Joey, James, Shannon, Jon, Paul, Karl, Alicia, Caroline and sometimes William, Cherish and Sarah: We love you guys!
Thank you so much for a couple of final get-togethers. It was so great to see you all again and realise how much you’ve grown and how much you’re continuing to grow. We are proud of each of you, and know that each of you guys are God’s kids and His servants.
Of the things we’ve worked at while we were in New York, the little team we built together — the things we taught you; the things we learned while we were teaching you; the ways we served together; the events where we all had fun together — our Vertical Production Team is one of the best gifts God gave us.
And a huge thank you to Linda, Barb, Margaret and all the other moms who encouraged us and supported us, and who allowed us to stand with them behind these amazing young people.
We will make it a point to see as many of you as we can every time we come back and visit New York. And you’d better all come meet Abi before we leave!

Abi Update

Just a few notes for those who are starting to get curious about Baby #2. We’re pretty much ready: the hospital bag is packed, my time-off paperwork is signed, so now its just a waiting game. Here’s some other notes (for the squeamish: medical details follow)

  • She is still due March 20th, but we’ve been told to expect an early delivery
  • Nic had a doctor’s appointment yesterday and was told her cervix is soft and she’s 1cm dialated…
  • But the doctor scheduled an ultrasound for March 10th, so obviously he doesn’t think Abi will be arriving before then.
  • The other night both Nicole and I had a dream that Abi turned out to be boy. The first ultrasound was pretty clear when we saw it, but now we’re both wondering if we should have a boy’s name picked out, just in case.
  • We will be live-blogging the delivery just like last time, and also posting some pics to the Flickr feed… that is assuming there’s time for it. Everyone we talk to warns that baby #2 will come really fast, so we’ll see if that’s true for us.

Of course, the big day will be announced here, and if you want to be on the cell phone/text message notification list, just let us know.

Last Night on the Mass Pike

Boston SkylineWe loved Boston! We totally should have gone there sooner, and more often. If New York is a big city, Boston is like a huge village. It feels nothing like downtown NYC.
The buildings are an odd mix of modern and classic architecture. The sidewalks are frequently coblestone. The roads are impossible to drive on, because everything is so jammed together. Its like Nicole’s little home town of Aylmer grew and repeated itself across a huge area.
And the people are SO much friendlier than in NYC. Not once, but twice, as we stood on the sidewalk looking at the map and arguing about where to go, someone came up to us and asked us if we needed help finding anything. Kindly strangers with smiles on their faces happy to help us poor tourists through their city. It was down-right trippy!
Downtown BostonI really wish we’d had a whole weekend to spend in town. We ended up on the train/subway for a good part of the day, popping out to check out a part of town, and then back on the rails to scoot somewhere else, so we didn’t really get a complete picture of the place. But even the train seemed friendlier. There were underground parts that were dark, like any other subway system, but the majority of the routes we took were above-ground, through clean and pleasant little neighborhoods. It really was more like a trolly than a subway.
We obviously had to be pretty strategic about what and how much we tried to see, given our physical constraints, and it didn’t slip by us, as we went over the routes Nicole had planned out, that we probably were among the nerdier tourists that Boston gets. Ben with 64KB of RAMWhile I’m sure most people would prioritize a trip to Fenway Park, we decided only at the last minute, to jump off the train early on our way out of town so we could walk by the park. On the other hand, a visit to MIT was the first thing we did. Their “museum” was quite small, but included a few cerebral gems that made the trip worth it — plus it was warm inside, so we happily coughed up the admissions fee.
MIT is home to some of the most pioneering experiments in robotics and AI, and it was definitely a treat for me to get to see what people much smarter than me are doing (or have done, in the past) with technology. The picture here is Benjamin standing next to the 1950s equivalent of a RAM SIMM. A table-sized block of wires threaded together to store up to 64 KB of fast-page memory.
In fact, the whole trip was something of a nerdy/intellectual summit for me. The company office I was there to visit is home to some incredibly intelligent, albeit theoretical people, many of whom probably came from MIT or a similar institution. There were concepts floating like embers around that building that when they touched-down on your head would set your brain on fire with ideas.
It was exciting to be in Boston, and enjoying the scholastic and friendly atmosphere. And it was exciting to go for training on where our company is headed. And, although it added a few additional challenges, it was great having my family along. As proof, I offer this video of Benjamin. Its not his first experience with a lemon, but its certainly an amusing one — especially near the end…

Live from Foxboro

We had a beautiful afternoon in Boston, despite our limitations. Traveling with a baby always adds to the challenge, and Nic’s limited to a waddle, and I hurt my back on Friday (of course, because I always hurt my back when we go somewhere.) So we didn’t have very ambitious goals going in. We hit the MIT Museum in Cambridge, had the Clam Chowder they’ve served at the last 7 Presidential inaugurations at Legal Seafood, looked longingly at the outside of the Boston Aquarium, which closed moments before we got there, and in its place had a stroll through downtown Boston. We also circled Fenway Park, and took some pictures — probably none of which will turn out because the batteries kept dying, and got lost trying to find a Starbucks.
Thanks to our lowered expectations, it was a pretty successful trip. Pictures when we get home…

