Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2010

It’s 2010, and I am taking more steps into the digital age. I finally did something that should have been done a long time ago, I scanned all of my CD’s onto the computer. I also created an online photo gallery to display family photos (I used “gallery2”, which is like my own personal Flickr). And a biggie for me, I installed a calendar server, which allows me to access my calendar from home, work, or iphone.

After the earthquake in Haiti, I showed pictures of the disaster to the kids, and we pitched in to help. I promised to match them 5-to-1, and bless their hearts, they coughed up $5 and $15 for the Red Cross!

Other reasons to be proud of my girls: Audrey wrote a one-page paper in Chinese, describing our New Year celebration at First Night Raleigh. And Sydney wrote her first computer program, a multiplication table using Python. Both of my little nerd girls got their own Twitter accounts.

I attended the “Triangle Mobile App All-Stars” in downtown Raleigh. It was a chance to learn from accomplished iphone app developers.

At the end of the month, we got some slushy snow. Little did we know, there’d me more to come!

February 2010

On the first day of February, the girls each lost a tooth.

Still recovering from the snow, we missed several days of school.

We celebrated Chinese New Year with the Raleigh Academy of Chinese Language (RACL) and their annual cultural show. Later, we celebrated with friends, the way we always do – with FOOD!

Our Indian Princess tribe, the “Thunder and Lightning Bugs”, were pretty active in February. In addition to our meeting (was it in an igloo instead of a teepee?), we had a “Polar Bear Swim” at the YMCA’s pool (thankfully, the INDOOR pool). Finally, we all went to the Ringling Brothers Circus – their theme song was “Do Not Try This At Home”, with good reason!

This month’s Linux User Group meeting was a doozie! Dr. Richard Hipp, the author of SQLite, visited us and talked about databases, how SQLite evolved, and also his new project, “fossil”.

Just as the snow melted from a few weeks ago, we got another dose!

Our kids’ school had their “not-so-spring” event (much earlier than normal). As usual, it was a fun night of activities and raffle drawings.

March 2010

March turned out to be “Convention Month”, with Ignite Raleigh (3rd), TEDxTriangleNC (6th), Fizzled Durham (8th), PechaKucha (20th), and CarolinaCon (19-21). In the end, I was only able to attend one of these. [sad trombone]

After writing and building and practicing for several months, Audrey’s “Odyssey of the Mind” team was finally ready for competition. They had a practice performance at their school, and then the real deal later that weekend. Their problem was called “Nature Trail’r”, and they built a wagon that Audrey pulled while some other kids rode it. Their skit was silly, as kids’ skits will be, and they all had a pretty good time. The team did a good job (but they did not win an award, nor did they expect to).

Sydney and I cooked a meal for Momma, earning a feather for her Indian Princess vest. I thought the meal was too dry and too spicy, but Sydney says it was “goo-OOD!” That’s two-syllable good!

The weather warmed up in March, and the whole world exploded with pollen… much more than usual. But if you could stand to be outside, we were treated to a special show of pink blossoms on the cherry trees.

We went to the NC Museum of Natural Sciences for “Reptile Day”, where the girls discovered that snakes are cool. It’s a good thing that Momma stayed home… she does NOT think that snakes are cool.

I spent one weekend hanging out with a bunch of questionable characters at “CarolinaCon”, our very own hacker conference. As always, they struck just the right balance between being informative, uncouth, a little bit drunk, and just plain awesome.

Sydney and I finished off the month by hosting an afternoon of geocaching for our Indian Princess tribe. Attendance was low, but those who did show up had a great time, and they just might’ve gotten hooked on a new game! Only ONE of our loaner GPS’s was destroyed in the process!

April 2010

April was da bomb.

The girls were tracked out for the entire month, and the weather was beautiful. That’s a perfect combination.

We started with a trip to Mimi & Pops’s house for Easter. We visited with the grandmothers, and we had an Easter egg hunt.

We knew we wanted to take a trip somewhere, so we asked the girls where they wanted to go. Audrey suggested New York, because she’s always heard about it, but she’s never been closer than Newark Airport. So that’s where we went!

