Friday, February 28, 2014

Fear Is The Mind Killer

If you have not read any of the Dune franchise, by Frank Hebert, of books then you have most likely not come across the Bene Gesserit (an order of Nuns, for lack of a better word, in the series) Litany Against Fear. It appears in several places and goes like this:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
This stuck with me as a teenager when I read Dune. I learned it and recited it to myself for a long time when I faced adversity.

Over time I stopped using it and forgot the entire thing. What I remembered and still comes to mind in times of fear is the mantra:
Fear is the mind-killer, I will face my fear and allow it to pass through me.
That's the piece I remember to this day and still quote occasionally in my internal monologue.

A friend quoted the "fear is the mind-killer" in an email which got us talking about it. This made me think about other mantras that we can use to fight fear.

Now, I am not a bible thumper but I always thought that the Litany Against Fear's closest Psalm was Psalm 23 or better know as "The Valley of the Shadow of Death".  It goes:
The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.

Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
This Psalm first came to my attention (that I remember) in the movie Nightbreaker, 1989. There is a scene in the movie where the US soldiers who are testing survivability near nuclear blasts are crotched in a trench. An atom bomb is detonated and one of the soldiers is quoting this Psalm.

I thought this was a very powerful verse and wanted to know where it came from. My Mom (most likely) told me it was from the Bible.

I quickly looked it up and added this section to memory:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I fear no evil, for You are with me; 
When I later (probably around the same time) found the Litany Against Fear I adopted my shortened version of it for times of fear, doubt, or when I needed to brace myself.

What have you done to brace yourself in times of fear? Email me if you don't want to reply.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

They Say It's Your Birthday, It's My Birthday Too, Yeah

Today is my birthday, let's not dwell, but here it is.
  • Once I used to read books or watch movies and think this speaks to me; Now I feel the characters are full of teen angst and are foolish.
  • Once I used to think I would know everything; Now I know I have forgotten more than I know.
  • Once I used to think my Dad could do anything; Now my kids think I can do anything; Now I know my Dad and I are just guys, making do the best we can.
  • Once I used to think old folks at work were jaded; Now I find myself reserving stories so that I don't sound jaded.
  • Once I thought I could fly if I ran fast enough and just jumped high enough; Then I read The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and realized it would be easier and less painful to just get a pilots license.
  • Once I used to strive to be less childish, I wanted to be an Adult yesterday; Now I strive to be more childlike, enjoy every day, and learn something new each day.
  • Once I joked in my High School yearbook that my favorite sport was indoor skydiving; A couple months ago I went indoor skydiving.
  • Once I used to think I would be fine being a bachelor my whole life; Then I meet my beautiful wife, we had 2 awesome kids, and I get to wake up each day wondering what adventures we will get into today.
  • Once I used to think 40 was old; Today I feel as young as I was when I was 20, with a little more wisdom, a lot less hair, and without that godforsaken vest.
Here's to 40.

Me at 6 months
4th Birthday in a chair
I received and my
boys use today

Age 10, School pic
Age 20, Rocking the
Christmas vest

Age 25, Riding Bauline, Newfoundland
Age 30, Cycling the MS Bike Tour,
Ottawa to Kemptville, Ontario

Finally, Me at 39
Cycling with Finn
Moustached with Penny and the Boys

Snowflake Lane on Harrison's Birthday

Daniel's Broiler, At the Top of Bellevue, Chrsitmas

And of course, my high school (joke) dream, Indoor Skydiving:

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Need a New Car

Our car lease ends next month and I need a new car. Buying a car is something I dread, mostly because I hate dealing with dealers. I want to test drive a bunch of cars before I make a decision but they make it such a high pressure proposition.

What type of car do I want? Well, let's not go there, I will never spend the kind of money on a car that I want. I look at cars as a necessary evil and as such I want to spend the least amount on them as possible while having something enjoyable to drive.

Here are my requirements:
  • 4 doors (Hatchback preferred)
  • Bluetooth for hands free calls and audio
  • Some pep (not a race car) so that the car is not sluggish
  • Good gas mileage
That's it.

So, now I start the spreadsheet and begin comparing lease/purchase prices. Then drive a couple and wee, new car.

Regarding the lease, I know this is a contentious issue for some (it was for me, I hated the idea of a lease). When you move countries (at least to the US) you have no credit history and as such can not get a loan or a lease. Microsoft has that covered for employees (my wife) relocating to the US and as such we could get a lease from a select number of car dealerships in the Redmond region. So, we got a lease, the other option being to buy a car with cash (ya, like sure, no problem).

