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Journal Entries for December 2008
December 12, 2008 9:41 AM

Welcome, Winter
The sun rises slowly on a snowy Saturday morning
Pine Needles against an orange morning sky

My legs are tingling. My ears are throbbing. My typing hands are shaking. I just dropped Kristi's van off at the mechanic's shop to have an out-of-province inspection done on it, a requirement for Alberta registries on any vehicle brought into the province before they will register it. When asked, the mechanic informed me they would try to have it finished by noon. Accepting their answer lead to a question in my own mind, What will I do until then? Recalling my geography and knowledge of the area, a solution presented itself: Walk to Coco Brooks and get a pizza. For breakfast? Why not? It's warm, I can wait there for hours if need be, and maybe - just maybe, they might have Internet access so I can finally update my web site! Well, here I am sitting, thawing out from the 20 minute walk in a deep freeze registering -21 degrees without considering the windchill, and my pizza has just arrived. It tastes fantastic, and is slowly but surely working warmth into my wind-worn body. Woe is me.

Frozen Trees

Allright, it was a cold walk but I am being dramatic. It has been a long time since I've updated this page and I must confess, I am a little bit rusty. Some time ago I realized that the maintenance of this web site had been pushed to one of the far back corners of my life, and so then I decided it would be a good time to take a much-needed sabbatical from the writings that have adorned this page over the last couple of years. I think this has been the longest I've ever gone without updating it, with perhaps the only exception being near the very beginning of this web site's existence when I didn't feel I had much to write about. If no news is good news, then good news is no news and there has been a lot of good news in my life, a fact that would completely negate that whole cliche. So without further ado, here's what has been happening in my life in the past couple of weeks:

The Wife, The Kids, and I
Kristi and the girls at the Zoo

Another one of Kristi's cake creations

Life with Kristi and the kids in town has been great. The youngest one had a birthday last month, and between her birthday party, Haloween, and Thanksgiving get-togethers, a lot has been going on. Kristi and I are learning how to live in the same city together, and believe me — it's a lot different being on the other end of the city than being on the other end of a phone! But I have to say, starting our relationship the way we did, where all we had was communication, that experience and foundation has been invaluable as we forge through life as a team.

Birthday cake anticipation

I never thought of myself as a selfish person, but then I didn't really have to share myself with anyone either. I suppose if we had no laws, we'd have no criminals. As I've begun to learn about and get to know Kristi, I've also been discovering myself as well. It's like playing a sport you don't often play — All of a sudden parts of your body you never knew you had are full of aches and pains. Those parts were always there, but it's not until you begin to exercise them that you notice their existence. My relationship with Kristi has exercised aspects of myself that I did not know existed, and sometimes there's a few aches and pains in the morning. But it is all part of the experience - living life together. Interacting with each other. Learning how to interpret each other. Exploring the subtleties of unspoken communication. Not a day goes by that I don't learn something.

John and Kristi getting ready to go to a Christmas party

The girls have recently taken up calling me by a pet name they've seemingly coined, my first name verbally hyphenated and spoken almost as though in baby talk. It sounds like "Don-Don", and although hearing her well-spoken children revert to baby-talk irritates Kristi, I am quietly fond of the endearing nickname. This Friday is Busy's preschool Christmas concert, so I am going to take a few hours off work to attend. It doesn't seem like all that long ago I was on stage with my grade one class, performing a Christmas programme entitled The Gift Goes On in the sanctuary of the Full Gospel Tabernacle. And while I probably couldn't tell you what I ate for breakfast last week, I can still remember some of the songs we sang in that concert, so I'm excited to see what this one will look like, knowing it may well stick with these children for the rest of their lives.

