Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2011

Wow, as if Christmas vacation is not long enough for the kids, our “track 4” school schedule gives us the entire month of January off as well. We did not do anything “big”, no trips or anything. But instead we did stuff at home and around town… basically got cabin fever.

Our pipeline of speakers at TriLUG has been a little dry lately, and Christmas is no time to try to recruit speakers. So I decided to sign myself up for the January slot and present “RAID, LVM and LUKS”, three disk technologies that all use the Linux device mapper to do really cool things with storage. Even though I did not know much about the RAID portion of my talk (I let the audience fill in the blanks), the presentation was very well-received.

After about three years in America, my friend and co-worker Jay returned to his home in India. A new chapter in his life is starting, and he will be getting married. So I am very happy for him. But I am sad to see him go.

Since Sydney and I will be hosting next month’s Indian Princess meeting, we made another podcast invitation. This time, we got a little funkier with the music, and Sydney sounds a lot more polished than before.

February 2011

In February, Audrey’s girl scout troop had a sleep-over. It was her first over-nighter with the group, and they all seemed to have a good time.

At work, my boss made the comment that I was a “Linchpin”. How timely, since I just read Seth Godin’s book by that name!

We went to the Indian Princess “Winter Inning” event (as opposed to the Spring and Fall “Outing” events). It was a juggling act called “Gravity Attacks” by a duo called “The Passing Zone”. That same day, we went to a Chinese New Year celebration, where the girls performed a dance routine.

I took the girls to Splat Space, the new “hacker space” in Durham, for an Arduino Hack Afternoon. There, we learned what we could build with this simple electronics kit, and we got familiar with the software and the various bits that we might want to order.

On what was perhaps the coldest day of the year, Audrey’s girl scout troop kicked off their cookie sale. We braved the cold to sell cookies to the neighbors, and were rewarded with several invitations into the warm houses and several large cookie orders!

At the end of the month, our niece Jessica visited us while she was on spring break from her college in Toronto. Like most teenagers, she slept until noon on most days, but did manage to wake up for a little bit of afternoon exploring. The best fun was when she and the girls made silly movies with her camera.

March 2011

In March, I saw a deal on Woot! that I could not ignore, and I became a proud owner of a Chumby… it’s a small alarm clock that runs Linux, and that can be programmed to run little clock applets.

Our neighbors had a dual birthday party, a pretty big event, complete with a pony ride and a mechanical bull! The pony was a big hit with our two girls, and the birthday boy got in line over and over to ride the bull.

Our family spent one Saturday at Yates Mill, a working corn mill that is run by NC State and Wake County. Every once in a while, they have have an open house, where volunteers come in to show how to shuck corn and then grind it into corn meal.

The Indian Princess tribe took a tour of the Cary Fire Station #5. The firemen showed us how they dress in special suits with air tanks and masks. Then we saw their living quarters, and finally, the fire trucks! Just as we were leaving, they got a call, and so we got to see them exit with sirens and lights going!

After visiting the Arduino Hack Afternoon last month, we decided to order a kit from Adafruit. Before it arrived, Sydney and I planned what we would build: a stop light – with red, yellow and green LED’s for two different streets in an intersection. We figured out the sequence that the LED’s would need to light, and we wrote a program on paper that we thought would work. Then, when the kit arrived in the mail, we plugged it all together and had it working within 45 minutes! Great job, Sydney!

April 2011

April was a pretty intense week.

My friend Štěpán from the Czech Republic was in town for a few days, and so Rodney and I decided to take him and his colleague out to dinner. It was not long before “dinner” morphed into an all-night geocaching run. It started off simple enough – it would be an honor for Štěpán to find one of Rodney’s caches while he was in town. But before long, Rodney produced a paper, numbered from 990 to 1000. You see, Rodney had been approaching the milestone of 1000 geocache finds, and tonight was the night. So we set off in search of a few more.

The most surreal event of the night was running into my parents at the NC State Fairgrounds – especially since they had not mentioned that they would be in town, and since they live 100 miles away! They were in town to see my cousin at a horse show. No one mentioned that SHE would be here, either – she lives in Atlanta! This was getting weird… but it was time to press on.

With the sun long gone, and with 999 smileys to his name, Rodney and the rest of us entered the forest of NC State’s Centennial Campus. Yes, leave it to Rodney to reserve a wooded NC State themed puzzle cache for his landmark find. So we hiked in the darkness, locating the cache at just before midnight.

