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So I Tied an Onion to my Belt – 2014 Edition

So its annual recap time. Usually I have a wealth of blog posts to draw on, and write this thing by wrapping summary prose around links. This year continues the steady decline of the website, so that all my posts for the last 12 months fit on one page. That doesn’t mean that life didn’t happen, just that there are other tools to document it now — and more and more reasons to document less. As our kids grow up, I’m aware that at some point they’ll have their own online identity to curate, and what I write here can impact that.

Said another way, our identity is slowly becoming “So-and-so’s parents” and it probably behooves us to keep some of our opinions to ourselves. (The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent those of our children!)

In fact, as much as they still are our little cherubs, I’m acutely aware that my 8-year (in particular, although this goes for the other two as well) is watching us closely, forming his own opinions of the world. While my teen years had their challenges, I enjoyed an optimistic and enthusiastic 20s, and the cynicism of my 30s shouldn’t be allowed to temper my kids enthusiasm for life.

So let’s stick to the facts. We traveled a fair bit this year — myself a little further abroad than the rest of the clan. I forgive myself for this on the rationalization that my need to explore (and the travel requirements of my job) exceeds that of my more easily contended (eg: patient) bride. But this won’t stand much longer, and related to my paragraph above about shaping my kid’s world view, we need to find more opportunities to help our kids explore beyond North America. This summer we had a few chances to stretch our legs along the West Coast, and have decided we liked it. In fact, the desire to wring everything we can out of this time zone while we’re here partially informed our new vehicle purchase. If finances allow, we’ll pay that off this year, then attach a little boat (or at least a trailer) to it this coming summer, and spend some long weekends camping more places like this.

On the topic of travel, Nicole and I enjoyed our first completely kid-free, completely work-free, vacation since our honeymoon. Hawaii was great, but so was discovering that we still function as a couple when we’re not chasing little people to the potty, or trying to convince them to eat food they liked last week but hate this week, or working on new ways to explain simple math or phonics to our young students. I’ve long eschewed vacations as being a waste of time, but it turns out I’d be OK with another trip like that sometime soon.

As usual, we delighted in hosting visitors, and showing them the beautiful part of the world God placed us in. As much as this place feels like home, and we continued to invest in community with whatever spare time and energy we can find, it feels so much more real to show it to the people we love.

That said, there are some things missing here. And we’re not sure how to resolve them all. 2015 brings yet another career adjustment, as I step into a new role again. As usual, I’m excited to learn something new and do something different — this time, I may even find what I’m looking for. But beyond that, we don’t really know what’s next. We know God is in control of that, and we trust Him to show us where to step and when. Perhaps by the end of 2015, we’ll have a better idea of what that looks like.


Fire TV as a Web Server

Obviously I’m biased, but the Fire TV is my new favorite streaming device. And in a cable-free (for 7 years!) household with 3 children, I’ve tried them all. Other than being a slick little box (made by a great team ;- ) its also a true Android device. Of course there’s a great Appstore, but some of us like to think a little outside that box. Fortunately, there’s no need to Jailbreak or otherwise hack your Fire TV — just enable the Developer features in Settings and side-load to your heart’s content.

ADB works, with the slight caveat that you need to connect over TCP instead of USB — but there’s no additional software needed to do it. Check out the instructions on the Developer site.

Once that’s done, it turns out that the Fire TV makes for a handy little web server. I was able to pull the Jobo.TV APK off their website and side-load it, unmodified onto my retail Fire TV. The Launcher won’t present apps that don’t come from the Appstore, but you can still kick it off from the Settings > Applications menu using your Fire TV remote control. It’ll stay running until next time you reboot, and by default it runs on 8080. I couldn’t find the configuration for the Jobo server (although I didn’t look very hard), but you’ll want to serve up HTML pages using the get_file.jobo script. A simple walk-through…

  • Connect ADB to the FireTV: adb connect [FireTVIP]
  • Use ADB to copy your HTML page to the shared directory: adb push YourPage.html /sdcard/Jobo.TV/Shared/YourPage.html
  • Using a browser on another device in your network, navigate to http:// FireTVIP:8080/files/get_file.jobo?filename=/storage/emulated/0/Jobo.TV/Shared/YourPage.html

You can serve up images, text, media and static HTML (with Javascript) internally without issues. I’ve had intermittent success exposing the server to the broader internets. That’s not really my use case, so I haven’t explored it, but it appears to be a limitation of the Jobo server. Here’s what I did with mine…

Screen shot 2014-12-01 at 9.32.32 PM

The Tyranny of Or

When you’re young, you have big dreams. But there are so many things between you and accomplishing those dreams, that you’re a bit like a dog chasing a car: poor Rover has no idea what it would do if it actually caught the car.

