Alan Porter's minimal net presence



January 2015

I started my new job in earnest in January. Sure, I had a little while before the holidays to get settled. But the new development work took off when we got back from our break. I started work on an Angular.js web site. Angular and Javascript are new for me, and so I spent a lot of time going through tutorials.

Halfway through the month, I traveled to our company headquarters in Atlanta for their annual beginning-of-the-year meeting. There was an orientation for new employees, and I got to meet everyone from engineering, and then they had a day-long kick-off party at a fancy hotel. It was a fun way to get to know the new company.

The night before I was supposed to leave for Atlanta, I noticed that one of my tires was not fit for a long trip, so we hastily swapped vehicles and I got new tires when I got back home. I’m glad I discovered that before leaving home!

As you might recall, back in October, the girls were in a play called “Death to the Drama Club”, which revolves around a (pretty bad) school performance of the Wizard of Oz. So the Oz story is dear to their hearts these days. There was really no question when “Wicked” came to town, that they would want to see it. It was a real treat for the whole family. Audrey went back and saw it a second time with her friends from school.

One of our hermit crabs, “Count Pebbles of the Puddle”, came out of his shell and stayed out for a week. We’re not sure why. He eventually died. The girls sent him off on a funeral boat into our local pond.

We were treated to small and blurry celestial treat, as Comet Lovejoy passed by over the course of a few days. We set up Sydney’s telescope to get a glimpse of it.

The girls are considering magnet schools for next year, so we toured Enloe High School, a G/T magnet school that offers a very wide array of electives.

February 2015

The girls participated in the Science Olympiad competition, which is made up of several challenges – some are written tests, while others are hands-on projects. They each took home three medals!

I have been trying to learn Angular.js for work, and trying to get a better grasp on REST services. So I worked through a very detailed “Django + Angular” tutorial that teaches both.

We celebrated Chinese New Year with our Asian friends. As usual, we gathered and ate and talked and ate some more.

My friend Jeremy and I started having hack nights, where we work on our Python programming skills. We’re starting with the basics and working up to databases and web frameworks. With Jeremy, I get to re-use some of my material from Sydney’s weekend Python classes. She continues to do cool things – this month, she converted decimal numbers to Roman numerals and back.

We got a little bit of snow. Not enough to build a decent snowman, but enough to cancel school for a week! This place is crazy.

Foong and I have known each other for 27 years, and to celebrate the fact that she never wised up enough to leave me, we had dinner at “An”, a nice Asian restaurant here in Cary.

March 2015

At work, they invited our User Interface designers and coders to join us for a “swarm” project, where we’d all hack on our team’s new web project for a couple of days. The others were focused on our longer-term project integration goals, and so I jumped in and implemented our immediate deliverable, a dashboard with some pretty cool graphs and charts.

Right now, flip-flopping is the name of the game. A new project came up, where I will be working on a headless Linux appliance, customizing it for our application.

The girls were both in their school’s Spring musical show, Beauty and the Beast. Audrey played “Babbette”, the maid who is turned into a feather duster. Sydney played the “Silly Girl #1”, who fawns over Gaston.

Later, when we were on a long road trip, I made a comment that they seemed to know everyone’s lines of the play, and not just their own. “I wonder if you guys could recite all of the lines of the play.” My challenge was accepted, and duly accomplished.

With Spring musical season in full swing, the girls went to see Apex High School perform “Les Miserables”. They got the last two tickets for the last play… otherwise, I would have gone with them.

I was going to skip CarolinaCon this year. But when I read the schedule of talks, I changed my mind. One of the talks was very similar to some of the things we were doing at work, so I had to check them out… for inspiration, competitive info, or maybe to recruit some help.

A while back, the girls and I played with a calligraphy set. We also tried a fine-tipped drawing pen and an ink well, but that was no good for writing (you can only use only “pulling” strokes). So we went to JetPens and ordered some cheap fountain pens to try ordinary writing. Fun!

April 2015

We started off April with a trip to Atlanta. I had to go for business, and since the girls were tracked out at the time, we turned it into a family vacation. They had fun, while I was pretty much locked in a conference room all week.

