Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

May 4, 2017

Plantmageddon

The congestion in my nose lessened, the fatigue slowly went away. All symptoms from my cold were dissipating, except for one: a dry, persistent cough. I had my voice back, but continued to have uncontrollable coughing fits. In fact, the cough seemed to be getting worse. I was now occasionally wake in the middle of the night coughing. Then not so occasionally. Then multiple times a night. It was feeling all too familiar.

The pollens. They be back for another year. This time, I’m prepared(ish). Once I realized the likely culprit behind my coughing fits I started taking the allergy medication again.

I’m pretty sure the particular type of plant that’s triggering my allergies is the tale grass beyond our property. It’s about three feet now, and sporting seed pods. Although I admit that could be coincidental timing and confirmation bias or I may be misremembering, I remember the same coughing fits going away last year after the grass was cut back by the city. (It’s a fire hazard in the summer.) Truth be told, I’m pretty sure my allergies were actually worse the week the grass was cut, when all the pollens were kicked up into the air.

The good news: regardless of what is triggering my allergies, if it’s the same culprit as that behind last year’s allergies, it shouldn’t last all summer. If I recall correctly I only needed the daily allergy pill for a few weeks. I may have even taken it slightly longer than I needed to. It’s not always easy to tell whether the coughing stopped because the irritant has gone away, or the medication is doing it’s job. The over the counter allergy medicine worked wonders for me.

Bad news: after a particularly wet winter, they’re forecasting a terrible allergy season.

A few more weeks. Then I can enjoy the outdoors again.

You know what’s a cool feeling? When you realize one of your apps that you thought was getting very little attention is actually being visited a non trivial number of times a day. Time Until is receiving close to 100 users a day! One thing I’m realizing: the more popular my most popular apps become, the greater the likelihood that collateral apps get a ranking boost.

This month users are up 8.13% Not bad considering this is a shorter month with an extra Saturday and Sunday. Revenue ended up at $165.47 for the month.

This was a light progress month due to illness, but I did finally get that Website Spell Checker finished. I then proceeded to find 238 misspelled words on datayze.com. That’s not 238 instances of a misspelled word, but 238 uniquely incorrect spellings. I was perhaps a tad over due.

The new spell checker necessitated an massive update to the suite of website apps, refactoring internal code as well as the overall look and feel of the apps, in order to be useful. Even though I made improvements to the underlying spell checker, there were still a number of domain specific words that my spell checker would never be able to recognize as correct. Words like “datayze” which would be misspelled in any other context. 336 such words on my site, to be exact. When I ran the Website Spell Checker over my site, it identified 578 possibly misspelled words, only 41% which were actually misspelled.

The website spell checker is unusable with so many false positives. The time required to go through a list of that size makes it less likely that I’d check the spelling of my site with any regularity. I wanted to be able to dismiss words the spell check should ignore, and to save my work so I didn’t have to keep dismissing the same words every time I wanted to use the tool. Thus I added an “export to CVS” button. Now after I tell the spell checker which words to ignore I can export the list and save it for next time.

Since this seemed like a handy feature I went ahead and added an “export to CVS” function for all data tables in my other website apps as well. Now you can save a copy of the html errors with the Site Validator, or the number of unique phrases with the Thin Content Checker.

Sadly that’s pretty much the end of the updates in April. Ah well, May is a new month (with an extra Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.) I should have better progress this month. We’re only 15 hours in to May and it’s already looking to be a very strong day.

I love after holiday sales. This year I snagged not one, not two but SIX chocolate bunnies. The initial plan was just one for myself, but then I started thinking about how they’re best by date wasn’t until the end of the summer, and how excited the girls would be to surprise them with a chocolate bunny in the middle of the year. I wasn’t sure how I would surprise them, but I was confident an idea would come to me.

A few days ago Nicole started telling me about a dream she had involving a treasure hunt. She followed a map to chocolate coins. Hello, idea!

We thought we’d do a treasure hunt with the girls. We’re not reading yet, and riddles are a bit advanced for them, so we opted for what I dub picta-clues: picture clues that told them where to go.