Then you hit your 30s, and if you’re lucky, and aren’t paying for too many of the dumb decisions you made along the way, you find yourself faced with “Or”: you’ve caught the car, you’re in the driver’s seat now, and of the roads in front of you, you have no idea which one to aim at.

One of the first priorities that gets put down is your idealism. Turns out that from here, you’re probably not going to change the world. In fact, there are actually only a finite number of things you can do — if you want to do any of them well. If you’re careful and smart and hard working then you can take care of your family, hold down a decent job, and find some time to serve your church or your community. Forget changing the world, how about a friend or two? That is the tyranny of “or” — which of the above priorities will you trade for a social life?

Your only hope is that one of things you can focus on somehow lends itself to some of the other dreams or priorities you had. You see this all the time: a dad who once dreamed of being a baseball star, pushing his son to play baseball until the poor kid hates the game. The career man who sacrifices his marriage and relationship with his children, in the hopes that somehow his job will provide some bigger meaning…

“Or” always means that something will be sacrificed. I think that’s what it means to be an adult: knowing what to say no to. Even Bill Gates, a guy with virtually limitless resources, when he decided he wanted to do something with the money he’d amassed, had to leave his company struggling to stay relevant as he (mostly) left to focus on something else. He’s back to 30% time at Microsoft now — but that’s 30% of his time that he won’t be spending on his Foundation. Its a partial “or”, but its still an “or”.

Still, there’s something to that pattern. If you chase one direction to some degree of success, and you’re not too old to change, maybe you can pivot and fund a new thing at the end of an old. That’s what my parents did. A few decades of their careers bought close to a decade of ministry in their retirement. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t sacrifice.

God’s blessed Nicole and I with a lot of “or”. I did 10 years as a software developer before choosing a different “or” and moving into business. Most of my colleagues have MBAs — they chose that direction early. Some are still paying for it. Each pivot means some re-learning, some willingness to be humble. I enjoy learning, but when your focus is learning something new, you sacrifice leading others in what you already know.

This past summer God gave us a few more “ors”. All of them sounded good — and He didn’t seem to be leading us to one or another. After months of waiting and praying, we chose, for now, to stay our current course a little longer. The logical end of it provides resources that will open up even more choices.

More “or…” No more proof that any choice, now or then, will be the right one.

I don’t know if we’ve chosen right so far. Once you’re parents, you have to choose for little people too — children who can be hurt or impacted by your choices. We believe that our little people should have a parent at home for as long possible. That they should know God and learn that He loves them in a community of believers. That the whole wide world is our playground, a gift from that loving God, and that we should explore it and enjoy it and meet different kinds of people all over it. We believe that we should teach our kids how to be brave and kind and happy and strong, no matter the circumstance. That we should be hard working and careful stewards, but generous and sensitive to the needs of others, and not fail to act if we can meet a need.

I think we’re teaching them those things. I think we’ve chosen the right “ors”. And if it means we are sometimes lonely, usually missing someone, longing for something we’ve sacrificed, that I’m working long and often frustrating hours, while Nic is at home approaching the end of her saint-like patience by bedtime each day, that we’re serving even when we’re empty, and that we’re never quite sure where we’ll be living in 12 months… I think that means we’re adults. Doing the best we can with the tyranny of “or.”

We are grateful for the choices we have, knowing that not everyone gets to choose.

Good-bye Swagger Wagon

On Friday, Abi kissed our minivan good-bye, and we handed over the keys. Our 2004 Sienna needed $1500 worth of repairs ($3000 if you asked Toyota themselves), but was worth $2000 in trade. Not bad for a vehicle with over 210,000km on it. It was a faithful ride, and carried us smoothly down both coasts of the US. The DVD player upgrade was well used, and the leather seats made for easy clean-up of pretty much every kind of liquid a toddler can produce. But it was time to say good-bye.

In its stead, we bought a 2008 Q7. No spring chicken itself, but so incredibly well equipped, comfortable and powerful, that we’re willing to put in the TLC necessary to keep it on the road at least as long as the Sienna. Our friend and mechanic gave it his thumbs up, save for the tires — which we were able to convince the dealer to supply (even after I took them for a pretty favorable deal already!) and we’re looking forward to breaking it in on our first road trip this weekend: a slightly early Thanksgiving celebration with family in Alberta.

