Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2006

I started off the new year with a pre-solo check ride with the club’s chief flight instructor, George. For the most part, I did OK. But I forgot my flaps completely during one (rather fast) landing. And my approaches were not very stable. My next six lessons were cancelled due to weather.

Foong and the girls took off for a long trip to Malaysia. They will be gone for eight weeks! I’ll miss them terribly, but a little bit of “down time” will be refreshing.

At work, we crossed a critical milestone. We released our oven! Our factory started shipping them out as fast as they could build them (which, for the moment, is not very fast). We put out a press release, and we were even mentioned on Slashdot.

Again this year, the Triangle Amateur Robotics club had a booth at the Astronomy Days event at the NC Museum of Natural Science. I helped set up and man the booth on Saturday. After my shift, I met my buddy Dave and his three boys for some fun with the 2-liter bottle rockets.

My brother’s family came to town for the NCSU vs Wake Forest basketball game. He had an extra ticket, so I joined them. It’s been a long time since I went to any kind of sporting event. It was a good game, and State won.

Since the girls were out of town, I bought a web cam so I could call them using Skype. Very cool.

February 2006

After so many cancelled flying lessons, I had gotten a little rusty, so Norm and I practiced doing laps around the pattern. Then on Valentine’s Day, Norm unleashed me on the unsuspecting flying public in Sanford. That’s right, I finally soloed… three laps to a full stop. I thought I should be nervous, but I was not. Instead, I did three of my best landings ever, right on the center line (I have a tendency to land a little left of center).

I had two other flying lessons in February: one by myself doing laps (it felt very weird to go through the whole routine without an instructor around) and a trip to Fayetteville with Norm. From now on, we will be working more on navigation and radio work, which should be fun.

My little girls are growing up. I signed Audrey up for kindergarten.

I have found that I can call Foong on Skype late at night (mid-morning for her), but I have a hard time catching the girls – they spend a lot of time playing with their cousins next door, and they attend their “Malaysian school” in the mornings. Sometimes, they can not seem to be pulled away from the TV, where they watch all of the familiar movies, but in Chinese.

My brother came back to town for the NCSU vs UNC basketball game, and I joined them again. We won’t talk about the outcome of that game.

The highlight of February was surely our weekend road trip to Tennessee to visit Daryl. My buddy Dave and I drove up on Thursday. It was a smorgasbord of delights: computers and airplanes and motorcycles (and Hooters). No trip to Daryl’s would be complete without a flight in his airplane “Bubbles”. So he took me up on a tour of the mountains from Mount Mitchell to Beech Mountain. Then we practiced some touch-n-go’s at a small mountain airport. The rest of the weekend was spent playing with toys, toys, toys.

More TMIO news: you can now order our oven from Best Buy’s web page!

Since our backup project at work went so smoothly, I decided to install BackupPC at home as well.

March 2006

In March, I managed to get four flying lessons in. Three of them were solo in the pattern, and one was cross country with Norm. It was nice to get a change of scenery, and it was fun to pick landmarks and to work the radios.

The highlight of March was the girls’ return from Malaysia. They did OK on the long plane ride home. On their first day back, I kept them awake by taking them to Pullen Park. We rode the carousel and the train, and we played at the playground.

The trip to Malaysia really had a profound change on Sydney. Before, she was always glued to her Momma’s side. I could play with her, but she would never let me get too close. She never seemed to be Daddy’s Girl (like Audrey has always been). When they got back, that all changed. Suddenly Sydney wanted Daddy to push her on the swing, ride with her on the slide, take her for walks, hold her hand, offer a lap to sit on, etc. I’ve been waiting three years for that.

The second half of March was spent just getting used to being a family of four again.

In the goodie department, I ordered a handheld GPS. This should be a lot of fun for driving, flying, walking, and maybe even a little bit of geocaching. Who knows?

April 2006

April was the month of solo cross country trips. I went to Rockingham, Greensboro and Florence. Each one was a learning experience in its own way. At Rockingham, I decided that I needed to work on my initial approaches to the pattern. At Greensboro, I got confused talking to the tower controller. At Florence, I left the Hobbs meter running while I was on the ground. At the end of the month, I finally got back together with Norm for a quick introduction to short and soft field procedures (fun).

My new GPS has turned out to be a neat addition to flying. It makes a great back-up navigation tool (or perhaps a primary one). And I can store my tracks and view them later on my PC. I went ahead and bought the detailed map CD’s, which should come in handy on road trips.

We’re having beautiful spring weather, and so we’re getting out more. We had lunch with our friends Mui-Ling and Chin, and another one with Anna and Mike (Jonathan’s parents). We went to Cary’s “Spring Daze”, an art festival.