The idea was to exercise their spatial reasoning skills while playing a fun game. I took the pictures from all kinds of different angles. There was the areal view of the rocking chair and the behind the couch of the fire place. The next clue was hidden in an area circled on the photograph. Ironically the only one that posed any kind of challenge was the straight forward, eye-level photo of the windowsill behind the dinning room table.

Nicole enjoyed the hunt so much she was actually disappointed to find the bunnies after the fifth clue because it meant the hunt was over. When I asked her how many clues we should have next time, she quite emphatically told me twenty. I’m not sure there are twenty places to hide clues in our house!

The experience got me thinking again about one my business venture ideas. A few years ago I got this idea for “Mathematical Mama”, a website for parents of preschoolers and elementary aged kids with fun activities to promote stem skills. I even purchased the domain, mathematicalmama.com. (Well, technically I misspelled it and purchased the correctly spelled version just last August. Curse you dyslexia!) I was hoping to differentiate myself from other early learning websites by picking concepts like numerical literacy or base counting and breaking down the concept so a parent who isn’t particularly stem inclined can understand what it is their trying to impart on their young child.

If only it didn’t take so long for these websites to grow organically. Even if Datayze continues at it’s current rate of ~30% a month, it’ll be another 20 months to reach my goal. The original plan was for Datayze to be just one item in my business portfolio, but that may have been naive on my part.

April 5, 2017

Potty Cheer Squad


Teddy bear potty

Alexis has always been Nicole’s mimic. When Nicole announced she didn’t like pants with buttons, Alexis went through a phase of insisting “no buttons!” while getting dressed, even though none of her clothes have buttons in the first place. So it was no surprise she showed an interest in using the potty after watching big sister Nicole do it. Shortly before turning two she would announce “Potty!” while running to the bathroom whenever she had to go. Alexis would then sit down on the little kids potty and use her diaper. We were sure potty training in earnest wasn’t far away. Before she ever gave us enough advance warning to remove her diaper in time, however, she lost interest.

Domingo and I like to use mini rewards to encourage emerging behaviors like peeing in the potty. Nicole’s always liked the fruity, gummy candies best so she got gummy bears. For our little chocolate lover, we decided to offer M&Ms when her interest in the potty returned.

At first Nicole was a bit miffed to learn Alexis would be rewarded for using the potty. Four year old logic is all about equality, not equity. She had forgotten all about the days of gummy bears, and wanted the same reward for the same deed. While I could understand where she was coming from, it seemed rather indulgent to give Nicole, whose been a potty pro for over 18 months, a reward for continued potty use. Our compromise was to give both girls the same reward when Alexis successfully peed in the potty. Rather than risk a jealous divide, we thought we’d try to unite them onto the same team. The result was a big sister cheer leader who was the first one to tell Alexis she could do it, and sing her praises when the deed was done. We needed to make sure Mom and Dad were aware and could dole out the rewards, after all!

March’s numbers are the strongest yet for my business! Income wise, Datayze earned $182.98, nearly double February’s total. My lowest per day user count was 1,505 this month, making it my first month with 1,500 users each day, in addition to my first month of 1,000 users each day! Overall, users are up 37% throughout the month.

Even though users are up, growth appears to finally be slowing down a bit. The numbers rose much slower each week in March than they did in February. If I account for the fact that March has 3 extra days compared to February, than users are only up 25%. I’m also starting to see what I believe is a summer pattern. Search result clicks on the weekends have been largely unchanged while weekday clicks are still raising, albeit more slowly than before. The hourly patterns of when users are active is also shifting. I’m anticipating only a 10-15% growth in April as a result.

Despite the desire to start focusing on content again, this was another mostly maintenance month. Some big changes: the tab menu will now resize on browser resize to remain a single, unbroken line, and the top submenus will reposition to fit in a mobile browser. I’ve also changed the blue colors on the site. I loved the old header color on my laptop, but it displayed as gray everywhere else. Since I’m building a business, and not a personal website, I decided to go with a color that would look great everywhere else, even if that meant I wouldn’t like it as much on my personal device.

