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A Canadian Living in America When Trump Was Elected…

The other day I was running late getting home from work, and Nic and the girls needed to get to their mid-week program at the church. We chatted by cell phone about what to do, and decided that Ben could stay home alone until I got there. At almost 10 years old, and as a pretty conscientious kid, we figured he’d be OK for a short while. In total, he was alone in the house for 8 minutes, between Nicole’s departure and my arrival. It sure felt good to have that tiny bit of extra freedom in our schedules, and Ben felt very grown up (and a little nervous) about his few minutes as man of the house. But in some States (and in some provinces) we’d be risking a visit from family and children’s services for our reckless parenting behavior.

That threat, of the government stepping on little freedoms, is one of the reasons Trump was elected. My Republican American neighbors want to shoot guns, blow up firecrackers in their backyard, and generally be left alone. Its that independent spirit that acted out against the Democrats this election — a predictable pendulum swing that happens roughly every 8-16 years here.

But there’s another reason Trump won — one that the media generally ignored, but that he very deliberately exploited to win this race. Drive anywhere in the US, in almost any state, but instead of taking the interstates and major highways, take the local ones. If you do, you’ll see the part of America that really supported Trump. Towns that never recovered from the recession in 2008, because their jobs never came back, and because the debt of the residents prevented them from finding any other path. Sad looking towns with shuttered stores and busy bars. The so-called heart of America is more-or-less under-educated, over-leveraged, and without hope — but still so proud. They were raised to believe in American superiority, but see no evidence of it. They are disillusioned and disappointed. And Obama, for all his accomplishments, didn’t improve their lives. Nor has the Republican institution — which frankly created the monster that is Trump, by splitting their own party into right-wing and ultra-right-wing factions in a failed attempt to stop Obama — met them where they are.

These are the people to whom Trump spoke. He may be a vile, misogynist, bigoted xenophobe, but he’s not as stupid as he looks. There’s a reason his speeches were delivered at a 4th grade level — he was speaking to his target audience. And it worked. The small-town Americans who are afraid of a government that might take their guns and resentful of the loss of their low-skill jobs due to globalization, those who don’t have options, and didn’t benefit from the hope that Obama promised, they are the ones who voted for Trump. They are the ones who believed his simple speeches that promised to represent them and fight for them. They are the voters whose fears he expressed when he spoke of rapist Mexicans, and evil Muslims. They are the people who grew up without exposure to the broader world, and thus have never learned to accept those different than them. They are trapped in their small towns, with their small and under-educated world-view. They heard their voices in Trump, and rallied behind him.

The election results were shocking, but they shouldn’t really be surprising. The break down was very visible on my commute to work. Small towns, houses near the highway in disrepair, closed or nearly-closed businesses, they had the giant Trump signs. Houses near schools or corporate campuses, close to healthy and growing cities, those had Hillary signs. Those that feel they have failed, or that their country has failed them, long for someone to make things “great again.” They don’t see the parts of this country that are already great — they’re trapped in a desolate forgotten America that won’t recover during their life-times.

There’s a bright side though: like the showman he is, Trump fooled them too. He is not a right-wing conservative; his positions lean much more liberal than his party’s. The Republican leaders don’t hate him because he is a vile person, they hate him because he is not one of them, and when it comes to the business of running the country, they can’t control him. Though some of his proposed policies are undoubtedly bad for Democrats, they’re not uniformly good for Republicans either. Donald will do what he has done his whole narcissistic life: whatever he wants. And some of those things actually don’t sound too bad.

Someone recently accused me of having a lesser perspective on this issue, as a Canadian living in the States. On the contrary, I think I have more perspective than most Canadians who trolled Facebook leading up to this election, and more objectivity than most Americans who felt forced to pick sides in a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich. The truth is that the Democrats chose the wrong candidate for their base, and the Republicans have completely lost control of theirs. The two-party system is beginning to fracture, and while 4 years of Donald seems pretty awful, the cracks he’s caused in this failing system are probably a good thing — in the long run.