The very next day, Sydney and I left for Indian Princess “Spring Outing” at Camp Seafarer. The agenda was much like last year, with BB guns, archery, hiking to the “tree house”, shark’s tooth hunting, some crafts, and the zip line (colder than ever). But this year, we also got to see the “snake man” and his dozens of snakes. We also went fishing, and Sydney caught her first fish, a pretty good sized bass. What a great weekend. We got home just in time to do some laundry and pack up for our next adventure.

Mimi and Pops met us, and we all hopped on a plane for a week in Hawaii! We spent the week on the main island of Oahu, staying in Waikiki and wandering out to all points on the island. We flew out on Wednesday.

We spent Thursday getting oriented, Friday at Pearl Harbor, Saturday at the Polynesian Cultural Centure, Sunday at the Dole Plantation and North Shore, Monday snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, Tuesday in downtown Honolulu, Wednesday doing paddleboarding and hiking in the rain forest, and Thursday coming back home.

When we got home, Maggie was very sick, and so she needed to see the doctor for several days in a row. She’s 15 years old… that’s 105 in dog years! Within a few days, she started acting like herself again.

The last weekend of April was CarolinaCon, the annual hacker’s conference. As usual, it was as entertaining as it was informative… those guys are off the hook. This year, there were two events that I would have liked to participate in, if I could figure out how to: the badge puzzle crypto challenge, and a capture-the-flag contest. But between seeing the presentations, mixing with the crowd, playing the silly “hacker trivia” games, and getting in a few hours of sleep at night, I have no time left over for the side events. Both looked like a lot of fun.

May 2011

I always get excited in April and October, because that’s when the new Ubuntu versions are released. I upgraded my laptop to 11.04, but soon felt like this release had not stayed in the oven long enough. Several things broke in the upgrade. Some of them were just minor desktop annoyances, like quick-lounge-applet and other desktop applets crashing. But others, like hibernate/suspend not working, were more serious. I spent more time than I really should have reinstalling Ubuntu 10.10 and leaving my system set up to dual-boot, until I can sort it all out.

After seeing Sydney’s stop light project last month, Audrey was ready to try out the Arduino project kit, too. But she learns things differently than her sister, preferring to read the manual and go through the lessons. Fortunately, the manual is excellent, and so soon we had lights blinking and buttons working. Eventually, we even got a fan spinning!

June 8th was World IPv6 Day, and was prepared (at least the main page was prepared – it may take me a while to get the blog and other bits moved over). I am very happy that the folks at Linode are now issuing IPv6 blocks to their customers.

The folks at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences asked our NC NearSpace team if we would display our high-altitude balloon project at their annual Astronomy Days exhibit, and so I manned the booth for a day. That was fun, talking to parents and kids about our project to take pictures from 100,000 feet.

We have had a VOIP phone line since last summer, and so this month, we finally disconnected our land line phone. Let’s see… we’re only about five years behind my original schedule!

The neighborhood pool opened. The water started off a little chilly, but warmed up quickly.

Our friends Alfred and Minashi had a barbeque party at their home in Asheboro. They live on a small lake, and so we bought some fishing supplies and went out on their dock to fish. We caught small bluegill one after another. Audrey caught her first fish, and so did Momma (hers was an accident, actually). That night, we set up a tent in their back yard and did some “easy” camping. And in the morning, we went to the NC Zoo. It was a real treat to arrive early enough to see the animals being active, before the heat slowed them down.

June 2011

Audrey’s girl scout troop raised enough money by selling cookies that they could pay for a troop activity, and the girls chose to go horseback riding. When we arrived at the farm, which is between Raleigh and Durham, I felt like the place looked very familiar. Then I noticed that it was right next door to my friend Ken’s house! The girls spent a long time grooming the horses, shooing flies and trying to stay cool. But then they finally saddled up and went down the long trail. Audrey will always remember riding with “Gypsy” that day.

Having just gone camping the weekend before, it was time for the Chinese School’s annual camping trip. They held it at Vista Point, and the group was so large that they reserved the entire camp site! As usual, we ate Chinese food, hung around the beach, watched movies, and played in the camp fire. I don’t know why, but this trip just seemed to be shorter than last year.

