July 9, 2018

Here Comes Six

Six. How is it possible? I feel like it was just a few weeks ago that we were signing Nicole up for kindergarten, a month or so ago that we were bringing her home from the hospital. And now she’s six. Six.

Nicole requested her kid birthday party be at Chuck-E-Cheese again this year. Two years ago the experience was super smooth, but I was dreading it this year. As a special treat the birthday ‘star’ gets to go in the ticket blaster machine. For one minute the birthday ‘star’ collects as many tickets as possible, as wind blows them about. At least for the small kids, they get to choose a friend to accompany them. Two years ago, Nicole’s friend got intimidated at the last minute and Daddy accompanied her in the machine. Alexis was too small to attend the party then. This year Alexis was joining us, along with many friends from summer camp. There was no shortage of kids to choose from. I was sure Nicole would pick a friend over her sister, and that Alexis would be heartbroken to be left out.

In the end my fears were unfounded. Nicole chose Alexis. Not only that, but she happily pooled all her tickets from the day with Alexis so they could each get a toy. Nicole got a gumball machine, Alexis a magic mirror. This kid has a heart of gold.

We had are traditional swim in the pool with Grandma and Grandpa, and the great helium balloon release in the stair way. Both kids actually eat their cake this year, rather than pick at it, much to my surprise. Of course we had our traditional giant foil number balloon photo time. The only thing we weren’t able to do was a restaurant dinner like she wanted. I promised to make it up to both girls later by doing one on one lunch dates with them before the start of school.

July 8, 2018

Datayze is Two!

Two years ago I officially rebranded as Datayze, and forever changed the trajectory of my business.

Four days ago I did a major new launch, and this change could prove to be just as meaningful. Not only is the set up more professional – I can now monitor site health from my phone! but I can also do light weight debugging from the rocking chair. Productivity is up, and so is what I’m dubbing ‘developer confidence’.

This past year I’ve had six times the users, six times the revenue, and six times the page views. My Alexa rank is 127,191 surpassing the ranks of all my major competitors, and grown from 4,000 monthly users to a quarter million. It’s stunning to me that I’ve been able to maintain a near 20% month-over-month growth rate since Datayze’s launch. I remember when 600 daily users was a big deal, and crossing the threshold of 1,000 daily visitors. Then came the mornings where I’d reach for my phone as I was getting out of bed to see if Datayze had already had 1,000 visitors by 6:30am. Followed by mornings where I’d eagerly check to see if it was 3,000. Then there are the intangibles not reflected in the numbers. Datayze is having a real impact.

Working for yourself is difficult, exhausting and at times demoralizing, but also ridiculously rewarding. Revenue looks like it’s going to be way up this month, surpassing the monthly target I initially set for myself. It’s an incredible feeling. It’s taken me longer than I anticipated to get to this point as I had hoped to reach this revenue goal last year, and yet, I also never thought I could build such a popular site. (Which also says something about my revenue per user expectations.)

Growth will inevitably slow. It already is showing some signs of a slow down (though I’m still hoping that’s summer related.) I’m hoping to spend the following year diversifying more and insulating myself from seasonal patterns. Diversifying could mean a wider portfolio of apps, or multiple different revenue sources.

I also wouldn’t say no to an Alexa rank of 100,000.

Forgive me for a late update, I’ve been working crazy hours ahead of this last launch. I was desperate to get it out during the holiday week when traffic was low. So far everything looks great, but before I get into that let’s talk numbers.

In June I earned $630.34, just under $100 from March’s high. Users are down 6% overall, and down 9% from organic traffic, two numbers I’m not thrilled about. Mobile users is up 5%, while desktop is down 25% and my Alexa rank continues to inch upwards, a possible sign that summer may be keeping people away from there desktops. I’ll be keeping close tabs on the numbers this month.

Delaying the launch was outstanding issues in Time Until and Miscarriage Chart. Combined those two apps make up 66% of my traffic so they needed to work flawlessly ahead of the launch.

