Archive for September, 2015

September 29, 2015

Alexis at 10 Months

Dear Alexis,

It’s unreal to me that you’re already at the double digit of months. By the end of this month you will have spent more time in our new home than in the apartment we lived in when we brought you home to from the hospital. Unreal.

10monthbaby
Your hair is starting to get so long

You’re crawling now. You’ve been able to move yourself small distances for a while. When you wanted to get somewhere, you’d flatten out onto your belly and flail your arms and legs with the most excited squeal. But you’d move! Not far, but you’d still move! We used to refer to it as ‘the fish’. Then, last Thursday, you started army crawling small distance. By Sunday you were army crawling where ever you wanted, including to objects you could pull up on. Monday you threw a ball and chased after it!

crawling

Mommy needs to up her ball game now, things around here are about to get more challenging!

You’re also walking with assistance. You take the most dramatic steps, it’s adorable! You’re not cruising yet, but you’re close. You’re starting to shuffle your feet when you’re standing. I predict you’ll be walking right around the time of your first birthday, just like your big sister.

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Big siter’s Lock Puzzle. The first thing you ever crawled for.

And are you a champion eater! You were doing so well with your purees and yogurts that we decided to start you on table food beyond just cheerios. You haven’t met the table food yet that you will not eat! Food you don’t like, sure, but not food that you won’t eat. (You weren’t a fan of my white sharp cheddar macaroni & cheese, but you didn’t let that stop you from eating it!)

I know I say this every month, but I am having such a hard time accepting how fast time is flying. I still think of you as my itty bitty baby, and now you’re mobile and eating dinner with the rest of us! You also have a few new teeth on the horizon. A corner of tooth #3 is in, and tooth #4 seems like it will soon follow. We’re starting to hear the beginnings of a few words. You wave bye, clap and high five. You are so eager to catch up to your bigger sister and leave babyhood behind you. I just have to buckle up for the ride.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

September 23, 2015

A Duck No More

“Don’t ever tell anyone that! If you don’t tell them, they won’t know!” I was standing in one of my thesis committee member’s office getting a final signature I needed to graduate. It was such a surreal moment to me that I couldn’t help but blurt out how a few months earlier I wasn’t even sure I would ever graduate.

There’s a trend these days to refer to oneself as #Lucky (or more commonly #Blessed). It’s a natural result of pressure to appear always poised, always perfect, to self promote without seemingly like we’re self promoting. If that success was effortlessly achieved, imagine what we could do if we tried. We are to be ducks, gliding serenely along in life, all the while our webbed feet paddling furiously just below the surface and out of view.

I’ve never been very good at being a duck. I wear my heart on my sleeve, as evidenced by my above conversation with my thesis committee member.

When Domingo and I decided to move out of Silicon Valley I was a bit frustrated with myself. True, our plan was never to stay long term, but we had expected to stay at least through the medium term. I expected to love Silicon Valley, and instead I felt a little like Silicon Valley had bested me. There are many parents in tech, parents with more kids and higher paced jobs than I who somehow were always able to pick up their kids on time, and get a good nights sleep despite the city noises. They somehow found a way to make it work, why couldn’t I? Was I just not trying hard enough? Not good enough? I was excited to be starting my own business, but the feeling of defeat created a little dark cloud of doubt that I would be able to succeed. After all, start-ups rarely succeed. What made me think I could beat the odds?

Then something a bit unexpected happened. When discussing my departure with a close friend and confident, I confessed the feelings of defeat I had been having. To my shock he told me that he and his wife had been having similar thoughts, and were considering a similar move out of the valley. As I opened up to more and more people I found my frustrations echoed back to me. I no longer felt alone, and when I no longer felt alone I no longer felt defeated.

When we all try to be ducks, when we try and hide how hard we work, we do ourselves and our community a disservice. We create a false image of what is achievable and what level of effort is needed to achieve it. It helps create the unrealistic expectations that can lead to impostor syndrome. Knowing I wasn’t alone in my frustrations lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. It’s tough living here, and that’s an ok thing to admit. That cloud of doubt began to vanish.

It’s too much work to be a duck, anyway.

I have just launched my second webapp since starting my own company: a Name Generator.

One of the extensions to my name uniqueness analyzer I was considering was the generation of new, plausible names not currently on the Social Secuirty Administration’s name list. Then an article from the Atlantic prospective parents paying upwards of $31,000 to find unique baby names spurred me into action.

Word generation is a straight forward process with language modeling. Language modeling works by looking at frequencies of commonly occurring terms or characters. A new word is generated by iteratively selecting characters based on how likely they are to follow the part of the word already generated. Lets say the name generate randomly draws ‘M’ for the first character. Almost 61% most names that begin with an ‘M’ have an ‘a’ for the next character (e.g. Mary). An additional 6% of names beginning with ‘M’ have an ‘e’ for the second character (e.g. Melissa). The character ‘b’ never follows ‘M’, at least not in 2014. Thus the language model would then select an ‘a’ to follow ‘M’ with ~61% probability, an ‘e’ with ~6% probability, and a ‘b’ with near 0 probability. The end result is a new sequence of characters that would reasonably follow each other. Some of my favorite generated names so far are Delyn, Alexandrina, and Zanda.

