Alan Porter's minimal net presence

January 2019

It has almost become a tradition for our family to have a New Year’s brunch at Waffle House.

Sydney celebrated the new year with a party that started with a limousine ride and ended up at a hotel suite full of teenage girls.

My buddy Jeremy sold his house and moved full-time into his camper van. It’s been interesting to watch the van take shape. At this point, calling it a “camper” is still a bit of a stretch. I’ve seen treehouses that are more nicely furnished.

Sydney’s “Movie Makers” class finished up, with a showing of their work at the Varsity Theater in Chapel Hill. And as part of the premier showing, they rode in limousines to the theater… her second limo ride this month!

February 2019

I had gum surgery in February. Basically they harvest some nice tissue from the palette and stuff it into a slot in the gums. It helps keep the gums from receding in the future. It sounds gross, and it does take a while to recover, but it’s a good investment in my future health.

Audrey’s tap class had a performance. This will be her last semester in this tap school, since she’ll graduate and go… somewhere… soon.

Audrey participated in a Shakespeare competition at her school. They perform monologues and sonnets, and are judged on accuracy and theatrical performance. Her performance of Trinculo’s monologue from the Tempest was pretty funny, and it won her first place at Apex HS. A little later, she moved up to the regional competition at Peace College (Raleigh), and she took first place there, too! Which means she’ll go to the nationals in New York in April!

March 2019

Both girls are driving now. One day in the school parking lot, they had a small bump with another student. It was nothing to worry about, but it takes the honor of “first scuff”.

Audrey decided that she wanted to wear a suit to the prom this year… not a Hillary Clinton pant suit, but a proper men’s-style suit. So we went shopping. Some of the sales people were very helpful, but did not have what we were looking for. Others were happy to sell us a suit for WAY too much money. No one gave us a hard time for buying a men’s suit for a girl – yay. In the end, we found what she was looking for at a very pedestrian department store. And she rocked it.

We were all on pins and needles this month, because mid-March is when colleges announce their admissions decisions. Audrey applied to eight colleges, and so that’s a lot of nail-biting. We had already received an acceptance from UNC, so that took a lot of the pressure off. With the results finally in, she would need to let the winning school know her choice. More later.

The Apex High School Chorus went to New Orleans for a competition and some fun sight-seeing. While they were gone, Foong and I bought a used Prius for them to drive. I think it will be perfect for them… small, economical, not-too-powerful, cute and tidy, eco-friendly.

My niece Ashley and her husband Max had a baby daughter! (Ashley and Max were the ones who kept Bean until he moved in with us).

April 2019

Audrey was accepted to UNC, and she sealed the deal with an early visit to the school for Admitted Students Day. Last month, she was keeping an eye on eight different applications, and trying to imagine campus life at any of those. It was pretty a emotional time, narrowing all of those expectations down to a single plan at UNC. Once it became “real”, we got excited about all that UNC has to offer.

I was sniffing around NextDoor, and I found a guy selling a unicycle, cheap. He said he had bought it with plans to learn how to ride it. But riding is hard, so it sat in his garage until he admitted defeat and decided to pass the dream along to someone else. That sounds like my story in a year. We’ll see.

{% comment %} I went to pick up Sydney from her friend’s house, and decided to take Bean along with me. We ended up going to Cook Out for a bite to eat. Since Bean had his leash, he joined us!

Audrey was captain of the Apex Science Olympiad team this year, and they had done well enough in the regionals to go to the state competition at NC State. She brought home four medals.

We went to a film expo at the Cary Theater, where local filmmakers showcase their works in progress, with a discussion and Q&A afterwards. While we were there, Sydney ran into a young lady that had been an intern at her Movie Makers class a couple of years ago. She works for a small film production team now, and she asked Sydney if she’d like to intern with them this summer!

May 2019

Schools were closed for a day – to accommodate all of the teachers who took the day off for protests at the state capitol!

Audrey went to New York for the national Shakespeare competition. They spent a couple of days doing monologues and sonnets, and went sight-seeing and saw Broadway plays in the evenings. She was one of 10 semi-finalists… good job!

Our neighbor built a new chicken house at the end of our street, and he filled it with several roosters. It’s fun to visit them. Sometimes they crow, and occasionally one will hop the fence and make a lot of noise in our yard.

