Archive for November, 2013


Being a Graduand

I have met the requirements for my degree. My cover sheet has been signed (the last signature was acquired Friday and, according to the shipping tracking information, arrived on campus Monday morning), my dissertation has been submitted online. I am a Graduand. There is nothing left for me to do but wait for my paperwork to be processed and the degree to be officially conferred.

That still feels so surreal to think about. It wasn’t that long ago that I wasn’t sure if I would graduate. I did order a copy of my thesis in book form. Maybe it will feel more real seeing my name ‘in print’.

Our Amazing Daughter

Nicki has been such a joy, I don’t even know where to begin. She’s adapted amazing well, (and quickly!) to her new life – the new home, the new daycare, the new schedule. She’s an incredibly happy little girl and tolerates most anything life throws at her, which in the past month has included six new teeth (4 molars!) a stomach bug which she handled better than Mommy & Daddy, and a cold. Her sunny personality has made this whole transition so much smoother.

I’m also thankful that she appears to really enjoy having her photo taken which lines up nicely to my hobby of taking her photo! Sometimes I think she even understands what the camera is for. Lately she’s smiling for the camera and not just at me behind it. She can even be quite the little ham at times, and loves seeing the photos afterwards. This afternoon she kept asking to see the view screen when I was flipping through the photos. She recognizes herself.

The Best Partner Anyone Could Ask For

Domingo has so many praises to be sung: awesome father, amazing husband. He was willing to move here to be closer to my work, never complains about the late shift with Nicki, and can operate under less sleep than I thought humanly possible. I know it’s trite and cliche to say, but I love him more and more each and every day.

In keeping with the photography theme, I will add how thankful I am that he puts up with my obsessive momtographer tendencies. The above photo was taken at the park Thanksgiving morning. A few weeks back I was perusing facebook and envious of all my friend’s fall photos. Here in California highs were still in the near 70s. We have two seasons: summer (hot and sunny), and winter (rainy and cool). We were still in ‘summer’. Since we don’t really have fall here the way the rest of the country does, it doesn’t really make sense for me to lament not having an opportunity for fall themed photos. After all, those aren’t our memories. Still, they reminded me of growing up back East and I wanted some!

I found a park with some leaves on the ground (a thin layer atop mostly wood chips). The park was fairly busy on the weekends with little league, but we figured it would be fairly empty Thanksgiving morning. We dressed Nicki in her light sweatshirt so the photos would feel more fallish, went early in the morning before it warmed up too much for her to wear it. While every sane person was getting their turkey prepped, we were snapping our ‘faux fall’ photos. Our little ham loved it.

The Starting of New Traditions

We started a new tradition this year. After Nicki went to bed Thanksgiving night, and with family still visiting, we decided to put the Christmas tree up. I think it ads a little bit of extra holiday magic to have the tree appear overnight – kind of like the tradition of Santa bringing the tree, but much earlier in the season.

Nicki woke up first in the morning, per usual, and was completely mesmerized by the tree. When Grandma woke up an hour later, Nicki ran to her, exclaimed ‘Tree!’ and lead Grandma back to it. It was adorable.

I can’t wait for her to experience the magic of Christmas, and to make that happen for her. I loved the holidays growing up (what kid doesn’t?) and I’m so excited to be creating these new traditions with my family.

November 26, 2013

Deals That Aren’t

Behavioral economics is a field of study that explores the hows and why of consumer shopping; the social, cognitive and even emotional decisions that are in play during a purchase. As consumers like to think of ourselves as rational, but we can often be influenced by other factors that lead us to make irrational decisions. Consider free shipping. Consumers (myself included) typically hate shipping costs, and will pay more for an item with free shipping thinking they’re getting a better overall deal (not necessary). Another emotional decision influencer is the presence of sale signs. We’re more likely to make a purchase if we think we’re getting a better deal. Some retailers are marking up prices to offer better ‘sales’ without lowering the final price this holiday season.

My tips to avoid sales that aren’t sales:

Start with a list. Lists are great in general to curb impulse buys as they can keep you focused. Spend some time figuring out what features you like (and thus are willing to pay for) and what features you don’t mind (but won’t pay extra for). It’s probably too late for this season, but I recommend creating your list before looking at any holiday circulars to avoid any subconscious influence.

Get a baseline price. Once you have your list do some comparison shopping. I typically use and Baby Cheapskate to get an idea how much the things I’m interested in historically have cost. I’ll also typically do a internet search to find out what other retailers are selling an item for. These datapoints can give me a base line price that help me distinguish if an item is actually on sale and how good the sale is.