I am proud of the mathematics that went into my app, but I feel like the app itself is still missing something. I’ve been thinking back to the naming process with the girls. We had already chosen ‘Nicole’ as our girl name before becoming pregnant the first time. Alexis was harder to name. We debated between ‘Alexis’, ‘Allison’, and even ‘Alexandra’ for a while. I wanted an ‘A’ name. Its probably pretty common to have a preferred prefix or suffix in a name, so I added that capability. I want to add more features to my name generator, but I’m not sure what will be useful.

Here’s my question for you: What kind of things did you think about when naming your child? Did you have a specific sound you were looking for? Or meaning?

September 12, 2015

Color Me Wrong

Let it be known, I admit my mistakes. One day short of 11 months ago, I blogged about using Living Colors as a night light with a picture of a blue light. When I think of night, I think of blues. As it gets darkers reds, yellows, greens, all other colors tend to disappear. Everything appears caste in blue It’s the Purkinje effect. So a dim blue would be relaxing, right? Looks like I was wrong.

This morning I came across an article in my news feed about yellow lights to help babies sleep. I knew blue light wasn’t good for sleep, but I always thought they were referring to white light on the blue side of the color spectrum, e.g. light generated by monitors and other electronic devices. It wasn’t until I was reading an article explicitly calling out yellow light, not yellowish white light that it occurred to me they could mean actually blue light. Nicki has been wanting her nightlight to be all shades of red and I’ve been resisting thinking it would surely disrupt her sleep and give her nightmares. Sorry sweetheart, mommies do make mistakes some times.

So what about the Purkinje effect? It turns out the blue tint has to do with the color receptors in our eyes. The light sensitive rods are less sensitive to color. Thus in the low light where the rodes are more receptive we perceive less color. It has nothing to do with the color of light, but the quantity of light.

I think it’s time to get Nicki a proper night light. Living Color is a bit too bright, anyway.

September 11, 2015

Lap Child

planewatching

Our trip to our family reunion wasn’t just Alexis’ first flight east, but also our first time traveling with a lap child.

I wasn’t two keen on the idea of splitting up over two rows. I wasn’t sure how understanding our seat neighbors would be of sitting next to small children and wanted a Domingo buffer. (Dirty glances bother him far less than they bother me.) But I was also a little nervous about how we’d do over the six hours in the air. When we flew with Nicki as a baby we opted for the extra seat. At the time I remarked to Domingo that I couldn’t imagine flying with a five month old on our lap for the full six hours. Now here we were with a nine month old lap baby! And with an active child to boot!

Since there are no direct flights between us and my parents, we had no choice but to opt for a layover. We went through Chicago on the way out, and returned through Denver. Thus the long flight was always the first flight. Our hope was that the second flight would be less trying on our over tired children’s patience. We also opted for long layovers so we’d have a chance to get everyone food and potty breaks, even if there were delays.

Having a lap child ended up going smoother than expected. Alexis fell asleep during the takeoff and decent of the first flight. She remained awake for takeoff on the second flight out of Chicago, but fell asleep midway through the flight. She didn’t awake until the stewardess made her announcement about beginning our final decent. She awoke, an hour past her bedtime, to a very full diaper and popping ears. My usual very mellow baby was very, very not happy. She cried non stop for the next twenty minutes until she was off the plane and we were walking to baggage claim.

The rest of the time went pretty smoothly. She loved playing with plane safety information, and kept trying to grab the tray table lock. At one point she grabbed an extra bag of pretzels in each hand and began shaking them like a rattle. For the last flight between Denver and home I wore her in the Ergo and she slept the entire time.

Nicki also did extremely well. She has been enamored with the ‘Big Plane’ ever since we picked up Grandma and Grandpa at the airport last thanksgiving. She loved everything from how fast take off felt, to the bump when the wheels touched down again. The snack service was a big hit as well. She loved her apple juice with a straw. We brought the leap pad tablet to help keep Nicki entertained, but didn’t end up breaking it out. She was so excited to be on the big plane that she didn’t need much to keep her entertained.

We did have one hiccup where, during our layover in Chicago, Nicole managed to spill an entire chocolate milk all down the front of her shirt. I had been worried about the possibility of accidents on the plane and had an extra pair of pants and underwear for her. The inability to congregate at the front of the plane, long lines at the back, turbulence that requires us to stay seated, and tiny bladders do not mix! But it hadn’t occurred to me to pack a spare shirt, so we now have a souvenir “Chicago Fire” shirt.