Monday, February 24, 2014

Comic Review: Age of Reptiles Volume 1 by Ricardo Delgado

If you are a fan of dinosaurs then you owe it to yourself to check out Ricardo Delgado's Age Of Reptiles comic series. I read the omnibus Volume 1 (so far) which contains the first 3 works in one graphic novel along with sketches and essays from Ricardo Delgado.

Ricardo also includes essays about his artistic influences. These were interesting to me since I also enjoyed some of his influences such as Ray Harryhausen of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad fame. This is the guy that made those great stop motion monster films. As well, Desai Arnaz who made King Kong, the 1933 version, who also taught Ray Harryhausen.

Ricardo's drawings are amazing in their ability to convey emotion and communication between the dinosaurs he depicts. A surprise, fear, love, a parental rebuke, and more emotions are all expressed with such clear distinction. Studying his style would go a long way to showing one how emotion can be conveyed with the correct eye formation, head turn, or mouth display.

I found myself tearing through the book quickly to take in the story, occasionally slowing to try to take in all the subtle details. Then coming back again to study in more detail the composition and character design.

There are no words in this world, since dinosaurs did not talk, but that means this is no less a thrilling set of stories. This is like watching a nature show. One does not need to explain that a croc is lying in wait and then pouncing on an unsuspecting soul. It is clear as day when you can see it with your eyes.

This might be a bit too graphic for younger kids that like dinosaurs. You'll have to judge for yourself.

If you like dinosaurs you'll enjoy this series.

Amazon: Age of Reptiles Omnibus Volume 1

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Book Review: Perfection Unleashed (Book 1 of the Double Helix series)

Jade Kerrion's first book in the Double Helix series, Perfection Unleashed, is the next book for the Redmond Sci-Fi Fantasy Book Club. Here are my thoughts on it.

This is like a more realistic version of X-Men with a world that has mutants and genetically altered humans who can use empathic and telepathic abilities. Some mutants, the Alpha mutants, are so powerful their abilities can be deadly.

Thrown into this world are 2 men with the same face. One who does not want anyone to know who he is and the other who is just finding out who he is.

This is an nice departure from X-Men and mutants to a more-realistic (nobody can fly) world not far removed from our own where scientists have figured out how to create genetically superior humans. The problem with this as one can guess is that things go wrong and there are a lot of Pro-Humans who do not want the human race messed with. The Pro-Humans are happy with the way human evolution has gone and will stop at nothing to end this race towards science.

I really felt that this reads like an X-Men mutants with empathic and telepathic abilities, without the X-Men.

The ability for some of the characters to talk mentally without speaking is cool. Some of the powers that some characters have are also very super-hero-esque. The ability to fast heal others, the ability to knock others out with the "Power of my Mind!"

I felt that there is a lot of angst by the characters which made me think this would be a perfect candidate for the latest Teen Angst Movie franchises, ie. Twilight, Hunger Games, etc. Most of the characters are in the 20s or younger and there is mention of trying to figure out how to belong and such. I could have done with less of that, if only to save me from the thoughts of, oh hell this would be one of those movies.

There is some nice action in the book. The battles between mutants, mutants and humans, and some super-mutant-creatures are all well done and fun to read. Again here, some of the story falls into, "no escape", ahh, no just kidding, here's a text book comic book means of getting out of this situation.

I did enjoy this book for it's mutant story, political overtures of human vs mutant, and a more realistic "super-hero" fiction. Worth reading if you are a fan of X-Men, super-hero comics, or teen angst (I guess).

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Open Mic Poetry Night

Poetry was one of the things I enjoyed in high school literature class and University English courses. I wrote little but I always enjoyed the ability of a poet to express so much in so few words.

So, serendipity struck Thursday when my guitar jam got cancelled and Michele overheard that there was an Open Mic Poetry Night in Redmond at the Soulfood Books, Music and Coffee House. I set off to try something new and listen to some poetry.

The guest Poet who read from his published works was Jorge Enrique González Pacheco, a Cuban poet. Jorge read his poems in Spanish and the English translations were read by Erwin Galen.

Jorge's work was passionate, moving, and visual. Erwin's readings conveyed the feeling and passion of the poems. I enjoyed this and not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised to be able to hear a world known poet read his works, including some of his most well known poems.

Next up was open mic. This was the meat I had come to devour and it did not disappoint. I was amazed at the openness and exposure that these poets, people, amateurs gave to the audience. Lost love, rebirth found, the striving for sporting greatness, passion given and taken away, and living with isolation. The poems were different styles, different themes, but each energizing in it's pursuit to get it's meaning across.