The primary hold up with the Miscarriage Chart had to do with my new approach to mobile. Prior to the launch I had been using PHP code to detect device type (mobile or desktop) and serve appropriate content for the screen size. The primary advantage of this approach was I could serve vastly different html per device. The drawback, however, the PHP code needed to be kept update with the ever changing device landscape. Now that tablets are becoming more common, there’s more device types and screen sizes I need to pay attention to. It was going to become unmanageable. I’m now doing the cleaner approach of using media CSS statements, but it took sometime to find a block of HTML code that could be display as desired correctly across all device sizes via CSS.

For Time Until I wanted to incorporate time selection into the datechooser modal to clean up the interface a bit. I had started this process last year and finally felt comfortable that it was bug free and wouldn’t hurt my brand. I wasn’t sure it was as intuitive as the original datepicker. This is we’re having more experience with interface design would be useful. The interface could still use a little more work – here’s where not having a UX experience is working against me – but it’s better!

The past month, and especially this past week has been crazy busy ahead of the new launch. During evening and middle of the night time feedings I’d test out my site on my phone. I’d open every app on my phone, test every possible input, including invalid ones. I’d check the site health on my new admin panel and logging bugs and issues into todoist, all from my phone. During the day I’d hammer out as many quick fixes as possible. Truth be told I’d rather have another week before the launch, as not all apps were working quite to the level I wanted, but most of the issues I was discovering existed in both my test bed, and the previous launched code already in production. I didn’t want perfect to be the enemy of good.

I was initially thinking I’d have a long night ahead of me, but I’ve been watching the admin panel and have confidence there are no major fires.

June 26, 2018

Perceived Importance

After five months of being firmly anti-binky, Dana did something unexpected yesterday. She was sleepy, but too full to nurse to sleep, so I did something I hadn’t done in weeks. I gave her a binky. She didn’t hate it! In fact, she went to right to sleep with it. Not knowing when or if it would happen again, I decided to take as much photographic evidence as possible. I have photos, videos, and even slow motion videos on my phone.

I am reminded of the faux fall photos we did with Nicole. I say faux fall because it was a super warm Thanksgiving day. We dressed her in a sweater jacket, found a sad little leaf pile and carefully took pictures reminiscent of the kinds I would expect growing up in the north east.

The photos of Dana with the binky were about as authentic as Nicole in the leaves. Yes, it really did happened, but the photo conveys something that isn’t really true. She still doesn’t really take the binky. I got her to do it again yesterday afternoon, but just once, and not at all today.

(Edited to add: She appears to be teething. In retrospect she appears to be chewing on the pacifier in some of the pictures, not sucking on the pacifier.)

The experience has me thinking about the perceived importance of moments, and which moments we choose to photograph and remember. This moment felt extraordinary because it was rare. Ironically, it would have been a more meaningful moment to capture if it was more representative of our experience, yet I may not think to pick up the camera in that case. This realization has been weighing on me lately. I pick up my camera often with Dana, capturing both the every day and the extraordinary alike since we spend so much time together, but the older two? I keep meaning to take more photos each weekend, but the weekends are so busy we rarely have time to follow through. The last photos I took of the girls? I can’t remember. It feels like ages.

Things will settle down. I will find a way to make more time for photography. It is my life blood, after all.

June 22, 2018

No Partner Requests

Guys, things are getting a little ridiculous. Today I received a request to pitch a fashion line on my blog. I think I have been pretty candid in the past about my wardrobe basically consisting of free conference t-shirts, and wearing maternity pants with the legs rolled up rather than bothering to hem them. I will be the first to admit I have no fashion sense, nor any meaningful blog readership to speak of. Even a cursory glance at my blog should have revealed this ad would have had terrible ROI (Return on Investment.)

Unless…. Unless the advertiser was less interested in using my blog as an advertising medium and more interested in me as a customer. I’ve had a theory about advertisers who pitch on small to medium blogs.

Often social media product pitches include free merchandise without, or with very little, monetary compensation in exchange for a “candid” reviews from “influences”. Psychology tells us that it isn’t truly candid, though, even if the advertiser doesn’t dictate any of the terms of the review. In fact, it may be more advantageous to the advertiser to dictate as little about the review as possible.

