Category Archives: Work

It is an odd time

I really did not have a lot of bandwidth today to be reflecting on life, but due to and serendipitous juxtaposition of events it came to my mind that we live in peculiar times. Overnight, new things turn into institutions and just as quickly, fall into oblivion–Facebook, Barack Obama, Kombucha, and on and on. Everything is not like that. Degrees that have hard math in them will still get you a way better job than degrees with minimal math, Washington still grows the best apples, and Jesus is still the same and always will be. Still, it feels like stuff is moving really, really fast politically, morally, economically, and every other way I can imagine. Some of it is for the better (Obama is gone and Hillary is not president), some of it is for the worse (California in general), and some of is hard to tell (Trump).

All this might be because I am just getting older and time seems to be passing more quickly. In all this, the thing to which my reflection left me is that the need to do meaningful things with what time I have left and to not be absorbed by the Borg seems more urgent to me than ever. I wish I would have had this sense of urgency at a younger age. One thing for which I am very grateful is that I did have a strong sense of urgency with respect to the way we raised our kids. We did not get it all right and we failed at more than a few things, but it was not because we did not give it our best shot.

So, the upshot is that there are some opportunities coming up for me that will force me into some interesting decisions. I want to make sure I do the meaningful thing–something I have been given to do, rather than what is easy or even fun.

A “for personal use” 3D/RGB camera

I bought a RealSense 3d/RGB camera today from Intel. I have wanted to get one for awhile and try it out, but now I have an actual reason. I am working with a friend from an old job on a small project and we are actually using them in my day job. The camera takes aligned 2d and 3d images. It is (relatively) cheap and has an SDK that will allow me to pull the images into some fun environments where I can use OpenCV and the PCL on them. Looking forward to it, but the sad part is they are so popular it is on backorder. I will have to be patient.

Ups and downs all day long

It was a long and busy day today. I expected it to slow down, but work poured in right at quitting time and I am just finishing up what was possible to finish. The good news is that the relays to control the LED’s for the bean sorter project arrived today. They are small, cheap and should be perfect for this project, but not as the strobe control I/O’s we need. They are mechanical relays that can switch at a maximum rate of 10ms to active and 5ms to inactive. That is way to slow for what we want to do. The good news about the bad news though is that I thought I was only getting one board, but I got two and I will be able to use them to do a lot of the development work while I wait for some faster solid state switches AND I will be able to use them in the product to control the indicator lights that show machine status.

Diet and blog update

We have been slammed since the first of the year so I have gotten behind on blogging and fell off the wagon on my diet at least a couple of times. Now however, the holidays are over, our annual church special meetings for the year are over, annual sales meeting up in Canada at my day job is complete so I will not have to try to lose weight on restaurant food or on big meals Lorena prepares for visitors. I actually did better than I usually do and currently at my lowest weight since I started the diet-16.5 lbs. lost. Only 44.5 lbs. to go.

In addition to the diet thing and my day job, I have a couple of side projects (a development project with my buddy Gene I plan to chronicle quite a bit more and a, believe or not, real estate project with my buddy Mark P.), and a three or four more remodel projects. So, I plan to write on all this until one of the side projects turns into a business and/or I retire and continue to try to find a work from home business. Over the next couple of days I will talk about the development stuff Gene and I are doing and the business idea/model behind it.

A Christmas Gift from LMI

Lorena will never let me retire if my company keeps doing stuff like this. They sent a huge Christmas package with multiple boxes from Harry and David down in Medford. We LOVE this. I am beginning to see LMI’s strategy. They actively push for Lorena to travel with me to the corporate headquarters and put us in an incredibly nice hotel close to the largest mall in all of Canada whenever I go there. The do a gazillion additional nice things all the time. Some of the projects are difficult and the hours are often long, but it is truly one of the best places I have ever worked.

All-in-all, an excellent trip to China

Kiwi and the endless battle to sit on the counterI got back to Seattle almost two hours ahead of the scheduled arrival. The departure time got pushed up from 11:30 AM to 11:00 AM. Who ever heard of such a thing. The other thing that seems completely out of sync with my experience is that from my first ride from the airport to the hotel in Shanghai to my last ride from the hotel to the airport in Beijing, all the driving was quite sane and careful on very good roads. I am sure it must be that I was not in the right place to experience the wild driving about which I have heard, but they would have to up their insanity by several orders of magnitude to arrive at what I have experienced on numerous occasions in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.

