Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2004

After ten months of job-hunting, I finally found one that looks good. I will start work at TMIO, a small company in Morrisville that makes home automation equipment. I will be doing embedded Linux development.

In January, I took over as president of the Triangle Amateur Robotics club (TAR). At the first meeting of the year, we watched a video about NASA’s twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. The timing was great, since Spirit had just landed two days before our meeting! On the night of the Opportunity landing, I tuned into NASA’s live coverage via the internet. How cool!

The landing of the Mars rovers provided a good backdrop for the robotics club’s participation in this year’s “Astronomy Days”. The event is sponsored by the Raleigh Astronomy Club and the NC Museum of Natural History, and it drew over 15,000 visitors! The robotics club set up a booth, showing various hobby robots, a model of the 1997 Mars Pathfinder rover, and even a few professionally-built robots. We had a ton of visitors, and I was nearly hoarse after a day of talking to the crowd.

Dr Dobb’s Journal published my article, called “Multi-tasking on the Cheap” (in the February 2004 issue). I gave a presentation based on the article to the IEEE Embedded Systems group.

It snowed twice in January. The first was a good snowball-making snow. The second one was pure ice.

Chinese New Year came early this year. It’s the year of the monkey. Foong had to cancel her celebration dinner because of the snow.

Audrey has learned how to draw inside of the lines in her coloring book. Sydney now eats dry Cheerio’s for breakfast, one by one, using her eight teeth.

February 2004

I am now officially drinking from the fire hose.

I started my new job at the beginning of February. I have spent the last four weeks cramming lots of new information into my weary brain. It’s good stuff.

On the same day that I started my job, I also started taking a Private Pilot Ground School class at Wake Tech. Very cool.

But now, between working 40 hours a week and taking 6 hours of class (and let’s not forget commuting time – it’s a long way to Wake Tech), my schedule is filling up quickly.

Weekends in February were spent working with Foong on her latest computer project, a Linux server machine that will sit in her brother’s factory and allow her to connect from home.

At the end of the month, Foong and the girls took of for Malaysia. Ironically, they left on payday… I think there’s a message there. We’re off to have fun, please send money. It was a long trip for them, but once they get there, they will enjoy seven weeks in the tropical paradise. We hope that Audrey will learn to speak some Chinese. And Sydney… well, I just hope she can keep up.

On the last day of the month (leap day), I bought a new laptop. That’s turning into another adventure in itself, so stay tuned for next month’s news.

March 2004

March was a month of isolation and introspection.

Since Foong and the girls took went to Malaysia at the end of last month, I was a bachelor for the month. And also, since I was the first employee at our company’s NC office, it was pretty quiet there as well.

Salvation came when my friend Robert Ryals joined me at TMIO. Suddenly, there was some background noise (sometimes, lots of it). And lunchtime was a lot more fun.

At this month’s robotics club meeting, I gave my presentation on “Poor Man’s Multi-tasking” (which was based on my article from last month’s Dr Dobb’s Journal). This was one of my better presentations, I think.

I knew that my grandmother “Nanny” was thinking about moving out of her house and into a smaller place that’s easier to take care of, and where she can get some help if she needs it. She visited Winston-Salem to look for a new home, and we were surprised that she found a new place so soon. She moves in later this month!

I was invited to be a judge at the FIRST Lego League state championship tournament. The theme of the competition was Mars exploration – their robots had to do tasks such as retrieving ice crystals, clearing dust from solar panels, and launching a probe back to earth. We met a lot of talented and inspired kids, and I enjoyed seeing their creations.

Last month, I bought a new laptop, but that turned out to be a bigger adventure than I had planned. The video card had some problems, so I returned it and ordered a replacement. And since I was now ORDERING one instead of buying off-the-shelf, I decided to get everything I wanted. This included a DVD burner and a super-high resolution display. I ended up with an HP zx5000. Sweet.

I spent the last few days hastily preparing for a trip to Malaysia. But the details of that will have to wait until next month.

April 2004

I started off April with a trip to Malaysia. Foong and the girls had been there for the last five weeks, and I joined them for another two weeks.

It was very strange to meet them at the airport after not seeing them for so long. When I first arrived, I saw Audrey at a distance, walking with her grandmother. I thought “that girl is about Audrey’s age”. Hey, that IS Audrey! Sydney gave me the same cold welcome that she normally reserves for strangers. After a little while, she warmed up to her daddy.

