Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Card Lane

Yesterday we had a couple of boys from St George show up at our house. I'm not sure if they were trying to escape the Utah cold or if they were actually looking for Alycia. Trevor Crowley and Alycia met fairly early in the Semester and were pretty much going steady a few months later. With Trevor was a boy named Travis Skelton. Travis is a descendant from Dudley Leavitt so he is certainly a good guy. It had been a very long drive for them fighting New Years traffic most of the way and they looked tired when they arrived.

Lisa had dinner ready for them so when they got here so we immediately sat them down and fed them. After dinner we took them for a tour of Christmas Card lane. That was a bit disappointing since about half the decorations have been taken down or weren't on. A long time ago a woman who works for Disney made a giant Christmas card out of two sheets of plywood. She was an artist and she hand painted her plywood to look exactly like a giant Christmas card. Within a few years nearly every house in the neighborhood had similar decorations. Now it has evolved into much more than just "cards" and has become quite famous. I'd say that in the entire neighborhood perhaps two or three houses don't decorate. They have many animated displays, electric railroads and some very ingenious decorations. People come from all over to see them and even tour buses come through. Unfortunately, you can't wait until too long after Christmas. This neighborhood is only a few blocks away from us.

I then drove them through a street in another neighbor hood. What they do on this street is string lights across the street to the house opposite them on the street. Not only do all of the houses participate but one house might connect to three or four houses on the opposite side. There are so many lights that it looks like you're driving through a tunnel. It is a little depressing to see all of the lights disappear. I usually take down our lights and tree on the Saturday following New Years day.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Working The Earth

What a sad day. I had to go to the bank today and while I was at the mall I decided to stop in and pick up some milk for breakfast. Of course, while I'm there I had to pick up a carton of eggnog and horror of horrors, there was no eggnog. It isn't even New Years yet and they have quit carrying eggnog. How sad.

Today Lisa really wanted me to trim the hedges. I've been so busy it has been many months since they've been done. I knew it was a huge job and I didn't want to start into it but they really needed to be done so I dove in. In spite of the complaining, I really do love working in the dirt. The bushes have humongous thorns but even that didn't detract from the good time I was having. There is a real satisfaction that comes from "working the earth". There were a bunch of dead plants in the hedge that I took out so now the hedge has some gaping holes but I moved some little shoots to fill in the spaces and in a few months I think it will look real nice. If you look in the background in that last picture you can see my dog and you can also see my lemons on my lemon tree. They make excellent lemonade.

It was a beautiful day today and I loved being outside. I also smoked Sarah in a game of ping pong and I almost beat Alex.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas Activities

It's been a while since I posted an entry so I guess you can assume that I'm having a lot of fun here. This is totally my idea of heaven. I have taken the week of Christmas and the week of New Years off from work, the kids have no school and Ben, Sharly and Alycia are home. Boxing day was Dad and Sarah day. Mom was the only one up when we got up so we decided play each other in Halo. We both really stink so it isn't any fun to play with the others but against each other we're quite evenly matched. That was fun. I do think she beat me more than I beat here. It's quite a thrill to shoot your daughter in the head. We then decided to go to the pool and swim. We got home and Mom and Alycia were going shopping, Alex went to a friends and it was still just Sarah and I. We decided to go make some exchanges and have lunch together. We then went to Old Navy so Sarah could spend Grandma's gift card. She bought a nice top with it.

Some other activities are ping pong challenges with our new ping pong table. Alex is still the reigning champion but I've scored higher on him every single game we play so I'm getting there. Ben is the runner up. I'm playing Sarah in the picture and at least there is one person worse than me.

And then of course there are the regular "Settlers of Catan" competitions. Almost every night Alex, Ben, Peter, myself and usually one or two of Ben's friends get together to play. We usually go until 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning. That does of course make it tough for those who have to work the next day like poor Peter. We have had the occasional guest appearance from Sarah, Amy and Maron (I really hope that is spelled correctly).

Of course during all of this we have been drinking gallons of eggnog and trying to clean up what's left of the turkey and the pie. I think as soon as the last child leaves I'm going back on my low carb regimen.

The best part of it all is that I have another week of this and Brandon will be coming for a day or two.

