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Entries in Travel (56)

Monday
Aug022004

Post Vacation Observations

Our family had a very nice vacation break last week, driving to Western Pennsylvania (New Wilmington to be exact) for our yearly New Wilmington Missionary Conference experience. My wife has been a conference attendee the conference over 20 years, my own attendance is now at 6 years.

As usual, It was refreshing and relaxing and provided some time away from the daily grind to think about things I might not normally consider. So, what follows is a collection of random thoughts which percolated to the surface last week mixed in with thoughts about the weblog redesign, etc.

Disconnection Feels Good
While I carried along a laptop, mobile phone and PDA, I found myself enjoying freedom from those devices very much. I checked emails only once per day and for several days didn't check at all, leaving the laptop idle in my bag.

The only broadband connection occurred via free WiFi, at new little local cafe in town called Mugsies, where I could grab and send email or surf the web for free, while enjoying a coffee. Even then, laptop use at Mugsies was quite limited — I found it handy, but in no way was I interested in sitting for hours on the web. I liked having the option, but had no interest in what I do every week day, back home.

Of all things, I happened to forget the charger for my mobile phone, which meant it stayed off and in our room most of the week, though I did find even at low battery level, I could make calls in an emergency.

The Tungsten E became a reading tool for some weblogs and Le Tour sites I like to grab via iSilo. Again, since the laptop was mainly parked in my bag, using the TE for reading only happened a few evenings during the week.

I was pleased with my limited use of technology — it was freeing to not feel compelled to be online all the time. I was able to maintain touch if I wanted, but in the end, chose mainly to remain disconnected. Maybe the Amish, who live around New Wilmington had some subconscious effect on me.

The Grapes of Wrath
Besides spending time with my family and conference friends, I took time to continue reading The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck's novel is quite a good read, though I admit it took time to settle into his written version of 'Okie' slang that the Joad family speak in.

I'd started the book in the spring and lost track of it following PalmSource DevCon 2004, only to find it prior to our vacation. I was pleased to get back into the book again, finding the story interesting, shocking and challenging.

In a nutshell, the Joad family is uprooted by landowners on their Oklahoma farm, and are forced to migrate to California in hope of work and a life there. The Grapes of Wrath chronicles their story and of other migrants flowing to the West in the 1930s in search of a new life. I'm now nearly done, and can't wait to see the end of the story. One could safely say, I'm liking this book.

If you haven't read the book yet, or were forced to in school, I can highly recommend it. The story offers readers a great opportunity to experience first hand what hard times, forced travel and the migrant life might have been like, while displaying what dignity, kindness and being a human being is about.

Road Trips
I've discovered again that I really enjoy road trips. I dislike all of the preparation for a road trip (either direction), but once I'm on the road, I'm happy to drive, as long as good coffee, good tunes or a book on tape is there.

We listened to music and books, but most impressive was Thomas Cahill's How The Irish Saved Civilization. I was amazed to learn about the ancient world and how the Irish made copies of important documents just prior to the dark ages of Europe. Who knows where these documents might be if not for them. Not surprisingly, this little book revived interest in ancient Rome, St. Augustin and St. Patrick, because of their roles in history.

Unfortunately, it also saddened me to realize how much of the ancient world's literature was lost over the centuries, in spite of the Irish and their work.

Finally, road trips make hospitality shine like a jewel when it's encountered. I was encouraged, feeling the friendliness of strangers traveling with us. In one case, a man pointed out my accidentally dropped wallet at a rest stop, in another, I had a nice chat with a woman walking small puppy that my son wanted to pet, about kids and animals.

I think the largest example of road hospitality was that of my brother Steve and his family (Janet and Max), who offered to have us stay the night at their house after 8 hours on the road from PA. We'd only intended a short stay, but resting seemed a better option. We were treated to generous hospitality, and fun time together. It reminded me how nice a safe place for a traveler is, and challenged me to be ready to offer hospitality when the opportunity rises at our house.

Rohdesign Redesign
My last item is the redesign of my site, which happily had no progress over vacation. I'm now excited about completing the process, building the site and learning as I go along. I plan to have a detailed update at the end of the week.

Thanks to everyone who's stopped by to visit. I will be back in the swing of regular blogging once the redesign is posted... soon. :-)

Have a great week everyone!

Friday
Feb132004

PalmSource DevCon: Day Three

Today is my last day at the DevCon. Since I'm booked on a red-eye flight back home tonight, packing up all my gear and checking out was on this morning's agenda, right after a call to Gail and Nathan. I learned that things back home were going well, which is always a great way to start the day.