The girls went the new Cary Theater to see a “wizard rock” show by Harry and the Potters. Also performing was a local duo that we had heard before, the Blibbering Humdingers.

Apple came out with an iPhone update, iOS 8.3. And somehow, it caused my long-time “Tipster” application to lose its slider widget. So tips are stuck at 15%. I had to load up the latest Apple development environment, remember how to use it, and fix my app to work with the new widgets. It took me a few evenings to fix, and most of a Sunday to get submitted into the App Store.

I hate April. Taxes… corporate and personal, federal and state. And this year, we noticed a mistake after we sent them in, so I got to do it again!

The girls went with the Salem Blue Notes jazz choir to a competition in Boston! They packed a ton of fun into a four-day weekend. Of course, half of the time was spent on the bus. But they got to see several spots in the city, and they got to party in the hotel pool!

At work, we had a class on CoreOS, which is a very minimal Linux system that is often used to host software on cloud systems. It was hipster-cool.

I think it’s official… our family is obsessed with musicals. At least, the girls are. So we went to see the Panther Creek High School performance of “Into the Woods”, which was easily as good as the recent Disney movie.

One day, we got to talking about our former neighbors from down the street. We had not seen them for quite a while, so I looked them up on Google to see what they were up to, and I was shocked to find that my friend had been hit by a car while he was jogging! He was in the hospital for a week, and finally died from his injuries. The local running club had arranged a memorial run, taking place that very evening – what a crazy and tragic coincidence! So I suited up and joined them. Just as the first runners started, it started raining very hard. Everyone was soaked. The whole thing was surreal. By the time I got to the end of the route, the rain had stopped and a huge rainbow appeared.

May 2015

Being hooked on theatre, the girls went to see “Legally Blonde”, put on by the Cary Players, a community theatre company. Later, we got to see the Apex High School drama class perform “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Then we saw the Cary Applause! group perform “The Phantom Tollbooth”.

Last year, Sydney and I volunteered to be camp staff for the YMCA Y-Guides Spring Outing. This year, we were joined by Audrey. We were assigned to the “Limbo” game at Camp Seagull. The theme of the weekend was “magic”, so we practiced some magic tricks before heading down there, and we spend the entire weekend getting kids and dads to see how low they could go. It was hard work, but very rewarding. Thankfully, the weather was better than last year (although we still got a little bit of liquid sunshine).

Sydney is taking a class called “Family Skills”, where she learns to cook, plan a budget, and take care of children. This month, she got to bring home a robot baby. At one point, Sydney was convinced that she had lost one of the baby’s RFID-tagged diapers, and so she stressed out over it (I’d call it a parental nervous breakdown). But she eventually calmed down, and found the lost diaper, and ended up being an exemplary mother.

We learned that Sydney was accepted to Martin G/T magnet school for next year! So we attended orientation, toured the school, and signed up for classes. She will have so much fun with the wide array of electives!

Audrey decided she wanted to dye her hair purple. Now with all of her drama and jazz choir performances behind us, we decided now was a good time. We tried a kit at home. But when we were done, it just looked black. In fact, a few days later, it was back to her normal color. Color fail!

I got a new tenor-sized ukulele. It’s a Kala “travel uke”, and it is about half the thickness of a normal uke. It also has an electric pickup. I strung it with a low G string (we left our Lanikai with a high G).

Audrey went to the 8th grade dance.

As an Earth Day project, Audrey and her friends spruced up the garden behind their school. We added a compost pile and some decorations, and we planted flowers.

A local group called the “PyLadies” offered a Saturday class on Django, a Python-based web framework that I have been wanting to learn more about. Foong and I attended, as did my friend Jeremy. We learned a lot in a short time, and I continued working on it through Sunday. It looks like a pretty nice tool.

June 2015

I got a new laptop in June… it’s an Asus “Zenbook” (a so-called “ultra-book”), a super small and light laptop. It came with Windows 8 on it, but I took care of that quickly, wiping the SSD and installing Linux on it instead. I plan to use it as my everyday computer, replacing the Macbook for most tasks. I also hope to experiment with open source music sequencing and mixing software.

June was a month of wrap-up parties at school (yearbook signing day), with school groups (Blue Notes), and graduations.

