Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2018

At the end of 2017, our neighborhood music store “Quarter Note Music” went out of business. I didn’t have much need to shop there in the past (so perhaps their closing is partially MY fault), but I went to their liquidation sale. It got me thinking: what kind of instrument would I like to play? I held on to that thought. In January, I bought a cheap student violin and signed up for lessons at the Cary School of Music. How hard can it be?

After five weeks in the repair shop, I finally got my car back. Apparently, some of the parts can only be found in Canada. The bumper looks as good as new, but it’ll smell like paint for a while.

We went to my brother’s house to celebrate his birthday. My nephew used to play violin in his school orchestra, so we discreetly chatted about that. For now, I’m still in the closet about my lessons. Speaking of closet… that’s where I practice at home! It’s private and well insulated.

We got a little bit of snow in the beginning of January, and then a heavier coat later in the month. So we missed a total of five days of school.

February 2018

Foong-Ha spent most of February in Malaysia, visiting family and generally escaping the winter. It was fun to see how we suffered without her around. The two main places where her absence was most noticeable was around transportation and meals… because those two things become urgent very quickly. My work schedule shifted daily to accommodate after-school events, getting everyone where they needed to be. Concerned that we might starve, my parents came by and dropped off a bunch of food that we could reheat. Somehow, we did OK. And Foong-Ha had a good visit with her parents and siblings. We missed her, and were happy to have her back home.

While Foong was out of town, we got her van repaired (from the deer impact in December).

As tends to happen, all of our activities seemed to converge around a single weekend, when Audrey had her Science Olympiad competition at the same time that Sydney had her NATS singing competition. Based on the pre-weekend stress levels, I assumed that Audrey’s need for moral support was greater, so we found Sydney a ride to UNC-Greensboro while and Audrey and I headed to Campbell University. It turns out that my moral support was not needed at all – Audrey’s events went fine, and Apex ended up taking home the big trophy. Sydney also did exceptionally well at her singing competition, qualifying for the regionals next month.

March 2018

In March, the Apex High School drama club put on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella”. Audrey played a very funny evil stepmother and Sydney danced in the ballroom.

Violin lessons continue. I am working through the “Maia Bang Violin Method”, a book from 1919 that starts from absolute zero and gradually includes études for building specific skills (string crossings, fingerings, bowing techniques). We’re also starting to play some songs from the first Suzuki book – although the Suzuki method (which I call “monkey-see, monkey-do”) is normally reserved for children, the books contain some nice beginner-level music appropriate for traditionally-trained student, too.

Both girls went to the regional competition for NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) at Liberty University in Lynchburg. Audrey qualified in the Musical Theater category, and Sydney qualified in the classical. It turned into a neat weekend away in a quaint mountain town.

April 2018

April was jam-packed with activity!

Easter was early this year. We gathered at my brother’s house for a shrimp boil and games (badminton, croquet and cornhole) in the yard. Spring is here, and the flowers are in bloom.

During Spring Break, Audrey went to Europe with a combined chorus group from three local high schools. They had performances in Munich, Salzburg and Venice, with extra time to explore these three cities. And you know chorus kids… several times during the trip, they broke out into spontaneous song! On the day they were supposed to come back, some European airlines went on strike and their flight was canceled. So they had to break into smaller groups and spread onto several return flights over the next couple of days.

While Audrey was in Europe, the rest of the family went on a mini-vacation to Virginia Beach and Richmond. Sydney planned most the trip, down to the places we’d stay and suggested restaurants. We saw the Edgar Allen Poe museum, a cool lighthouse on an active Army base, a vast garden and a quaint neighborhood of shops.

Since I have been playing violin this year, I have become interested in the NC Symphony. My friend Jeremy and I went to see them perform Prokofiev and Brahms. Afterwards, as if we needed to over-compensate for our earlier poshness, we swung by CarolinaCon, the annual hacker conference. If nothing else, we could support the cause by buying an over-priced T-shirt.

Sydney was invited to participate in the “NC All-State Chorus”, a chorus made up of kids who were selected by their teachers. I think my kids are choral snobs, because they were not impressed – they prefer the “NC Honors Chorus”, which requires an audition and is therefore much harder to get into. Fortunately, (see November below)…

Since Apex High School won their regional Science Olympiad competition, they went to the state competition at NC State University.

