Archive for October, 2018

October 31, 2018

Little Jedi

I love, love, love how these turned out.

We took our annual family group costume photo this past weekend. As a treat, we let the girls run around with their light sabors at dusk, so they could see them all light up. Of course I followed the girls around with my camera because, why not? Since it was only dusk the glow wasn’t very pronounced in the pictures in the pictures. Nicole was disappointed her blue light saber wasn’t showing up as nicely as Alexis’ green saber. She wanted to take more photos (in her own words “a thousand photos”) were you could really see the saber too. An idea was born.

The initial plan was just photograph Nicole and Alexis in costume with their blue and green sabers. I hadn’t gotten a light saber for Dana, what with her being nine months old and all. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted a matching photo of her with a sabor as well. I wasn’t too enamored with her with Yoda custom (either the original or the one I hobbled together). She kind of looked like a green lamb in her headpiece. Having a “Jedi Dana” photo seemed like a good way to make up for that fact, and to ease the pain of way over spending on our costumes. Domingo thought she looked at bit like Anakin Skywalker in her tunic and pants. We had a Kylo Ren sword (free conference swag) and so “Darth Dana” was born.

Only problem was the free light saber was terrible. It had just two LEDs in the base of the sword where Nicole and Alexis’ had at least nine running down the length of it. Those two puny LEDs did not cast enough light for the camera to focus well, or to illuminate her face. Having already spend a ridiculous amount on costumes this year, buying another saber was the last thing I wanted to do. I needed to improvise. I shot Dana with the blue light saber and changed the hue in my poor man’s photoshop.

As for the pose, I just got lucky. She was looking down at a toy in her hands and I happened to snap the photo as she was raising her gaze to look at me. The framing isn’t perfect, but it’s one of those moments you can never manufacture.

Technical details: the kids are standing in front of a black backdrop which is probably not needed, but doesn’t hurt. I used full manual mode: small shutter (~F/7.1) and fast shutter (1/200s or faster) to reduce any chance of blur. The raw photos are very dark, so when I bumped up the histogram they’re a touch grainy. Personally I think it adds to the look.

October 17, 2018

An Unnatural Hue

I didn’t think much of it when I noticed a strange orange color casting taking photos of the kids outside.

I didn’t think much of it when I saw the wild turkeys, and, rather than appear indifferent to my presence like they always do, they scrambled to get away.

I didn’t think much of it when I smelled the smell of barbecue. Or maybe that was a fire in a fireplace I was smelling?

It wasn’t until Domingo pointed the sky line that I realized a wild fire was burning nearby.

It’s subtle, but the dried grass is a little more orange and a little less yellow in the above photograph than on a typical day.

I’ve lived in California now for nearly a decade and a half. Domingo longer. We plan for earthquakes. I never thought when I moved here I’d have to have an emergency wild fire plan as well. Four of the last three years there’s been a wild fire burning close enough to us to severely hamper the air quality. I’ve lost count of the actual fires.

It’s time to rethink our emergency plans.

Air purifiers – Last year I was pregnant during a time the air quality was unhealthy. I’d feel winded simply driving from our home to daycare. We joked that I was the family’s canary in the coal mine: I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a terrible headache. Domingo would whip out the phone and – yup – AQI just spiked to 150+.

Being pregnant during a wildfire is something I’ll never have to experience again, but it made me acutely aware of how miserable reduce long capacity and poor air quality can be. I also worry about the long term effects on the little lungs in our family.

Our plan is a small room air purifier for each bedroom. If nothing else, may the smoke not interrupt the kids’ sleep!

Escape plan – I’m the kind of person who wants to have an idea of what to grab in case the evacuation order comes. The sad reality is that the fires in recent years were moving too fast to allow for that. We could find ourselves in a situation where I’m crouched in the back row of the minivan trying to buckle the kids in their seats while Domingo drives us away from the flames.

Time permitting, I’ll grab the local copy of my photos and other data backup since that’s just unplugging a single USB cable and grabbing a single hard drive. Possessions can be purchased again. Even birth certificates can be reordered.