Cognitive dissonance, the mental discomfort that occurs when one has two different points of view, works in the advertiser’s favor. When we agree to review a product we’re agreeing to spend mental effort. Subconsciously we want that mental effort to pay off. We want to like the the product. Not only are we less likely to be critical, but since this is happening on a subconscious level we’re less likely to even be aware we’re not being critical. Additionally, advertisers often include a list of positive product features in their pitch, which can prime our opinions prior to even receiving the product. Cognitive dissonance won’t make you love a product you’d otherwise loath, but it can tip the scale in the advertiser’s favor. For little more than a free sample, you may have created a customer – out of the blogger him/herself!

Had I agreed to the “partnership” and liked the free sample, I may have decided to fill out the rest of my missing wardrobe.

To be fair, I doubt the advertiser knew this when I was sent the request. I don’t think I was being targeted because of how badly I need new clothes. The request was generic, only including easily scrap-able pieces of information like my name and blog title. It was the email equivalent of a cold call.

I’ve been getting more and more cold calls lately. I used to respond, but I’m oversubscribed and something’s gotta give. I’m adopting a similar email policy to my comment policy: if I can’t tell if you’re human, I’m ignoring you.

(And for the record, no, I’m not open to any advertising partnerships on my blog.)

June 19, 2018

Peas in a Pod


Can you tell which child is which? Answer key at the bottom of the post

“Who does she take after? Nicole or Alexis?” Was a frequent question right after Dana’s birth, followed by “Did they all have this much hair?” The latter question was much easier to answer – yes! – as for the former? Alexis maybe? I remember studying Dana’s face from the hospital recovery bed, trying to see either big sister in her features. Dana’s face was rounder like Alexis’, but her hair resembled Nicole’s. She simultaneously resembled both of her big sisters, and neither of them at the same time.


My three kids as two week old newborns

When friends and family asked a few weeks after birth, I’d tell them that Nicole had the most hair of the three, Dana second and Alexis’ third. That’s what my memory lead me to believe. Seeing them side by side I think Dana might take that crown.

Now that Dana has filled out a little there’s no question she’s a near carbon copy of Nicole. If I wasn’t the family photographer, I’d swear I wouldn’t be able to tell some of those photos apart. And I used to think Nicole and Alexis looked so much alike as newborns! Ironically, everyone tells me Dana looks like Nicole whenever we’re out and about. I don’t see the similarities as clearly between 5 year old Nicole and baby Dana, though I do find there baby pictures nearly identical.

Dana’s personality is still starting to show, so it’s hard to say which one of her sisters she will take after there. So far she seems to be a mellow baby, like big sister Alexis. She’s perfectly content to hide out and nap in the ergo during weekend outings, and rarely cries. Although she can’t stand to hear anyone else cry (a phenomenon I don’t remember with either big sister).

I’m pretty amazed at how early sisterly love takes hold.

Alexis still hugs and kisses Dana every chance she gets, first thing in the morning, after breakfaste, before leaving for school… Even if it’s only been a few minutes since the last hug and kiss. Dana adores the attention, even when it nearly knocks her over. The other day at dinner she got so excited when Alexis walked past her on her way to the bathroom, waving her arms and doing the happy baby dance. Alexis turned to her and said “I go poo and pee, then I give you hug and kiss! Okay, baby?” It was pretty adorable. She tells me all the time that “I like Baby Dana.”

Nicole can often be found sitting next to a fussing Dana, singing or dangling toys to entertain her. She tells me she loves the baby, and the baby is so cute. I’m surprised baby cuteness would register to a not quite six year old, but it really has! She loves showing off Dana whenever the two of us pick her up from camp, referring to Dana as “her baby.” Not “her baby sister”, but “her baby.”

Watching their relationships develop with each other is my favorite part of being their mom.

So which child was which? Top left: Nicole, Top right: Dana, bottom left: Nicole, bottom right: Alexis.

June 14, 2018

Project Sarah

I’m back to my prepregnancy weight which is a bad thing when I was 10 lbs under 2 weeks postpartum.

I could tell I was gaining weight. I couldn’t (and still can’t) stop eating. I crave sugar, which I’ve read is a sign that I’m not sleeping enough. (Not like I needed a sign.) I’m embarrassed to admit that on at least one occasion I chose to eat when I knew I was thirsty, not hungry. This is a problem of my own making.

