Friday, December 30, 2011

Train Show

We went to a model train show in November. Mainly, okay, soley for Owl Jr.'s benefit. It was at the local community centre, the gym which usully holds weekend warriors doing some approximation of a team sport they had done decades ago in highschool playing host to enthusiasts of recreating some aspects of industrial-era mass transportation infrastructure.

The hobbyists are nearly exclusively old men with beards wearing engineer's caps. Train engineer caps, to be precise. (I'm not sure if other engineers (mechanical, electrical, chemical, etc) have hats, although that could only be a boon to recruiting new blood. Just think, a solid iron baseball cap with oversized rivets for mech engies, a erlynmeyer flask breeding a hardy yeast species for industrial bread making for bioresource engineers, the mind staggers.) And some a bit younger folks who would not look amiss at a convention featuring dragons and swords and possibly magic. My kin, if you will. Or kin from a long forgotten arm of the family that has taken residence in some earthy, unmentionable region of the Appalachians.

There are gauges, as I understand it, different scales and rails and eras and whatnot. Large trains, small trains, mini-trains. There was even a Lego railway. Quite well done too, many almost recognizable buildings and intricate switchbacks, or,whatever you call those things (I was not into trains in any way, apparently).

Interestingly, Owl Jr. wasn't captivated by the Lego ones -- which I imagine the real hobbyists sneer at, you don't spend 8 hours in the workshop faithfully reproducing a 19th Century North Hampshire farmhouse to have some upstart do the same in 30 minutes with a few woodgrain decaled plastic bits --  he was interested in the intricate ones, the more ancient locomotives, that had lots of pistons and drive-shafts and bit and pieces moving. He also seemed to be into the scenary, which I imagine is at least half the job of these model trains. Tunnels, mountain ranges, trees, these were all appreciated. Factories, warehouses, even a dock were stared at for uncomfortable amounts of time.

The tricky bit was trying to avoid being engaged by the hobbyists, because I knew less than nothing and had no inclination to learn more. And while I can feign interest in things, it does tend to suck up my dwindling supply of energy which was being used up at the time holding a two year old at shoulder height so he could see all the action.

As a PC gamer, I'm all too aware of the pain of being interested in something that most people find childish, regressive, or perhaps even a little bit nerdy. I didn't want to get any of the vendors hopes up that I'd be soon recreating the splendour of a small coal mining concern in 17th century Newcastle.

But Owl Jr. was happy, Owlet was led back up to the library ages ago, and at the very least I got a pretty decent shoulder workout and the beginning designs for a Programmer's Hat.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Bunk Bed

In August, I constructed a bunk bed. Assembled. From the standard Scandinavian outlet of fine particle-board based furniture.

Owl Jr had just come graduated from the crib. We made the sage decision to have Owlet and Owl Jr sleep in the same room, in a bunk bed, and leave the other room as a play room. (In actuality, now they have one tiny room for playing and sleeping, and one room with an infrequently used tent).

It took me 3 hours. Or 4, depending on how truthful I want to be, and how prepared I am for humiliation.

These things look so simple in the show room. Until you get it delievered in three flat boxes, each one absolutely packed with long 2x4's which look exactly alike. The wood pieces differ only slightly, by the position of the holes, by the number, by some currently indiscernible difference which you better discover before you get 80% of the way through and find that the 2x4 with the three holes on one side and two holes on the other is NOT interchangeable with the 2x4 with the two holes on one side and three holes on the other.

There is a hopelessness that is perhaps the closest I will come to understanding the Bataan Death March when opening the boxes. Thirty or so of these 2x4s, neatly arranged, a wordless instruction manual, with litigiously minded safety steps (Please ensure you are not constructing said bed in front of a lava pit, firing squad, fault line), oh, and an Allen wrench.

