Memorial Day

Monday, May 31st, 2004
Yesterday at church, we were shown a video tribute to the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in their service to our nation.

With a background of somber but patriotic music, the words of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address faded in and out, as images of American soldiers -- at times emotional, at other times inspiring, but at all times patriotic -- appeared on the screen. It was a moving, but inadequate tribute to the sacrifices that the men and women of our great nation have made. I say inadequate, not as a reflection on the video presentation itself, (it was outstanding), but that most of us simply cannot comprehend the price that these people (and their loved ones) have paid, and continue to pay today, so that we might enjoy the freedoms that we do -- here in America, and around the world.

Image:Memorial Day My pastor encouraged our congregation to visit the local cemetery to pay our respects to these heroes.  It was a very sobering experience to see row after row of flags waving in the wind, each marking the grave of an American soldier. As we walked through the cemetery, we read each grave marker to learn the name, branch of service, and sometimes the specific event in which each of these men and women had served.

From the top of the hill, I could see the freeway in the distance below. While perhaps a total of 10 families visited the cemetery in the brief time that we were there, thousands of motorists drove by, probably unaware of the cemetery, occupants, or the connection between them.

That connection is freedom.

I am grateful for this country that I call my own, a land that is free; and I am grateful to the men and women who have proudly served to make and keep it that way.

The next time you drive by a cemetery on Memorial Day and you see all of the flags, stop your car and get out. Take some time to walk the rows of graves, to remember what we enjoy in America, the price paid, and give thanks to God.

Thoughts on procrastination

Saturday, May 29th, 2004
I will blog more about this soon.

Blogging at a new level

Friday, May 28th, 2004
With the release of his new blog, friend and associate, Greg Fisk, has just raised the bar on what an aesthetically pleasing blog site can look like. Greg and I first started working together many years ago, when the web was still in its infancy and companies were still trying to figure out how to leverage this new medium. His business site says that he brands people -- just take a look at David Allen's site to see what he means.

Greg has a tremendous gift for communicating visually what would otherwise take a thousand words to do.
 Once you have seen Greg's work, you will remember it - it is always remarkable.

Here's a sneak preview of the image Greg is creating for me for the upcoming launch of my new eProductivity.NET site.

Image:Blogging at a new level

I love it! Visual Simplicity.

See the stick man in the corner of this site? That's Greg's work, too. I simply described a concept for a personal site and a few days later Greg had packaged the concept in what has become my favorite personal logo.

I look forward to working with Greg as we upgrade the design of my other sites.  I hope you will add this site to your RSS feed and check back soon.  

PS. Greg, the tattooed guy in the corner of your site? Is that you, or a client? (Just kidding )

WiFi HotSpots in jail?

Wednesday, May 26th, 2004
The voice of experience: Do not try to drive a remotely piloted vehicle through an LAX Airport security checkpoint.  If you must, be sure to keep it covered with a blanket at all times. Here's a brief account of my recent near run-in with Homeland Security.

In January, I took some time away to work on the restoration of my HERO 2000 Robot. Among other things, one of the things that I did was to meet with 4 other robotics enthusiasts, all of whom own vintage HERO 2000 robots.  We've been calling ourselves the Los Angeles Robot Resurectionists Society and we meet several times a year to work on our robot restoration projects.

Image:WiFi HotSpots in jail?
What can I say? Some people restore vintage cars, we restore vintage robots.

My family dropped me and HERO off at a friend's house, near Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The day went well, and thanks to Kevin, my HERO 2000 now has a working arm again.  

Image:WiFi HotSpots in jail?Image:WiFi HotSpots in jail?
I should probably point out that HERO is about the size of a large child and twice as heavy. When I transport him in the car, I buckle him in with a seat belt and restraints, and I cover him with a blanket so that he will not fall out or call attention to himself.