I have to be realistic. As much as I may want to, exercise is not going to happen. Not while Dana is home with me. There just isn’t the time. I need to prioritize my business right now, so even if I could free up a spare block of time here or there, exercising is pretty low on the priority list. Calorie restriction is also not something I think is a good idea as a nursing mom. My body needs fuel so I can feed Dana.

Eating healthier is my best bet. Swapping out empty carbs for healthy alternatives. More protein. More fiber. Less carbs. Improving diet may not lead to weight loss, but it can hopefully stem the weight gain.

One of the benefits of the gestational diabetes diet is I have a better understanding of nutrition and what works for me. I now know not all fruit is created equal, and berries contain the most fiber. We got in the habit during pregnancy of keeping quick to warm up protein sources in the refrigerator. Our go-tos were tacos, meatloaf and garlic chicken. We’d make a big batch of it on Sunday and I’d have leftovers the rest of the week. For snacks I would do a spoonful of peanut butter or slice of cheese.

It’s a little harder to manage these days. A handful of chips is easier to grab while carrying a baby around the house than warming up left over dinner. Hard or not, I have to try.

The other thing I’m trying to do is drink more water. I started about a month ago. I found an online calculator that said I should strive for 110oz a day. As a side benefit to all that water, I’m down to one diet soda every couple of days. Last time I nearly kicked the soda habit was before becoming pregnant with Nicole.

While I can’t say I’ve noticed any differences either on the scale or otherwise after making these changes, I can tell they’re starting to have an effect. I used to really dislike drinking plain water, but I’ve gotten used to it over the last month. Drinking 110oz is becoming second nature. I could do another 15-20 without much effort. It’s funny, I used to hate substituting a peanut butter sandwich on wheat for my usual morning cereal when pregnant, but I’m so used to it now it’s no big deal.

Good habits develop slowly, I guess.

June 10, 2018

Dana at Five Months

Dear Dana,

I have a confession to make. I still keep thinking of you as my itty bitty newborn. That’s partly because you are my last and I want to hold onto this baby stage forever and partly because, in a lot of ways you still have newborn traits.

Unlike you’re two big sisters who were on to the bigger bottles and drinking 6 ozes after only a couple of months, you still prefer a more modest 3 or 4 oz snack more often. Even overnight it’s rare you’ll take five oz at once as measured by pumping output afterwards. (I think that may be why you’re still waking up regularly once a night, that tummy just isn’t as full). Speaking of sleeping, you still have some newborn traits there as well. While you’ll occasionally nap for a few hours in the crib, you prefer frequent newborn cat naps on mommy. You’ll fall asleep nursing and wake up within a half an hour, refreshed and recharged. I rarely have a chance to put you down in the crib before your quick snooze is over.

You know how you’re not like a newborn? You insist on sitting. You get upset whenever we set you down on your back, either in your gym or on your blanket. You want to be vertical! I came down stairs once a few weeks ago to find you sitting next to daddy on the couch as he played with you, huge grin on your face. You looked so proud of you’re new found independence. We put you in the corner against the arm rest where there is at least some support, but you like to lean forward and do it on your own. It won’t be long now until you’re a completely independent sitter.

This month you started out the month officially a thumb sucker, just not when mommy has her camera. I can see this is becoming a game to you! The thumb sucking was short lived. Mommy picks up the camera, and the thumb comes out of your mouth with a huge grin. While you continue to suck it every once in a while, you’re using your hands more to explore your world lately.

We start solids next month and you seem R-E-A-D-Y. You have always been interested in what we’re eating. Day 1 at the hospital you would stop nursing and watch with interest when I crunches on some candy hearts. We were amazed at your ability to focus so early. To this day you stop what you’re doing and watch earnestly when someone near you is eating. You reach for nearby food, and making the tall tell chewing motions with your mouth. More importantly, you seem to need more than just milk to keep you satisfied. You may not be drinking much at each itteration, but you are requesting a meal more and more frequently.

Love Always,
Mommy and Daddy

In May Datayze earned $629.09 and had -0.4% growth. I hate negative growth, even when it’s to be expected, and even when it’s a fraction of a percent. It’s strongly motivating me to get this next launch out the door.

