looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

Summer Summary

I don't know if this hit the news in NZ and other places around the world, but we had a sobering reminder of where we live a couple of days ago. The Bay Area was hit with a mild earthquake, 5.0 Richters at the epicenter, which was at Bolinas, towards the coast from here. We got a sharp jolt, followed by shudders that lasted a couple of seconds. It happened at 6:06 pm, and we quickly switched off all the computers and rushed to the TV to check news coverage. When the picture appeared, it was coverage of the quake in Turkey. We had a moments panic wondering if these were scenes from a nearby city, but thankfully it was quickly obvious that our quake had nothing to do with the Istanbul disaster.

The only damage here was the CD shelf which pulled its screw out from the wall. We heard later that in the town nearest the epicenter goods fell of shelves and stuff. No-one was hurt.


It is definitely summer here now. The hills are no longer green, but rather a straw yellow colour. Fire risk is very high. At the begining of June we took another walk on the hills around Terra Linda, and took some photos.

What happened to the rest of June? I think the Foxpro Developer's Conference (DevCon) in Palm Springs occupied most of it, first by preparing our sessions, then by actually being there, followed by catching up with work afterwards.

DevCon was fun, but also depressing in lots of ways. There are very few people (in the way of speakers and organisers) that we want to see, and our sessions didn't go very well either. Personally, I was underprepared. I didn't like the material I had to do at all, and I didn't practice enough either. I think I wrote reasonably good notes, but attendees don't get to read those until they get the CD at the end of the conference, so it didn't help. Our other (joint) session was a bit of an experiment that didn't quite work out either. Both of us feel that we probably won't be doing DevCon as speakers again. This time around it was too much tedious work for little gain. And neither of us feel a need to prove anything in this area, and we're not satisfied with a job that is less than full-hearted.

My old friend Geoff from Cornerstone, NZ, was there, but I didn't get to see as much of him as I hoped. Admittedly I heard he was staying in a hotel that was some distance from the conference center, and he had some problems travelling to and from the venue, but I kept looking out for him at all the exciting events, and I could never find him!


Derek has been living with us for the summer. Almost instantly he got his driving license and started driving up occasionally for work in Santa Rosa, driving down to summer school at the local Junior College. It's been great, and we have grown fond of his cat Kami who is more adventurous than Karma and has been bitten several times by the cat across the road (we suspect.) Karma has been grimly tolerant, and every now and then chases Kami around the kitchen, but nothing serious has eventuated.


With Derek here, we have taken the opportunity to see more movies than usual.

"Mystery Men": This is a great film that was a lot of fun to watch with Derek and Josh. It felt more like an old BatMan TV episode than anything else. Very entertaining.

We've seen "Blair Witch Project". Argh!!! Genuinely frightening. Don't see it alone. Or at night. Don't believe the cretins who say that it is boring. They have no imagination, obviously.

"Run, Lola Run" was a good semi-fringe film that I think most people would _really_ enjoy. The music is great! (Soundtrack available.) It had a good and suprisingly long run here at the local cinemacomplex, and we're kicking ourselves for not going to see it again with Derek. It's a wonderful entertaining film, that underlines the precept that the destination is not the goal, it's the getting there that counts.


In July, we spent a weekend with Lisa's folks in Las Vegas. The day before the evening we were due to fly out of Oakland, we dropped Derek at the SF airport and did some work at the Acme office in San Franciso, before driving down to Cupertino to spend some time with my old flatmate from university days, Yong Kian. It was great to see her again, and see her new bouncing baby boy, Heng Juat, and the two dogs Warf and Dax. We caught up and agreed to visit again after they had moved to their new house in Half Moon Bay, closer to us than Cupertino!

We left mid-afternoon to cross the bay and head up to Oakland airport to catch our flight to Las Vegas.


A weekend in Vegas? Now - you have to understand that this is not at all how it sounds. Lisa's folks live in a suburb in the area, and we came to see them and install a new computer (actually an old one, but new to them.) As is usual in this situation, we actually ended up installing two or three computers in various places. One day we will come and visit and not do any computer stuff for anyone, but so far I don't see it abating any time soon. It keeps us out of trouble, because after all we could get stuck in one of the many casinos and lose a bunch of money. Actually we are too smart for that. There are other things to do in Vegas - like great mountains and canyons and desert stuff, with a big dam and other interesting things. Yeah, and we also do like to see the architecture and theme park crap that the latest casinos are thrusting upon the public.

