Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2005

I started off 2005 with a company trip to Las Vegas, where our company showed our intelligent oven product at the Consumer Electronics Show. It was quite an event. We worked long hours setting up our own TMIO booth, as well as separate displays in a “smart” demonstration home and in Microsoft’s partner area (don’t ask). We talked to thousands of people. The most un-nerving part was when the TV film crews showed up. If you were not careful, they would shine a bright light in your face and start asking questions. I was on Russian TV!

No trip to Las Vegas would be complete without taking in a real show. We decided to see the Blue Man Group. It was beyond description… abstract, funny, bizarre. I would recommend the show to anyone, but I won’t spoil it by describing it here.

No sooner had we gotten back from Las Vegas, we had to set up for a second show in Orlando. This one was a home builders’ convention. So I flew down for a quick over-nighter, setting up another booth during the graveyard shift.

Back at home, the Porter family joined the satellite age. We bought a 32” dish and a digital satellite receiver. After spending a week waiting for the weather to warm up enough to install it properly, we can now watch a handful of Chinese channels. We also get about 80 channels in languages that we don’t understand, mostly Middle Eastern. The best part is that these channels are broadcast in the clear, with no monthly subscription fees. Pay once only.

Sydney has begun talking a lot more lately. She confidently says complete sentences of gibberish, accompanied by mature facial expressions. Every once in a while, we can understand what she’s trying to tell us. It’s adorable. My favorite word of the month is “Widda-Wudda” (that’s “Cinderella”).

February 2005

Happy Chinese New Year! It’s the Year of the Rooster. We celebrated with our Singaporean and Malaysian friends (which we call the “SingMa” group). We also saw some Chinese cultural dances and kung fu at the library.

Foong spent one weekend at a furniture expo in Tupelo, Mississippi. Her flight was delayed, and they eventually put her on a bus to get there. By the time she got there, she was very tired, and all she wanted to do is come back home!

While Foong was gone, Audrey and Sydney wanted to sleep in Daddy’s bed. Sydney, who likes to put a hand in our hair while she sleeps, slept right next to me, coughing in my face all night. Although she recovered from her cough within a couple of days, it took me about three weeks to finally shake it off.

At work, now that the Consumer Electronics Show is over, we are starting to work on some fun features. I wrote a driver for our battery-backed RAM device; now we can store persistent files in the RAM disk. I implemented power-fail recovery, where the oven continues what it was doing when the power went out. The other cool feature is automatic software updates, where the oven checks for updated software on our web site. Scary stuff for an appliance!

March 2005

For several months, I have had a bump on my eyelid. It is called a “chalasion”. It does not hurt, but my tears do not drain like they should, so I look like I am crying a lot. In March, I finally decided to see an eye doctor and he did exactly what I figured he’d do… he cut it out. Yuck. It just took a few minutes, and it did not hurt (much), but my eye looked gross for a few days.

The Triangle Amateur Robotics Club was invited to attend a preview of the new animated movie “Robots”. I took Audrey; this was her first real movie in a theater. She had a great time, and did not even get scared (although she wanted to sit on Daddy’s lap near the end of the movie). Now she likes to say “Rodney Copperbottom” (the main character’s name). Heck, it is fun to say!

We celebrated my friend Bill’s birthday with a little party at his house. It was sort of a nerd party, mostly computer people and the local Sci-Fi club.

We kept my mom’s dog while they went on a cruise.

At work, I created a Knoppix-based CD for the guys at our factory so they could burn our software onto compact flash cards. It’s pretty cool… they just boot it up and it starts running Linux and then our flashing program.

The most bizarre thing in March was my unintentional venture into consulting. A local company wanted a small project done… it happened to be a Knoppix-like CD. Since I had just done one at work, I sent them an email. Before I knew it, they told me that the Knoppix project was just “bait”, and that they were really interested in me working for them (more or less) full time. But they did not want to hire me… they just wanted me to work as a consultant. What started off as a weekend project turned into a full-time-but-not-full-time job! Weird.

For Easter, we took the girls to a couple of Easter egg hunts. Just what we need… more candy!

April 2005

April was dominated by the furniture market. Foong’s brother came over, and they spent almost two weeks at the market. I stayed home and shuttled the girls back and forth between home and babysitters and school. Somehow, I also managed to find time to go to work. The evenings were busy with washing dishes and clothes, and then the girls’ bath-books-and-bed routine. It was a very busy two weeks!