We had a good time in Malaysia, although we did not really do anything extra-ordinary. We visited some friends in Singapore, and we stayed a while at Foong’s family’s house in Malaysia. We also spent some time at her brother’s factory. Foong and I set up a PC at the factory that we can connect to over the internet. That’s really cool. It allows Foong to review their files and help with running their business, even after we return home.

The trip back was a 37-hour adventure. Audrey did surprisingly well, but Sydney demanded to be held (by Momma) the entire time. After we got back, Audrey would tell us over and over about how she rode on a big airplane to Malaysia.

I think that taking the girls to Malaysia was a good idea, but I think seven weeks might have been too much for them. Audrey now speaks Chinese around the house (sometimes), and she likes to sing Chinese songs. And she loves to wear her Chinese-style dresses (and she’ll remind you every hour that she is wearing Chinese clothes). Sydney soaked it all in, but the nomad’s lifestyle has worn her out, and she relishes the security of Momma’s arms (unfortunately, Daddy’s arms won’t do for her right now).

The next few weeks were spent getting our lives back in order. We still had not done our taxes, and there were lots of little things to take care of. Bills, the knee-high weeds in the yard, etc. I finished up my ground school class at Wake Tech.

May 2004

On the first day of May, I took (and passed) my FAA written exam.

On Mother’s Day, I asked Foong what she wanted to do, and she said we should take the girls to the zoo before our year-long membership expired. So we went and saw all of the animals. Man, it’s like a jungle there… so hot! We were surprised to bump into our neighbors while we were there!

This month, we noticed a significant change in Sydney. I think that trip to Malaysia had something to do with it. She has lost a lot of her moodiness, and she does not always try to cling on to Momma like she used to. Instead, she lets other people hold her (including Daddy). She nods “yes” and “no” when you ask her questions. And she has developed a hearty giggle. She’s just a delightful little baby.

Audrey has started imitating everything that Sydney does. And every once in a while, she tests us with a defiant “no” (which gets an immediate reaction from Mom and Dad). So this is what “three” is going to be like?

The laptop saga continues. Shortly after we got back from Malaysia, my LCD screen developed a permanent blue line on it. So I finally bit the bullet and sent it back for repair. HP did a great job. They sent a FedEx man to pick it up on Monday, and then shipped it back by Friday! It was hard to live without it for a week, but I am impressed with HP’s quick turn-around. In spite of the troubles I have had with the two laptops from HP, I am still happy with my purchase.

Our friends Heath and Linda threw their annual pig pickin’, and we saw the same crowd that we usually see. As always, we had a good time, and we did not get to see much of our hosts.

Our company had its first inter-office visit this month. The guys from the NC office (two engineers and two managers) drove to our Tennessee office to see what goes into the mechanical design. We met the mechnical engineers and the CAD designers, and we finally saw their prototype oven. We also showed them our software. It was good to put faces with the names.

We ended up May by spending Memorial Day weekend at the beach with Mimi and Pops. Sunday was rainy, but Saturday and Monday were just fine for playing in the ocean and in the pool.

June 2004

June was a quiet month… nothing spectacular to report. It was one of those months where you just keep your head down, go to work, come home and mow the yard, make sure the bills are paid, and somehow that’s enough.

I started off the month with an embarrassing boo boo. I got my wires crossed when I tried to book a speaker for the Triangle Amateur Robotics club meeting. Everyone showed up and waited, but our speaker was nowhere to be found! We ended up doing “show-n-tell”.

Work is fun. I am building a small-footprint Linux system completely from source. Along with that, I am playing with some neat networking concepts like running PPP over SSH to create a network tunnel (poor man’s VPN). From time to time, I get to write some code as well. We hired a new guy – so that makes three.

I’ve decided that my 13-year-old car finally need replacing, so I went car shopping with Patrick (an excellent car guide, I should add). We’re still just browsing at this point. I have not even committed to a test drive yet. I am leaning towards a cheap car, since I drive so little.

Audrey is enjoying her school. She goes two days per week. When I pick her up, I ask her what she did that day, and she always replies “we played and ate”. I’m so glad that she’s getting a good education.

Foong volunteered to work at a consignment sale. She spent an entire day at the make-shift store, sorting clothes and toys in preparation for the sale. The reward? Next month, she can get into the sale early. I think the organizers of this sale are pretty smart… they know how to get cheap labor!