The instructions are trying to do the 'less is more' thing, where it uses friendly drawings and gross approximations to what you have in front of you to assemble something that will keep one of your children five feet in the air and the other hopefully uncrushed beneath. Due to the enormity of said retail furniture outlet, they cannot have written instructions, anywhere, I suppose that would cut into their costs and they might not be able to provide 24/7 free childcare for their workers or a comprehensive dental plan. Not that I begrudge said workers, if it wasn't for progress in labour we'd still be sending  five year olds down chimneys to clean them and contract exotic, lethal lung ailments.

But it does leave me turning said instructions this way and that, thinking that if only they had a single line saying, perhaps "Ensure you are using the smallest wood piece which doesn't really look that much smaller but it is, and you can tell by this small divot on both sides and is represented in the drawing by a whimsical X. Because if you don't the entire contraption will fall apart and possibly burst into flames". Just one line. A little hint. There's a reason we have moved from pictographs to a written language, as a species. 

I blustered through. It's made, it's stood up and has not fallen, crushing Owl Jr. on the bottom, yet. I take this as success.

I really cannot wait until they grow out of it and I can burn it in a large pagan pyre on some beach somewhere. Using the instructions as kindling.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas Family Letter 2011

It was a hectic year for the Owl family. As it is every year for families with children of a certain age (where they cannot creditably threaten you with retirement homes). It ended on a very bad note, however, so let's start there.

In November, Mrs. Owl's dad passed away from a heart attack. It was sudden and hit the family  hard. Mrs. Owl and her sister rushed to their mother's side, in the Phillippines, where Mrs. Owl's mom and dad spend a good part of the year.

He was a well loved man , always with a song or a game for the kids. The songs were either  Tagalog or old songs that had the faint air of the Roaring Thirties and Spain. The games invariably involved the kids riding on his back.

His enormous, ready smile was big enough to include everyone, just like his post dinner impromptu programme in which anyone with even the slightest talent was called upon to perform.

He will be missed.

Mrs. Owl had a trying time in the Philippines, and I’m glad she had her mother and sister for support. Fortunately the most trying aspect, the Filipino wake, turned out to be a great help. Although when she heard about the days long period of staying with the body, even overnight, she had to contend with culture shock on top of grief. Luckily she found it cathartic, helpful, and not utterly terrifying like another, lesser person, like me, would have.

Dad is buried in the Philipines, in the backyard of the home he and Mom have there.

Mrs. Owl was gone for 17 days, so I had the, the, uh, the privilege of working full time and taking care of the kids. We got by on the mantra ‘She’ll be back in 10 days’ (miraculously this quelled questions about Mrs. Owl’s return for seven full days), the kids unwavering good cheer, and my mom and neighbours helping out tirelessly to look after the kids and get them to their various activities. Besides the endless frenetic pace, the bulwark of my sanity wavering every evening, and the terror of having my wife in a country where traffic laws are, at best, casually suggested, it was a snap.

All single parents should have an automatic sainthood.

And now on to the minutiae of our lives that I’m sure you’re all reading breathlessly on for.

In the summer we went down the Oregon Coast, for the first time since Owl Jr. was born. The trip down involved the various ways that the phrase “Are we there yet” can break down two adults’ previously healthy psyche.

The actual beach at Seaside was lovely. It was somewhere between pleasant and chilly, which, as this temperature mirrors a basement office with nothing but computers to keep one warm, suited me fine. The kids were enamoured with the waves. Owl Jr., on seeing the vast expanse of beach, tried many times to escape and perhaps set himself up as some kind of beach comber. Owlet had fun making and destroying small sand cities. God help us if either of them develop any sort of super powers.

There was also great fun with bumper cars, bike cars, and miniature trains. There was no tourist trap unsprung by the time we left Seaside.

Speaking of touristy things to do, Mrs. Owl and I went on a luxurious, very high class three day cruise from Vancouver, to Seattle, to Victoria, and back to Vancouver. We must have crossed at least, 10, 20 nautical miles.  Our fellow cruisers were older folks who I suspect make it a lifestyle, somewhat wild middle-aged women, and not a few people who mistook it for a ferry. It was just our pace, however. Nice dinners, quiet lounges to read or listen to a jazz ensemble, and those cruise shows to which most Theatre majors are bound.

