Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2007

January was still unseasonably warm. I decided that I would set myself a “cache-a-day” quota until I caught up with my friend Rodney (he had 71, I had 23). So I managed to find at least one geocache every day for three weeks straight (rain, snow or shine). Most were quick park-n-grab’s either before or after work.

I took my friend Tracy McNeely flying one Saturday. We had a good time, although we did not break any distance records. So far, I’ve been staying pretty close to the nest.

Our friends Michael and Rebekah had a baby shower. And just in time… their baby arrived the very next week!

We visited “Astronomy Days” at the NC Museum of Natural Science. For the first time, I went as a visitor instead of as a presenter. The girls had a good time launching rockets (made from 2-liter bottles), coloring buttons, and letting the Mars Rover roll over them.

February 2007

One morning in February, we woke up to a light dusting of snow. Everyone was excited (everyone that did not have to go to work, that is). When I got home, there was a tiny snowman on our back porch.

I’ve been continuing my geocaching spree, reaching a total of 100 caches after only 99 days. My 100th find was cache called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”, which is located deep in the woods, and can only be found at midnight.

I decided that it was time to hide my own geocache. There used to be a neat puzzle cache in our neighborhood called “Swamp Thang”, which could only be found after solving a sudoku puzzle. But it had been discovered by the neighborhood kids, and it kept being robbed of its treasures, so the owner disabled the cache. I went to work on a replacement called “Swamp Thang 2”, which involved a lot of number-crunching and several on-site surveys to find a suitable hiding place whose coordinates would fit within a sudoku puzzle.

I managed to squeeze in a little bit of stick and rudder time on one nice Saturday, just going in circles and practicing takeoffs and landings.

We spread ourselves thin between a geocaching party and a Chinese New Year party in a single evening.

My HP laptop refused to power on one day, so I had to quickly transfer all of my files to a Dell laptop that I had been using for work.

Our Singaporean and Malaysian friends threw a Chinese New Year Party. The place was packed, and there was a lot of good Asian food!

March 2007

As always, the Chinese New Year celebrations continued for the two weeks between the new moon and the full moon. This year, we were treated to a lunar eclipse at the end.

This year was the first year that I got the pleasure of doing corporate taxes (last year, I formed a corporation for my freelance software work). Membership has its privileges. ???

Up until now, I have been signing my geocache logs with the name “Mr.Sparkle”. This name comes from an episode of The Simpsons. However, no one seems to know this little factoid – and to the uninitiated, the name “Mr.Sparkle” can conjure up some pretty colorful images. So I decided to change my user name. While a name change on some internet site might not sound newsworthy enough to warrant a paragraph in the Porter Family News, it is significant at the time, since I am geocaching on more days than I am not geocaching.

My new geocaching name is “rot13”, which is a combined reference to many things: pre-web internet culture, usenet humor, encryption, scrambled geocaching hints, and the treasure hunt games that I play with my two daughters. The name comes from “rotate 13”, which means to swap letters in a message with the letter that is 13 places away (A-N, B-O, C-P, etc). CERGGL PBBY, UHU?

April 2007

After several months of unseasonably warm weather, we were surprised by an unseasonably cold Easter weekend. It even snowed a little at our home in Cary, but we missed it, since we were at Mimi and Pops’s house in Winston-Salem. The girls would normally wear Easter dresses, but instead we had to find warmer clothes for them.

One Saturday in April, we had a landscaping crew come to do some much-needed work on our yard. But I could not stick around to supervise; instead I went to the airport to go flying. To me, this is the definition of success!

On that same busy Saturday, I went to a seminar at UNC where I got to hear Bruce Schneier, security expert and common-sense evangelist. He even signed my book. Later that night, I went to a geocachers’ party. I never even got to see my new pretty lawn until the next day!

My friend Rodney and I went on a weekend hike in Umstead Park to find a geocache called “The Old Forest of Tom Bombadil”. In all, we hiked about six miles. (Cache count: 208)

Audrey lost her first tooth at the end of April. She did not want me to pull it, but after she brushed her teeth, it was hanging in there sideways, and I just could not let her go to sleep with it like that.