As for new content, I did write another how to article: Understanding Scientific Studies (Miscarriage Edition). I wrote it after being incredibly annoyed at the number of misquoted studies, since they almost always misinterpret risk to be higher than it actually is which can cause undo stress and increase anxieties. My hope is that someone reading this article will be better equipped to spot this kind of exaggeration and ignore bad statistics on the web.

I’m trying something new for April. My to-do list is currently standing at 26 items, 11 have been marked as priority to be addressed in April. New content will be pushed as it becomes available, but fixes will be pushed all at once (and likely just once) at the end of the month. I’m hoping this will help keep me on tract to produce new content.

As two STEM parents, Domingo and I want to raise children strong in the sciences. To that end, we’re always looking at STEM toy recommendations online. Trouble is, I often disagree with what counts as a STEM toy. One list had My Pal, Violet as a “STEM” toy. It’s electronic, sure. But STEM? I just don’t see it.

Here’s this data scientists pick for STEM toys for young kids.

Different kinds of Building Toys

Building toys are the staple of any stem list. Everyone knows building blocks like legos are great for their budding engineer to learn spatial reasoning, and develop of love of design. Peg based connector toys (Lego, Duplo, Mega Blocks, etc) are great but why stop there? By varying the type of toy and how the pieces connect, you’re reinforcing the concepts by introducing new types of challenges, new ways to design and new ways of thinking to your little engineer.

There’s magnet based connectors like Magformers and SmartMax. Gear connectors like Gears! Gears! Gears! is another fun one. You can also go with disc connectors like Brain Flakes and Mighty Molecules. A big hit in our home right now is Think n’ Link.

Curious George the Astronaut

To me a good STEM toy is one that gets a child interested in a STEM topic, and not necessarily building a critical STEM skill. If you don’t encourage kids’ interests they can sometimes fade. One way to do that is to include a plushy toy they can role play with. When the girls showed interest in space we encouraged it with a Curious George the Astronaut plushie and an Astronaut custom. We build rocket ships for George out of Mega Blocks.

We noticed a similar impact with our Alexa. It sparked Nicole’s interest enough to get her thinking about robots. Even though it’s not a toy, we did get a STEM benefit from it.

Microscope/Binoculars

Anything that helps kids look at their world differently is going to help inspire them to think about their world in different ways. In this category I really like the Geosafari Miscroscope and Geosafari Kidnoculars. Both are designed well for little faces, and don’t require focusing which make them very easy to use. The binoculars in particular are a favorite because the rubber grip eye piece makes it super easy for even Alexis to use.

We take our Binoculars (or nock-lers as Alexis calls them) to the Zoo and in the back yard. Even though they only have a 2x magnification, they proved a huge hit at the zoo. We were having an issue where Alexis would lose interest and want to move on to the next Animal before Nicole was ready. By introducing the Binoculars everything is new and interesting. If Alexis got bored with the Animals, she’d use her binoculars to people watch, or examine the trees giving Nicole all the time she needed.

We’ve looked at all mannors of things though the Microscope, including our princess necklaces and bugs. My favorite thing to look at through the microscope, however, is cereal. You can see the holes in the rice krispies!

“Mommy”

Still dreaming, I opened my eyes. I’m in bed. It’s night. No, not quite. The faint light from the window indicates morning isn’t far away. What did I wake up? Was I dreaming?

“Mommy!” The faint voice comes over the baby monitor again. Nope, wasn’t dreaming.

I check my phone. 15 minutes before ‘wake up’ time. I get up and trudge down the hall.

“What is it, Alexis?”

“Bunny asleep!” Alexis jesters to her sleep trainer clock. The bottom half of the clock, depicting a sleeping bunny, is illuminated, indicating it’s not time to wake up yet. “Alexis go back to sleep!” she states proudly with an implied ‘by myself!’ before laying back down in the crib herself.