April is prom month, and Audrey went with a group of girls. She found a cute prom dress – a real bargain at a local second-hand store. Then we went outside to take pictures. Remember those flowers that were in bloom for Easter? Since then, we had gotten a particularly windy rain storm, and so our flowers were all blown away and wilted! The girls had a good time at the prom.

May 2018

My co-worker, John Majikes, finally finished his PhD at NC State! He had been researching ways to train medical assistance dogs using technology. We watched his dissertation defense live via webcam, and then later we celebrated with him at his house.

The neighborhood pool opened.

Some of our Malaysian friends had a birthday party… and you know that crowd… any excuse to get together is an excuse to eat good food!

The girls’ voice teacher had a recital to showcase their formal singing and musical theater numbers. These are the same kids that compete in the NATS events.

Speaking of recitals… I have one coming up. I went to one for some of my teacher’s other students so I could get an idea of what I’ve signed up for.

June 2018

Audrey attended NC Governor’s School, an invitational summer school program for kids who excel in academics or the arts. It’s quite an honor to be selected, since only 600 kids across the state are chosen each year. Audrey loved the program because it was a concentration of geeky kids who love learning. They stayed in dorms at Salem College in Winston-Salem, and they took classes in one primary field (Audrey’s was natural science) as well as two other fields (philosophy, and self+society). Plus, there seemed to be no shortage of optional seminars and activities, and performances by the art students too. It was like a preview of college.

Similarly, at home, Sydney enjoyed a little taste of what it’ll be like when Audrey goes off to college. She had her room (and her bathroom) to herself, and she lived the life of an only child for the summer.

I had my first violin recital. I played the first minuet from the Suzuki book (more formally known as Bach’s “Minuet from Suite in G Minor”, BWV 822). I was nervous and shaking a little (though not enough to notice). At one point, I somehow got my bow strokes reversed, but I still managed to pull it off OK. If I could give my earlier self advice after watching the video of my performance, I would warn myself about being flat on most of the notes.

Our office got tickets to a charity concert called “Band Together” whose headline act was “Walk The Moon”, a band that my kids really like. So Foong and I took Sydney to the show. We ended up with spare tickets, so Sydney invited some friends. Audrey had to miss the show since she was still at Governor’s School.

July 2018

For July 4th, we went to Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheater for their annual celebration with the NC Symphony, followed by fireworks. No summertime outdoor concert would be complete without a rain shower, and this one started with a real gulley washer. Fortunately, it blew through just before we arrived at the park.

Just because of the way the days fell on the calendar, Audrey’s Governor’s School continued classes through July 4th, taking their mid-summer break on the 5th and 6th. So for the first time ever, we missed her birthday! We picked her up on the 5th and surprised her with tickets to the Imagine Dragons concert, the hottest show of the summer, which was happening THAT VERY NIGHT!

I promised myself a musical treat if I finished a semester of violin lessons. So I bought myself a Coda NX carbon fiber bow.

Audrey went back to Governor’s School, and then Foong-Ha’s sister Kit and her son John came to stay with us for a few weeks. John’s spent his first week at UNC basketball camp.

Meanwhile, Sydney spent the entire month at Raleigh Little Theatre, working with their Teens On Stage program. This year’s show was “Into the Woods”, and she played the evil stepmother (the same role that Audrey had played earlier in the year, but a much darker version of it). Their all-day classes and rehearsals lasted three weeks, and then they had ten sold-out performances spread over three weekends.

Foong and I bought a couple of tickets to the Lindsey Stirling concert. We would go by ourselves, because Audrey was still at Governor’s School, and Sydney was performing at RLT. But two days before the show, I got a call from a local radio station telling me that I had won two VIP tickets! I had forgotten that I had entered online a couple of months ago! So Kit and John joined us. It was a good show – that woman is crazy-talented!

Once Audrey got back from Governor’s School, we took Kit and John to Ocean Isle Beach for a few days. We stayed at a house on a canal, and at one point we rented a kayak for exploring the waterway. The recurring theme of the trip was crabs, whether it was chasing them on the beach, watching the crab fishermen, or eating great seafood.