As terrifying as a forced evacuation can be for adults, it’s scarier for kids. The second item on my grab list is the kids’ lovey.

As much as I’d love to save keepsakes, I don’t think that’s a practical expectation. The kids’ footprints, travel souvenirs, wedding mementoes. It’s all too scattered around the house. I tried to scan anything flat into the computer, and photograph anything not so I at least have a digital back up of sorts.

The overall theme – Whether it’s sheltering in place during earthquakes, or running from wild fires, our plans have us co-locating the kids so one parent can keep them from panicking while the other assess the situation.

May we never have to test our plans.

October 12, 2018

Dana at Nine Months

Dear Dana,

And here we are, nine months. Wasn’t it just a few days ago that I was writing your eighth month entry? At least I’m finally starting to think of you more as a baby and less of a newborn. See, mommies can learn too!

This month we decided to work on teaching you to fall asleep on your own, sans rocking and sans nursing. I mentioned previously how good you were at learning to falling back to sleep by yourself after waking up in the middle of the night. You’d also occasionally put yourself to sleep in the rock n’ play for daddy. (What amazes me about that is that you started doing this months after we moved you out of the rock n play for sleeping!) So we felt pretty confident you were ready and just needed a little more encouragement. By October you were doing it consistently. Now you even settle yourself back to sleep after every middle of the night nursing.

You had your second cold this month. You were such a trooper during the day that no one would have ever suspected you were under the whether. It wasn’t until night time that the congestion would become apparent. To help with the congestion we introduced you to your first shower, which is now most definitely one of your favorite things. You squealed with delight when I’d move you through the jet stream, alternately turning your face to the water and away. Oh how you loved to get your face wet! You even put out your tongue to catch the droplets.

Finger food is no longer just for gravity experiments, now it’s an acceptable form of nourishment. You like Cheerios and Puffs, but aren’t really a fan of much else yet. We’re teaching you the sign language for “more” and “done,” although you preferred way to signal the meal is over is by dumping the rest on the floor. Remind me to thank your sisters for encouraging that one.

The big news, though, is that someone is starting to crawl! At the start of October you’d get on your hands and knees, staring longingly at objects in front of you, before diving on your tummy and reaching for them. Then, you’d crawl move forward on your hands, your knees still stationary until you pancaked on your belly. Now your managing to move both your arms and legs, getting some forward propulsion. You don’t seem fully aware of how you’re making yourself move, so you aren’t making it very far yet, but I’m sure you will in no time!

Love Always,
Mommy and Daddy

When I explored the idealized vs authentic ditonomy previously, I was mainly thinking of photo editing, but the same principles apply to photo taking as well. An authentic style is one where the photographer plays the role of unobtrusive observer, capturing everything as it happens without interacting or influencing it. An idealized approach may interact with a scene to capture the feeling or emotion. It could be as simple as shoving background clutter out of frame, or as complicated as manufacturing a moment that mimics reality.

My preference, most definitely, fall on the idealized side of the scale.

Dana’s favorite past time is playing peek-a-boo. She’s quite apt at manipulating the blanket by herself and does it often, whether it’s the muslin swaddle blanket on the changing table, wash cloth in the bath, burp cloth on the play mat. Trouble is, it’s extremely difficult to capture in a photo since the blanket is either covering her, or off to the side. If I wanted to have a still photo keepsake to frame, I’d have to get creative.

The key thing I wanted to convey from my photo was the love she has for the game. I wanted big baby smiles and the blanket all in one shot. So rather than play peek-a-boo with the blanket between us, I put one edge behind her. Sometimes I’d drop my end in front of her, so she’d be my little blanket ghost and sometimes I’d drop it behind me so we’d both be under it. It was like a game of peek-a-boo and parachute all rolled into one. The little lady loved it!

