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Wow, that’s realistic April 4, 2010

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal.
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“The Green Zone” is cerainly a noisy movie.  Lots of flash and bang, especially in a surround-sound movie theatre, and gratuitous use of the hand-held camera.  It took us quite a while to realise that the shaking we were experiencing an hour or so in wasn’t actually a cinematic effect but a 7.2 earthquake.

In case you’re wondering, we’re almost real Californians now.  We left the auditorium, but went back in when the shaking stopped.

Water is wet October 6, 2009

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal.
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It seems to me that the water you get in a car wash is marginally wetter than regular water.

Ask me how I know…

Where are they now? – the personal edition December 27, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in chorale, personal, Uncategorized, worklife.
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The note in Tony’s Christmas card wondered what had happened.  This was a fair question, since verb. sap. has been completely silent since  late July (not that it was particularly prolific before then).  And since Tony is a substantial fraction of my readership, I feel impelled to bring things up to date.

What happened was that I got a job. 

I’d been looking around, with steadily increasing conviction, since March, and I’d actually interviewed at a couple of places.  Then, out of the blue, there came a suggestion from my ex-colleague and choir buddy Mike that I might consider talking to the company for which he, though ostensibly retired, was still putting in hours.  The company was Agilis Solutions, based in Portland, Oregon and run by an old friend of Mike’s who, like him, was an ex-Unisys VP.  I talked to a number of people at Agilis, liked what I heard, and, pretty much, that was it. I started in early August.

Agilis Solutions is a small software development house.  Typically, we work with software companies facing challenges in bringing their products to market quickly and cost-effectively.  We use a blended model which combines onshore technical leadership and project management with a strong group of smart, experienced offshore developers to allow projects to be completed more quickly, more cheaply and more effectively than would otherwise be possible.

So that’s the boilerplate out of the way. 

From a personal perspective, it’s going really well.  I mostly work from home, although more on that later.  The project I’ve been working on is also Oregon-based, as is my project manager, so I spend a lot of time on Skype with Oregon and Ha Noi, Vietnam, which is where our group of developers is located.  Lorraine and I share an office at home, which works remarkably well, even though it’s an understatement to say that it’s sometimes a tight fit.  The people at Agilis Solutions are wonderful – supportive, outgoing and friendly.  There are less then twenty of us, and it’s such a refreshing change to work in an organisation where you know everyone,  your boss runs the company and what you do actually makes a difference.

I spent a couple of weeks in Springfield, Missouri in September, working with the technical lead for the customer. In October we decided we had to make things move a little more quickly.  The initial plan was for me and the customer lead to spend two months in Ha Noi, working directly with the development team.  Lorraine, the intrepid traveller and selectively occasional corporate wife, thought that this was a splendid idea, and started buying guidebooks while I was trying to organise visas.  So, of course, it didn’t happen.  The team decided that they liked the  let’s-get-everyone-together plan, but the location was moved to Oregon.  So I spent nine weeks in Portland living and breathing the customer’s application, finally returning home a couple of weeks ago.  The work was intense, in a way which I hadn’t really experienced since my days in fly-and-fix field support twenty years ago, but there was a good positive atmosphere around what we were doing, and there were always my new friends at the Riverwood Pub  to keep me sane, which they mostly did.

So there hasn’t been much room for anything else since August.  Lorraine  had a successful Sawdust Festival, her second, in July and August, but the Winter Fantasy festival in November and December was very subdued.  No-one seemed to be buying anything.  In a sense, though, the Festival is its own reward.  We both love being there, seeing artists who have become friends in the space of two festival seasons – people like Christopher Jeffries (with his wife Jitka and their new son Ry), Greg Thorne and Ray Caruso.  We’re both looking forward to next year.

