Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2013

Recently, I have been frustrated by two things on my current Dell laptop running Linux. First, the battery life is so bad that I have to tether to a wall. Part of this is due to running Linux, which is not optimized for this hardware. But the other part is crappy Dell hardware: a weak battery and a hair-dryer CPU. My second frustration is that I can’t bring my iPhone development projects with me; they stay at home on my Mac Mini. So I solved both problems with a new MacBook Pro. It’s lightweight, the battery lasts a very long time, it runs cool and quiet, and I can run my iPhone development environment on it. I can also run my Linux stuff in a VirtualBox VM.

I spent a HUGE amount of time this month installing software, mostly Mac versions of the same open source packages that I use on Linux. Now, I just need to get used to the Mac’s keyboard shortcuts and touchpad gestures.

This month’s TriLUG meeting was the most widely-attended meeting ever, with 130 people showing up to learn about the Raspberry Pi.

We’re having a North Carolina winter… with a little bit of cold and rain, but a fair amount of short-sleeve days, too. On one sunny weekend day, we enjoyed a 4-mile walk on the greenway.

As the girls tracked back in to school, Audrey competed in the school science fair, with a strength test of various ziplock bags. She filled them with baking soda and vinegar and watched them stretch, unzip and burst open.

The girls had a sleepover, with a couple of our Indian Princess tribe-mates, and one new friend. Fortunately, they pooped out before too long.

February 2013

As we do every year, we celebrated Chinese New Year in several ways: at the Raleigh Academy of Chinese Language (RACL), at the Chinese-American Friendship Association (CAFA) party, and again with our Asian friends.

I attended the NCSU Free and Open Source Software Fair. Afterwards, we checked out the new Library, with it’s cool meeting spaces and modern furniture, and the book robot.

We went to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Baily circus. It was the Greatest show on Earth, but we had the worst seats in the house.

I heard that Cory Doctorow was coming to Chapel Hill, presumably to read from his new novel “Homeland”. But instead he took the opportunity to speak about internet freedom, various attempts to balkanize and control the Internet, and about his friend Aaron Swartz.

Sydney performed in the All-County Chorus show.

Work got a little crazy when we discovered a bug at a customer site. I was the one most familiar with that code, and so I got to put a fix together (same day - woot).

March 2013

My boss gave me an “attaboy” for helping straighten out all of the recent craziness at work – tickets for the family to see a Hurricanes game. This was our first hockey experience. It was a good time, but there were parts about the hockey culture that I did not understand or agree with, like how poorly the hosting stadium treated the guest team. I thought the New Jersey Devils played better than the Canes in some respects, but the home team managed to win the game.

Frustrated with how long my backups were taking using BackupPC, I tried some experiments, and eventually wrote my own very simple (and fast) backup program in python. I call it “flashback” (look for it on github/sudoer/flashback).

It felt weird to skip CarolinaCon this year. I am divesting, only attending a few whole-day tech events, and no whole-weekend events this year.

Salem Elementary had their Spring Event a bit early this year. We like to support the school by attending this event and buying a lot of raffle tickets.

After 39 years in one place, my mom and dad bought a new house. It was weird to see my childhood home empty and for sale.

We learned this month that Oracle plans to buy Tekelec.

April 2013

We noticed a lot of houses in our neighborhood getting new roofs. There was a nasty hail storm last year, and many roofs were damaged. When the inspectors looked at ours, we found that ours was damaged pretty badly, too! So we had a new roof installed, too. It’s a much lighter shade, and I hope that’ll keep the attic from getting too hot.

Jay, my best friend at work, returned to India. That changes everything.

I learned to tolerate my least-favorite home chore, mowing the grass, by wearing noise-canceling headphones and listening to podcasts. It also made our “mulch weekend” go by much easier.

Audrey performed in a school play called “Thoroughly Modern Millie”. She sang and danced, but did not have any speaking lines. The entire cast did a great job.

Audrey’s school chorus group took a field trip to the Smoky Mountain Music Festival in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Foong chaperoned the trip. Those kids crammed a lot of fun in a short trip!

While they were gone, Sydney and I had a garage sale. Our policy was “name your own price”. I refused to haggle… I just wanted to get rid of stuff, and make sure it found a new home.

While the girls were tracked out, we took a long weekend trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. What a great time! Colonial Williamsburg was supremely cool, with lots of interesting things to see, town shops, craftspeople, reenactments, and even a parade of fife-and-drum-playing soldiers. Our tour tickets included access to a game called “RevQuest” that takes you through the town on a mystery, with clues hidden all throughout. You track your progress by answering questions via phone text messages (admittedly, a clash with the 1600’s historical surroundings, but very well done nonetheless). We spent two days in Colonial Williamsburg, and then visited the re-created Jamestown settlement on our way back to NC.

I showed a few episodes of Star Trek (the original series) and ST:TNG to the girls so they would have an appreciation of Kirk and Picard. These are important cultural milestones.