Now that I had the smiles I wanted, I needed a way to capture them. With the camera in my right hand, I only had the left hand free to hold the blanket. However, if I held the blanket single handedly it would drape down in front of me, often blocking the shot entirely. Enter the clothes hanger. I used masking take to tape the edge of the blanket to an inverted clothes hanger. Now, when I raised the handle of the clothes hanger the blanket raised too. The hanger gave me a good 10 inches of taught blanket that wouldn’t drape in frame. (Well it sometimes still did during the course of playing, but didn’t block the frame completely… most of the time.)

It was a rather ridiculous site – me holding a clothes hanger taped to a blanket in one hand, camera in the other – but it worked and captured the feel of playing peek-a-boo all while making it a fun new game for Dana. When I say I take a idealized approach over an authentic approach this is what I mean – a highly orchestrated photo set up to mimic real life. The purest put there may not agree, but I have no regrets.

Last year around this time I was feeling completely overwhelmed keeping up with my kindergartener’s school work. I felt like I was perpetually behind, often letting reading and site words fall by the wayside. This year? Total opposite.

We’ve hit our groove early. Nicole’s sight words list has been divided into four lists, one she should know already, and one for each trimester. We’re already mastered the first two lists and we’re just over a month in. Even better, many of the words from the final two lists she can sound out, even if she doesn’t instantly recognize them. She’s been working really hard and it shows!

What’s really making me feel like a rock star is not having one little homework champion, but two.

Alexis is all about getting to do everything big sister Nicole gets to do, and that includes homework. We signed her up for the same extra classes, dubbed Learning Adventures, we signed Nicole up for when she was in pre-kindergarten. Two years ago I signed Nicole up mostly because I felt pressured to keep up with other parents. I knew we were supposed to continue the lessens at home, but I never prioritized them. Since I wasn’t continuing the lessons, we weren’t getting everything out of them.

One of my favorite parts about my three year olds doing “homework”? The way she writes her name. Alexis writes her e’s and x’s a little crooked sometimes so sometimes it looks like ‘Alptis.’ When Nicole was not quite four she used to spell her name ‘Nicon.’ I know I’m done having kids, but if I wasn’t, potential for an adorable misspelling would be a factor in name selection.

Of course we still don’t take pre-k homework too seriously. For Alexis “homework” is tracing letters and identifying sounds in words. Her worksheet will include tracing five p’s, then circling the image of a pickle, pig and pumpkin. One time she insisted on circling the Koala because she loves Koala, even though she acknowledged it doesn’t have a p-sound. I didn’t fight it. She has always had a very strong independent streak. It will serve her well as CEO one day.

September looked like it was going to be another explosive month. One week in and revenue was up high enough to put my business on track for the $2,000 per month milestone I was aiming for. But just as suddenly (and unexpectedly) as the increased revenue came, it vanished. Despite users being up 4% for the month, revenue dropped to only $1,128.36. Publisher coverage was down 20%, and adclicks were down nearly in half.

Despite spending most of the month trying to root out the cause of the revenue drop, I couldn’t identify the source. The drop occurred around the time I pushed an update, but it really doesn’t make sense for that particular change to effect revenue. It didn’t change either page content or user interface in a meaningful way – just replaced one text link with a button. If anything, users appeared more engaged afterwards. Time on site was up 19%, and the bounce rate down 63%. As far as I could tell, everything should be good on my end.

That’s not to say Datayze was error free in September. There was a nasty time zone bug effecting my time management apps for some users. I was finally able to identify the root cause after some user feedback. It appears the bug was introduce at the end of August. Since the bug was effecting my most popular apps I had some hope that it might have been effecting revenue in some round about way, but revenue remained largely unchanged after the fix.

Aside from interface improvements and bug fixes, I also launched a new app, Days Until/Since. Days Until gives you a total count, as well as the number of each type of weekday. It also precomputes the date of many popular holidays a user might not know of off the top of their head, like Thanksgiving.

While it’s hard not to be disappointed in the revenue drop, I’m trying to remain focused on the positive: $1,128 is still twice the revenue from June and May. Users are up, and we are heading into the most lucrative part of the year.