There’s one final thing to record.  The choir I’ve been singing with for almost fifteen years, the Saddleback Master Chorale, had a fund-raiser this year, something which, for some reason, has to be called an Opportunity Drawing.  We sold just over 300 tickets at $25 each, and the prize drawing took place last weekend at the group’s holiday concert.  Imagine our astonishment when my name was pulled from the hat!  So, slightly shell-shocked, we’re now the proud owners of a four-night Junior Suite stay in any Fairmont hotel or resort in the US or Canada, plus round-trip airfare to get there and back.  This is not going to be easy.  Fairmont operates the Plaza in New York, the Empress in Victoria, BC, and – my nomination for the most beautiful place on the planet – Chateau Lake Louise in the Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada.  However, the current edition of the plan calls for us to use the prize to spend some time in Montreal, Lorraine’s birthplace, staying at the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth. It’s not clear when we’ll fit this trip in, but be sure that we will, and I’ll talk about it here, I promise.

So that’s the brief update.  Normal service will now resume.

(And, for readers with long memories, I’m still stuck on 1453!)

Losing a beloved dog July 14, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal.
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Orac, who writes the essential Respectful Insolence blog, is a surgeon/scientist who is possibly the internet’s premier debunker of pseudo-medical junk. Orac is also a wonderful writer. Never was this displayed to better effect than in this morning’s eulogy for his beloved dog Echo, who died of cancer on Friday. Go read it, it’s just heartrending.

Lots of tears in the comments, and not a few from me, someone who is not normally given to such things. Part of the the reason is that Echo is almost an identical twin of my family’s dog Peppi, a gorgeous black mostly-Labrador who was my responsibility as a teenager. The similarity is more than physical. Peppi was as good-natured a dog as it’s possible to imagine. The image of Echo sleeping on the bed, and steadily wriggling so that by morning she has most of the bed to herself, is one which is also part of my memory of Peppi. And, oh boy, did she love rolling in cow manure! She wasn’t treated to corn on the cob, mainly since in England I don’t believe we’d heard of it. But she would go crazy for what we would call “bun cases”, which doesn’t translate too well from the English, but refers to the little paper cups muffins are baked in. She preferred the bun cases to the buns.

Peppi arrived in our family as a tiny puppy when I was about eleven. She lived to be an old lady, and died happy, I think. I’m now fifty-three, and old and grey. But her memory is still strong within me, three decades after she passed out of my life.

Orac has my deepest sympathy.

Sad day for hummingbirds July 10, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in laguna beach, local, personal.
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I’m afraid that the hummingbird babies didn’t make it.  Lorraine was inspecting the nest this morning, and found them both dead.   Our best guess is that something happened to mama, and the chicks weren’t quite ready to fend for themselves.

Sad day indeed.

Hummingbird babies July 7, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in laguna beach, local, personal, Uncategorized.
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I suppose the gestation period of a hummingbird isn’t very long. Whatever, it seems that nature has taken its course and the two eggs we saw only three weeks ago have turned into these two hungry little critters. It won’t be long before they’re off and investigating the world around them. Certainly the nest won’t hold them for much longer.

La, la, la, I’m not listening June 30, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal.
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The world of the US soccer fan is often a difficult one.

Every four years, Lorraine and I become seriously addicted to the World Cup. In 1994, when the tournament was in the USA, we joined a crowd of of 90,000 to watch a game live at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. In 1998, when France were the hosts, we set up a bed in our TV room so we could wake up at 4am to watch games live. Things were a little different in 2002, when the games were in South Korea and Japan. The imbecile broadcasters had re-invented the idea of time-shifting, broadcasting the games “as live”, at some allegedly reasonable hour for US viewers, or, more likely, for US advertisers. We were forced to develop new and innovative techniques for avoiding untimely news of results. Mainly, this consisted of locking ourselves in the house and not answering the phone. Late in the tournament, we held a summit, and decided that we had to break isolation to restock on essentials. We were waiting for the broadcast of the quarter-final match between England and Brazil. England had easily beaten Denmark in the last 16, and we were hopeful that the team might be able to find a way past Brazil, and, as an expatriate England fan, with a memory going back to the team’s triumph in 1966, I was excited at the possibility. [Note to self: you were also living in a world of total fantasy.]

