Ultimate Baby Monitor (for geeks)

This blog is not dead. A very specific issue has made it more difficult to update, but hopefully I can turn that to a positive in a (fingers crossed) soon-to-follow entry. Hint: It involves a lot of soda. A soda can, a soda bottle, and soda glass tubing.

Anyway, for now, I unearth my Ultimate Baby Monitor. (Disclaimer: I’m a bit of a geek. “Ultimate” by my standards may not be ultimate by yours. It’s more likely that “ultimate” by my standards is mostly unusable by normal standards and a little pathetic to boot. And in cases of food, it actually just means I added cheese to it.)

As it is certainly not All Things To All Parents, I’ll highlight the quick pros and cons:


  • Video monitoring
  • Audio monitoring
  • Infrared night vision
  • Wired or wireless (except power)
  • Pan & tilt camera movement remotely
  • 2-way audio (currently unimplemented, only under very specific circumstances, and I can not for the life of me figure out why you’d want to talk to your baby through your baby monitor)
  • Viewing available through smartphone anywhere you have data signal or WiFi access
  • Can record (again, under certain circumstances)
  • Motion detection alerts
  • And, of course price: $60. That’s pretty close to as cheap as you’ll find a video baby monitor


  • Audio sucks
  • Slight delay, about 1 1/2 seconds over LAN
  • That $60 only covers the camera, for a receiver you have to use a computer, tablet or smartphone
  • Audio REALLY sucks
  • Not battery operated, will require power cord
  • Okay, so the audio sucks so much that my wife actually still uses the audio baby monitor we had before
  • To get audio on smartphone, you’ll probably have to pay for an app, and I haven’t tested that

So what’s the big secret to it? The camera.

First, a few things about the specific camera I linked to.

  1. That’s not the same exact camera I bought. I bought an even Brand X-ier camera. Like, it doesn’t just not list a manufacturer, but nobody on the Internet seems to be able to track it down. Worse, people don’t seem to care. It’s like a mystery so ancient that people refuse to look lest their faces melt off and Harrison Ford is forced to turn it over to the government.
  2. The one I’ve linked to is a generically packaged version of a Foscam camera. It is compatible with Foscam firmwares, so you can update it as new firmwares come out. (This is important as it has an internal web server for its user interface that’s based on its firmware.) For my camera, it won’t accept the Foscam firmware, I can’t find new firmware from the manufacturer (apparently an ancient and vengeful pharaoh), and I’m stuck with it. FOR LIFE. (It’s a B-series, for whatever that means.)
  3. Mine cost $4 less on eBay. Who’s laughing now?
  4. It ships from Hong Kong, so allow enough time for your baby to graduate college for it to arrive.

The same camera is about $100 on Amazon with faster shipping, and the price goes up from there.

I’ll stick with the $60, because it’s more fun to complain about waiting than … Well, just about anything.

Wait a few years, get the camera, unwrap it and … Well, good luck. Most of the different re-branders include installation CDs (with .DOC documents and what equate to Power Point Presentations), but they’re nearly as good as the ones that come with no documentation at all. If you’re used to configuring network-attached devices through web interfaces without instructions, this’ll be right up your alley. The default IP address of it is (though some are on on port 80, with the user name of admin and the password of 123456. (I have actually randomly found some of these on the Internet that still use this user name and password. Sadly, they’re mostly demo cameras and are invariably set up to watch a couch in Singapore 24/7. Possibly the same couch.) So if you’re using a different internal network than 192.168.0/24, you’ll have to change your computer’s IP address to find and talk to it. Potentially the “Camera Search” software that comes with it will find it for you, but I’m more likely to stick with changing the address.

Bizarre bonus configuration tip: Some of these come with Dynamic DNS pre-configured. There’s a sticker on the bottom that has the URL for your camera that it will automatically bind itself to. Plug the camera directly into your broadband modem, and configure it from a friend’s house or your smartphone using that address.