Love Like Rockets

Wow, thinking back ten years ago to when we first started dating I don’t think I would have guessed that I would be living in another country, traveled half way around the world, have one kid and another on the way and been married for six and a half years. But if you asked Jon he wouldn’t be surprised at all because you see he had his whole life planned out when I met him, which I think was an awkward moment…
Anyway I have been meaning to do this post for a while but it’s not something I normally do so I forget about it plus I blame it on being pregnant and having the worst memory because of it! Ok I found a picture that we took last pregnancy, for a post I think, and we took another one, in the same outfit, during the same week of pregnancy. Now we have both pictures and we want to know if you can tell which one is Abigail and which is Benjamin. I think I look about the same size in both pictures. So vote, and let us know what you think!
Everything is going well with Abigail, she is kicking like mad! Today I had a doctors appointment and I asked how big he thought she might be and he said about 5.5 lbs and if I make it full term she will likely be around 7 lbs or so. Also the Doctor said that if I happen to go into labour anytime they won’t try and stop it now, and he said that can be any day, you just never know…
Update: the correct answer was “A” for Abigail! Picture B was last year!

New Banner!

I really like this one, although I’ll admit its a little abstract. Make sure you clear your cache or force a refresh if you don’t see it. The tag line is from an Angels & Airwaves song… all of their songs make me want to create something…
I’ve also added a section to the pictures (see the menu above) to archive these banners, since I’m using them to push my Photoshop know-how. I’m trying to keep rough notes on what I did for each one.
Nicole is working hard intermittently on a baby update post, so stay tuned for that if mad Photoshop skills don’t get you pumped…
PS: Here are wallpaper-sized and iPhone/iTouch-sized versions of the banner, just because…

Someone you could lend a hand, in return for grace

It has begun!
Monday morning the movers came by to inventory our stuff for a quote on moving costs. We’re nervously awaiting that figure, but are guessing its going to cost around $3000. When we moved here we had 3500 lbs worth of stuff and it cost $1800. 2 years later we have a baby (soon two) and roughly another 1500 lbs.
We’ll be purging as much as we can, of course. Historically, Nic and I have moved roughly once a year every year we’ve been married. Its kept us from accumulating too many “things” and although sometimes it forces us to discard possessions that might have some nostalgic value, overall I think its a good way of living. The Bible does say to store up your treasures in heaven, not on earth…
Still its a lot of work, even with the stuff we accumulate over the course of a year, to decide what’s garbage, what we can sell, and what we need to pack. On top of that, we’re packing in two passes — this first pass excludes all the things we might need to live on over the next month. We’re hoping that we can take a lot of boxes with us in the vehicles when Nic heads back to Canada, reducing the weight that goes in the moving truck in May.
And while we’re wrapping our possessions up, its also important to us to say a proper “good-bye” to our friends here in New York — or at least “so long.”
It turns out we’re actually going to be back a fair bit. Since I’m retaining my job here (technically my employment will be transferred to the Edmonton office, but I’ll continue to report to my boss here in NY) I’ll be traveling back periodically for meetings and reviews. From here on in, though, the trips across the border will be funded by my employer, and not out of our pockets!
We expect that I’ll be back roughly quarterly, although it could be more and it could be less, and that Nic and the kids will come along perhaps every other trip. So even though we’ll have our home base in Ontario, New York will still be very much a part of our lives.
Nonetheless, closure is a good thing, and our remaining weekends here are now pretty much filled with last get-togethers. All of these are important to us, probably in ways that can’t be communicated here, but suffice it to say, there are some wonderful people here in New York who have been good friends. People who welcomed us and loved us and did life with us while we were here, and we will miss them all dearly.

To the VPT

Thank you guys so much for the video. It was a wonderful bookmark for this chapter in our lives — one we will always look back on fondly, with you guys in so many of our memories.
We are so very proud of each of you, and how you’ve grown in the past year and a half, and it was a priviledge to have been a part of that. There will always be a place in our hearts for you…

