Archive for February, 2014

February 27, 2014

Stocking The Toy Closet

My baby is not a baby anymore. This point was made abundantly clear when we were in the 12 to 24 aisle in Target’s toy department a few weeks ago. The toys just didn’t seem capable of holding her interest, or any toddler’s for that matter. They were just small permutations over concepts she had already mastered: ball poppers, pull toys, toys with buttons and knobs that play different songs. I can see Nicki pushing every button a couple of times, before tossing the toy to the side.

I’ve been striving to make sure we always have toys for the next stage at the ready, but I don’t want to pay a lot. Nor do I want to turn my home into a giant playroom. Enter the toy closet concept.

The toy closet (also sometimes referred to as the gift closet) is not a novel concept. The idea is to stock up the closet with toys (or gifts) so you won’t be caught off guard should the sudden need for them arise. I have price watches and toys, and other gear, designated all the way up to 3 year olds so I can be ready and thrifty at the same time. We now have a potty (even though we have no plans to start potty training soon) and two “big sister/new baby” books (even though there’s no second baby in the making yet.) Hello huge price drop! At least percentage wise.

With a closet full of older toys, is I’m consequently cycling out new toys for her to try. I’m amazed at how quickly she can pick up things meant for much older children. She’s a sticker pro (both the permanent and reusable kind), and a mean crayon scribbler. She can handle toddler knives, and even an etch-a-sketch. We keep a huge 7000 sticker sticker book with individual tear out leaflets in the toy closet. It’s my go to toy when I need to distract her or keep her occupied.

Sure, sometimes she’s not ready for them and they go back to the toy closet for later. Sometimes even the toys for her age range come with accessories that need to be removed. Her baby doll came with a small pacifier toy that Domingo and I both deemed a chocking hazard. Into the closet it went.

My big mistake was not stocking up on Halloween customs from the inevitable early November sales. Nicki is so in to pretend play these days. Yesterday I picked her up from day care and she was wearing a monkey custom. A few days ago it was tinker bell. If she sees her party dress, or her super girl outfit, she insists on wearing them. She’s commandeered my fuzzy boa scarf, and I have to be sure to keep all fuzzy socks safely hidden. The most adorable thing ever? A toddler wearing crew length adult-size fuzzy socks that go thigh high! Oh well. I’m sure she’ll still be into pretend play and dress up in 9 months, so I can fix my mistake then.

The more pressing thing on my list is a booster seat. Nicki is starting to outgrow the high chair. She’s using cups and utensils, so it makes sense to move her to the table with us. She asks to sit in the chairs, she’s just not tall enough to eat at the table without assistance. Alas, I don’t think I’m going to get a deal on this one.

February 24, 2014

Happy 3rd Blogiversary, Blog!

Happy Three Years, blog!

Three years feels like a blink of an eye, but then I look back on my life (and my writing!) and I realize how much has changed. My blog is still a hodgepodge of topics that interest me, and I think it always will be. I’m happy to see it’s still of interest to a few of you out there, even without a central focus.

Monthly Visits to my Blog over from Mar 1 2014 – Jan 31st 2014

My blog has had a pretty linear growth with two exceptions.

The big bump at time A is for the Stolen Baby Photos post. That day got three times more traffic than usual. Seeing that spike makes me cringe a little. I wrote the blog post hastily. The forum post that referenced my newborn photography page had just been deleted and I was hoping one of those forum goers might still be visiting my blog, might see the new post, and might possibly be able to fill me in. At the same time, my parents read my blog and I didn’t want to be too alarmist.

The bump in traffic came when I shared the post on my personal facebook page, and was reshared by a friend and college who was concerned how often this kind of thing happens without anyone noticing. While I appreciated the reshare, I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty that the post was undeserving since there wasn’t actually any useful information for others in that post. I followed it up with the Duplicate Image Search, which I’m happy to report has seen some adoption.

I assume the dip at B is because of the slightly different direction I decided to take my blog by keeping more of Nicki’s life private. Although the dip in traffic was not unexpected, I was sad to see it bare out, especially since the decision was based more on instinct than on science. To my surprise my numbers look to be recovering rather quickly.

My favorite topic to write on these days is photography. I had so much fun playing with my makeshift spotlight a few days ago. The topic I really want to get back to, the Doing the Math posts. The Uniqueness of Babynames post continues to be my favorite of all time.

February 20, 2014

A Natural Spot Light

After my last post on using a spot light to create high contrast, I kept thinking back to my accomplishing the same shot. Specifically, could I use a natural light source? How much of a difference does the F-Stop make?

Effectively the same setup as before, but using the sun coming in throw a window as a spotlight.