Just to put this in perspective, I actually stand to lose a lot from a Trump presidency. First on his list of things to do to “protect American workers” is to renegotiate or exit NAFTA — I am in the States on a NAFTA Visa. I could lose my job and my home because of Trump. I have no love for the man, and if I could have voted, I wouldn’t have chosen him. My uncle e-mailed a delightful rant on how Trump’s election is the beginning of the end, which was fun to read, but wrong. Trump won’t mean the end of the world, or the country — once you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.

America is going to spend a few years at rock bottom, but maybe in 4 years or so, they’ll pick themselves up, figure out how to work together again, and start to heal. In the meantime, some of the things Trump proposes to change might not be so bad.

Project Shelby

The last big company I worked for afforded me a number of different roles. At the start of my career, I worked for about 10 years as a software developer — a job I was passionate about and reasonably proficient at. After about a decade of that, though, I got a little tired of constantly learning how to solve the same problems again but with yet another new technology, but also afraid of turning into the guy in the cubicle next to me who was still doing the same job on 20 year old technology.

Fortunately, God moved my career toward more commercial roles, and I realized that my sweet spot would be somewhere between technology and business (kinda like this guy). It turns out there are a lot of different options for careers for people like me. I tried my hand at evangelism, business development, and finally product management. And that last stop, at Amazon, felt like home. As a product owner, you get to create the theories of market impact, define the vision, and once in execution mode, you can go as deep as you want with the engineering team on how to solve the problems that get you there. There aren’t many jobs where you can be in an executive board room one minute, and checking in code for the nightly build the next.

About 15 months ago, when I started my current job, our leadership had put out a dual challenge: do something in a space called “analytics”, and go fast. Analytics is just information software, which I wrote for years. And going fast is something we did really well at Amazon. It was a good fit. My new boss and I spent many hours reviewing analyst and market data, talking to customers and potential partners, and (for me) learning about what technology we had available to us in-house. Old friends and colleagues provided input and guidance, and a plan formed. We went back to the leadership and proposed assembling a small, cross-functional team with engineering, design, quality, business and product skills all reporting to the same leader (an “A-Team” if you like…) My boss would be that leader, and I would lead the product and technical effort. We set a goal of building a product in one calendar year, from sketch on a whiteboard to box on shelves — an unheard of target at this company, but one we thought we could pull off by combining new code with some existing bits pulled together to express something new.

In January of this year, after a few false starts and final approvals, we had the core of the team: 3 software developers, 1 part time designer, me as a product owner, and my boss as manager and business owner. Within a couple weeks we had added a test automation developer, a part time researcher and a front-end contract developer, and we were off to the races. Although we had those pre-existing bits, our computers, and a few cardboard boxes of tech that one of the developers brought with them, we were otherwise starting from scratch. The team built our test environment, simulating an industrial operation, our build system, pulling together and compiling the code from each participant, and our process, a combination of Scrum and Kanban with a lean Agile philosophy.

We work in 2 week sprints, automate our testing to ensure quality within a small team, and demo our work regularly to the leadership and potential customers. By August we had prepared a “preview release” that we invited 5 customers to run in their labs to validate our approach and ideas. And in less than 2 weeks, we’ll officially announce our product to the world at our annual conference. We lost a developer to retirement this summer, which impacted our velocity, but our contract developer moved to full time, as a great hire for the company, and we’ll soon have the empty seat filled for the final stretch of this race.