May 2013

The classic rock trio Rush came to town, as part of their Clockwork Angels tour. I had been wanting to expose the girls to a real rock concert (preferably before they got to the age where they wanted to see boy bands in concert). Rush is a good choice, because they are good classic rock music and a great stage show, but pretty intellectual stuff, not too banal or head-banger or stoner. The crowd would be mostly OK (nerds), and the lyrics would be thought-provoking instead of negative. The band did not disappoint… for a bunch of old guys, they put on a great show. I think everyone had a good time (even Sydney, who managed to fall asleep some time near the end of the show).

Audrey’s girl scout troop went canoeing.

We spent Mother’s Day with all of the mothers of the family, including our “Nanny” who is 96 years old.

I went on a business trip to Dallas to meet the guys who run Verizon’s LTE network. We got to see their main network operations center. It was like Star Trek… only bigger.

Sydney and the rest of the school recorder club had a performance. Audrey played the ukulele and sang in her school’s talent show. My girls are so musically talented.

We spent Memorial Day weekend painting three mini-murals on the walls. The girls picked three fairy tale stories: Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

June 2013

Our girls were both in a dance performance of “Peter Pan”.

Apple announced iOS7, which would be available to the public in September. As an Apple developer, I installed it early, and endured a bunch of bugs. Of course, I wrote lots of bug reports.

We collected some silk worms and watched them seal themselves up in cocoons and emerge as moths.

We attended MakerFaireNC, the annual show-n-tell for local tinkerers and creators. This time, we made a special effort to be “attendees” instead of exhibitors. For the last two years, I spent all of my time at a booth instead of seeing the rest of the sights.

Just short of her 97th birthday, my grandmother “Nanny” passed away. We went to Georgia to attend her funeral and celebrate her long life.

July 2013

The girls were tracked out for all of July, and we spent all of it on three different kinds of vacation.

Following our family tradition, we spent July 4th weekend at the beach. We did the usual things: fireworks, BBQ cookout and a birthday party.

Then Foong-Ha’s sister Foong-Kit and her son John came to visit for a week. They are from Shanghai, but were in the US after attending a graduation in Toronto (see below). They spent the whole week in Cary, with the ladies shopping and exploring (and eating), while the kids went to a summer day camp. On their last day, we drove them to Wilmington so they could see the Atlantic Ocean.

Our final vacation of July was the big one: we drove to Niagara Falls and Toronto! Since the drive was 800 miles, we broke the trip up with stops at New River Gorge WV, Pittsburgh PA, and Erie PA. We explored Niagara Falls for a few days, taking advantage of the “City Pass”, which combined four attractions (the Maid of the Mist, a behind-the-falls tour, the butterfly house and a cable car ride across the whirlpool). From there, we drove up to Toronto. Our niece Jessica had just graduated from the University of Toronto, and she showed us around the UT campus. Then we spent a few days on our own, guided by another “City Pass” (Casa Loma, the Ontario Science Centre, the CN tower, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the Toronto Zoo). We drove back home, breaking up the return trip with stops in Hershey PA and Skyline Cavern in VA.

August 2013

In August, Oracle completed their acquisition of Tekelec. We spent much of the month figuring out how to do everyday things with new tools.

Like I have done many times before, I went outside to watch the Persied meteor shower. Like always, I saw many fleeting “maybe” blurs out of the corner of my eye. But then I saw one absolutely undeniable meteor – slow, bright and sparkling – beautiful.

I released a re-spin of my first iPhone application, Tipster, to support the larger screens of the new iPhone 5. I also started working on a re-spin of my “Three Wishes for a Meaningful Life” app.

A project emerged at work where our colleagues in China were working on a trial of our product. The upside potential of this trial was huge, and they were in a hurry to get it running. So the bosses decided to send a couple of us to short-cut their Q&A process. I spent the next few weeks working on logistics and then I flew off to Beijing for a week in their lab. I felt like a dog most of the time, just following behind others and listening out for the handful of words that I recognized, perking up at mealtime or when we got to go for a walk. The city was modern and mostly clean, with efficient transport via taxi or subway. The hotel was a comfortable refuge, with an international breakfast buffet that ensured that you would not go hungry, no matter what kind of crazy meals the rest of the day had to offer. This trip was a real treat.

September 2013

I finished up my business trip in Beijing over Labor Day weekend. I ended up with one day to myself, and I managed to hook up with a former colleague from Ericsson, whom I had not seen in 10 years. He took me to the Great Wall at MuTian Valley. A wonderful end to my week in China.

Right after I got home, the girls and I spent a weekend at Camp Rockmont in Black Mountain NC. Although this was officially an Indian Princess tribe event, we brought Audrey along so she could see what camp was all about (she chose the princess name “Nerdy Birdy”). We got to stay in a lodge – one step up from a cabin, and two steps up from last year’s “tent city”. We did archery, BBs, lake activities and a treasure hunt. Audrey climbed about 60 feet up into a giant fir tree. We were entertained by a bluegrass trio while we ate at a cook-out. We square danced. And we heard stories by the campfire. Dads and daughters, good times.