I had a bit fatter bag to pack for the trip home, so I got busy. Fortunately I had my favorite L.L. Bean nylon suitcase along, which zips out to accommodate more stuff. This $20 soft-sided suitcase was purchased from the L.L. Bean outlet in Maine on our honeymoon. It's my bag of choice for travel, because it's so tough and flexible. Once I was packed up, I made my way to the desk to check out.

The "workday" began with a meeting in our User Council room, followed by a walk down to the ballroom for a special session with David Nagel, CEO of PalmSource and Jeff Hawkins of PalmOne, (inventor of the Pilot). Nagel asked Hawkins all sorts of interesting questions about his work over the years. Hawkins was as engaging as ever, providing thoughtful and funny replies. I get the sense Jeff really is a "regular guy" underneath that visionary exterior. :-)

When Jeff was asked what has motivated him to do what he's done for the handheld industry, he spoke about how early on he knew mobile computing was the way of the future, but wasn't quite sure where it might lead. At the time he began, the "connected organizer" was really just his first step in a longer term vision of a device that could be with you all the time, carrying all of your critical information locally or on a network.

Jeff made a comment something to the effect of "making handhelds is like batting in baseball. If you get a hit every third at bat, you're doing pretty well." I thought this was a good analogy to what in fact Hawkins' track record has been. The Pilot was his third at bat (and a success) and the Treo 600 is a third generation device, that seems quite popular.

From what I've seen of the Treo 600 and its users, this device is very nice. I know that the Treo 180 had great integration between the PDA and Phone capabilities, so I suspect this has improved in the 600. Apparently the 5-way pad makes one handheld use of the Treo a wonderful experience. Orange in the UK is apparently pleased with the Treo 600, claiming that it's the best selling phone they currently have. I thought the industrial design was also well-done... the Treo 600 feels great in the hand and is much more workable (and less geeky) than the original 1XX and 2XX series Treos.

Hawkins also talked about moving the industry forward in small steps; that you aren't going to change the world with a single product, but if you can move the industry closer to where you want to go, that's a success.

When asked about competing platforms like Symbian, Microsoft and BREW, he talked about how they're much less flexible with regards to what can be done with their OSes. Since PalmOne sees their way to differentiate in customized software, this was a significant issue. He also mentioned that these other platforms were much more focused on building "platforms" rather than building "great products" -- something he and his team are very keen on doing.

Hawkins talked about many other topics, but his funniest comment came when Nagel asked him about his interest in brain research. He talked about what he's doing in that area and how for him, building handheld computers has financed his brain work:

"Other people wait on tables, I build handheld computers."

After the session ended, Michael Ashby and I had a chance to chat with Ryan Kairer of Palm Infocenter for a little while. I hadn't realized it, but Ryan is actually doing PIC as his full time gig, which is very good to hear! It's always good to hear people doing what they love.

Immediately after the session, Mashby had to leave for his flight back to Nashville. We said our goodbyes, though we'll of course be in touch online. One great thing about the Internet is, friends may part in person but can keep in close touch online.

The bulk of my day consisted of Palm OS User Council meetings, which all went very well. Our Palm OS Handheld Survey results (presented to PalmSource and licensees) were received well and seemed to be taken seriously. In fact, it's good to note that several of the most common wishes and gripes from the survey seem to be addressed in Palm OS Cobalt. I think the future of Palm OS is going to be quite an interesting ride.

I was very disappointed in the announcement that Mac OS will no longer be supported by PalmSource on Cobalt devices. It looks like PalmSource has decided that Mac support is not their focus with a limited amount of manpower and money. Of course I can understand their reasoning for the decision, but I still dislike it. The Missing Sync, which will apparently fill the gap (and is a very nice solution) requires Mac user to spend another $30-40 just to sync a Cobalt-based device. Argghhh!

Apparently, the good run of luck for Mac users (probably generated by ex-Apple employees and Mac users at PalmSource) has run out of gas. In a discussion with my friend Andy, I wondered if Mac support had always been subsidized and never profitable for PalmSource. Now with tighter budgets and Microsoft and Nokia coming on strong, that subsidization may be unrealistic. Throw The Missing Sync into the mix and you can see PalmSource's possible thinking here. It's at least a reasonable guess.

It's also very important to know why PalmSource has dropped direct Mac support. From what I've read in the technical whitepaper PDF provided by Mark/Space, the old Mac HotSync tool couldn't handle the new XML databases of Cobalt nor the larger than 64k chunks of data it needs to sync with the Mac. It's possible that Mac support for PalmSource might have meant a complete ground-up rewrite of the Mac HotSync tool, which would be no trivial task.