Image:WiFi HotSpots in jail?Image:WiFi HotSpots in jail?
Kelly and I load HERO into the car

On the way home, as the jets flew overhead, I realized that my younger children had never seen or heard an airplane up close, so I decided to drive to a nearby parking lot at the end of the runway so that they could watch the planes land.  After several minutes of this, we decided to drive through the airport. As we  approached LAX, we could see police cars everywhere, generator powered lighting trucks illuminating the streets, and officers with dogs, search lights, and mirrors (for under-car inspection).

As we approached the security checkpoint for our lane, which was attended by at least a half dozen security agents, I realized that I had, in my car, a remotely piloted vehicle, complete with cameras, antennas, and remote console -- not the kind of thing that one usually brings to an airport. Further, if asked, I had no real purpose for even being at the airport -- no one to pick up and no tickets to go anywhere. It was too late to get out of the security lane and doing so would have only attracted more attention.

Image:WiFi HotSpots in jail?
HERO 2000 Actively scans the horizon with his Sonar

I told the kids to be quiet and to keep the robot covered with the blanket.   We rolled down our windows so that the security officer could look into our car. Despite the obvious occupant hiding under a blanket, they did not say anything.  We also have an unusual cargo carrier attached to the back of our car. It has an enclosed storage unit about the size of a 55 gallon drum.  No one seemed to notice or care.  After a minute, they waived us through.

Sorry, I did not think to take any pictures at the security checkpoint. :-(

So, while it was tense for a moment, it was a relatively uneventful inspection. I was surprised, even disappointed, that no one checked any further. At the same time, I was not about to pull-over, unload a 100 lb robot, and remotely pilot it back to the security checkpoint just to show them what they had missed.  That would have made for a more eventful evening.

I bet they don't have wireless HotSpots in jail.

Imagination required

Saturday, May 22nd, 2004
At a time when the average American family did not own a color television, kids still had their play stations.  (If you instantly thought of Sony, then you may be too young to remember what this blog entry is about.)

Back in the days when the words "Some assembly required" meant that you had to have a tool-box, we had to use our imagination to play and there were a variety of basic toys to help us do so. I was lucky enough to own a toy that sparked my imagination -- it was an all-metal, recumbent ride-on rocket-plane, by Mattel, designed to look like the then-popular X-15 supersonic aircraft.

Image:Imagination required

This toy was special to me because it was given to me by my grandfather, who was a fuel systems specialist at the Air Force Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base in support of this amazing aircraft. Little did I know then that someday I too, would have the opportunity to work at Edwards - not on planes but on computers as a technology consultant and trainer at the Flight Test Center.

Image:Imagination required
Here I am, flying over my front yard

With flight stick in hand, I would cruise down the sidewalk, sometimes for hours, carrying out various missions to defend our country.  Then, I would bank left and head for home to a glass of Nestle's, a plate of fresh baked cookies, and to catch up on the latest episode of Gilligan and Batman on our 13" black and white television. Finally, I would return to the skies and to complete my next mission.

A play station, was whatever was in front of us at the time. Whether it was a cool toy such as my X-15, or a pair of make-shift collapsible swords, made from a broken set of rabbit ears, there was always adventure to be found at play, and the best toys did not require batteries, Just imagination.

Those were great times.

Thanks, Grandpa.

On the road, wirelessly

Tuesday, May 18th, 2004
Whenever I travel for an extended period, I bring along an unusual array of gear that allows me to work remotely yet stay connected to my office, my associates, and clients. While perhaps exciting to me, I would not normally have blogged about this were it not for Jason's blog today by the same title. When I read Jason's post about high speed wireless internet in hotels, I was in fact on the road, wirelessly connected to my office and to a client. Kathy took a quick photo before we checked out, so that I might show you how I work on the road. I should have worn my propeller hat, for this geek post.

Image:On the road, wirelessly

For the past several years, my extended mobility kit has included a SonicWall VPN Appliance, a network hub, a 2.4 GHz wireless access point/bridge, a 2-Line Multitech VOIP Gateway, and a 2-Line 900 Mhz cordless phone. This setup allows me to simultaneously replicate my e-mail, VoiceMail, and other databases from my Notes server back at the office, support clients, and video conference with my virtual assistant, Jenny.