I love the bunny clocks. They helped both Nicole and Alexis through a few rough sleep patches. In both cases it seemed to curb the number of night time wakings, and help reduce the extra early mornings. I still remember one time I happen to check the baby monitor just as Nicole’s head was popping up from the pillow. She looked at the bunny, verified it was still sleeping, and lay back down. All by herself. The bunny doesn’t stop them from calling out if they need something – diaper change, potty, water, whatever – but it does seem to reduce the number of random wake ups that seem to happen for seemingly no reason.

Occasionally the clock has back fired on us. Once Nicole came in our room distraught that the bunny had forgotten to wake up (she had just woken up extra early and was tired of waiting.) But, overall, it’s clear the bunny has had a positive effect on their sleep, and, by transitivity, on our sleep as well.

One positive unintended consequence of the bunny clock? Explaining daylight savings time. Last fall we told the girls the bunny would be waking up later. This spring, we told them the bunny would be waking up extra early. When you’re two and three years old, the concept of a changing a clock’s time is rather abstract. At four, Nicole has a better understanding of daylight savings. It’s easy to just blame the bunny, though.

March 7, 2017

Market Share

The growth that I’m been experiencing of late, while awesome, has me a little nervous. It clearly can’t continue indefinitely. At some point the growth has to slow. The question I’m asking myself lately is, can I predict when? I need to get idea of how big the potential market is, and how big my share in it is. That’s easiest to do with the pregnancy verticals.

For this analysis I’m sticking with US data, since 71% of my user base is located in the US according to Google Analytics.

The birth rate in the US has been holding steady at just under 4 million the past couple of years. We might reasonably estimate that about 2.5% of expectant mothers don’t have internet access (1% of the 18-29 demographic, 4% of the 30-49 demographic). That would give us about 3.9 million potential users who may be interested in my pregnancy tools in the US.

Diving into my usage logs, median access time into the Labor probability calculator is 20 days before the due date, with a standard deviation of 27 days. This indicates a period of about 1-2 months where pregnant women might be interested in when labor is likely to occur. Conservatively, let’s go with one month. Than in any given month we might expect a potentially interested audience in the US as 325,000. Last month I had just 5,000 from the US. That means I am capturing just 1.5% of the US market.

What I don’t know is what percentage of those women would potentially care about labor probabilities. Statistics, in general, don’t appeal to everyone. I know they’re often met with skepticism when shared in the online forums. Recently one anonymous user described my Labor Probability Calculator as a random number generator. This is probably my fault for not making the mathematics behind the tool more apparent. Still, I get the feeling that a large percentage of the estimated “potential” audience would never be interested in my labor probability calculator, regardless.

This miscarriage apps are more popular. Last month I had over 10,000 users from the US spread out over the miscarriage apps. There are a lot of unknowns when estimating the potential market here, as not everyone fears a miscarriage, and not everyone knows their pregnant early on, but I might estimate I have 3% of the maximum growth potential in the US. Again, before we factor out those who just aren’t into statistics.

Of course this is ignoring other countries, as well as other none pregnant users, expectant fathers for example.

So where would this put my potential growth overall? It’s still hard to say, since I need a way of predicting mathematical interest. I doubt there are enough expectant parents to carry the 30% growth trend into the fall. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were, though?

February saw my highest per day rate of $3.44. It was also a shorter month, so the total of $94.95 was only my second best monthly total. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.

Users were up an insane 49%, and the trend line shows no sign of stopping. With the exception of the Saturday before the Superbowl I had over 1,000 users daily every day, including weekends. By the end of the month most week days were seeing nearly 2,000 users a day.

The initial goal for February was additional content, but the site improvements appear to have greater return per effort spent. I did publish two new articles in How To and have two more coming. I also really need to create a site spell checker, which has been on my todo list, since creating the initial spell checker back in November.

The big change to Datayze was an update to the miscarriage probability model. In my opinion, how I handled the update shows how far I’ve come.