The girls danced in their end-of-year performance. Audrey did tap and Sydney did Jazz. The show was “A Mermaid’s Dream” (based on another popular mermaid story).

We had two furry house-guests for a couple of weeks while their owners traveled overseas. Jake and Debbie, two adorable West Highland Terriers, entertained us endlessly. They are generally well-behaved dogs, but Jake is young and energetic, and he demands a lot of attention.

Weird Al Yankovic came to town on one of the hottest days of the summer. We had seats in the front section, and he put on a very lively show. But summer is a hard time for outdoor concerts. They had to call off the show about halfway through because of thunderstorms. Bummer… we didn’t even get to see “Word Crimes” or “White and Nerdy”. That’s our First World Problem.

My work that I started in April with the Atlanta group wound down this month, and so I went there for a few days of wrap-up. Now I’ll be working with our local team more, and I can expect to be in the office more than at home.

I returned to the office just in time. Our air conditioner broke down while it was 100°F outside. Fortunately, it was a simple (and therefore quick) fix.

As summer began, Audrey and I experimented with hair dye (her hair, my supervision). We tried a temporary purple, then bleach, then a semi-permanent purple. We’re learning a lot… like ginger blonde plus purple yields almost the same brown color that we started with. Aigh!

July 2015

We returned to the amphitheater for another hot outdoor show, the NC Symphony played for Independence Day.

On a nice rainy weekend, I upgraded my Django web site (from May) to include a REST interface (for you non-computer-nerds, that’s one of the hot technologies used in web sites these days). The web site monitors my home network, and the new REST interface allows me to run a periodic network scan.

The highlight of our summer was a week at Hilton Head Island with our entire family… my brother and his family, our parents, his in-laws, and each of the kids brought a friend (16 of us in all). We spent the week biking all over the island, walking on the beach, and hanging out in the pool. The kids enjoyed a fair amount of freedom, basically looking after each other all week. The parents enjoyed freedom from the kids, too.

Audrey hosted a Sushi-themed birthday party, with real sushi, fake candy sushi, sushi-themed birthday cake and a chopsticks competition game.

August 2015

After our trip to the beach last month, we decided it was time to open bank accounts and get debit cards for the girls. They need to learn how to manage money when they go on trips, and it’s an easy way for us to transfer a few bucks to them when they need it.

Audrey spent a week at a “pop-up musical” camp in Cary.

It’s been several years since I’ve been geocaching. I found someone to take over maintenance of one of my geocaches that’s been active for ten years.

Since the girls have always gone to year-round schools, we have never had a long summer until this year. We started back to school on the traditional calendar this month. I think we’ll be OK with that… but dang, why does school have to start so early? We’re at the middle school bus stop at 6:00 AM and at the high school bus stop at 6:30 AM.

We made a quick day trip to Winston-Salem to celebrate my nephew’s 18th birthday.

At work, our team is much smaller than it should be, and so we’re having to flip-flop among several tasks. I’ve rotated onto “cloud stuff”. It’s been like drinking from a fire hose: writing code in Java and Scala (both new languages for me), and working with large cloud-based processing systems like Kafka and Storm.

We had a contractor from India join our team. Karthi will be working on our web user interface. I know what it’s like to work overseas, and he has an especially hard time since he does not drive a car. So I am acting as his host at work.

September 2015

Sydney auditioned with the Cary “Applause!” theatre group for their upcoming play, The Hound of the Baskervilles. She got in!

Audrey had fun with her purple hair this summer, but she wanted to try something different, so we dyed it green. She manages to wear it well.

My parents came to town for a quick birthday lunch at a quaint little restaurant in downtown Cary. We also went to see the theater where Sydney would be performing next month.

We had a house guest when a friend-of-a-friend unexpectedly passed away, and several out-of-town guests came in for the funeral.

One of my long-term nerd goals has been to learn how to set up web page that uses client certificates instead of passwords to authenticate. For me, I thought it would be cool to allow known devices (my phone, my laptop, etc) into my personal web site without asking me to enter a password. But everybody else gets asked. I got it working this month. Cool!