2008 Audi Q7

Definitely the nicest vehicle we’ve ever owned. Here’s hoping its as good to us as the Swagger Wagon was…

When I Met you in the Summer

It doesn’t seem right to go back to school  without reflecting first on what a wonderful summer we had. The west coast is genuinely beautiful in the summer, and our travels this year made it apparent that there’s much more we want to see while we’re here. And of course, the visit home, and getting to reconnect with family and friends, is always joyful — not to mention how pleased I am that our three little ones are becoming such resilient and comfortable travelers.


We spent two weekends in BC in August. One with good friends from our Washington home, and the other with my brother and sister and her family:

The first weekend we set out to go camping north of the border, intentionally not booking a campground or even setting a specific destination. The ladies were less comfortable with this plan-not-to-plan, and I admit that after our first two stops led to full campgrounds and lots in trailer parks, I was starting to get a little nervous myself. We pushed on, though, to Harrison Hot Springs — a destination we’ve frequented in the winters we’ve been here. We found the Provincial Park campground a few KM outside of town, only to discover that it too was full. A French-Canadian RCMP officer, doing driver’s license checks, pointed us to a dirt road, suggesting that there were spots to camp 15, 17 and 21km up it. We were incredulous, but low on options, so we bumped the old minivan down the “road” for nearly an hour before an old wooden sign gave us a glimmer of hope. We’d been climbing steadily the whole time, and down we were fairly sliding back down. A few minutes and a steep hill later, and sure enough, there was an actual (although low-on-facilities) campground, tucked away along the water. The camp steward asked us if we would be OK camping on the beach… The neighbours were noisy, but the view sure was incredible!


The next weekend we visited my sister’s in-laws lake house (not, a cabin at all, no matter what they tell you) — for a much more comfortable kind of vacationing. Our kids were delighted by their one-year old cousin, the inner tube dragged behind the boat (even if it was rainy) and the lake to jump in. And it was great to hang out with my siblings, and just relax.


Of course there were lots of other nice weekends closer to home: we saw the Blue Angels, rented a boat for an afternoon, found some beaches nearby, and enjoyed the peaceful little community God has blessed us with. We’re very sorry to see another west coast summer go by, but so grateful we got the chance to enjoy it.

More pictures coming in the sidebar.


So far this year I’ve ridden down the strip in Las Vegas with my head out the sunroof of a limo, climbed the Great Wall of China, and swam underneath a waterfall in Hawaii. Not bad for only the first 5 months of the year!

Vegas was CES — the industry’s regular annual tradeshow. Usually its pretty boring, with most of the action happening in hotel meeting rooms. I don’t love Vegas, and avoiding its offers to take your money one way or another can be a full-time job when you’re there. But this year I had a good group of co-workers to hang out with, and met some folks from my old job.

China was for work — a deal I worked on for nearly 4 solid months. It was a great trip, and I learned a lot, met some great people, and finally got to explore (a tiny bit) of mainland China — with some great tour guides. I was there for a week, and visited Zhuhai and Beijing. Happily the work part of it paid off too!

But Hawaii — Kauai to be precise — was definitely the best trip so far. Our first real vacation in since our honeymoon, almost 13 years ago, we were a little nervous. We’d done some long weekends here or there, a couple without the kids, but this was the first time we left the kids behind, and got on a plane with the intent only to relax. And it was glorious!

We started our stay in a nice resort in Poipu, on the south end of the island. We had two nights there, and mostly just bummed around the beach and the pool. It was good to unwind, but I’m not very good at doing nothing, so we weren’t too upset to check out. We drove up the west coast and visited Waimea, “Hawaii’s Grand Canyon” for the better part of that day, then looped back around, stopping on the east coast for groceries, before checking in to our condo on the north coast. The condo wasn’t worth writing about, and Princeville itself is actually pretty boring (unless you really love to golf), but it was a short drive from there to some great beaches. We visited Hanalei Bay and Anini, drove past Tunnels, went to the beautiful and nearly-empty Kauapea (Secret) Beach twice, Ha’ena, and hiked two miles on the Hanakapi’ai to its treacherous but beautiful beach. We zip lined, and kayaked through parts of the middle of the island, and drove to find some waterfalls.

Windows Phone_20140514_11_56_28_Pro

We didn’t manage to swing a helicopter tour (blew too much of our budget on Kauai’s over-priced, less-than-stellar tourist cuisine), but on our last day, when we drove to Wailua Falls, we managed to squeeze in a little adventure before our evening flight. There’s a tourist look-out at the top, fenced in with signs alerting you of the dangers of the cliff on which you’re standing. But we could see people swimming in the falls. As we were theorizing on how they got there, a couple teenage locals, barefoot and in their bathing suits, parked next to us hopped the fence and picked their way onto a perfectly good (if a little muddy) trail. We followed them to the top of the falls, where they hung their feet over the edge and we stood a safe distance back and tried to snap pictures, then down another path to the base of the falls. We swam around the waterfall, and climbed up on the rocks below it. It was beautiful, and we were lucky we got the chance to do it.