We spent the weekend with Mimi and Pops, a long overdue visit. The girls had a great time. Then Sydney decided to give her dad an endurance test by throwing a fit that should be the envy of two-year-olds everywhere.

While Foong was out of town, I bought her a new laptop. It replaces her tired old laptop that she’s used since 1998. The new one is small and light and “fast enough”. As one might expect, the first thing I did was blow away Windows and install Linux (Ubuntu). Then I installed vmware and moved all of her old Windows 98 files into a vmware virtual machine. Win98 booted up just fine, and now it even runs faster than the old laptop did! Over time, I will help her migrate her applications over to native Linux. I think this turned out to be a good migration plan.

All of this laptop work had to be done in a hurry. It arrived on Friday, and Foong returned on Saturday. And then on Sunday I left for an all-employee meeting at TMIO’s factory in Chattanooga. We spent two days there, seeing the production line, addressing some lingering product issues, meeting some new employees, etc. It was a good trip.

Back at home, we moved our office from Morrisville to Cary. The new office is smaller but nicer. For me, it’s a much longer drive. And I will miss the garage area where we kept our (sometimes stinky) oven. That’s the price we pay for moving to a nicer neighborhood!

Somehow, in between all of the coming and going, we managed to do some major spring cleaning around the yard. Our neighbor recommended we call the landscaping crew that she uses, five Mexican guys who performed a major makeover. They pulled weeds and laid out mulch and planted flowers and trimmed bushes, and it looks great! I hope we can keep up the work that they started.

We rounded out the month with a quick visit from Mimi and Pops, as they headed out for San Diego. They dropped their dog off at our house, and spent the night here before their early morning flight.

May 2005

During May, TMIO settled into our new office, which is more like an office and less like a warehouse. We spent some time preparing for another big trade show; this time it was K/BIS, the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, again in Las Vegas. Fortunately, I got to ride this one out at home.

At work, we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to solve the problem of CPU’s getting too hot. For me, that meant reading and logging temperatures so my colleagues could test several potential solutions.

This month, I gave another presentation for the IEEE Embedded Systems special interest group. This time, it was on “Embedded Linux”. I provided an overview of how a Linux system boots, and how you can develop your own application that runs on a dedicated PC-like board with a read-only filesystem on a FLASH card. This kind of system could be very useful in industrial applications.

We spent Memorial Day weekend at the beach with David Robinson and his family. It was good to get away from the day-to-day grind, to catch up with each other, and to just have a good time together. We played jungle golf (Audrey did pretty good, considering it was her first time playing putt-putt), and we jumped and splashed in the pool and in the ocean.

When we got back from the beach, I had to rush off on a day-trip to Minneapolis, where a large potential customer was having trouble with an oven. I expected it to be a software problem (after all, I am a software guy). But in the end, it was some loose hardware that was rattling around. Problem solved.

June 2005

Our friend Anna invited us to go to Carowinds one Saturday in June. We also invited Mimi and Pops to come with us. We had a great time on the kiddie rides, but the adult rides were just a waste of time (an hour-long wait for a two-minute ride). Audrey wanted to ride a roller coaster, so we found one that got only 20 feet off of the ground – perfect for her first ride. Of course, Sydney did not want to be left out. When the ride started, Audrey screamed with joy while Sydney screamed with fear.

After a long day at the park, we stayed overnight with our friend Luisa, who has a house on Lake Norman. She showed us a taste of the good life: a beautiful house, a hearty breakfast, swimming in the lake. I did not want to leave.

Foong went to Texas for a weekend business trip. She saw a furniture warehouse store that sells on consignment. It was an interesting concept, and she got the grand tour from the store owners.

At work, we spent more time putting finishing touches on our product, and we spent even more time chasing our own tails.

July 2005

Following the tradition, we spent July 4th weekend with Mimi and Pops at their beach house. We celebrated Audrey’s birthday, and we cooled off in the pool. Audrey is noticably braver than she was when we were there in June… she played in the big pool, and a little bit in the ocean. Sometimes I think Sydney could run down the beach until she ran out of sand.

Once we got home, we decided that we should reinforce the girls’ confidence in the swimming pool with increased visits to our neighborhood pool. Sometimes, we’ll put them in the floating rings and their feet never touch the floor the entire time we’re there! And sometimes they will jump in the water from the side. I can also hold them and bounce in the water, occasionally dunking them completely underwater… now, with less sputtering!

