach her to roll over with the toy just out of reach trick. What did she do? She grabbed the floor mat and pulled the toy closer to her! Silly girl.

I am so ridiculously happy with the life we’ve built, and the family we’ve started. I feel so blessed.

March 25, 2013

Carrot Nose

At Nicki’s last dr’s appointment her pediatrician commented that Nicki must “liked the orange vegetables”. Domingo thought that meant she was still wearing some of breakfast. (Confession Time: It wouldn’t have been the first time we had purees up the nose.) It wasn’t until I was taking photos of Nicki a few days later that I realized what the doctor was saying: Nicki is turning orange!

carrotnose

The recommendation when starting solid food is typically to stick with the orange veggies first, since they tend to be the most universally liked. The green veggies come next, followed by fruits, meats & yogurts. Gerber’s state 2 veggie options are: Carrots, Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Sweet Potatoes and Corn, Mixed Vegetable, Garden Vegetables, Green beans, and Peas. Mixed Vegetable? First ingredient is carrots. Garden Vegetables Mix? Second ingredient is carrots (and the third and final ingredient, Spinach, has beta carotene as well). That only leaves 2 non-orange options out of 9. Thinking about a meat puree? Unless it’s chicken apple, the first ingredient besides water is either sweet potatoes or… wait for it… carrots! There’s even beta carotene in breastmilk!

In other words, unless your child only eats fruits (and yogurt), there’s a good chance baby is getting a fair amount of beta carotene.

Nicki gets one vegetable, one fruit, one yogurt and rice cereal daily. We mix up the vegetables so she gets a pretty even mix. The orange veggies have lots of good nutrients necessary for her health, including beta-carotene, so I don’t really want to skimp on them in favor of more peas and green beans. Changing her diet for cosmetic reasons is beyond silly. The amount of beta carotene in her diet will decrease when she gets table food, but she’s not quite ready yet (my guess is next month) so we’re going to have to live with the orange hue a little while longer.

It’s not really noticeable. That is, until I get out the camera. The kind of lighting that brings out her beautiful dark eyes apparently also brings out that orange nose. With Easter and spring rapidly approaching, I know will be taking some more photos. I won’t have much time to do a lot of detailed work editing them (not that I know how to anyway), so I was on the hunt for a quick fix.

In the above photo the color of her nose is R:173 G:118 B:93. Her check is R:153 G:121 B:106. The Red/Blue ratio in her nose is nearly 2:1 where it’s 3:2 in her check. Green is also similarly way off. I need to add more blue and green to tone down the red. I created a second layer for the image, set my brush to R:192 G:255 B:255 and colored her nose. (I picked this color because it’s one of the 48 basic colors on my pallet. No real rhyme or reason there, just going for quick and simple.)

blue

Next I decreased the opacity of the second layar down to 16%. Wallah! Just enough blue/green added so the red/blue and red/green ratios were not crazy off. It’s not perfect, but I think it’s pretty darn good quick fix.

hidding

As a side note, I’ve only done this to one other photo on my blog. Brownie points if you guess which one!

goodnap
Back in the days of the Good Nap

I never posted a follow up to my last baby sleep post, but Nicki slept through the night the very next day. Even though she was no longer waking up, she was once again crying for an average of 15 minutes, sometimes as much as 30 minutes, after being put down. While she never stopped crying after we started sleep training, the crying sessions would not typically last beyond the time it took me to walk down stairs, so the uptick in crying was a little worry some.

I called her pediatrician, who was one of the many many people who recommended sleep training, to ask if we were doing something wrong or if something could be wrong. The pediatrician’s advice was that some babies are just more sensitive to being left alone at night and to make sure she was not hearing or seing any sign. A friend also suggested moving her bed time up from 8:30 to 7:30. We took both pieces of advice to heart, the crying ended completely and she now is sleeping for an average of 11 hours, 23 minutes (with a standard deviation of 13 minutes). All was happy in baby sleep land.

