The Data-Driven Mom: Baby Connect iPhone app review

Edit: I posted an update to this review after using the app for about 2 months—- and then I reconsidered after using it for 10 months.

You should all know that I’m writing this review on my iPhone, as hey! It’s one of the few devices I can carry around and access one-handed while wrangling a baby! And boy, is it a lifesaver: how did moms do anything without smartphones, seriously? It’s a connection to the outside world, an entertainment device, a camera, and of course, a serious data collector.

Which brings me to my review of Baby Connect, the iPhone baby tracking app, as promised in the Baby Log review I posted earlier.

Baby Connect is $5 and well, it’s basically usurped the role of Baby Log on my phone. It provides the robust functionality I was looking for in an app—and to be specific about my situation: my baby is six weeks old, and I use the app mainly track feedings, sleep duration, and diaper changes. So parents of older children might be looking for different attributes, but that’s not what I’m looking for or rating the apps on.

But while Baby Connect is functionally good, it does lack in terms of presentation. Or put another way, while all the data you want is physically in there, it’s a real trial to find what you’re looking for sometimes. Here’s a few examples.

  • The home screen feels overly complex. Most of the screen real estate is given to a bunch of static buttons showing you which activities you can enter, and the really useful stuff about when your kid last fed or last had a diaper changed is relegated to super-tiny-text on the bottom of the screen. You can go to a List view to see this data larger, but that’s two steps instead of one, isn’t it—and time can be of the essence when you’re managing a baby and trying to figure out when you last fed her!
  • Editing prior entries takes a wee bit long. This is an example of some redundancy in the app. You can select entries you’ve made in the app and edit them, but the app always makes you go to an interim screen displaying the info about that entry before you get to the editing dialog—-where the info about that entry is also displayed as well. So why not eliminate that interim screen?
  • All logged entries are just in one long, undifferentiated list. Which is fine if you’re looking for only a chronological approach when investigating your child’s actions. But sometimes you want to sort the entries by different criteria to see what’s going on and how things stack up! For example, in Baby Log, if you tap the Sleep button, you get a list of only all the past Sleep entries you’ve made, which can be very useful (Baby Log keeps its undifferentiated chronological list of actions on its home screen).
  • Graphs are more useful, but still too small and imprecise to use for discerning patterns. There’s a lot of interesting charts here, but you still can’t zoom in and look at the data very specifically—your only option is to go to the .csv files and eyeball the raw numbers. Which is not the same as manipulating the charts visually! Seriously, I want to be able to look closely at the day-long chart of my baby’s actions and figure out if there’s common times when she feeds, sleeps, does poops, etc. Or I want to look at the chart of the common intervals for feedings and perhaps change the data that’s being graphed. If I’m doing all this terrific data collection, why not give me more visual tools to manipulate it with?

However, Baby Connect has taken over from Baby Log for a reason, and that’s because its features are super robust and intelligent beyond the presentation problems. Some favourites:

  • Sync data across devices and online! Yes! Multiple caregivers can be assigned to the same child, so if your partner installs Baby Connect on his or her phone, entries you both make get merged into one data stream for the kid. Also, there’s automatic backups to a central server (baby-connect.com) and you can even enter info through the web interface. Fantastic!
  • Intelligent timers. Say you’ve taken a few minutes to settle your kid into feeding, which means starting a feeding timer would actually be two minutes behind. With Baby Connect, you can just set the actual start time for the feed, and the app will add the extra time and continue the timer ongoing. The app is also very consistent about reporting when your baby last did an action—you can actually set it to count time since the start or the end of the last activity. As well, for past entries, you can just set start and end times and the app will automatically calculate duration for you, which Baby Log couldn’t do for some reason.
  • Export is much better. Data comes in one big .csv package dump, and you can download it from the web interface too. Nice!

So in sum, Baby Connect is the clear winner thus far, though there are some things wanting. And I’ll keep you posted as my app adventures continue!

The Data-Driven Mom: Baby Log iPhone app review

One thing you discover after you bring your new baby home is that there’s a lot of weird input you have to track. When did she last feed? (Turns out you have to feed babies roughly 15+ min every three to four hours or they get very sad!) How long is she sleeping every day? (They’ve got to sleep around 16-18h a day, and too much awake time drives them crazy!) And how many times is she pooing, and what colours are those poos? (Turns out there’s a right and wrong answer to this too!)

Well, to drag out the old cliche: there’s an app for that. Lots of apps, actually! And the one I’ve settled on so far is Baby Log. It’s $4.99 at the App Store, but it’s a small price to pay for tracking all this data consistently. (The free apps were all too skimpy on features and lacked graphical analysis and data exporting.)