July 2004

We kicked off July with our annual trip to the beach for Audrey’s birthday. We had a great time in the ocean, and then later at the pool (my favorite). Since Audrey is now three, she decided that she should swim in the “big pool”. Sydney showed no fear whatsoever, sitting upright on the boogie board while I held it for her. Even when I tipped it back and forth, she just laughed and rode the waves! We almost missed the fireworks, because there was absolutely no place to park. But we finally found an empty (for sale) lot and made our camp there.

Sydney is starting to expand her vocabulary. This month, she started saying “no”. She says it in such a cute way, through her nose in a whine. She is also starting to call me “Daddy” (before, I was simply “Mommy” just like everybody else).

Foong finally reaped the rewards of working at last month’s consignment sale. She came home with a see-saw, a booster seat, a toy kitchen set, and several smaller toys. All in all, I’m not sure it was worth the day’s work she put in last month. We could have gotten the same deals by cruising garage sales.

Foong had a business trip this month. I took a day off of work and stayed home with the girls. We had a fabulous time. They were just angels (I hear they made up for it the following week after Foong got back home).

I set up my old computer on a short table and showed Audrey how to use the mouse. Then I pointed her at some kids’ web pages that had some Flash-based games, and wow… she picked it up in a heartbeat. Now every night she wants to dance with Grover, match socks with Bert, and count with Oobi.

At work, the bosses moved in. The owners are heavily involved in the design of our oven, and since the physical design is pretty much complete, they decided that they will spend less time in our Tennessee (mechanical) office and more time at our NC (software) office. Our building is starting to get crowded, with five people already!

Foong and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary with a couple of hours of peace and quiet at a local restaurant. We have a bigger celebration planned for later, but that will have to wait until next month’s news report.

August 2004

Audrey stepped up from her original pre-school class to a new class full of three-year-olds (as she calls it, the “big kids’ class”). She goes two days per week. Now that the school year has started, Sydney spends those same two days at the babysitter’s house, along with several other toddlers. Foong gets a reprieve.

Foong and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary (which was last month) with a ride in a hot air balloon. We took off from Angier, and rode for about an hour up to Fuquay. It was a calm ride. We were surprised to hear so many dogs barking while were up there. And we were visited by a guy in a motorized parasail glider… he circled us a few times and then went on his way.

We took Audrey to a Chinese school for a couple of Saturday sessions, just to see if she would be interested. We decided to hold off for a year or two… the little kids’ class seemed to be aimed at getting them used to sitting still for an hour or two. She’s already pretty good at that.

August was a month of hurricanes. There seems to be a steady stream of them, threatening the coast every week. We were expecting some nasty weather on the day that Foong left for a week-long trip to Malaysia. Fortunately, the weather cooperated nicely.

Foong spent ten days in Malaysia, mostly visiting her two brothers. They worked on furniture factory plans, arranged a shipment of samples for this fall’s furniture market in High Point, and she installed a computer in her second brother’s office (just like the first one in the factory, back in April). Now we can keep in touch with both brothers, trading files, etc.

While Foong was gone, I stayed home and looked after the girls (on their school/babysitting days, I could go to work). I had a great time, although they completely wore me out. They were very well behaved. The weekends were a little easier, because my parents (“Mimi and Pops”) came to help out.

Sydney has started using longer phrases. Many times, you can’t make out the individual words, but the entire phrase comes out OK (sometimes, it’s just because of the “tune”, like when she says “I SEE you!” or “THERE it is!”).

At work, I have been getting into networking and security. It’s really cool stuff. My embedded Linux system is pretty mature now, so I am spending more time on back-end software… what I like to call the “cooking daemon”. At the end of the month, I visited our sister office in Chattanooga. Just an overnight trip to install some software on their prototypes.

September 2004

At work, we started searching for another software guy to replace our server guy, who left. I spent a lot of time posting to email lists, filtering through responses, and going to lunch with friends of friends. It’s time-consuming.

One weekend in September, I decided to volunteer to work at a Linux “installfest”. We set up at Wake Technical Community College, and people brought their PC’s in for us to install Linux on. It turned out to be a slow day, and I only helped three people with their installations.