Configure it to an address that’s actually in your LAN’s network range, configure your router to forward a port to it, and you’re mostly done.

At that point, you could kick off Internet Explorer, install the ActiveX plugins, and watch and listen to the camera. And if you enjoy Internet Explorer … That’s probably all you need to do.

(Quick note: Internet Explorer with those ActiveX controls is the only way to get all functionality of the camera via a web page. This includes using the microphone on your computer to talk to people in range of the camera if you’ve connected external speakers, and recording video files off the camera. There are some stand-alone programs that come on the CD and others you can purchase that will also include this functionality.)

With the current firmware, the audio portion is (mostly) only available using the IE ActiveX controls. There are two work-arounds to this: You could use a Firefox plugin that displays Internet Explorer through a Firefox tab (which defeats the point of not using Internet Explorer anyway and isn’t possible in Linux), or you can use VLC Player.

The camera has a lot of hidden functions built into it. Most are accessed through hitting URLs in it and kicking off some CGI magic. I found out about these while working on my own Ultimate Baby Monitor project, and found somebody else’s.

He has the same Super-Brand-X-est camera that he maintains he discovered to be a Netwave IP camera while avoiding the fate of Nazi relic hunters. He found a PDF that contains some of these functions here.

The videostream.asf address will serve up both the video and the audio in a format that VLC Player (and mplayer) will accept. (It deceptively looks like Windows Media Player will accept it, but this is a trap. It is conniving and spiteful.)

There are a few other commands that I’ve found to be useful, too. By using videostream.asf and these other commands, you can build your own web page that will display video, play audio, and control the camera’s movement, and it will work in Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome, and will work in Windows or Linux.  You have to install VLC Player and its Mozilla plugin for this to work.

The idea for this page is that you embed the VLC Player into a web page, then include hyperlinks which send commands to move the camera up, down, left and right.

The page I’ve built for that does JUST these five things: Embed the player (once for IE, once for Firefox/Chrome) and move each of the four directions. You can easily pretty it up with buttons and backgrounds, and sparklies and flashies and super emo art and heavy music like your defunct Myspace page you haven’t looked at since you met your child’s co-parent.

Okay, it does one more thing, it embeds your user name and password in each of these things so that you don’t have to type it in. Obviously, you probably don’t want to actually publish the page to the Internet this way, just drop it on your desktop.

Without further ado, here’s the HTML for it:

   <object classid="clsid:9BE31822-FDAD-461B-AD51-BE1D1C159921" codebase="http://downloads.videolan.org/pub/videolan/vlc/latest/win32/axvlc.cab" width="640" height="480" id="vlc" events="True">
     <param name="Src" value="http://YOURADDRESS:YOURPORTNUMBER/videostream.asf?user=YOURUSERNAME&pwd=YOURPASSWORD" />
     <embed type="application/x-vlc-plugin" name="VLC" autoplay="yes" loop="no" volume="100" width="640" height="480" target="http://YOURADDRESS:YOURPORTNUMBER/videostream.asf?user=YOURUSERNAME&pwd=YOURPASSWORD">
   <p />
   <a target="camcontrol" href="http://YOURADDRESS:YOURPORTNUMBER/decoder_control.cgi?user=YOURUSERNAME&pwd=YOURPASSWORD&command=2&onestep=1">Up</link>&nbsp;
   <a target="camcontrol" href="http://YOURADDRESS:YOURPORTNUMBER/decoder_control.cgi?user=YOURUSERNAME&pwd=YOURPASSWORD&command=0&onestep=1">Down</link>&nbsp;
   <a target="camcontrol" href="http://YOURADDRESS:YOURPORTNUMBER/decoder_control.cgi?user=YOURUSERNAME&pwd=YOURPASSWORD&command=6&onestep=1">Left</link>&nbsp;
   <a target="camcontrol" href="http://YOURADDRESS:YOURPORTNUMBER/decoder_control.cgi?user=YOURUSERNAME&pwd=YOURPASSWORD&command=4&onestep=1">Right</link>&nbsp;
   <p />
   <iframe src="#" style="display:none" name="camcontrol"</iframe>

Yup. Just HTML (almost). I’m old school like that.