Mommy and the birthday girl

Kristi has taken a part time job at a local coffee shop three nights a week to help pay for the expenses raising two kids incurs. She's also volunteering at their schools as a lunch time monitor, and helps with the fun lunch days. Whatever I lack in selflessness Kristi more than makes up, especially when it comes to her kids. She would say it's a No-Brainer, putting her kids' needs first, but there are a lot of parents out there whose priorities trump those of their children's wellbeing on a regular basis. I can't think of a mother who is more active in every aspect of the upbringing of her children, in their schooling, their home life, their play time, their emotional and intellectual development, their nutrition, and their sense of family. She is the execption to every rule I know, and I love her very much. Who knows, maybe some day she'll be the mother of my own child? ( Did I just hear some ears perk up? )

Playing at the park on one of the last nice days of '08

Blair's Big News
Blair in a life-changing pose

While perhaps old news for some now, my little brother has become engaged to a young woman my Aunt Sylvia had been trying to set him up with for years. ( Who says persistence doesn't pay off? ) They ( finally ) met on one of his road trips through the states with some of the Sylvania guys, but didn't start corresponding after that for about a year. But one day he decided to email her, and several months later, as she arrived on a flight from Denver he proposed at the airport adorned in a big red heart costume and she (graciously) accepted. He bought a house a few weeks ago and takes posession mid January, and is flying down to see her in a few days to spend Christmas with her and her family before she flies back here to spend several weeks (if not months) as they prepare to get married, with a date set of April 19th. Whirlwind, anyone? She seems like a nice girl though, and I've never seen Blair so happy or so much out of his shell as he is these days, spending countless hours on the phone with her each night, and when he's not on the phone he is emailling her or doing something in preparation for their big day. Life, for him, will never be the same.

Bill, Gloria, and Gaither
The birds have come home. My three budgies, Bill, Gloria, and Gaither (the latter two of whom Blair named during their stay with him) have returned to my house after a stay with my parents whilst my basement was being renovated. That's not to say that my basement is finished, but with the Christmas season upon us and visitors coming to my parent's house, they thought it best if the three winged visitors were not in the way of the guests who will soon be descending on their house. With all the busy-ness of Christmas I likely will not get a whole lot done over the next month or two in the basement anyways, and it's much more cheery down there with my birds back.

Bringing Home the Bacon
Convergint has been keeping me busy as I float back and forth between the airport, the Calgary Courts Centre, and a growing number of service calls. We've got a new service technician, Max, who came to us with about 15 years of security-related experience, so I am training him on some of our sites and systems and he is learning quickly. Originally from Russia, he still has a very thick Russian accent and I get quite a kick out of some of the translations he comes up with. The other day he had a service call at the Zoo which he was talking about, and so he told us ( try to hear this in your head with a thick Russian accent: ) I don't like the Zoo, he said, they have strange birds walking around on the ground, like roosters with complicated tails. I've been chuckling about that for days. Ahh, complicated tails...

We had our Convergint Christmas party at Jubilations Dinner Theatre this year, and it was pretty good. The show we watched was called CSI: Calgary, and they did a fantastic job of impersonating various cast members from the real show. This one did seem to have a lot more song and dance than story and substance, and by the end I think most people were a little weary of the singing. The other two shows I've attended seemed, in my mind, to have more emphasis on the story than the song. The other drawback to having this as our Christmas party was the lack of opportunity to mingle with coworkers. There were people there that night I didn't even see! Hopefully we'll do something different next year, although I did enjoy the show. It's just not ideally suited to a social function like a Christmas party. My thoughts, I realize...

Once I pick up Kristi's van, I'm going to drop it off at her house but then I need to go down to the courts to replace some buttons on several of their X-Ray machines, and also to complete the tie-in of two handicapped door openers for two doors that have been recently made automatic. No rest for the weary... Here I thought with this burst of cold weather, this would be the perfect weekend to stay at home, holed up with Kristi and the kids, get some good arts and crafts in, maybe some story reading, undoubtedly lots of monkey'ing and perhaps read a good book by the fire. It's almost one now though and I still haven't got the call from the mechanic to say I can come pick up the van. I'll admit - I'm not looking forward to the walk back down the hill in this cold, but I'm afraid it is the necessary evil standing obtrusively between me and the rest of my day.

