Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2017

The girls and I have been watching “Sherlock” on NetFlix, so when the BBC planned to show the next episodes starting on New Year’s Day, Audrey invited a bunch of her friends over for a Sherlock-watching party.

We got about an inch of snow… not really much by yankee standards, but pretty much a blizzard here in NC. School was closed for three days.

I started working on a new project at work. We have a curated map of companies and their internet properties, and my group manages that database and the tools to maintain that data. It’s massive amount of data, and it all has to be backed up by evidence. I am learning a lot about the plumbing behind how the internet works.

Audrey was invited to sing at a chorus invitational at Wingate University.

Sydney started an acting and moving making class. It’s taught out of a woman’s home in the rural area near Durham and Chapel Hill. But it’s pretty well-equipped for a home studio… they have three separate studio buildings!

February 2017

February was dominated by a single event… replacing my old 2005 Mazda 3 with a new car.

Replacing my car had been on my radar for a while. Over Christmas, I did a preliminary survey of the market to see what I might be interested in. Since I mainly need a commuter car, I have been interested in electric vehicles.

Then on the way home one day, I heard a fast clicking noise that varied with engine speed. I tried to carefully drive it home, but just about 2 miles from my house, I heard a pop and the engine stopped abruptly. I simply pressed the clutch and coasted into a gas station parking lot and parked in a spot. Like a pro! When I opened the hood, I could see that the serpentine belt had snapped. That should not have been a big deal… it only powers the external stuff like the alternator, water pump and air conditioner.

But it WAS a big deal. When the engine abruptly stopped, it knocked the timing out of alignment and then caused some internal damage: most likely, bending the valves. This car would need an entirely new engine! I can’t believe such a minor problem like a snapped belt led to the total demise of the car!

So that simply accelerated my plan to replace it. I spent a few days researching electric cars, and I finally settled on a plug-in electric hybrid, the Chevy Volt. When most people hear “electric”, they think of Tesla. And when they hear “hybrid”, they think of Prius. The Volt is sort of the best of both… for the first 50 miles, it drives like a Tesla, completely on battery power. But if you need to go more than 50 miles, it switches to hybrid gas/electric drive like a Prius, getting about 40-45 miles per gallon of gas.

I shopped around a little, settled on a model that’s just loaded with gadgets and sensors, and drove it home on Presidents’ Day weekend. In the first week, I drove it 195 miles, but only used 1.2 gallons of gas! I’ll do the math for you… that’s 162 mpg.

I’m pretty sure other stuff happened in February… but it was eclipsed by my car adventures. The girls had lots of meetings: mainly rehearsals. Audrey had a busy Saturday, with placement test at the NC School of Science and Math in the morning and a singing competition at UNC-Greensboro in the afternoon!

March 2017

With the new car in the garage, it’s time to do something with the old Mazda 3. It still looks great, but it’s going to require some significant work to get it back on the road. We considered having a new engine put in, but that sounds like a project for someone else. So we donated the car to a charity, which will auction it off to someone who can fix it up and sell it. I may regret that choice when the girls get their driver’s licenses.

Sydney and I toured the Time Warner Cable community access studio in downtown Raleigh. I remember touring that studio’s predecessor in the 1990’s! With Sydney’s interest in making films, I thought this would be a great resource. It turns out that a lot has changed since the 1990’s – nowadays, you can buy a “pro-sumer” camera for a reasonable price, and professional editing is done on a laptop, often with free (open source) software!

Audrey performed in Apex High School’s production of “9 to 5”, a musical based on the 1980 movie starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Dolly Parton, and Dabney Coleman.

Sydney performed in Martin Middle School’s production of “Once Upon a Mattress”, an silly adaptation of “the Princess and the Pea”.

Sydney’s movie classes continued every weekend, giving me three hours of “me time” while I wait for her. I’d hang out at a local library or community center, break out the laptop and work on converting all of our old home movies from miniDV tape format to MP4 videos.

We had another light dusting of snow.

Audrey competed in the Science Olympiad competition at Campbell University.