Also: This is for my Brand-X Cam of the Covenant. For the Foscam and Foscam unbranded, you’ll want to switch up & down, and left & right. The controls are reversed between the two cameras.

Finally, there’s smartphones. The camera I got came with an Android app on the CD. It’s usable, but it’s tiny, doesn’t rotate … It’s not a very good app.

Instead, I’ve installed Tiny Cam Monitor Free, and am using the Foscam profile for it. It’s great, but again the movement controls are reversed. I’d consider paying for the audio version, but the sound really isn’t great anyway.  There are similar apps all over the place for the iPhone.  And if all else fails, the default built-in web page interface includes a Mobile style sheet that’s quite usable from the phone.

And that’s it. My wife enjoys firing up the smartphone app when she hears him stirring, and wants to see if he’s distressed enough to get out of bed. (Or if he’s standing in the crib, or even yanking on and chewing the power cord as she witnessed him do the first night before I’d thought better of it.)  I enjoy full-screening it on my second monitor so I can watch him sleep while I’m working from home.  One of the best parts is that it’s not wasted money. After he (and any yet-to-be-conceived siblings) outgrow the need for monitors, it’ll be a great component of a home security system. You can even set it to send e-mail to your text alerts gateway based on camera movement. Which might not work so great if you have a dog.  Oh, well. Still cool.


Baby Swing Hack

The baby swing hack is one of the first hardware hacks most new dads tackle. In fact, I first helped with the baby swing hack a decade ago, when a friend came up against the same problem with his new daughter.

The problem is batteries.  Manufacturer suggested retail price for a Fisher-Price Cradle n’ Swing ranges from $100 to $210, depending on features. Those that take only batteries start at $100, while those that also come with a power adapter (or place to plug one in) start at $140. The extra $40 is a lot to pay for a $10 power adapter. New batteries every other week would be even more expensive.

Hacking the baby swing to accept a power adapter is the low-cost solution. I’m not recommending anybody actually do this: I’m a bad parent, and this is just the way that I did it. While one of the easiest hacks I’ve ever done, please don’t do it without knowing your way around a soldering iron or without taking proper safety precautions. While this hack will allow someone to continue to choose either batteries or AC power, one should take out the batteries when using AC and not attempt to use both.

The first time I helped with the hack a decade ago, it was kind of a ThereIFixedIt solution. We literally soldered the AC adapter’s leads to the battery terminals, and it couldn’t be used any other way. (The father went back later and fixed it a little better, but I think the AC adapter was still permanently attached.)

This is a much more elegant solution … And also still a little kludge. The drawbacks:

  • I didn’t make it so that I could leave the batteries in while running it off of AC. Technically I could, but it would still drain the batteries, and it’d be a mess after the batteries ran out.
  • I wasn’t able to find a DC power jack and AC power adapter end that matched at Fry’s, and didn’t have the patience to order ones that would match. So I used a 3.5 mm microphone jack and plug. It works really well, but it might also get me laughed at.

Our swing is the Fisher-Price How Now Brown Cow Cradle n’ Swing (the 2-in-1, not the take-along swing). MSRP is $100, and you can probably find it for $90. We got ours as a dented box discount at the local Mattel Toy Store Outlet for $50 in perfect condition.  It takes 4 1.5V  D-cell batteries wired in serial, for 6V DC total power. One should use around 1.2 amps (1200 mA) for the power adapter, we settled on 1.8 (1800 mA) since that’s what they had in-store.  (Fisher-Price actually uses 700 mA adapters, but the 500 mA we first tried was massively under-powered.  An 800 mA adapter may do fine.)