Trying to do this with natural light increased the difficulty factor dramatically. With the desk lamp I had totally flexibility with the position of the light source and the camera. I could move it further back and have a wider beam, or closer for a more intense narrow beam. While I could in theory pose the cat, she tends to have a mind of her own. With the natural light source, I effectively had two fixed objects. I couldn’t position my camera well. End result, is a poorly lit eye. Maybe I can say I was going for moody feel?

But it works. I can call this experiment a success. The window helped focus the light into a narrower enough beam that the forground was lit and the background was not. The white walls behind the cat are nearly black in the picture.

I definitely prefer my previous photo. With more practice I may be able to better utilize the window light, and come up with a better photo. Truth be told, I’m not sure the additional practice would be worth it. This is one example where natural light isn’t always preferential to artificial light.

If you want to try this type of photo, and you don’t want to purchase a softbox, I recommend a directional lamp with a really bright, natural light bulb. This is the one I used. Don’t let the sales price fool you, I’m pretty sure it’s always $20. If you’re shooting anything larger than a cat, you probably need something more substantiation.

February 13, 2014

In the Spotlight


Today there was a discussion on dramatic lighting in one of the photography forums I lurk, specifically having your subject fully or patially illuminated and the background dark. At first I was all easy peasy, been there, done that. Dark background, large aperture, single light source, right? Nope. Turns out there’s a completely different way to get the same effect!

Of course, I simply had to give it a try. As soon as Nicki was in bed I grabbed my camera.

The goal is to create a large differential of light on the subject vs the background. This doesn’t mean it needs to be dark out. In fact, it’s easier to focus on the subject if there’s ambient light. (I have a faulty lens that has difficulty focusing, so this is an important discovery for me.) Usually one uses softlight boxes to illuminate the subject and create that differential between subject and background. Light boxes are more focused light than what I used – sun streaming in from a window. I don’t have soft lights, but I do have a good craft light with a very bright, natural color light bulb.

Spotlight diagram. No need to worry what’s in the background, as long as your light source is focused away from the background. The above photo? Nicki’s red train is in the background.

The first thing I noticed was the metering light could not be trusted. This is not one type of photo were auto is your friend! I had to change the settings to shoot much darker than the camera wanted. You also want to set your F-stop fairly high, for nice crisp edges.

Lily was fascinated by what I was doing. She kept rubbing up against the lamp, and sniffing at the bulb, so I decided to try and photograph her next. Alas, that’s where I started to struggle. The craft light is meant to be a desk light. It generates a narrow beam of light than a softlight box would, which means I had a small area to work with. Little movements from Lily generally meant most of the light wouldn’t fall on her. Inanimate objects are usually much more cooperative.

71 frames, maybe 5 good ones. Not ready for prime time

If you want to try this type of photo, and you don’t want to purchase a softbox, I recommend a directional lamp with a really bright, natural light bulb. This is the one I used. Don’t let the sales price fool you, I’m pretty sure it’s always $20. If you’re shooting anything larger than a cat, you probably need something more substantiation.

I think I prefer this technique to the one I used in the past. I’d like to try it on Nicki one day, but I will need to figure out a better lighting situation first.

February 9, 2014

Mobile Inclined

In what I am sure is mostly boring website news, the first cut of a mobile theme for my blog is now live.

One of the nice things about wordpress is the availability of plug-ins. There’s a plugin for just about anything. Problem was, non of the plugin’s did exactly what I wanted. I decided to go with mobile-smart since it got me the closest to where I wanted to be.

The key functionality I wanted included:
– Have two themes, one desktop one mobile ( ✔ )
– Allow mobile users to switch to the desktop theme ( ✔ )
– Allow mobile users to switch back to the mobile theme ( ermm…)

So what’s a computer scientist to do? Crack open the code of course!

Original code (paraphrased) for creating links to switch between themes

$is_mobile = $this->switcher_isMobile();
if ($is_mobile || $options[‘allow_desktop_switcher’]) // (1)
  if ($is_mobile) { // (2)
    … //(code to write button/link to switch from mobile to desktop)
  } else { // (3)
    … //(code to write button/link to switch from desktop to mobile)

The function $this->switcher_isMobile(); returns true if the user is currently viewing the mobile template. The parameter $options[‘allow_desktop_switcher’] is a flag indicating whether any user is allowed to switch to the desktop version from the mobile version.

Since I don’t want desktop users switching to the mobile theme, I need to set that flag to false. That means the only way to enter the first if clause, (1), is if $is_mobile is true. But then there is no way to enter the else clause, (3). A link to switch back to the mobile version is never created. A mobile visitor can return to the mobile version, but only after shutting down their browser and starting a completely new session.