I took the girls on a four-mile walk (with them in the wagon) across the Raleigh greenway paths to the NC Art Museum. They enjoyed the walk/ride and they behaved surprisingly well in the presence of irreplaceable art. I am glad that I did not have to clean any boogers off of that Monet (The Seine at Giverny, Morning Mists, 1897). We ate chicken nuggets and hot dogs at the posh little cafe, and then hiked back to Meredith College, where we had parked the car.

My friend Greg moved to Orlando to work at Electronic Arts. I’ll miss having him around here, but hopefully we can visit him once he gets established.

Next month promises more outdoor events. Stay tuned.

May 2006

My flying career has slowed significantly – I only had one lesson this month. Norm and I practiced short and soft field takeoffs and landings at a grass strip. Bad news and good news – Norm got a “real job” with an airline. So I will find a new instructor. During the transition, I ended up with a handful of cancelled lessons. In the meantime, I did manage to go solo one time to practice my shorts and softs.

The weather is starting to turn nice, and there was no shortage of things to do on the weekends. Apex Peak Week, Artsplosure, and a few cookouts with friends.

Over Mother’s Day weekend, we went to the beach with my friend David and his family. The big event was the air show at New River MCAS (Camp Lejeune). Getting there took all morning, but once we got there it was fun. There were lots of big and loud planes to see, and the Marines had an impressive static display of airplanes, helicopters, tanks, and armored vehicles.

When we got back into town, I went to the doctor to have my tube removed from my eye and nose. Snip and sneeze. That sure felt good! Six months and thousands of dollars later, my tear duct now drains normally. It reminds me of a quote from the movie Johnny Dangerously:

  • Doc: “About your mom, John.”
  • Johnny: “What is it? How much?”
  • Doc: “Blocked salivary gland, $7,500.”
  • Johnny: “Really? Yeah, go ahead and do it. Hey, it’ll be good to see her spit again, huh?”

At work, our product has been on the market for a few months, so it’s safe to say that we are out of the early product development phase. Unfortunately, that means we need to scale back. They let Bill and Jerry go. I spent some time with Bill, trying to absorb everything he knows about our servers. That was a scary glimpse into the mind of a genius.

Someone decided that we needed a “grass roots” effort to build some buzz about our product in the marketplace. So certain members of our company astroturfed a handful of forums. The results were not pretty, but they were about what I expected.

Technical meetings this month: Safety-critical systems at the IEEE-embedded group, CAcert at TriLUG.

June 2006

I finally got going with a new flight instructor, Betsy. She’s nothing like Norm… she’s a retired school teacher who teaches flying because she loves to teach and loves to fly (and yes, she gives me homework to do). We had one lesson together, instrument work (“hood work”). I also solo’ed once in the pattern, just to shake the rust off of my landings.

One Sunday, in an effort to give Foong some time to herself, I took the girls to the New Home Valley Railway. When we first showed up, there were hundreds of bikers there. But they soon cleared out (apparently, they were having sort of charity benefit road rally) and we went for our train ride.

At the TriLUG meeting, they talked about the new release of Ubuntu, called “Dapper Drake”. I installed it at work, with fair results. I tried at home, and it essentially trashed my laptop. Doah! So I switched back to “Breezy Badger”.

We had a few social events this month: a father’s day lunch at a Chinese restaurant, cookout with friends.

Our across-the-street neighbors moved back to their home country of Lebanon. They were excited about the move, and I think they did it the “right” way, he found an American company to transfer him overseas. [Little did they know, within a month, Beirut would become the scene of an international war.]

Foong turned 40 this month. Shhh, don’t tell anybody.

We’ve been going to the neighborhood pool lately, and the girls are starting to feel more comfortable in the water. It started with Sydney (no surprise there). She wanted me to hold one arm and one leg and help her dive four feet under water to touch the bottom. On her first try, she came back up holding a pool toy from the bottom! Audrey immediately recognized the threat of being surpassed, so she got serious about practicing. Within a few days, they were both swimming from the wall to me, standing a few feet away in water that’s over their heads.

At work, I installed a mail server to handle all of our system administration messages. We’re considering running our corporate mail through the same server, but that’s just asking for trouble!

July 2006

We started off the month right, with a trip to the beach. Audrey has a perfect record of five birthdays at the beach, so why stop now? We had a great time at the pool. The girls are both quickly learning to swim, and they want to spend every waking hour in the pool.

Coinciding nicely with our trip was the “Tall Ships Festival” in Beaufort. We spent one day looking at the ships that were in port for the race (although we could not see anything at all during the race itself – they were too far out at sea).

When we got home from the beach, we went to Winston-Salem for Nanny’s 90th birthday party. We dressed the girls up and took them to the fancy restaurant, where they hid under the table with the other kids and watched a movie on a portable DVD player.