We bought a universal power adapter for $15 (could have gotten it cheaper online), and a microphone jack and microphone plug-end for $0.89 each at Fry’s. So, here’s my project notes:

Baby Swing Hack

  • Time:  15 minutes
  • Cost:  $17
  • Most difficult part: Soldering wires, drilling holes

To determine if the hack would work, I wrapped a separate wire around each of the ends of the battery terminals. (Just the two at the ends of the battery chain.) You can see them here:

Hacked Baby Swing project: test leads connected

I carefully touched them to the ends of the power adapter (set to 6V DC), very careful not to cross them, and met with success.  I then unscrewed the back, and found this:

The insides of the baby swing. You can see on the upper right where the wires run to the batteries.

I probably should have gotten a few more pictures here, but it’s pretty straightforward.  I chose a place for the microphone jack that had plenty of electronics-free space behind it, drilled a hole, put the microphone jack in (the hole was so snug that I was able to just screw the jack in, and it was so tight a fit that it required pliers to do so), and soldered it in.  One trick here: Make sure you note which is the positive lead and which is the negative lead, and wire it correctly. I didn’t, so I had to wire the microphone plug onto the AC adapter backwards, too.  You can make out the microphone jack and the wires going to it in this picture:

I then clipped off the end of the AC adapter, soldered the microphone plug plug to it, and that’s it. I don’t have a picture of the AC adapter, but it looks as professional as the baby swing does.  Here’s the end result:

New power jack circled in red. Works perfectly, looks like it came that way.

The end product is a baby swing that has a power adapter (or can use batteries) for $67, instead of $140. If I’d ordered parts online, or found used parts, it would have been even cheaper. And the baby loves it. We’ll probably “hack” it a bit more, and securely put our own mobile at the top, as the one it comes with is fairly uninteresting … To me. Our child seems fascinated with it anyway.

Baby Man Cold

My poor son is sick. More sad than that, though, he doesn’t seem to understand that he has Man Cold. Or maybe he has to grow up first to get that.

Sunday night, we noticed that he had a tiny little cough. He’d do it about once an hour, and we didn’t really think much of it since he didn’t have a fever.

The next day, though, a tiny disaster struck. (Most people probably wouldn’t consider it a disaster at all. Nursing mothers, however, might well consider it a tragedy.) The breast milk that had been stored in the fridge over the weekend had soured, and we had to send frozen breast milk with our son to daycare. This resulted in the milk not having the antibodies from mummy, who’d had the same cold the week before.

So on Monday, things went downhill for the little guy pretty quickly. He had a cardiologist appointment that day (he seemed to enjoy being handled by strangers while naked, we’ll have to have a talk about that) and nothing was caught during his exam. He also wasn’t coughing very much more that evening. There might have been a few extra minutes of crankiness.

Tuesday morning was a different matter. His breathing was raspy, there was more coughing, and his tiny little cooing voice was deeper. (Not like Barry White cooing, maybe, but enough for Tiny Tim to be jealous.)

With how quickly this had progressed, and with his first cold coming at a week shy of four months old, and with Whooping Cough going around, we figured we should get him into the doctor if for nothing else than to tell us what we should be doing for him. (I only trust the parenting books so far. They’re typically written by parents, and parents can be a little nuts. Also, how crazy long was that run-on sentence?)

Anyhow, his doctor wasn’t too worried, but told us what to watch for to see respiratory distress (mostly a sucked-in belly when breathing), and told us to call again if that happened, or if it hadn’t gone away in another week.

Wednesday was when our son had what should have been Man Cold. A regular cold is what women get, which allows them to continue to raise a family, go to work, take care of the household, and not complain.  Man Cold, however, must somehow interact with the “Y” chromosome, making every cold much more severe for men. We can’t fix our own meals, can only get out of bed long enough to find the comfy chair in front of the TV, and the pain is only relieved through a constant dialogue of complaining how bad we feel. (Example: When my wife got this cold, she once asked me for some water, and once commented that her throat was itchy. When I got the same cold, I took two days off work, and got yelled at for not taking a third off.)