For example, that Calphalon Unison Cookware Set? Amazon says the list price is $1000, and thus the $335 price was 67% off. Or so they claimed. CamelCamelCamel lists the average price from amazon as $537, and Bed Bath and Beyond list it for $599.99, ($479.99 after 20% off coupon). The $335 is still a good price, but more like 30% off, not 67%.

Realize There’s Often a Reason for a Price. Ever look at a Black Friday circular and wonder how any company can stay in business offering things like $2 waffle irons? Many of those rock bottom prices are on items manufacture specifically for the November/December shopping rush. They’re more cheaply made, with fewer features and lesser parts. If that’s what you want, great! But keep in mind it’s not the same item as the one that’s being sold for 10 times as much, and shouldn’t be used when figuring out the base line price.

I suspect the TV we purchased last year falls into this category. It was a very cheap price for the time (sub $400 for a 50 inch) and only came on the market June that year. The price never really rose to the level that you’d expect of TVs for that size. That’s okay for us. It’s our first flat screen TV and we’re unlikely to notice if it has sub par picture capabilities. Anything beats our old rear projection TV, even a cheaply made TV with fewer HDMI ports.

Remember, it’s not the % off that matters. It’s the price you’re paying (including shipping) to get the features you want.

Identify Multiple Alternatives One strategy retailers will use is to try and get you emotionally invested in the particular item they are selling. Last time I went to a car dealership the dealer kept using possessive pronouns. Let’s go pick out YOUR car, how about you drive YOUR car to the front lot? (emphasis mine.) If I start thinking of one particular car as ‘mine’ I’m likely to agree to pay a little more for it when we negotiate the price, or agree to extras/accessories I wouldn’t otherwise get. If I remember that there are multiple dealers with multiple cars of the same make, model and color, I’m more likely to remain objective.

It’s best to find several similar products that fit the bill. When that’s not practical, look for several retailers with comparable prices on an item. If you find yourself fixating on one particular deal ask yourself is it the item you really want, or the deal.

November 20, 2013

Preserving Memories

A long time ago I was taking a train ride from college to visit my parents for the holidays. I was traveling alone, and with my laptop bag. At one point I got up to use restroom and brought my laptop bag with me. As I passed the conductor he couldn’t suppress a laugh and asked why I would bring that into the little lavatory. Here’s the thing: while my laptop was barely functional and borderline useless (a running theme with my computers, I really need to change that), the data is irreplaceable.

I have been living in fear of data loss.

Domingo and I have been exploring options for backup, particularly off-site backup. The benefit of off-site backup is that should something happen to one copy (fire!, earthquake!, theft!) the second copy is likely far enough away from the event to be safe.

Here is the list of options we considered:

Option 1: External Hard Drive in a Safety Deposit Box
The idea is to store an external hard drive full of data in your safety deposit box. Every couple of months or so you replace the current hard drive with one that contains a more recent copy of the data.

At first I thought this option would work well for us. I live in fear mostly of losing Nicki’s newborn photos, her milestones and ‘firsts’. If I lose last week’s coloring photos I will be upset, but I can take more. I can always make an additional trip to the bank if there’s something I want to be extra sure I don’t leave. Since hard drives come in rather compact sizes these days, you can get a tiny safety deposit box. At my bank that runs about $40-50 a year.

I had pretty much settled on this option, but when I went to the bank they had such a long waiting list I wasn’t left with much hope. In fact, the teller whom I talked to had asked for a box for herself when she transferred to that location and was still waiting. Her advice was to call daily and see if a safety deposit box was newly available, thus attempting to bypass the line.

Option 2: Cloud Storage
Cloud storage is more convenient (no trips to the bank!) but is typically much more costly. Most places charge by disk space, and can get extremely pricey. Historically they’ve only accommodated a couple hundred gigabytes. I want to back up photos, and photos take up a lot of space. My brother in law suggested crashplan which has no cap on how much data you can backup.

There’s a secondary cap to be concerned about – broadband. Our internet provider will only allow us to transfer 250 GB a month. I have over 500 GB of Nicki Photos (and roughly 2 TB between Domingo and I). If I don’t use the internet for anything other than creating an off site backup it will take me 8 months.

Lurking behind that 500 GB of Nicki photos is another potential problem. That’s 500 GB of photos collected in just one year. Prior to Nicki’s birth I had about 600 GB total of photos. I nearly doubled the amount of photo data I had last year. Doubled. Part of that is because I bought a nicer camera with more mega pixels, and another part of that is because I don’t know what I’m doing so I take a lot of photos hoping something will turn out decent. (And I refuse to delete any photos, ever.) Even taking consideration that my rate of taking photos is slowing down, I’m going to continue chewing threw bandwidth going forward. In that 8 months it would take for the initial backup I would probably generate enough data to require another 5 months to back up. Extrapolating out I wouldn’t be completely backed up until 15 months from now – and that’s assuming I don’t use the internet during this time!

