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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.

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.

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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.

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

Newer Isn’t Always Better

My odd hobby of collecting old LaserDiscs aside, the longer I’ve been around, the more I find that some “newer” things aren’t always better than what they replaced.

I once had a software dev job where I sat across the cubicle aisle from a man who had clearly been trapped in time. He looked and acted like a developer from the early 90s. He had long hair in a pony tail, wore a trench coat, had giant glasses, with yellow tinted transition lenses, and stubbornly refused to learn any programming language newer than C++. His fingers were stained nicotine yellow (presumably he started smoking when it was a cool thing to do), and he had a stack of binders on his desk that looked like they hadn’t moved in 15 years.

I swear I’m not that guy (not yet, at least) but I’m starting to become convinced that trends in computing these days are a drastic dumbing down of what I grew up with. The sweet spot seems to have been around 2006-2008…

Windows 7 was Microsoft’s best OS ever. It got them past the embarrassment of Windows Vista with the first version of Windows that had lower requirements than its predecessor. It offered backward compatibility for most apps through the DOS days, including an XP mode, and a forward thinking, ‘net first platform for the future. It was performant and attractive and relatively bullet proof.
Then came Windows 8. Compatibility got shot, the UI paradigm is schizophrenic at best, and the painful march toward killing off the Desktop means a PC is becoming as dumb as a tablet. Admit it, Windows 8 users: if you actually want to get anything done, you have to flip over to the Desktop “mode” (and ya, its a mode).

Similarly, Mac OS jumped the shark somewhere around Snow Leopard. They killed off Classic — which cost them basically nothing to include, but to add insult to injury, they put a bullet in the head of Rosetta, cutting off both previous generations of Mac software, as if to pretend the PowerPC era didn’t happen (apparently, also pretending their loyal customers for those painful years didn’t matter either). Two libraries of software suddenly unavailable, replaced with crappy “features” like Launch Pad (now your $3000 Mac can work like a $500 iPad!) Invested $4000 in Final Cut Pro Studio? Guess you shouldn’t have upgraded to our newest OS, cause that just doesn’t work any more. Don’t even get me started on the Dock connector to Lightning connector fiasco.

I wonder if this happens with all technology. Maybe it all starts out just a little bit unfriendly, and for awhile, only those smart enough to figure out how to work it can use it. But then the masses demand it, so we dumb it down a little, and then a little more, until you can buy a device with more computing power than anyone could have imagined 10 years prior, but you’ll use exactly 10% of it, because you don’t really know how it works — you aren’t intended to know. You’re just supposed to use it for a year, then throw it out and buy something new. And the ability to get under the hood, add a plug-in, script the start-up routine or run an app you bought two years ago is gone… but that’s OK, because its “easy to use”.

Keyboards are more prolific now than ever. They’re on your phone, your tablet, your Xbox… but watch teens use one on their laptop: they’re hunt and pick typists. Two fingers, staring at the keyboard while they type. They may be fast with their thumbs, but an actual keyboard, where you sit down and write a letter, or a poem, or some code… the skill set is gone. We turned computers into appliances, and created for ourselves a two-class system for technology. Those who buy their iDevices, but willingly remain ignorant and probably always a little afraid of them, and those who actually create them.

Maybe those latter folks will become the mechanics of the next generation. The often shifty, blue collar worker who tinkers with your gear for outrageous prices, and with a surly attitude. Or maybe they’re the poets and philosophers of a digital era, whose art won’t fully be appreciated for many years to come.

All I know is that my kids are going to play Mario Teaches Typing, and learn a programming language before they’re done 2nd grade…

Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger

I’ve not blogged a rant in a long, long time. But there’s some really inane stuff floating around, and darn it all, I have opinions! To be heard! So here’s a list…

Health Care

American friends, your president is not trying to turn you into socialists. He’s trying to ensure everyone is treated with a minimum level of humanity. This isn’t big government, it’s the lowest bar possible — and America is the least-developed of the developed nations on this front. There’s a lot of fear and misunderstanding going around, and although I won’t claim to be an expert, here’s some things I know from my Canadian experience that I think American’s don’t know:

Canada has socialized health care. This means that there are no choices or options: we pay a tax, we get healthcare. We get the same healthcare as all other Canadians, and its good healthcare. Yes, there are waits — but they’re based on the priority of your needs, not how much you’re willing to pay. Our medical people are competent, caring, hard working and effective. And we’re never ever refused critical care for insurance reasons.

But Obama is not deploying the Canadian system. Despite its infrequent flaws, it would be a good benchmark to start from. In fact, what he’s rolling out is a wonderfully American take on public healthcare: it includes what you’re good at, and keeps government involvement to a minimum. It allows you to keep your free market, while still ensuring a minimum standard of humanity.

See insurance doesn’t work if only unhealthy people have it. Try selling insurance in a 3rd world country and you’ll go out of business really quick: People who are already sick will sign up in droves. People who are healthy will not. The insurance fund will go broke helping the sick, because costs will exceed revenues. Its a pretty simple economic formula.

However, the reverse is possibly worse: excluding people with “pre-existing conditions” ensures that the only folks who don’t need healthcare can have it. This means that insurance company revenues soar, and people who are sick die (or go broke trying not to.)

