Archive for January, 2017

January 27, 2017

Violating my Parent Rules

Like with all my other time my pre-child never-ever-would-Is, I find myself once again eating my words.

Nicole’s pre-kindergarden class has started assigning homework. She’s occasionally had art projects to do at home, but now they’re giving her a few activity pages a week to help prepare her for kindergarden, which is now only a little over six months away.

I’ve been using it as an opportunity to praise process. We reiterate that it’s okay to not know the answer, and okay to get the answer wrong, but it’s not okay to not try. We also get big praise whenever we come up with a new strategy to solve a problem. When we started she was inclined to just say “I don’t know” and guess randomly. Now she only guesses randomly when she’s over tired and having troubles focusing. She knows to sing the alphabet song to see what comes next, or find a number line if she’s having troubles associating a number with it’s written form. She’s getting better at trying, and she’s enjoying the extra one-on-one Mommy time. Often when Mommy decides we’ve reached our homework limit for the night, it’s met with protests and requests for “just one more.”

We’ve found that her homework fits in nicely with our bedtime routine after bath and before story time. We ended up purchasing some additional activity books so we can keep doing “homework” on a more regular basis. I’m still worried about over doing it, and I don’t want to break the positive association she has with homework, so we keep it to just a few pages a days. Sometimes we’ll skip it all together if she seems overly tired to begin with.

So what does homework have to do with my never-ever-would-Is? Before kids I was aghast to learn how lax the late homework policies in grade school have become. When I was growing up, I’d be docked a whole letter grade for each day late. Here, you can turn it in months after the fact without much penalty. Never ever would I let me kids turn in their homework late. Never ever would I let them turn it in incomplete.

This never-ever-would-I lasted until week four. I picked up her homework late this week, so we didn’t start her official homework until Wednesday night. Nicole was in need of an earlier bedtime this week and really struggling to concentrate. I figured sleep was more important so we’d turn it in a day late. Then the next day I figured we’d turn it in incomplete.

Pre-kindergarden doesn’t count, right?

January 19, 2017

Index Prunner

After using my Sitemap Index Analyzer to analyze Datayze, I came across something peculiar. Notice anything… odd… about the following search results?

I don’t know about you, but if I ever reach 48 weeks & 6 days pregnant, miscarriage will be one of the last things on my mind.

The above search result is problematic for a couple of reasons. (1) The page linked to has no useful content. The Miscarriage Reassurer only accepts input up to 20 weeks. (2) It’s taking up a valuable spot away from another page that could have useful content. And (3) If no users click on the link, a distinct possibility given it’s unlikely to be relevant to anyone, the search engine could view the lack of clicks as a negative signal and may penalize the entire domain.

One could make an argument that users might be more inclined to click on wacky and clearly ridiculous search results. Curiosity is strong motivator. That could explain why such a weird result was promoted to the first page to begin with. Still, those still aren’t useful clicks, and are likely to lead to lower engagement.

Counterintuitively, it’s better to have a smaller number of high quality pages indexed by the search engine than have a large number of useless pages. I have no idea what led Google to this particular page, or what made Google index it, but it has to go.

Up until now I have largely been using the x-robots-tag header response to signal when pages should expire from the cache. That’s because up until now my impression of useless pages were mostly links to individual Labor Probability Calculators with long past due dates. Since the Labor probability calculator only calculates the probability of a labor for an existing due date, a page associated with a long past due date will have no useful content. The x-robots-tag header isn’t recognized by all major search engines, but right now my Google index far eclipses other major search engines, so it’s the one I tend to focus on. An expires tag isn’t so helpful in this case where the data is invalid from the start. The problem of spurious results might be a little more pervasive than I initially thought, its time to do a more substantial prune.

I had to modify my page set up so I could set the NOINDEX robots meta field. Now I just have to wait for the Googlebot to recrawl my website and do it’s thing. Good thing I already have an app to help me get started!