My job is a lot of things I love — and just a few I don’t. I do get into the code, a little more than I expected, but it helps take some of the pressure of the team’s deliverables. I present a lot, and throughout the year, as our product has evolved, those get more fun. Customers have never seen anything quite this cool coming from this space. We’re leveraging some consumer technology and ideas to make our product more approachable and interactive, with a focus on making sure customers can start using what we’re building within minutes (as opposed to weeks or months for most information software in industrial automation.) Because we’re in a big company, I also have to do a lot of paperwork — a necessary step for audit-ability and customer confidence — but thanks to some of the pre-work by other smart people in the company, we’re able to do a “light version” of the process, on the understanding that our product will be able to be updated and improved continuously after launch.

shelby128The codename for the product is Shelby — and as it started fetching information for us, Shelby took on a dog personality. Its software and hardware, married together as a single-purpose, near zero-configuration appliance. On start-up, it needs to know what language you speak, what time it is, and how it will get an IP address — and that’s about it. Shelby configures itself from there by exploring the operation its been connected to, identifying the parts, and building an information model about what it sees. Once that’s done, it starts analyzing the data and looking for problems in the operation, and producing information about what’s going wrong (or potentially, about to go wrong.) In the customer sites and labs we’ve been in, Shelby’s record so far is 121 devices and 23 problems — all discovered in less than 3 minutes. To be clear, this could be done before Shelby — but it would take weeks of custom system and tool configuration. Shelby makes turning data into information an instant and repeatable solution, that customers can buy as a (relatively) inexpensive product and service.

We’ve had highs and lows, support from outside has come and gone and come back again, but my little team has never failed to wow people with what we’ve accomplished in the short amount of time we’ve been working together. I couldn’t be more proud of my crew, and of our little product. Its industrial analytics for everyone; its a little bit of magic in a box, and its almost here.

To the Cloud!

Publicly available WiFi sucks — for more reasons than one. Other than the obvious slowness, there’s also traffic and packet shaping, ads, and the gaping security problems that come from being on the same network as strangers. Most sites are encrypted between the client and the server, but who knows what kinds of identity information you’re potentially leaking to the owner of the network — or the other guests using it.
But that’s nothing on your work network, where the IT department — or even the HR department — have access to your activity logs, including every request you send to a server. That’s assuming they even let you get to the sites you want to visit. Some employers are more open than others, leaving it to the discretion of the employee (and heuristics against your activity logs) to determine what parts of the internet are appropriate. My current employer is not one of them. Want to see that picture of your kids your wife just posted on Instagram? Too bad. Like to have some background music or video playing while you work? Not here. How about doing some work in the Cloud — y’know, when your software team is tasked with making Cloud software? You’ll need a special exception for that…

In short, if you want any sort of expectation of privacy while emailing with your spouse, or banking online, your best choice is to wait until you get home. Failing that, creating an encrypted tunnel from where ever you are through your home network is the next best choice. Enter VPN software. Long the domain of enterprise networks, with OpenVPN and a Raspberry Pi its available to any reasonably savvy individual. PiVPN provides a simple script that makes setting up a VPN a breeze. Set up a free Dynamic DNS entry, and poke a single port through your router, and its done. You can generate VPN configurations for your phone, or your Mac or PC laptop with a single command.

Once this is setup, you can flip a switch from anywhere and open an encrypted and secure tunnel through your home, and out to the Internet from there. Anyone on your public or work network trying to hack, limit or snoop your connection will see only garbage in traffic. And if you have resources on your home network, those are available to you (including remote desktop, file sharing and printing.)

Now if I can just get OneDrive syncing with my Pi…

Update: You can also run your own DNS, for more privacy and less ads. Check out Pi-Hole!

West World

With all the changes in the past year, we were sorely missing someone — someone we hadn’t met yet. My sister had a beautiful baby girl 10 months ago, and we were overdue for some baby cuddles! So trip #3 for the year was out west, to resolve that problem.

Having changed jobs on average every 3 years, I’ve not accumulated much vacation, so it was a stretch to pull off a third trip this year. Fortunately my team rocks, so we made it work and bundled the Wise clan onto the cheapest flight we could find — having used up all our Delta SkyMiles already! And since we were heading back toward the west coast, we also lined up a couple visits with friends from that part of the continent. We even managed a quick visit with my parents as we all were stopping off in the Toronto airport at about the same time!

