Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tools of the trade

Warning: this will be another one of my technical posts.

As an electrical/firmware engineer, there are a number of tools that I use on a daily basis that are indispensible to my trade.  Today I wanted to post a quick list of my favourites, with perhaps future posts going into more detail.

  1. Numero uno has to be Vim, otherwise know as “the best text editor in the world”.  Now I have only been using Vim for a little more than a year, but  it has changed my life.  Ok, perhaps that is going a little overboard, but quite honestly, if you have a year of your life to devote to learning a text editor, there is no better candidate than Vim.  If you have tried it and just don’t grok it, then read the first answer to the following question.  What is my favourite command?  “gg=G”.  Just awesome.
  2. Number two is Mercurial.  This tool is for revision control, and it absolutely beats the pants of the “official tool” I am supposed to use.  Revision control software allows you to take “snapshots” of your code so that at any time in the future you can recreate anything you have done in the past.
    For example I can type “hg update v1.1” at a command line and instantly all the files in my coding product are exactly as they were when we released version 1.1 of the software.  Type “hg update v2.0” and again all the files are updated to as they were when version 2.0 was released. 
    Mercurial is one of the new breed of revision control tools known as “distributed version control” which is in contrast to the previous breed known as “centralized version control”.  Again like with Vim, I have drunk the proverbial kool-aid.  I have been won over to this new paradigm.
  3. I will end on number 3 which is Python.  No not the animal; Python, is a programming language, named after comedy troupe Monty Python.  Python is a member of a class of languages often referred to as scripting languages. 
    On a day to day basis, I would estimate that more than 90% of my programming is done in a completely different language called C, with perhaps 10% or less done in Python.  Notwithstanding, the more I learn about Python, the more I am blown away with the simple elegance and the sheer power of the language. 
    Having a scripting language in my tool belt has made me more productive and honestly opened my eyes to what is possible.  For example after learning Python, I was able to write a utility in about 150 lines of code that analysed the output of my C compiler, calculated the execution time of each assembly instruction and then produced an annotated file which contained timing information for each line of assembly, each line of C, and each C function.  Fantastic information to know when you are trying to understand the efficiency of your compiler and optimize the code to improve performance. 
    Ignoring the fact that the equivalent utility written in C would have taken probably 2000 lines of code, my mind simply wouldn’t have known where to begin using C, while with Python a relative novice was able to produce the utility in only a couple of days.  Incredible stuff.

Monday, August 29, 2011

On Happiness

Five blog entries, in five days; so what was it all about.  As I mentioned last Monday, the experiment comes from a book that I am reading.  The book is called 59 seconds:  think a little, change a lot.  A couple of weeks ago I was reading an interesting blog entry.  The blog’s author highly recommended this book and I was convinced to purchase it.

Chapter one is called happiness, and it highlights a number of studies done on happiness and comes to a number of conclusions.   The first being that writing is far more effective than talking when it comes to working through traumatic events in a persons life.  Furthermore other studies found that the act of writing can have significant benefits to promoting everyday happiness in a person’s life.  Hence my week long homework assignment.

According to the book the results of this exercise should be a fairly quick change in mood and happiness that may last for months.  Furthermore, If the feeling wears off the author instructs the reader to repeat the exercise as needed. 

So how do I feel?

Happy is certainly a word I could use.  I am by no means unhappy, however in general I am a happy person.  I really started the exercise from a position of general happiness, so I guess a more important measure would be relative happiness compared to a week ago.  So how do I feel relative to last week?

Again it is not an easy question to answer.  I can’t say that I am tremendously more happy, but in no respects am I less happy.  Having a scientific mind I would love to say that I have achieved a 54% increase in my level of happiness, but the subjective nature of feelings prevents me from being certain.  Overall I think my happiness has increased slightly. 

As far as the exercises went, I enjoyed the process of putting my thoughts on paper and they will be an interesting record for me to look back on in the days ahead.  I think that the experiment would have been more conclusive, if I had started from a position of unhappiness, but frankly I really don’t want to find out.

The key takeaway for me is that it is good to incorporate words of gratitude and affection in my writing.  Something I will continue to try and do.