My Change

$is_mobile = $this->DetectIsMobile();
$is_mobile_shown = $this->switcher_isMobile();
if ($is_mobile || $options[‘allow_desktop_switcher’]) // (1)
  if ($is_mobile_shown) { // (2)
    … //(code to write button/link to switch from mobile to desktop)
  } else { // (3)
    … //(code to write button/link to switch from desktop to mobile)

Green indicates changed lines

In the above code, $this->DetectIsMobile(); returns true if the visitor is using a mobile device, regardless of which version the user is currently viewing. Now, the if clause at (2) is entered if the visitor is viewing the mobile version, and the else clause, (3), if viewing the desktop one.

It’s a very small change, almost not worth a blog post. I know at some point I’ll update my plugins and probably lose my edit. At least now I can easily find & redo what I did!

February 7, 2014

Are You Reading This?

If you’re using bloglovin’ the answer is probably “no”. Only 3 of my last 7 posts have appeared on my blog’s bloglovin page. Looks like I’m not the only one with this problem.

I have a couple theories as to why my posts are missing. My server is running a little slow, possibly too slow for Bloglovin. My second theory is that bloglovin’s RSS parser may be having an issue when injesting my feed. I noticed that at least two of the posts that never arrived to bloglovin were written in word, where the last post that did arrive was written directly in my web browser. Word generates curly or “smart” quotes, whereas most quotes on the web are straight or “dumb”. Some parsers choke on quotation marks if they’re expecting one type, but encounter the second.

At least feedly (the reader most of you seem to use) can still read my blog!

The blog has been tweaked and should be running a touch faster now. I’ve also made a handful of other minor, but needed modifications. I believe I’ve fixed all potential problems. In fact the primary point of this blog post is to check just that, hence the title. Apologies for boring you if you’re still actually reading this.

In other website news, I finally updated our family website,, and my resume website, That just leaves my photography site, Incidental Light. That will be a much bigger undertaking. I’m thinking of switching from Flash to HTML 5 as an excuse to learn HTML 5.

Edited to add: This post showed up in my bloglovin’ feed!

February 4, 2014

My Lifeblood Apparent

I first started using the ‘momtographer’ label as a way to preemptively stave off criticism. A mom is generally referred to as a ‘momtographer’ when she is so in to photographing her kids that she fancies herself the family’s professional photographer. The stereotypical momtographer doesn’t have the skill she thinks she has. Like her, I knew I was going to come across as obsessive with the camera, with a possibly over inflated sense of ability. Using the label ‘momtographer’ was a way of acknowledging that fact. If I call myself a momtographer, than maybe no one else will feel the need to, and maybe they wouldn’t feel the need to point out my photography flaws either.

It seems the label fits better than I intended. My photos are my lifeblood. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to be detached from them.

When I was in gradschool there was no distinction between ‘work’ computer and ‘personal’ one. It was all one device. All my photos were just a finger stroke away. I’ve become accustomed to having them close. Whenever I had the itch to look back over old photos struck, I could scratch it. And scratch it I did.

To give a concrete example, a few days ago I had a bump in my site traffic coming from facebook. While I can’t see the original facebook post that cause the traffic bump, I can see that it was linking to my rings on toes photos. My first reaction was to go to the post myself. Where those photos worthy of a facebook link? I posted only four photos, but took many more. My next impulse was to open the directory where they are stored to see what other gems I may have captured that may have been better.

I found this:

I normally err on too shallow a depth of field, but I think the extra shallow depth of field works really well here. It helps that her toes are in focus. If I have one quibble it would be nice if all 10 of her toes were visible.

I knew I often flip threw old photos, but I it wasn’t apparent how frequently until I started working again. Multiple times a day some past memory will pop into my head, and I have the urge to go back over past photos. Waiting until I’m home to see if I captured certain moments was driving me batty. Having facebook and instagram on my phone is a poor substitute. They represent just a small fraction of my photos, and not necessary the best.

A few weeks ago I joined a photography forum at work. An expect mom was seeking advice for newborn photography. Many of the photographers in the forum posted some of their work to illustrate their recommendations from setups to camera settings. It made me yearn for my photos. Did I manage to capture anything remotely in the same league as these guys? Could I apply any of their post processing advice? How does my work compare?!

Nicki’s Foot
A similar photo to one of the ones posted in the photography forum.

I told Domingo about my photo separation anxiety, for lack of a better phrase. He joked I should quit my job to become a photographer. That might work except it’s not the camera part I am having troubles being apart from.

P.S. Can you tell I love baby toes?