So far, here’s what I like about it:

  • You can track nursing (it knows which side you’ve fed the baby on last), pumping, bottle feeding, solids, diaper changes, sleep time, measurements (height/weight/head circumference), baths, milestones, doctor’s notes, and more.
  • You don’t have to handwrite anything into those paper sheets they give you at the hospital! Just carry your iPhone around with you and hit a timer when your kid starts an activity. Or you can enter the data manually into the app. THE WORLD IS YOUR OYSTER.
  • The timers keep on running in the background, so you can move around the app and edit other entries in the database, or move to other apps while you continue to time the baby’s nap or feeding etc.
  • Exportable data in .csv format! Pretty graphs showing how your kid is doing across many measures!
  • It’s incredibly stable. No crashes yet and I’ve been using it nonstop for 3 weeks!

Where it could get better:

  • The nursing log assumes that you feed on both the left and the right breast during each session. This doesn’t really work if you’re only doing one breast per session. But logging time on each side as an individual session screws up the nursing graphing function for some reason—it won’t display any of the times the baby has fed on the right side.
  • There’s an awesome graphical timeline of your baby’s day, showing when she’s sleeping, feeding, getting her diaper changed, etc. But it’s way too small and you can’t zoom in on it, which is annoying because you can’t tell at a glance exactly what time an activity started. (This is probably only annoying for those who like to really drill down in their data visualizations.)
  • You have to manually back up your data to your computer via WiFi. I’d really prefer a central website where your data is automatically synced, so you don’t have to worry about data loss.
  • You can export data to CSV, but you have to export each activity separately, (nursing/sleeping/diapers) rather than dump all the data in one big lump onto your computer.
  • You also can’t automatically replicate the fancy iPhone app graphs on your computer with the exported CSV files. Lame! I didn’t spend $5 to dick around with spreadsheet formulas!

Of course, all these complaints are a bit moot: any app and any level of analysis is way better than tracking on paper. And also, I like to have a level of data tracking and visualization that probably far exceeds what a normal person cares about.

And, in the course of researching Baby Log and its associated competitors, I’ve discovered that there’s a decent alternative called BabyConnect that has a central syncing website and similar functionality! So I’m going to toss in the $4.99 and see how that one works out. Stay tuned!

Welcome, Linna

As many of you know, I was expecting a baby in May—- and she finally arrived last week!

So world, please welcome my lovely daughter Linna. She is healthy and happy and just delightful. I suspect we’ll be having a lot of fun together this year.

(Yes, that’s just her hand for now—- I’m still wrestling with the idea of posting my kid’s picture online. The quandaries of the digital age!)

Steak, well done


Well, really, from the looks of it, this steak’s probably raw. But it’s well done from a sewing perspective. I made my own pattern and everything!

Why a stuffed steak? I don’t know, why not? The T-bone is such a classic shape. I investigated doing other cuts of meat in stuffed form but they really don’t work: a roast just looks like a big red cylinder. So: steak ftw! It also doubles as a pretty comfortable pillow, in a pinch.

The king of Scrabble


The king of Scrabble is obviously the iPad. I discovered this when I was trying the Scrabble app in two-player mode and realized it included a “Best Word” button that automatically picks the highest scoring word for you. I hit the button repeatedly and that’s when I realized the iPad is a terrifying Scrabble opponent. Just look at the board! VAKIL! ARGOTIC! And the top turn was “RENEGED,” which uses all seven tiles and includes FOUR two-letter words for a score of 72. Thank God the button cuts out after eight turns or so, or else no human would ever have a chance against it. Or a shred of dignity left.

(Also, the Best Word button is a weird option and it’s odd that you can’t turn it off as a default. I mean, why on earth would anyone do anything for their turn but hit the Best Word button? Obviously the computer’s going to know better than you. As well, in “party mode” where you use your iPhone/iPod Touch as a tile rack, it gives you the option of looking up possible words from your letters in the Merriam Webster Dictionary to see if they are valid. You can’t turn that option off either, which is again kind of odd.)

Idle pop culture opinions: Jack Donaghy’s love interests

Jack Donaghy

Jack Donaghy has loved many women during his tenure at 30 Rock. Not all of them are created equal. Herewith is an ordered list from worst to first.

6. Elisa

There’s a saying about 30 Rock guest stars: the more famous they are, the crappier their appearance on the show. And too true here! Elisa should have worked—if you listen to the content of her lines, they’re all pretty hilarious—but there’s something about Salma Hayek’s slow-paced delivery that made everything unfunny. The most excruciating part was that they kept her on the show for so long.