January 15, 2017

Life Lately

The house is once again a disaster. The floor is a toy mind field, and I swear the to-fold pile of clean laundry still includes some summer wear.

I haven’t really kept up with my “Homemaker Mondays“, but I can (mostly) forgive myself since the time has been at least spent productively. The past couple of days I’ve been so busy, I’m even multitasking in the shower, solving math equations in the steam. Not complex math, mind you, but simple things like “if I have 20,000 words that need to get processed for my word analyzer, and I can do 35 per hour…” Too many hours, means too many days, means I need a different approach that will accomplish the same goal in less time.

At the end of the day, that’s what makes me happen: more things checked off my to do list. More things done, even if it’s not all things done. I guess it doesn’t really matter which things, as long as they’re substantial things.

I’ve been thinking about work/life balance again lately. I’m working just as much as I ever did at Google or at Grad school, perhaps even more, yet it feels differently. Perhaps that’s because the work is for me rather than for someone else? Or maybe it’s because I have total freedom in terms of when work is done and when it’s not done, which means my designated kid time stays designated kid time. Some of my most productive hours? Between 8pm and 11, after the kids are asleep and before I head to bed myself. Or maybe that’s because there’s less lost time commuting so I’m accomplishing more, despite the toy mind field, and feel a little less perpetually behind in all things. Or maybe it’s because life in general is less stressful, so there’s less of a stress feedback loop?

Whatever the reason, I’m finding myself busier than I’ve ever been, and less upset about it. Datayze is finally starting to do well, so I shouldn’t beat myself up too much over the state of the house. Still, I should probably address that to-fold laundry pile at some point.

January 11, 2017

More Alexies

Despite this being my second go around, I’m still constantly amazed how quickly language developes. Just a few months after our last ‘Alexies’, we have a whole new round.

Goldfish for Dinner
A constent topic of conversation in the car on our drive to and from daycare is what’s for dinner. (It doesn’t help that there’s a McDonalds on our route, and Alexis recognizes their sign.) The other day we were driving and Nicole asks what’s for dinner.

Nicole: What’s for dinner mommy?
Me: Fish!
Alexis (hopeful): Gold fish?

Nice try kiddo.

Why?
I knew we’d hit the why phase with Alexis, but I kind of expected it to happen a little later when it was easier to understand her toddler-speak. Often she’ll say a long string of sentences of which I understand only a few words, and then ask “why?”. If I say I don’t understand, she’ll repeat the same syllable sequence, syllable for syllable of which I still only understand the same few words.

Other times our “Why” conversations usually go a little differently. I present to you an actual conversation with my two year old.

Alexis: Alexis wants Donalds (McDonalds)
Me: Not today. We had that yesterday.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Because you asked for it yesterday.
Alexis: Why?
Me: I assume because you like it.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Probably all the fat and sugar in it.
Alexis: Why?
Me: Fat and sugar is yummy.
Alexis: Why?
Me: … that’s a good question.
Alexis: Why?

Alexis Funny
Alexis is definitely a little goof, and she knows it. Sometimes she’ll start laughing for no apparent reason. I’ll ask her what’s so funny and she’ll respond “Alexis funny!”

Alexis do it
A very common phrase around here is “Alexis do it!” She’ll insist she be the one to request a new song from echo. Only Echo doesn’t quite understand that “echo, ay luv is open door-ah” translates to “Echo, play ‘Love is an Open Door'” in toddler-speak. I’ve gotten into the habit of making the request when Alexis’ request fails. She scream “no, Alexis do it!” and then repeat her request when echo is thinking. Then, when Echo starts playing the song she beams with pride saying “Alexis did it!”

Recently we had a meltdown over a band-aid coming off in the bath tub, including tears down the cheeks. Nicole tried to cheer her up by hugging her, when that didn’t work, Nicole pretended to sympathy cry. Alexis came to a dead stop, said, “No, Alexis do it!” and then resumed crying at the top of her lungs.

