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Texas Sized Vacation

Amanda and I just got back from an incredible vacation to Austin, TX.  The motivation for the trip was the Q2009 conference.  I wanted Amanda to experience what I experience in Manhattan last year at Q2008.  The conference was Monday through Wednesday (4/27-4/29), but we decided to travel to Austin on Friday (4/24).  We arrived in Austin, rented a car, and drove to Victoria, TX to hang out with Dee Dee (Amanda’s sister) and her family.  We had a great time eating and listening to some original music (You all will be familiar with “Fast Road To Austin” in the next year or so).  Saturday we drove back to Austin.  We spent Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday getting to know downtown Austin.  We loved having each others full attention for five straight days – really appreciated that.  Sunday afternoon we were able to meet up with Duncan and Kathy and their crew from MBC.  Great folks!  We are looking forward to crashing their pad in Edinburgh, Scotland in the next year or so.

General thoughts on Austin:

  • I would describe downtown Austin as “uncomplicated”.  The roads are easy to walk and the restaurants are generally clustered together and easy to recognize.
  • There are no chain restaurants in the downtown area.  All restaurants were unique and added to the Austin flare.  Some of the eateries Amanda and I enjoyed include Taverna, Taste, and Miguel’s, and Lanai.  We found the corner of 4th and Colorado extremely entertaining Saturday night.  We ate Torchy’s Tacos from the Hidden Coffee Shop for breakfast many of the mornings.
  • Art is dripping off all of the walls of all of the shops and restaurants and there is live music everywhere.
  • We were lucky enough to catch the Austin Arts Festival on Sunday.  It was a big two-day event that featured about 300 artist from all over the country including many from Austin.  Live music, lot’s of native cuisine, and lots of art.  This is where we met Jeffrey Lorien, Co-founder of Zhi Tea – a small business in Austin that mixes and ships loose leaf teas.  We bought the Monk’s Blend and the Ginger Peach Oolong.  Both are very good, and I’m looking forward to ordering their Earl Grey.
  • We did not get to see the bats.  We went under the Congress Bridge on Sunday and heard them, but we never got to see them fly out (The South Congress bridge houses the largest bat colony in the US and at dusk each night they all fly out at the same time to eat dinner).
  • Highly recommend staying at the Stephen F. Austin Hotel on 7th and Congress.  Old hotel that has been restored.  The rooms have a great feel to them – you don’t feel like you are in a cookie cutter hotel room.
  • “Keep Austin Weird” is the city’s tag line.  Austin has the energy of a college town, and the maturity of a bigger city all wrapped into one.

 If you are looking for a fun place to get away – give Austin a try. 

 Special thanks to my parents and Amanda’s mom for keeping the kids for our get-away!

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Bill Gates from TED

Bill Gate’s TED talk this year illuminates one of the big issues with the education system in this country.  This is the only truly socialistic enterprise in the USA and we do it well for the top 20% of the students – which can compete with the top 20% in any country of the world.  The problem is that we do it very poorly for the bottom half.  According to Mr. Gates it’s the quality of teaching that makes the most difference.  Is it possible to raise the quality of teaching in our schools?  I think it is, but it is going to take a big shift in the way we approach, respect, and incentivize teachers.  For the record, I am a huge proponent of public schooling – all three of my children will attend.  Watch the video.  The swarm of mosquitoes and the beginning is also entertaining.  “There’s no reason why only poor people should get the experience.” 

Well done, Mr. Gates. Well done!

 

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Love not Hate – We are not called to judge

I met Andrew Marin at Q in NYC last April.  He is a courageous Christian that is dedicated to the mission that found him.  I pray that we all can confront the biases that we all carry about others and learn to love, not hate.

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GATR Wind Testing

Today was one of those days at work where I got to do some real testing.  Often when we deploy the GATR antenna, people ask how it holds up in the wind.  We have maintained a datalink through 40 mph gusts when Hurricane Ivan came through this area years ago.  We know it works just fine, but we felt that we needed a video that shows that the GATR is durable in high winds.  I borrowed my father’s trailer, grabbed my tripod and camera, and Paul brought his video recorder and we had ourselves a test.  We inflated the antenna on the trailer and set up the video and tripod looking out the back window of my truck. 

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In order to simulate wind loading, I pulled the trailer at different speeds.  On the road in front of our facility, we achieved 50 mph.  The antenna was pretty stable at this speed.  We were very pleased with the performance of the antenna, but curiosity still existed, “I wonder what happens around 75 mph”.  So we moved our experiment over to Redstone Road and opened it up.  Now we had drag coefficient curves for a sphere and we collected load pull data in the cables supporting the ball, but I don’t want to bore you with science.  Here are the video results

Video #1

Video #2

The tests show that as long as the GATR is secured to the ground properly, it can survive winds in excess of 75 mph.  I don’t expect anyone would leave a GATR out in winds this high since it takes about 5 minutes to deflates and move the antenna, but if you did leave it up and a striaghtline wind hit it or a mysterious sand storm blows up, the GATR would be fine.  Did I mention that I love my job?