I was amazed that of the 9 poets, 5 were first timers. That is, this was their first time reading their poetry in front of a crowd. The balls to do that, wow!

One poet in particular, out of all the poets, performed her poem without referring to her paper. She went up with nothing but a pack of gum, a prop she deftly used in her poem starting with removing a stick and ending by chewing it.  Her opening line to the effect, "Each time I chew winter fresh gum, the thoughts of your tattooed flesh upon my tongue," and she was off. She delivered a spellbinding Beat poem about love lost, a heart rebuilt, moving on, and the ability to look back and reminisce. She was the winner of the night if there was a winner.

So, a different adventure and something I never knew I would be so delighted by. If you like poetry at all then checking out an open mic poetry night might be a fun change of plans for you as well.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Book Review: 1632 (Ring Of Fire)

Image: Amazon
The Eric Flint novel 1632 (Ring Of Fire) (Free on Amazon as Kindle Edition as of now, Feb 2014) is the first in a series of alternate history books from Eric Flint and other collaborators. In the novel, a fictional town from the year 2000 in West Virginia is transported in time back to 1632 and creates a new timeline.

The town is mostly self contained and as such has a lot of tech (power plant, guns, mine, machine shops) that allow the hillbillies from Grantville to make a stand in war torn Germany (the location that their chunk of America is transported to). In Germany, the continent is almost half way through the 30 years war. This is the setting for 1632 where a small town of hillbillies decide to recreate America, only in Europe, 368 years in the past.

What was Cool:

  • The concept of taking a chunk of land and it's occupants and misplacing them in time and space on the Earth.
  • The use of modern technology to decisively win battles in a time when guns were just starting to be used but which had a terrible fire rate and almost no accuracy.
  • The political and cultural interplay as a the townsfolk come to the realization they must make a stand, expand, and stand by their morals 

What was Weak:

  • Chapters that explained historical battles were dry and out of place in the story telling. They just felt different.

What I would Change:

  • I would have taken the sometimes long, multi-chapter discussions of historical battles and turned them into reports from Scouts/Spies. Using the Scots Calvary more as liaisons between the new American State and Kind Gustavus Adolphus. This could have made the dry historical battles (which I enjoy but which seemed out of place in the writing) fit more seamlessly into the story.
This being a larger series, I can not wait to read more. That said, the series does not advance many years and stays stuck in this time period so hopes of seeing tech advance with this modern boost may not be something I get to see which I would like. 

I would like to explore:
  • What happens in 2-4 years when parts have run out and things don't work any longer?
  • What types of old tech which was easier to produce would come back in style? 
  • Would steam trucks make a comeback? 
  • Would gasoline production be broke forward and created to help the Americans to continue to drive their vehicles?
  • What happens when the railroad comes?
This is an interesting piece of sci-fi with time travel, military sci-fi, and alternate history all colliding.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bohemian Rhapsody and Muppet Labs

I've been listening to Night At The Opera by Queen a bit lately. The kids were enjoying some of the songs and are starting to want Bohemian Rhapsody loud! I love these kids.

The kids also find Dad funny singing the parts but my secret plan is to have them help out like in Wayne's World:

So, after another round of Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody I had to look up and play The Muppet's version:


Then we went down a deep spiral of hilarity as we watched more clips from Muppet Studios. Here are some of the best that the boys died laughing at:

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

GoPro Videos My Kids And I Enjoyed

My kids have this week off for 2nd Winter Break. Based off a tweet from +Oren Mazor we started a little GoPro viewing frenzy.

What I like about a lot of these is that the boys and I can talk about what is safe and not safe. They started rating the videos Low, Medium, High in terms of good idea to try or not.

The videos are also outstanding and let us capture a glimpse of amazing sports and activities that most people will never get/want to try but which are nonetheless thrilling to watch. Real people doing really crazy/fun stuff.

Here are a couple videos that we all enjoyed:


Image: Wikipedia
Sunday I played my first serious game of racquetball. I have tried the game several times over the years but never tried to play by the rules to much as just get in and get a rally going.

We were certainly rusty on the rules and thankfully they had them posted at the door of the court. With that and research the night before we played a match, best 2 of 3, each game to 15 points.

I was able to win the first after a long spell of us learning the ropes and a deadlocked 4-4 before I finally pulled away. The next two games went to my opponent and he got big leads which I came a hair within closing but alas he was able to pull it out to beat me.

The 3 matches (due to our learning as we went) took us 80 minutes. In that time I think I lost 5 lbs of sweat, did 2 impressions of a bird striking a window on the viewing glass, and developed a nice blister on the bottom of my foot. All in all, a good match.

