Archive for November, 2017

November 26, 2017

No Phone for Me

Despite early online successes, in person Black Friday shopping this year was a colossal failure.

I was able to get a sale as good, or better than I was expecting on pretty much everything on my list through online shopping. I had sorted all our old baby clothes, knew what we were missing, and took advantage of the sales to flush out Z3’s early wardrobe. I opted to skip most of the baby gear on our list in favor of just in time decisions based on what we need. Since Z3 is our last, there’s no point in stocking up in what we might need. The monitor is the clear need, but a simple security camera will likely suffice and can stream to our phones which means one less component that could fail.

By the time the kids were in bed Thursday night, there was just one thing left on my list: my new phone.

We arrived at Target at 7:30 pm, about 90 minutes after the doors opened. I was surprised to see a line still outside the door. My heart sank when we noticed it was the iphone line. Not a good sign to begin with, and our night was about to get even worse.

We have never waited in a Black Friday sale before, let alone at nearly 8 months pregnant. I wasn’t sure how long I could hold out with Z3 compressing my internal organs. Simply standing can be exhausting. As we stood in line I started the timer on my phone. I wanted to be able to estimate how much longer we would likely weight if I felt like I was maxing out my capabilities. We alternated between both of us standing in line, and me sitting on the nearby bench while Domingo held our place. At 31 minutes, 30.11 seconds one of the Target employees made an announcement.

It turns out the line we were in was the pre-line line. When we got to the front they’d check our eligibility for an upgrade, and verify they still had the phone we wanted (network, color, memory size, etc) in stock. Then we’d enter the actual line, an virtual queue. At some point later we’d get a text/call that we were next and have 15 minutes to make our way to the counter and claim the phone, otherwise our spot was forfeit. It could be any time between then (8pm) and midnight, or after 6 am the next day. The employee’s best guess was the next day.

We abandoned all hope and left the line. I couldn’t spend that much time at Target, and if we went home it was unlikely we’d be able to return promptly in fifteen minutes, and that’s assuming I didn’t miss the call/text. I didn’t want to feel pressured into getting a different size, or color than I wanted, and worried I’d be told the phone was in stock, only to discover it wasn’t once I arrived. But I was still disappointing, and as we returned home I started to second guess myself. There was no guarantee the call/text would come at a bad time. I might have been able to get my phone had we stayed in line, I definitely wouldn’t by exiting the line.

On Friday I read a market watch article talking about the frustrations many customers had purchasing their phones. Even those who were in line before the doors opened were waiting for hours. I felt a little better for not sticking it out. It sounded like a miserable experience.

Saturday I realized we had forgotten candles for Alexis’ birthday cake and had to send Domingo to the store for an emergency pick up. The party aisle is right by the electronics section and he couldn’t help but overhear one of the annoyed customers. The customers had been summoned to pick up his iPhone twice. The first time, despite being told the phone he wanted was in stalk and ready to be picked up he arrived at Target only to discover they had made a mistake and did not have that particular phone after all. This was his second call back. One of the other customers had returned their phones, but there was some issue surrounding the fact that it was a returned, already activated phone. Another clearly miserable experience.

I’m disapointed I didn’t get a new phone, but if I could only have one new phone or a new camera, I’m much happier with the new camera.

November 25, 2017

The Big Wonderful Three

Who’s turning three? This girl!

I still can’t believe this sweet, beautiful girl, who gives giant kisses and takes any excuse for a hug has been a part of our family for three years already!

We celebrated Alexis’ birthday the weekend after Thanksgiving with family still in town. It’s amazing what the kids remember year to year. Alexis has been talking about her “Princess cake” she was going to get on her birthday for a couple of weeks now (even though, like years past, neither kid cared to eat it!). But it didn’t dawn on her that she was going to get presents until Nicole pointed it out to her the night before her party. She also appeared to forget about the big foil balloon. It may not have been important to her last year, but this year she was all about the big balloon.

We were super proud of our three year old who choose the occasion to show off what a big girl she was. Both Domingo and I were surprised she willingly napped before the party. Some of the party guests arrived as lunch was finishing up, just before nap time. Six months ago there would have been tears and protests as she was carried upstairs for nap just after guests arrived. Today she happily greeted them with a hug before telling them it was nap time and her party would start after nap. And she had no problem sharing her new toys. She received both a Rapunzel and Ariel barbie dolls, and handed the Ariel doll to Nicole while it was still in the box so the two could play together. She also had no problem splitting the Shimmer and Shine bracelets so they could each have one.

I just wish I was able to get better pictures of the birthday girl. Alexis also enjoys “teasing” mommy when Mommy has her camera. It started last summer. If you asked her to say smile for the camera, she’d gladly comply, but facing whatever direction she was facing. If the back of her head was towards the camera, she’d say “Cheese!” without turning to look at you. Back then it was because she didn’t understand, now it’s become a bit of a game. So there was a lot of smiling while looking to the person to the left or right of me. Normally I can catch her off when her gaze shifts to me momentarily, but this time I had the added issues of still getting used to the settings on my new camera and the controls aren’t second nature yet. I forgot how to change the focal point, so I’m relying on Auto-focus which sometimes doesn’t do what I want. At least I did manage a couple really cute ones, and sometimes looking off camera adds to the photo.

I’m so proud of my girls and how big they’re getting.

November 22, 2017

Early Deals

In early November I got in the habit of leaving a separate browser open dedicated to shopping. I was interested in a pumpkin Halloween decoration that was strangely not on clearance sale yet, and considering getting some out door artificial pencil width trees to go on either side of the front door. I had a tab opened to each product I was considering, waiting to see if it would go on sale. While I was at it, I decided to add some tabs for some of the Black Friday things I was considering. I wasn’t expecting a deal yet, but I like to be organized.