The books discussion on happiness doesn't end there however.  Based on other studies, the book concludes the following:

  1. Buying experiences and not goods promotes happiness.
  2. Giving  promotes happiness.
  3. Smiling promotes happiness.
  4. Intentional change, rather than circumstantial change will promote happiness.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Week in review

Day 5 – think back over the past week and make note of three things that went really well for you

  1. This week we handed over a software delivery to a customer, intending to fix a number of problems for them.  Immediately after deployment, out of seemingly nowhere a new bug was discovered that was critical enough that I had the unfortunate task of telling the customer that we would have to pull back the new software.  Not an enjoyable task, to admit your team screwed up.  What did go well is that after explaining the situation to the customer, they were incredibly understanding and didn’t seem to hold it against us.  I think it helped that we didn’t attempt to pass the buck, but we admitted up to our mistake and promised to make it right.  What was more amazing is that they were thanking me for how quickly I was able to provide them an analysis of the situation.
  2. A few weeks back we sold our bicycle trailer and tandem tricycle.  Both products were excellent and I couldn’t more highly recommend them, however the girls had simply outgrown them.  For a replacement we purchased the Weehoo bicycle trailer and it came in on Wednesday.  I wasn’t sure if the girls would like it, but once they saw it, their smiles of delight gave me the answer I was looking for.  We have been out twice now for rides, with one girl in the trailer and one girl in the Wee-ride front mounted child carrier.  I can see us making many lasting memories with this trailer in the years ahead.  Just today though I realized that I should have purchased a second hitch so that the trailer could be attached to either of our adult bicycles.  The trailer had been a special order so I was kicking myself for not ordering a second hitch when I placed the initial order.  Anyways when I called the bicycle store I was amazed to find that they carried extra hitches so I was able to pick it up today.
  3. On Wednesday night a wild storm rolled through the region.  There were tornado warnings issued, so I used it as a pretext to have a campout in basement with the girls.  The girls had a thoroughly good time, seemingly oblivious to the thunder and lightning.  In fact they are looking forward to the next time we can sleep in the basement.  Go figure.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

To my parents

Day 4 – write a letter to someone who has impacted your life and tell them how important they are to you

Dear Mom and Dad,

The medium of the written word, is hardly expressive enough to accurately convey the love and respect that I have for you both.  I hope that my actions and spoken words to you over the years will substantiate the words that I write today.

Dad, thank you for always loving and supporting me through every endeavour.  Thank you for demonstrating to me that the measure of a man is not in what they do, but in who they impact for eternity.  It is because of you that I know my heavenly Father is completely faithful, unconditionally loving, and abundantly good.  It is because of you that I have never second guessed my decision to follow Christ. 

You taught me how to be warm and friendly with strangers.  You taught me to have concern for the needy, the sick and the elderly.  You taught me to appreciate life, and to not fear death.  You taught me to forgive, before resentment and bitterness could set in.  You taught me that material things are not worth clinging to.  You taught me to be content.

Thank you for taking me on bicycle rides as  a child.  Thank you for taking the time to answer every deep question I posed to you.  Thank you for involving me in the work of the church.  Thank you for guiding me.

Mom, your love and support is equally appreciated.  Your listening ear and warm heart gave me the confidence to grow into the man I have become.  It is because of you that I know that God is never too busy to hear my prayers, and that no concern it too trite.  You were and continue to be my biggest advocate.

You taught me the value of a dollar and the importance of being a good steward of my resources.  You taught me to be generous with those resources and to always give to the work of the Lord first.  You taught me to become independent through the many essential life skills you taught me.  Any success that I have in life can in large part be attributed to you.

Thank you for your godly discipline.  Thank you for your advice through the years.  Thank you for giving me the nudging I needed from time to time to get things done.  Thank you for teaching me that I can do anything if I try.

Mom and Dad, in short thank you for you prayers and love.  I am blessed beyond measure to have you in my life.

Love Andrew

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


Day 3 – write about your life in the future, imagining everything has gone well

August 24, 2046:

Hard to believe that my daughters turn 40 this year.  Where has the time gone!  Just yesterday they were pint sized bundles of joy that I could swing up onto my shoulders  without so much as a second thought.  How quickly they grow up.

To say I am proud of them would be putting it mildly.  I am overwhelmed with gratitude that God saw fit to bring them into my life, and give me the awesome privilege of raising them.  Their character, their beauty, their compassionate spirits are all proof positive that the hand of God is on their lives.  May He continue to guide their paths as they raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and may they always walk in the favour of their God.