Until…

It was past time to end the nap time in the rock and play. Not only were we worried about her rolling out, or trying to sit up in the rock n’ play, but she also wasn’t napping as well in it. She’d wake up at the end of each sleep cycle and need me to put her back to sleep. That, by the way, was also our criteria for moving her to the crib at night. (Note to my future self when the next baby comes: when the current sleeping arrangement isn’t working, it’s past time to change it.)

Since my parents were visiting this week, and Nicki was off from day care, it seemed like the perfect time to try. Moral support from my mom, and no day care to disrupt the attempt at establishing the new routine.

For naptimes I was still rocking her to sleep and putting her down in the rocking play. She’d wake up as I put her down, but happily drift off to sleep again in the rock n’ play for a sleep cycle. I tried rocking her to sleep and putting her down in the crib on Sunday. Didn’t work. As soon as I tried to put her down somewhere other than the rock n’ play she revolted. She’s too alert these days for me to put her down in her sleep, she always wakes up. So Monday we had no choice but to start sleep training in the crib, which meant she had to put herself to sleep in the crib.

Nap time sleep training is way harder than bed time sleep training.

I’m sure the fact that she’s older and more capable of resisting is part of the problem. Another part of the problem is we didn’t have a gradual transition to the crib for naps. Logically she happily sleeps in the crib at night, and she likes her naps, so it she shouldn’t mind sleeping in the crib at nap time right, right? Except babies aren’t logical. They pattern match. And putting her down in the crib doesn’t match the pattern, ergo Nicki doesn’t seem to know she should fall asleep.

We’ve been doing this for a week and her average time crying is down to seven minutes, but naps are only 15-30 minutes. Way short of what she needs. On the one hand, I feel validated in my assertion that moving her to the crib and simultaneously crying it out at bed time would not have worked. On the other hand, I feel terrible that nap time has become so difficult. I feel a bit helpless and not sure what to do other than just stay the course.

At least this hasn’t disrupted bed time.

Today’s existential question: If the good photos are buried on my hard drive, do they even really exist?

hidding
Hiding

Sometimes in my haste to show up my daughter I post the first photos I take. The ring on toes and newborn photos are prime examples. The problem is the first photos are often not the best photos. Not even close.

sleeping2newborn
Left: the newborn photos I first took and posted
Right: my favorite newborn photo
BTW, she’s two weeks old in the left photo, four in the second!

My facebook cover photo? Rings on toes with noticeable motion blur and too shallow a depth of field. (Well noticeable to me, which is precisely too noticeable as it’s driving me batty every time I see my wall). It’s so silly of me that I did that. I said I wasn’t going to post the cover photo for a while, and I knew I was going to take more photos, and they would very likely be better photos. But I just couldn’t wait. I, apparently, have the patience of a four year old at Christmas.

bettertoes
diamondtoe
Above: A much improved rings on toes picture
Below: A super close up of the ring

The number of photos I take is so ridiculous, that despite all my efforts to stay organize my photos folder will always be a bit unwieldy. If I have 300 photos in a folder it takes me quite a bit of time to find the best ones. For wedding photos, or travel photos I’m far more likely to go to my facebook albums than to my photos folder on my hard drive for this reason. I’ve already identified the “best” ones. I’ll go back and re-read old blog entries at least once a week, and of course I linger on the photography pages.

I do go back and look my Nicole photos from time to time. Sometimes rediscover gems I’ve forgotten about. Rarely to I give them all proper attention. But I’m sure there are many more hidden away in the dusty corners of my hard drive. If I’m more likely to turn to my blog or social media to find old photos, will I ever rediscover those all those lost gems?

That would seem like a good argument to delete the “bad” photos, but I’m still hesitant to do that for two reasons. One, sometimes when I go back my feelings for a photo change. The second reason is because technology is always improving. I’ve recently been looking into tools that reduce motion blur in post processing. Nothing is perfect, but who knows where we will be in 5 or 10 years.

Nope, I still can’t delete a photo ever.

But it would be nice if I made it easier to find my best photos. It would also be nice if people stumbling onto my blog would see my best work as well. I’ve seen some evidence that visitors to my blog don’t really like the newborn photograhy. I can’t really blame them if I’m not showing my best work, now can I? If I want my photography to be taken seriously I need to show I can critique my own work. That means only showing the great photos rather than rushing to show the first ones!