Crash plan is also the most expensive of the options at $150 a year. They do have a ‘seed’ option where you can seed your backup by sending them a hard drive, thus sparing some bandwidth, but it’s a bit too pricey for my blood.

Option 3: Store a hard drive somewhere we have access to
Previously this meant the glove compartment of my car. Alas, hard drives are not meant to be stored in glove compartments and the contestant bumping will almost certainly accelerate it’s inevitable death. The major problem with a dead backup hard drive is that you don’t tend to know it’s dead until you need it. At least it’s a free option?

We’re going with option 2. I’m using an iterative approach to backing up everything. Each cycle I select one or two small (< 30 GB) directories to back, starting with the most important. That way if I don’t make it to 15 months I should at least have the most important stuff I could possibly have.

None of this changes the fact that I’m still considering a raided hard drive. Recovering from crashplan will be as painful (or alternatively expensive) as uploading to it. I view crashplan as a worst case scenario defense. I expect to have to recover from a crash some day, but I hope I will not need to recover from crashplan.

November 17, 2013

Finding the Light

It has been two weeks since I last picked up my camera to take a photo of Nicki. Two weeks! Before the move I was managing to take photos at least four or five days a week. They were usually nothing special (bath time, playing with toys) but at least I was taking them. I don’t even know where the good light is in our apartment. I decided to rectify that this weekend and have another go at the pearl photos.

pearls take two
Love those lashes!

Back at our old place the window was at the foot of the crib. Her room faced West, so by about four o’clock or so (depending on the season) the light would just stream into the nursery. I’d use the blinds as a poor man’s defuser, and got the kind of photos you saw previously. If I stood by the window there was very little shadow, standing by the side of the crib and I would get the really nice profiles. It was usually one of my go to spots for Nicki photos.

Since her new room faces west-ish, it was the first place I thought of.

I figured the afternoon would be the best time to shoot in our new place as well. Her room gets hot in the afternoon, hot from heat generated by the sunlight. Alas the sun, window, and crib don’t line up as nicely here. The blinds here don’t work as well as a defuser. They are the vertical kind where you have much less control over how much light is coming in between each blind. Strips of light are always peeping through at least one slat, which don’t look very nice in photos. I had to wait until the light was no longer directly on the crib which only gave me a twenty minute window before the sun slipped behind the edge of the building and the room was too dark. Another (minor) issue was the position of the crib. It was against the back wall rather than right up against the window. In that position the railing blocks the light, especially when using a backdrop. In the above photo the light source is actually to her left. Most of the light blocked by the crib, and her face is illuminated from the right by the light bouncing off the wall. It’s really pretty, but I had to shoot at a higher ISO and a wider aperture that I was hopping for.

This morning I was in Nicki’s room fixing the blinds and noticed that her room was actually very bright in the early morning hours. That’s when it dawned on me that her room was actually hot during her nap time (1 pm) not late afternoon. It takes time for the room to warm up, which means the room has been bright for a while. At our old place her room didn’t start warming up until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Morning is the way to go! Low ISO, tight aperture and I can still avoid motion blur.

Next time I’ll know better!

Trying to be artsy
After being over zealous with the saturation, brightness and contrast.

The one area where we’re really lacking is the uncluttered wall by a mirror and light source like I used for my bump shot maternity photos. That was also the same place I took the avatar photo of myself with my camera. I will miss that spot.

November 10, 2013



Last week I started my new job at Google. I’ve been kind of mum about the specifics here (and it felt really awkward to not answer the question when asked directly, my apologies for the clumsily dodge.) I wanted to hold off on sharing the news because I wasn’t sure what changes I would need to make to my blog. I didn’t want to guess incorrectly and land myself in hot water before even starting.

I have always viewed my blog as a chance to grow my ‘brand’, a sort of social complement to my online resume. I hope to grow my reputation through my blog and as such I often write about the internet which has on occasion included my views on search. My dissertation and past publications are all on personalized search. Clearly this research was done outside the scope my Google employment and should be fair game to write about. On the other hand, Google is also interested in Search and if I post something related to my prior research it’s possible someone might misinterpreted the post as relating to Google’s research. To be clear I have never, and will never, discussed the details of my work in my blog, it’s the appearance of doing so that I want to avoid. For now, I will have to content myself with the ability to put ‘google’ on my resume for search expertise cred, and avoid blogging on the topic.

As an aside I hope my blog isn’t branded as a ‘googler’s blog’, just as I hoped it wasn’t branded a ‘mommy’s blog’. I am a Googler, I am a mom, but I’m also a budding photographer, math nerd, science junkie, bargain hunter, etc.