After over 60 years in Columbus GA, my grandmother decided to move to Winston-Salem to be closer to family. She sold her house and moved into a retirement community. Her first week there, someone had gotten very sick and they had to quarantine everyone into their rooms! What a horrible way to start off in your new home!

May 2007

We started off May with a trip to the beach with my buddy David Robinson and his family. The highlight of the trip was the air show at Cherry Point. And for our girls, the highlight of the air show was – get this – a big pile of sand where you could dig for fossils! Foong and Sydney had to return to Cary early for a ballet recital, but the rest of us stuck around for one more day.

We spent Mother’s Day in Winston-Salem. We had lunch at Nanny’s apartment. There were plenty of mothers in attendance, including Grandmother Capp, Aunt Madge, Mimi and Foong. The fathers and children were also there, but who’s counting them?

Audrey’s school had a carnival that they called “The Amazing Race”. They had blow-up jumping houses, a clown, plenty of activities, and a HUGE raffle with over 300 prizes!

Talk about luck – my geocaching obsession is only five months old, and they chose to hold the national geocaching convention (if you can call it that) at the fairgrounds in Raleigh! Crazy people converged from all over to meet and greet and trade swag and coins. It was very laid back, with most of the action happening at picnic tables in a wooded area of the fairgrounds. I had a great time, and Audrey stuck with me the entire day. Momma and Sydney, however, could not stand the fun, so they had to leave to go shopping and take a nap (but they returned for supper).

Foong bought me a cool new phone to replace my old flip phone (the one whose hinge has been broken since November). The new one is an LG “enV” (en-vee), and it flips open like a tiny laptop. It has a web browser and a very nice camera. I would have never bought this for my self, but Foong decided that I needed another gadget to play with. What a gal!

June 2007

Just like we did in 2005, we joined our friends Anna and Mike at their company’s family day at Carowinds. We learned a few lessons last time, so this time we brought swim suits, and we did not waste any time at the “big kid” rides. Instead, we spent the whole morning and mid-day in the kiddie ride section, and then cooled off in the water park in the afternoon.

While we were in town, our friends Roy and Luisa let us stay at their house, which is on Lake Norman. They treated us to a nice breakfast and then took us on a boat ride! We even stopped the boat in a cove and swam for a while. It was hard to leave that behind to return home.

I finally got my HP laptop repaired. I sure did miss my 1680x1050 LCD while it was out of commission.

Audrey took swimming lessons for a week (and Sydney spent most of that time bugging the instructor, so she might as well have been in the class). Both girls are comfortable jumping into the deep end of the pool without floats or helpers. And they can both swim from there back to the shallow end. I am so proud.

Our friends Bee and Brady invited us to spend a day out on Lake Jordan on their boat. We did some tubing, some swimming, and Audrey even rode on the knee board one time! Wow, two boating trips in one month – we’re getting spoiled!

July 2007

We started off July with a pool party for Audrey’s birthday. Kids, cake, pizza, and cool water. Who could ask for more?

Breaking tradition, we spent July 4th at Lake Wheeler in Raleigh. It was a big party, with bands and a carnival area with jumping houses and food vendors. After dark, we met the glow stick lady, a woman who must have cleaned out the entire stock at the dollar store. We wrapped up the evening with – you guessed it – a pretty impressive fireworks show.

One of Audrey’s friends had a birthday party at the go-kart track. The girls got to drive the smaller go-karts by themselves, and then they rode the big go-kart with Daddy.

Štěpán (my colleague from the Czech Republic) and I went on a geocache run… 26 caches in one evening after work. This was all part of the “RHG 15k” series, a set of 50 so-called “park-and-grab” caches (caches that are easy to find, and fun to do in large numbers).

Foong and I celebrated 13 years of marriage by having a nice dinner at the swanky “Herons” restaurant at the Umstead Hotel and Spa. A little on the stiff side, but a nice break from General Tso and Happy Meals.

I published a set of four geocaches called “The Mr.Sparkle series”, for those geocachers who still can’t figure out who Mr.Sparkle is.