We went from SeaTac airport to drop Kelly off, home for a quick change and then on to church followed by a five hour nap. Then I went to bed at my normal time and got up at my normal time. The jet lag had way less effect on me than what I remember from trips to Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Maybe it is because I am getting old and do not need much sleep. The whole trip, the nuts and bolts mechanics of it anyway, was about as benign as any Asian trip I have ever taken. I do not know if I relish the idea of going on a super regular basis, but I do not dread the idea anymore. It will be good to go back and see the very kind people with whom I worked when I was there, too.

Kiwi was fit to be tied when we got home. She had stayed by herself for two days while Lorena stayed with Kelly. It was good to see her, but she let us know she was displeased; in no uncertain terms.

Returning from China

I am sitting in a hotel room in Beijing, waiting to catch a shuttle to the airport to return to Seattle. This was a very interesting trip. I guess it is to be expected that my impressions of China are fundamentally different from my expectations before I arrived. There are lots and lots of very good things about China. I have made good friends and look forward to my next trip in a few months. There are some things about China that are unsettling. I need to think about them a little and it is all so foreign to me that I do not have an opinion. I think, like Mexico, there are some parts of the culture I will never understand because I am an American. The other thing is that China is so big and diverse, understanding things in one place is meaningless when you go to another part of China, maybe not even so far away. It has been a wonderful trip although it would have been nice to bring Lorena along. Lorena has been invited, so maybe we can make that happen.

A couple of days in Shenzhen

View from DoubleTree in ShenzhenWe drove from Suzhou to Shanghai and then flew down to Shenzhen last night. We then caught the equivalent of an Uber ride to a town about forty minutes north that is right by our company’s Shenzhen office. It is very beautiful here. We are meeting a customer later this morning, then just going to work in the local office without any meeting agenda. We have been running so hard that it will be nice to have a day that is a little bit slower to catch up.

The team in Suzhou is pretty amazing in that everyone is quite young, very bright and very new to the company. There is an energy there that I remember from my time at startups in the early eighties. That feel does not seem to exist so much anymore in the US even though I have done quite a few small startups over the last twenty years or so. They promised me when I come back to China next time they will all take me to the Mexican restaurant that is walking distance from the office. I am very much looking forward to it.

Suzhou, China

View from our office in SuzhouWe have been running since I hit the ground in Shanghai Pudong airport day before yesterday. There have been lots of surprises on this trip, mostly to do with the very modern and extensive infrastructure that is ubiquitous both in Shanghai and Suzhou. I know I am traveling and working in the very centers of commerce and industry for which China is known in this day and age. Nevertheless, it is very impressive.

My other, maybe bigger surprised is the decorum with which the drivers that got me from Shanghai to Suzhou have exhibited. I have to say it has been somewhat more aggressive driving that in the U.S., but no where close to the craziness that is Monterrey, Mexico. That being said, I just got her and do not know much yet, but I have certainly enjoyed the experience so far.

From the picture of the view from my company’s office in Suzhou, you can probably tell there has not been much time to take many pictures. The timing of our meetings and the weather (torrential, North Carolina/Florida quality thunderstorms) have not cooperated in that regard and I am not sure much will change base on my schedule.

The other marvelous thing I have experienced here is the food. Last night we spent several hours at a Korean barbecue place that makes me think it would be great to own one of those Korean barbecue tables with the charcoal pits in the middle and the automatic shish-ka-bob rotators. Who knows what they are really called, but whatever it is, they are really cool. I am going to investigate.

Shanghai-Shenzhen-Beijing

Chinese VisaI cannot remember when was the last time I went to Asia. I have been to quite a few places over there–Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, but I have never been to mainland China. After jumping through lots of hoops, I got my hands on the needed Visa a half an hour before the FedEx office in Olympia closed. So now I get to fly to Shanghai to celebrate my birthday tomorrow.

I got good seats with lots of legroom, so that is a fine thing. My hope is to be able to get some work done on the sickle cell detection project as well as some work for my day job. Just in case I get all that done, I bought the latest Longmire novel and a second mystery novel. Who knows whether I will be able to get any sleep.