Image:On the road, wirelessly

I have seamlessly integrated all of this into my office network and PBX so that I can access my servers and receive and make calls just as if I were in the office. In fact, when clients call, they usually have no idea of whether I am in my office or in a hotel somewhere. With two lines, I can be in a call, yet my office can still ring through on the intercom to alert me to another call. With this system, I can even hold a video conference with a client, even when I am away from my office.

Image:On the road, wirelessly

With the wireless, I can roam the hotel, while connected to my office.  Several years ago, before public HotSpots were available, I was able to sit in the lobby with my cordless phone and laptop wirelessly connected to my hotel room, connected back to my office through my hotel room Internet connection - how's that for mobility? Shortly, I will be able to do all of this from just my WiFi enabled laptop; for now, I'm content to carry the extra gear.

I'm glad to be back home now, and tomorrow will be a regular day in the office, but it is nice to know that I can use technology to bring my office with me whenever and wherever I need it. That's what I call eProductivity!

Mission Impossible?

Saturday, May 15th, 2004
As an on-going homeschool activity, we have set a goal of visiting each of the California missions over the next several years.  This past week, we visited the beautiful mission San Juan Capistrano, the 7th mission in a chain of 21 missions along California's "El Camino Real."

Image:Mission Impossible?

We were able to walk the Mission site and visit the Serra Chapel.  We also toured the Padre's quarters and the soldier's barracks as well as the remains of the Great Stone Church. At noon, we heard the tolling of century old bells.

Image:Mission Impossible?

After our field trip, and in keeping with the spirit of the day, we headed across the street for authentic Mexican food.

The Ultimate PC Accessory

Friday, May 14th, 2004
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Bill Griffin, of Grifftek to discuss my CNC machining projects. After a tour of his new shop, Bill invited me over to his office, where he makes rapid prototypes in the model shop - he wanted to show me his latest toy: a Stratasys Fused Deposition Machining (FDM) system. What's FDM, you ask? Think of it as the ultimate 3D Printer for your computer. It can take a 3D Solid Model and print a usable part from it in ABS plastic, quickly and quietly, in the convenience of your office (or home).

Image:The Ultimate PC Accessory
I want one of these machines!

How does it work? It's basically a computer-controlled hot-melt glue gun that can precisely deposit a thread-like bead of molten ABS plastic. By building up successive layers, parts of almost any complexity can be created. The parts are built-up on a tray, much like a cookie-sheet in an oven.

Image:The Ultimate PC Accessory
Need a part? Need a tray full of parts? Just click Print.

Once the FDM process is complete, the parts can be removed from the oven, ready to clean and use.

Image:The Ultimate PC Accessory

I have heard it said that you are only dollars away from anything you want. Well, there are only a few hundred thousand reasons why I do not yet own one of these cool PC accessories. I can't wait for the price to come down. (I remember when laser printers used to cost that much.)

Thanks Bill, for an educational evening, and a great dinner!

PS. Bill retrofitted my CNC Mill and Lathe and did a first-class job. If you are looking for a quality CNC system or retrofit, Bill's the guy to contact.

Where am I?

Thursday, May 13th, 2004
Two weeks ago, I blogged about my positive experience using Pylon iAnywhere. Gabe and I have been discussing a prototype mobile sales force productivity  application for the Real Estate industry.  Since Gabe and I have other interests in common, besides just using Lotus Notes productively, we scheduled a meeting at what has become one of my favorite places to entertain my out-of-town clients and their families. (The other is the Magic Castle).

See if you can figure out exactly where we met from these clues...

Image:Where am I?

Think you know?  Here's another...

Image:Where am I?

The final clue. (If you did not get the first two, this won't make any sense at all.)

Image:Where am I?

It’s Empty, It’s Empty!

Tuesday, May 11th, 2004
"It's Empty, It's Empty, It's Empty! I never thought that would ever happen. Thanks!"