October 2015

Fred Brooks, professor of Computer Science and author of “The Mythical Man-Month” gave a talk at NC State this month, and I found out about it just in time to attend. This guy has been in the middle of computing since it started, and it was an honor to see him speak.

The annual IBMA “Wide Open Bluegrass” festival was hastily moved indoors because of a threat of very bad weather. So we packed the halls of the Raleigh Convention Center for a toe-tappin’ good time.

After several weeks of rehearsals, Sydney and her Applause! theatre group presented “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. As plays go, it was pretty dense, with lots of dialogue among the main characters and little stage action. A tough job for the lead actors, and a scary story for Halloween.

Sydney joined the Science Olympiad team at Martin Middle School, and I signed up to be a coach. This is a competition divided into several events. Some require the kids to build something like a little car that travels an exact distance or a rubber-band driven balsa wood airplane. Other events require a written test or a fast series of quiz stations.

I attended the third annual “All Things Open” conference in Raleigh. For two days, we attended talks about open source software and open collaboration projects.

Sydney performed with the Martin Middle School chorus, along with the strings orchestra and the concert band.

Cisco announced that they would be acquiring Lancope at the end of the year! They invited the handful of RTP employees to their main campus for a welcoming party, where we watched the announcement (live from Lancope’s HQ in Atlanta), followed by champagne and Cisco T-shirts and lunch at their cafeteria. Nicely done!

Having just gone through a big acquisition in 2013, it felt a little familiar, but I think Cisco and Lancope make better bedfellows than Oracle and Tekelec. And Cisco seems to have a much cooler corporate attitude.

One other thing that will be fun… our 8-person team has always been a satellite of the 300-person Lancope office in Atlanta. But now our roles are reversed, with our small team joining the 6500 Cisco employees in RTP!

Audrey saw Madama Butterfly at the NC Opera. She had the most beautiful voice that Audrey had ever heard. I hate that I missed it.

Unlike most years, we did not spend a lot of time preparing for Halloween this year. Audrey celebrated the color green and “Wicked” by dressing as Elphaba. Sydney was an adorable sushi (actually a nigiri). And I just painted myself completely dark, with a creepy black mask. I invented a super hero name for myself, “Dark Matter”. Why not?

November 2015

Unrelated to Cisco acquiring us, our Lancope office moved to a larger office space (down the hall from our existing space). The hope is that our team will be growing soon.

We’ve really enjoyed having Karthi on our team for a few months. He helped us get our web UI into shape for our upcoming “live” demo site. But now it’s time for him to return home to his family, and we’ll miss him.

November was dominated by our preparations to set up a “live” demo of our web-based service. External users can now sign up for accounts and use the service. But before we could open it up to everyone, there were a bunch of things we had to fix. So this month was just crazy, with daily “war room” meetings to tidy things up.

Sydney had a birthday party with a mixture of kids from her old school, her new school, and from her Applause! drama group.

We wrapped up November with Thanksgiving at Mimi’s.

December 2015

Our girls are into drama, so we’re starting to pay closer attention to the Broadway plays that come to town. We got tickets to three shows at DPAC. The first one was “The Sound of Music”, and oldie but a goodie.

We were all planning to visit Malaysia this month, but Foong got a two-week head start on us.

At work, we got a new manager. All this time, we had pretty much been headless, nominally reporting to a VP who had bigger fish to fry. It’ll be interesting to see how the group adapts to this new arrangement..

The Apex High School chorus delivered a stunning holiday performance.

School finally wrapped up, and work finally let me go, and we all joined Momma in Malaysia for a tropical winter vacation. We spent some time around the house for a few days, and then the cousins started showing up and we all went up to Penang for Christmas. We went to a ropes adventure park (zip lines, trapeze, obstacle courses) for a day. Then we went “waterfall abseiling” (rappelling) and river rafting. We got back to their home town just in time for Amos and Emily’s wedding, a two-day affair starting with a traditional Chinese tea ceremony at home, followed by a fancy ballroom banquet. We made it back home for New Years Eve.

As with any trip to Malaysia, there’s always some downtime for me (which I enjoy). This time, I spent my time taking a Coursera class on Angular.js, a system that is used to build modern web sites.

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