My hiccup came when it was time to pass through security for our return trip. I admit the significance of flying on September 11th was lost on me (I blame the sleep deprivation!). I noticed the flights were significantly cheaper, and it didn’t occur to me why until after I had booked our trip. As to be expected, TSA was being extra thorough. It seemed like every other person was being selected for additional screening, which sadly included me. Poor Domingo had to hold on to both girls and collect all our luggage because I wasn’t allowed to touch anything until I was cleared. At least it was a short inconvenience.

We had a great trip despite a couple of hiccups. I’m so glad we were able to go.

This weekend was my family’s biennial reunion. It was also our first trip back East since September 2013. In the decade that I’ve lived in California, 2014 was the only year in which I wasn’t able to make the trek at least once, what with the pregnancy and Ziggy’s pending arrival and all. We were so busy with the house that we were initially thinking we wouldn’t make it this year, but I was missing my extended family dearly.

While at my childhood house I couldn’t help but notice the big portraits of Nicki and Alexis my parents had up on the mantel. Two portraits that I had taken; one of Alexis’ six month photos and one of Nicki as a ballerina. I beam with Momtographer pride.

alexisportrait nickiballarina
When you take a lot of photos, you tend to have a couple that work together just by luck

I wasn’t the only one who noticed them. One of my relatives asked where I had them done, thinking for sure they must have been done professionally. Another made the comment to my mom that I had a second life as a professional photographer if my startup never makes it off the ground. They’re the best compliments a wannabe photographer can ask for. In their view my photography skills are pro level. If only that was the only necessary skill. Alas, there’s more to being a photographer than photography.

Part of the reason I’m able to capture such good images of my girls is that they’re comfortable around me and my camera. I can usually get a simile out of them and on those occasions where I can’t, I put my camera away for a another day. With over 107,000 photos, you’d expect at least a couple good ones. Professional photographers don’t have the luxury of unlimited time. The girls school photos this year were comically bad. I’m not sure whether it was stranger anxiety, but Alexis was having none of it. There are tears in her eyes in every photo. Rewind to the spring photos and Alexis is having the time of her life and Nicole looks like she’s dubious of the photographer’s intentions. Photography need strong people skills, especially around children, to put them at ease.

I am an introvert with only occasional extrovert tendencies.

I may not see myself as a professional photographer any time soon, but I’m still beaming that my realities can.

September 3, 2015

Impostor Syndrom

sarahposter
The reasons Domingo thinks I will be successful with my startup.

I have had the desire to do my own start up since I first flew out to California all those years ago. But every time I thought about actually taking the plunge, I hesitated. I knew a couple of people who have made it big in the start-up lottery. They’re wicked smart. They work crazy hours. In a world were most start ups fail, how could I ever expect to stand on equal ground with these incredibly talented people? I often feel like a poser, a pretender who will be found out at any moment. In my mind I often compare myself to others, and find myself lacking. I have impostor syndrome. I have had it since I was first admitted to college, when I used to joke the “accept button” was a bit too close to the “reject button”.

Impostor syndrome is pretty common in the valley, especially for women. It’s a major inhibitor, and one I’ve been working to over come.

Finding My Happy Place

I used to keep a folder, dubbed my happy folder, filled with ego boosters. In the folder I kept my first ever evaluation at my first place of employment, the letter of encouragement my supervisor wrote me when I was applying to graduate school. I even kept my college transcript. (I know that’s dorky, but when you think your acceptance was a mistake, you tend to be dang proud of good grades!)

Alas, the happy folder is easy to bury under other papers. I find if I’m not thinking about the happy folder, I forget about it. And that’s the unfortunate irony. When I’m thinking about my happy folder, I usually don’t need it, and when I need it, I’m usually not thinking about it.

When I decided to pursue my own business I wanted a motivational poster for the office, something that could keep me going through the inevitable rough spots. After spending more time than I care to admit finding the perfect one online, I decided to just make my own. It would be more meaningful that way. Domingo came up with a list of reasons why he thought I would succeed with my business, and I put them to paper. It’s my happy poster, if you will.

Creating a Safety Net

My big paralyzing fear was that my start up would be a flop, I’d attempt to re-enter the job market after a several year absence with a out dated skill set and nothing to show for it. There may be no way to guarantee success, but there is a way to frame my story guaranteeing I won’t fail.

I’ve been working on my web apps for years. I already have a few thousand active monthly users for my web apps. I am already generating a small, but reliable revenue. It’s not enough for me to consider myself a success yet, but it gives me something to talk about. It also gives me a starting place to build my story. Sometimes just thinking about how I will frame my story in a job interview can fill me with confidence.

Redefining Success

On of the common traits of impostor syndrome is to compare oneself to others, usually highly successful people. My company will likely never IPO for a billion dollars, I will not become an overnight millionaire like my friends. But there are other ways to successful.

I have enough people using my apps, particularly the Readability Analyzer that they actually notice when I make a change to it. In August, a very kind user sent me an email saying she had been using it for years, and thanked me for creating it. I may not be a millionaire, but that doesn’t mean what I’m doing doesn’t have an impact.