We wrapped up the month by starting the first grade. Since Audrey’s school converted to year-round operation, most kids started school at the beginning of July. But we started by being “tracked out” for three weeks, so our year began at the end of July.

August 2007

I attended my first “un-conference”. It was called “bar camp”, which is a nerdy joke referring to “foo camp”, which itself is some sort of nerdy joke that’s hard to explain. Bar Camp had no pre-determined schedule of speakers. Instead, the first session of the morning consisted of volunteers pitching their ideas for presentations. The rest of the schedule was determined by popular vote of those ideas. Very weird. I managed to get some tips on juggling, but didn’t get much else out of it (other than a T-shirt).

I took my friend Štěpán flying. Our plan was to fly to Smithfield, where we would de-plane and walk for a mile to find a near-by geocache, then walk back to the airport and fly back to Sanford. It was to be our most gratuitously expensive geocache. Instead, the weather was misty (“like swimming in milk”, says Štěpán), so we did some sightseeing over the more familiar areas of Jordan Lake and Pittsboro instead.

The family took a day trip to Fort Fisher to visit the aquarium and play in the sound.

My friend Rodney and I took our Czech friends out into the woods in the middle of the night to experience a special geocache called “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”. We had been there back in February, but it was fun to do it again.

More summertime parties: an evening concert in Holly Springs; and yet-another geocaching party, to wish our friends, HexTheKiwi, off to their new/old home.


Many years ago, my uncle bought a jet ski. Over the years, it was neglected and forgotten, and it eventually ended up being stored in my dad’s basement. He had it repaired a while back, and finally decided to give it to us. So my Czech friends volunteered to help me “test it out”, to make sure it still ran OK. It survived that stress-test, so it should be ready for anything.

Since we will be going to China in October, I bought a new camera. I wanted to get it in time to learn how to use it before our trip. I ended up getting the Panasonic FZ50. We’ll see how well it does, and how well I do, in October.

Also, for the trip in October, I wanted some sort of web-enabled PDA, so I could surf the web from a familiar PC (ever used the Chinese version of Windows XP?). So I scoured e-bay and eventually settled on a Palm Tungsten C, which has WiFi and a small web browser.

Watch this space… the summer of toys continues.

September 2007

Since we skipped our annual July 4th trip to the beach, we had to make up for it on Labor Day. We did all of the usual things: the aquarium, Fort Macon, the Big Oak drive in, geocaching, and getting stuck in a Labor Day traffic jam.

With the success of the maiden voyage of the jet ski, I decided to take the family out to show them what it’s all about. However, like any boat, it can be temperamental. Standing in the knee-deep water of the boat ramp, it refused to start. Lessons learned: before you leave home, (1) the fuel line needs to be primed and (2) the battery needs to be charged. So we went home and did those things and returned the next day for a great day on the lake.

My girls went shopping for my birthday. They got me some Homer Simpson pajama pants and shorts, and a Scooby Doo cartoon movie. Great girls!

We went to Bugfest at the NC Museum of Natural Science. It was pretty gross, all around.

The “Sing-Ma” group celebrated the mooncake festival at a local neighborhood park. We had a great time, and the party continued until well after dark, at which time we broke out the laterns and sparklers and glowsticks!

Two more geocaching parties: one in Carrboro and one in Cary.


The Palm Tungsten C has proven to be an indispensable geocaching tool, but it basically stinks at web surfing. So I bought a Nokia 770 web tablet (which is heavily discounted, since they are now pushing the N800). This thing was built to surf, and it fits in a pocket. I am looking forward to trying it out in China.

October 2007

In October, the Porter family packed their bags and went to China! We spent two weeks in three cities. Foong has sisters in Shanghai and Hong Kong, and we all met in Beijing to start off our trip. It was like three separate mini-vacations.

In Beijing, the whole gang was together, five adults and four children. We stayed in a nice international hotel, and we hired a driver (Mister Charlie) to take us in his van to see the sights. By far, the highlight of Beijing was the Great Wall. But we also saw many palaces and gardens that all blur together in our minds.