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What I Learned From Jose Canseco

cansecodon

My parents are in the process of moving, and they are purging all of the stuff that they no longer want in their house.  One of the things they found in the move and didn’t want to place in their new house was all of the baseball cards my brother and I collected when we were younger.  We were very serious collectors from 1986-1990 (As serious as an 11 year old and a 9 year old can be in 1986).  We have all of the complete Topps, Donruss, and Fleer sets during that period plus quite a few “other” rookie cards. 

 

During those years we took our allowance to Jennings to buy packs of cards.  Dad constantly told us we were wasting our money.  We didn’t listen; we knew what we were doing.  Once we got out first Jose Canseco Rated Rookie card, we marched into Dad’s office one night and said, “See this.  I told you we were rich!”

 

He laughed and said, “And what is this nice little piece of cardboard worth”. 

 

We proudly responded, “$85 – see it says it right here in my Beckett’s price guide.” 

 

He smiled at us and said, “I don’t care what some book says about your card.  It’s only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.  Have you tried to sell it to anyone for $85?”

 

Well of course not.  We had Beckett’s, and dad didn’t know what he was talking about. We just kept on collecting.  After four years, the baseball card obsession ran its course.  I never opened another pack, and I even realized that they were a pretty big waste of money. 

 

The nugget of wisdom from my dad didn’t become obvious to me until recently, except instead of a Jose Canseco Rated Rookie card it’s a house.  For some reason I never believed what I was being told by the mortgage companies over the past few years – “Your house is worth $X more than you bought it for. Don’t you want to take out a Home Equity Loan?”  Many people have discovered that the value of their house, defined as price someone is willing to pay for it, is considerably less than what is owed on the mortgage.  I’m glad I learned my lesson with baseball cards. 

 

Thanks, Dad! 

 

And if any of you are interested in the Topps, Donruss, and Fleer baseball card sets from 1986-1990 (15 total sets), I will sell them all to you for $750.  Becketts currently has them listed for about $50 a pieces.  I wonder if the bank will take that as collateral for a home equity loan?

 

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Stuff Larry Likes

Hillary Dunham tagged me in one of her latest posts to name five things that I love.  I usually ignore these types of lists, but since I have nothing better to write about on Black Friday, here goes:

1.      Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg – Yes, the inventor of the printing press.  Why?  Because I love books!  I didn’t read much outside of assigned literature during school, but about the beginning of graduate school I started reading.  As I started focusing on a Doctorate in Electrical Engineering, my brain needed something non-technical to keep it fresh.  The habit has stayed with me.  I now have at least one book going at all times outside of what is required for work.  I started out reading a lot of fiction.  Some of my favorite fiction authors are John Irving, John Updike, and Kurt Vonnegut.  Lately I have been reading a lot of non-fiction related to leadership, culture, and the Christian Faith in action.  Magazines and other printed media that are shaping me right now are Good Magazine, Need, Fermi Words, Esquire, and the Catalyst Groupzines.

2.      Earl Grey tea – I am a minority in the US in that I don’t drink coffee.  I drink hot tea.  My favorite is Earl Grey.  I tried coffee one night in college preparing for an exam the next day, and my hand was shaking so bad that I could hardly read my hand writing.  I decided I didn’t need that much of a jolt.  There is just something very comforting about Earl Grey.  When I was a kid I hard bad ear infections that hurt all the way down the Eustachian tube.  My mom would fix me a cup of hot tea to make me feel better.  I would drink the tea slowly and let is drain down the side of my throat that hurt.  The hot liquid loosened the gunk up and always made me feel better.  Now I’m just addicted to it like every other coffee drinker.

3.      My black jacket – We all have a few items of clothing that just feel right when we wear them.  For me it’s my black, zip up, polyester jacket.  It’s the right length, the sleeves fit, Its perfect for most nights in the south (for the really cold nights I break out my black wool jacket).  Other pieces of clothing that feel right: my red WILCO T-shirt, khaki colored denim cargo pants, Johnston and Murphy leather shoes, and THE red speedo bathing suit.

4.      Mixed CDs (or iMixes thanks to iTunes) – I am that guy, the one that makes mixed CDs for different occasions and most of the time just for the heck of it.  I started out making mixed tapes for my wife in high school (yes, we have been together that long).  I am glad that I was able to introduce her to bands like The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Stone Roses, The Pixies, The Cure, and The Essence.  Later, I started making my own mixes and sending them out to a few friends that I thought would enjoy them – kinda like the CDs in Spin or Paste Magazine.  There is a real art in making a mix.  I usually start with a theme and find music that fits.  The lyrics, genre, tempo are all important – The music must fit together without having too many redundant songs in a row.  I lost most of the CDs I made pre-iTunes, but my good friend, James D., still has most of them. 