The sad part is that Ben and Sharly leave tomorrow. It stinks when you have to work.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Christmas is filled with so many emotions. Panic (not enough time), anxiety (not enough money), frustration (too many people in too small of a space), joy (family and friends), contentedness (a full belly), fatigue (playing settlers until 3:00AM), reverence (remembering the birth of our Lord), ecstasy (a child on Christmas morning), sadness (not everyone can be here), gratitude (for a wonderful family and a comfortable life). We were all thrilled come the weekend before Christmas because Alycia, Ben and Sharley came home from college. It was so sad though to look at the stockings hanging over the fire and three of them are empty. We are fortunate so far to be able to time it so our married kids visit the in-laws all on the same year. Last year was so much fun because they were all here. This is the year we are paying for it. Half of our family wasn't here on Christmas morning. Kira and Justin are in Calgary and Brandon and Serene are in Texas. Thankfully Ben and Sharley are in San Diego even if they did spend Christmas at the Cotters. We have seen them often and Ben has played all night Settlers with Alex and me several nights since he arrived. We have several traditions in our house come Christmas time. You can see the stockings in the first picture, Lisa made those for the kids over the years as they came along. The plan was to give the kids their stockings as they left home but when Kira finally left we couldn't part with the stocking. Instead Lisa made Kira and Justin their own stocking and bought enough fabric to make matching ones for their kids as they came. That way we got to keep Kira's stocking so that in a small way a part of here is still here even though she isn't. She did the same for Brandon and Serene and now this year we have three empty stockings. Another tradition is that on Christmas eve we always have a program. When the kids were younger they acted out the Christmas story but over the years as they have gotten older the tradition has evolved into a talent show. Usually Kira would play her oboe, Brandon would play his violin, Ben would show off a trophy or put 50 Ritz crackers in his mouth or something like that. Alycia would play the piano, Alex would play the piano and Sarah would play the piano. Lisa would show a video of the Christmas story (to fill in for the play that no longer happened) and I video tape it all. Lately they seem to be bored with the old routine so Alycia showed off her grades for the semester, Alex played a music video he made for one of his digital media class (very good if I do say so myself). You can see it here. For those who may not know Alex, he's the lead singer. Sarah displayed a self portrait she made in her art class. We also had Nate and Melinda Turnwall here for Christmas Eve and Melinda threw California snow balls at all of us. Nate demonstrated his skill at Guitar Hero. Amy was also here and she demonstrated her CIF trophy for swimming. Lisa had made many wonderful hordourves and everyone was stuffed. I had all of the oysters to myself. We end with me reading the Christmas story out of Luke 2 and then Lisa shows a video. She turns the sound down on the video and plays a song she likes with it. She has it timed perfectly. Before the kids go to bend they each get to open a gift on Christmas eve. The gift is always pajamas or something related. This year was no different. Lisa told Alex to go put a shirt on for the picture but he just responded that he doesn't sleep with a shirt on. We wake up on Christmas morning always surprised to find that Santa leaves all of the unmarried kids a gift under the tree. All of the gifts we give to each other are wrapped but Santa's gift is never wrapped. You can see in the picture that it looks like Santa brought two digital camera's and a purse. Alycia seemed quite excited about the purse. I guess a "Coach" purse is something significant.

Alex set right to work figuring out all of the cool options on his camera.

Sarah put her camera right to work.

Mom got a new nativity set. It is a very cool crystal one with lights that go under it. We'll see if she ever shows off her collection.

Lisa came across a book called "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch. None of us had heard of the guy but Alex had a class where they discussed him. I'm excited to read the book. Lisa gave a book to each of the kids and to me. She wrote a very touching note inside the cover of each book. You can tell she put a lot of thought into it.

Sheba got right into the gift opening. If you click on this picture and take a close look you can see that the dumb cat is actually licking one of the gifts.

One of the more special gifts was from Sydney. Each member of the family got a letter from Sydney. She went to a lot of work to scribble on a piece of paper for each of us.

Again, Sheba kept an eye on all of the action.

And then everyone dove right into their gifts while Lisa and I got dinner ready. It was a good day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Vimy Mountain