August 2018

Sydney’s RLT performances continued on into early August.

Ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro came to town again, and so my friend David and I went to see him. He shared the stage with violinist and multi-instrumentalist Kishi Bashi, who put on a very weird show. Once again, Jake took the time to visit with every person in the line to meet him – what a great guy.

Our summer has been packed with concerts and activities and side trips, but the big vacation was to Yellowstone National Park and Wyoming. We flew into Cody WY, where we spent a couple of days exploring the town and the museum. We spent one day on a spectacular drive on the Chief Joseph’s Highway (Crandall Rd/296) and the Bear Tooth Highway. We even caught a rodeo while we were in town. Back at the rental house, we watched a meteor shower across the darkest sky I have ever seen.

Yellowstone was amazing. The park has all sorts of natural beauty: a big lake surrounded by steep slopes of plush natural forests, one fire-scorched forest, lots of wildlife and even a deep canyon river – and then there’s the crazy barren moonscapes with bubbling sulphur pots, steam jets, boiling creeks and the occasional gushing geyser. At the same time, it’s super accessible, with a well-planned network of roads and junctions with food and accommodations. At times, it felt almost like Disney had crafted the place. The highlights for me: stinky steam vents, bison on the road, and a bald eagle!

My co-worker John Majikes got his PhD earlier this year, and he was offered a teaching position at UNC, so he left Bitsight to go there. The bum! But we’re happy for him… even it if IS UNC.

September 2018

I re-registered for violin lessons. I guess it did “stick”.

Audrey was working on her homework one night when her laptop just stopped working. First it froze, then it shut down, and it never came back on again! So we ran out to Costco and bought her a new Thinkpad. I gave her the choice of running Windows 10 that came on it, or installing Ubuntu. She started the somewhat creepy getting-started sequence for Windows, but once Cortana started acting all chummy with her, she yelled “Dad, where’s that Linux install stick?” Within a few hours, we had her back up and running, with all of her old files restored (as if the kids need local storage these days – all of their stuff is in the cloud).

Early fall is the time for the Wide Open Bluegrass festival, and I was determined to experience as much as I could without distraction (in previous years, I’ve felt like we missed a lot of music in favor of the street festival stuff). So the family left me alone for the day. I wandered the streets a bit, and then eventually decided it was best to pick a spot and stay. The spot I picked was the stage for college bands, and they did not disappoint.

In September, my dad and I had a combined landmark birthday party. My mom set up a sort of shrine to the both of us, with pictures from the last 50 and 80 years. Then we all went to a nice restaurant in Winston-Salem. One of my dad’s good friends made him a hand-penned card that declared “80 is the new 50”. He also gave me one that said “50 is the new 80”. Ugh.

October 2018

Audrey is a senior, and so it’s time to start looking at colleges. The idea terrifies me, but Audrey has done enough preparation that she understands the process of applying for admissions as well as financial aid. So I am following her lead. She applied for “early action” at three schools, which should let us know their decisions in December or January. I filled out the FAFSA and CSS Profile for their consideration. Honestly, I feel like they are just hanging me upside down and shaking me to see how much money will drop out of my pockets. I hope they let me keep some of it.

My friend Greg has accepted a new job in Trondheim, Norway. The photos of the place look beautiful – but I noticed that they all looked like they were taken on a bright summer day. I have to wonder what winter is like there. It reminds me of my stay in Lund, Sweden in 2000, where it constantly hovered right around freezing, with lots of North Sea wind and humidity.

Every year in October, the All Things Open conference comes to downtown Raleigh. I was very excited about this open source conference in its the first few years. But two years ago, I felt it had lost its luster, and I skipped it entirely last year. This year, I decided to give it another chance. I don’t know if it is me or the conference or maybe even the whole open source ecosystem, but I could not really get into it this year. So I skipped the second day and went back to work.

One reason for the early return to work was an urgent problem that cropped up while I was out. Our company subscribes to a bunch of data sources that we combine into our security ratings for companies. And recently, we’ve had some unexpected changes in some of our data feeds, which has meant I’ve been busy retrofitting our systems to use the new data feeds in their place. It has been fun to get things running again.