Owlet is in kindergarten. Full time school, which is absurd, as she only just learned to walk last month. Or so it seems. She’s started that great journey where complete strangers and their children will have greater and greater influence on her.

She’s in a pilot program where she’s learning Mandarin. This seems to be the hip and progressive thing to do but I can’t help but think she’ll spend quite a lot of time doing inflections properly so that she somewhat misunderstand the Cantonese when we go to dim sum. 

The last big event that I can remember at her school was a dinosaur program where she sang a fugue-like song about a Stegosaurus. After the program they went to show us the dinosaurs they crafted out of cereal boxes, glue, construction paper, paint, and what we’ve been told is close adult supervision. It was, I can tell you as an objective parent, very much like stepping into Jurassic Park.

Owlet is also taking jazz dance and gymnastics this year. Both involve large groups of children following, in a very liberal interpretation of that word, what the teacher is saying. The only difference I can discern between the classes is one has falling mats.  Owlet, as in all things she does, enjoys it enormously, with lots of screaming and laughing and a natural clumsiness which I’m certain is one of my many unfortunate legacies to her.

Owl Jr. has come out of his very sad and sombre cocoon . It appears he was quiet all those months building up reserves of energy, mainly to resist all requests to : eat food that isn’t 1) hot dogs 2) a fruit of some sort; do his business on the potty. Fortunately you can look to the Owls to be that salve against your other family friends (you know the ones), whose children are reading by the age of two and doing UN recognized charity work by four. We have every expectation that we will be giving Owl Jr.’s prom date instruction on changing his diaper.

Oh, he’s generally a gentle, thoughtful little boy, but the things he  thinks about are his opinions on things, which cannot be moved (with regard to potties and Other Food). But his defiance is a bastion which will, for no reason at all, collapse under repeated requests. ‘Do you want to eat this rice?’ “NO!” “Do you want some rice?” “NONONO” “Do you want rice?” “Ok.”. It makes meal times baffling and randomly rewarding.

The other thing he thinks quiet, deep thoughts about are trains. Thomas the Tank Engine, mainly but anything on rails will do. We pooled money with the parents to get him a large train table with double level tracks and  a crane and a road system. When asked “What do you think of it Owl Jr.!?”, he paused his play with the crane to say, “Yes.”.

Mrs. Owl is stil part-time at a long term care facility assiduously watching what the old folks eat, possibly ‘tsking’ and making adjustments and the like. Her contract is up in March, so she might be looking for another place to watch over the eating habits of the elderly, I’m not sure.

I am still at UBC, programming. Interesting life I lead.

May this notoriously late holiday letter find you all well & happy, and our best wishes to you and yours for the new year.

Owl Family

Friday, December 09, 2011

Gabriel García Márquez Denies Your Firewall Request

Your request reached me just as the sun had set, and the sound of cicadas rising with the smell of frying onions and garlic and forgotten bits of lamb from yesterdays repast. It was not my intention to ignore it, indeed, it had done the unforgivable sin of reminding me of the years and months on days and hours since I had last been vigilant, that ever dwindling and ever so important virtue which holds the Group IV IT Security and Audit together, the shield against a rapacious public and the blind, unseeing corporation.

My heart is heavy, pendulous, dripping with, if not pain, then something much like it. If I were to excuse my age and the fading of my keener thoughts -- which were I an infinitely braver man, I'd have to admit was dementia --I still couldn't pinpoint why.

Your request, like so many others, seem reasonable. But the corridors and cobbled alley ways of networks and protocols and Virtual Firewalls and SANs all twisting between each other and over another and no one can say where one came from or where it's going only that it's important, a redolent mango, an untouched liana which would surely bring down the entire rotted ediface if altered.

And so your request must be queried and rethought. Rethought not out of some malice or out of a purposeful forgetfulness but out of a need to reconnect with how everything fits together, crisp bits of tile that clink together, that slowly, with a laziness of one drenched by an August sun, becomes clear.

In anycase, I doubt, quite strongly, that your BonziBuddy.exe needs to connect outside the network.