It was a quick trip, but we had a great time, and now Stan and Jeannie are Networking.


Neighbourhood news:

A new deli has opened down the road, in the same building as a local gas station. They do sandwiches and bagel dogs and other exciting deli-style food. Frankly we don't think they are going to last long. It should be a good site, but I wonder how many people stop for gas and aren't in too much of a hurry to stop for lunch or breakfast. It's right near the entrance to the freeway, so I imagine people "fill up on their way in to the city" or "fill up on their way home to dinner" and for everyone else who isn't in a rush, it is very convenient. We try to go there as often as we can remember.


A number of people have asked us "what do you do in your new jobs?" So here is an attempt to describe what it is that we do:

We mostly program in Visual FoxPro. We are:

  • writing and debugging a Wizard to perform "data enhancement" via an internet connection in VFP6;
  • documenting same in HTML/CHM files;
  • writing samples using the wizard or its COM Server alter-ego;
  • we helped make a short video on how to use the wizard and COM server;
  • taking over maintenance of the WebConnection-based ADN server application from a contractor who is reducing involvment in Acme projects;
  • maintaining a section of the internal Acme web site that deals with ADN;
  • uploading new builds of various tools to same web site;
  • participating in various design and logistical meetings via teleconference with other Acme associates;
  • participating in discussions on the internal Acme newsgroups;
  • revising and editing documents being prepared for external distribution;
  • some political infighting;
  • occasionally driving down 101 to Silicon Valley to meet with the channel sales guys and visit clients and be a technical resource in discussions as to how to integrate their products with our technology
  • (not to often!) participate in press-release roadshows in major cities

...I think that just about covers it!


There was a solar eclipse in Europe recently. It made us think of our friend Mitchell in England. I went on to the web and checked out a few web sites and the BBC had a good selection of clips and commentary.

I've only ever experienced a partial eclipse, back in my second-to-last or last year in high school I think. It was pretty creepy and primal.

TV news:

TV here is mostly fun, there isn't much I miss from NZ. There's a channel that has a lot of BBC productions, and every Sunday night late there is a complete "Dr Who" story. Public funded television in a society that has enough population to support it is great.


Josh has been with us for a few weeks before college starts again. It's great to have both kids here, although considering our living room is our office it can get a bit distracting during the work day. It's so good to have them here we mostly just enjoy it.


We have a 100baseT hub here in our living room, with 7 computers networked up! One of them is a SGI O2 box which we had when we were working on integrating SGI software with ADN, and 2 of them are Josh and Derek's while they are with us. There is our NT server, our two laptops, plus Lisa's old desktop which is waiting to have Linux installed on it. There is an 8th machine in the studio which is not currently networked up. It's my music machine, and is also the one with the CD-writer.

We've networked Josh and Derek up to our home-office network, and in between other activities we are having a lot of fun playing Multiplayer MidTown Madness, where we virtualy drive fast cars around the Chicago cityscape. It's really fun, but requires PC video hardware with rather high-specs.


We were given the chance to go to Frankfurt and speak at the FoxPro developer's conference there again in November. We should be honoured to be asked, but the fact is that DevCon in June was a disaster energy-wise and neither of us really feel up to this.

I have been working so hard, and am so tired, that I have no energy or inclination left to spend on preparing sessions for Frankfurt. We'd need to do two sessions each, and it takes a LOT of preparation. We can't just recycle DevCon stuff, because... well, see above. We're basically exhausted, and have other things here that we would like to devote our dwindling resources to.

As it turned out, the organisers are happy if we don't go this year. He is down-playing this conference in favour of a bigger, more exciting one next year, when a new version of FoxPro should be available. We are still invited to speak in Frankfurt for the 2000 conference.


We're really looking forward to having Vinessa and Trudy, our friends from Cornerstone to stay with us in September. Trudy has been on her OE ("overseas experience"), and Vinessa flew out to join her for a holiday. They'll be spending some time with us in California before flying back. I'm not sure if Trudy is going back to New Zealand with Vinessa or not at this stage...


In August I had yet another birthday. Alas, my age is no longer a multiple of 11.

I spent a peaceful birthday coding furiously for yet another deadline. I got a surprise when Josh and Derek went out mysteriously and came back with WonTon soup for a birthday lunch. Yay! Thoughtful guys!