I have been continuing violin lessons, and this time I decided to do my recital in mid-semester rather than at the end. Since the earlier recital in June, I have been working on finishing the pieces in the Suzuki book. So this time, I played the 3rd Suzuki minuet – “Minuet in G major”, which used to be attributed to Bach (BWV Anhang 114), but is now commonly attributed to Christian Petzold. It’s a very familiar tune… I’m sure you’d recognize it. The recital itself was strange – only two students performed, and then our teacher treated us to a performance of his own. What a treat!

Over this second semester of music lessons, we finished up the Suzuki book and made a switch from the Maia Bang book to a new one, which is entirely in Russian! It’s called “Хрестоматия для скрипки” by М.Гарлицкий, К.Родионов, Ю.Уткин, and К.Фортунатов. Don’t ask me to pronounce it, but it means “Music reader for violin”. Our emphasis has been on training the ear to hear tones and intervals, and on playing very short pieces in different musical keys.

For Halloween, I dressed up as our parrot, Bean. He accompanied me to work, where we were twins for a day. Our office had a costume contest, and Bean and I took home the 2nd place trophy.

November 2018

Audrey and Sydney were both accepted into the NC Honors Chorus this year! In fact, Apex High School sent 12 kids to audition, and all 12 made it in – that is unheard of! So one weekend in November, we went to Winston-Salem where they spent a day practicing with all of the best chorus kids in the state, and then they performed in the UNC-SA Stevens Center.

Normally we would go home after that performance, and the teachers would stick around for a couple of days for the NC Music Educators’ conference. But the next day, Apex High School’s full chorus was scheduled to perform for conference – an audience of music teachers from across the state. No pressure! For such a high profile performance, Mrs Copley chose some pretty challenging music for them to sing, and they rose to the task.

Audrey and I went on a quick trip to Boston to tour the MIT campus and to generally scout out the area. We got to meet some students who gave us an insider’s view of the school. And we got to see a little bit of Cambridge. Our fingers are crossed for her application.

Since I have been playing so many short violin pieces from the Russian book, all in different keys, and with a different kind of sound than what we’re used to with western music, sometimes I need a little hint as to what the songs should sound like. I discovered a phone app that can “read” a picture of the music and then play it back! But sometimes the app needs a cleaner image than a photo of my grainy print-outs. So I have also been playing with PC-based music engraving software called Lilypond (text) and Fescobaldi (graphical UI). I can enter the notes in a simple text editor and it produces a very clean and professional looking music score.

Audrey got her driver’s license!

For Sydney’s birthday, both girls got new iPhones. That might sound a little strange for both sisters to get presents on one’s birthday. But we figured if we didn’t do that, we’d just postpone one or both of them until Christmas. So we might as well get them both at the same time.

December 2018

Bitsight had their annual Christmas party, again at the fancy restaurant next door to our office. But this time, my date stood me up (the girls had some pretty important school deadlines that night, and so mom-duty preempted party-duty). It’s amazing to compare the last three Christmas parties, and see just how much the company has grown!

We heard back from two of Audrey’s early college applications, and both of them were “deferred” – meaning we won’t find out their final answer until the normal decision date in March. But neither one of them was a “no”!

As is the tradition, we spent Christmas with my family in Winston-Salem. It was nice down time with the family. Gift-wise, it was a modest Christmas. The kids are old enough that they don’t really want anything for Christmas… just like their parents. But Santa still had some stocking stuffers for them. As Santa was unpacking, he noticed that we had left one bag of gifts at home – the “Dirty Santa” or “White Elephant” gifts that were meant for Christmas Day at my brother’s house! He had a huge crowd over for the day, and it involved a lot of food and Christmas cheer, a funny gift exchange, games and more Christmas cheer.

Since the girls were out of school, Sydney decided to try her luck with the long lines at the DMV, and came home with her driver’s license. Now we have a house full of drivers!

With her first three college choice decisions still up in the air, Audrey spent New Year’s Eve finishing up five more college applications. We did not want to distract her with NYE party plans, so we stayed home – Sydney went to a friend’s party. So that night, we just relaxed and watched TV… in fact, we were so engrossed in our shows that we missed midnight entirely! Look at that, it’s 2019!

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