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Thanks to Facebook’s memories feature, we remembered that we’d gone camping with those same good friends exactly 2 years earlier — to the day. Seems like the start of a good tradition. We borrowed as much camping gear as we could beg from my siblings, vacuum bagged the rest into a duffle bag, and upon our arrival, squeezed it (and us) into a fairly tiny rental car for the 6+ hour drive from Calgary to BC. We camped on Lake Fintry and had 2 gorgeous, and 1 rainy, day in the beauty of that province, where the kids caught up with their buddies from Seattle — and we resolved to continue exploring the west coast with our friends every couple years. The rain gave us an excuse to go out for dinner with some old friends from Ontario who had moved that way.

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As we have every other time we’ve driven through Banff, we stopped at Lake Louise to take in the scenery, and save for a potty emergency or two, the kids were the sturdy little road warriors they’ve always been. When we got back to Calgary, we got to spend a few days with my sister and brother-in-law, her two awesome little kids, and even got some time with my not-to-be-too-tied-down younger brother. Our kids loved their time with their cousins, and Nicole and I loved playing with our nephew and holding our new niece — who has a lovely, content little personality, and only screamed at me once (when I somehow screwed up nap time!)

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That about does it with the travel budget for the year, but we wouldn’t have traded any of these experiences for all the money in the world. We love that Nic’s family are a lot easier to visit now, but its also a real joy to be able to visit family and friends in other parts of the world. Next year we need to spend some of our discretionary funds on household improvements, but we hope that travel and loved ones in far-away places are always a part of our kids’ childhood.

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Europe 2016 – Part 2

The drive should have taken about 5.5 hours, but since I forgotten that my GPS app was in “avoid tolls” mode, it took closer to 7. (Incidentally, little known tip: the “Here Maps” app, originally from Nokia, allows you to download detailed, turn-by-turn full country maps for offline use, so you can navigate with your phone without paying data roaming charges.) We got to Kandern late in the day on Monday, approaching from the north, and stopping immediately at the grocery store at the edge of town to buy German chocolate. Then we crossed the street to my old house, Herman Burte Strasse 1a — which looked exactly as I remembered it.

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As we walked through town, some changes became evident, which impacted my planned tour for Nicole (which consisted largely of food stops!) The Turkish owned pub that made the unparalleled pommes frites was now apparently under Scottish ownership, and did not have fries; the hundred-year old bakery that sold amazing little brotchen was now a woman’s fashion store; the toy store in town where we wanted to souvenir shop for the kids was gone. But the Eis Cafe remained, and we had gelato and later “spaghetti ice.” My old school was right where I left it, although bigger now that the long-planned addition was complete.

Some changes were good. When we lived there, a small group of refugees lived in a building across the street from the school. Despite being a school full of missionaries and missionary kids, at the time, there was apparently no ministry to those refugees, and we’d look awkwardly across the road at each other, neither group quite belonging but despite our shared displacement, having no involvement with each other. It turns out the Turkish pub moved to a proper restaurant on the other end of town, and while we were ordering up our pommes and shawarma, we heard English being spoken by other guests, and struck up a conversation — assuming they were associated with the school. In fact, they were part of a group of believers now ministering full time to the refugees. Germany has committed to housing a million refugees from the most recent crisis, and the region around Kandern had signed up to receive 40,000 of them. New temporary housing was built on the edge of town, and the school has donated some of their dorm houses surrounding the town to the effort.

Its easy to think of the German people as being somewhat cold. I warned Nicole that we would have to communicate in German (another language I used to have some command over, but is now quite rusty) — but not for long: most Germans in town actually speak some English, but will rarely use it until you first make an attempt to speak their language. Though they may seem somewhat brusque at first, the people of this little region have long hosted the annual plague-like arrival of hundreds foreign missionary kids, and then signed up to house 40,000 refugees.

