Archive for June, 2016

The girls are (on average) great eaters. As a 12 month old, Nicole could and would down an entire bag of winter squash by herself. We took her to sweet tomatoes, the all you can eat salad bar, where she once passed on frozen yogurt in favor of more peas. After Alexis was born we were home bound for a few months. When we finally returned to sweet tomatoes Nicole was skeptical of all the vegetable goodness before her. Pickled beets? No thank you, even though she couldn’t get enough of them before. Her favorite black olives? Pass.

It took a great deal of effort, and a few failed return trips, before Nicole began to eat well at sweet tomatoes again. Domingo and I figured the long absence had made the food seem foreign. We were determined not to make that mistake again. Healthy foods the kids eat well needed to remain front and center in our meal plan rotation.

On of the foods we wanted to encourage our kids to eat is fish. It’s great for brain development, and adds a bit of variety to their diets. We introduced it early and often. Saturday became fish night: Salmon (or “pink fish” as the kids call it), Tilapia (“butter fish”) or Mahi (“chicken fish”). And as predicted the kids continued to eat it well. We parents congratulated ourselves on a job well done.

That is, until a few weeks ago. Alexis started rejecting her fish out of the blue. Was it teething? we wondered. Unlikely, fish is pretty soft. Was she getting bored with it? Were the gaps between the types of fish too long?

More than likely, she was just going through a phase.

Looking back I if Nicole’s protest against Sweet Tomatoes was a similar phase. I remembered we stopped going around the time Alexis was born, but maybe we also stopped going because it was getting harder to get Nicole to eat her vegetables. Maybe my mommy brain glossed over that fact in an effort to feel more in control of the situation. Maybe I was only remembering what I wanted to remember. Confirmation bias is a beast. It makes you remember only what you want to remember, only what fits the narrative you tell yourself about the way the world works.

We’ve entered a rough patch of sleep with Alexis, just like we did when Nicole was this age. Like clockwork. There is no traffic here, so that couldn’t be it. Teething? No again. I want to believe I can fix it. I move the bed time forward, I move it backwards. I look for any sign that I’m on the right track. As a parent, I should be able to fix this, right? If she had a good night I’d look for things that might have contributed to it. That’s not the scientific process for a reason, but when you’re tired you’re not thinking about that. You’re wondering if wearing socks at night made your footsteps quieter and contributed to your child having a better night. The next thing you know you’re refusing to take off your socks. Ever. Can’t risk it.

Maybe Nicole returned to vegetables, and Alexis to fish because that’s just their natural development. Maybe Nicole’s sleep improvements just happened to coincide with with the bunny clock. Kids are always changing. Maybe they were descend to get past all these difficulties in their own due time, and without any input from me. Maybe that’s the root of all these crazy parenting fads. Desperate parents trying anything they can think of, and then misinterpret natural developmental cycles as cause and effect?

Crazy thoughts from a sleep deprived parent.

June 25, 2016

Differet Indulgences

I sometimes think my blog must give people the wrong impression about me. One of my top tags is Black Friday. Heck, I refer to Black Friday as a season rather than a day. I have a category of post dedicated to shopping which I’m posting to a lot more lately as I try and set up our house. Dear reader, sometimes I fear you must think all I do is shop!

For the most part I think of myself as not very spendy. Or at least, not traditionally spendy. Unless you count the nail polish for the girls (they have 7 colors) the last time I purchased makeup was for my wedding back in 2010, and the last time I wore it was for my sister’s wedding a few years later. The average woman spends 15,000 on makeup in her lifetime. And then there are the clothes. How rarely do I buy clothes? Well, I didn’t purchase new socks until after the move I found myself down to just 3 mismatching socks. That’s not 3 pairs, that’s 3 individual socks! I didn’t replace my last pair of jeans until the seam began fraying in a rather indecent location.

I think I tend to buy more stuff for the house, like the carpet cleaner (recently used to get vomit out of the kids’ mattress), but I tend to go consumer research and aim for the best quality in low end models. Outside of major appliances like the refrigerator or washing machine I go cheap, and even for those appliances we went middle of the road.