I can't imagine a better place to live than Waterton Lakes National Park, especially for a teenage boy who is into the great out doors. I looked forward to it every spring and I dreaded leaving every fall. I have so many stories I could tell that I could spend a long time writing. By far my favorite thing to do was to climb mountains. Usually it was just Lester and I but once in a while we would go with other people. I remember climbing with Greg, Ross, Curtis, the whole family, Tom, Rick and many others. Of course, it was always with Lester. I don't ever remember hiking by myself. We climbed many peaks but the mountains I remember best are, Crandel mountain and Vimy mountain. To climb Crandel mountain you had to get on the other side of the lake. This picture is of Kira and Evan standing on bears hump. In the background is Vimy mountain and below them is the townsite. You can tell that without a boat you have to go around the lake. we drove down to the dardenelles where you could walk across the river and then hike from there. We probably hiked along the lake for two or three miles before we started up the mountain. In the picture that would coming to the mountain from the left. The trail went fairly close to a saddle between Vimy peak and the next peak but the last half mile it was all loose slabs of shale. This picture is taken from Vimy peak looking at the saddle. We came up the left side of the saddle. The shale was tough climbing because the slope was very steep and every step you took the shale would slide down. I think Lester and I climbed the shale for nearly an hour before we finally got to the saddle. Totally out of breath (the altitude was probably well over 8,000 feet) we sat down on the ridge to catch our breath and to admire the view on the other side of the saddle. From there we could see the town sight. It was about that time that we looked down the other side of the saddle and we noticed that there was a massive bear running up the other side of the saddle right towards us. The ridge was probably twice as far as the side we had just climbed because we had come up a bowl and from the picture you can see that it was much steeper but that bear was in a full out run. The wind was very strong in our face so I was quite sure that the bear couldn't smell us be all of the sudden the fatigue that we had been experiencing was totally gone. Now we were in a full out run along the ridge towards Vimy peak. It only took that bear ten minutes to run up a slope that was at least twice as high as the peak we had just climbed in nearly an hour. The bear reached the saddle in the exact same spot that we had been standing just ten minutes earlier. Out of some morbid curiosity we decided we'd stop and see what the bear decided to do. Obviously he now smelled that we'd been there because he came to an abrupt stop and reared up on his hind legs smelling the air. We were probably only a few hundred yards away (you can't run too fast on a very rugged and rocky mountain ridge) and we were really hoping that the bear wouldn't come and check us out. We probably weren't much further along than that guy in the picture of the ridge. Luckily he decided to carry on with his original plan and ran down the other side exactly where we had come up. The view from on top of Vimy was absolutely stunning. We played around on top for a long time before going back down. We wanted to make sure that the bear had plenty of time to get out of the way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Washington - day 4

Years ago when the kids were little I would walk in the house at the end of a hard day and the kids would yell, "daddy" and come running. They would wrap themselves around my legs and I would love it. They kind of quit doing that when they got older but today when I walked in the house Sarah came running and yelled, "daddy" and she gave me a big hug. I love coming home.

Our meetings today ended early. That is very unusual and has never happened before. Since our flight didn't leave until 5:40 we had all afternoon to do something. I had heard somewhere that the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum had a facility out by the Dulles airport that was even larger than what they have at the mall. I even seemed to remember that they had a space shuttle there. I talked Tim into coming with me (but I would have gone without him if he didn't want to come) and after lunch we caught a taxi and head out. What a wonderful day. I wish I had a week to spend there. It was filled wall to wall and floor to ceiling with airplanes, rockets satellites and engines.