Foong and I went to see the Really Terrible Orchestra Of the Triangle. They were not as terrible as you might expect. I enjoyed seeing the adult amateur musicians in a group setting.

I practiced riding the unicycle 14 times in May. Most of the time, I went to the playground at our local park, where the ground is padded and there are monkeybars to hang onto. The padded ground makes the wheel more sluggish, which helps beginner balance. And it helps pad the occasional fall.

My office is becoming a lot more lively than normal, since we have three summer interns – including John Majikes, who worked at BitSight for a while, but then left after finishing his PhD and becoming a professor at UNC.

The Apex drama club (the Peak Players) put on a play of Peter Pan, with Audrey playing the title role. In scenes where they were flying, the actors used “Heelies” skate-shoes to glide around the stage. Sydney played “Nana” the dog (a pretty demanding role).

Audrey and Sydney both went to the school prom. Sydney went with her actor friend Myles. Audrey invited her friend Suzanna, who had graduated early and had already started working as an actress (she has already appeared in two NetFlix shows). Audrey and one of her girl friends both wore suits, and they looked great.

Not all of the end-of-year activities were for the girls… my violin class was wrapping up, and so it was time for my recital. I had been working on a bunch of very short pieces from a Russian book (to play in many keys, and to work on proper intonation). So I played three short songs from this collection.

June 2019

Audrey had her senior tap performance, which included a solo.

{% comment %} We went to a nice outdoor wedding for a family friend. The weather cooperated… at least during the wedding itself. In the middle of the reception, a pretty strong storm passed through, testing the limits of the tent.

Audrey graduated high school! All of the high schools in Wake County have their ceremonies at the Raleigh Convention Center, and they are choreographed to be efficient and quick, with the next one following shortly after. That does not leave a lot of time for a reception. “Congratulations, now get out!”

After graduation, we packed up the van and headed to the outer banks for a few days with Mimi and Pops. We stayed in a house right behind the Wright Brothers memorial, and so we were able to ride our bikes there. We did little shopping and eating and even did an escape room.

Our trip was interrupted by news that Foong’s dad had passed away… on Father’s Day, no less. So we booked her a flight to Malaysia and headed back to Raleigh to pack for the long flight. She got there in time for their memorial service, and she spent the next few weeks there with her family.

While Foong was in Malaysia, we went digging through some old photos. At one point, we saw some photos from 1995 where I was wearing shirts that still hang in my closet today, 24 years later. I decided it was time to purge my wardrobe and re-supply! As much as I hate shopping for clothes, I could put it off no longer.

I practiced unicycle a little bit this month, but still have not been able to ride in the open without leaning against a wall or a fence. The farthest I have gone without touching a wall is about 30 feet, on the padded surface of a playground.

Google Fiber moved into our neighborhood. I am happy to see some more competition around here. Plus, it’s pretty cool to see how they bury the fiber in a notch along the street.

July 2019

July is when sunflowers bloom. Our neighbors set up a stand to sell sunflowers that they grow. We visited a huge sunflower field at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh. While the fields are open for visitors every day, we picked the day when they had a big sunflower festival going on. That meant food trucks and bands and some interesting info booths. But it also meant a ton of people and off-property parking. And because it was July, the heat was almost unbearable.

As part of her internship at the film production company, Sydney got to film a scene on a city bus. When they contacted the city of Chapel Hill to get permission, the city responded with the loan of a bus and a driver for the day, just for them!

August 2019

In August, the Porter family went on a tour of California: San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, San Simeon, and Los Angeles. We traveled in a big loop, and soaked in sites from the cities to the farms and beaches and wilderness. Highlights of the vacation included a personal tour of San Francisco from Foong’s old college friend Lai Lei, and a backstage tour of the Paramount Studios lot. Photos are here.

When we got back, Audrey moved into her dorm room at UNC. It was exciting to see how she chose to decorate her room, now that she has a new level of independence (of course, she always shared a room with Sydney at home, and now she’s sharing a room with her room-mate at UNC, so maybe it’s not that much of a change).

For the last two years, Apex High School has been working out of a “swing space” in southwest Cary while their campus was torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The new school was completed this summer, and we got to see it before classes began. It’s a pretty cool design, with four stories and a large courtyard in the center. It has some weird features, like harshly colored hallways and a below-ground parking deck.