I will be in Shanghai (our office is in Suzhou) then on to Shenzhen, before catching a flight through Beijing on the way home. Of course this is one of those work trips where I will not get to see anything other than big factories and R&D offices which are pretty much the same the world over. Nevertheless, I am confident I will get some great Chinese food. I am especially looking forward to meeting two members of my team with whom I have spoken fairly extensively over Skype, but have never met face to face.

Christian’s natural habitat (Starbucks)

Christian studying at starbucksThis is Christian’s new habitat now that he does not have Mom’s kitchen island anymore. It has been fun to have him here and it is so nice to see him sitting down in the kitchen, thinking, playing his guitar, working on his computer, and studying while Lorena works in the kitchen. We miss that. We have been to Jimmy John’s twice, and out to breakfast three times since he has been here. Lorena has him all cleaned up with a new haircut. Lorena and Christian have been down to Anytime Fitness a couple of times with the obligatory stop at Starbucks for some coffee. Christian spends a lot of study time there. It is a way to keep going on his studies while avoiding being stuck in his apartment or the lab for ours on end. It is kind of amazing to us that he actually sits and just thinks a lot. It is part of the territory with his area of Information Theory. Most of all, though, we are trying to get him to forget all that for a few days and just relax. Maybe he will come back again before too long.

P.S. Note the nice new haircut. Mom dragged him down to the barber earlier today.

China

I have never really been to China yet. I have been in a lot of different parts of East Asia, but never in China proper. That includes Taiwan, Japan, Korea (South of course), Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan. I was scheduled to fly to Shanghai and Shenzhen on July 3–imagine that, the Fourth of July in China, but could not manage to get the visa in the short amount of time available. I currently work on a team with distributed workers–two in China, one in Quebec, the boss in Vancouver, BC, and me. It works amazingly well. I am the only one on the team whose first language is English, but that is what we speak. I love this new job so far. There is lots of pressure, but also lots of interesting work. What more could you ask out of a job at my stage in life–interesting work is worth gold. I will be over there in the next few months, God willing. Looking forward to it.

Kelly update

Kelly's new glassesFirst, the important stuff: Kelly’s new glasses arrived and I think she looks just stunning with her new librarian hipster look.

On other fronts, there are lots of good things going on. She loves her work, her company, and her fellow employees. She made a great decision to stop for now at a Masters degree and get some experience. I am not sure how she could have found a better first job than the one she is in. Amazingly, she makes use intense of the things she learned during in her Bachelors degree and internship in Statistics to inform her work doing precisely what she learned studying Marketing Strategy during her Masters degree. Write now she is deep into planning and running focus groups. Before that she developed a huge (for her corner of the industry) marketing survey and then evaluated the results with statistical tools the company had never previously used. One recent new innovation she brought to the company was a better way to set pricing more informed by data and analytics than by expert opinion alone.

So, three quarters of a year in, she has started to think a little about what to do next. She will finish her first round trip of the Marketing process in the fall and really needs to get her second round trip in where she does it completely on her own, and then a third round trip to own the process. After that, she needs to decide what to do next. There is a great growth path for her right where she is, but there are other academic and work options.

Kelly’s values are not at all in alignment with the Seattle zeitgeist. There are some particular evils held in high regard that are difficult to abide and they permeate even parts of the society, particularly in places like Portland and Seattle, that historically have been less coarse and held good morals. I think that reality will play heavily in whatever direction she wants to head next.

Still, when you have new stylish glasses like these, life looks pretty good.

Work and anytime fitness

Lorena at Anytime Fitness in CentraliaWe still don’t have any appliances, but Mark is scheduled to bring them here and install them next week along with the propane tank and gas lines needed to run the stove. In the mean time, Lorena is on a regular schedule at Anytime Fitness again and I am working full time from my (somewhat messy) home office with the view of Rainier. This is ALL a very good thing. Mark will be here to do his work next week while we are gone. It is nice to have someone watch the house. The week after that is painting week and we should be all done.

We will be up in a Hilton Hotel in Vancouver, BC with an Anytime Fitness across the street from us. It does not get much better than that. This is something I think we will be able to do together on a semi-regular basis. My new company has certainly been treating me well so far.