5.      Teaching – I really enjoy teaching.  I am a practicing Engineer by trade and only get to teach as a hobby.  I was a tutor in the Engineering Department at Auburn all through undergrad, and I taught a few classes in the EE department in graduate school. Once I moved back to Huntsville, I started teaching at UAH as an adjunct professor in my “spare” time.  I don’t have time to teach at the college level anymore, but I have found different outlets for me to teach.  I get to educate customers at work, teach my children at home, lead a Sunday School Class of “30-somethings with kids”, work with my Reading Buddy at Terry Heights, mentor younger engineers at work, and lead the Youth on occasion. I love to sink into a new subject and figure out how to break it into coherent lessons.  I love the excitement of getting up in front of a crowd and leading them through a lesson or presentation.  I enjoy existing in the tension of conversations – knowing when to transition to the next subject or to let a conversation play itself out.  Teaching may not be my career, but I do believe it is my vocation.

(Hillary, thanks… I’ll be sure to forward you the next email I get that says I will “burn in Hell if I don’t forward to twenty people in the next five minutes.”)

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GATR Deployment: Day 6 (9/26/2008)

This morning we woke up and arranged the firehouse for the FEMA folks again.  They sent a crew of five people to get people registered online and another two to get people signed up for blue roofs (big tarps for temporary roofing.  The system was working great.  At 10:20 I got a call from Suzanne Novak asking if we could get another system over to Oak Island quickly. They had a group of seven FEMA folks trying to get people registered and their standard issue Verizon aircards were not working since the cell coverage was non-existent.  Phil and I jumped to action, we deflated the 1.8m antenna, packed up a wifi system, and hopped in the truck.  Oak Island was about a 25 minute drive from Smith Point.  We arrived at the Oak Island Baptist Church, location of FEMA and food distribution, at 11:20.  Phil wanted experience setting up the antenna by himself, so he asked me to pretend to be an indigenous helper in a foreign country.  Phil had the antenna set up and on the satellite at 12:15.  Here is where we deployed at Oak Island.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then we ran into our problem.  The wireless access point we grabbed required a username and password.  I forgot them both and the sheet they were on was back in Smith Point, so we reset the wireless.  We had to directly connect the laptop into the modem to look up the username and password for the reset Linksys – of course its “admin”, “admin”.  We set the box back up, logged into the Linksys and set up the static IP.  For some reason, the modem was not DHCP enabled.  We tried to browse the web, and it still didn’t work.  The Linksys required a valid DNS.  Neither Phil nor I could remember one.  With the extremely weak cell signal I had, I texted about five friends back home asking for a valid DNS.  Messages with 4.2.2.2, 4.2.2.1, 198.6.1.3 came back eventually. Once we set that we were in.  I can tell you I will always remember these three DNS numbers.  So, by 1PM the GATR 1.8m wireless system was operational.  The FEMA people used the signal to register about seven people. 

 

Here are some pictures from Oak Island.  The inside of the church was destroyed, but the Spirit was alive outside.  Check out the mud and mold on the floor of the church.  The surge brought in the sludge and it requires the firemen to come in with hoses and blast the mud out of the house. 

 

  

 

Here are some other pictures from the point in Oak Island.  Many of the houses are completely gone – only concrete slabs and pilings.  The community was a mix of retired folks, Vietnamese boat workers, and Hispanics.  Oak Island was the hardest hit area in Chambers County.

 

 

 

 

 

Back at Smith Point, Caleb was operating the 2.4m GATR system.  Smith Point had a steady stream of people all day.  Many of the people who evacuated were returning home and coming through the firehouse/community center to register with FEMA.  The 2.4m GATR system worked perfectly.  Caleb had a busy day helping unload ice and making a run with the fire department.  (Caleb is a volunteer fireman in Moscow, Idaho.)

 

We decided to spend the night in Oak Island, so I went back to Smith Point to help Caleb pack the system up.  The community was sad to see us leave.  Lois wanted my Auburn chair.  I was going to give it to her, but she insisted that we make a fair trade, so she brought me a Texas chair that she won in a fishing contest last year.  The president of the firehouse, Fred Anderson and his wife Jennifer(?), thanked us over and over again.  I really enjoyed the Community of Smith Point.  There are some very dedicated leaders in that community.  As a result of the way the community operated out of the firehouse, many of the Hispanics asked if they could help as volunteers with the firehouse in the future.  They are an example of neighbor helping neighbor in a time of crisis – where everyone was treated equal independent of  socioeconomic background, age, citizenship status, occupation, native language, etc.  Smith Point is a great community, and I am glad I had the opportunity to serve there.

 

 

Tomorrow we pack up and head to GATR headquarters in Huntsville, AL.

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