5. Nancy Donovan

GAH at so many things. The terrible Boston accent! The jarring asides about children!

4. Phoebe

Ah Phoebe: she of the avian bone syndrome. So beautifully crazy. I really wished she could have stayed longer: all her double-dealing and psychosis could have added up to something great. Also we never did learn the mystery behind the crazy American accent that emerged when Phoebe got angry.

3. Bianca

Hair pulling; condescension; mastery of Donaghy-esque power moves. Plus: “Oh, dammit Johnny, you know I love my Big Beef and Cheddar!” Brilliant.

2. Celeste “CC” Cunningham

The forbidden fruit, CC was smart, morally upright, and had a tremendous backstory. Shot in the face by a dog! Plus the political conflict was fantastic. “She’s my liberal, hippy-dippy mama; my groovy chick; my old lady.”

1. Avery Jessup

Who knew that the best match for Jack would be MORE Jack? Avery’s like a younger, souped-up female version of our favourite GE vice-president, and like the iPad, the amped-up aggressive conservatism she brings to their relationship is both magical and revolutionary. It’s abominable that the show made Nancy Donaghy compete with her for Jack’s affections throughout season four. There was no competition! Avery Jessup and the Hot Box, all the way.

Side note: is it not strange that Jack Donaghy & Avery are now having a baby, which is essentially Liz Lemon’s dream?

One of the top 40 under 40

A wonderful surprise—I’ve been named to Mass Transit magazine’s 2010 Top 40 Under 40 list!

It’s both humbling and exciting to be counted as one of the young leaders in the North American transit industry. I’m in good company, too: check out the full list at Mass Transit’s website. Congratulations to all!

Overthinking Big Business

  1. Full disclosure: I love the Divine Miss M.
  2. But seriously: what’s with the 80s and its general acceptance of age diversity? Bette Midler was 45 and Lily Tomlin was 49 by the time this movie debuted. Can you imagine any major studio today making a film where top billing goes to two middle-aged female comediennes? Without making a big deal about how the movie stars women over the age of 30 (cf. Sex and the City)?
  3. And no, I’m not trying to say Big Business is a tour-de-force akin to Citizen Kane. Yeah, it’s deliciously dumb, with gratuitous scenes of Bette Midler yodelling, and even stars the grandpa from Gilmore Girls as a frou-frou gay man! But the movie wasn’t a total bomb and still made a reasonable amount, so it does show middle-aged funny ladies were never total box office poison, as many believe they are today.
  4. Why isn’t Bette Midler in any movies lately? And why is Lily Tomlin so criminally underused these days?
  5. Also: remember when carphones were new? Different time, the 80s.

Single-A baseball is the best baseball

The Vancouver Canadians vs the Boise Hawks, August 21, 2010.

Vancouver’s a big city, but there’s a ton of things within it that smack of small-town fun. I mean that in a good way—it’s unfailingly awesome that this city has a ton of small-scale events, all invented just so you can have fun, meet your neighbours, and support your local community. Yeah!

A case in point is the Vancouver Canadians, our single-A minor league baseball team, whose games are true joys to attend. A Canadians game is cheap, it’s super cheerful, and it’s all wrapped up inside beautiful Nat Bailey Stadium, built in Mount Pleasant in 1951.

The baseball’s always a draw, but the club’s barrage of non-baseball interludes really make the whole thing sing. Man, do they hustle to keep your attention: there’s sushi mascot races, 50/50 draws, dancing groundskeepers, a singalong to Take Me Out to The Ball Game during the seventh-inning stretch, and more.

The stadium was sold out for Saturday’s game, with a super boisterous crowd fiercely on the Canadians’ side, and tons of silly crowd things to shamelessly participate in (the wave, the shouting of “Goose!” when a goose landed on the field, etc). The Canadians lost on Saturday, but we all went home happy, I think. Not only did everyone get a free A&W Teen Burger and rootbeer because a Canadian hit a homer (thanks, Michael Choice!), but the bat boy caught about six foul balls, to the roaring approval of the stands (“MVP!” we all shouted). After the game was done, fans swarmed to get the bat boy’s autograph too. Another fine night at the Nat.