Of course I do have my indulgences. I probably spend an average of $75-100 on new Christmas ornaments every year between in store and online. Since my first DSLR purchase in June of 2009 I’ve spent an average of $406.70 a year in Camera bodies and lenses. That’s not including backdrops, memory cards, and other spurious equipment which might come to another $20/year. My container budget is probably higher than average too, (I crave organization) but would be hard to guess an exact amount, though I did try once. My biggest indulgence is the kids. Just one look at the toys all over the floor and you’ll see.

I do spend a bit on indulgences, but (probably) not as much money as I project.

June 17, 2016

The Value of the URL

I’ve been going round and round with my domain name registrar, trying to find a new name. I’ve done the temporary, I’m ready for something more permanent. Do I go with a cutesy mispelling? A different gTLD besides the dotCom? The experts disagree. To help narrow down my search I thought it might be a good idea to jot down exactly what I hope to achieve with a new name.

I need something that screams “I know what I’m doing.”

The biggest thing I’m looking for is something that ads credibility. I think one of the things holding me back is the fact that I’m using my name to host my apps. I found users tend to have a bit of mistrust when it comes to personally own websites. Not that I can fault them, I would trust “MiscarriageInstitute.com” over “SarahsMiscarriageApps.com” any day. (Less reasonably, some people discount my apps because I’m female, even in 2016, so not revealing my gender may be advantageous).

This was the logic behind Aaron Patzer’s purchase of “mint.com.” Without a trustable name, he predicted no one would trust his start-up with their financial information. I know I wouldn’t.

There’s also something to be said about operating from a high value domain name. Either you’ve been around for a while, or you were able to raise enough capital to purchase the expensive domain name. Both indicate a level of success.

I want a company name, not an app name

My big take away from This 2013 Forbes article is that generic names are not necessarily valuable any more. Those names, especially when misspelled or “cutesy” spellings are often associated with spam sites.

I also don’t really want to be buying a new domain name for each of my apps. That would eat up my entire current profit margin. I’m more than a little worried that because I’m writing apps, as opposed to a static blog, my margins will stay razor thin even if I ever become popular. Apps require more bandwidth and more CPU time than static pages. More users consume more resources than need to be paid for. I’d like to keep costs down for the foreseeable future.

I want something I can build a brand around

I found a name that I loved, where the .com, .net. org, and .io were all taken but so far unused. The only one that was left the dot-cc gTLD. I strongly considered purchasing it, until I read I can expect as much as 25% of my traffic to go to the dot com instead. (This came from antidote evidence, so I didn’t site the source.) I didn’t want to spend all this time building a brand to make someone else’s domain name more valuable.

If I went with a non dot-com I’d likely want to purchase the dot-com eventually, unless the alternative gTLD was part of the brand identity. Of course the more successful my new business, the more the owner of the dot-com will want for the domain.

June 11, 2016

Thwarting Adblockers

When I started tracking adblockers on my site I didn’t have much of an intuition how common adblockers were, or how much it was affecting my bottom line. As a one person company, I have limited time to throw at any one problem so these types of questions always warrant an investigation to see if it’s worth my time and effort. If ad blockers were used by a small enough percentage of my audience, I would ignore the issue and focus on writing new apps.

Initially I came up with an arbitrary threshold of an acceptable amount of ad blocking. As long as adblocking was less than 15% of my traffic, my bottom line would remain mostly intact. Actually, the first number in my head was 10%, but I bumped it up after it appeared 12% of my ads were being blocked. There was no real reason behind either number, just intuition. The first time the percentage of blocked ads rose above 15% I decided to look the other way. Maybe 17% was a more reasonable number. Than I had my first 20% ads blocked day, followed by my first 40% day, and finally a day over 50%. The bandwidth I was paying for to host the webapps was costing me more than the money I was earning from them. Forget earning money, it was costing me money! Ignoring the problem was no longer an option.