I continued my hood work with Betsy, and I scheduled what seemed like a hundred night lessons, waiting for a clear sky for our night cross country. Clear night? In the summer in NC? Forget it! We finally got our chance, and we flew to Stanly County (between Asheboro and Charlotte). Flying at night was very different from flying in the daytime – takeoffs were a lot like instrument work, the view is very different, planning needs to be more detailed, you pick different landmarks.

The IEEE had their annual picnic at the WCPE radio station in Wake Forest. I took the girls (we let Foong have the day off). It was hot, but the girls enjoyed running around with all of the other kids. I enjoyed the tour of the transmitter, the tower, and the studio. Afterwards, we cooled off by going to see the new movie “Cars”.

Technical meetings this month: RFID at IEEE-embedded, Video animation with Blender at TriLUG.

One Saturday, we took the family roller skating. Wow, I have not been roller skating for about 20 years! After a little while, I got the hang of it. Audrey did very well, considering it was only her first time. Sydney got frustrated very quickly, so I picked her up (just asking for an accident here) and skated around the rink with her kind of sitting on my lap. Funny thing, their soundtrack had not changed much since the last time I went skating – Funkytown!

August 2006

The weather finally cleared up for some more night flights in the local pattern, takeoffs and landings. I also started my check ride prep. I had a total of six lessons and three solo practices in August. I am getting very close to being ready for my check ride!

Sydney spent the entire month of August with a cast on her arm. She fell off of the bed while watching TV, and just landed on it wrong. We went to the emergency room (why can’t my kids get hurt in the daytime?) and they scared us by suggesting that she might need surgery to put a pin in her elbow. But the doctor decided that a cast would do, and now Sydney just has to be careful and keep her arm dry – not easy for such an active child.

We visited my friend David at his place at Lake Royale. He had just gotten his boat fixed, so he took his three boys inner tubing, and then he took us on a tour of the lake. We decided not to swim because of Sydney’s cast.

As the temperature approached 100 degrees, I noticed the air conditioner in my car just could not keep up. I recalled that my old ‘91 Ford Probe occasionally needed freon added, so I tried that same tactic, only to make the problem worse (I over-filled it). I finally gave in and took the car to the dealer. It turned out to be a bad compressor (covered under warranty). Lesson: let the professionals fix my car.

One afternoon, we packed up the girls and headed to Durham to the American Tobacco Historic District, where the local public radio station sponsored a free concert featuring “Tres Chicas”, a local country/rock/folk band.

This month’s TriLUG meeting was on Nagios, a nifty tool that monitors all sorts of things on your network and informs you when anything looks suspicious. I installed Nagios at work to tell me when our servers go offline.

The IEEE had a family night at the Morehead Planetarium at UNC. Our girls enjoyed the show, despite being a little scared.

At work, you can now order a TMIO oven directly from our web site!

September 2006

We went to the beach for Labor Day weekend. We also invited my friend David and his family. Our two girls just love to play with his three boys. The ocean was just the right temperature for swimming, and the kids caught lots of hermit crabs. We went to the NC Aquarium twice.

Audrey started kindergarten in September. On her first day, she was so brave… she rode the school bus and she bought her lunch at the cafeteria. She just loves going to school. She has made several new friends, and she is excited about all of the activities.

Sydney also started going to a preschool, two afternoons per week.

If this was not enough, they both started going to Chinese school on Saturday mornings.

On my 38th birthday, I went for a morning jog. When I got back home, my two girls were waiting for me with a birhtday present. How sweet!

On the last day of September, I took my check ride, the “final exam” to get a private pilot’s license. The test has two parts: the oral exam and the flight test. The oral part is a barrage of questions about everything from weather to engines to aeronautical charts (maps). The flying test covers a lot of skills: “pilotage” (navigation using only landmarks and a chart), radio navigation, instrument-only flight, standard maneuvers like stalls and steep turns, ground-reference maneuvers, takeoffs and landings, and emergency procedures.

The oral exam went OK, as I expected. I had a few brain-farts, but I showed that I understood the material. I was not so confident about the flying part. There were items that I did better on (navigation, instrument flight) and others that I was not too proud off (crosswind landing, picking an emergency landing point). But the examiner was pleased, and at the end she printed out my new temporary pilot’s licence certificate.

I asked Foong and the girls to meet me at the Sanford airport (the check ride was in Burlington). When they got there, I strapped the car seat into the plane and took my first two passengers for a lap around the field. Sydney was first – she loved it, giggling and shouting the whole way. Audrey was second – when we took off, she said her belly felt like we were really moving up.