Do you see the concord there in the distance? It is much larger than I thought it was going to be. I've actually seen the Concord from a distance but I walked underneath of it today.
This is the Enola Gay. This is the actual airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is so big that I couldn't get it all in the picture.
I loved this cool little helicopter. It was built for the Marines, they wanted something that they could drop in to soldiers who were stranded behind enemy lines so they could fly themselves out. Apparently the helicopter worked like a charm and was so easy to fly that they could fly it well after a single day of training. The marines abandoned it however for three reasons, none of which make any sense to me. 1) because there is nothing in front of the pilot they would easily get spacial distortion if they got too far above the ground. 2) the pilot was exposed to enemy fire (seems better than being trapped behind enemy lines). 3) it only had a range of 40 miles (that would get me to work and back. I want one.
Do you remember this plane? I'm sure grandpa Shaw does. This is the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling. I think it was called the Voyager and I also think it was designed by Burt Rutan but I may be wrong. I do remember them saying that it was so flexible that if it was in a storm it would bounce terribly. I also seem to remember that the crew (a guy and a girl) got in some doozy of some fights during the flight. They were both extremely glad to get out of the plane when they were done.
Brandon just told me this week that he wants to get a gyrocopter for his commute once he joins the working force. I've actually had that same dream since I was younger than him. Here are some gyrocopters. I wonder why they aren't more popular than they are?
I was fascinated to learn that this plane was the first jet bomber in the world. Unfortunately it was a German jet and it was virtually untouchable by the allied forces.
This is the plane that was used for most of the kamikazee missions. Actually this one is a jet but most of the kamikazee planes were rocket powered. It is nothing like what I always imagined it would be. You do notice that there are no wheels on this plane, they were not intended to come home.
I found it very interesting to learn that at one point they considered landing the space capsules on a runway using a hang glider. They did tests and everything. In the end they decided to follow the old addage, "if it isn't broke don't fix it" and they stuck with parachutes into the ocean.
This is the backup to the space probe that they sent to Jupiter. Do you notice that black cylinder that protrudes out the right side of the satellite? That is the thermoelectric generator that provides power (and heat) for the probe. I've actually designed generators similar to this that may land on Mars some day. I wonder how many people who walk below this satellite have ever looked up and said, "hey, there is a thermoelectric generator on that satellite."?
I was so excited to look into this hall and what did I see? It is the space shuttle. You know what made it even cooler? It was the space shuttle Enterprise.
Do you see those engines? They are huge. They had it all cordoned off so I couldn't actually touch it. I came so close to having Tim take a picture of me sitting inside that humongous engine but in the end I thought better of it. I really didn't want to miss my flight by getting arrested or anything.
-----------------------------It is one big plane (or is that ship? Shuttle?)
------------------------------------and of course the Sojourner (or pathfinder) that landed on Mars
----------------This is the Russian probe that orbited Venus and actually landed a vehicle on the surface. Their vehicle didn't last very long, only a few hours if I remember right. Of course it would be a bit tougher to survive in an atmosphere of 400°C sulfuric acid that it would -80° CO2.
This is a pulse jet engine on an american made bomb. I actually didn't even know that the Americans made a pulse jet engine. The Germans were famous for them. They called them "buzz bombs" because of the odd sound that the pulse jet engine made.
This was one cool engine. It is the largest reciprocating engine ever made. It has 36 cylinders. Nine banks of four cylinders each. It was quite amazing.
And of course the famous "Corsair". I think this is perhaps the coolest looking plane ever built.
And then there is the black bird. We went with Grandpa Shaw to an airshow once in Abbotsford. They had a black bird come to the airshow from Edwards Airforce base. They got the pilot on the radio and broadcast his voice over the loudspeakers. The pilot said, "put the coffee on we just took off". I kid you not, the guy was there in fifteen minutes. I have always heard that they can't say what the top speed of this plane is because it is classified but on the placque describing the plane they said that this very plane was the last one to fly. On the flight to the Smithonian the pilots set a speed record for jet airplanes. They flew from Edwards to Dulles in a little over an hour for an average speed of over 2,000 mph. That is fast.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Washington DC - day 3

Another day of meetings. We got bogged down a bit today but I can tell we're getting near the end. I expect these meetings will begin to become less and less frequent. In case you were wondering how I ended up in this very strange (but nice) hotel it is because it is directly across from the CTIA building. DC isn't all that big so walking a mile you could get to most places but I literally walk out of my hotel, across the street, down about a hundred feet and into the CTIA building. In addition to that, it is one of the less expensive hotels to boot so it is good both ways. That is why I keep coming back. Most of you have seen this all before but I thought I would share more of my hotel with you. It is the strangest thing but they have several identical statues of a naked woman in front of the hotel. She looks very cold out there. I guess last year one of them got stolen and it made the news. Very funny.

Tonight I had dinner with a guy from a new Taiwanese company that makes Lithium ion batteries. He started the company himself. I think I will take a closer look at his outfit to see if we want to buy from him. Taiwan might be a good compromise between Japan (good but expensive) and China (cheap but dangerous). I had spagetti for dinner. It was good but my mouth is really watering for more of the prime rib I had on the weekend.

I just went out front to take a picture of the "ladies" for you and guess what? There used to be ten of them but one is gone and nothing is left but her little stand. I guess one did get stolen. I wonder why they didn't replace her? While I was out there I also took a picture of the statue in front of the Kazakstan embassy which is right next door to the hotel. This cheap little camera doesn't do well in the dark so you can't see it very clearly. I'll try and get a picture of it tomorrow in the daylight but it is of this soldier type of dude carrying a bow and arrow standing on a flying cat. It looks very funny but I'm sure it has a cool story behind it. I wonder how I could find out more about the statue? I decided to check out the internet and all I could find was this,

"This monument, depicting a young warrior soaring on a winged snow leopard, symbolizes many centuries of the nation's history and a modern Kazakhstan striving for the future".

I also found a picture of it. Apparently some comedian named Borat made a movie about Kazakhstan and made a lot of fun about the statue and the country. From some of the comments I read he was really quite mean. Now I want to go see the movie.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Washington DC - day 2

I am now in my CTIA meetings and for some reason the discussions today are quite interesting. I think it is mostly because a lot of companies aren't here (after all, it is the week before Christmas) and so it is much easier to agree on things.