The trip to and from Campbell was one of the first more-than-50-mile trips I have taken in my new electric car, and so I resigned myself to using the gas engine on the return trip. Later I learned that Campbell University has charging stations IN THE SAME PARKING LOT where we parked! Obviously, I need to learn how this system works.

There was a huge fire a few blocks away from BitSight’s office in downtown Raleigh.

April 2017

On April Fool’s Day, BitSight moved into our new office that overlooks Glenwood Avenue… no joke! Finally, we’re not sitting on top of each other, and we even have meeting rooms, and room to expand!

Since I now have an electric car, I wanted to find out how much more electricity I am using, so I bought a small USB “software defined radio” that can listen to the radio chirps that are broadcasted by my meter, and I wrote a script that captures the readings and records my power usage. This should be fun to watch.

We learned that Audrey did not make the lottery at the School of Science and Math, so we set our sights firmly on Apex High School. Audrey is disappointed, but also relieved. She is especially happy that she can continue with the award-winning chorus at Apex.

Audrey and I went to see “Welcome to Night Vale” at the Carolina Theater in Durham. Audrey enjoyed the show a lot more than I did… it seemed to just play on the familiar themes from the podcast.

I went to the Raleigh “RARSfest” hamfest, intending to check out 2m/440 “handy talkie” radios to replace my old Yaesu VX-2R that is (1) starting to crack and (2) has an incomprehensible user interface. I was stunned to see the new Chinese models… pretty good radios for a very good price. I ended up getting a Baofeng UV-5R.

Audrey’s Science Olympiad team went to the state-level competition at NC State. I think the best part was hanging out with science teachers all day!

I woke up in the wee hours of the morning to some yelling and police car lights on our street. The Apex and Cary police had chased someone into our neighborhood and down our dead-end street. With nowhere to turn, this guy was quickly caught and cuffed.

The girls had a week off of school for spring break, so we drove to Hot Springs, NC for a few days in a VERY small cabin in a very small town. The main attraction of Hot Springs is, well, the hot springs. There is a kind of “redneck spa” at the site where the original hot springs were found. They have a series of three-sided porches with spring-fed hot tubs that overlook the river. We stayed in a tiny cabin in the campground across the street. The cabin is about 12 by 12 feet… just enough room for the beds and a sink and the camper-sized bathroom. There’s also a covered picnic table outside for meals.

When we arrived, I discovered that I forgotten to put my clothes bag in the car! So while I did have toiletries and a few odds and ends, I needed to go shopping. There seemed to be only two stores in town: a high-end hiking gear store that caters to Appalachian Trail hikers, and Dollar General. So I sported DG fashion all week… basketball shorts and plain colored Hanes T-shirts, fresh underwear and socks.

While we were in Hot Springs, we explored a few hiking trails, visited a few small mountain towns, and went horseback riding. We were encouraged to enjoy nature and not spend time on our phones (meaning: there is almost no cell coverage in Hot Springs).

While hiking on one of the local trails, we saw some local residents burning trash and leaves in their back yard. They helpfully pointed us to the right trail. An hour later, we had completed the loop and we arrived back at that same spot. But we noticed the trash fire was smoking a lot more than it had been earlier. Within a few minutes, it was pretty obvious that their house was on fire! A policeman showed up VERY quickly and manhandled the stubborn owner out of the house. Seven minutes later, the entire house was enveloped in flames. By the time the fire department arrived – and managed to hook up to a water source – all they could do is keep the fire from spreading to the neighboring houses. It all happened very quickly.

We wrapped up the month back home with performances from Audrey’s tap dance class and from Sydney’s Movie Makers class.

May 2017

In May, we had a BitSight engineering party at Mike’s house. It was a good time to get out of the office, shoot the breeze and play a little badminton.

Apex High School put on an outdoor walking play of “Hamlet”, and Audrey was an audience guide. I had never been on a walking play, but it worked well. Each scene was performed in a different area of the school courtyard.

We saw the NC Symphony and students from the UNC School of the Arts perform a semi-staged production of “The Pirates of Penzance”. It was an interesting combination, with actors playing on the front of the stage without sets, and the orchestra behind them. Sydney said she recognized a few of the actors from when she had attended an acting camp at UNC-SA last summer.

