Archive for September, 2018

September 17, 2018

Costume Overboard

I blew it this year.

We’re a two costume family with separate school and trick-or-treating costumes. School costumes need to be light weight for warm October days (often in the 70s), easy for the kids to play around in during recess, comfortable to sit in and easy for the kids to get in and out of themselves. The only requirement for Trick-or-Treat costumes is that they’re warm enough for cold October nights. Once the sun sets, the temperature drops like a stone. In the past we had saved money by DIYing the school costumes, but after last year store bought seemed the right way to go.

I like to order the customs early, as I’ve had some mishaps in the past. Amazon market place is often the cheapest, but sometimes you don’t get quite what you ordered and I like to have time to get orders corrected. I was mostly worried about getting a cheap knockoff, potentially off brand costume, or the slimmed down non “deluxe” version without the cool accessories of the costume I ordered. As soon as the costumes arrived was I found the UPC number on each package and search the manufacturers website to be sure it was exactly the item I was expecting. No issues there.

What I should have been worried about was sizing.

Alexis’ belt is so lose it hangs off her butt on the tightest setting. On one costume Nicole’s capris pants look full length, which is better than her other costume where pants won’t even stay up. We had no choice but to reorder Nicole’s in the smaller size. Alexis’ costume is the smallest size the manufacture makes so we will have to make do. At least we can make do with it. Alas, we’re likely stuck with the too big versions, as the return is not easy and not really worth it. Something for the dress up corner, I guess.

I knew Dana’s costume was going to be big. It’s a trademarked character and, despite being a popular character, I could only find one costume manufacturing who was licensed to make it. According to that manufacture website the costume comes in 9-12 months, 12 to 24 months, as well as larger sizes. Dana will be 9 months on Halloween, so I needed the smallest possible size. No one was selling the 9-12 month size! Not Amazon, not Target, not Walmart, not the specialty costume stores. I even tried secondary markets like eBay. No dice. Not even used. The smallest size I could find anywhere was 12-24 months. Dana’s head circumference is in the 98th percentile and the costume is basically a headpiece and tunic so I decided to change it. The headpiece is large, but passable. The rest is ridiculous. I found a onesie that sort of mimics the tunic, and basic brown pants to fake it.

That’s three duplicate costumes! On top of our planned five! Shopping fail.

If I had another group costume idea I would be tempted to hold off on this one for another year so everyone’s costume would fit. Maybe we’ll just have a bonus dress up and picture day in the middle of summer next year when everyone’s costume fixes better.

Total Spent: $199.76 (Ouch!)
Nicole – $86.86 (That represents all 4 different costumes, so at least the per costume price isn’t that bad)
Alexis – $44.41
Dana – $36.34
Accessories – $32.15

September 14, 2018

A Very Formal Month

Confession #1: I take a lot of photos. An average of 151 shots per day over the last 302 days that I’ve owned my camera. (45,701 total shutter actions to date on my camera. No regrets.) Last month I actually shot slightly more, averaging 170 shots per day.

Confession #2: I still struggled to find three photos for this months’ letter to Dana.

Why? Because I prefer photo-journalistic style candid photos for the monthly letter, and shot almost exclusively formal staged photos this past month. We did outside photos and inside photos; staged on the bed, next to the bath tub, and surrounded by flowers in the back yard; in costume and out of costume. We even donned our Halloween costume for a few photos.

Shooting mostly formal, especially for so long, is a huge departure for me. Normally I struggle with formal photos, particularly those not shot against a backdrop and have to force myself to do it. Part of that struggle is there’s just no place to do it in our house. With three kids the clutter has gotten insane. Anything formal without a backdrop requires a hefty amount of tidying up first. The bigger mental road block, however, is a lack of practice leading to a lack of confidence.

I have a photography comfort zone: landscape oriented, photo journalistic style child photography. The more practice I get in this niche, the more comfortable I am in it. I have an intuitive feel for these niche photos, whereas just about anything else requires me to stop and think about it. Even just changing camera orientation from landscape to portrait requires me to spend more time considering framing. Sometimes I get it right, other times not. The disparity in results make shooting outside my niche that much more uncomfortable. I can be very critical on myself when I don’t get the shot.

The difference this time was a perfect storm of early success doing formal photos, as well as feeling a lack of inspiration towards the traditional photos I always do. Dana enjoyed playing in the shark robe and gave me a number of funny expressions. Normally I have just one or two top photos, but I found myself with half a dozen. I had a similar experience outside. At the same time, I couldn’t think of a new candid photos to do of Dana. I already have tons of photos of her in the Jumperoo, on her activity mat, with her table. Whenever I picked up my camera to do a more casual style candid photo it felt like more of the same, and certainly nothing to get excited about.