I certainly could use some lessons but here are some helpful resources in case you want to try it out:

Monday, February 17, 2014

Comic Review: Zita the Spacegirl

Based on my previous comic review of Cowboys and Aliens I received feedback from @existopher on Twitter that his kids liked Zita the Spacegirl so I decided to check it out. Let's dive in.

Zita the Spacegirl is drawn and written by Ben Hatke. He is a comic artist and has a sketch blog called Art and Adventure.

I really love Ben's drawing and colouring style, especially for kids. The art is very approachable and the scary stuff not too dark and scary for a kid. Unlike some stuff I read, I would not be concerned to leave this comic out where the kids might pick it up.

What I really enjoyed about the first book in his series is the open and inclusive nature of the lead heroine, Zita. She approaches each person/alien she meets with an open attitude and looks for the good in them. This does not always workout for her but she quickly builds a team of friendly and helpful companions that help her on her quest to rescue her friend Joseph.

Check out this trailer of the comic:

This is a story about being lost, finding friends, saving the world, and sacrifice. A fun story for kids and adults alike with some nice themes throughout. There is suspense, bad guys (the normal dumb ones doing dumb things that kids like), adventure, and lots of funny aliens to enjoy.

I liked that the lead is a girl who is cast with strong instincts, technical savvy, and daring fit for a Captain Kirk adventure. You can see that Ben loves his (kids) girls in the writing as he crafts a story with such a strong female lead. There should be more stories like this that I can point friends to when they are looking for a strong, non-sexist female heroine for their kids to read in comics.

This is a comic I recommend if you have kids. My 8 year old read it on his own while my 5 year old and I read it together. They both enjoyed the story. Online I found recommendations of ages 7-13 for this book. So, follow that guidance and give it a read first (like I did) to see if you think your younger child can handle the story.

I look forward to reading the additional adventures of Zita the Spacegirl with my boys and will recommend it to friends with kids (either sex). Yes, I know some parents will balk at a comic for their girl, but this is a great comic with the type of female lead we need to see more of. And besides there's always Christmas/Birthday gifts when I can slip this in to introduce another kid to great comic adventures ;-)

Sunday, February 16, 2014

What's with the candy? Where are the Veggies?

It used to be, as a kid, that candy overload was saved for Halloween. Christmas included some chocolate and candies as well. Easter was a Chocolate extravaganza.

Now I live in the US and here it feels like there is candy, junk food, and chocolate all the time. My kids were young when we left Canada so maybe this is just a school thing in Canada as well. I am not sure, but here is how the school year is shaping up:

Halloween: Party + Candy
Christmas: Party + Candy
100 days of school: Party + Candy
Valentine's: Party + Candy

We have not hit Easter, St. Patrick's Day, or who knows how many other days are candy days at school here.

I get having the party. The games are fun, the celebration is fun, but is setting the stage that a celebration means indulgence in candy, sweets, etc is the norm a good thing?

It's hard as a parent to bring this up to other parents to "Cool it with the candies." I think we are all just trying to do what is right for our kids and try to raise them the best we can. This is not a conspiracy to make kids fat but it sure doesn't set the right tone in my mind.

Today for example I went to a Dad's and kids meetup at a friend's house. It was great, we got together, the kids played, the Dad's talked, and we had burgers. Me being the boring guy I am, I offered to bring a veggie tray. This went out early and the kids ate a ton of veggies. Mission accomplished since the junk food (not much thankfully) came out later.

So, yes, I am that guy who brings veggies to a party. Hell, it's not like I used to love veggies, I avoided them like the plague. But given enough time off of processed junk food a while back and I started to discover the various textures, flavours, and natural sweetness in various veggies.

For example, have you tried Jicama? No? You should (it is pronounced Hikama by the way), it is sweet, juicy, and similar to an apple with a nice crisp refreshing bite to it. We prepare it by peeling the skin and then chopping the interior into strips. Again, have you tried this? Then again I should not tell you; I should keep my mouth shut since I love this stuff and it is always in limited supply at the grocery store. So, ya skip it, forget it, you won't like it.

Fennel Bulbs
What about Fennel (sometimes called Fennel Root or Fennel Bulb or Florence Fennel Bulb)? This stuff has a mild licorice taste and is a favorite in our house. It is pictured to the left. We cut the green tops off, then we cut/trim the bottom root (the circle at the bottom where it was cut from it roots) and then just chop up the remaining bulb into strips.

The good old carrot is a sweet winner in the veggie family. Again, another fav.

