28 February 2007

From Big Blue To Little Blue

Back in the fall of 1997 I was a single man, living in an apartment in Chapel Hill, NC, and working at IBM. I decided to leave IBM to go work for Rational Software.

Five years later, I was married, living in a house in Raleigh along with two step-cats, a dog, and a baby boy. While I was out back chain-sawing trees that had fallen during an ice storm into our yard and onto our house, Shelley called out to me the news that Rational had just been acquired by IBM.

Fast forward four more years, two more moves and one daughter. In that time I've continued to work for IBM, but now remotely from my home office. That is, until today. Today, after more than nine years, I am leaving IBM (again). There was no party, and there were no songs because everyone I work with is somewhere else. That's OK.

I left not because I was unhappy with IBM, but instead because an opportunity knocked on my door in the form of a company called
AdaptiveBlue. This is a Web 2.0 company that provides a plug-in that promises to "make your browser smarter". Though I'll still be involved in testing and quality, this will be a big change for me because AdaptiveBlue is small and agile in the exact way that IBM is not. Also, as one of just five employees, I'll have a chance to make a real impact.

So, goodbye Rational and IBM. Thanks for the experiences.

12 February 2007

Rockin' The Suburbs

We've lived in this house for over three years now, and though we enjoy most aspects of it, one thing we don't like is that it feels very generic to us. Maybe it was too much dry wall and boring white trim. Maybe it was the fact that 3 of the other 8 houses on our street are the same model. Whatever the reason, it was time for a change.

This change came via the fine craftsmen at Poole's Stone & Garden in the form of a stone fireplace and rough hewn wooden mantle. Here are some shots showing the progession and the end result.

Stone Fireplace 1Stone Fireplace 1 Hosted on Zooomr
This is how the new fireplace looked after 1 day of work. Notice the outline of the old mantle.

Stone Fireplace 2Stone Fireplace 2 Hosted on Zooomr
After day 2, the wall looked much more stoned, and so did Alex.

Stone Fireplace 3Stone Fireplace 3 Hosted on Zooomr
And finally, 4.5 workdays later, here is the finished product.

Rough Hewn MantleRough Hewn Mantle Hosted on Zooomr

Here is a closer shot of the mantle. It is a 150 year old piece of chestnut from a bank barn in Westminster, MD.

11 February 2007

Disney Day 7

Friday 26 January 2007

Going-home day had arrived, and a bit to my surprise, I found myself wanting to stay longer. I guess that this is a sign of a good trip. We did not need to catch the Magic Bus back to airport until noon, so we had a somewhat leisurely morning. We packed our stuff and ate most of the food in the cabin for breakfast. What we could not finish (including much of the previous night’s pizza) we golf-carted over to the RV (refrigerated vehicle). We said farewell to Oma and Opa, and left to continue on their Florida Adventure.

Our next stop was the (previous site of the) Fort Wilderness petting zoo. All that was there were some lonely goats that were too shy to let us pet them. Behind the empty pens was the horse barn where some of the horses that work in the various parks live. We said hi to the horses, then headed for the playground and beach. Here I left the other three to play while I carted the suitcases to be checked-in for the flight home.

When I returned, it was time to gather the family and return our trusty steed, O’ 444 back to the Bike Barn. While there we rented 2 rustic fishing poles (long sticks fishing line and hooks) and went to catch some fish. Maybe it was our lack of fishing skills, our lack of bait, or the absence of any fish, but we had no luck finding Nemo or anyone else to impale themselves on our hooks. If nothing else though, we were able to check one last thing off our list.

The rest of the trip involved a bus, a train, a plane, a shuttle, and a drive that got us all safely back home. We were all a bit sad that the trip was over, and were already talking about when we would go back (Ella has it in her mind that we will go back when she is 7 so she will be tall enough to ride Soarin’. Alex thinks we are going back for his birthday in May.)

Looking back, I am pleased with what we were able to do, and what we chose to miss. I’m glad we did not try to take the kids when they were any younger than they now are. It might have been a bit better if Ella were a little older, but she was a champ. The nice thing about taking the kids at this age is that the magic is very real to them, and since they are not yet worried about being cool, they were able to let themselves be completely captivated and immersed. It was definitely wonderful for Shelley and me to see everything through their eyes.

06 February 2007

Disney Day 6

Thursday morning dawned cold and rainy, but we were still on the boat to Magic Kingdom before 8:00 because we had an 8:55 date with some princesses. Though we were in a hurry, the kids still took the time to walk through a deep puddle in order to get their feet totally soaked.

We actually got to the park early enough to take advantage of the extra magic hour during which only Disney resort guests can enter. Between the cold, the rain, and the Extra Magic, the place was deserted and we were able to walk on to Buzz Light Year, Dumbo, and Winnie the Pooh.

It was then time for breakfast inside Cinderella’s castle. We waited in the first floor waiting area until the castle’s namesake princess arrived. There was a short queue until we had our turn. Ella was resplendent in her wet blue sweat jacket topped with her worn out Cinderella pajamas.

The next stop was the Royal Dining Room (I may be making that name up) for the breakfast part of the breakfast. For the Lords and Ladies there was sausage, bacon, eggs, and a fruit-topped stuffed French toast thing. The princes and princesses were served bacon, eggs, and French toast sticks. It was all you care to enjoy too, and I enjoyed it all, especially the bacon and the French toast thing.

During this meal, each table was visited by Belle, Snow Wine, Fairy Godmother, and Jasmine. It was during this stage of the meal that Alex’s #1 thrill of the trip occurred in the bare midriff form of Princess Jasmine. First was the standard autograph signing and picture posing:

Next he went in for the BIG HUG, nearly knocking Jasmine over, and not letting go for an embarrassingly long time.