These excited words are from a client, who recently learned how to quickly and effectively process his overflowing e-mail Lotus Notes in-box to zero as a result of attending one of my presentations. Reading his email made my day -- and it reminded me of why I enjoy doing what I do at ICA.

The most valued thanks that I receive in my work is learning how something that I was able to do for a client has positively impacted their life and their business.

Today, Jason Womack inspired me to share summaries of a few comments that I have recently received:

Eric, I have changed my Notes Welcome Page to look like yours and turned off my "chime" when incoming mail arrives.  I am literally amazed at how much of what I NEEDED to get done was accomplished yesterday.  I handled every one of my new emails and have even cleaned up all the way back to Monday (which if you saw my in-box is pretty good).

The question that you asked that struck a chord with me was whether or not we really knew what projects we were working on, and what tasks we had to complete to move them along.

I have started to use the Notes To-dos to manage my projects. Now, everything I need is at my fingertips.

I have processed my in-box to empty, and I am now working from my To-do list. As I adapt to your methods (and customize them to my needs), I hope to reduce the stress in my life, and become more effective.

I was energized to think differently about how I use Lotus Notes.

It is so gratifying to hear from my clients, current and past, about how I have been able to help them increase their productivity and find the time to do the things that really matter to them.

It is a privilege to serve each and every one.

Mother’s Day Tribute

Sunday, May 9th, 2004
This weekend, we enjoyed a wonderful Mother's day. I took my family to visit my grandmother and grandfather and my aunt and uncle.  As we visited together I took the time to observe how each of my children were behaving and interacting with one another and with their great-grandparents, great-aunt and great-uncle, and their cousins.  I took time to reflect on each of their character and grace.

I'm very proud of my children -- not for any accomplishment on my part, but for the delightful young ladies that they are growing into. They are graceful, compassionate, kind, intelligent, caring, eloquent, and fun. Most of all, their love of the Lord can be seen in their countenance. As I thought about all of this, I realized that these are the very characteristics that had first attracted me to Kathy 15 years ago, and that through her example, these were now manifest in my children. What a fitting tribute to my wife on Mother's day.

I'm very honored to have Kathy as my wife and I count our daughters among the many blessings in our marriage. Thank you, Kathy.  Happy Mother's day!

Pylon Anywhere

Thursday, May 6th, 2004
One of the neat things about being an eProductivity specialist, is that I have the opportunity to research, test, and deploy a variety of new technologies for my clients. Before I recommend any technology to a client, I work with it in-house. If, after a few weeks, I'm still enamored by the solution, then it will find its way into a recommendation for a client.

One technology that I have used over the years is a product called Pylon Pro, which allows me to publish Notes databases to a Palm or Pocket PC device. I've been helping my clients to deploy the Pylon desktop solution for many years (since the 1.0 release), when it was first developed by a small company called Globalware.  Now, after several acquisitions, Pylon seems to have found a home and an outstanding support team as part of the iAnywhere family of solutions, from Sybase. The neat thing is that Sybase did not just add Pylon to their existing family of solutions and park it there. No, they have continued to develop, extend, and refine the Pylon technology into their suite of M-Business products.

Image:Pylon Anywhere

I am most excited about two products: Pylon iAnywhere -- a server-based tool to extend PIM information from Lotus Notes or Microsoft Exchange to any number of handheld devices (Palm, SmartPhones, PocketPC, etc.), and the Pylon Application Server, an M-Business solution that allows me to extend the reach of Notes/SQL/ODBC databases to a mobile workforce.

This means that my clients can now take the same databases that they have on their desktops with them on their PDA or SmartPhones. Changes made in one location are immediately reflected in the other.

This takes mobile computing to a whole new level, as I'm now able to quickly design and deploy eProductivity applications for my clients which can be used anytime, anywhere.  