The grandparents did a great job of filling in for us, keeping the kids on routine (and even squeezing in a doctor’s visit for Eli), and generally giving us the freedom to do it. It may be another 13 years before we get a vacation that nice, but this one was worth the wait. It was so good, I didn’t even check my work e-mail once during the week — an improvement over the honeymoon!

Pics in the sidebar.

Hashtag Lego Bots for Good

One of my co-workers has an awesome job. He gets to work with accessories, getting all sorts of toys and trying to figure out if they work, then get them up for sale. As a fellow Canadian, with a similar background to mine, we get along famously — and not just when he’s enlisting my help with toy testing.

So when he e-mailed looking for participants in a Lego Mindstorms competition, Ben and I didn’t need to think for a second before agreeing to be involved! The challenge was to build an EV3-based Lego robot that helped people some how. Our company team settled on a farming robot. Although I didn’t get to help as much as I hoped, Ben and I built version 1 and 2 of the seed dispenser, learned some basic Mindstorm programming, and I helped hammer out the user-interface for a Kindle app that interacts with the ‘bot.

My old friend Brad was in town for the week, and although we squeezed in a 4 day roadtrip to California, the team managed to complete the build and the programming in time, and bring our families to Seattle’s famous Experience Music Project for the event. The competition was pretty intense, with other local tech companies bringing some pretty impressive builds. Our robot fared well: it’s program executed flawlessly, path and color-finding with precision, the mechanical components performed exactly as designed, and the demo ran perfectly — drawing laughs of delight when the weed detection and removal routine exuberantly removed a pretend weed from the farmer bot’s path.

Project Green Thumb

Alas, we didn’t win — but we had fun doing it. The kids enjoyed seeing all the robots and being a part of the competition and the event, and I had a blast being part of the team. There was a ton of press there, so there’s plenty more to read about the event.

Oh ya, that’s why I love to travel…

When you give children craft supplies, they’ll create something. Sometimes they need suggestions or a little help, but you don’t have to teach them to create. They’re born as little kings and queens of creation, with a desire to shape and build as part of their being.

Do you know what else they do instinctively? They give their little creations back to you, or to other people they love. When they’re done pasting and cutting and glittering and stickering, they delight in giving what they’ve made back to the parents that provided the resources to begin with.

They don’t create grudgingly, and they find joy in offering it back to you when they’re done with it. I’m pretty sure you don’t have to look much further than that for the meaning of life.

God created this giant playroom, and he filled it with beautiful things. Then He made His children, and he put them in that playroom, and He set us free to create and shape and build. And when we accept His gifts, and make them into something new and imprint our likeness of Him through our stewardship and mastery over the resources He gave us, the right response is to offer those things back to our Father.

Like the little kid with glue on their fingers and stickers in their hair, delighting in gifting back to the giver, to offer back to God what we’ve done with our gifts is to honor and please Him.

You could take the analogy further: learning to share with others, learning to respect what others have made and not trying to take for yourself what you have not been given or have not earned… We’re all just big kids, with no less of an innate God-likeness or broken sin nature than we had when we were littler versions of ourselves. Only our creations can be bigger and more wonderful — and our sin can be more hurtful.

So what are we to do with our lives while we’re here? We’re to seize with thankfulness and joy every gift from our Father, we’re to shape and create and steward and invent and master the things He provides. And with no less joy, and with a righteous pride in our obedience and humility knowing the simplicity of our offering, give the finished product back to our Father, from whom every good and perfect gift comes. And if instead, He asks us to give to someone else, to some other child of His that He loves, so that they can understand their value and His passion for them, then we should give it gladly, knowing we were used by Him to show others what He is like.

Everything we have is His — but if, when we receive it, we use it in a way that allows us to give it back to Him without shame; if we build, shape and grow it in a way that honors Him, and refuse to use those gifts to hurt others, but work together with them to do the best we know how, then like the proud parent who hangs their child’s art on the fridge for everyone to see, I imagine God smiles on His kids, and blesses them like the Father He is.

It took awhile on this trip — longer than it did when I was younger and less cynical — to be reminded that I love this giant playroom we call planet Earth. And I want to explore every corner of it. And I want to use my gifts, and grow what He’s given me, and share with God’s other kids, and make something out of everything He’s given us. To make the world a better place, to act out His image in me — the image of a creative, generous, righteous God. And to show it to my kids, and tell them the whole wide world is ours…

God made it for us.

