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.

September 25, 2018

Seasonal Slowdown

I’m feeling guilty for falling behind. Again. I had been keeping my todo list around 30 outstanding items per week, but lately it’s climbed as high as fifty. Between school starting, and wanting my kids to get off on the right foot, and all the holiday prep work (this Santa has already started planning the kids’ stockings, in September!), I am finding very little time to do anything non essential. My poor little business feels so neglected.

I know I know. With everything I have going on it’s a little ridiculous to add the stress of stocking stuffing so far in advanced on Christmas. Confession? I really love it. I love putting together the perfect stockings, orchestrating a coordinating family costume, and just going a wee bit overboard in general this time of year. It brings me joy.

While I do miss my being so productive with my business, the reality is that now is not a good time to be messing with it too much. Historically, fall is a time of the most growth, where ad revenue is it’s highest. Now would be a bad time to risk introducing a bug that could derail any progress. It would be especially bad to risk introducing a bug by pushing unnecessary code changes just to assuage my guilt over lack of progress.

So I’m giving myself permission to slow down.

For the next couple of months I’m re-prioritizing. In terms of my business that means focusing on data analysis over lines of code, and not stressing about the hours on the clock. I’ll still address bugs, of course, but plan to roll out new features and new apps primarily after the new year. My goal is to spend my time now understanding how might is being used, and how it could better be utilized, so that in the future I can spend my time on what will be most impactful. I want to be the epitome of working smarter, not harder.

Fortunately, I should be able to stagger the busy periods of each parts of my life so that they interleave, rather than overlap. That should mean I can have it all, without feeling crushed by the weight of it all. That’s the dream, at least.

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 after hearing you chatting away in your crib I decided to fetch you, sure you were awake for good, 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

August 30, 2018

Picture Parity

Even before Dana was born I knew I would put a ridiculous amount of pressure on myself to get her photos on the wall quickly. Yes, I said I wouldn’t let differences in the number of photos get to me, and for instagram or facebook it generally doesn’t. The photo collections on the walls, however, are ones we see every day. I wanted parity. Besides, some of the ideas I had for photo collections had very real time constraints.


Back in march I told Domingo I had just one photo left I needed to update to include Dana.

The family portrait over the fireplace? He asked.

Okay, two.

Your phone lock screen?

… Three.

Oh, you mean the-

Point taken.


Anyway, the “one photo” I was thinking of back then was for our entrance way console photo collection. I have one of Alexis’s newborn photos by the tree, as well as Nicole in the window, each in a similar silver frame. What both photos have in common? Both are naked baby photos, both inside, neither against a backdrop, and in both photos my kids aren’t looking at the camera. Coming up with a similar photo concept for Dana was a tall order. I especially struggle with non backdrop backgrounds in formal photography, especially especially in doors.

Since it had to be a baby photo, the clock was ticking.

This afternoon while Dana was napping I looked up from my computer and noticed it was finally overcast outside. That meant nice outdoor photos without harsh sun were a possibility. While these types of days become more common in the fall, they’re often accompanies by cooler weather which would make naked photos impracticable. Here we were, end of August and I hadn’t taken a single nice outdoor photo of Dana yet.

By the time she had woken up from her nap and finished her lunch the sun was drifting in an out of the clouds. I started to assemble my camera, thought better of it, and changed my mind again. True, the lighting wasn’t great, but Dana seemed to be in an amenable mood. What’s the harm in trying?

I’m so happy I did.

The sun stayed mostly at bay, and we ended up with some cute photos. Dana squealed with delight outside. She has never seen this side of the house before, and loved it. Best of all, I now have a possible photo for my collection. Maybe I’ll come up with a better photo idea, one inside the house that better matches the photos of Nicole and Alexis. If not, at least I have this one.


This summer I replaced the picture of the mantel with a new family photo. Between my home screen and lock screen the kids each appear the same number of times on my phone. It’ll tide me over until I get a good portrait oriented photo of all three girls that fits the phones dimensions.

I’ve achieved parity.

Well, with one exception.

August 25, 2018

In Need of Practice Runs

I made a cardinal mistake when photographic my kids with their first day of school signs: no practice run.

The issue this time wasn’t incorrect camera settings, it was all the other things I couldn’t control. I was expecting an overcast sky like last year for a nice soft look, or at least a sun at a favorable angle. Instead I had full sun and harsh light. Lack of solid sleeping combined with over excitement made it difficult for the kids to sit still. The sun wasn’t right, and the mood wasn’t right. As a result, the picture wasn’t right. I do have many funny outtakes, though, including Alexis holding standing in profile with her sign as though it’s a mug shot.

There’s a trade off between the idealized and authentic in photography and I definitely err on the side of idealized.

When I look back at the year’s photos, I’m happier seeing the best ones, than the most authentic ones. It doesn’t bother me if a photo is a staged recreation, or taken a few days early or late. To be honest, I usually don’t remember those details anyway. It does bother me if the photo is technically flawed. It does bother me if, when I see the photo, my first thought is how I should have or wish I had taken it.

What I should have done was taken a few practice photos with our “first day of school” sign the weekend before, when we weren’t under a time constraint. If the lighting was bad that day, or the girls just weren’t in the mood, we’d be no worse off. On the other hand, if we ended up with a great photo I’d have a back-up shot I could potentially use for my highlight reel if need be. True, it wouldn’t be authentic, but it would have taken the pressure off on the actual first day of school.

Rather than practice shots this time, however, I did “retakes” a few days later which ended up much better. It was too late for my highlight reel this time, but at least I have them.

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