Snap peas are our peas of choice. We love to snap them and make them pop. The boys like to split them and eat the peas before chewing the pods. That is after they have first snapped it in half for a satisfying POP!

Another fav of mine which people are surprised to try raw is Rutabaga. I am partial to the ones with the white bottom and the purple top. We peel these and slice them into strips.

Those are some of my not your normal grocery store veggie tray selection (minus the carrots) of veggies we love. We also do the old favorites/enemies of broccoli, celery, cauliflower, and cherry tomatoes.

All of these I have listed we eat raw often. One of the things we also do to encourage them in our house is to one, avoid having sweets in the house, and two, we have some on hand all the time in a section of the fridge that we let the boys know they can dig into any time they are hungry between meals. They raid it every so often and are happy to have this control and love a variety.

As well as letting the boys raid the veggie tray between meals I will let them pick out what veggies they want when I make them lunch or snacks. This makes it their choice and though they might not be in the mood for snap peas today, there's always several other options for them to choose from. One day they might eat an entire container of cherry tomatoes and overdose so that they will not touch tomatoes again for several days. Fine with me.

That's a little about how we try to fight the candy epidemic we face as parents. And remember, forget I mentioned the Jicama, you won't like it anyway.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Teaching My Kids to Mountain Bike

Yes, the title says it all, I am not satisfied with teaching my boys to ride a bike. They must learn the skills of mountain biking. Why? Because I love to mountain bike and so they must.

I know, I know, you are shaking your head saying but because you do it does not mean your kids need too. Well tell that to Football Dads, Hockey Dad's, and this Mountain Biking Dad.

Well, I am not that hardcore, that is to say I encourage the kids to mountain bike and would let them skip out if they wanted too but they are in. So what am I teaching them and how?

One of the things I am doing is using a tag-a-long bike that is hooked to my mountain bike to take the kids on entry level stuff. This is a fun way for them to be introduced to the idea "Hey, you can ride in the woods."

I started my oldest on the tag-along but now he is self propelled and my youngest is my new co-pilot in the rear seat. We are lucky to live next to a park and a mile away from another park which has some off-road trails. I have moved them up to riding to the park a mile away and then we do the off-road trails there. In total we get about a 4 mile ride in.

My youngest (6) has picked up how to stand on his pedals and do power strokes. He got this from watching his older brother and I. This is great but does have a side-effect. He and I were riding down a hill the other day when he stood and started cranking hard. I was on the brakes already but we were starting to speed up. This combined with the swaying back and forth from his cranking and I had to call a stop to "Turbo-Boost" mode.

The best is that he was totally excited to be able to make the bike go faster, he figured it out on his own by watching, and he is becoming a bigger help on hills. Bonus!

Now if I could just teach him how to find his chocolate foot (dominate food that you like to put in the front when both pedals are level) and start to use the level pedal stance when we come to bumps and turns. We have bounced his pedals off the ground, roots, rocks, etc on many occasions.  It will come with time though.

Another skill I have started them on is riding flat boards that are on the ground. I am prepping them for finding their line, controlling their tire, and learning to ride rails. This one will be very good for helping them to develop confidence when they get to the mountain bike park later this summer when I will let them start to ride the planks that are raised up 2-4 inches and are about the same width.

As well, on their own they decided to make some jumps with the boards. They are placing a junk of wood at one end to raise the board about 2 inches. Leave it to boys to find things to jump off of.

I am hoping by the summer I will have the youngest riding his own bike well enough to start biking at the mountain bike park nearby so I can start their training in earnest. Before he gets to move up to that level he must be able to control himself (steering, braking) and build up his leg muscles to climb some of the hills.

By the end of this summer I hope to have created two additional mountain bikers.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dealing With A Gluten Allergy With Your Child

My youngest son has a Gluten allergy. Did we get any allergy testing done? No, we just did an elimination diet with him based on recommendation from a Naturopath. From this elimination diet (you limit certain well known allergens for a set amount of time and then introduce the allergens over time and look for symptoms) we discovered he is allergic to gluten and milk.

So, we try to balance out his gluten allergies by teaching him things to avoid and helping to keep things "normal" by buying gluten free replacements for him. We do the same for cow milk by avoiding it and going with milks like almond milk.

We are realistic though and not pushy with the allergy with other people. Meaning we do not go overboard to "protect" him from gluten. When asked we let people know he is allergic to gluten, it is not life threatening, but it does cause him discomfort in the form of eczema. Most noticeably around his face and his hands.