Thankfully my Ad blocking detection script was generating a fair amount of data. I had replaced those “console.log” calls with google analytics event recordings, so I could generate a fairly extensive profile of just who was using adblockers.

I wasn’t surprised to see that adblocking was more common on desktop than mobile browsers. I think that’s pretty common knowledge these days. What caught me off guard was the stark divide between weekend behavior and weekday behavior. Even accounting for browser type, adblocking was nearly non existent on the weekends. Digging further I learned some corporate networks block ads as a matter of policy.

Penalize the user for their network administrator’s policy didn’t seem like the right course of action. Yes, blocking ads are against my terms of service, but what choice did they have? They have no control over their coprorate’s network policy and I’m more likely to incure their ire than get any positive benefit from blocking them. I opted to go a different route.

I opted to show different, unblockable ads that address many concerns that advocates of adblocking raise.

When google adsense is blocked, I now serve static image & text ads to Amazon. Because the only javascript running is javascript I wrote, rather than a third party script, there is no additional security concern. Nor is their an extra strain on resources beyond what running my apps would cause anyway. No third party involvement also means no additional privacy concerns. The new ad policy that addresses the objections of most people who use ad blockeres. That sounds like a win-win in my book!

If you want to see the Amazon ads used, but don’t have an adblocker, you can always check them out here. As always, I welcome feedback.

June 11, 2016

Alexis’ Baby Book

I’m very delighted with how Alexis’ baby book turned out. The additional two and a half years of camera experience made an incrible difference, and the concept was easier to execute this time. Like last time we decided to go with a 24 page book and 12 images, one for each month. Rather than spell her age in the baby blocks, which proved challenging, I wrote her age on the blank left page.

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Second Time Leasons Learned

  1. Solid color onesies are the way to go if you’re going to shoot against a white background. I was worried about colored onesies clashing against the blocks, but the white onesies fadded into the background a bit too much. I liked doing a different colored onesie much better. A tan colored bear would have probably been better too.
  2. The bear is easier than the blocks, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. I’m sure any style of photos gets difficult beyond a certain age. I figured going into this project that I’d be able to at least get cute photos of Alexis interacting with her bear even if she wasn’t doing quite what I was hoping for. It turns out if your under one knocking the bear off set is hilarious, especially right after mommy just put it back.

Now all that’s left to do is wait for a coupon from MyPublisher. I have no idea what we’ll do if we decide to have a third child. I feel compelled to keep changing it up.

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Material Costs:
Bear – $20.

June 6, 2016

Animal Watching

birdofparadise
Bird of Paradise from our back yard, a substitute for the Birds of Paradise at the Zoo.

This weekend we took girls to the zoo. The zoo had switched over to their summer hours, and while not ideal zoo weather, it was much nicer than it’s been or predicted to be in the coming weeks. I like to maximize our membership, and Nicole is never one to say no to a zoo morning.

The big surprise for us this trip was Alexis. For the first time she wasn’t all about the stroller buggy ride. She spent most of her time in my arms, leaning forward to get a better view. She waved to the chimpanzees and screamed “hi!” in her little toddler voice. In the amphibian house she pressed her face up on the glass to get as close to the lizards as possible. For the first time she saw the animals as animals, and not just objects that moved. The experience hearkened back to Nicole’s first time at the zoo, at roughly the same age.

We’ll be maximizing our zoo membership this year for sure!

It also means I won’t be bringing my camera to the zoo for some time, as I’m not likely to have a free hand to use it. Not when neither kid wants to sit in the stroller, and both require a set of eyeballs upon them. Thankfully I have a back yard full of flowers I haven’t killed yet, and a surprising amount of wildlife we haven’t scared off to scratch my photographer itch.

deer2

When the previous home owner told us she saw all kinds of animals from her backyard, we assumed she was just working the sale. We have so many deer out here that we have recognizable family units. I always recognize this guy from the dark strip above his eyes. I’m pretty sure he was born somewhere near our house, he was such a tiny thing when we first spotted him. I thought he was abandoned, it was a couple weeks after we started seeing him before Mama allowed herself to be seen.