She did not understand why we all found it so funny.

January 7, 2017

Our First Gingerbread House


Daddy’s contribution.

One of the things we wanted to do this past Holiday season, and never seemed to get around to, was decorating gingerbread houses. We bought the kits on Black Friday (and saved $1, wahoo!), and they’ve been on our kitchen counter ever since.

No time like the present, right? It’s not like the kids care that the holiday has already passed.

Nicole has been asking about the gingerbread kits since they first appeared on the counter back in November. She’s always had a love for all things creative. Combining crafts with candy? Pure perfection. The first thing she asked me this morning was whether I remembered promising we would decorate the gingerbread houses today. She was not going to let me forget!

Nicole and I set up while Alexis was napping. Mommy was on construction, while Nicole inspecting the quantity and quality of the different types of candy. When Alexis woke up, Nicole ran to go show her that everything had been set up and we were ready to start. I asked Alexis if she wanted to decorate the gingerbread house. Alexis replied, “No, Alexis eat it!”

Both kids had a blast. I wasn’t sure what to expect (besides copious candy consumption). I was really impressed with the ideas Nicole came up with. She made a Christmas light strand out of mini gum drops, and put holly in the windows. Even Alexis got into putting candies on her house and not just in her mouth, eventually. I predict a start of a new tradition.

Lessons for next time:

– Use a knife to shave down the sides of the ginger bread prior to assembly. I have vague recollections of doing this when I was growing up. It didn’t occur to me to shave down the excess gingerbread along the edges until the first time a house collapsed. The excess gingerbread prevented all the edges from touching at once, making it harder to hold together the house while the icing set.

– Assemble overnight and give plenty of time to set. The instructions indicated the icing only needed 15 minutes, but that wasn’t my experience. Over an hour after assembly and decoration I moved the houses so I could take a photo of each of them. As I was moving Nicole’s it collapsed. Nicole heard my “oh no!” from the family room and came running. I was really proud of her for not getting overly upset. She didn’t cry, and understood it was an accident. I’m not sure I would have had that level of maturity at four.

I did manage to get it back together, but it’s a lot harder once the icing has partially set, and it collapsed a third time on me.

– Extra candy is not really needed. At least not when one of your kids is just two. Another vague recollection I had from decorating gingerbread houses as a child was that the candy the houses came with wasn’t enough, so I bought some extra candies. My fear was premature. Alexis could really only eat the gum drops that came with the kit, so we supplemented her with left over holiday m&ms. That meant there was a lot of extra kit candy for Nicole. I plan to hold on to the supplemental candy set for next year since there’s no expiration date. It may get a little stale and maybe even chewy, but the kids won’t mind.

– Extra icing, on the other hand, is an excellent idea. The kit comes with a large tube of thick royal icing. I had two kits and two tubes, and only needed one. The challenge is that the tube is really hard for little kids to handle. The grocery store sells tubes of icing that are actually much easier for little kids and rather inexpensive. I could also make my own icing and use icing bags, but that seems likely to dramatically increase the mess factor.

January 5, 2017

My Wish for Their Future

Thinking about the kids futures once again has me up at night. I’m so afraid the world is changing in such a way that it’ll be harder for the girls to achieve whatever it is out of life they want to achieve. Even jobs associated with advanced degrees are slowly being cannibalized by artificial intelligence, income inequality continues to grow.

I’ve been thinking about how the world is, and where I’d like to see it go before the girls reach adulthood.

More options for working parents.

I’ll love and support the girls whether they want to be working parents, stay at home parents, or not parents at all. Right now there aren’t a lot of options for parents who, like me, want to split the difference between being both a stay at home parent, and a working parent. Nor is there much acceptance of the options that are available. Part time workers and Telecommuters are often stigmatized as being less serious, and getting less work done, despite evidence to the contrary.