One ray of hope is that all licensees can provide Mac support via The Missing Sync. I would hope makers of Cobalt devices would see Mac users as attractive and provide a Lite OEM version of Missing Sync in the box, with the offer of a fanicer, more powerful Pro version from Mark/Space. However, if a Missing Sync Lite version cannibalizes the sales of the full version, maybe this isn't so attractive to Mark/Space.

Maybe a coupon for a reduced cost download of The Missing Sync would be more realistic. At the very least, licensees could offer a copy of The Missing Sync thrown into the box with a Cobalt device for additional cost, saving the additional step of downloading or ordering the software from Mark/Space.

But my larger concern with PalmSource dropping direct Mac sync support is what this might signal to other Palm OS developers. Will they be more likely to drop Mac conduits for their products now? Maybe the way out of this is a wireless sync approach. If Cobalt devices come standard with WiFi or Bluetooh (or both) would it be better to have direct sync over these wireless protocols than to build platform-specific HotSync conduits? Hmmm.

If you happen to be a Mac-Palm user, please send me your thoughts on PalmSource's decision (with Palm/Mac Support in the subject line). I'll be sending a summary report of the Mac community's reaction to this news about Mac support being dropped to PalmSource, and would love your thoughts on the matter.

As the day wore on, Our group of 7 User Council members began to dwindle. Greg Gaub, Craig Froehle and Jennifer Shelamer all departed by 6:30. The remainder of our crew, which included Dan Royea and Renee Roberts (also User Council members), and Mike Waldron of Bits n' Bolts Software, paid a visit to the Valley Fair Mall in Cupertino. We wanted to to have a peek at the PalmOne Café and get a bite to eat. The Café seemed decent: people were actually checking out the tethered handhelds on display at multiple tables. (no, they didn't offer Lattes).

Dinner was fast-food fare, though here in California that includes sushi (which I happened to have). Dan had a similar selection of sushi and when he pointed at his sushi and gave me a look, I thought he liked it as much as I did. Nope, he said it was average. I guess I'm just a land-lubber, sushi newbie. :-)

We made our last visit to the hotel to drop off Dan and Mike, then Renee kindly dropped me off at San Jose International. The airport is a ghost town at night, though my check-in agent said Thursdays are crazy, since everyone wants to get a jump on Friday travel. I was glad to be flying out Wednesday night. I found a seat near an AC outlet. O' Happy joy!

I was reminded of the cold winter I was returning to as we walked into the cool night to board the plane home. The San Jose evening was very pleasant but cool enough to wash away my expectations of a warm Thursday morning. I was still happy to be going home, but wished I could bring a few nice days back to Milwaukee for Gail and Nathan. Oh well.

2004-02-13
Now it's Friday, and I'm tuning up and tweaking my last DevCon travelogue post. I did try to get this last one out on Wednesday, but my schedule was too busy and my mind and body were too tired after three intense days and a red eye flight home. In the end it seemed better to provide good entry a little later rather than rushing the post out early.

All in all, it's been another great DevCon. I was very pleased to have met so many new people this time 'round, including Bryan, George, Lonnie and Zane. I think these conventions become much more enjoyable when you look forward to meeting old and new friends, so next year (should I have the good opportunity to return) should be a blast.

I hope you have enjoyed these travelogues. Sometimes I wonder what interest readers will have in the small details of my trip. Maybe none. Yet it is sometimes the case that things I don't think are interesting at all, are to others. Well, at least it's a good writing exercise and record of the week. :-)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Update 2004-02-19: MobileWhack Dispatch Day Three has now been posted.

Tuesday
Feb102004

PalmSource DevCon: Day Two

From my room on the 17th floor I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise over San Jose this morning. That's one advantage to being from a time zone two hours ahead: waking at 6 but feeling like it's 8. Problem is, being set artificially behind 2 hours eventually catches up with you.

After enjoying my sunset, I placed a call home to talk with my wife Gail and to talk at Nathan. I say "talk at" because Nathan doesn't quite get how phones work yet and much prefers playing with the buttons on the phone to listening to this voice that sounds like daddy. One day he'll get it.

Prior to the first keynote of the day, I was privileged to meet with Bryan and George from Natara Software (makers of Day Notes, Bonsai, Project@Hand, etc.) over breakfast. I had hoped to take them to the 1950s diner Mashby and I discovered last night, right behind the Fairmont hotel, but alas, it was closed. Breakfast in the hotel restaurant was just fine though, and so was the conversation.