So what did he spend his time doing? Laughing. He’d laugh long enough to hurt his throat, then he’d cry that his throat hurt, and then he’d start smiling and laughing again. He eventually decided that laughing wasn’t worth it, but he wouldn’t give up the smiling. All night long he’d interrupt any of his fits of crying with smiles. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, but he was still so happy that he couldn’t keep it off his face.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, does anybody know how to convince an infant to stop doing drugs? Because I don’t see how his attitude could come from anything else.

How to cheat at knitting

I’m now adding Knitting alongside Guitar Playing and Balloon Animal Twisting for things I’ve learned for my son.

Technically, I learned how to knit about five years ago when I stole a knitting book and needles from my mother. (These have not been returned.  She can deal with it.) I got about a dozen rows into a sweater and decided that sweaters were a terrible first project, homespun yarn is a terrible first fiber, and the Xbox has a higher return-on-investment if my investment is only going to last for a few hours.

My opinion on the ROI was reversed, however, when my mother-in-law met her grandson.  She bestowed upon him two of the most gorgeous cardigan sweaters I’ve ever seen in my life.  Gorgeous hand-knit items aren’t really new to me, as literally everybody in my family besides me (before this month) either knits or crochets.  (My dad knits, my brother crochets, and my mother and two sisters do both, though I think they all prefer crochet.) For some reason, these sweaters were what inspired me to finally start creating.

Well, the sweaters and his mobile.  My sister crocheted an incredible mobile for my son.Crocheted by his Auntie Brenda I think I got jealous that he had such amazing hand-crafted gifts from both sides of his family, but nothing from his own mum and dad.

I picked up that same stolen knitting book and those same stolen needles, and started making a baby afghan.  It’s a little ribbed blanket with a simple pattern, and it’s going well … but taking a loooong time.

While I was looking for yarn to use at the Walmart, Gemma saw a Knifty Knitters round loom set. She asked me what it was and how it worked. When I described it to her, she excitedly told me that she’d had a small spool knitting loom as a child, and loved it. Apparently she’d been wanting to knit something for our son, too, but didn’t feel like she could develop the skill to pick up needles and create something.  (She’d gotten as far as casting onto a needle, then knitting one row four or five times before ripping and starting over, and over, and over.)

We bought the looms, and about three hours after we got them home, she’d already completed Devon’s first hat! In the meantime, I’d had about 10 days with his blanket, and it wasn’t even a foot long. Gah!

The next day, Gemma had completed a hat for herself, and was planning other projects. I felt like I was making no progress on my baby blanket, so I went to the store to buy some new yarn, once again stole knitting implements (this time one of her looms) and started a scarf.

It took 10 days, but it’s done and it’s fantastic and I don’t care if it’s cheating. I’ve found some techniques on the Internet and figure that I can get the time on these scarves (even at 8 to 9 feet long) down to three to five days.  Even with an infant, I have plenty of time to work on them while mummy is nursing our son.

I’ll have more pictures of the things I’ve created after Thanksgiving (which is when we’re celebrating half of our Christmas with my family in Utah), after I’ve given them to their intended recipients. The loom is FAST and easy.

Meanwhile, I continue the slow, plodding work on the baby blanket. I hope to be done with it by the time real Christmas rolls along. Although I’m happy with the work that the looms turn out, the items made with needles are the ones that are exciting me. I can’t wait until I’m done with all of the Christmas items, so I can turn my attention to knitting socks in the round using the Magic Loop technique, a new baby blanket for an expecting family member, and eventually sweaters for the whole family.  Just probably without homespun yarn.

Apparently somebody reads my blog

Just a quick update to my last post. The author of idphoto4you.com sent me an e-mail asking why I hadn’t used his site instead of ePassportPhoto.com. Well, I simply hadn’t tried it.

Now I have! I was going to mention it here and state all the reasons why I preferred ePassportPhoto.com instead … But I think I actually like idphoto4you.com more. A lot more.