Overthinking (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life

  1. Let’s just get this out of the way: this is an amazing, beautiful song.
  2. This song was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in November 1987, when Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes are 47 and 41 respectively. Can you imagine anyone of that age making it to the top of the pop charts today? It sort of seems impossible.
  3. As a follow-up: I was thinking maybe they’d have a shot at the adult contemporary charts today. But you know, a quick look at the #1s on the 2010 adult contemporary chart shows just four artists: Colbie Caillat, Taylor Swift, Michael Buble, and Train. On further investigation, the lead singer of Train is 41, but a quick look at the video for “Hey Soul Sister” prompts the observation that he’s not 41 in the same way Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes are in their 40s in 1987. He’s more like an aging rocker in his mid-30s; they’re more like a suburban mom and dad karaoke-ing together. (Also, I can’t figure out why the song “Hey Soul Sister” made #1. It’s not unpleasant, just kind of mediocre. Or is that the definition of adult contemporary?)
  4. However, maybe this is an unfair comparison. Bill & Jennifer may have likely rocketed onto the charts owing to the success of Dirty Dancing (cf. C. Dion, My Heart Will Go On.)
  5. And finally: here’s Bill and Jennifer singing the song live on Top of the Pops. It sort of seems like “The Singing Bee” or any number of those singing reality TV shows, no? Let’s all appreciate Jennifer’s choice of a sensible skirt suit and tights for her show wardrobe, however. Different time, the 80s.

Witold Rybczynski

Well, over the past few months, I’ve become an unequivocal Witold Rybczynski superfan.

This all started after I picked up one of Witold’s books, The Most Beautiful House in the World, from the local library. I’d read his architecture criticism at Slate before, and I knew he was a renowned professor, but none of it quite prepared me for the spectacular nature of his long-form writing.

The Most Beautiful House in the World was ostensibly about the construction of Witold’s house outside Montreal, but it quickly became a considered reflection on the craft of architecture and the qualities of a good home. Witold had a clear, measured voice, and he wove a wealth of thoughtful historical detail throughout his book. Let’s put it this way: reaching the end of the book was like finishing a long, rich conversation with an old, dear friend. And it was bloody nonfiction!

The next step was obvious. I had to reserve and read all of his books as soon as possible—and I did, much to my delight. It turns out Witold dives into topics that seem wholly abstract, but pulls them to earth in a way that is fascinating and wise and illuminating all at once. Home: A Short History of an Idea looked at how we had developed the concept of the private home reserved for family. Waiting for the Weekend examined how we developed the concept of the weekend and our sense of leisure time. City Life looked at how the American city came to be the way it was. The list goes on, and on.

One more thing, however, makes Witold’s writing so riveting—and it’s that his style is a sharp and invigorating contrast to a lot of nonfiction you find today. Malcolm Gladwell’s influence on the form has made some people dive into fascinating subjects but come up with very little to say. But Witold plumbs subjects with scholarly intelligence that remains approachable. He’s not trying to be breezy, he’s not aiming to thrill you with laboriously tortured narratives, and he’s not trying to tie a bunch of disparate concepts and events into a unified theory that secretly runs the universe. He’s more like a tour guide for this world, writing to help us understand where we are and where we’ve come from. There’s substance and wisdom there. I’m hooked.

Welcome to the new Pabillano.com

Woop woop—after five years with the same website design, here’s a new and improved Pabillano.com!

It’s a brand-new look revved up with lots of snappy features. One thing I’m very happy about is my new reading lists: the newer lists are all sortable by header! (The 2006-2004 lists remain static since the datestamps were messy.)

There’s also new content in the sidebar: you can now grab a feed of links I’m sharing, plus links to a few of my social networking accounts. So Web 2.0!

Anyway, this lovely new site has prompted me to update the blog more often. I’m planning for notes on books, film and television, social media, and assorted other stuff that I find interesting. But I’ll be staying away from employer and work-related topics so I don’t cross the streams, so to speak.

I’ll do my best to keep this all engaging, so do stick around for the ride—I think we’re going to have some fun.

(And many, many thanks to DZ, the driving force behind this new site design. Hearts!)


This is me at the FutureSex/LoveParty held last weekend.

Some explanation is in order. Once upon a time I dreamed of having a Justin Timberlake party. Well, to be more specific, I accidentally dressed like JT while on a transatlantic flight and thought, “If it’s this easy to dress like Mr. JT, wouldn’t it be easy and fun to get lots of people to do the same?” So the idea of a FutureSex/LoveParty was born, and this party was held last weekend at our humble apartment as a housewarming.

Here I’ve posted a small a taste of what went down…

Read more

First Post!

Saw this in the neighbourhood in April.

Lame! See, this is why I don’t blog!

However, I am keeping the blog around just in case I actually have some updates to tell you. Like that I have a blog now. Here it is!