For Mother’s Day, we gathered at my brother’s house for a family day of food and fun. While we were there, Ashley asked us if we would be interested in adopting her pet bird. They had rescued him after he had escaped from his owners and flew into their yard. That was several months ago, and they still had not found the owners, so it was time to find a proper home for him. We visited Bean at their house to meet him. Sydney was immediately smitten.

On a chilly and foggy night, our family saw Bastille play at the Red Hat Amphitheater in downtown Raleigh. I had heard the girls playing their songs at home, so I was familiar with their music. I think it took a little time for the sound crew to get the mix set up right, but once they did it turned into a great show. At times, lead singer Dan Smith would take his act into the crowd.

Every year, the Apex High School chorus, band and strings orchestra put on a joint show called “Pops in the Park”. This year will be the last one at Koka Booth Amphitheater at Regency Park, because next year, they will be moved to their “swing campus” which has a much larger auditorium. We brought a picnic supper and set up chairs to watch and listen. During the opening number, a big rain cloud sneaked up on us and drenched us all faster than we could pull out ponchos. It was a mess. But a few minutes later, the rain stopped and they started the show over again.

For the last couple of weeks, we talked about whether to adopt Bean, the pineapple conure (a small parrot) that Ashley and Max had rescued several months ago. Foong made the girls draw up a contract of responsibilities, since she didn’t want to get stuck with scraping bird poop off of a cage or finding a bird-sitter every time we left town. With all of that settled, Ashley and Max brought Bean over on their way to the beach.

June 2017

The girls finished up school in mid-June, but they did not rest. Right after school ended, they attended a driver’s education class (just the classroom part), and then rehearsals at the Raleigh Little Theater started.

Sydney went on a beach trip with her friend Shannon.

We spent a lot of time in June getting to know Bean, our new pet bird. We did not any experience handling birds, so he had to train us. My hands were covered with bite marks… you’d think we’d just gotten a pet dinosaur, not a tiny bird. I bought a jumbo pack of band-aids and pressed on.

We took Bean to a veterinarian that specializes in birds and reptiles. She checked out Bean (he was in fine shape), but she also set Bean’s new keepers on the right path with some helpful tips. She told us that we could not immediately tell whether he was male or female (a DNA test would tell us), and that there’s no real way to tell how old he is. And she showed us how to avoid getting bitten.

July 2017

Audrey invited a bunch of friends over for a birthday party. Unlike earlier parties, this one did not have much of a theme. Now that they are teenagers, I think they just want to hang out and talk. Bean made the rounds, happily going from finger to finger.

With summer here, Sydney started on her personal filming projects, inviting friends over to act and shoot.

Now that school is out, Apex High School closed their main campus and moved everything to the new “swing campus” (which will eventually be called Green Level High School, after Apex moves back to their re-built main campus in 2019).

The girls and our neighbor Dane rode with me to and from work, since the Raleigh Little Theatre is pretty close to my office. They spent the entire day at RLT – with theatre skills classes in the mornings and rehearsals in the afternoons. At the end of a long month of practice, they had several performances of “The Tempest”. I am so proud of them.

Audrey took the road portion of driver’s education.

The BitSight engineers had another party, this time at David’s house, and with spouses and partners. Before long, the place erupted in song and piano playing (as David and Mike are both talented musicians).

August 2017

Audrey and Sydney devised a scheme to throw a Tempest cast party and sleep-over, where we hosted the party and the girls’ sleep-over at our house, while the boys moved over to Dane’s house for their sleep-over (weird fact: our house and Dane’s house have the exact same floor plan). We were happy to host such a great group of kids.

Somehow, we managed to schedule three separate trips to South Carolina in August. It feels like all we was drive back and forth!

We took a week off for a family vacation to Charleston and Isle of Palms. I feel like we skipped on some of the quintessential Charleston (carriage rides, old homes) and instead took in newer things like the aquarium and a tea plantation. It rained during part of our visit to Isle of Palms, but everyone seemed to enjoy the down time, reading books and watching our screens.

