Monday, April 30, 2007

Being a big brother

Now that Andrew has been a big brother for almost 2 months, we asked what he likes about having a sister and what he liked about being an only child. Here is what he said.

Things he liked about being an only child:
  • Playing with only mommy and daddy
Things he likes about having a sister:
  • Playing "zooms" (cars) with her
  • Having her next to him in the car seat
  • Hugs
  • Sharing food with her
  • She's cute
  • Making funny sounds with her
  • Making funny faces with her
We're glad the second list is longer than the first!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pikes Peak Ascent

A while back in this blog I pondered the possibility of running in the Pikes Peak Marathon - 26.2 miles and 7815 feet of vertical - up and then down again. The uphill part will of course be tough, but it's the downhill part that really scares me. My recurring nightmare was that I'd be cruising the downhill half of the run, in a weakened state and with knees throbbing, and take a nasty head-over-heels spill. Ultimately, I decided to just do the uphill half of the race - the slightly more sane Pikes Peak Ascent. I have until August 18 to get in shape. Pikes Peak or Bust!

Successful surgery

My mom had surgery today to remove her cancer. Not only was the surgery successful, but the doctors also reported the great news that the cancer hasn't spread to her lymph nodes. Less than 2 weeks after her diagnosis, the cancer is gone - hopefully for good - and she's on the road to recovery! Our prayers have been answered.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Convert iTunes to mp3 with QTFairUse

Apple iTunes is great - if you have an iPod, anyway. If you're using any other player, iTunes protected AAC files are useless. I have an old Creative MuVO USB mp3 player that I listen to when I'm running. (A good set of rockin' tunes helps me pick up the pace.) I use iTunes for 2 reasons:
  • I can't download the music I want anywhere else (for example, the Hillbilly Hellcats, a great rockabilly band)
  • I got a gift certificate
In the past, I've burned my iTunes to CD, then re-ripped the tracks in mp3 or wma format so I could get them on my mp3 player. That's a great way to do it, assuming you actually want them on a CD. But what if you don't even want to put the tunes on a CD?

I found a good solution. Download a sweet little tool called QTFairUse and fire it up. This tool converts your DRM-restricted AAC files to unprotected m4a (MP4) files, which are playable in iTunes. QTFairUse updates your iTunes library so it uses the new m4a files instead of the old AAC files, and it also keeps any ratings or other tags you've added to the tracks. It will convert specific files you select, or it can convert your entire iTunes library. Now you can use iTunes to convert tracks to mp3 format, and voila - you can now play your tunes on any mp3 player.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The dreaded diagnosis

My mom called this morning with some bad news. She has breast cancer, the same disease that claimed her mother, aunt, and maternal grandmother. Fortunately, she discovered it very early. The tumor is small, and will probably be removed within in a week. We don't know yet what other treatment she'll require, but we're hopeful that she'll beat this thing, thanks to early detection.

At the moment, she seems to be more concerned about how her illness is going to "inconvenience" other people than she is about her own health. That's my mom, though. So selfless it's exasperating!

Hang in there, mom! We're all pulling for you.

Cast number two

Elizabeth got her 2nd pair of casts on Wednesday. The process starts at home, where Amy soaks her old casts off using a warm bath and vinegar. The plaster soaks off in only about 20 minutes. So far there is no noticeable improvement in her foot position, but it's not expected to be noticeable until the 3rd or 4th cast.

Then it's an hour and 15 minute drive to Greeley. Yep, Greeley. Dr. Hatch is the only Ponseti-trained doctor we could find in the whole state, but it's worth the drive.

At the doctor's office, Elizabeth sits in Amy's lap while the doctor and 2 nurses put the casts on. It takes about 30 minutes, and Elizabeth spends about half of that screaming. You can't blame her for that, I suppose. Fortunately, Amy is able to keep her content part of the time with a bottle and a toy. One week down, seven-to-nine weeks to go!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cast number one

Elizabeth had her first visit to Dr. Daniel Hatch yesterday to start her club foot treatment using the Ponseti method. She now has thigh-high casts on both legs. For at least the next 8 weeks, she'll be visiting the doctor weekly to gradually move her feet closer to the normal position, getting a new pair of casts each time.