To deal with the occasional flare-ups we use a natural alternative that works well to help get his skin under control. It is not a miracle cure but it does relieve the dryness and chapped skin.

We use Coconut oil. He loves to use it himself now and likes to sneak eating a bit each time he puts it on which works for us. He is now taking care of himself when his breakouts flare-up and he is using a natural oil which from all the reading I have done is good for you.

So, if you have eczema or dry skin it can't hurt to try out some coconut oil yourself.

Do you have a kid with eczema from food based allergies? What have you done to help them? If you have any home remedies then I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What are Maximalist Shoes?

What are Maximalist Shoes and should you look into them? These are questions I asked myself when I read about this new style running shoe. Would they help reduce shin splints? Would they help my form? Would I run faster?

Before I jump into Maximalist shoes I figured I would research this new running trend which I am sure will take off the year. Given the rise and fall in popularity of Minimalist shoes I figure these shoes will follow the same trend. Will they last though and become a common shoe for the average day runner?

A good introduction to what Maximalist shoes are available is at:

Over at they asked similar questions I have and they did a great analysis of the Minimalist trend that has now been replaced with the Maximalist trend.

From my own emergence with Minimalist running I can attest to the problems that result from it. I experienced lots of aches and pains as I ramped up with minimalist running. The aches and pains were fine but I had to give up minimalist running when I experienced multiple leg issues like sprained calves and a sprained hamstring. I did experience some faster paces so some of this was a case of faster but at what cost? I decided to run minimalist less often and be more pain free which is why I dropped running minimalist regularly.

I will keep an eye on the price of the Maximalist shoes and hold out while I look for mere research on these. For now I will kept running and keep my eye on this new trend.

Are you using Maximalist shoes? How are they?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Programming Arduino on Windows 8

Image: Adafruit
I came across this great overview of programming Arduino on Windows 8 Pro and Android tablets: Adafruit Programming Arduino with Android and Windows Tablets

It has a great overview of how to get going with Arduino development using tablets and has good tips about tablet models to avoid due to issues with driver loading on Windows.

For about $200, if you don't have an Android or Windows 8 Pro tablet, you can get started programming Arduino with a tablet without needing to lug around your laptop.  Yes, like lugging a laptop is a big deal (it isn't) but it's always nice to be more portable.

If you want to skip straight to the PDF with the entire article here is the link:

Sunday, February 9, 2014

CBC vs NBC Olympic Coverage

Complaining about US (NBC) coverage of the Olympics is as Canadian as Maple Syrup. Here's my take so far.


  • CBC: Real time and Prime Time recaps. More coverage, more live; just more.
  • NBC: Delayed for Prime Time coverage and then repeats the prime time coverage. They should have bid a little lower on the licensing deal and saved some cash to cover the olympics.
  • CBC: Talks about skill and keeps chatter to minimum during artistic programs like figure skating.
  • NBC: Loves to hear themselves talk leading to not letting you take in artistic programs without spurious comments. "She is about to do her signature move which is compulsory for all competitors." That's good to know, thanks.
  • CBC: Canadian athlete centric but covers other countries runs or routines giving you a greater appreciation of the level of competition. You are not shocked if Canadian athletes do not do well since you saw more athletes programs/runs. This wider view is helped by the real time feeds and wider coverage.
  • NBC: Due to less real time coverage, they concentrate heavily on each American. Each event is a battle of America versus the world. Shock and dismay when the American loses and hard to know if they deserved to lose since you have little idea how well the other countries did. In general, if an American athlete is not an odds on favourite to win then you probably are not going to see that event.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Comic Review: Cowboys vs Aliens

I picked up Cowboys & Aliens from the library since I had enjoyed the movie. I took a quick look and noticed that it was not the same story as the one told in the movie. So, I had to take it home to read.

The comic explains some of the back story like where the lead character got his alien tech from. It has a better story I think and it a little funnier in regards to what his main alien weapon/tech is.

The comic was also not very graphically violent so I let my 8 year old read it as well. Yes, I am that Dad that reads the comics first and then let's his kids read them if they are ok (by my standards). This one got a thumbs up and he quickly devoured it.

On the subject of comics and kids, a comic I don't let him read is the Sonic the Hedgehog series. I find the stories in those a thin veil for some pretty series topics for kids.

I found Cowboys & Aliens to be a fun romp of stupid conquering aliens who underestimate the human spirit. From what should be ridiculous odds in the favour of the aliens we see human ingenuity outsmarting the invaders for a last minute win.

If you saw the movie and enjoyed it then this is not a retelling of the movie. It is an original story with some of the elements lifted for the movie but not a cut and paste meaning this comic is well worth your time if you want some more Cowboys & Aliens action.