We celebrated the Chinese “Moon Cake Festival”, which is a fall harvest celebration. We dressed the girls in their Chinese dresses, and we took traditional paper lanterns with candles (the girls had the more modern battery-operated lanterns with spinning lights) and we walked around the neighborhood. Admittedly, the celebration was a lot more fun in Singapore (2001), where everyone else also celebrated. But we wanted them to practice their culture.

Audrey is bringing home a steady stream of “art” from school. It’s amazing how much stuff they can make out of construction paper!

Sydney has been singing more songs recently (we think she must pick up a lot at the babysitter’s house). She’s still talking like a baby, in very short phrases. And you can tell that she’s about to turn two… she is starting to get upset a lot more easily, throwing little temper tantrums. This is going to be an adventure.

October 2004

I started off the month by giving a presentation to the robotics club on “embedded Linux”. I gave a very abbreviated step-by-step walk-through of putting togther a minimal system from scratch. To demonstrate the utility of embedded Linux, I brought in a single-board computer from work, and showed it running oven control software. I think it the talk went well; it might become the basis for a longer presentation.

At work, our search for a server-side software developer continued. We advertised that we wanted Java and Linux. I was surprised at: (1) how few resume’s we got overall, and (2) how many of those either had no Java or had no Linux (a few had neither). Still, we managed to find a guy that looked like he could do the job, so we hired him. He started right away, and it looks like he’s going to do just fine.

This month was a big milestone for Foong. She set up a booth at the High Point Home Furnishings Market! She fretted while her container of furniture samples made its slow way from Malaysia. And her brother flew in to help her out in the booth.

They stayed in High Point during the entire show, so I had to look after the girls by myself. Those were long days… getting up early to get them ready for the day (Audrey going to school and Sydney staying with the babysitter), and then rushing home from work to pick them up, getting supper ready, giving them a bath, entertaining them, and finally getting them to bed. Mimi and Pops came to the rescue over the weekend. They gave me a little bit of relief for a couple of days, and then I was back on my own again.

Foong says that the show was a success, although it was very “bursty” (sitting around bored for several hours, and then a frenzy of activity at other times). The next week, Foong got her first furniture order. We hope that’s the first of many.

I’ve been saying this since 1999, but I need a new car. I finally bought one this month. It’s a “Mazda 3”, small enough to be cute and sporty, but large enough to have four doors and with room for two baby seats. It’s red. Foong wanted me to get the red one (she says she wishes she could get a red mini-van, ha ha).

We wrapped up October with the traditional Halloween fun… trick-or-treating! Audrey dressed up as Sleeping Beauty, and Sydney was a giraffe (Audrey was a giraffe last year, go figure). They had a great time riding around the neighborhood in the wagon, going from house to house. They came home with a big pile of candy, which we promptly hid.

November 2004

November was a quiet month.

The big event of the month was Sydney’s second birthday. She had a Chinese birthday cake at home on her birthday, and then a larger birthday party at Mimi’s house on Thanksgiving.

Almost like flipping a light switch, Sydney picked this month to start making sentences. A few weeks ago, she might have treated us to a steady stream of one- and two-word phrases. But this month, she started making sentences of four or more words at a time. Along with the expanded speech comes a lot of songs.

For Sydney, turning two has its up’s and down’s. She has her tantrums like any two-year-old, but she also has a lot more happy moments than she used to. Let’s hope she can find a happy medium.

December 2004

We kicked off December by attending a baby shower for our friends and neighbors, Tracy and Patrick. It was a good chance to get together with friends, and to make sure that our friends are prepared for their new baby.

December was my last month as TAR president. Whew! It’s been quite a year, trying to schedule events for that group. I will be serving next year as secretary (holder of the Tang jar full of money, and taker of notes at the meetings). That is a much better role for me. <grin>

We spent a couple of weekends packing up Santa’s sleigh. With a two-year-old and a three-year-old in the house, that’s an interesting job. They’y just old enough to know that they’re getting presents, but not old enough to know what they want.

We were lucky enough to see my cousin Lynn and her two kids when they were in Winston-Salem for a quick family visit. It was the first time I had seen the kids, so I guess that makes it at least five years since I’ve seen Lynn.

We spent Christmas at Mimi’s and Pops’s house. It was a typical holiday… lots of eating and getting together with family. The kids tore into their presents with gusto. The big present for the girls was an electronic piano (read: noise maker).

For New Year’s Eve, we decided to go out to eat Chinese food and then go home and get to sleep way before midnight.

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