  • In addition to cropping for you, idphoto4you.com will let you rotate the photo, too. Especially for an infant photo, this can be invaluable.  I don’t mean just 90-degree rotations, but if the baby’s head is drooping a bit to the left, you can fix that.
  • A major problem with ePassportPhoto is that once you’ve guessed at how big your crop will need to be, then you move that crop and position it over the face, and you can not change the size of the crop without starting over. With idphoto4you.com, you can move, resize crop, rotate, resize, move again, etc., in any order, allowing you to get things just right very quickly.
  • This is a minor detail, but the face guide that idphoto4you.com uses is easier to understand at a glance.

Some things are a bit better on ePassportPhoto, however.

  • ePassportPhoto has default templates for over sixty countries. Though most of these all have fairly common rules, it’s nice that you don’t have to look them up for yourself.
  • Passport photos are printed in a landscape aspect rather than portrait, so you get an extra picture. (Not that this makes any real difference, but it’s nice not to have wasted space. The extra photo can always be used in a project for grandparents.)
  • Links are included to have the pictures printed and mailed for you.

There are other minor differences that someone might have a preference for, such as idphoto4you.com allowing you to print bigger sheets with more photos, if you’d like. The bottom line for me, though, is that it took me about 10 seconds to get things just right with idphoto4you.com compared to about a minute with ePassportPhoto.

On a side note, how hilarious is it that somebody read this site and cared what was on it?

How to Get an Infant Passport: The Bad Parenting Way

With my son being multiracial (his mum is British and I’m from Idaho/Utah, so his races are White and Whiter) and having families on multiple continents, it was necessary for us to get his passport early.  He will be traveling to England for Christmas this year, and we wanted to make sure we could get his passport before we dropped money for three international plane tickets during the holiday season.

Getting a passport at all was actually in some degree of doubt. You see, his birth certificate is currently wrong. When I signed his birth certificate, I had only two hours of sleep after being awake for 27 hours, that sleep was in a very uncomfortable chair, and I’d gone to sleep with my hours-old son strapped to machines in the NICU and awoken to the news that his heart was on the wrong side of his chest. (The possibility that such a thing could be temporary was not relayed to me.) These are about half the excuses I use when I have to admit to what I did: I signed the birth certificate with my own birthday wrong. Worse, I noticed it was wrong when I signed it, but in my memory, I thought I’d alerted someone to the inaccuracy … but signed anyway. No matter. It was wrong.

Our first stop was by the Los Angeles County Department of Vital Records. On the day we noticed the error, they said if we got down to them that day before 3:00 PM, we’d be able to make the change the same day. We were there by noon, but it was apparently too late. They’d already sent the batch of birth certificates our son’s was in to the state department in Sacramento … about a week earlier. They’d looked up the wrong one when they told us we could change it that day.

Once a birth certificate goes to the state of California, it takes about 15 months to get it changed, and that’s not counting the new Furlough Fridays that state employees don’t work due to state legislature unable to pass a budget. So not only can’t we get it fixed by this Christmas, but possibly not by next Christmas, either.

We called the Passport Authority and spoke with Brian. If you’re lucky enough to speak with Brian at the Passport Authority, please call him four-letter words, curse his children’s children, describe lewd acts for him to perform with whatever demeaning objects you can think of, and hang up on him. You will be doing me a favor, having some fun yourself, and saving the universe from having to serve up the tiniest slice of Karma he deserves.

Brian “informed” us that it was absolutely impossible to get a passport if even one character on a birth certificate was inaccurate, and there was zero recourse. He informed me that in the history of the United States of America, there has never, ever been a passport granted with incorrect or incomplete information on a birth certificate. When I said that simply wasn’t true, that for centuries record keeping was notoriously bad and many people still alive had no earthly idea what year they were actually born in, and asked to speak with a supervisor, Brian hung up on me.  (He also shouted at one point that he was in charge, apparently of me from the context of the statement, and that I had to speak to him on his terms.)