March 13, 2013

Dog Days Already

There are some things I love about our house. Its inability to maintain a constant temperature is not one of them. The house has an old heating/cooling system without a return air vent in each room. The result is static air and wildly different temperatures in the upstairs rooms compared to the rest of the house which is pretty open.

Nicki’s nursery faces due west, so the setting sun tends to cook her room during the late afternoon even when it’s not that warm out. It wasn’t a problem this past winter, since there was about an hour after sunset and before bedtime to let the room cool down. Last weekend was daylight savings. Nicki is now going to bed before the sun sets. Now? Wowza. It also doesn’t help that we’re getting a small heat wave.

heatwave
During the summer heat last year she spent most of her time in our room which, while hot, was not as bad as the nursery

Yesterday I tried to put her down at 2:30 for her afternoon nap. It was only 73° F in her room (via the external thermostat we purchased last summer.) She woke up instantly when I put her down, so we started the routine again at 2:45. Now it was 75°. Rinse repeat at 3:00. 77°. Miserable, cranky, hot baby refused to sleep. Miserable, cranky, hot mommy was, well, miserable.

We did anticipate this problem, and purchased specialty thermal curtains and a curtain rod over the weekend. I was going to wait until my parents arrived for their visit to put them up, but in my cranky hot state I was more impatient than usual. As soon as Domingo arrived home, I handed him the baby and got out the tools. Actually, that’s a lie. I had the tools upstairs and ready to go before Domingo left work. I did wait for him to come home so he could hold Nicki. I had previously installed a curtain rod to hang a thermal curtain in the living room so I was pretty confident I knew what I was doing. I typically enjoy these projects. I assembled Nicki’s crib while 8 months pregnant.

curtain
The new curtain

There were seven steps in the instructions booklet for five pieces that included directions like how to use the screw driver to screw in a screw. This should be easy, right? Except that the first instruction was “install drywall anchors by drilling appropriate size hole”. You explain how to use a screw driver but neglect to tell me which bit to use for the drill? The instructions didn’t even include the size of the wall mount nails so I couldn’t look it up online. Lovely. To make matters worse, while the thermostat said 78° in the room, by the window with the sun beating down felt 10 degrees hotter. Five holes in the wall and more curse words than Domingo knew I had in me later I got the dang curtain rod up.

Alas, it was the wrong curtain. I knew instantly when I took it out of the package isn’t wouldn’t 100% block the light. It’s too light weight, the best black out curtains are heavy. I’m not sure I can complain about the weight, though. Right now I’m second guessing the installation of the curtain rod. Lighter might be better for now. It does have a double lining designed to block the heat, which was my top priority. If it keeps the room from baking I’ll take it!

Since it took me a little longer to get the curtain rod up than expected, Nicki’s bed time was delayed about 20 minutes. The temperature in her room had dropped down to 77°. After getting her down for bed we cranked on the thermostat down to 66° hoping to make her nursery more comfortable. An hour later I was shivering and it was 75° in her room.

By the time Domingo and I went to bed, it had finally dropped to 71°. This presented a second problem. We’re in the transition between winter and spring. Warm days (70s), cool nights (30s/40s). The past two nights Nicki has seemed cold despite being in her warm sleeper. Her cheek was cold pressed up against me for our morning nursing section. Since it was supposed to get down to 40, and finally a reasonable temperature in the nursery, I thought we should run the heater.

At 3 am I woke up sweating. I had been dreaming I was back in the heat of the window installing the curtain. It was 78° upstairs and the heater is still running. Downstairs the temperature was set at 72°, the thermostat read 74° and the heater was still going! Can I close my eyes and it be winter again?

March 10, 2013

Online Rebate Programs

Discount shopping is hard these days. I do my best with automated systems to alert me to sales, but I often find myself needing something and unable to wait until a good deal comes along. Like this weekend. A heat wave is hitting (yes, it’s only early March), the temperature upstairs is hovering around 75 °F, and the fan in the office died. I keep 20% bed bath and beyond coupons well stocked, but they weren’t selling any fans yet. Still, I hate the idea of not saving anything, so I thought I’d look into various cash back programs. I spent the afternoon researching the three main online rebate programs: Ebates, UPromise and Swagbucks.