In fact, the town without the missionary kids felt a little like a movie set without the actors: dream-like and empty. With school out its just a typical little German town — that happens to be nestled on the edge of the Black Forest. Nicole and I drove up to Hochblauen, although it was too foggy to see anything, and hiked to the ruined Sausenberg Castle, where the view was considerably better. Our little Gasthaus in Schlingen was adorable, and afforded us some nice evenings quietly sipping wine and catching up on our reading. We even got in a swim at Schwimmbad before leaving town on Wednesday.

From there we wound our way to Zurich, getting a quick look around, before heading up a mountain to try to find the train to a look-out above the city. We found the train, with a great view of the Alps, but then went the wrong way, and saw some different parts of the city than we had planned! We flew out the next day, managing a few more meals based on French bread, and paying a small ransom to return the rental car in a location different from where we’d picked it up!

It was a near perfect trip, for the limited amount of time we had. We do intend to bring the kids to Europe some day — but when they’re older and can appreciate it more. For just the two of us, it was quite affordable… with 5, not so much. There’s lots more of Europe we’d like to see, but it’ll have to wait for the next trip. Hopefully that’ll be in less than 19 years!

Europe 2016 – Part 1

Nicole and I met shortly after I returned from a month-long stay in France, in 1997. Two friends, who I’d known since kindergarten, and I were part of a choir that toured France, and we arranged to head over about a week early so I could show them Kandern, Germany — the little village my family lived in when we spent a year in Germany. I was 14 when we lived there; my 9th grade year was spent at Black Forest Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids, where my parents worked for the year.
Of course I regaled Nic with stories of life there, and of the more recent trip, and as we grew closer, I promised her that one day I would take her to Europe.

I also promised her that I’d take her to Asia, and warned her that I fully expected my career to move me to the States at least once. We were 17, but she seemed interested in my big plans, and apparently decided she could put up with me for awhile…

19 years, two trips to Asia, and 3 jobs in 3 different States later, we finally pulled off the Europe trip part of that plan! The week prior, I had to participate in a conference in Orlando, so Nic took the opportunity to head to Ontario to get the kids settled in with Nana and Papa and visit her family. At the end of the week, temporarily free of kids and work responsibilities, we each made our way to the Detroit airport, meeting up just a couple hours before our direct flight to Paris. We took advantage of a status perk and spent those hours in relative luxury in the Delta Skyclub, sipping free wine and making sure our gadgets were all charged.

We landed in Paris early in the morning on Saturday. We were told we couldn’t check into our hotel until 2, but when we arrived mid-morning in our tiny rental car at our little lodging just outside the touristy part of town, our room was ready. By 2, we’d had a nap, unpacked a little, and were ready to explore. We had taken a bit of a gamble and pre-paid for a parking spot somewhere near Notre Dame (the directions weren’t super clear!) The spot turned out to be a small parking garage directly underneath the square in front of Notre Dame. After overcoming some communication challenges due to my rusted-beyond-repair French language skills, we secured our place with in/out privileges, and were well positioned to spend 2 days seeing the city.

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We saw Notre Dame and the Louvre on day 1, and on day 2 walked across town to the Arc de Triomphe, stopping at a street side cafe to rest our feet and sip tea, then to the Eiffel Tower, stopping at a little bakery to carb-up. Despite being obvious tourist traps, prices were reasonable everywhere we went. We saw the Louvre for 15 euros each, went to the very top of the Eiffel Tower for 17 each. Food was, of course, great and also reasonably priced. We even took a bike rickshaw back from the Eiffel Tower for around 12 Euro. Paris isn’t the world’s cleanest city, but there’s amazing architecture and history, mixed in with the modern. Traffic was nuts, but crowds and lines were only a problem at the Eiffel Tower. Also security was elevated due to the Euro Cup, with armed soldiers posted at strategic spots throughout the city, or attentively strolling through courtyards looking for suspicious activity. None of these things were enough to detract from our stay — it was really quite beautiful and peaceful.