After brainstorming for a bit over a week, my wife and I decided that the best way to get the passport with the least chance of it being rejected would be to get the passport face-to-face, where they’d have to look us in the eye and tell us that either they didn’t believe I was our son’s father, that they doubted the legitimacy of his U.S. citizenship, or that he was a citizen who was not entitled to a passport.

The hurdle here was that in order to go into the passport authority and get an expedited passport, you have to have proof that you’ll be flying in the next two weeks. Which meant getting tickets, which we didn’t want to do without knowing we’d get the passport. So after calling pretty much every airline, my wife was able to get reservations with Virgin Atlantic (we were very grateful and now have bought the actual tickets for Christmas from them) without a credit card, she got an appointment with the passport authority in L.A., and we were in.

So that’s already a fair bit of bad parenting, but this is where the infant-specific stuff comes in. Passport photos. The first question I had about an infant passport was, “What are the different requirements for an infant’s passport photos?” The answer is, “None.” Infants have all the same restrictions that adults have when taking passport photos, which include:

  • White or off-white background with no distracting shadows
  • Neutral expression with no smile or other emotion on face (such as crying), mouth closed, eyes open
  • Must look directly at the camera with both ears visible
  • 2-inch by 2-inch photo, with face 1-inch to 1-and-3/8-inches large, with the eye line between 1-and-1/8 to 1-and-3/8 inches from the bottom of the photo
  • No hands in photo

Now this last one seems so simple that it’s not even mentioned in most adult requirements … but try telling that to an infant who thinks the point of life is sucking on his fists.

With all these requirements for an infant, it seems impossible to get in a couple of shots. A low price for passport photos is about $14.  No way were we going to pay $14 a pop for what we thought would be a dozen shots to get an acceptable one.

It actually turned out to be 136 shots. (To be fair, there were four acceptable pictures out of those 136.) Thank goodness we found a better way.

My wife found epassportphoto to help us with taking our own photos, and turning them into acceptable photos. Basically, they help you crop the photo to the correct proportions, then they turn the cropped image into a photo sheet for you to get printed as a 4×6 photograph. We printed it at CVS for 19 cents.  (Side-note: They also do countries besides the U.S., completely free.)

After those 136 shots, here’s the final photo, the final sheet, and the Bad Parenting way to make it happen:

So, here you have the first secret: Tie the baby down. Yes, I’m a terrible person. I never claimed differently. I promise he was unharmed, and he wasn’t tied tightly. In fact, he was able to untie the left knot several times just by jiggling his arm a bit.

The white blanket on a crib should be obvious.

Next secret: Fill lighting. We had four lamps pointed at him from the sides. This on its own is not good enough, because they’ll all cast conflicting shadows (remember the shadow rule above). You need this fill lighting with the flash. The flash alone will leave very bad shadows.

Final tip: Plenty of help. We could have avoided the tie-down if we’d had two more people, one each to reach through the side of the crib to hold a hand. As it was, I was operating the camera, my wife was manning the lamps, and her father was shaking a rattle for him to look up at.

Even with all this, it still took over a hundred tries. Good luck.

As for the passport authority, everything went smoothly. They accepted his passport, they accepted our ID, and there wasn’t a single lie or half-truth uttered or written, except by Brian. We went in on a Friday, and picked up his passport after the weekend on the next working day. We needn’t have worried, everything would have worked fine by mail. On the bright side, though, we got the passport back weeks ahead of schedule, and were able to book his tickets earlier than we’d planned.

Screw you, Brian.

Devon’s First Adventure

My son, Devon, was born last Friday, July 23, 2010 at 12:51 AM.  He was born 8 pounds, 6 ounces, and was 20.5 inches long.  He currently has dark brown hair and blue eyes.  His mother was amazing during the delivery and didn’t use an epidural or have any pain killers in her system when he was delivered.  She’s a superhero.

Devon was born with Maconium Aspiration Syndrome, breathing in a tiny amount of fetal feces during the very long, very difficult birthing process. Because of this, Neonatal Intensive Care Unit nurses were on-hand for his birth, and performed his evaluation.  Although he received a 9 and 9 for his APGAR, the one point he missed was for gaspy, grunty breathing, and with the aspirated maconium, that made them worry.