I ultimately decided to go with Ebates (disclaimer: that’s a referral link). Ebates pays you cash back to shop online at BestBuy, Target, Amazon, Carters, JCPenney, Bed Bath and Beyond, Babies R Us, Buy Buy Baby and many, many, many more. You click their affiliate link to visit the store you want to shop from and ebates splits the referral bonus with you. I signed up and used the link to buy a new fan. What else can you save with Ebates just in time for tax season? TurboxTax and H&R Block! The more time I spent on their website the more I kicked myself for not joining Ebates sooner.

I was instantly drawn to uPromise. Easy college savings? What’s not to love?! I had the impression that uPromise accounts were special high yield savings with tax benefits (like a 529 plan) backed by Sallie Mae. Not quite. While uPromise provide easy access to 529 plans, and is owned by Sallie Mae, it is basically just a loyalty program. The funds don’t even need to be spent on educational expenses. If uPromise can’t offer me a better savings plan than I can get on my own, there doesn’t seem to be any additional benefit to uPromise instead of Ebates. What uPromise does have going for it, is slightly higher cashback rates.

As I dug a little deeper I read that uPromise’s business model is primarily in profiling their customers for marketing purposes and were criticized as having some deceptive practices. I was beginning to feel more like the product being sold than the customer.

Then there was SwagBucks (also a referral link.) SwagBucks has a cash back system like ebates, with slightly lower rates. But that’s not the only way you can earn money with SwagBucks. Their pitch: earn money for doing things you already do online – surf the web, watch videos, play games. The reality: earn money by subjecting yourself to marketing pitches. Each poll is associated with some product. “Do you have amazon prime?”. (Guess what ad pops up if you answer ‘no’.) You can also participate in activities which, in my admittedly limited experience, have all been soft ball type pitches for products disguised as marketing research. “Which feature of my product do you like the most” Guess which ad then pops up. I earned 7 points by in 4 minutes. At 450 points for a $5 Amazon gift card that’s an effective rate of $1.16 per hour. At least in this business model products are being sold to me, rather than data about me being sold to other companies.

The Verdict: EBates for the win, followed by SwagBucks. I plan to do my shopping through Ebates, but will likely continue to do some searching through SwagBucks. It’s only a few extra ads on each search result page, after all. We’ll see if anything actually pans out.

I’ve been online for nearly two decades now. I’ve been a web master for nearly as long. Back in those early days, being a ‘webmaster’ meant throwing a little static HTML onto angelfire or geocities.

I’ve also been around long enough to have my work stolen. Multiple times.

copyright

Despite the copyright theft, I never bothered water marking my photos, like other bloggers. Watermarks can be cropped and tend to be kind of ugly. Instead, I upload only a small version of each image. They’re too small to be resold, printed or posted to social media. They’re basically useless for anything other than blogging. If there’s ever a question of who took the photo (or created the stick figures diagram) I have the larger original. I also have the raw file format.

More than copyright theft, I worry about lack of credit for my ideas.

Take pinterest for example. Why buy the cow if the milk is for free? In this case, buying the cow would be reading a blog post, and the milk is the ideas. A photo with a quick caption is often all it takes to get an idea across. A pin may spread like wild fire among new pinterest users, without anyone ever tracing it back to the original blog. A great recipie, a neat craft project? They get re-blogged and re-pinned. That’s a scary concept for a fledgling blog like mine that doesn’t get much traffic from other sources. No traffic means no revenue.

Of course, the counter argument is if no one knows you exist, you won’t get traffic or revenue. But here, too, lies a problem. Have you ever seen a blogger post a recipe they’ve tried from pinterest? My guess is they listed the full ingredients and enough information that you don’t need to visit the blog for the recipe details.