Back in 2015 I updated the, at the time, most popular app, the Readability Analyzer. I had been using a simplistic heuristic for counting syllables that tended to underestimate the number of syllables in a word. As a result, the Readability Analyzer was predicting slightly better reading ease scores than it should have. When I replaced the simplistic syllable counter for a more reasonable one the results were more accurate, but less desirable. My user base was upset. I got a number of angry emails about it, and more than one person vowed not to use it again since it wasn’t “stable”, despite this being the only change in nearly two decades. The user base fell 36%. At the time it was my most profitable app, so seeing those users flee was hard.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago. I became aware of several large scale studies on miscarriage that tended to have higher per-week miscarriage incident rates than the current studies I was using in my model. They had a much larger participant pool. Excluding them from the model felt dishonest and would do everyone using my miscarriage apps a disservice. Adding them would once again create more accurate, but less desirable results. I was terrified that the change would kill my growth.

I spent a week fine tuning my model. I knew there were many women who check the app daily, and would be shocked and alarmed that the probability of miscarriage was increasing. I wanted to be sure of my model before making the change. Then, as midnight Friday approached I made the push. I put a note explaining why the model had changed and stressed that I would be available for questions. Friday night I could not sleep. I checked my phone constantly for emails. The first came at 4:33 am. A few hours later news had spread to the forums.

Normally I make it a policy never to interact when people share my apps in the forums unless they invite me to do so. (I don’t want to intrude, and I think it’s unprofessional to go around creating accounts on other sites just to respond to comments). This time, however, my apps that were intended to reduce stress were actually creating it. I felt compelled to reiterated why the change was made, and personally apologized to everyone who was negatively affected. The personal apology seemed to help, and so far there hasn’t been a mass exodus of any kind. It’s even possible that my stressing my commitment to model accuracy I may have helped my overall reputation.

My goal for March is to finally get that Site Spell checker app up so I can use it. I want to improve the synonym list for the Word Analyzer, and see what it would take to get a better page speed score. It’s also time I start thinking more and more about my social media presence, and what it should look like.

February 28, 2017

“Moo” and Other Things

Six-ish months ago we made the decision it was time to start weaning Alexis off of her binky. I fallowed our dental insurance advice to poke holes in her existing binkies which would break the suction and reduce the sucking satisfaction Alexis received from them, allowing her to break her binky habit more gradually.

The first time Alexis put the modified binky into her mouth it slid right out. It started slipping out of her mouth at night time as well. I’d sneak into her room to find Alexis holding her binky in her hand rather than keeping it in her mouth. Things were going according to plan. Until…

Alexis learned to bite down and chew on her binkies to keep them in her mouth. She ended up chewing through a few binkis. We ended up replacing them twice, before it became clear that we needed to take the next step. Enter the Binky Fairy.

For the uninitiated, the Binky fairy works by having the child gather up all his/her binkies. At some point when the child isn’t looking the binky fairy turns the binkies into toys.

The Binky fairy helped Nicole kick her binky habit, though there were a few rough nights. Nicole was more attached to the binky than Alexis when it was time to give it up, and there were a couple nights where she’d wake up in the middle of the night having forgotten about trading it for toys.

I had learned from my mistakes. We sang the “bye, bye, binky” song (or at least the refrain) while she gathered up the her binkies and put them on the ottoman for the binky fairy. The fairy replaced them with a new bath time toy, and new night time snuggle buddy, and owl she named “Moo”. That way when it night time approached we could easily keep reinforcing the idea that she traded her binkies for fun new toys.

Despite all that she didn’t 100% grasp what was happening. She asked for her binky during bed time story and cried “Alexis needs it!” when I reminded her that they were all gone. Fortunately the tears were short lived. I reminded her about Moo and she was content to hold him during story time instead. I was surprised that she did not ask for a binky when she awoke in the middle of the night!

The next day Alexis asked for her binky again, and again I reminded her about Moo. There were no tears, but she held Moo to her face, frowned, said “don’t like Moo” and tried to hand him back to me.

“Aww, Moo likes you!” I said, wrapping Moo’s wings around her in a big hug. That did it. She grabbed tightly and lied down with a huge grin on her f ace. So far she’s been asking about the Binky, but other than that first few minutes of that first night there have been no tears, only questions.

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