I’m not sure how much longer this formal kick will last – after a month the idea well is starting to run a little dry – but it’s a great feeling to be so comfortable outside my normal comfort zone.

September 10, 2018

Dana at Eight Months

Dear Dana,

And now you’re eight months! That’s two thirds of your first year. It’s still hard to believe so much time has passed. I still feel like my “maternity leave” has just started, how could it possibly be that we’ve already been home together for the better part of a year?

Since transitioning to your own room you’re putting yourself to sleep more and more. I am still not very good at putting you down “drowsy but awake” part, though you’re clearly still learning. I’ve watched you on the baby monitor wake up at night and fall back to sleep by yourself. We’ve also seen you do that in the middle of nap. One minute you’ll be cooing away, playing with your toes, and the next you’ll be quite and still. One time I decided to fetch you, only to find you had fallen asleep in the time it took me to walk upstairs. You clearly can go to sleep by yourself, you just don’t go to sleep initially by yourself. It’s definitely a different sleep pattern than your sisters. You are intent on keeping me on my toes!

You’re awareness is ever increasing. It makes night time difficult, as you listen for footsteps outside your door (it’s so good we moved you to your own room last month!), and great for peekaboo. You recognize the sound of the garage door, and recognize your family members by name. You even turn to Echo when you hear us give it the voice command. Oh, how you love to dance! You started to head bopping one day while Nicole was singing, and loved the attention both girls showered on you for it. Now you’ll dance to anything, including just the sound of Mommy talking.

In terms of food you still prefer vegetables to fruit, and you’ve started a yogurt in the morning. Yogurt is clearly not your favorite, but you eat it anyway. We started finger foods (puffs and cereal) which we’ve taken to calling “baby cookies” in front of your sisters. You’re unsure what to do with them, other than experiments testing gravity. I am not sure I’ve seen you actually eat any, but you do enjoy dropping them on the floor.

We thought the thumb sucking phase had passed, but now I see you will still suck on your fingers for comfort. We had a visit from family you hadn’t seen in a month, and it’s clear that separation anxiety was starting to get to you. I shall take it as a compliment that you haven’t need to suck on them in my presence for the past couple of months.

We’re also starting to hear some clear first words. You started saying “dada” in Domingo’s presence and then, just two days ago started calling “mama” when waking in the middle of the night. I’ve got my fingers crossed that you learn to say “Nicki” and “Alexis” at the same time. Whichever sister’s name you say second is going to be super jealous.

Love Always,
Mommy & Daddy

I’m always nervous when something unexplained happens. When I couldn’t pinpoint why July’s revenue was way up I braced for the possibility that it might drop just as suddenly. Well, income rose to 1,406.88 in August, and users are up 4.7%. I’m now feeling confident this change may be permanent, and since my numbers tend to go even higher leading into the final quarter, I’m daring to hope $2,000/month may be a possibility by the end of 2018.

This month I continued to focus on user experience.

The Apache server log parsing script ended being so useful at uncovering hidden issues last month that I decided it was finally time to add unit tests and see what issues they could uncover. Unfortunately the current code base wasn’t designed with unit tests in mind. (I don’t fault my prior self, it was important to hit the ground running those initial years and get content fast to start building an audience.) I was able to add a unit test case framework for my PHP and Javascript code, and enough unit cases that I did uncover one issue in a function very rarely called. All things considered, the time spent creating the unit test framework has not paid off yet, but going forward I’ll be sure to code with unit tests cases in mind and that will ultimately lead to less time debugging. It’ll also be useful for the next major code refactoring.

I found a couple of nasty bugs.

The first major bug was an issue in the way I was calculating time, and an example of premature optimization. I was trying to be clever and it bit me. (At least the issue wasn’t in the modal window which I had been working so hard on!) The new approach is not as efficient, but the differences does not appear to be human detectable. Since the time motivation suit is so important, I made sure to have tests cases to catch any further issues.

The second bug was the result of a third party library failing silently on less than perfect input. In my opinion that is unforgivable. Imperfect input is more common than perfect input online, and it’s often easy enough to do basic sanity checking to catch most issues. It also failed for URLs that included non roman characters. Rather than try and patch it, I decided to write my own library (also with unit tests!) with new interface that’s more suited for my use case.

My plan is to avoid third party libraries wherever feasible in the future. I keep running into issues with them. Perhaps it’s an unrealistic fear, but I do worry that the licencing might change on me after I’ve become dependent on one. And then there’s the time the api was completely changed on me