I’m sure it’s more a indication of their patience than my tenacity that I’m able to get so many photos of them. Even the kids banging on the patio door doesn’t phase them much. Both kids have a fondness for the twin fawns that sometimes sleep in the shade of our rose bushes.

June 4, 2016

Not So Savvy Shopper

Evidence that Sarah is not always as good a shopper as she thinks she is:

Christmas for me isn’t confined to December. I usually purchase new Christmas Ornaments year round. As of a month ago I had purchased four new ornaments. The smart thing to do would have been opening up those nondescript brown shipping packing boxes as they arrived and inspected the contents. In my experience “mint in box” and “never opened”, usually mean “used – like new” with the occasional “used – very good”. Rarely it’s “used – ok.” Once an ornament arrived with a break that could only have been during use, not shipment. Yes, opening the boxes would have been the smart thing. Life was busy. Some of the deals I was getting were very good – good enough to be worth it, even when the ornament in question’s condition wasn’t quite perfect. Good enough to not be worth the hassle of the return. So I let the boxes accumulate in the corner.

Today I sat down to open those boxes and discovered this.

cozies

It turns out I purchased Cozy on Ice once off ebay in February, and another time off Amazon in May. (Yes, that also means I had a package for 4 months before finally getting around to open it.) Oops. Neither purchase was an exceptionally good deal. I paid $13 and $15 including tax and shipping respectively. You can get it off of ebay right now for under $10, although the $13 price is more typical. While I generally don’t mind have a back up ornament, I prefer to only get a back duplicate if it’s a couple of dollars. An extra $15 probably won’t break the bank, but it’s still annoying. At least I really love the ornament.

Can’t Wait to Skate was ok. The pom-pom on his hat looked to be partially torn off. I can probably fix it, but I’m also debating about removing it entirely. It was a fine purchase at $5. I didn’t like Making Mom & Daughter’s Memories as much in person as I did online, especially after discovering this year’s version which I like much better.

Not my finest shopping moments. Oh well. Perhaps I should refrain from online shopping for a little while.

May was another record breaking month for me. I earned $40.52, and that’s with a travel holiday weekend in there, pulling down my numbers. I’m finally starting to see the growth I was hoping for last year. Better late than never, right?

May was the month of maintenance. In business there’s a motto that it’s ten harder to acquire customers than to keep customers. If I want to keep my customers (users), I want to make sure their experience using my apps is as easy and straight forward to use as possible. I had amassed a 35 item list of minor (to the user, not necessarily in implementation) tweaks that could make my apps more user friendly. My javascript skills have improved quite a bit over the past couple months, and some of those early apps looked like they were written by the javascript newbie I once was. It was time to update them. The list is now down to a paltry 17. My goal is to get the tweak list down to under ten items and keep it that way.

I finally got around to writing my privacy policy, and have been trying to come up with a new business identity.

I was so busy with my task list that as of yesterday morning I hadn’t published a single app in May. Yesterday I released three, including two I started just yesterday.

The new apps include:

Word Blender. The word blender uses the same underlying support code, but the heuristics and language model are tweaked for generic English words, and not specific to names. I had mostly finished this app a few weeks ago, and have been using it to explore new domain name possibilities.

Labor Probability Chart. After the initial interest in the Miscarriage Probability Chart, I thought I’d create a similar graph for the Labor Probability Calculator. Although the Labor Probability Chart and the Labor Probability Calculator have similar names, they’re actually modeling different things. I worry that this might be a little confusing for causal visitors. I could better than I English. If I ever get big enough to consider hiring employees a technical writer will be high on my list.

Alternate Spelling Finder. This app has dual purposes. I’ve been considering this app for a little while as a means to give visitors a chance to create unique baby names with a little more control than the name generator affords them. I could also see it being a good tool for fiction writers writing about alternate earths or post apocalyptic words where language has evolved a bit differently. Lately I’ve also been tinkering with the idea of an alternate, cutesy spelling business name.