A couple of weeks later, we headed back down south to see the solar eclipse. We had a hotel room booked at the luxurious Super 8 Motel in Orangeburg, with free continental breakfast and a view of the (closed, hot-tub-sized) pool. But other than the room, we did not have much of a plan. We had considered joining some friends at the Santee State Park, but I had concerns about crowds, bathrooms, and too few open spaces. We explored Orangeburg and discovered that SC State University was open to the public for an all-day eclipse party. We had a proper lunch at the student center, tail-gated in a campus parking lot near a big shade tree, and waited for nature’s show. We were outside all day… I wish I had taken a few minutes to plan what to do during the 2-1/2 minutes of totality. I was fumbling between apps on my phone, taking pictures, and gawking at the weird views. It was totally worth the drive down there. Don’t tell me that your 95% eclipse was 95% as good, because we got to experience that 95% eclipse too, just before the big show.

Finally, since we still had a few more days of summer left before school started back up, we went to Myrtle Beach to spend a weekend at a rental house with my parents. It was a relaxing (do-nothing) beach trip.

The girls started school in Apex’s brand new “swing campus” at Green Level. It’s a nice building, but they are still working out the kinks.

Since we’re attending a wedding next month, I decided it was time for a new suit. I don’t have much need to dress up very often, so it’s not like my closet is full of suits. Shopping for nice clothes is not my strong suit, so to speak.

Audrey took her written driver’s license test, and earned her learner’s permit.

September 2017

September started with the wedding of my niece Ashley and her fiancé Max. We picked up the girls from school and drove there, an hour and a half drive. On the way, a big storm front passed through, and when we got out at the church, we were shocked at how cold it was. Goodbye summer, hello September! The wedding went off without a hitch (so to speak), and the reception was lively into the night. Since Ashley and Max were the ones who rescued Bean last year, we kept trying to find a way to smuggle Bean into the wedding to photo bomb the happy couple… I suppose some schemes are better abandoned while still in the planning stages.

One of the side effects of this scheme… I bought a leash for Bean! Yes, they make bird leashes. This one is called the “Aviator” harness. We took him out for a few walks in the neighborhood, and we took him to the pet store. He likes to be outside, but after a while he starts to pick at the harness, since he is not used to having anything wrapped around him.

We attended the Dragon Boat Races in Cary… not that we watched the races. We were just there for the food and friends.

One morning, on the way to work, while in stop-and-go traffic on Western Blvd, I got rear-ended in a three-car fender bender. No one was hurt, and the damage to my car was superficial, and the third car’s insurance should pay for the damage. But c’mon… it’s a BRAND NEW CAR.

This is the fifth year that the IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass festival has been held in Raleigh, and I was excited to attend. However, attending with a family often means trading off competing desires. So as far as WoB festivals go, I think this year I spent the most time downtown for the least amount of music than any other year. Still, it was a good time. The highlight was seeing Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley on the big stage, and then again in a private hospitality suite!

Also, this was the first time I have attended a gay pride festival, which happened to be going on a few blocks from the bluegrass.

At work, we started an on-call rotation to spread the load a little. But when the pager goes off during my week, there’s not a lot I can do except call the same experts who had been pulling pager duty full time earlier.

October 2017

One day when we had several visitors from our Cambridge office in town, I brought Bean in to work. My office mates had already seen Bean when I’ve joined video calls from home, so they were excited to see him in person. He was very well behaved, and he stayed out of his cage for most of the day, visiting many of my co-workers. At one point, when I left to go into a conference room, he started flying around the office to look for me. He spotted me through a large glass wall, turned to fly through the door, flew over my co-worker’s head and landed on my shoulder. Wow, what a cool trick! At home, I can’t get him to come to me at all!

We dog-sat my mom’s dog Molly for a week. She looks so much like our old dog Maggie, it’s uncanny. But Molly’s personality is very different from Maggie’s, and we had to learn her ways. She and Bean got along just fine. Each was a little curious about the other, but not too much so.

The girls sold mums to raise money for their chorus… mainly for their big trip (this year, they are going to Europe). That’s a lot of mums! It turns out that Bean likes to eat mums.

The BitSight engineering crew had lunch at the NC State Fair. It’s a super quick visit, with a lot of time spent in traffic and getting from and to the car. But it is fun to order some crazy food with friends from work.