So, we’re out of the house. The radio’s off. We’re trying not to listen to passing conversations. We’re hoping not to meet friends. And then, who should we see in Trader Joes but our old friend Steve Hackett, who used to work at Joe Varga’s wine store in the early nineties, and who we hadn’t seen for probably six or seven years. And what were Steve’s first words on seeing us? Would you believe “Hi, Pete, shame about England, wasn’t it?” I am a man of iron control but, I have to say, I was tempted. Lorraine screamed, and we were almost thrown out.

Fast forward to yesterday. We’d become interested in the Euro 2008 tournament in Switzerland and Austria. The games were broadcast live at lunchtime, Pacific time, and we now have a DVR, so life was good. Lorraine, as you may have guessed if you read her blog, is now at the Sawdust Festival all day, every day, so I recorded yesterday’s final between Spain and Germany, and dropped back into isolation mode – no looking at the BBC website, TV off, mostly. So, it got to 7pm, and I was driving down to the Sawdust with dinner for Lorraine. Almost without thinking, I turned on the car radio, permanently tuned to the San Diego sports station, for reasons which are becoming increasingly hard to explain, given the mind-numbing idiocy of most of the hosts. On reflection, I thought I was probably safe. American sports-radio hosts yield to no-one in their not-invented-here loathing for soccer. If it ain’t baseball, basketball or football, they have less than no interest. Sure enough, it was baseball, and the guy was excited that the Tampa Bay Rays were leading the American League East this late in the season. I relaxed, content that all was right with the world. And then, with no warning “And, in other news, congratulations to Espana”. I mashed the button, but it was too late.

So, congratulations indeed to Espana on a deserved win. I enjoyed the game, but it’s not the same when you know who won.

But, for the 2010 World Cup, there will be new measures. Oh yes, new measures indeed. Count on it.

Hummingbird mama June 17, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in laguna beach, local, personal.
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Here’s mama, sitting proudly on her nest. Lorraine was able to get this shot – I’ve tried, but for some weird reason she’s more scared of me. As you can see, she’s pretty well camouflaged in the bougainvillea.

Hummingbird Nest June 16, 2008

Posted by Peter Hornby in laguna beach, local, personal.
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Spring is in the air, and our local hummingbird population has decided (or two of them have) that it’s time to make babies. This nest has appeared in a large bougainvillea vine draped around our garage door. Mama is pretty skittish at the best of times, and one wonders at the wisdom of bulding a nest which gets disturbed every time we open the garage door. Still, never mind. We’ll try to be gentle.

This nest is about two inches across, and the two eggs are probably half an inch or so. We’ve watched hummingbird nests before, and by the time the two chicks arrive at the point where they’re ready to fly, they are way, way oversized for the nest. I’ll see if I can find a photograph – it’s pretty amusing.

You never know what you’ll find December 20, 2007

Posted by Peter Hornby in personal, Uncategorized.
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The Irvine Heritage Park Library is having a sale of remaindered books – racks of stuff at a quarter a pop. I was idly poking through the selection last night after the Chorale concert, musing about how my wife would react to my bringing home a couple of dozen new books (the answer to that question would certainly have been “not well”). Still, I thought, there’s not much danger. It was clear that the books on display had been remaindered for a reason – most of the selection consisted of dog-eared self-help guides and trashy romance novels and mysteries. And then, what do I see but a well-thumbed copy of “ATL Internals”, by Brent Rector and Chris Sells. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty high on the esoteric scale. I used it all the time in 1999 and 2000 when I was learning how to write software components for Windows, and it’s a great resource, but it’s not exactly mainstream material for a local branch library. I looked inside in case one of my old colleagues had identified themselves, but the book was mute. Luckily I still have my own copy, so I didn’t feel the need to rustle up a quarter and take it home.

What’s going to happen to the houseful of books we do already have, now that it’s been supplemented with the detritus of a working life spent in a software developer’s office, is a matter for another post.