October 2006

Fall is here. The weather is pleasant and there are plenty of activities to keep the weekends busy.

We spent an afternoon wandering around Ken’s Korny Corn Maze. It took the A Team (Audrey and Alan) exactly one hour to collect all of the stamps and emerge from the maze. Foong and Sydney did not have such good luck… they lacked one stamp. But we all celebrated with an ice cream. Be warned – the rope maze is a lot harder than it looks!

I exercised my new flying privileges by taking my friend Michael Steele for a flight. We went to Lake Ridge in Durham, where he had taken a few lessons last year. Then back to Sanford for burgers and dogs.

We took the girls to a Chinese music concert, which included some local choral groups and one of the best pianists I have ever heard. Breathtaking.

My friend Jym Williams Zavada entertained us at the TriLUG meeting with his presentation on “nanocomputers”, which seemed like a cross between my very own Ericsson “nanocube” and the Linux distro that I developed for TMIO’s oven.

Speaking of ovens, TMIO’s owner has finally decided that the oven is mature enough that we won’t need to spend so much daily effort in development (in other words, we were laid off). That’s no surprise – it’s time for a new project. However, they will still need help from time to time, so I will continue to work with them when issues pop up.

The class of ‘86 from West Forsyth High School had a 20-year reunion. We went to a picnic at the school, and then a more formal after-dinner party downtown. It was very weird to see the old gang again. Some had changed, others were the same.

We wrapped up the month with Halloween. The folks at the New Hope Valley Railway had their annual Haunted Train ride, which was pretty cool. And then on Halloween night itself, we dressed up and raided the neighborhood for candy. Audrey was a vampire woman (think “Elvira”, but five years old) and Sydney was Sleeping Beauty. I did a repeat performance of last year’s Blue Man Group costume.

November 2006

My last few weeks at TMIO were pretty busy, between cleaning up my work (guess who’s going to be maintaining it?) and interviewing for a new job.

The job market seems to be pretty hot. Before the month was over, I had two offers. Both of them sounded like good Linux work, and it was hard to decide which one I should take. So I sat on it for a while. See below.

I enjoyed my brief period of unemployment. I did not do anything useful… just fun.

One afternoon, the girls and I found our first geocache. As luck would have it, we found a special geocoin called the Milestone Coin – its goal was to share a special milestone with us. I think “first find” qualifies!

I went flying with my friend Robert (from TMIO). He lives near an airport, so I met him there and we flew over his neighborhood. A few days later, I took my friend Jym on his first flight in a small plane. He was anxious, since he has a strong fear of heights. But he did fine.

We spent a day at the zoo with Robert’s family. We had a great time, as always, but we learned some lessons in logistics. Note to self: bring your own food.

We spent Thanksgiving at my brother’s house (the family dinner was at Mimi and Pops’ house). This year, Sydney’s birthday happened to fall on Thanksgiving day. Grandmother Capp came to town, and all of the regulars (and irregulars) from Winston-Salem were there. Sydney had a great fourth birthday. Mmm, deep fried turkey and birthday cake!

On the day after Thanksgiving, the women went shopping. Meanwhile, the men and the children went geocaching! We found six caches, and I think Tony and Alex are now hooked. All they needed me for was the map.

After Thanksgiving, we drove up to Pilot Mountain and hiked around the knob. It was a great day to be outside. Then we drove on up to Salem, Virginia to see Dixie Caverns.

On the last day of November, I started my new job at Tekelec, a company that makes equipment that runs the back end of the cellular phone network (think “Sprint” or “Cingular”). I joined a group that provides a Red Hat based Linux distribution that most of Tekelec’s products run on.

December 2006

I spent most of December just trying to soak up as much as I could at work. I was introduced to several of my new colleagues at our department’s Christmas party, which was held offsite at a manager’s house.

Since my niece had a birthday in late November, I invited her to go flying with me one Saturday. I figured that for ONCE, I could get her something that her other uncles had not already gotten her! We landed once at RDU, and we circled over the NC State University campus.

We spent Christmas with Mimi and Pops. On Christmas eve, Audrey went to the Moravian Love Feast (Sydney is not ready to be still for that long). Later that night, Santa Claus was wondering if he had prepared well enough, but the next morning, Audrey put that fear to rest when she said “wow, there’s so much stuff!”.

The weather continued to be mild, so I got some geocaching in. Once again, while we were in Winston-Salem, my brother Tony and his son Alex joined us. Those guys are too fast!

We joined a local gym. The girls can do “Gym and Swim” and Foong can get a workout in the meantime. Still, I have a hard time picturing myself pumping iron with the muscle heads.

We wrapped up the year with a trip to the Greensboro Children’s Museum on Saturday and First Night Raleigh (the early one) on Sunday.

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