Flexible work schedules are becoming more mainstream, with a notable step back. Amazon recently announced it was experimenting with entire teams taking a 30 hour week. The benefit to the entire team taking a reduced schedule is that individual employees aren’t stigmatized for working fewer hours.

There’s also some evidence to suggest fewer hours for everyone is the way to go. Every couple of years there seems to be a series of articles published explaining how 30-35 hours are ideal for both moral and productivity. Some of my own most productive work weeks have involved the fewest hours actually working.

More affordable housing.

I didn’t really understand the not-in-my-backyard mentality toward’s housing development until recently. Our district hasn’t approved any new housing in a while. As a result, the schools aren’t impacted and there isn’t much fear of a lottery system being needed. In all likelihood Nicole will have a space in the local school come this fall.

Of course failing to approving housing development also has drawbacks. Homes are incredibly expensive. A larger percentage of our income goes to housing than it did in our parents generation, which means less income for retirement, or our kids colleges.

One solution is more like higher density housing. There have been proposals for dorm like corporate housing. I, personally, don’t like this option because it’s not family friendly. It also invokes a mental image for foxconn which has been referred to as modern day slavery Facebook employees are much better paid and would likely have options, though. But, perhaps providing more housing options that can accommodate people on different walks of life can take the pressure off of single family homes.

This past month I earned $103.91, making my 2016 grand total $495.90. I’ve finally reached the second target of $100/month! December was roughly 5 times greater than January, which is nice progress, even if most of it seemed to happen at the end of the year.

Last month I worried that Thanksgiving would affect my metrics, but the impact ended up being minimal. I was lulled into a false sense of security going into December. My numbers continued to climb and I was on track for another month of 32% growth. Then Friday December 16th – the first major travel day of the season – hit. Everything cratered from that point on through the end of the month. Visitation and income were down dramatically and continued to fall through the 25th. It looked like I was going to rocket past the $100/month mark and instead I just inched passed it! User growth ended up being just 15.4%, well under projections.

I was really worried that something other than just the holiday season was affecting my numbers. After all, the free fall started on the 16th! Even though I said I was going to focus on new content this month, I ended up spending a lot of time monitoring the health of my website. There I was, on my parents computer, remote connected to the server, long after everyone else had gone to bed on Christmas trying to identity and fix any possible problem.

I’m not sure how big an impact it had, but I did discover my website was running needlessly slow. Checking my speed performance I was getting an warning message that text files (including css, javascript, etc) were not compressing. I don’t remember ever seeing that warning before, so I’m not sure if something changed in the server configuration. (The joys of shared hosting…). Since I was already minifying Javascript and CSS, I thought I’d also minify HTML as well. And I thought minifying Javascript was non trivial. Minifying HTML with embedded javascript and PHP is a whole different can of worms. My solution works for the way I code, but isn’t general enough to make it to a how to article.

I did end up with two new pieces of content this month.

The first is Time Between which is just like Time Until, but allowing you to specify the start time.

The second app I’m really proud of. It’s the Sitemap Index Analyzer.

I wanted to get a better feel for how Google was indexing my site. The consensus online was to use proxies to query google and aggregate the results. That approach is a violation of Google’s terms (another reason for proxies – to escape detection), and I’m too much of a strict rule follower to ever consider something like that. I realized that I could work backwards. The Sitemap Index Analyzer profiles the sitemap, not Google’s index! It reduces the problem space to a few queries that are easy for a human to do. It then uses a statistical significance test to identity sections not being indexed. Same result, but with a way that doesn’t violate Google’s terms!

This month I’m going to work on more site improvements. There are a few things I can work on to enhance to professionalism of datayze, and I think as I continue to pass new thresholds of users that is becoming more and more critical to help maintain growth.

I am worried that revenue might fall in January. Now that we’re out of the shopping season, users may be less “clicky” and the worth of a click might be less. As long as I have strong user numbers, I can consider other ways to monetize.