Christian at work in Boston

Christian at MIT Lincoln LabsChristian has been to work for three days and it looks like he is getting his arms around things in the lab. He really likes the area where he lives although he says the culture is a little more direct. Actually, he did not exactly say “direct,” but you get the idea. He hopes to look around a little in Boston this weekend, maybe get in a workout and see the art museum across the street.

On another note, we got a call today from our builder, Mark P. He said the granite guy called him and wants to install the granite in the kitchen tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. Lorena was very happy with that. The appliances were supposed to go in this week and the granite next week, but it looks like it will be the other way around. We should have some pictures to put up tomorrow.

The only things we have left after the appliances are the backsplash, painting and a few odds and ends. It will be nice to be able to cook on a stove and in an oven instead of on an apartment balcony grill.

Vancouver and the new job

Vancouver Hilton near my new jobI drove up to Vancouver, BC last night to stay at a Hilton close to where the brand new corporate offices of my new company are located. It is a beautiful drive up from Centralia and the border crossing is not too bad. Every time I come up here I think, “I don’t remember it being this beautiful.” It is truly an amazing place with snow-capped mountains, lots of beautiful stretches of water and a huge, cosmopolitan city. I am looking forward to being here now and then and my company says it is fine for me to bring Lorena.

Christian goes to Boston for the summer

Christian's hotel room in Boston (Lincoln Labs internship)Christian flew from Tempe to Boston yesterday to start an internship at MIT’s Lincoln Labs. He moves moved into a dorm at Northeastern University close to (or in) downtown Boston sometime today yesterday and will be shuttled over to the labs every day during his stay. This is another milestone in his march toward his degree. It seems to be a long, long way from laying on the floor learning arithmetic facts during his homeschool days.

He is a one or two years away from finishing his PhD and starting to think about what he wants to do next. He has made his own way economically and in the running of his household since he left home after his Bachelors degree. My level of participation in his education has stood at absolute zero since then, too. It is not that I wouldn’t like to help, I just do not have the skills or knowledge. I know his work at Arizona State and at Lincoln Labs is very demanding both in the hours he spends on it and the complexity of the work. He will be glad to finish.

Update: Amazingly, this is the view from Christian’s dorm room for the summer. He told me he got into the room last night. My understanding is he can see the Boston Museum of Fine Arts right out his window.

Cheap cameras used for unintended purposes

Cheapy USB camerasI will have one more work week in Texas after today. I enjoy my job and the people where I work a lot and it was agonizing to turn in my notice. Part of the job I love the most is the requirement to create sophisticated machine vision and video analytics applications with cheap USB cameras and ARM embedded computers that run embedded Linux, usually Debian. We prototype a lot of the stuff on Raspberry Pi’s which is great because there is such a big user community it is easy to quickly get answers about just about anything. There are four cameras in the article accompanying this post that range in value between $20 and $50.

All of the cameras work just fine right out of the box for the purpose for which they were design–that is generally streaming video with camera controlling the capture gain and offset. Conversely, it reduces the repeatability and precision of most machine vision application if the offset, gain and lighting controls are not managed by the application. So, it has been part of my job to dive into the driver code far enough to figure out how to set the registers that need to be set to control cheap cameras well enough to work in accord with the stringent requirements of many machine vision applications. That takes a lot of patience and, although it is not exactly rocket science, it is very rewarding when the last piece of minutiae is chased down and the stuffs starts working.

One thing I have learned is that this “big data” thing is here to stay, at least in my world of machine vision, embedded computing and video analytics. There are tons of things you can almost do deterministically that become tractable when enough data and machine learning are thrown at them. I am loving working with Weka and R and the machine learning functionality in the OpenCV library because they open up new vistas, not to mention I can more frequently say, “I think I can do that” and not squint my eyes and wonder whether I am lying.

Device arrived for my project (not my day job)

Case for for medical diagnostic deviceThis ruggedized case and computer came in the mail yesterday. If is for the project to drive cost out of the diagnosis of blood pathologies that often occur in certain developing parts of the world. This is just a prototype, but for a prototype, it is very impressive. I am looking forward to firing the thing up. I am at least a week or two from being able to do that because of everything else on our plates. My hope is to eventually be able to replace the laptop computer with an embedded computer like a Raspberry Pi or one of its more industrial strength cousins.