Colossians 3:23-24, Genesis 1:28, Genesis 2:19

So I Tied an Onion to my Belt – 2013 Edition

As parents, we believe in the power of routine. Routines give children structure and safety. From the foundation of a stable routine, they can be confident in launching out into new little adventures of discovery, assured that they can return to home base if things get a little too overwhelming.

As adults, we see wisdom in that for our own lives. That where ever God puts us, one of our first priorities is to establish routines of responsibility and healthy activity. That “home” is not so much a physical place, rather its what you do and how you behave when there’s nothing more challenging going on. A good routine means that you don’t settle into negative habits, but positive ones. Habits that allow you to recover from past challenges, learn from them, and prepare for the next ones — automatically, and as a default behavior.

So that was 2013 — by and large. Not our most exciting year, but not devoid of little adventures either. Mostly about finding our rhythm, and helping our growing kids find new rhythms of their own. These things are made a little more challenging, of course, when your world shifts around you. For Ben and Abi, and Nicole their chauffeur and guide, new schools were their biggest opportunities to adapt. Each were more than ready to graduate from their pre-schooling efforts (pre-K for Abi, Kindergarten round 2 for Ben), and excited to move on. But of course there was trepidation and emotions involved. For Nicole it was figuring out how to juggle 2 new schedules. And for Eli, life continues to be a race to beat her older siblings to every milestone. (At barely 2 and a half, she can write her own name, and just this morning she got up before the rest of the family, turned on the TV, woke up the Roku, opened Netflix, selected a show, and settled in to watch quietly until everyone else was awake.) For me it was wrestling my professional life back into the right direction after a re-org that was outside of my control.

But of course if you never launch out from your routine, it ceases to be healthy and becomes a rut. So we happily shipped our favorite babysitters over from home and hit the road for Disneyland, entertained a regular stream of guests from both North America and further afield (Siberia and Malaysia!), and I even squeezed in minor surgery as my own routine continues to adapt to a 2 year old accident that still irritates. We also joyfully welcomed a new member of the family, visited home, and attended a couple pretty special weddings.

Combine all that with opportunities to serve our church and church family, new and growing friendships in our new home, some great hikes in the nearby Cascades, biking through an old mountain pass train tunnel, renting a boat and tubing in Lake Chelan, and multiple road trips to Western Canada, and you’ve got an interesting, but pretty peaceful and gentle year. Not a bad thing for a young family!

The Wises 2013

Our outlook and early plans for 2014 look good, 2015 looks to get a little more adventurous again, but our God is bigger than our human plans, and we’re confident that His are the best. So we’ll continue to pursue Him, and try to figure out how to give Him the glory for both the challenges and the many blessings He sends our way. Happy New Year to all of you, and to our friends and family, whom we love very much — regardless of geographic location!

A very Star Wars Birthday Part 2 (or is it part 5?)

Today, my oldest turns 7! Last year, he watched Star Wars: A New Hope for his birthday. This year, he’ll obviously be watching The Empire Strikes Back. For 7 years I have protected him from Darth Vader’s secret. And it hasn’t been easy.


We’ve had to keep an eye on what Star Wars related toys he can play with, what shows he can watch, and even what commercials he gets exposed to. Its such a part of our culture that it has been hard to keep from him. Last week we took the kids to see Disney’s new movie Frozen, and before the movie started Disney had a little brag commercial about how they now owned LucasFilm. In it, a dad chases his kids with a toy lightsaber and says in a deep voice “Children, I am your father!” I saw it coming and dove at Ben to cover his ears and block his view. Why Disney would want to give away one of the biggest reveals in cinema history to a room full of little children is beyond me. But I’m pretty sure I saved Ben — and that the girls didn’t pick up on it.

Empire is the best of the Star Wars movies. No one since has done anything like the land walker scene with even a fraction of the realism that the hand built puppets of the early 80s had. That Lucas handed over the reigns to Irvin Kershner is something of a miracle in itself. The resulting movie was darker, more character-driven and carried the story further than any of Lucas’ own films. Situated between the two lighter chapters, it pulls you into the universe and makes you care about what happens to each of the characters — even the bad guy.

I’ve waited 20 years to share this movie with my son. I can’t believe he’s 7 already, but I’m so proud of my little man. He’s a good big brother, an insatiably curious explorer, a clever junior engineer, and a sweet, smart boy.

Managed to record the big reveal. Here it is on Vimeo


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