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And 2 days was all we needed. On day 3, we drove our tiny, manual-transmission Peugot through rush-hour traffic, into the French country-side, and off toward Kandern…

2016: Travel

Our kids believe that when they’re a grown-up they’ll be able to do whatever they want. We haven’t yet had the heart to explain that being a grown-up means you rarely get to do what you actually want. You do have more choices — but even when you have discretionary time, turns out you also need discretionary finances to do most things.

That means you usually can do one set of things — and not another. For 2017, we decided we’d focus on the house, so for 2016 we chose to do some traveling.

In February we took a very nice family vacation to see my parents in their very nice new home in Grand Cayman. The kids were delighted to see their grandparents, and Nic and I were delighted that a friend from my parent’s Bible study group happened to be away for the week, and graciously gave us her apartment — giving Nicole and I evenings to ourselves for the whole week, while the kids were all tucked in at my parents place.

Grand Cayman was a tropical paradise, with beautiful beaches all around. We went on a submarine tour of a coral reef, snorkeled in a little cove, swam with turtles in a turtle farm, and tackled huge waves that kicked our butts more than once. It was a perfectly timed escape in February, that gave us a break from our first Ohio winter.

In June, Nicole and I are getting away kid-free again. For the past 5 years, we’ve missed celebrating our birthdays together, and we’ve missed a couple anniversaries in there too. Summer just always ends up sending us in different directions. This year we decided we’d pre-empt any other plans, and get away together. I’ve been promising to take Nicole to Europe since we started dating (in 1998!) and I’m finally making good. We’ll fly into Paris and spend a few days seeing the sights, then drive to my old home town of Kandern, Germany, before flying home from Zurich. We’d love to see more, but since we have to budget my vacation time carefully, 7 days was the best we could pull off. This time the kids will stay with Nic’s parents in Canada.

And finally, assuming there’s money left in the travel fund, we hope to go west. We’re all dying to meet the kids new cousin in Calgary, and we’ll try to squeeze in some visits with other good friends while we’re out that way. We miss the west coast!

If we had unlimited time and money, and could really do whatever we wanted, we would do even more. We’ll get in a camping trip or two this summer, and plan to stay a little more grounded next year. I’m sure there’s lots of places around here to explore — but the world is too big a place to only ever experience one tiny part of it!

So I Reserved a Tesla Model 3

Last Friday I became one of the 325,000 people who plopped down $1000 US to reserve a Tesla Model 3 — a car that won’t be delivered to customer #1 until late 2017 at the earliest. I’m probably customer number 324,999 so I won’t be getting mine any time soon (2019 would be optimistic!) So why bother?

Aside from the obvious desirability of a bleeding edge, super cool car that doesn’t use gas and goes further on a charge than any EV (actually available or even just announced) from any other manufacturer (including GM’s lipservice Bolt, and BMW’s ugly and overpriced i3), the Model 3 is a symbol of change.

The pre-announcement of a car that isn’t finished yet, from a company with a track record of missing shipment targets at their existing scale (which is orders of magnitude smaller than what they’ll have to hit to even come close to fulfilling their first 325,000 pre-orders) isn’t the change I’m talking about. In fact, their approach looks a lot like a Kickstarter: put some money in to fund development, and if the product is successful, you’ll get a chance to buy it later. The reservation revenue won’t even touch their billion-dollar-a-year burn rate (although it won’t hurt), but it does give them the ability to fairly accurately forecast demand, and secure additional funding as necessary to meet it. Like any technology start-up, they’re betting against the future, and with the reservation approach, they’re inviting their customers to bet with them.