The next weekend, three of my TriLUG buddies and I packed up the van and made a road-trip down to Spartanburg for South East Linux Fest. It was a fun two days of tech talks, hallway conversations and a little bit of partying… OK, maybe a LOT of partying.

The next weekend was Maker Faire, a celebration of the D-I-Y spirit. I helped with the NC NearSpace booth. Just like at Astronomy Days in May, we set up a booth and answered questions about our high-altitude balloon. But what was different was the crowd – wow, that place was packed! That afternoon, we launched another balloon and then tracked it in real time. For a while, we were afraid that it was rising too slowly, and that it might go out to sea. But fortunately, it popped at 60,000 feet over Winterville and landed shortly afterwards in Ayden (about 90 miles away from Raleigh).

Audrey was in a dance performance with the Cary Ballet Conservatory. The play was Anastasia, and her group did a pretty cool jazz number.

Our kids celebrated the end of the 4th and 2nd grades. They will have the entire month of July off.

Just for fun, I set up an open wireless network at my house. That’s not so unusual, but I did it the “right” way, completely firewalled from my home network, so that users can get to the internet, but not to anything in my house. In the process, I learned a lot of really cool networking tricks, like how to use VLAN’s. I also tinkered with squid, which can intercept, cache and sometimes even alter the web traffic on that network (I used it to make all of the images in the user’s browser session turn black and white). Now I get a daily email report that tells me what devices have attached to my open wireless network, and what web sites they have visited. This should be fun to watch.

July 2011

We started July with our tradition, a trip to the beach for Independence Day and Audrey’s birthday. Sydney’s one-track mind was working overtime, making sure that we made it to Wings or Eagle (beach shops) before they ran out of hermit crabs. And so we came home with “Flicker”, a very lively hermit crab that loves to climb up the walls of his cage.

When we got home from the beach, I helped my NC Nearspace partner Chris Gorski give a presentation about our high-altitude balloon project to the Durham ham radio club.

This month, my grandmother “Nanny” had her 95th birthday. Also at the party was my dad’s cousin, who I have always called “Uncle” Jimmy.

The next day, we saw “Alegría” by Cirque du Soleil. It was a modern circus acrobatics and dance show at the RBC Center, something you should at least see once. I had been hoping to see one of their shows ever since I missed their show in Singapore (in 2001-2002).

Way back in April, Foong’s phone stopped working, and so she had been using one of my old 2000-era GSM phones until she could decide what to replace it with. This month, she finally replaced it with an Android phone (LG Optimus V). It seems to be pretty nice. Now we’ll need to load it up with goodies: games, apps, essential data files, music.

The girls were on the swim team again this year. I managed to strategically miss every swim meet, while Foong braved the 100° heat and thunderstorms to watch them swim for 30 seconds of a four-hour meet. She should be the one winning the ribbons, not them! (I like to talk junk about the meets, but I think they have a good time, and I know that the swimming practice build their general swimming skill as well as their competition skills.)

The girls were out of school for all of July, so for two weeks, we sent them to Piano Camp at Meredith College. They enjoyed the classes there, and working on their duets, which they performed at a short recital at the end. I am proud of both of them!

August 2011

Back in June, at South East Linux Fest, I had seen a new Linux distro that caught my eye, Linux Mint. There are two versions of Mint, one that tracks Ubuntu, which is released every six months, and one that tracks Debian Testing, which is “released” continuously. I used to run Debian Testing a while back, and I liked the idea of using their very up-to-date packages, but having the extra polish that Mint adds. So I installed Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) on my laptop. Nice!

With the summer winding down, we invited the Indian Princess tribe out to Jordan Lake for an afternoon of riding the jet ski. We were lucky that it cooperated for most of the afternoon, but then after a while, it pooped out. Later, my neighbors helped diagnose the problem (it was a simple fitting coming loose).

Our TriLUG meetings are always looking for speakers, and even more important than finding an external speaker, we try to encourage our own members to share their experiences with the group. So I asked my friend Alan Hoffler, who is a professional speaking coach, to give a presentation on giving presentations. We’re hoping that our own members will feel more comfortable with speaking in front of a group, and so they’ll share their own Linux topics with us. Many thanks to Alan Hoffler – it’s the talk that keeps on talking!