My wife is the glue that binds this family together.  She has faithfully been my spouse, my advocate and my best friend for over 48 years.  Nevertheless, I can honestly say the best years are still ahead.  Through every valley and over every obstacle, she has been the source of so much wise council and insight that I have never had to regret a decision we have made together.  My love for her continues to grow.

As I look back on my life thus far, I am thankful for each relationship that has enriched my life.  My circle of friends has always been wider than it has been deep, but the few that I can call close friends have been the source of much encouragement over the years.

It is fascinating to think about the journey that God has taken me on.  I would never have thought it possible that I would be where I am today.  My vocation may have been as a software engineer, but my calling turned out to be abundantly more.  I am thankful that I learned to simply trust and obey.  Fighting against the purposes of the Lord is a loosing proposition every time.

I have so much to be thankful for in this life, the Lord has been good.  Putting aside any material possessions that I may have acquired, I have been blessed beyond measure.  Blessed in my relationships, blessed in my vocation, blessed in my calling and blessed in my spirit.  The past has been good, but the future is full of hope and promise.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The blessing

Day 2 – write about one of the most wonderful experiences in your life

Date:  Sometime in July 1987, age 11.

Setting:  The parlour of my grandparents farmhouse, just outside the town of Coagh, Northern Ireland.

Occasion:  A blessing from my grandfather.

During the summer before grade 7, our family took a 6 week summer vacation to the UK.  The first 3 weeks were spent in Northern Ireland visiting my Dad’s family and the next 3 weeks were spent in England visiting my Mom’s family.  Shortly before leaving Ireland, my dad arranged to have each of his children blessed by my grandfather.

I remember hanging out in the family room waiting for my turn, while my older brother was in the parlour with granddad.  When it was my turn, I was called into the parlour with granddad and I remember him gently placing his hands on my head while he prayed a prayer of blessing over me.  I don’t remember the words, but still today I can remember the sound of his voice as he prayed for me. 

This experience; that of receiving a blessing from my paternal grandfather left an indelible mark on my life; the impact of which will only be fully known in eternity.

Monday, August 22, 2011

An experiment

Having somewhat of a scientific disposition, I have decided to conduct an experiment. 

What is the experiment? 

It is taken from a book that I am currently reading and for each of the next five days I have to follow a model when writing on this blog.  After the five days I hope to have some additional insights to share, based on the results of this experiment.

Day 1 – write about 3 things I am thankful for:

  1. I am grateful for my wife of 13 years.  Yesterday was my anniversary.  I have never once regretted the decision to tie the knot with the one I love.  The union of our lives proves that the whole is so much greater that the sum of our individual parts.
  2. I appreciate the time that I have been given here on earth.  The news of the day reminded me again that life is short and each day is a treasure.
  3. I am thankful for the video I just came across while reading a blog post.  It brought a smile to my face and made me realize the power a kind word has to brighten a day.


Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Forever Family Day #4

It was this day four years ago that I received into my arms a baby girl.  At the same moment my wife received into her arms another baby girl.  In an instant a family was born.

My daughters are the source of so much joy and happiness in my life.  They are gifts from the Lord and I cherish them.  I love them more than life itself.

In the book of Matthew, the bible says "if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine."

Difficult words.  Christ wants to be my first love; but is he?  Am I that committed?  It is hard to be sure living in Canada.  It is pretty easy to be a Christian here.  The situations that test my faith seem so insignificant in comparison to what others endure.

I am listening to a song by Keith Green as I write this.  A song called "I pledge my head to heaven".  The third verse goes like this.

    I pledge my son to heaven for the gospel.
    Though he's kicked, and beaten, ridiculed and scorned,
    I will teach him to rejoice, and lift a thankful praising voice,
    And to be like him who bore the nails and crown of thorns

What am I willing to endure for the sake of my faith in Jesus Christ?  And what is my life teaching my children about the Christian life?

Above all, I want my children to see me as faithful.  Faithful to God, faithful to their mother, and faithful to them.  I don’t think much more than that is required?  If I am an example of faithfulness to my children, it will go a long way to ensuring that they don't abandon their faith once the storms of life come their way.  And that is worth more to me than mere words can describe.