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Unrealistic valuations against potential customers does sound a lot more like Silicon Valley than Detroit — and this gambling-man’s approach to business is certainly one of the uglier sides of the tech sector. But if that’s a part of the change that needs to happen in the automotive industry, then I’ll take it. The fact is, your car (yes, you — unless you already drive a Tesla) is a mess. Its not the build quality or process — thanks to companies like Toyota, manufacturing in North America is the best its ever been. Its the software: its been modified, revised, patched and rushed out the door annually — introducing new features (“infotainment” and “telemetrics”) without ever really cleaning up what came before or refactoring for evolution in underlying technology. The results are obvious and frightening — problems that are expensive and difficult to troubleshoot, vehicles that can be hacked remotely via the wireless connected car stereo (because the stereo runs on the same bus as your brakes!), and bizarre, archaic toolchains that most techs (who are not also software engineers) need specialized training to use. And these are the vehicles that are to become self-driving in the near future??

Teslas are not immune to problems — in fact, reliability has plagued them. But with a drivetrain that amounts to 1 or 2 electric motors, a battery, and a steering mechanism — almost in its entirety — and a high-tech on-board computer on clean, new technology that reports detailed useful information both to the driver and to the remote support team, the most complex problems can be fixed by swapping parts on the spot. Tesla represents a fully modern vehicle that can be managed like a computer — something a generation of new “techs” can understand — with new features added with software updates, that can be rolled back if bugs are discovered.

And I’ve barely touched on the fact that it runs on electricity, instead of exploding gasoline in front of your face and shooting the smoke out the back.

I love my Saab, and by the time my Tesla is ready, my sweet ride will be over 10 years old. If its electronic in my car, I’ve probably hacked it. But its obvious, to anyone who knows where to look, that our current vehicles are based on ancient technology: a rickety platform wobbling its way into the 21st century, bolting on new features that were never designed to work together, until it locks up on the highway and kills someone. Tesla’s Elon Musk may look more like a tech startup founder than a car company president, but the dude went from sleeping on couches to landing re-usable space-ships, and in his spare time he’s the catalyst for change in an industry that’s long overdue. He can have my $1000 for the promise of a future car good enough to replace my Saab. I’ll take that bet.

Besides, its fully refundable.

Hooli is about making the world a better place, through minimal message oriented transport layers…

One of the best things about my last employer is that almost anyone in the company who had a good idea would be allowed to try to run with it. “Entrepreneur” was a valued part of the culture. That didn’t mean the idea would be implemented, but no one would stop you from trying. In fact, there’s a process to help, that starts with a document (the fabled “6 Pager“) — and dozens of revisions and reviews. If the document survives increasing levels of examination up through the ranks, then a high-level blessing was enough to form a team and take a run at it. There’s no quibbling about budgets — although every idea gets less resources than was originally estimated (frugality breeds innovation, or so the leadership principle claimed) so you always start behind the eight ball. But basically every product and brilliant quirk of that giant retailer started this way: someone with a good idea, who was empowered to try it.

Not all companies work like that. Some cultures value employees who follow instructions and don’t rock the boat. Some leaders think its disloyal to speak up about a problem that needs to be solved, or that embracing potentially disruptive innovation causes more pain than its worth. When an organization begins to change and begins to put leaders in place who will engage with those trouble makers with ideas too big for their station, old companies become young again.

Disruption is scary… and its inevitable. When the product that provides the life blood of a company is threatened by some new technology, the easiest thing for a big company to do is to try to kill that new technology. Witness cable companies desperately clinging to their broadcast video business model in the face of the Internet, or the automotive industry trying to prevent the direct sale of electric vehicles to consumers. But change is inevitable, and those who don’t embrace it eventually lose to it.

I was fortunate enough to move from an employer who values entrepreneurship to one who is beginning to embrace its own disruption — and finding that to do so requires empowering individuals and small teams to try new things. And I’m grateful that what I learned in my last job prepared me for where my new employer wants to go. It took 6 months of learning, evangelizing, planning, designing and pitching — most of that in PowerPoint, instead of a 6-pager. But as of this month, I have a team… working on my idea!