This morning, I received a call from Gabe Stanek, a systems consultant from iAnywhere Solutions. Gabe gave me a private tour of the new Pylon Apps Server 6.0, which delivers client-side processing to their existing product. This means that I can now deploy mobile applications that will do onboard look-ups, validations, and updates to records as they are edited on the device. My enterprise clients will be quite excited to learn about this!  I can now deploy a database as a mobile application with client-side logic -- something that used to take days or weeks of development -- in just a few hours . Nice work iAnywhere team!

I'll have much more to share about this and other productivity enhancing technologies, when I launch my eProductivity.NET blog site.

Joe’s Cool Colored Coat

Saturday, May 1st, 2004
Remember Joe?  The second to youngest of 12 brothers, who captured his father's heart and got a cool jacket to show for it?  Joe's brothers became jealous, betrayed him, and took their revenge upon him, along with his new jacket.  Joe rises above his situation, is noticed by the big boss, finds himself second in command over everything, and preserves his family line. This story has it all: Love, generosity, dreams, jealousy, treachery, revenge, loyalty, flirting, deceit, despair, more dreams, hope, prophecy, wisdom, leadership, grovelling, compassion, and reunion.

I don't want to give away the plot, but that's a good brief summary; It's remained a popular story for thousands of years.

If you have been following our family web site, then you know that this is one of our favorite Bible stories. Tonight, we were again privileged to enjoy this story in musical form at a performance of Andrew Lloyd Weber's Joseph And The Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, performed by the Bakersfield Music Theater.

Image:Joe´s Cool Colored Coat

After the performance, we had the opportunity to go backstage to meet the cast.  The girls had their pictures taken with Joseph (Jason D. McClain) and Pharaoh (Kevin Trueblood).  Both were delighted to meet the four girls and were kind enough to pose for photos. Emily and Kelly wore the Technicolor Dream Coats that Mommy made for Amy and Wendy when they were little.

Image:Joe´s Cool Colored CoatImage:Joe´s Cool Colored Coat

I have seen this musical many times across North America from Toronto to California; however, this particular performance had the most energetic choreography that we have ever seen in a production of Joseph. Our family had a hard time staying still in our seats when the brothers celebrated their dastardly deed and when Isaachar (Frank Sierra) led us in the "Benjamin Calypso."

Find this interesting? You can read the real story on-line:
Joseph's Dreams - Joseph and Potiphar's Wife - Interpreting Dreams
The Rise to Power - Joseph’s Brothers take a Trip - Return of the Brothers
The Final Test - The Reconciliation - The Relocation - Wise Administration

Homeschool Geography

Saturday, May 1st, 2004
For the past few weeks our house has had an international flair as my children have been preparing for today's homeschool geography fair.  Books from the library, postal envelopes with foreign currency, embassy packages with information, and flags from foreign nations have all had a place on our dinner table for weeks.

Each child prepared a display and wrote a report about the country they selected. In addition to their report, each child gave an oral presentation to the group. Finally,  we were able to taste representative foods from each nation, which the children prepared for us.

Image:Homeschool Geography
Amy chose to do her research on the country of Italy. She enjoyed learning about Italian culture, the Euros, and the opportunity to build a model of the tower of Pisa.
Image:Homeschool Geography

Wendy researched the country of France and shared information and items she collected from her French relatives. She made chocolate crepes to share with the other children.

Emily studied about Ireland and served homemade Irish Soda bread.  She really liked learning that grocers sell vegetables from baby carriages. She also learned about the flag of Ireland and what each color represents.
Image:Homeschool Geography
Image:Homeschool Geography

Kelly (4) read a patriotic presentation about the United States of America. Kelly showed an American flag that she made and she showed everyone where California is on a map that she colored. She let everyone sample authentic American food: hot dogs.

For next year's Homeschool Geography Fair, the girls plan to write to the Sampson Boys, down under, to collect some information about their homeland: New Zealand. Their dad, Michael is a great guy, a fellow technologist, and a dedicated homeschooling father.

I've been behind on the blogging lately - lots of exciting projects going: client work, another speech, preparations for the eProductivity.Net site launch, family/homeschool, and my own studies and research all keep me quite busy. I will try to post more details here and over at the Mack Academy web site soon.