Some of my balloon buddies have been talking about reporting balloon locations using APRS (ham radio packet data). So I bought a used Kenwood TH-D7 handheld radio with APRS. That got me tinkering, and I noticed that local APRS coverage was terrible. So I put together a one-way (air-to-internet) APRS relay. Yippee! Now local stations that pass through our area will have their packets relayed to other stations via the internet.

This month, some people around town felt an earthquake that happened up in Virginia. I was on a walk outside of our office at the time, and I did not feel a thing. I was disappointed.

In August, the Linux operating system turned 20 years old. Looking back, I see that I have been using Linux for 19 of those years!

Over the last year, we have watched dog Maggie’s health gradually decline. She still had the same loveable personality as always, but she got tired easily, and she started having trouble keeping her bathroom breaks outside. Her vision and hearing were pretty bad. A few months ago, the vet had warned us that her kidneys were failing, so we knew that she was not going to be with us for too much longer. We made a point to celebrate the time that we had with her. I started buying the kind of dog food that she liked rather than the kind that was good for her, and I grew a lot more lenient about table food. She started sleeping on the floor (safer than up on the bed), but I made a point to tuck her in at night. She celebrated her 16th birthday with us, but then we could tell that it was time for her to leave us. I talked to her, and told her it was OK if she wanted to leave. A few days later, she stopped eating and drinking, and silently left us during a morning nap. We will always remember the good times we had with Maggie… she was such a good dog for so long.

September 2011

Our neighbors had a Chinese Moon Cake Festival party. Basically, as always, it was an excuse for the Chinese folks to get together and eat and talk. But once it got dark, we lit traditional paper lanterns and walked around the neighborhood.

Oh man, the 2012 presidential election is 14 months away, and the Republican candidates are already starting their debates. I want to watch what’s going on, but it’s going to be a long year.

President Obama came to Raleigh to drum up support for his jobs bill, and we managed to score a couple of tickets. Foong stood in the long line in the sun for several hours to get the tickets. But when she got home, she decided that Audrey and I should be the ones to go. So we skipped work and school and headed off to NC State to join the party. It was surreal, being in the same room as the President of the United States. And that man really knows how to work the crowd.

I had been ready to switch from traditional telephone service to a VOIP line since about 2005, but we kept putting it off. Last year, I bought a Linksys PAP2T box and I opened an account at CallCentric, a very low cost VOIP provider. We tested it out for a year, and this month, we finally decided to pull the plug on our old voice line at AT&T.

For my birthday, my mom got me a Kindle ebook reader. This is one of those devices that I could appreciate, but I don’t think I would have bought for myself. After using it for just a very short while, I love it. I am reading a lot more, and I enjoy being able to carry several books in such a small package. In a weird twist of fate, that same month, my favorite magazine, Linux Journal, stopped printing paper editions. I was disappointed at first, thinking this would be yet-another thing to read while on my laptop. But since they now publish as an ebook, and since I have an ebook reader, I am finding the switch to be quite nice.

October 2011

Like we have done several times in the past, the family went to the Raleigh International Festival at the downtown convention center. We always enjoy seeing the country booths, and then trying to decide which foods to sample. Occasionally, we find some treasures to buy. This year, the girls bought a “diablo” (Chinese yo-yo).

We snuck out of town for a short weekend vacation at Myrtle Beach. Since it was the off-season, the prices were reasonable and the crowds were light. The weather was OK for swimming in the indoor pool, but a little chilly for the outside pool. One of the highlights was visiting Wonder Works, especially the “ropes course”. We also enjoyed the indoor “lazy river” at the hotel, and the lesson on Hawaiian hula.

The stars aligned this fall, and so the Indian Princess “Fall Outing” weekend fell on the same weekend as Audrey’s Girl Scouts camping trip. That means that Momma got the weekend to herself! The Scouts and Princesses followed similar themes, with a tie-dye activity and plenty of silly campfire songs. However, the Princesses had one extra thing going for them: the TRIPLE THRILL… that’s wading in the lake, then a trip down the water slide, and finally the rope swing. Do all three (and thaw out afterwards), and you earn a patch. Me?? No way, I’m not freezing in that lake! Did we say there was a patch? OK, so Sydney talked me into it. And it was GREAT.