Friday, February 7, 2014

7 Tips For Grocery Shopping With Kids

Shopping in Tunisia 2010
Harrison shopping
Tunisia, 2010
Grocery shopping by yourself when you are a parent can be like heaven. I know, it's the weirdest thing.

Although, when the kids are along, it can be a nerve-racking experience. Here are some things we do to try to make grocery shopping (or any shopping experience) more enjoyable for all.

  1. Involved: Get the kids involved by prepping them to help pick out stuff. Make sure they have some guidelines like helping pick out veggies for their lunches and snacks.
  2. Nutrition: Teach them to look up fat, salt, sugar, and anything else you are concerned about on the label. Have them pick the healthiest by some guideline like the least fat and then let them choose.
  3. Avoid the Ick: Teach them to read ingredients and avoid over processed foods. A good one here is yogurt. Take a look at a plain yogurt and notice the lack of added ingredients and then try out some of the others that have a list a mile long.
  4. Math: Have them choose fruit for the family but they must calculate how much. In our family we aim for 2-3 fruit a day. We then have the kids figure out 2 fruit x 4 people x 7 days. We have fun with this one by changing the numbers around, pick out 4 types of fruit and get enough for the week. This keeps them busy while Mom and Dad are picking out veggies for cooking.
  5. Feed Them: We are lucky enough to have some groceries stores around that have kids clubs that let the kids eat a piece of fruit for free while they are shopping. If we are in a store that does not have that then we let them eat a piece of fruit that we are buying and have the cashier ring in one of them a second time.
  6. Frugal: Teach them to compare per unit costs to find lowest cost option. Easy to do with Milk, Orange Juice, cereal, etc. We combine this with the Nutrition and the Avoid the Ick tips above with things like individual yogurts.  This puts lots of skills to work at once.
  7. Weighing: Have them weigh things and do math to calculate how much per lb items will cost. Especially in the fruit section, let them compare a papaya and a melon. Have them pick the one that costs less.
Doing these things can sometimes make my trips to the grocery store longer, in the short term. Longer but more pleasant as the kids are actively helping me shop.

The other great thing about these skills is that it encourages something we have been working on with our boys. They are learning to be contributing members of our family.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Agile and Slack

I am wondering how long Agile as a process is going to last. The Agile I have experienced has been a series of death marches to meet deadlines and squeeze out every ounce of Developer productivity without time to rest between each deadline.

I like the idea of Agile and it is a nice way to track progress. What I have been exposed to though is waterfall planning with Agile processes bolted on top.  Let's have less meetings with no purpose but let's have a daily standup with little purpose.  Let's align teams around vertical feature sets or horizontal end to end solution teams or just random hodgepodge and then have these teams have stand ups where 2/3 of your team is not doing anything related to what you are doing.

How long can that last?

As you can see, I have not seen Agile Nirvana yet but heck, I'd love to try it.

What does this bastardization of Agile result in? Team leads and management trying to squeeze every last drop of developer productivity out of the team by increasing story points (deliverables) by controlling every hour of the Sprint.

For example, we had Slack or research stories. The fact we needed to name these and track them. Is this required? 

I think all Devs need time to experiment on non-deliverables. I find the fact that many managers and teams seem to schedule slack with defined deliverables offensive. Some people want to measure everything and are afraid not doing so will take away from the total story points the team could achieve. A Sprint with a low number of points looks bad they think.  Rubbish.

In my experience, a Dev that is given slack time with no agenda and no one pressing for burn down rate, completion dates, and other measurements produces tangibles never thought of in planning.

The classic wisdom goes that Devs are lazy. This laziness breads unique solutions to save us time and energy. This laziness and our curiousness means we like to find efficient and new ways to solve things. Bonus.

Can we do something easier? Faster?
Does that mean learning a new language?
Maybe testing out a new dev tool?
Maybe trying out a new process?
Maybe integrating something into our process or product that nobody sees value in until it is there?

Maybe they will read about random APIs.  One of these creative explorations might lead to the next breakthrough in efficiency for your product. Perhaps they learned a new API that does most of the heavy lifting for a section of code reducing maintenance and coding costs?  As an aside, if your team has been writing a ton of code to solve the same problem more than once then that is a surefire reason to add in slack time so they can refactor that shit.

I'd also like to bring up that Devs are knowledge workers in an environment where managers want to treat them like assembly line workers. I get that a Product needs to ship and to ship you need Devs in the trenches coding. But the flip side is that if you want them to enter the trenches repeatedly then those Devs need time to do mental R&R without burn down rates to track.