We drove to Winston-Salem to celebrate Nanny’s 89th birthday. They threw a surprise party for her at her apartment building. All of the eskimos were there (Madge and Roy, and Lynn’s family), as well as some of Bob’s family.

Work still continues. We’re basically complete with features, but we’re still making enhancements. We also continue to log more and more information to help the mechanical and electrical guys debug various problems. We had a server crash, and we managed to replace it without anyone really noticing the down time.

Speaking of replacing servers, ever since we lived in Singapore, I have been running a small PC called the “nanocube” as my home firewall, web server, mail server, etc. All of that, in a case the size of a child’s lunch box. One Saturday, I started getting disk errors, so I spent the entire day on Sunday putting a new disk in it and restoring everything. When I had finished, I started to make a backup copy (just in case), and again, I started getting errors on the new disk! I finally decided to replace the nanocube with a discarded PC that I had gotten for free a few months ago. It broke my heart to take the trusty nanocube out of commission, and I will miss its blinking blue LED.

Back in March, I had talked to a company about some contract work on the side. That came and went, and now it’s back. So I spend a little weekend time hacking for hire. It’s fun in small doses. We’ll see where it leads.

August 2005

The big event in August was our family vacation in Canada. We spent a week in Montreal and Quebec City. Why did we choose these two cities? Back in 1998, Foong and I spent a long weekend in Ottawa, and we had a great time. So we figured that we would explore a little more of our northern neighbor.

Montreal was an unusual tourist destination. The interesting bits of the city are spread out geographically, so any tourist ends up encountering some of the less attractive areas that lie in between. We ended up seeing a lot of industrial areas and questionable neighborhoods. Intermixed among these were some fun places: a pedestrian district surrounded by historical buildings, the site of the 1976 Olympics (now an indoor zoo and sports/aquatic center), and a botanical garden. We stayed at a quaint hotel which looked like it had been a private residence many years ago.

After a few days of wandering around Montreal, we took a train to Quebec City. We took one mis-step by booking a hotel that was near the airport instead of being near the city center, so we spent our first night relaxing at the pool and searching for a new hotel closer to the city. Quebec City turned out to be everything that Montreal wasn’t. The historic heart of the city lies within a fortified wall. Inside the walls, there is a lot to explore, and there’s a Kodak moment at every turn. There are shops and cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, old buildings and statues, street performers, an inclined “funicular” cablecar/elevator, parks and scenic overlooks, and more. I felt like there were fewer restaurants than tourists, and the food selection seemed pretty basic in most places (maybe we just chose the wrong places to eat). But in all, we had a great time exploring the city. On one day, we took a side-trip to see the waterfall at Parc De La Chute-Montmorency.

The girls behaved very well during our trip, even though we asked them to walk a lot. We took a stroller for Sydney (although they sometimes took turns). They managed to ride on the subways, buses, train and airplane as if they had been world travellers all of their lives (uh, well, maybe they ARE). All in all, we had a good time. For me, the highlight was spending time with my wife and my two little troupers.

September 2005

Our two girls started going to new schools. Their schedule is crazy – Audrey goes every morning while Sydney goes two full days per week. Audrey also started attending a Chinese school on Saturday mornings.

Over the last few years, Maggie has developed gum disease, and a couple of her teeth fell out. So we took her to the vet to have her teeth cleaned, and she ended up having 11 teeth pulled! Dogs start out with 42 teeth, so now she is down to 29. I never guessed that it was that bad. But now she is like a new dog – her breath smells OK, she has more energy, and she likes to chew again.

At work, I started working on a different kind of project. I installed Debian Linux on our servers. We had decided that it would be easier to maintain than our previous distro, Mandrake.

At the end of September, I joined the Wings of Carolina flying club. It’s a non-profit club that owns several airplanes that club members can use. They are based at the Sanford (TTA) airport, a 30-minute drive from my house.

I started taking flying lessons with a young and energetic instructor named Norm. Our first three lessons focused on the four fundamentals (straight-n-level flight, climbing, descending, turns), stalls, and a few touch-n-go’s. The landings are my favorite exercise, but I am a bit wobbly.

October 2005

October is usually a month of rapid weather transition in North Carolina. By the time the State Fair comes along in in middle of October, the nights are usually downright chilly. But this year, it stayed clear and pleasant for the entire month.

