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so hold me fast, cause I'm a hopeless wanderer

The Big Move — Again

Almost exactly 3 years after we worked through our move from Ontario to Washington State, we were working through the big move the other way — from Washington State to Ohio. Facebook’s new “Memories” feature drew almost daily parallels to the challenges: booking the movers, packing the house, selling our home, hunting for a new one, arranging a new mortgage, and starting the new job in advance of the move while trying to establish a beachhead for the troops to land on.

As with the 2012 move, we did our best, and surrendered the rest to God’s perfect plan. And as in 2012, things fell together better than we could have planned on our own. Our house in the beautiful community of Snoqualmie sold in less than 4 days, while we went on a mini vacation to the Olympic Peninsula. We made a tidy 25% profit, and found a perfect new home in the country, in a private sale with good friends.

There were two cross-country road trips: a solo one in the Saab which endured a flat tire in the desert of Eastern Washington and two (ticket-free) interruptions by over-zealous State troopers, but ended with an on-time arrival for the first day of work. And a second in our new (to us) Audi, that had no incidents, but did include an over-night camp-out in Yellowstone National Park — and ended with us camping in a mostly empty house for a week, having beaten the moving truck by significantly more time than we anticipated.

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Fortunately, the new house transaction included provisions for temporary housing, and Nic’s parents were there to welcome us and make the otherwise empty house feel like home. The kids quickly met the neighbour’s kids, Nic set to work on establishing the home front, and my new job’s pace hasn’t let up. We’re prepping for a series of visitors — another blessing that will help us feel like we belong here — and working on carving out a spot for a hot tub, and picking new colors to paint the interior walls this winter. Snow removal is forecast to be a challenge we’ll have to prepare for, now that we have a significant driveway, but having friends in the area makes it so much easier to figure things out.

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As in years past, change and travel has prevented us from celebrating a few milestones. Nicole and I both turned 35 this year, and today are celebrating 14 years of marriage — and almost 18 together as a couple. God has always provided for us and guided us (when we were willing to listen!) and He continues to teach us what obedience looks like. We have a lot left to learn, but we sure are grateful for His patience with us on the journey so far.

We start this chapter debt-free, save for the mortgage, with savings for the future, and a comfortable home and reliable transportation; we have 3 great kids who are each amazing in their own way, and I have a great job that provides for the whole family. 14 years ago, broke, immature, full of dreams and hopes, and no concept of how to get to any of them, it was easy to think we might not make it this far. But God, who showed us His love that conquers all things, has held us together. We can hardly wait to see what He has in store for the next 14 years.

Next year, however, we’re going to stop long enough to celebrate with more than a blog post!

The Most Important Thing is This

In 1999, only about 2 years into college, I got the opportunity to take a co-op job at a company called Rockwell Automation. I wasn’t actually in a co-op program, but I was able to re-arrange my school schedule to make it (mostly) work. It was a 6 month gig, that continued on in near full-time employment for another year while I also tried to do school full-time. It was a lot, and I didn’t always manage it well, but as a 19 year-old, at the start of my career, it was an incredible opportunity — one afforded me not through my own merit, but because of a mentor who believed in me and wanted to give me a shot. That same mentor has made appearances and provided guidance at a number of key points in my career, and among other goals, I’ve always tried to prove out his confidence in me.

That job led to another, a side step, and then another — this time in New York. That role led to Microsoft, which gave way to my current job in Seattle. Along the way I’ve met, and worked for and with some smart people, who shaped me, encouraged me and challenged me. I’ve also met some people who provided clear examples of what not to do. Hopefully I’ve learned from them too.

My most recent career chapter has been a hard one — but fruitful, in its own way. The Pacific Northwest is truly, truly wondrous. The mountains and lakes and forests are knee-weakeningly incredible. We’ve seen as much as we can, and still seen only a fraction. We’ve made some dear friends, met our financial goals, and learned a lot. We will miss this place, and we resolve to visit again. But this chapter has wrapped up nicely, and with no regrets.

In many ways, the next stop takes us back to the beginning. We get the chance to re-visit much of where we started from, but with hopefully more wisdom and experience to apply to it. Definitely, we’ll have a better appreciation for what it provides. Although we looked for roles in Ontario, none provided exactly the opportunity I was looking for, or met the needs we had for a re-location. Instead, assuming all goes well, we agreed to a move to a neighboring state: Ohio. And as for the job, I’ll be an Information Platform Lead at Rockwell Automation, working with not just that original mentor, but other colleagues from past steps in my career.

Coincidences are sometimes a God thing.
Coincidences with such amazing symmetry are almost always a God thing.

There’s this quote I love, I don’t even know who its from: “The most important thing is this: to be able at any moment to sacrifice what you are, for what you might become.” In no less than 6 major changes in my career, I’ve taken that seriously — walking away from a good thing because the timing was right to become something else. Through all that, this is the thing I became: I am a husband and a part of a 2-person team that has tackled 15+ years of challenges and adventures without backing down even once, I am a dad who wants to give my 3 amazing kids the whole wide world, I am a Christ-follower with a passion to help His church reach the lost and hurting around the globe, and in my professional life, I help software teams figure out how to make products that meet real customer needs.

We’ll buy a house large enough for our kids to grow in, with a yard big enough for them to explore in, with a neighborhood we can invest in, and a church we can serve and fellowship in. We’ll eliminate the last of our debt (the mortgage), and use our new post as home base for many more years of exploration and adventure.

We’ll continue to “become”, but the “sacrificing” might just slow down a little.

Yahoo Screen on FireTV

Its pretty rough, but if you’re craving some Community, it is possible to install Yahoo! Screen on your FireTV. This quick run through is for reference, and assumes you’ve got standard Android Developer SDK on your PC or Mac, and have enabled the Developer capabilities on your FireTV.

You’ll also need the Google Play Services (but not the store) which you’ll sideload, to get rid of some (but not all) annoying dialogs while using Screen. This YouTube video, which shows a similar process for Fire Phone (but over-complicates it significantly!) has a link to the necessary Google APKs.

Finally, you’ll need to get the Yahoo! Screen APK off the Google Play store on another device, then extract it for sideloading. There are lots of tutorials for this, so I won’t repeat them.

Once you’ve got all the necessary bits, here are the adb commands (the order is important):

adb connect <IPAddressOfFireTV>
adb install <GoogleAccountManager>.apk
adb install <GooglePlayServices>.apk
adb install <GoogleServicesFramework>.apk
adb install <YahooScreen>.apk

On your FireTV, go to Settings > Applications > Manage Installed Applications.
Scroll until you find Screen, and launch it (it won’t show up in the normal FireTV App launcher — use Llama to fix that.)

Now that its launched, you have an input method problem. Yahoo Screen (as of this writing) was not made for TVs (or, apparently for Accessibility) so you have to connect a USB mouse to your FireTV (yes, it works just fine!) Alternatively, you can use adb to fake screen taps from the command line on your computer.

The mouse is easiest, but if you prefer the command line approach, this website has some good input instructions, but a quick example:
adb shell input touchscreen tap "200" "200"
This will tap the top left tile in the Yahoo Screen grid and start the video. Change the second number to “400” to get the next tile down, change the first number to “800” to get the next tile over, etc…

When you start a video, tou’ll get a warning about Google Play services not being supported, but you can use your FireTV remote to hit OK and the video will start. The back button on your FireTV remote will work, as will Home, but the video control buttons will not.

Hopefully Yahoo will update their app for other form factors and control mechanisms soon — when they do update the app, of course, you’ll have to re-install it.

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.

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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…

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

Travelogue

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.

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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.

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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.

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