When he finally disengaged, she called him back to tell him a secret. The secret she delivered was a big smackeroo on his cheek that left him with a giant grin and a bright red badge of honor.

It had stopped raining by the time breakfast was done, but there were still no crowds to speak of. We caught a show of Mickey’s Philharmagic, which in my opinion is the best of the 3-D movies. Next we walked onto to first Peter Pan and then Small World. The latter of these has not aged well, and one can only remember that it was a big deal for people at 1964 World’s Fair, but 43 years later I think the only reason it is still running is for nostalgia.

It was then off to Adventureland where we met up with Oma, Opa, and Captain Jack Sparrow. Cap’n Jack and one of his henchmen put on a sidewalk show in which Alex was chosen to learn to sword fight. This was a fun bonus diversion, especially since the guy who played Jack was so authentic he could have been Johnny Depp.

Of course we then had to on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, since the Yo Ho Yo Ho song was now fresh in our minds. Next up was two spins on the Magic Carpet ride (I can’t believe it is not Dumbo) followed some stair work at the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House. The final attraction in Adventureland was the Jungle Cruise which seemed especially lame after the Safari in Animal Kingdom. Even the kids could tell the animals were fake.

Tommorrowland was next. For me, no trip to Disney is complete without a spin around the Carousel of Progress, and since rumor has it that this ride will soon be dismantled, I did not want to miss this chance. I realize this ride is not as awe inspiring as it once was, and the 2000ish scene is a mix between an outdated past (laser discs and 4x3 TV’s) and a future that will never be (voice controlled ovens)but I enjoy it nonetheless. I have grand plans in my own mind about how it should be updated (change it to show 1900, 1950, 2000, and 2050), but I’ll save this topic for a SoapBox. Even so, we all left the theater singing about a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow.

After Opa armed Alex with a Space Ranger ray gun, Tomorrowland Transit Authority was our next diversion. I remember this ride vividly from 1977 because, while we were on it, my brother Tom told me it was actually Space Mountain, which terrified me. It was less scary this time, and I resisted the urge to play the same trick on my kids. From the TTA we spotted the Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, so that was up next, and then it was on to Mickey’s Toontown Fair to ride The Barnstormer at Goofy’s Wiseacre Farm. At this point in the trip, a roller coaster hardly even phased the kids , though Shelley reported getting jostled a good bit (I generously gave my spot to Opa so I could take pictures). Opa and Oma bought Ella the Minnie Mouse she’d had her eyes on for a while, then we parted ways and left them to their own devices.

A short train ride took us back to the front of the park. Here we accidently caught the Disney Dreams Come True Parade, which was one of the top two parades we’d seen on this trip. Ella was more interested in playing with Minnie Mouse while Alex concentrated on shooting all the bad guys and many of the other guests with his ray gun. The parade served as good farewell to theme park portion of the trip.

In the evening we watched the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Fort Wilderness beach, which actually provides a fairly decent vantage point for the show. They even pipe in the music. The only downside was that the ducks (not Duck Brown) were aggressively trying to separate the kids from their jelly beans. We carted to the pizza place for some pizza to go, which we enjoyed back in the cabin.

02 February 2007

Disney Day 5

Wednesday 24 Jan 2007

We were up bright and early Wednesday morning to make it to our 8:05 breakfast reservations with some Playhouse Disney characters at Hollywood and Vine in MGM Studios. The highlights of this breakfast were the Mickey shaped waffles, and getting to meet Leo and June, two of the Little Einsteins. The kids are big fans of their work, and so were very excited about this. JoJo and Goliath were also there, but they were not interesting enough to take Alex away from his waffles.

The kind waitress also provided the kids with tatoos to match their shirts.

Breakfast was over about the same time the park opened, but even so, there were hardly any guests. The kids met Mickey (again) and Pluto at the base of the giant hat.

We then walked right on to the Great Movie Ride. I’d call it the Pretty Good Movie Ride, if for no other reason that it seems to hardly have changed since the first time I rode in many years ago. Speaking of attractions that could use an update, it was then on to Muppet Vision 3-D, which was a state of the art (for 1990) 3-D movie. The best part was still the old guys in the balcony. There were still no crowds, so we walked on to the Backlot Tour, which was a letdown. Maybe because there were only about 20 people on it, but the special effects people phoned in their parts, and the tram tour was abbreviated. Yawn.

Next we had to actually wait 15 minutes for the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, but only because we just missed the 11:30 show. The woman who played Ariel did a great job, and Ella really enjoyed it.

Next up was the coolest thing we saw in MGM. It was the world famous race car Lightning McQueen and his best buddy Mater. These were full size, drivable vehicles that looked totally authentic (considering the “real” versions of these were computer generated). From the moment they drove up to the moment they drove off, Alex was captivated. Other kids came and went, but Alex did not leave the side of 95. This was to be his second biggest thrill of the trip.

Wednesday night, we left the kids with my folks and headed back to Epcot. You might guess by the fact that this was our third visit there this trip, that this is our favorite park. Epcot was uncrowded enough that we were able to ride Soarin’ and Mission to Space with hardly any wait. Both rides were still very impressive.

It was then off to World Showcase, for what has become our traditional meal at the Rose and Crown Pub. We like this place because the food is tasty, the beer is superb, and it offers an excellent view of the fireworks extravaganza. Once again, the Rose and Crown did not let us down. We were also very thankful for some crucial time away from the kids.