Another issue is that I use Google Ad Sense. I’ve written about it in the past, and had some fun playing with the numbers. I personally find the topic of blogging revenue fascinating, and I had hopped to continue writing on the topic since there are so few detailed articles on the subject out there. Alas, this area is now obviously off limits for me.

It’s a worthwhile trade for full time employment doing what I love. I can tell I’m really going to enjoy this next stage of life, if I can ever get around to unpacking those darn boxes!

November 5, 2013

Upgrades Abound

I love this month. I love the whole holiday season, but November and December have got to be some of my favorite times of the year. Now that we’ve actually moved and the stress of finding a place is gone, it feels like the timing of graduation was perfect. Being able to get everything we need for the home at great holiday steal prices is a wonderful treat, but it get’s better. We’ve also made it my graduation present to upgrade some of our household items. (Have I mentioned I love to bargain hunt?) That means extra shopping this season. As such our Black Friday list is growing.

The Big Deals Thus Far

A Canvas Print – It’s time for a big family photo in the living room, afterall we can never have too many photos with Nicki! I was after another canvas print. Remember how I beat myself up about missing out on that last good canvas print deal? Not this time! I waited for the cafepress deal came around again and this time I pounced! I got it for about half (51%) of what I paid for the canvas print of Nicki as a newborn. The only trouble is I’m not sure any of my current photos work, but I have until the end of the year to pick a photo.

New Pots and Pans – I love the set of pots and pans we got for our wedding (Calphalon Contemporary) but I made the mistake of registering for the non-dishwasher safe ones*. We didn’t realize that at first, thus voiding the warranty. It was our first good set of dishes, and we loved the non stick coating and how evenly they heated. The trouble is washing them by hand takes up so much time – a precious resource these days – and, well, they were damaged from us not knowing how to care for them. We’ve been talking about getting the dishwasher safe kind (Calphalon Unison) someday when our current set wears completely out.

Someday is today. I was looking for a 1 qt pan for Thanksgiving on and happened to notice that the Unison set was 39% off! That’s the lowest price ever on amazon. But it get’s better. Amazon’s also in the middle of their holiday sales, and are offering it at an additional 15% off. That makes for a total of 48% off! They’re sold out, but the deal price is still live and I don’t mind waiting. Backorder it is!

* The new contemporary line is reportedly dishwasher safe now. I stumbled upon this fact in the process of writing this blog post and after I made our purchase, otherwise I would have considered just buying the same pots. Our current pots are most definitely not dishwasher safe.

Deals I’m on the Hunt For

A New Computer – No exaggeration my desktop is seven and a half years old. My laptop is a lot younger, but has been on it’s last legs since I got it and nearly kicked the bucket the day of my defense. The laptop was a serious disappointment. I need a new computer stat! The dream setup is a new server with raided hard drive (gotta protect those baby photos!) that can also serve as a media center and a new laptop so I can continue to work lounging on the couch.

New Tools – Specifically I want a pair of really good screw drivers. Maybe just two philips head and two standard head. I’m not sure what qualifies ‘really good’ but I know we don’t have it. In assembling the furniture this past weekend I used not one, not two, but three screwdrivers. The tread had warn down on all three of them, and I was constantly switching back and forth between them trying to find one that could grip the screw. I got everything assembled, but not before giving myself a blister. While I hope there isn’t much furniture assembly again in my immediate future, I’m sure I’ll need a screwdriver eventually. The trouble is, since I don’t know what makes a good screw driver, I can’t really tell what’s a good deal.

Tools make a great stocking stuffer and Christmas list fodder for me. I love gadgets, especially useful ones! A few years ago my aunt gave me a handy screw driver magnetizer. I also love my Mini Screwdriver Set which is all the more useful for changing batteries in kids’ toys. I’m thinking of asking Domingo for a right angle screw driver to help with those hard to get at screws since he’s insisting we do stockings this year.

Nicki’s Play Kitchen or maybe A Play House – Someone is getting spoiled by Santa this year. Toys R Us has a great Black Friday deal on the Step 2 LifeStyle Dream Kitchen ($75!) as well as the Neat & Tidy Cottage ($100!) which I’m hoping that amazon matches because shopping from the couch is so much nicer than going to the store these days! I suspect these will be amazon lightening deals. I think that’s usually how they price match door busters. My plan is to stalk the various kitchens and play houses online and see which deal (if any) I can snag.

Domingo’s New Cell Phone – If Domingo upgraded his cell phone when he was eligible, he would be eligible again, his phone is that old. It’s also incredibly unreliable, and dies often in the middle of phone calls. You can guess how much fun that was organizing the move. The one he wants is advertised as free on Black Friday! Can’t get better than that!