I have produced some of my most impactful work as a Dev when I have had slack time. It has let me experiment, look at old processes that took heaps of manual labour and reduce them to automated processes.

I did not do this because someone told me I had 2 days to make some inane thing faster. I did it because, in one case, they gave me 6 weeks to do a task of manually entering bits into memory and then checking the results on the other end of a component.  Who wants to do that by hand?  Not me. Python driven spreadsheets with test setup, test steps, result collection, and results reporting for the win.

Development is as much creative as technical and giving creative people time to think and experiment can pay dividends. For me personally, my performance reviews have always been about the projects I took on in slack time to make shit better (generally for me and my teammates, which lead to happy managers and better products).  Nobody ever rewards me for doing my day job and hitting burn down rates.  They reward me for figuring out how to do things faster, better, or cheaper (pick two) when they never thought to ask for that.

These valuable projects come at a cost though. Management, leads, etc, need to give up that time to Devs and let them be creative without measurement.

How much time? I find I need 20% or more in general while I am working on deliverables. After a crunch I like more time so I can recover and experiment with ideas I could not pursue during crunch time.

Remember, this slack time is not going to pay dividends immediately or always. Sometimes a Dev will learn not to use something since it is not the right fit. Or they will try something that ends up being too complex, big, or with not a high enough ROI to be worth continuing. That's ok as well.

We could call these non-productive slack times "mistakes" that we learned from. If this is a problem then I suggest you have people track their slack time with wiki or blog entries. Have them explain what they played with, what the hope was, what the result was, and recommendations for further study.

Don't make the mistake of pegging story points to this and making them track how much work they have done on their slack time. Christ, it isn't slack time if they need to estimate and be accountable that this will result in a deliverable.

Another thing, don't encourage people to have to deliver during slack. If you do they will and they might deliver shit since they have to deliver something. Better to have them say, I tried this, I thought it would help us like this, but it did not work for these reasons. Rather than to have them try to push a new process or tool into the team so as to be producing results.

Are you getting slack time? Are you letting your team have slack time? Is everything measured? Does every hour of a Sprint have to have a purpose? Are you over booking employees and under booking creative exploration?

Back off, get some slack time in the schedule with no deliverables, and see if anyone comes up with something you never thought of in the plan.

Here is some more reading about Slack.  I might not agree totally with the statements but these should get you thinking about how you can add in slack and see if it produces results for you:

Monday, February 3, 2014

21st Century Science Fiction: Part Four

Part four in the book review series for the book 21st Century Science Fiction.

See Part One, Part Two, Part Three

The Calculus Plague by Marissa Lingen


‎Memories can be spread like a cold. What would you do if you had that power?.

My Take

Awesome. Loved the idea and the concept of the story. Great way to tie it together at the end.
A very frightening and intriguing idea.

Erosion by Ian Crease


‎Augmented human tries out his new upgrades before leaving Earth.  How far can they push him beyond human?

My Take

If one becomes augmented then how long before we become less than human? Can we ‎keep our identity when we are only an upgrade away from another augmentation to our original form?
Great questions in this one. Interesting look at how augmentation would impact us.

One of Our Bastards is Missing by Paul Cornell


Victorian era intrigue and players in a futuristic world.

My Take

I liked how Cornell writes an engaging, fast passed story, with folding space, and advanced bio-engineering.  That said, take away the alternate physics and you have a story set in Victorian England with various empires and state players vying for power.

I am not surprised that Cornell is a writer for Doctor Who.  Add the Doctor and this could be a Doctor Who short story.

Tideline by Elizabeth Bear


A long time post war, a war machine (android Mech) finds a teenager along the beach and helps him.  She teaches him, protects him, and passes on her stories of war.

My Take

A touching story, too short.  Amazing how much Bear can present in such a short story.  Very enjoyable and I want to know more, about the boy, about the robots past, what brought them to this point, and what does the future hold for them.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Home Depot Kids Workshop

A friend of mine, Dan, is running a local Meetup for Fathers and Toddlers.  This weeks outing was to the free Home Depot Kids Workshop program.

The program is the 1st Saturday of each month from 9am-12pm.  The program is free and kids get to build a project at each workshop.

The kids had a great time as they built a wooden Home Depot race car.

If you have a Home Depot nearby this is a great program for you and the kids on a Saturday morning.  The kids have been racing their cars around this morning when we got home.

As well, if you are in Sammamish, Redmond, or nearby then look up the Fathers and Toddlers Meetup to meet some other Dads having fun adventures with their kids.