We wrapped up October with one of our better Halloweens. The girls had been planning their costumes for a long time. Sydney was a shower, complete with a faucet, pipes, a shower cap, and a retractable shower curtain! Audrey was a very realistic looking yellow crayon. The weather threatened to turn bad, but we dodged the rain, and they came back home with SIX POUNDS of candy. Nom nom nom.

November 2011

At work, we had a fairly abrupt change in our marching orders, and that had us scrambling to deliver to a tier 1 customer some software that was originally supposed to be a proof of concept. Yikes! Needless to say, we got pretty busy.

With the weather getting colder and the air in the house getting drier, Audrey and I put together a system to monitor the temperature and humidity in their hermit crab’s cage. Rather than just sticking a commercial hygrometer in the cage, we hooked a temperature/humidity sensor to an Arduino board, and then attached an SD card writer and an LCD display. We call this project “the Happy Crabby”.

While Audrey left most of the Arduino programming to me, I made sure that she understood all of the software features. I described the I2C protocol as “jumprope protocol”, a way that two people might communicate if they each held the ends of two jumpropes.

I spent one Saturday locked in a server room, upgrading the TriLUG server. It basically went without a hitch, once we noted a few key items (DVD’s won’t work in a CD-only drive, and don’t trust the stickers on a hard disk array).

I have been running a Gnome desktop for a long time, and I finally got to the point where I had to upgrade to Gnome3. Since I did not think too much of Gnome3, I decided to try XFCE, a very lightweight desktop environment. That’s what I love about Linux and open source software. If your “vendor” changes to something that you don’t like, you are free to try alternatives. And since the whole system is open, there are usually a lot of alternatives out there. (Try THAT with a Mac!)

Sydney turned 9 this month, and so I showed up at her school for a surprise lunch with her. Of course, no birthday lunch would be complete without a big cupcake with icing!

As is our family custom, we went to Mimi & Pops’s house for Sydney’s birthday and Thansgiving. Sydney has been pretty excited about planets recently, so how nice that she got a telescope for her birthday!

December 2011

Wow, I have been at Tekelec for five years! In fact, I have been at Tekelec longer than any other company! I can’t say that I necessarily LIKE Tekelec more than any other company I have worked for, but business continues to be strong, and so they have kept me busy and they have had a variety of tasks for me to work on.

To celebrate her birthday, Sydney had a sleep-over. One of her friends from Indian Princesses came over, and they ate junk food and stayed up late watching movies and did a lot of giggling.

I went to the dentist for my routine cleaning, and we were talking about electric toothbrushes. I complained a bit about my Oral B, and we even talked about the cheap-o $5 “jackhammer” toothbrushes they have at Wal-Mart. I must’ve sounded pathetic, because on my out, she gave me a nice big box and said Merry Christmas! It was a professional sample Sonicare toothbrush, complete with a UV head cleaner! Nice! Now I am completely spoiled. I highly recommend it, even if you have to pay for it yourself.

TriLUG had such good success with their holiday party last year that we decided to have a repeat performance. We had a show-n-tell party at SplatSpace (our local HackerSpace). Audrey and I brought our Happy Crabby project, and she explained to everyone how it worked and how we kept our hermit crab in a proper moist environment.

Audrey’s girl scout troop picked a very chilly day to go downtown and see the “100 Years of Girl Scouting” exhibit at the NC History Museum. And then they walked down to the ice skating rink and took a few laps around the ice.

Things always get kind of crazy around the holidays, as we’re shopping for Christmas presents and planning for our time off. This year was crazier than normal, with us planning a trip to China and Malaysia over New Years. But in the middle of the chaos, I got a call from my old boss at TMIO that the screensaver on the ovens was no longer telling the weather forecast. Argh! It turns out that The Weather Channel discontinued the free service that we had been using to look up weather conditions and forecasts. So I found a new service (a free service from NOAA, a service that should not be going anywhere any time soon). I managed to change our server software to use the new service, without any changes to the oven software. So now all of the TMIO customers can continue to receive weather forecasts on the screens in their kitchens. Woot!

We spent Christmas with Mimi and Pops. We had a good time, and we visited all of the extended family. But we had to cut our trip short. Two days after Christmas, we were on a plane for Hong Kong, Malaysia and China.

We spent three weeks in Asia. We touched base with my sister-in-law in Hong Kong and then took a side-trip to Macao. We celebrated New Years Eve in Macao… and that means the rest of this story is continued in the next installment.

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