We spent three non-stop days in the city, visiting all of the major sites: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and Rockefeller Center. We also met my cousin Allison for an insider’s view at life and work in the city. We saw the Blue Man Group. And the girls’ favorite part, we explored Central Park.

When we got home, I has just enough time to get our taxes done, and then it was time to escape again.

Sydney and I attended “Spring Outing” weekend with our Indian Princess tribe at YMCA Camp Seafarer. They kept us busy, with BB guns, archery, canoeing, a fossil dig, a 3-story treehouse, and a campfire with Elvis and fireworks. But the big kahuna event was the DOUBLE zip line, where dads and daughters zip down the wire until they splash into the frigid lake.

Seeing all of the kids on bikes at Spring Outing inspired me to finally take our bicycles down from the hooks on the garage ceiling… they had been hanging there for SEVEN YEARS. To my surprise, they were in pretty good shape. So we have been riding around the neighborhood and along our local greenway.

A personal acheivement: I made it through all of the lecture videos from the Stanford University iPhone programming course, CS193P.

The family spent one Sunday at “Maker Faire”, a gathering of folks who like to make stuff: crafts, music, electronic gizmos, and sometimes just plain silliness. It was stimulus overload!

The kids discovered silly bandz, little rubber bands that come in hundreds of shapes, than can be stretched out and worn on the wrists.

May 2010

In May, the weather warmed up nicely. The flowers bloomed, we picked strawberries, and the neighborhood pool opened. Ahh, nice.

But the big event of May was the Space Shuttle launch. We took the kids out of school for two days, and we drove down to the Kennedy Space Center to watch the launch of Atlantis (mission STS-132). We spent two days at KSC: the first day spent mainly exploring and then finding a good vantage point to watch the launch, and the second day doing a lot deeper tour of the place.

Even though I was not present for the election, I was re-elected to the TriLUG steering committee. While I would like to think it’s because I am doing such a good job, I know that it’s because no one really wants the job of finding speakers and sponsors.

We finished May with a camping trip sponsored by our Chinese school. Those guys really know how to camp! After cooking supper for all of the guests (100-ish families), they set up three different projector screens – in the woods – one for karaoke, one for Wii games, and one to show Avatar.

June 2010

In June, the kids and I challenged each other to a “no sweets month”. We swore off candy and deserts for the whole month. However, we made a handful of exceptions: one item at birthday parties, one if the whole class gets one, Coke does not count. We had a couple of minor lapses, but all in all, we did great. We learned that we CAN survive without sweets!

I wasted a Saturday at the Lenovo warehouse sale: several hours in line, only to enter a warehouse full of unlabeled boxes and a 15-page spreadsheet of serial numbers and product details. I need a new PC, but this is not the way to shop!

I escaped for a geeks’ weekend. My friends Kevin Otte and Bill Farrow packed the car full of electronic gear and drove down to Spartanburg SC for South East Linux Fest (SELF). There, we learned about the newest trends in open source software, and we met some geek icons. We also managed to clown around like a bunch of adolecents, we jammed to some cool “nerdcore” rap, courtesy of Dual Core, and we clogged our arteries with grease at “the Beacon”.

My kids voted me “#1 Dad” for Father’s Day. What a relief. I’d hate to come in second.

I know it’s early, but we hosted a jump-house-and-pool party for Audrey’s 9th birthday. Since school’s out on her actual birthday, we tend to have her parties early.

July 2010

As has become a family tradition, we spent the holiday weekend at the beach with my parents. We did the usual things: beach, Fort Macon, aquarium, BBQ, fireworks, birthday cake!

At the beach, we bought two new new hermit crabs. Their names are Boo and Sprinkle.

After the successful completion of our “Service Broker” project at work, I was plucked off of the team to work on the next new hot thing, the “Diameter Signaling Router”. I am building up my web-fu.

We went to Winston-Salem for my Nanny’s 94th birthday party.

The real adventure of the summer started when my sister-in-law and my niece arrived from Hong Kong for a THREE WEEK stay with us! We spent a week around home, letting them see what life in the USA is like. Then we went to the mountains for a week, and wrapped it up with a week at the beach.