Now that I am 50+, my doctor says I need a colonoscopy. So I did it. Everything came out OK. <rimshot>

Our office is quiet again. The BitSight summer interns left to go back to school. I am super busy on my summer project, which “automates all the things”.

September 2019

Since Audrey moved out, Sydney took advantage of the extra space by rearranging their room and even painting the walls.

One Saturday in September, we attended an open house at the Shearon Harris nuclear power plant, which is just a few miles down the road. They showed us their training control room, which mimics the actual reactor control room. We also saw some interesting wildlife from the area: owls and other birds of prey. We went from the power plant to a downtown music festival in Apex. And from there we went to our neighborhood airstrip, where JAARS was offering airplane and helicopter rides to the public (we were too late to get on the list).

Foong and I went to see “Mandolin Orange”, an Americana/folk duo from Chapel Hill that has grown pretty popular in recent years.

Sad news at work: two of our more fun colleagues left for greener fields. Both of them are taking manager roles at other companies. On top of our interns leaving last month, it’s starting to feel a bit empty in the office.

September wrapped up with the IBMA Wide Open Bluegrass festival, which I always enjoy. This time, I followed last year’s lead by spending most of my time at the college band stage. While I was perusing the vendor area, one fiddle restorer and I were treated to an impromptu concert by Sofia Chiarandini and Ariel Wyner from “the Ruta Beggars”, a band from Berklee College of Music in Boston. That was the best treat of the show.

October 2019

I have been thinking about photography lately. A few years ago, I got a mirrorless digital camera (large body, but uses a viewfinder with a monitor instead of an SLR). That thing has long been collecting dust, and now all I use for pictures is my iPhone. I decided to buy a new Nikon D-7500 DSLR so I could learn more about proper photography. Plus, Sydney has been hinting that she needs a better camera for video, which this should handle nicely.

While I was shopping, I also got some AirPods – in spite of the conversation we had a work, where owning certain leading-edge products (Segway, Tesla, AirPods) just make other people assume you’re a D-bag. True?

We visited Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) during their fall open house weekend, and we imagined what it would be like to attend and study film. We got to tour lots of their facilities, talk to professors and students, and we explored their dorms and ate their food. It was a fun mini-vacation.

We have been members of the YMCA since this spring, but while the weather was warm, I preferred to just run along the greenway. But I need to have a plan for when the weather gets cold and the days get shorter. So I decided to try out the three YMCA branches closest to home and work. I have never really gone to a gym, so I felt pretty lost. Fortunately, they are very welcoming there, even for wimps like me. So now I think I have a viable winter plan.

Bastille came back to the Red Hat Amphitheater (we saw them there two years ago), so we went. The girls were right up front in “the pit”, while Foong and I chilled out in the more civilized section with proper seats, and with people who knew how to sit down.

We’ve been in our house for 16 years, and it’s showing its age in places. The washing machine has been singing a louder and louder song with each load of laundry, so we finally traded it in for a newer and smarter model that does not sing.

Sydney’s art projects seem to follow a feast-or-famine schedule. This month, several projects lined up to be due at the same time. In one week, she had two short films, the school play, and a singing competition. So she skipped the play (having already done her character coaching job in earlier rehearsals). She shot the two short films and edited the footage, returned to film some missed shots, and sang for the competition (which, thankfully, was local). And of course, the next week, with it all over, she was bored again.

In previous years, Halloween was the most anticipated holiday of our year. But now the girls are older and it’s different. Audrey still plans ahead and makes excellent costumes (she was Steve from “Stranger Things”, with his silly Scoops Ahoy costume). Sydney likes to go out with her friends (they were “Clueless” Beverly Hills girls). I did not dress up at all. Instead, I took Bean outside on his leash and watched the neighborhood kids come and go. Trick-or-treating was weirdly cut short by a pretty violent line of thunderstorms that came through at about 8pm.

November 2019

Sydney was accepted into the State Honors again this year, so we went to Winston-Salem to have lunch with my parents and to see the performance.

Foong and I went to see Sylvan Esso at DPAC. I was irked that everyone, even in the “steep seats” up top where we were, stood up through the entire concert. It took a while to dismiss my irksome funk. But with that out of the way, it was a fun concert. (Standing in the steep seats didn’t seem too dangerous, because the DPAC floors were so sticky, they kept us firmly anchored as we stood – yuck – is that place going downhill?).