Then something strange happened.

We were planning on purchasing a Samsung S8 for Domingo for the Black Friday sale price of $300 off. I calculated the monthly rate to be ~$17. As I was scrolling through my shopping tabs in the morning of the 16th, a full week before thanksgiving, I noticed Bestbuy offering the phone for ~$15 a month, or $350 off. I purchased it without hesitation. Bestbuy had jumped the gun and beaten their own advertised price which was already the best around!

Another deal I was considering was an Artificial tree from Michaels. One of our trees last year quit working thanks to faulty wiring in the plug. I was debating about restring the lights (a deceptively huge endeavor.) At the beginning of November Micheals had some kind of “tree event”. Domingo and I went to the store and really liked on of the trees which was an extremely reasonable price. “Was” being key. The tree was 50% off the day before, now only 25% off. It was still a good price, but not the best price. I often will balk at a purchase if it’s not the best price, regardless of how good it is. A little internet research suggested the price would come back down on Black Friday. Sure enough, when the Black Friday flyer finally came back the tree was once again advertised as 50% off. I opened a tab and was at the ready. The deal started Sunday, a full five days before it was advertised to start.

Then last night I got an email from bed bath and beyond advertising a 20% off an entire purchase for being a subscriber starting that moment. It was exactly the Black Friday deal i wanted to replace our thread bare sheets that i was dreading going in person to get! And they weren’t the only ones. Target also started their Black Friday deals today for people who have a red card (something I only realized when their automated system emailed me to let me know something I was looking at was on sale.)

That’s just three examples. Here we are, the day before thanksgiving and I’ve gotten most of the items off my Black Friday shopping list at the price I was expecting, or better. On the one hand, I will miss the tradition of going out to the store on Thanksgiving night after the kids are in bed. On the other, I look forward to having more time in the evening for our other tradition, trimming the trees up while the kids are sleeping.

November 16, 2017

New Baby

NikonUSA finally released their black friday ad this past Monday and, sadly, there was no deal on the d7500 body only. All the deals were on kits that came with lenses I don’t need since my lens collection meets my current needs perfectly. Of course, no black friday sale means no reason to wait until black friday!

I am amazed at the difference in image quality. My previous camera body, the 5100, is several models out of date, and was an entry model where the 7500 is considered a mid-range. I was expecting significantly better low light capabilities, and was still blown away by the difference when I redid the low-key maternity photos. I bumped up the ISO to 1000 without noticeable noise, whereas with my old 5100 the noise was extremely pronounced at ISO 800. The other advantage was the 7500 was able to autofocus much better in the dark than the 5100. I took roughly half the number of exposures and felt confident I had gotten “the shot.”

I’m super excited to test out the new camera on the kids on the weekend. I’ve been frustrated lately by the 5100’s soft focus like appearance in the face. I think it’s a relatively recent phenomenon. I never remember having this issue when the camera was new. It was particularly pronounced doing Nicole’s “1st day of Kindergarten” photos, which is part of the reason why I’m pining for AI photo enhancing. Ah well, some day.

That said, there are some things I do miss about the 5100. The 5100 has a rotatable LCD back screen that has been described as “selfie friendly.” I hate that term, but it was useful for taking maternity photos. I guess technically they’re “selfies.” The 7500 can tilt, but not rotate. The new camera is also noticeably heavier than the old one. But these are very minor concerns, especially when you consider all the benefits the new camera is bringing.

November 10, 2017

Low Key Maternity Photography

How can I possibly be 32 weeks already? It suddenly dawned on me that despite approaching the midway point in the third trimester, the only “bump” photos I have are a handful of bathroom selfies at 8 weeks when I couldn’t believe I was already showing. I needed to fix that, and I waned to challenge myself to try at something different.

Low key photos are low light, mostly dark photos that emphasize shadow and shape. I tried to do low-key bump portraits while pregnant with Alexis, but couldn’t master the light. I’ve experimented with dark background, spotlight photos before using a desk/craft light, but the craft light wasn’t strong enough to take photos of a larger subject (like my bump.)

This time around I decided to get a long, skinny adjustable craft light since I can almost always use more high quality desk lamps. I settled on TaoTronics LED Desk Lamp since it allowed me to adjust both brightness & color temperature. As an added bonus, TaoTronics had a newer model so the one I purchased was on the cheaper side. As long as it’s a bright white light and the right narrow shape, any lamp will do. To further control the light I cut up the Amazon box it shipped in and made cardboard flaps. I taped a flap to each side of the lamp, to focus the light so it wouldn’t illuminate the wall behind me.

As a general rule of thumb the darker the photo, the more visible the ISO noise. To make this photo work I had to shot at a very low ISO setting, which means a longer exposure time. Unfortunately, unlike my previous spotlight attempts I needed to shot with the room dark. The larger the subject, the further back the craft light needs to be. The further back the craft light, the less bright the light is when it reaches the subject. I shot the above photo ISO 100, f/5, 1/13 a second. Normally I’m comfortable shooting at ISO 1000, but it was just too much noise.
The above photo is pushing the boundaries of what my 5 year old camera can do.

If you want to attempt a similar photo, here are my tips:
– Where light color, possibly skin toned clothes. I tried this in a dark sweater and everything other than my hands all but disappeared.
– Use a Lower ISO settings to avoid noise. I know I said that before, but this is one instance where a little noise can really ruin your photo.
– Adjust the cardboard flaps (you can use masking tape at the tops and the bottoms) to control how narrow or wide the light beam is.