His mother was able to hold him during the evaluation, but I wasn’t able to get more than a few photographs and touch his arms, head and chest. Immediately following, they took him out of her arms, and rushed him down to the NICU.  I went with him, intending to hold him before they started work, but it wasn’t allowed.  They separated him from me before I had a chance to get near him, and when I had scrubbed up and saw him again, he was already attached to machines.

The main machine at the time was a CPAP. It wasn’t giving him oxygen, it was just forcing the air in the room into his lungs when he breathed.  An x-ray confirmed the maconium in his lungs, and also revealed that his heart was on the wrong side.  They forced me out of the room to move my wife out of her Labor & Delivery room and into her Postpartum Recovery room.

The next morning my mother came to visit him while my wife was still recovering. We came down to the NICU to discover he was now in an oxygen tent.  I put my hand into it to stroke his back, and he rolled over onto it.  It was the closest I’d come to holding my son at this point.

Devon’s mummy finally got to visit him later that day, and it was heart-shatteringly sad. The nurses weren’t relaying information from his doctors, his doctors weren’t telling us half of what they thought they were, and we were mostly in the dark regarding his care. We’d been told he’d require at least a 3-day or 7-day  course of antibiotics, but not if those would have to be administered on an in-patient basis, if he could leave immediately after that, or what tests were being done alongside this.  Direct questions asking about these were brushed off by both the nurses and doctors.

After 3 days, Devon’s doctor was finally ill, and couldn’t come into the hospital.  Her backup was on duty, and the backup finally answered our questions.  Devon would have to have three consecutive days of negative cultures before they could take him off of his IV, and once he was taken off of the IV they couldn’t send him home until they had proof that he was gaining weight by being fed.  We could start trying to feed him then to get ready for it.

My wife (and I) wanted to exclusively breast feed Devon, but that seemed to offend everybody in the NICU, since it was an inconvenience to them. They knew and agreed that breast milk was best, but only wanted it pumped and fed by a bottle.  They allowed her to breast feed, but they made it very difficult.  When she couldn’t get into the NICU at the feeding times they’d decided on (and didn’t bother to tell her) they practically yelled at her and stopped just short of calling her a bad mother.  (Later on, there was a nurse who basically did call her a bad mother for leaving the room for literally 40 minutes.  I threw her out of the room and reported her to the Charge Nurse.  We didn’t see her again after that.)  We were camping at the hospital at this point, sleeping on chairs in the lobby, and spending every moment we could scrubbing up or with our son.

One of the better nurses spent a few hours on the phone fighting for space for Devon in a different NICU (NICU 4) where mothers were allowed to room-in with their babies to make breastfeeding a plausible opportunity.

Things were much, much better in NICU 4.  We got to spend as much time with our son as we wanted without being made to feel unwelcome, we got to change his diapers, dress him, give him baths, and hold him any time we wanted without asking permission from the nurses.

We finally felt like a family. It was such a relief.

Meanwhile, he was finally gaining weight on the breastfeeding, though we had to switch to bottle-feeding breast milk for a day to prove to his actual doctor that he was eating enough.  Thankfully, she was out the next day, and her backup stepped in again and released him!

I’ve skipped a million parts of this story, good and bad.  He was in there for only five days, but it feels like at least half a year’s worth of experiences.

Currently, he has no infection, his lungs look good.  His heart was shifted to the right side only due to the birthing process and has now shifted back.  There was a PDA discovered in his heart, a specific valve not closing, but that appears to have sealed.  Devon still needs to see a cardiologist, though, due to an enlarged heart.  We’ll see how that goes, but I suspect all will be fine with that, as well.

Our boy is safe, home, and healthy. We love him more than words can say, and it turns out we’re better parents than I’d have suspected.  Which means I’ll have to really step up my bad parenting.