They look horribly uncomfortable, but fortunately they don't seem to bother her. The casting process evoked a fit of ear-piercing screams, though, and she was having a bad before it even started; she was running a fever, acting fussy, and obviously not feeling very well. Poor girl! THe good is that she has gotten over that trauma and today she was in a much better mood.

We may have seen her first fit of jealousy today, though. As Liz sat watching mommy, Andrew came and sat in mommy's lap, and Elizabeth instantly burst into a fit of tears. How dare he sit in her mom's lap!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

China Blue

I just finished watching China Blue on PBS - a documentary about a factory in China making blue jeans. Even though I spent 4+ months in China, I was stunned by what I saw. A 17 year old girl left her farming family with 100 RMB (about $12) in her pocket to find work in a far-away city. She found it at the Lifeng factory, where she not only worked, but also lived in the factory dormitory, sharing a room with 11 other girls - not women, but girls as young as 14 years old. Among the revelations that stick in my mind:

  • She earned only about 6 cents per hour
  • Minimum wage and overtime laws were completely ignored. She often worked 15 hour shifts, and sometimes more than 24 hours in a single shift - with no overtime pay.
  • Unions and strikes are illegal. Anyone attempting to organize would likely be jailed. Thought China was a communist/socialist country? Think again.
  • The factory owner said, categorically, his rural workers are not only uneducated, but cannot be educated and cannot learn a work ethic.
  • Workers' first months pay is withheld as a "security deposit", and they are never paid it unless they receive "permission" to leave the factory, which of course they are never granted.
  • She worked more than 3 months before receiving her first pay. In the meantime, she had no money. Need medicine? Sorry, you're SOL.
  • Under public pressure, the international companies that buy from China started sending inspectors to verify working conditions. Factories know in advance when the inspectors are coming, and coerce workers into lying about working conditions and pay to keep the inspectors satisfied.
She and all her coworkers were virtual slaves of the factory, rarely leaving the premises. During one long shift, she left to buy an energy-boosting tea (for 6 cents) from a street vendor. She was fined 2 days' wages for leaving.

You can't pin all the blame on the evil factory owner here, though. He faces intense competition from within China and elsewhere, and he couldn't possibly compete if he were to follow national labor laws - as long as other factories continue to break the law.

I'm sure many of my own clothes were made in China. And there's no doubt that working conditions in other countries - India, Pakistan, wherever - are just as deplorable. So what to do? I suspect it would be pretty difficult - and fairly expensive - to fill my closet with clothes that don't weigh so much on my conscience.

Monday, April 02, 2007

New gig at IP Commerce

I accepted a job offer today to be Director of Integration Delivery at IP Commerce, a company based in Denver. The company is building a software platform to enable and simplify electronic payments over the internet. So what will I be doing? Building and managing teams of developers that will build software to connect the system to various banks and payment service providers. I'm excited about the opportunity, and I'll be among friends - I've worked with many people there in the past.

I've enjoyed my 2nd tour of duty with BoldTech, and the unique opportunity I had to work in China and build a cool video web site at the same time. This new position should be a great opportunity for me, though, and I look forward to it.

Token white guy

I don't have too many opportunities in my life to be the person who is adding racial diversity to a business-related function. I did, however, have that opportunity while working in China last year. My company's China office quietly invited me to a career fair in Hangzhou, where I would ostensibly help the recruiting effort. My main qualification, as is turns out, was my undeniably Caucasian appearance, which apparently lends a certain international credibility to a Chinese company's operations.

Now I'm considering changing careers to be a professional Caucasian. Consider this story I found today in my daily email from, of all places.

Last night I ran into a friend who had just returned from living in China for three years. He taught English and mostly stuck to Beijing, but he said he found another job that allowed him to travel a bit even if it didn't pay too much money. Chinese companies would pay him to sit in on meetings. It wasn't for his advice or his mediating skills, they brought him in so their company would look more international when they had meetings with other companies. It was a pretty good gig, he said he only had to talk once, but it was a ten minute spot in front of 600 people while pretending he was the designer of some project. Apparently national media was there and the whole thing was pretty stressful. The whole thing sounds like an 80s movie I would watch on a Sunday afternoon.
I'm highly qualified for that job. In fact, I can't think of anyone who is more clearly Caucasion than myself. Time for a new career?