Sadly, one of my best friends at work decided to move to a new company. We will all miss Mike, but we know he’s moving on to do great things.

The Apex High School drama club put on a performance of “Twelve Angry Men”. Since they had more than twelve aspiring actors, they put together two casts. We attended a show where both of our girls were jurors. We’re so proud of them!

The Apex High School chorus joined forces with four other local high schools and a travelling group from Wingate University to put on a group choral performance. After the show, several families from Apex hosted the Wingate students overnight. Two very friendly students, Kayla and Chasey, stayed at our house. They talked with the girls about college life, Wingate, and choral programs, and then they played with Bean.

Over the last few months, I have found that several pieces of my home network that I rely on heavily have been having problems. My backup machine has stopped making backups. It needed a new USB hard drive enclosure (the drive was fine, but the box/cable was dead). And the most important machine in the house – bender, my firewall, router, DNS/DHCP server, VPN host and all-around butler – had just been going crazy. I finally decided that its RAM had gone bad. Replacing the RAM stick made all the difference.

We bought Bean a “Flight Suit”, which looks like a ladies’ one-piece bathing suit for a bird. It acts as a diaper and as a leash, so it is safe to take him outside or out in a place where he needs to be on his best behavior. The hard part will be training him to wear it. The Flight Suit and the Aviator harness both let us take him outside, so we are anxious to give them both a try.

The weekend before Halloween, Sydney volunteered to be an actor in the Cary “ghost walk”, a haunted walking tour. She had a good time being creepy, but in the process, she came home with what looked like a spider bite.

In the old days, Halloween was the most heavily-planned holiday in our house. The girls would work on next year’s costume plans before this year’s Halloween candy was gone. But with them getting older, they don’t want to go out with their dad any more. This year, Sydney went out with one of her friends, and Audrey had just planned to stay home and pass out candy. But then, I coerced Bean into his new Flight Suit and so Audrey decided that she should dress up like a pirate and walk around the neighborhood with Bean on her shoulder. The little kids in the neighborhood really liked that!

I have to admit, I had grand plans for a costume this year, but real life got in the way. In the weekends leading up to Halloween, I started working on a freelance project that really sucked all of my prime thrift store shopping hours away. So instead of dressing up this year, I earned some extra money and I bought a new laptop! More below.

November 2017

A while back, my friend Tim called me to talk about a new project he was working on. It had a web component that he was not too sure about, so he wanted my take on it. Before long, I had volunteered to make it happen. So I spent several weekends working on a Django app to draw a scrolling/zooming map with some objects on it. It was a lot of fun to put together, and my web and database work was a good complement to Tim’s device-level work.

In the process, I earned a little bit of cash, which I spent on a new laptop. My Asus laptop is only two years old, but somewhere along the way, the hinge broke – a common problem with the Asus zenbooks. And if I can’t confidently take my laptop everywhere I go, I need to replace it. So a friend who works at Lenovo hooked me up with a discount on a new T470s. I installed Ubuntu 17.10 with KDE desktop, and I’m pretty happy with it.

Sydney took the road portion of the Driver’s Ed class… at night… in the rain. Audrey drove us to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving.

Bean lost a “blood feather” one day when he got startled and flew off inside the house. Blood feathers are the ones that are still growing in, and so they have a supply of blood in the shaft. We sent the feather to a DNA lab that tests for sex chromosomes in birds, and a few weeks later, we learned that Bean is a male… “Mr Bean”.

December 2017

In December, I took my car to a body shop to have the rear-end damage repaired. While it was being fixed, I drove a normal gas-powered car. It was weird. The strangest part was the fully-mechanical brakes. I had gotten used to the Volt’s regenerative braking, which is very smooth.

Audrey had an end-of-the-year tap dance performance at the Cary Arts Center.

BitSight had their annual holiday party at Vidrio, a fancy restaurant and bar that is right next door to our office.

We visited my parents for Christmas, and the whole family went bowling!

While my car was still in the shop, we had an accident with the van, too! On the way home from my parents’ house after Christmas, we hit a deer that ran out in the road. This left a basketball-sized dent in the front fender.

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