I had an unexpected interrupt this month with GDPR. I should have been more aware of its approaching deadline than I was. I only realized I could be affected a few days before the May 25th deadline. Fortunately, I have always strived to do the right thing when it comes to privacy, and that helped make becoming compliant easier.

I don’t store any information that can be deemed unique or personally identifiable. I don’t even store passages of text supplied to the writing tools, or results of the URLs crawled by the spider which could theoretical be personal. I do store other form inputs (like age in the miscarriage tool), but not unique and not identifiable. At least in some cases, it’s not even personal. I’ve gotten a handful of emails from users indicating they were using the tool relative to someone else’ pregnancy, like a husband for his wife, or a parent excited for a grandchild. I sometimes see exploring different values, presumably to get a sense of the range of possibilities.

The main hurtle in keeping up with GDPR was that I keep traffic logs which contain ipaddresses. I stored it for website analysis to understand how users use my site and light weight personalization like ordering the apps by preference so users can find the ones they will likely want faster. I opted to go the pseodnomization route of converting the last octlet to 0, since that seems to be the internet standard approach. I’m not sure what I’ll do with regards to personalization. I’m considering dropping that feature, or using cookies.

Other than that my planned big migration is ticking along. I keep thinking my admin panel is set and then coming up with a new idea that could help monitor site health. I recently wrote a server log parsing script that buckets all errors by type and by page. I’m still geeking out over it.

May 30, 2018

Return to Shutterfly

It’s been years, but I suddenly find myself an active Shutterfly user again.

It started with the Christmas cards. After nearly a decade of printing and addressing them myself, our home printer ran out of ink forcing me to look for an online alternative. That alternative turned out to be Shutterfly. It worked out well, and I returned to Shutterfly for last years’ cards as well, but I still had a mental block using them for my other printing needs.

One afternoon while I was nursing Dana and browsing the internet aimlessly I started thinking about Santa plates.
Since the first realization that my second child was going to be a wintertime baby I’ve been wanting to do a special Cookies for Santa plate. My first idea was a wreath made out of handprints, like this. Anticipating the difficulty of getting a few good hand prints, let alone many, and in the right pattern, my plan was to get the prints on paper first and figure out how to transfer them to the plate later. I tried custom stamps, and tracing paper with food safe ceramic paint. No dice. Not only did my ideas not work, but it left me with the awkward problem of figuring out what to do with the wasted plates. They are my kids’ hand and footprints after all. Three years later it suddenly dawned on me – design the plates on the computer and print them.

Shutterfly had the best price again, so I whipped up a quick design and sent it off to the printers. I was super happy with the print quality, though my design left a little something to be desired. I promised myself I’d fix the design and buy a second plate with a coupon that seems to come every couple of weeks.

A short while later an offer for a free puzzle (not including shipping) graced my inbox. I have been hoping to spark a love of puzzles in my kids, and a custom puzzle with their faces seemed like it might do the trick.

The puzzle was great so I decided to order a framed canvas print (an image of one of the girls edited to look like water colors). I really liked the way Shutterfly’s canvas print appeared to be floating in the frame. None of the other places I looked at framed their canvases in the same way.

Three orders in a handful of weeks!

That’s when I started to become less enamored.

The plate resist arrived with scratches and other minor cosmetic defects. I asked customer service for a reprint. They obliged, but not until I proved the presence of the scratches which I always find annoying. The reorder arrived with more noticeable splotches of extraneous color. Both where several steps below the quality of the first test plate. I will probably use the scratched plate since it has the design I like. The kids won’t notice or care about the scratches, and I can edit the scratches out any photos I take. If it annoys me too much I’ll look into having it printed elsewhere.

My experience with the framed canvas print wasn’t much better. The frame cames without any kind of mechanism to hang it. No hooks, no wire of any kind. It wasn’t possible to just send the hooks, so Shutterfly is resent the print. The hook arrived in a plastic baggie staples to the frame. Plus side, I got to choose which frame I hung. Downside, both canvases had some pretty pronounced creases.

To their credit, Shutterfly really does try and fix things.

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