As a computer scientist who has been a stone’s throw from silicon valley, I’m well aware of the new mantra Github is the new resume. Resumes can be misleading. Who really had all the good ideas on a project? Gone are the days of line counts to see complex a system is. (I can write a 2000 line hello world function, but that shouldn’t be a reason to hire me.) Project managers want to see real code in order to evaluate you as a coder. It’s a push for everything to be more open.

While I think open source is great for learning and fostering ideas in general – it’s a large part about how I got started! – here again I worry about being that passed over cow. I’ve written quite a few applications outside of work that I own the sole rights to. Two in particular are responsible for fair amount of traffic to my resume website. The writing sample analyzer and Labor Predictor. If something is hard to implement, the implementation tends to be unique. Make the code free, and a hundred writing sample analyzers may pop up. The exact same analyzers. On more popular websites.

The alternative is not to share, but that seems just as detrimental. Why visit a blog that has nothing interesting to say?

March 6, 2013

A Mini Me

There was no doubt that Nicki was Domingo’s daughter when she was born. Right away she took after her dad. At two weeks, we could have been looking at his baby pictures.

justlikedad

By two months she started to look like a feminine version of her dad.

Like Domingo

Like Domingo

She’s been looking more and more like me, but it wasn’t until I was processing the latest set of Nicki photos that I discovered how much.

minime

minime

It’s a Mini Me!

Her complexion has become much fairer than it once was. Her eyes are actually turning green like mine, and her hair is close to my color. But that face? Those puffy checks? No doubt about it, she’s starting to look more like her mama!

Last week I posted some things I learned going off auto mode on my camera. But what if you’re not neck deep in the camera-setting-obsessed build-a-set-at-home momtographer-crazy-pool like me? Here’s my number one go to trick for taking photos of Nicki that dosen’t involve any camera knowledge. In fact, to emphasize that you don’t need expensive camera equipment or software, all photos in this post were taken with my cell phone and completely unedited. Not even to adjust the brightness.

Without further ado…

flightwindow

Cute, right? She’s looking out the airplane window and smiling. It’s safe to assume I’m not climbing over another passenger to take this photo. (I’m a crazy mom-tographer, not an obnoxious one.) I’m sitting in the same row as Nicki who is safely strapped into the window seat. That means Nicki is in-between the window and myself. If she were truly looking out the window, we’d be seeing more of the side/back of her head.

In order to capture this photo I’m using the same simple trick behind the holding the pyramids illusion. The human eye is really good at judging relative distances in 3-d. That’s why someone far away looks far away, and not just small. A 2-d projection of a 3-d object (e.g. a photograph) can trick our minds’ eye into interpreting the image differently. In this pyramid photo it looks like the man is looking at the pyramid in his hand. Of course, the pyramid is just far back, and the man in the photo is looking off camera at nothing at all. Since Nicki is a baby I can’t just tell her where to look. That’s where Domingo comes in.

In my airplane photo I’m actually in the aisle seat. Domingo is in the middle seat, leaning in front of Nicki to entice a smile. She is looking at Domingo and smiling.

pullback
A pullback. Ignore the quality of this photo. I wouldn’t share it, except that it shows how we made the top one work.

The window is about four inches above her head. I’ve rotated the camera about 30 degrees to the left so the window appears level with Nicki’s face and positioned it so Domingo is off frame. Voila, the illusion of looking out the window.

cameraaxis
There are five possible axis to move your camera: up/down, left/right, toward-subject/away-from-subject, rotate and tilt.

Here she is with great grandma. If Nicki were truly looking at Grandma, we’d just be seeing much more of the underside of her chin. She’s looking at Domingo, standing off frame and making faces at her.

greatgrandma

In this one she looks like she’s in the Christmas spirit, even though she’s clearly not looking at anything in particular.

sittingbytree
I posted an edited version of this one a few ago.

For this photo I’m lying on my stomach, holding the camera about eye level (maybe Nicki’s shoulder) and have tilted the top of the camera ever so slightly toward Nicki so that the tree and presents are in a better position relative to her in the photo.

This trick doesn’t just work for babies! Back in my maternity photography days, I recommended looking six inches in front of the bump for a more flattering angle.

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