We had a great time in the mountains. We stayed in a “cabin” (a house, complete with satellite TV and hot tub) in Bat Cave NC. We explored Chimney Rock and Lake Lure, as well as the Biltmore House. We also managed to mine for “gems” and hike to a waterfall.

Not to be outdone, the week at the beach was pretty fun, too. We played in the sand and sea, swam in the pool, learned history at the newly renovated Fort Macon, played Jungle Golf, rode race carts, saw critters at the aquarium, waited for baby loggerhead turtles to hatch, rode on a ferry, and dug for fossils.

August 2010

With our marathon vacation over and the girls back in school, it’s time for me to get back to work and try to figure out something about our new project.

Since it rained during our visit to the Aurora Fossil Museum last month, we brought a 5 gallon bucket of dirt home with us. We finally got around to digging in August.

After only two short months in our home, we had a funeral for our hermit crab “Boo”.

On a nerdy adminstrative note, I finally set up “shared” online calendars for my family to keep track of stuff like “his”, “hers”, “kids”, “school”. (I use a calendar server called “DAViCal”.) Now when I add something to my calendar, either at home or at work or on my iphone, my wife also sees it on her computer and her iphone. It has really revolutionized how we keep track of who’s supposed to be where, when.

September 2010

In September, we were treated to free tickets to a Durham Bulls game. At first, I thought we might stand out because we know next-to-nothing about sports. It turns out we were surrounded by non-fans: the crowd in front gossiped the whole time, the lady next to me played games on her phone the whole time, and on the other side, a young lady was ready a book.

Audrey joined a Girl Scout troop. They had a “getting to know you” meeting at a local swimming pool, and we tried to remember all the new names. It sounds like these guys are going to have a great time.

I attended my first “Pecha Kucha Night” (pecha kucha is Japanese for “chit chat”). It’s a series of speakers who each get 20 slides of 20 seconds, strictly timed, to tell something interesting. The topics ranged from allowing kids to work, to growing all of your own food in your front yard.

Some friends recently competed in a contest to launch a small helium balloon up to “near space”, which is about 60,000 feet. To put that into perspective, a passenger jet flies at 40,000 feet. The goal was to take pictures of the blackness of space and the curvature of the earth! After the contest was over, they planned another launch, and I helped them with a web page that tracks the balloon on an interactive map, and a script that sends the coordinates out as text messages to all of the members of the team. Our balloon went up to 100,000 feet!

October 2010

October was an action-packed month.

The girls were tracked out in October, and unlike previous years, we decided to spend our Autum vacation at home.

We attended the International Festival in downtown Raleigh. The girls got “passports”, and we went from country to country, learning a bit about the cultures, and then getting stamps and stickers for the passports. There were lots of booths selling cultural foods and other items. And the stages were filled with music and dancing.

Being the geek that I am… I celebrated 10/10/10 10:10:10.

Although we invited our entire Indian Princess tribe to visit a corn maze with us, only one other princess showed up. Their loss, because we had a great time, riding the bumpy tractor ride, shooting the “corn cannon”, swinging on the huge tube swing, burying ourselves in the corn box, and finally getting lost in the corn maze.

I took a day off of work, and the whole family went to the NC State Fair. There was just not enough “daylight time” to see all of the cool things that they have going on, from arts and crafts to old timey blacksmiths and farm animals and all sorts of weird foods that you only see at the fair. Then the sun goes down, and the lights of the midway pull us in to the rides and games. It’s a long day.

The family spent a day at Raven Rock State Park, at a picnic arranged by the families at the Chinese school. We hiked about four miles, and we saw some really cool rocks: a big vertical one (a cliff) and lots of horizontal ones in the river.

I went to “BarCamp”, a so-called “un-conference”. Attendees line up in the morning and pitch their ideas for talks in about 30 seconds. Then the groups votes for the talks they want to hear and arranges the schedule for rest of the day. By 10am, the schedule is set and we have a conference of random coolness! I gave a talk on lock-picking.