For my birthday, Foong bought me an Apple TV and a large LCD TV to watch it on. We don’t watch much broadcast TV, so we were a little late to this party. But this should make movies a lot more fun.

This year, the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) moved their annual “World of Bluegrass” festival (normally held in Nashville) to Raleigh. In addition to their music awards and business stuff, they had a weekend-long street party that was open to the public. Our family went and listened to the stage acts as well as several informal sidewalk jam sessions. The girls got to perform on the Martin Guitars stage, playing the ukulele for passersby.

October 2013

It was about time for Foong to visit her family… she likes to see them every other year, at least. And she especially wanted to check in on her mom, who’s been needing some help lately. Instead of taking the rest of us along, she decided to go solo this time, for a total of three weeks. The girls and I weren’t totally on our own, though. My parents stayed with us during the weekdays, to make it much easier to get everyone to their practices and appointments and activities, without me having to shoot my work schedule full of holes.

Just after Momma boarded the plane for Malaysia, the girls and I left for a Daddy-daughter trip. We started off with two days at Great Wolf Lodge in Charlotte. That was a lot of fun, with our time spent equally between the water park and the MagiQuest game. Then we drove up to Damascus VA to spend a day riding down the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34 mile long bike trail that was built on an old railroad line (we rode from White Top to Damascus, which is 17 miles, all downhill).

A new tech conference came to town this year… “All Things Open” celebrates open source software and data and the surrounding culture. This was a spin-off from the POSScon conferences in Columbia SC. Since it was the first year, the organizers were not sure how big of a crowd to expect. Hoping for 300, they got 800! The speaker line-up was first class, and the topics covered technical tools, legal topics, community-building, and some interesting niche areas that have been influenced by open source software and the open philosophy.

My favorite part of the All Things Open conference was meeting Mike Else, who performs under the name “Professor Kliq”. After the first day of conference talks, he entertained the crowd with his electronic music (and his spastic DJ dancin’).

In what’s become our own tradition, the girls and I created our own home-made Halloween costumes. Sydney dressed as Oscar the Grouch, with a green head, big white eyes and furry brown unibrow. Audrey was Siri, complete with speakers and snarky voice recordings. I was Bender from Futurama, with a trash can body, dryer vent arms, and a bucket head with a dome and antenna, all painted metallic silver.

November 2013

November is NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month. Audrey and Sydney both pledged to write a novel-sized piece of work, and they kept to their schedule all month. I was surprised when they turned away their friends from the front door, claiming that “they had to write”. On the last day of the month, each girl met her goal!

I updated my iPhone app “Three Wishes for a Meaningful Life”, to support iOS7 and the taller iPhone 5 screens. As usual, the stuff I thought would be hard turned out to be easy, and the stuff I thought would be easy turned out to be hard.

Sydney turned 11 at the end of November, and she decided to have a Harry Potter themed birthday party. The girls planned all of the activities themselves. We turned our garage into Diagon Alley, where guests/students purchased wands, owls, quills and spell books. Then we had a sorting ceremony, where the talking hat sorted the kids into houses and we gave them colored scarves. We had two classes: herbology (an outside game where you walk over the vines) and potions (mixing pop rocks and soda). Then we played quidditch in the back yard. Back inside for two more classes: transfiguration (Lego building contest) and spells (charades from a list of spells). Finally, we had a feast in the great hall, including owl-shaped cakes and a Hogwarts crest cake. It was a lot of work to put together, but our guests called the party “epic”.

We celebrated Thanksgiving at my parents’ new house in Winston-Salem. This was the first time that we spent the night there.

I wrote a simple 24-hour clock app for the iPhone, just to see what it might look like. I decided to publish it on the App Store, but doing so requires some extra bits of work, like a proper icon. So I used this as an excuse to teach myself how to use Inkscape, a tool to make scaled vector graphics (SVG) images, which look just as good when rendered at icon size (120 pixels) or at the very large size that Apple requires for new app submissions (1024 pixels).

December 2013

Momma gave herself a new Christmas present… a new minivan. It’s about time. The MPV was twelve years old. I hope we get twelve years out of this Toyota.

Apparently, I shop at all the wrong places. We looked for Christmas cards, but did not find any that I’d sign my name to. So instead, we bought a pack of blanks and made our own. Each one had a funny cartoon. Audrey did most of the drawings, but I did some, too. Foong and Sydney colored them. They turned out pretty good.

We had Christmas at Mimi and Pops’s house. We went to Tanglewood to see the lights, but that was a mistake… we waited in line for more than two hours! One of the surprise gifts this year was a small remote control helicopter for the girls. We took it out to fly in the cold weather. They should really just call it an “elevator”, because other than up and down, it did not really have much control. It was a nice family holiday.

For New Year’s Eve, we went out for pizza, watched a Red Box movie at home, and then watched the midnight celebrations on TV. It was just too cold to go downtown and stay outside all night.

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