Our longtime friends, Tim and Denise, often throw music parties (since she teaches piano and guitar, she prefers to have informal musical gatherings rather than formal recitals for her students). Everyone is invited to play. Since I had been practicing for my upcoming violin recital, I played my piece (Oskar Rieding’s concerto, opus 36). I think I still need to practice it a bit more.

That same night, Sydney threw a birthday party with a casino theme, and I was on the hook to deal cards at the blackjack table. There was also a table for “Dai Di” or “Big Two”, a card game that is popular in Malaysia that my nephew taught us.

Audrey found a tap dance group at UNC where she can go burn off some energy. They held an end-of-semester performance. It looks like they have a lot of fun.

We normally have Thanksgiving at my parents’ house in Winston-Salem, but this year was our turn to host. To make things a little easier, we ordered a turkey and some sides from The Fresh Market. It was a fine feast (that lasted for days, as always). It was strange for Thanksgiving to be over so quickly, as soon as lunch was over. We are used to spending a night or two with my parents.

Later that day, we went shopping (since stores are now doing “Black Friday” on Thanksgiving Day itself). But this was not Christmas shopping… it was simply some winter clothes shopping that we had been putting off for a while. Remember, the summer wardrobe was updated back in June.

That experience – with the stores gearing up for absurdly long lines of shoppers and shelves full of useless gift ideas – made me decide that I did not want to do Christmas gifts at all this year. I’ve had enough!

December 2019

Audrey and I went to see David Sedaris, the funny writer, at the Center for Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. As usual, his stories were all over the place and had us in stitches.

One morning, on my way to work, I saw a large bird hopping around on the ground. I pulled over to get a good look, and I saw his foot was stuck in a large (gallon-sized?) can! You know how you can open a can 90% and pour the stuff out and leave the lid on it? Someone had done that, and this poor black vulture had gotten his foot stuck in it! So I found a long and straight stick, and when he hopped over to a little nook under a tree and stayed still, I poked the lid of the can in just enough for him to get out! He was cut up quite a bit, but I think he could hop and fly OK. I threw the can away and went on to work. After work, I went back to the spot to make sure he was not still there. I didn’t see any blood or feathers on the ground, so I assume he managed to fly off. I hope he heals up OK.

I discovered that our health insurance company from my work offers an app that rewards you for being active. Is it creepy for our health insurance company to read the steps from my FitBit? Yes! They do at least go through an intermediary (Virgin Pulse), so there is a chance that they anonymize the data. But being in a data collection and aggregation industry, I know there is little incentive to “summarize” the data and not just use it all in detail.

Our office had our annual holiday party. This thing just keeps getting bigger every year (because our office keeps getting bigger). I remember the first year, when there were only 20 of us there. We left some time after the dinner and before the drinks got everybody loosened up.

I’ve been practicing and practicing, and it was finally time to play the Rieding concerto (opus 36) at our violin recital. I’ve been able to “nail it” at home, and I have played it a few times for small audiences of friends and family. But in front of this audience, I was just not in the zone. I muddled through it, stopping completely a couple of times and backing up a few measures. I sounded wheezy and weak, and I was a bit shaky (can we call that vibrato?). Being my own worst critic, I felt like it sucked. But watching the video later, I’ll revise my assessment and say it simply stank.

We followed through with the promise of a no-gifts Christmas, although we DID do stockings for the (almost adult-age) “kids”. It was nice. No shopping malls or big box stores, no making lists for people who already have everything they need, no crowds, no Christmas music. For me, the holiday season did not really start until about Dec 20th, which is about right. I think all of the Christmas hooplah should fit into one week… or less. Otherwise, December loses its own winter charm, upstaged by Santa and Mariah Carey.

Last January, I kind of assumed I would continue my yearly goal of running 365 miles in a year. By April 7th, I was 52 days/miles behind schedule, and I assumed that my goal was doomed. But instead I decided to double down and DO IT while the weather was nice. I passed the 365 mark by September 13th, and I ended the year with 528 total miles! Take THAT, goal!

During the downtime week between Christmas and New Year’s, I binge-watched the videos from Ed Pratt, the charming British guy who unicycled around the world. He just released the videos of his USA crossing. This inspired me to hop back on my own unicycle, which has been hanging on the wall since we got derailed and distracted in June. It took a little while for my bones to remember the moves, but I soon surpassed my earlier trepidation and leapt out into open pavement, going a whopping 75 feet!

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