And not just any team: I got a team of really, really smart people. I have a former NASA engineer, a Phd in engineering, a physicist, and a former nuclear engineer. I’ll also have a visual designer, a fresh young developer, and dedicated QA. We’ll all report to a business leader who gave up his old gig to champion this plan, and we’re working with an architect who reports directly to our CTO. Like at my old employer, we’re giving ourselves a year to build a product — from sketches on a white board to a device on the shelves. Its audacious and disruptive and innovative. Its makes life better for our customers, and it helps change the way teams work here. And even though it took a little longer than I hoped to get it going, our leadership embraced the approach and empowered us to try it. And I couldn’t be more excited (and a little scared) to be the product owner for something new.

So I Tied an Onion to my Belt – 2015 Edition

Another year down: another big move, another set of trips and adventures, new schools, new jobs… 2015 was a full one. Since this annual post has become a tradition, and is getting close to the only post a year, it seems like a re-cap is in order.

We had an inkling early in the year that the winds of change were blowing. We didn’t know what direction they were headed, but there was a sense of urgency that we needed to close things out. Truthfully, we always knew our time on the west coast would be limited, but we felt like we had a lot left to see. We squeezed in as many trips as we could as the weather got nicer, and started praying in earnest about what was next. We explored the Olympic Peninsula, flew to San Diego to visit Lego Land with my parents, got back to BC a couple times, and even pulled off a summer road trip with some sweet friends down to Oregon, where we saw Crater Lake and the Oregon Caves.

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I had a few casual discussions with some folks in my network about where I might be able to apply my professional skills, and even flew to California on my own dime to attend a conference from an old employer, and see if maybe there was something interesting to sink my teeth into there. We knew it would mean a move back east — but we’d kinda made peace with that. When we decided to accept the job offer, we determined that this time we were going to roadtrip cross-country and see as much as we could.

It ended up being two road trips for me. One on my own, to start work and scout out the area. The other, with the family, with stops in Yellowstone and Mt. Rushmore — and a couple other less memorable places, was a wonderful experience that we’d recommend to anyone.

The new home is great, on a couple acres of property in a township that reminds us very much of where we both grew up in Canada. We can get to Nic’s old home to visit with family in about 5 hours of driving (as opposed to 5 hours of flying!), and we still get paid in US dollars — which is a plus. However, while the base income is comparable, and the cost of living is lower, gone are the days of semi-annual bonuses big enough to buy a new car. Our tour on the west coast got us to all our financial goals, with rapid growth and intense work. Now we’re forced to be a little more deliberate, and to move at a pace that is a little more drawn out. This is true of both the new job, where things move much slower than I’m used to, and the new income, where the “Christmas bonus” was measurable in hundreds of dollars (“don’t buy a pool” said my new boss, when indicating what to expect!)

But these limits are a little more “normal” than what we’ve grown accustomed to. And maybe normal isn’t a bad thing. If we’re careful, we can still do the things we want. This coming year we plan to visit my parents in Grand Cayman (with the kids), go to Europe for our 15th anniversary (without the kids), and visit friends and family (including my new niece!) on the west coast (with the kids.) Add to that some of the smaller adventures that come from being a part of a community — parties at co-workers houses, the county fair, season passes at a water park, our friend’s new hobby farm, road trips to Ontario and to revisit old stomping grounds in New York — and normal life might be OK.

In 2016, maybe we start to settle a little. Figure out how we’re going to get the kids through school. Figure out what life looks like for Nicole when all 3 are off to school all day every day. Figure out how we can serve others where God has placed us. And maybe, figure out how to infuse my new workplace with some of what I learned at my old ones…

In the past, we’ve planned our goals 1 to 3 years out. Now we’re starting to think about 15 — Eli in college, the house paid off, money in the bank for travel… Seems a lot riskier to plan for changes that far away, when we’ve been used to change at a much higher rate. But as we did then, we’re learning to leave the planning to God, and make our focus about obedience with what He puts in front of us. Whatever happens in 2016, we’re confident that His will is good and perfect, and that we want His plan — not ours.