I put the nice weather to good use. I took five more flying lessons. These built on the previous exercises, but we also worked on cross-wind landings and emergency procedures, and we visited two nearby airports (the much larger RDU in Raleigh and the smaller 5W8 in Siler City).

We took the girls to the State Fair. I forked over $9 for the girls and me to take a two-minute ride on the merry-go-round. Wow, I can rent an airplane cheaper than that!

I bought a new hand-held ham radio, a Yaesu VX-2R. I wanted one that would also scan the aviation bands. And it’s tiny. And it was on sale.

At the Triangle Linux User’s Group (TriLUG) meeting, they had a presentation about Logical Volume Manager and RAID (which will become very useful in a few months – stay tuned).

Foong-Ha did not show at the Fall Furniture Market in High Point, but she did attend.

I went to the eye doctor because I have had a problem with my right tear duct. It does not drain properly, so tears run down my face, especially when it is cold or when I laugh a lot. He suggested that I go to UNC Hospital to have surgery.

I took the girls out for Halloween. Audrey was Sleeping Beauty (again), and Sydney was Elmo. I was a Blue Man, from the Blue Man Group.

November 2005

The unusually warm weather continued until right before Thanksgiving, and I continued to take advantage of it. I took three more flying lessons before the weather turned cold and nasty. We practiced a lot of landings and some more emergency procedures.

At the TriLUG meeting, we were lucky to have Jeff Waugh as a speaker. He is one of the lead developers for Ubuntu Linux. After his presentation, I decided to install Ubuntu on my (previously Debian) laptop. Badgers, badgers, badgers, mushroom, mushroom!

Following my doctor’s orders, I went to UNC so the specialists could look at my eyes. They agreed that surgery is in order, so they scheduled me for next month.

At work, I started on another interesting project. We needed a way to back up all of the data on the PC’s in the factory in Tennessee. So Jerry and I put together a server running Linux (of course) and an open-source package called “BackupPC”. While we were at it, we bought two gateway PC’s for the factory and our office, creating a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

We went to Mimi and Pops’ house on Sydney’s birthday, and then stayed for Thanksgiving. We had a big crowd, now that Winston-Salem is turning into the hub for the family (my aunt and uncle recently moved there from Alaska, and my Nanny has been there for a while now). My cousin’s family came up from Florida.

We finished off the month with a new set of tires for Foong’s van. Rather than ordering the odd sized tire that originally came on the van, I ordered a more common size of wheels and tires together. It’ll be cheaper in the long run, but it took a little homework to get the right parts.

December 2005

On the first day of December, I had my surgery. The procedure is called a Dacryocystorhinostomy. Tears normally drain through tiny canals into the nose. The main canal is called the lacrimal duct. Since my duct was blocked, they drilled a small hole in my nose bone and ran a small tube from my lacrimal duct into my nose, effectively bypassing the normal path. They’ll leave the tube in for six months and then they’ll pull it out, leaving a nice new drain. My surgery went fine (with no pain) and I could immediately see results, as the tears no longer pooled in my eyelid.

Jerry and I ironed out the kinks in our new backup server and VPN, and then I went on an overnight trip to the factory in Tennessee to install them. It was a busy two days, but it was all working by the time I left. Of course, I understand that I will be blamed now for any computer problem that anyone has for the next two months. That goes with the territory.

After almost six weeks of being grounded (due to the weather, then Thanksgiving, and then my surgery), I resumed my flying lessons. In the three lessons in December, we reviewed maneuvers and prepared for my pre-solo checkout ride.

Our neighborhood had a sleigh ride again this year. We took the girls, and we noticed that winter had finally arrived in earnest. It was COLD.

Audrey’s school had a Christmas performance, where they sang songs in French, Spanish and English.

We spent Christmas at Mimi and Pops’ house. Sydney woke up at about 7:00 on Christmas morning, but she had forgotten all about opening presents. Audrey slept until about 8:00, but she was civilized enough to have a little bit of breakfast before tearing into the presents. They had a great time. Their big gift from Santa was sleeping bags, a ladybug bag for Sydney and a butterfly bag for Audrey. Their favorite present was “Don’t Break the Ice”, a classic game that I played when I was kid.

New Years Eve came and went without a party. I spent the night writing this news. I guess I was a blogger before blogs were cool.

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