Obamacare has essentially only two differences to what you have now: everyone can have it, and everyone should have it. This ensures that neither worst-case scenario can happen. The mandate means you pay into a system you might not need. The law preventing exclusion based on pre-existing conditions means you can get into the system because you will eventually need it. These rules don’t change the “free market” concept. You still get to chose your insurance company, your healthcare provider and your own health strategy. And if you already have healthcare, you aren’t impacted. The government isn’t setting up death panels, to decide if you live or die. And the government isn’t going to show up at your pelvic exam (like some ads suggest.) They’re leveraging the free market, with basically only two major restrictions, to ensure that people don’t take advantage of health insurance, and health insurance doesn’t take advantage of people.

Basically its making sure you don’t become a 3rd world country, mmkay?

Irony and Individualism

If everyone buys the same “ironic” products, because they’re made for “individualists”, I’ve got news for you: those products are no longer ironic or made for individuals. They’re mass market products, made for their broad appeal. Why are my only choices in eyewear right now ironically like the options available in the 50s when we didn’t have advanced plastics and metal molding techniques? Surely all these people in oversized eyewear are going to figure out that they look like everyone else and reject these designs eventually, right?

Same goes for huge cell phones. If I wanted a tablet, I would have bought a tablet. Can someone please make a nice looking phone that will fit in my pocket?

“Millennials”

Oh, I despair for my generation. If I read one more article about how the poor millennials can’t find their footing in these trying financial times, I think I’ll puke. No one owes us a career, and no one is going to give us our parent’s lifestyle. These things have to be earned. I literally reviewed a resume from a millennial who wanted to work here because he was in need of a “new hobby!” You don’t get a job you love just because you love doing something. You study, you get a job, you work your butt off, you grow your skills, and if you’re lucky, you will eventually end up doing something you love — but even then, it will still be work.

The “recession” that started around 2008 had nothing on the Great Depression (despite common comparisons in the press). Our grandparents knew what work was. A part time gig at Whole Foods, teaching Zumba classes on the side, doesn’t count as work. Not even if you did it for 80 hours a week. Don’t even get me started on the MLM “company” you think you’re running. And that over-priced car you’re financing isn’t yours, any more than the house you hope to get into by the time you’re 40 will be.

You want to know the secret formula to a fulfilling career? 25 years of keeping your nose to the grindstone and/or a text book. Your mother may appreciate how special you are, but your employer wants to know what skills you bring to the table. Put another way: we are not special. We may be connected and digital, we may have short attention spans, and a significantly smaller world than our parents, but the thing that makes us valuable in the professional world — the thing that allows us to invest in a home, provide for a family, buy a nice car, save for retirement, or have a health care plan that is more than just the bare minimum (see above) is hard work.

I’m glad you love rock climbing, water skiing, video games, hunting, philosophy, football or whatever else you think gives you identity. But the only way to enjoy those things — to finance your pursuit of them without crippling debt that you will never escape — is to study in school, take up a trade, apprentice… start at the bottom, even if you have to flip burgers to do it… and keep working. No one’s going to give you want you want, just because you want it. If you’re lucky, they’ll give you a chance to prove you can earn it.

If the first 25 years of your life are about “finding yourself”, and you don’t want to spend the last 50 years paying for it with those entry levels jobs you thought you were too good for, then between 25 and 49, you’d better get cracking on building something. Cause no one wants to pay you for your hobby.

American Politicians

Here’s how the Republicans sound…

“We’re going to shut the government down!”
“We don’t need the government anyway, let’s do it!”
“Wait, our parks are closed? Waaaaahhh… This is all the the Democrats fault!”

Here’s how Democrats sound…

“We’re going to step down our global military engagements, but still threaten people.”
“Our threats aren’t working, I guess we’ll have to start another war!”
“Wait, the Russians solved the problem diplomatically? Waaaaahhh… This is all the Republicans fault!”

In Conclusion

Clearly I am quickly becoming a grumpy old man. So be it, you dang kids! Get off my lawn!

Fall Photo Shoot 2013

As is our tradition, we dragged the kids into nature this past weekend to try to cajole them into all smiling non-goofy smiles at the same time — while looking into the camera. No easy feat!

There are plenty of days when its gray and rainy here, and Seattle deserves its reputation. Then there are days when you are surrounded by mountains jutting defiantly into a clear blue sky, and the bright sun makes the waterfalls sparkle as their mist tickles your face. This weekend was like that, and it was glorious.

We’ve had a surprising number of visitors, and we’ve enjoyed being with each of them. If you’re planning to visit, try to book a week or more, to increase the odds of getting one of those special clear days in!

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Visits

So far this summer, we’ve gotten in some wonderful visits. Nicole and the kids spent 2 and a half weeks in Ontario in July, visiting lots of family and friends we miss very much — and getting tanned by the pool at Nana and Papa’s house! I joined them for the last 4 days, and managed to squeeze in a whole bunch more, including getting to two weddings. We were so happy for my cousin, Adam, who found himself a really nice gal. It was great to be “home” and to catch up with so many special people.

There’ll be updated pictures on the sidebar, once Nicole gets around to downloading them off our very full camera, but I had to post this one…

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A picture like this isn’t possible very often. My family runs off a distributed architecture, with nodes functioning in edge locations around the world. But when a new one comes online, it’s worth the trip to get together. My little sister, who swore she’d never marry, and never have kids, got around to doing both. It was a short visit, but we were so glad we got to meet him!

The best part of the trip? After 15 hours of driving home (less than a week after a plane trip across the continent) Ben hops out of the car, and says “that was a great day, Dad!” I guess it helps that they got to watch movies in the van the whole time!!

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