Most of our time in Shanghai was spent shopping and going with them to their normal events: a school carnival and a kid’s birthday party. We took a day trip to Suzhou to see the silk museum (timely, since Audrey had just read a book about how silk is made). And the highlight of Shanghai was the Pearl Tower on the Huangpu river.

After being in China for more than a week, Hong Kong seemed very orderly and civilized. The weather was also a lot more tropical than I expected. It reminded me of Singapore, except with a more substantial language barrier. For me, the highlight of Hong Kong was finding a geocache on the top of a mountain peak that overlooks the apartment where we stayed.

During this trip, I finally got an understanding of what my dog must feel like. I would sit in a room with my extended family. I could tell they were talking because their lips were moving. Then, suddenly, they would get up and walk to the door and say in English “c’mon, let’s go”. I had no idea where we were going, but I knew I’d better hurry up or I’d get left behind. But the life of a dog is not so bad. When we were done eating, I could take the girls and just leave the restaurant without worrying about arguing with the waitress or paying the bill. I just got up and left while the humans (I mean, Chinese people) took care of the logistics. Of course, where the dog and I differ… they used MY credit card to pay for everything.

On this trip, I decided to completely “geek out”. I carried my GPS with me everywhere I went, looking out for geocaches and recording my every move along the way. I took my camera, since the good shots always appear when you least expect them. And I used my Nokia 770 to check email whenever we found a WiFi spot (pretty often). Of course, with the gadgets come batteries and accessories, so I was loaded down like a pack mule.

Finally, with the trip behind us, Audrey went back to school (October is “track out” for us) and I went back to work. We did make it back in time for Heath’s annual pig pickin’.

For Halloween, the Audrey was a mermaid, Sydney was a fairy, and I took the easy way out, wearing a Scream mask and a graduation robe.

November 2007

This month’s robotics club meeting was really cool. Allen Moore showed us how to make polyurethane molds. This looks like a neat way to make plastic copies of other stuff. I am thinking “geocaching swag”.

One of Audrey’s classmates invited us to see the “Bee Movie”. Her father is a pastor of a church that meets in a movie theater, and the theater owner occasionally lets them charter the entire theater for one showing. Very cool.

I visited Audrey’s school on the day that they dressed up like pilgrims and indians (which they now call “native Americans”).

Sydney turned five in November, so we had a party at Pump It Up. It’s two hours of organized chaos, but the kids love it. Later, we had a smaller birthday celebration at Mimi’s house.

Audrey lost two teeth during November (that’s #3 and #4, if you’re keeping count).

One of the stranger events of the month was that the oven place where I used to work (TMIO) was sold to another company. It was kind of weird to package up everything that we worked on for the new company.

December 2007

Another good robotics club meeting, with Grayson Randall from Insight Racing, and his presentation about the DARPA Urban Challenge (along with lots of info from the earlier two Grand Challenge races as well). The Grand Challenge was a race of autonomous vehicles across the desert of California and Nevada. The Urban Challenge took place in the streets of an army base. But the Insight Racing team accepted the challenge in style, by fitting a Lotus Elise with sensors and computer gear that let it drive itself!

This year’s Linux User Group holiday party was sponsored by Google, who have just recently opened a data center in Lenoir, NC.

Santa showed up for our neighborhood’s annual sleigh ride. As usual, the weather was very cold while we waited for our turn to ride the sleigh (typical of winter in NC, the temperature got over 80°F less than a week later).

We went to a geocaching party to celebrate the opening of the movie, The Golden Compass. However, we passed on the movie, since it’s a bit intense for young kids.

One of Sydney’s friends had a birthday party, complete with a magician. He kept the children in suspense and the adults in stitches.

Both girls wrapped up a short ballet class with a recital. Amazing that they can learn so much in just four lessons.

We spent Christmas with Mimi and Pops. I got everything I asked for (which is, nothing). The girls, of course, were just buried in loot and candy.

After Christmas, we had the luxury of a few days with NOTHING to do. I could use a week like that every year!

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