Embracing My Inner Geek: Part 3 – Education

I had another topic in mind for part 3, but a reader asked a pretty interesting question in response to part 2 that got me thinking. It was so good a question, in fact, that I’ve spent most of my idle CPU cycles this morning formulating a response:
How do you think someone who did not get a degree in CS or software engineering, [can] eventually become a good software developer/engineer/architect without getting further formal education, and surpass those who did receive formal education? I know that if one truly wants to be successful in a particular field, one does not need to take classes in that field. But I just wanted to hear your take on this.
I’d have two answers to this question, depending on who asked me, but both are from my own experience.
First of all, if the person asking was 18, and wondering how best to pursue software development as a career, I would, without hesitation, tell them to go to college, and sign up for as much education as they can stomach.
Then I would qualify that by saying college was, for me, almost completely useless — almost.
The reality is, there are no good programs out there that can teach software development. Most Computer Science degrees are in Math, and most applied courses teach languages that are already out of date. If you don’t have the gift of talking to computers going into college, nothing they can teach you there will help you.
When I signed up for Computer Programming/Analysis at Conestoga College, in 1997 I was sure they’d have nothing to teach me. And when I graduated 4 years later, I was still mostly convinced of that. Conestoga was the number one college in Ontario 7 years running, include the time I attended, and has produced a number of very successful local technologists. It wasn’t the school’s fault that their material was sorely out-dated — that’s just the way this industry moves. Maybe 20% of what was offered turned out to be new and applicable information for me. The rest I either already knew, or wouldn’t ever need to know (a year of COBOL?! Are you kidding me?) In fact, I was so thoroughly self-educated at 18, that I was enlisted to help the head of my program re-write the first year Intro to Programming course material.
All that arrogance aside, though, I might not have the job I have without the piece of paper that says I went to school.
In software development (and probably other fields), education does not necessarily prove your skill or your intelligence, it proves your discipline and your commitment, and its those things, as much as any technical bullet point on your resume, that employers look at.
My current boss sees hundreds of resumes a year. He looks for quick ways to pair down that pile, and one of his first qualifiers is education. His short list these days is mostly made up of people with Master’s degrees.
Formal education may be something of a money making scam — I have a pile of useless text books in my closet that cost me from $100 – $300 each, just like I have a pile of course credits that I’ll never use — but the harsh reality of a competitive marketplace is that formal education also opens doors. Perhaps you can get as far with only your intelligence, charisma and experience, as those with less of each but a few letters after their name, but you’ll have to work harder to get your foot in the door, work harder to prove yourself to your boss and your colleagues, and you’ll be offered less opportunities. For example, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to pursue a job outside of your native country without a formal education.
I have known brilliant people, who by all rights should be rolling in cash, limited to low-paying, high-stress, over-worked positions because they don’t have a piece of paper that says they can do what everyone knows they can do…
That said, I’ve also interviewed people with tremendous academic credentials from prestigious schools, who are less qualified for a job as a software developer than your average high school student.
So in general, my advice, despite my own impatience toward academics, is to stay in school as long as you can stand.
However, if the person asking the question was a colleague, or even someone I was interviewing, my opinion would be entirely different. While I acknowledge college as usually being a necessary evil in pursuing a career, I also know, perhaps more than some, that lack of education means nothing if the individual in question has a good problem-solving mind and experience in the field. Programming really can’t be taught — its an area of giftedness (or a curse, depending on your perspective.)
At my work place, I can almost guarantee that none of the people around me are developing in programming languages they learned in school. You could argue that they learned the discipline and processes, the problem solving techniques, and the logic that could apply to any language, but I would argue that they already knew those things — they were born with them.
Software development moves so fast that you have to be self-taught. In the time it took to complete coding on my latest project, in the then-brand-new .Net 3.0 Framework, .Net 3.5 was released. If I was dependent on what I learned in college, I’d still be using VisualBasic 6 — and I would be sorely unemployable!
No, given the opportunity, I would never evaluate the viability of a candidate based on their schooling, or lack thereof. And I would never judge a co-worker’s ability based on their degree, or lack thereof. An education may help get a foot in the door, but what’s important in software development is what you can do now. Can you problem solve? Do you learn quickly? Are you a logical thinker? Do you communicate well? Can you think ahead? Prove it, and I don’t care what your background is.
And I would remind those who disagree that both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are university drop-outs, who knew before they finished school what needed to be done, and made it happen. I wouldn’t encourage that path for those starting out — its risky and it may cause people to undervalue you — but if you’ve arrived at your professional career through a less-conventional method, and you have the smarts and the guts to get things done anyway, then don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t succeed.
Far more useful to me than anything I learned in school was the job experience I’ve collected. I was employed in my field before I was done college, and maybe could have gone just as far without the piece of paper. But I’ll concede that its been helpful — especially given my youth at the time I began playing this game — to have evidence that I can do what I do…

I think we'll go to Boston

Scratch that last post, cause we have a better plan.
It turns out that Boston is closer to us that New York City is — driving distance, anyway. We’ve never been, though, because every time someone comes to visit they want to go NYC. No one will go to Boston with us, and we haven’t found an excuse to go on our own. Meanwhile, Nic has the NYC subway map completely memorized.
We’re right at the end of our time here in the States, not to mention our pregnancy, but we’ve decided we’re going to pull off one more trip. We’re leaving Sunday morning, checking into the hotel in Foxborough, then heading to Boston to see what we can see in a half-day. Its short, but its better than nothing — I’m going to get me some real New England Clam Chowder (thanks Bill!)
And yes, mom, we’ll be back before March. We’ll be back on Tuesday, in fact. And we’ll figure out where all the hospitals are along the way, in case anyone comes down with a case of labor while we’re exploring…