This morning I finally woke up around 10:00 and showered. I think I'm mostly recovered from a very tough night. To make it worse, there was a bawling baby on the row right behind me. He was actually pretty good considering how long we were crammed in that plane. I learned years ago how to sleep through a bawling baby. It was a skill I put to good use last night.

Goodness gracious it is cold out here. I know I'll get no sympathy from the Canadians but I am really not used to this. I was thinking I'd go for a walk tonight but I'm having second thoughts.

This morning the CTIA brought some people into our discussions and they told us that Congress is considering forcing electronic companies to create a standard for chargers. Apparantly many people in the nation believe that there is a conspiracy among companies like ours to create many different incompatible chargers just as a way to sell more of them and make money. I do agree that it would be nice if I could use a single type of charger for all my cell phones and digital cameras, IPods, etc. The problem is that we worry a lot about after market chargers because they are made very cheaply and are dangerous. If we have to standardize then we would have to control those cheap aftermarket chargers.

Tonight I had dinner with a guy from Motorola. We ate Thai food. It was pretty good. I was having a tough time staying awake later today so I'd better get to bed early. In case you don't remember I thought I'd remind you about my hotel. The Rouge Hotel is obviously owned by some major tree huggers. They have many articles about the environment (which is good) but their hotel is very weird. They have several statues of naked women in front, the walls are all red and it really looks like a whore house. Before when I was here the floor I was on had leopard skin carpet. This floor is zebra carpet. I thought I'd take a picture for you.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Washington DC - day 1

What a miserable day. I woke up Monday morning looking forward to a nice relaxing morning at home before I headed for the airport to catch my flight for Washington at 1:12. The weather was very strange for San Diego, it was pouring rain. That happens sometimes during December, January and February. I turned the sprinklers to standby and started packing. I have my account with United set up so that they send me text messages giving me updates regarding my flight. About 8:40 I got a text message from United telling me that my flight had been delayed and we were now leaving about 1:40. I wasn't too worried figuring this just gave me more time at home with my darling wife. About a half hour later I got another text message telling me that I was now delayed to around 3:02. I then got another text at 9:43 telling me that the flight was delayed to 3:19.

I then decided that I had time to stop by Hi-Z (a company where I consult) on my way to the airport. While there I got even more text's so I stayed even longer. I finally got to the airport and as I settled down at the gate to read my book I heard an announcement saying that a plane had just missed his landing because of the fog. I was glad to realize that "missing your landing" didn't mean that he had crashed. That flight got diverted to LA. Ten minutes later they announced again that our flight was approaching and if he made his landing then we would leave right away, if he "missed" his landing then we'd have to wait and see. I prayed we had a good pilot who could land in the fog. Luckily we did. We boarded our flight and after what seemed like a very long time we taxied out to the end of the runway where we sat for nearly an hour. Finally they announced that we had mechanical problems and we had to head back to the gate for the mechanic to look at it.

Here are a list of my text messages from Monday:

time new departure time
8:17 1:12 on time
8:40 2:40
9:14 3:02
9:43 3:19
10:32 3:57
12:48 4:15
3:55 4:35 we got on the plane
5:36 6:15 we came back to the gate but still on the plane
5:48 6:45
6:45 7:00
6:55 7:30
7:25 7:45
7:55 8:00
8:14 8:20

At one point they felt sorry for us so they went into the terminal and bought all of the pizza's that were available. They came down the isle handing out pieces of pizza and they gave the last piece to the person right in front of me. I was so upset but I remained calm and polite. I assured the poor flight attendant that it was fine but all the while I wanted to ring her neck. She even offered me a free drink but I told her a glass of water would do.

We finally left around 8:30 and landed in Dulles at 3:30 in the morning. I caught a taxi (I was way too tired to bother with a bus) a little after 4:00 and I walked into my room right around 5:00. I am so glad my meetings don't start until noon.

On the bus to the main terminal I heard the pilot talking to a friend. Apparently we had two problems that were completely independent of each other. One problem was with the reverse thrusters and the second problem was the back up control system for one of the engines. I guess I shouldn't complain because I remember a flight off the coast of Newfoundland that went down when a reverse thruster accidentally switched on. That would not be fun. I'm here and I'm on time for my meetings. I'm grateful.

There are two good things that came out of this. One - the plane was not full and I had my whole row to myself. That is good since I was on that plane for eight hours with no food. Two - they told us to go to for a gift. I just checked it out and I can either get $150 towards a united ticket or 5,000 air miles. I think the money is the better deal.