With Halloween coming up, we made jack-o-lanterns. The girls each made a design, and then I helped them carve and scoop out the goop. Sydney made a cute winking design, and Audrey opted for the “barfing pumpkin”. Our timing wasn’t so good, though… we made them too early, and they were rotten long before Halloween.

This year, we made our own costumes. Audrey was a very convincing Statue of Liberty (that plan has been hatching since our trip to NYC in April). Sydney was a Ladybug, with a hard trash-can-lid shell on her back. And I was a YouTube video (Weird Al’s “White and Nerdy”).

November 2010

While Audrey was doing her homework, I challenged her to somehow work the word “robots” into her paper. She did… just because. I am so proud.

The girls take piano lessons from our friend Denise (Tim’s wife), and every so often, they like to have a music party for her students. It’s not as formal as a recital, but it gives the kids a chance to play in front of an audience. It is also a good time for parents and neighbors to chat and play music together. What fun!

Sydney and I attended our Indian Princess “Fall Outing”. This time, we got to hold torches while the first-year tribes entered the campfire area… it was awesome. I can’t imagine how much insurance must cost the YMCA, with about a thousand 7-year-old girls holding kerosene torches in the woods. Oh well, next week, it’s the BOYS’ turn!

My car refused to start. I could not roll start it or even jump start it. Thinking it was something serious, I had it towed in for repair, only to find out it was a dead battery. So dead it could not be jump started? Yes, the computer reset and needed to be reinitialized before it would start. Duh.

The November TriLUG meeting was, in my opinion, one of the best that we’ve had in recent history. Adam Drew showed us lots of open source music software, and he made some noise in the process. I was so stoked, I ordered a MIDI cable so I could hook our Yamaha keyboard to my laptop. And hey, what am I doing with a 2004 model laptop? So I ordered a new laptop, too.

We got to bring the second grade class’s pet guinea pig home for one weekend. His name is “Twix”. He’s pretty easy to take care of, and he’s nice to pick up and pet, as long as you don’t mind his little poop pellets that he drops all over the place.

Sydney had her 7th birthday party at Jellybeans (skating rink). She got TWO pairs of skates for her birthday… and she could do WHATEVER she wanted with them… maybe save one pair and wear the other? No? How about give one pair to her sister? Yes? Good answer! Pizza, cake, fruit punch, game tokens, and wheels on our feet… a good time was had by all.

We wrapped up November with Thanksgiving at Mimi’s house. We ate, watched TV, ate some more, visited relatives, had a snack to tide us over until supper. Oh boy.

December 2010

The December TriLUG meeting was a bit different… instead of meeting at our normal room at Red Hat, we met at “Splat Space”, the new “hacker space” in Durham. Basically, it’s a club house for adult geeks. We had show-n-tell stations with Linux-based appliances, and I showed off BackupPC.

Our neighborhood had its annual sleigh ride. As is the tradition, we picked what seemed to be the coldest night of the year. Santa was there, and we had hot chocolate while we waited for our turn riding the sleigh (trailer), pulled by two horses along the neighborhood streets.

Sadly, we had a funeral for our hermit crab, Sprinkle. He was with us since this summer. We buried him in the flower bed, right next to his best friend, Boo.

The girls were invited to a sleep-over with their friend, Mathilde. They stayed up late watching movies and playing games, and no one wanted to go home the next morning.

Some students from the University of Alabama hacked into a web site that I host, and so I got to do some detective work to determine how they got in, and then I got to patch the code to keep it from happening again. While I was at it, I passed along word of their accomplishments to the dean at UA… I am sure he was as proud of them as I was.

After sixteen years as a resident alien, Foong finally became a United States citizen.

We spent Christmas with Mimi and Pops. The girls “proved” that Santa is real by writing a special request in their letters… they wanted a bell from his sleigh. When Santa delivered, they knew he was the real deal. We were treated to some extra Christmas magic when it snowed.

In 2008 and 2009, we had good luck at First Night Raleigh, so we decided to go again this year. Again, we had a good time. We were lucky that it was not too cold this time.

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