Blurry Circuit Board

My latest project is something taking shape that I've had in the back of my mind for years. To give you an idea of what it is, let me present to you a couple of scenarios:
  • Suppose you have a burglar alarm in your house, complete with motion sensors in most of the rooms. Now let's say you want to make your house more energy-conscious. We've all heard our fathers harp at us to turn out the lights when we're not in the room, right? ( Money doesn't grow on trees, don't you remember? ) Now you could install occupancy sensor switches in each room, but you already have a motion detector in the room - which is all that an occupancy sensor is, except that it is connected to your burglar alarm. Wouldn't it be great if you could use it for both the burglar alarm system AND to turn off the lights when you're not in the room? If your lights were connected to your burglar alarm system, it could also flash them on and off if the alarm went off, drawing attention to your house to alert neighbours to the intruder (if not also making it incredibly difficult for an intruder to manouver the house)
  • The upstairs in your house has many windows, and people come and go throughout the day letting in cold air and letting out the warm. The basement is well insulated and there aren't a lot of windows for cold air to enter in from, but the thermostat for the house's furnace is upstairs where it's cooler. Consequently, to satisfy the demands of the thermostat, the furnace heats the whole house at the same time, but the whole house might not actually need heat to maintain comfortable temperatures in each room. What if you could monitor the temperature in each room of the house and direct the hot air from the furnace to only warm the rooms that require it. Why heat the whole house because the hallway is cold?
These are just a few of the problems that my latest project provides a convenient solution to. Essentially it is a group of independant applications that function together to connect un-related or otherwise incompatible systems and provides a high level of flexibility, control, reporting, and integration between them. Inputs from any type of device can generate outputs or actions on any other type of device. Events can be scheduled, operated as a timer, exercised only when certain conditions are met - there is a high degree of flexability built into the heart of my home automation, energy management, and security integration application. And best of all, it runs on minimal hardware. I've even compiled the applicaton and made it run on a D-Link DNS-323 'box'. The controls for it are all web-based, and it uses the network to communicate with each of it's devices eliminating the need for multiple serial ports or special on-board hardware. The web-based interface also lends itself to a touch screen application, allowing one to monitor or modify any aspect of their home's energy, comfort, or security systems at the touch of a button - from anywhere in the world!

Christmas lights along the eaves trough

It is still in development & testing, but in it's current form it connects and integrates the following types of devices which are set up in my testing facility, aka my house:
  • DSC Maxsys burglar alarm panel
  • Bosch Autodome cameras
  • Lenel I/O hardware
  • X10 Devices & remote controls
All the lights in my basement, the furnace, the doorbells, cameras, motion detectors, most of my outside lights, even the Christmas lights adorning the eaves and window sills are all run by this application. ( There's a lesser-known bonus for anyone ringing my doorbell these days - when you press the button, the Christmas lights light up while you hold the button! I'm sure that will drive Bo nuts with people trying this one out. ) Features still in development or on my wish-list include integration with a wireless, waterproof, All-In-One remote control, card access for gates & doors, integration with a centralized home entertainment system ( to direct and control music in the back yard from the hot tub with that waterproof remote control, ) and expansion to include additional hardware / hardware types. Big plans, I tell ya, and this time a pretty clear line-of-sight to those plans' achievement! It is very exciting. I've even had a number of people express interest in buying this system from me once it's ready. Could be an interesting little side business.

Bailing out the auto industry
First there was the bailout for the American banking industry. Now there's talk of bailing out the auto industry. Let's think about this. You have a multi-billion dollar industry building overpriced, oversized, under-reliable vehicles that is suddenly finding itself in trouble because nobody is buying their products. Why should the government give our taxpayer's money to prop up a financially unstable, non-essential industry? If you give Ford or Chevy billions of dollars in 'bailouts', this may keep the office doors open for a few months longer but it does not address the root source of this problem: People are not buying their cars! This is an industry that has bloated itself to it's current behemouth size by gorging itself on the over-inflated prices of the products it produces, that's is now having to face the indigestion that overindulgence inevitably produces. Supply and demand. If you can't supply what the consumer is demanding, why should the consumer give you anything? Especially when there are other alternatives out there who aren't filing for bailout status. What does it say about the value of a car when the moment you drive it off the dealer's lot it decreases by 25% or more? That says to me that vehicles are overpriced. Significantly. And then when you factor in the money that it ends up costing the consumer to purchase or lease a new vehicle in interest, financing charges, and admin fees, is it any wonder the auto industry is in trouble? People are paying more, getting less, and are finally starting to see the folly in the practice that these industries have become dependant on for decades. Let's face it, the economy is not going to pull it's socks up for some time. Maybe months, maybe years. But this could be a long haul. People do not need a new vehicle every year, and with the state of the economy being what it is and heading where it looks it is inevitably going, I believe there is going to be a shift in consumer spending trends away from the frivilous and towards the frugal. We don't need more credit, we need more credibility.

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