Bryan and George are great guys, creating wonderful software for many happy Palm users. It was nice to hear about how Natara was started and what they've been up to (it's all good stuff). Turns out that Bryan is a reader of my weblog, so it was fitting that our breakfast get together came about through that. (Thanks Bryan and George; I had a great time!)

After breakfast it was off to find my fellow User Council colleagues. I found them congregating outside the PalmOne store, set to open at 9. Craig and Greg both picked up handhelds, and I was sorely tempted by a T3 for $199. In the end my practical side won out, especially since I really do like my TE, and that Gail and I can share peripherals and cables with each other.

David Nagel's keynote was good, and in it he announced the official names for Palm OS 5 (Garnet) and Palm OS 6 (Cobalt). Not too bad actually. I like the elemental approach for naming, though Starsky and Hutch would have been much more fun.

Highlights included information and some brief screenshots and demos of Cobalt, which look quite good. I was excited to hear that the PIM apps will be tabbed, have more than 15 categories and no 4k limit on text. Apparently the PalmSource PIM apps will offer many of the features already introduced in the PalmOne PIM apps, for other licensees.

Also interesting were Sliplets, which are more or less pop-up applets. Basically a Sliplet can do things like check stock prices or control things on the device. I can imagine these being very useful in the hands of creative developer.

There was also a toolbar along the base of the screen, somewhat similar to the PalmOne toolbar on the T3 and the Zodiac's toolbar. We only saw brief snippets of this in action, but again this looks good. However, I do imagine the icons in the toolbar will be highly regulated since space is still at a premium.

Palm Powered Awards were handed out and I was happy to see C.E. Stuart Dewar win for Datebk5 and NormSoft win for Pocket Tunes. All of the apps represented were great choices but I was particularly happy to see these two great developers honored.

In both David Nagel and Larry Slotnick's talks, there was mention of Nokia buying Psion's share in Symbian yesterday as great news for PalmSource. The big reason being, Nokia is now going to face challenges selling Symbian to handhset makers like Motorola and Siemens when they as the OS owners are also the chief competitors. Pretty ironic that the situation in which Nokia and Symbian find themselves now, is the very one that PalmSource has spent several years digging themselves out of.

Unfortunately, I am no developer, so once Larry Slotnick got deeply into abstraction layers and protected memory spaces, I was a deer in the headlights. I decided to take a bathroom break and stretch my legs until the session was nearly over. I had a second reason for the walk too -- it was cold as a meat locker in the hotel! I had to get some blood pumping and hot coffee to my extremities before they started turning blue! ;-)

Our group of User Council members headed up to our private meeting room to prepare for visits from PalmSource and their licensees, setting up the projector and our laptops. My OS X Powerbook actually came in handy, as I was able to setup an ad hoc WiFi access point for my Windows-using buddies, using the room's broadband connection. Mac OS X saves the day!

It was then off to lunch downstairs. I'd touched base with Lonnie Foster, and crossed paths with him as we waited in line, working out a lunch meeting. We had a nice discussion about his Palm OS Programming Bible work, his personal life and day job. Quite nice to finally meet a fellow blogger! (Thanks for your time Lonnie!)

I also crossed paths with R. Zane Rutledge, on the way up to the meeting room. We promised to meet up later that day, somewhere, someplace.

Our meetings went very well with PalmSource and their Palm OS licensees. We presented our findings from a recent survey we completed with the community of online Palm and non-Palm users. Our findings were well received, as was our feedback to them on questions they had for us.

After our meetings, it was downstairs to the big PUG meeting and party. Several high profile Palm folks spoke, including David Nagel of PalmSource, Kenny West of PalmGear and many others. Got to see the new Sony devices from afar and also a demo of the TH55 calendaring application, which was intriguing. Handwritten writing on the new Clie calendar looked to be vector based, but i can't verify this. Have to see if I can manage a close up demo on Wednesday.

At the end of the meeting a drawing was held (I didn't win a thing) but R. Zane Rutledge did and after the meeting I approached him to take him up on our promise to chat. We followed the crowd to the Cobalt launch party in the nearby ballroom and had a great discussion about Palm gaming, film, creativity and many other topics. It was again fun to meet a fellow blogger and discuss ideas we both had been mulling. (Thanks for the great discussion Zane!)

I'm now very pleased to have met all three people I'd intended to meet before leaving Milwaukee. I had been worried that time would be too tight, but in the end, all three contacts fit right into my schedule, all on the same day. Incredible! :-)

So, as my time zone begins to catch up with me again, I find my will to write is waning. Looks like the Mobile Whack Dispatch will have to wait until morning now.

Until Wednesday...

Update 2004-02-15: MobileWhack.com Dispatch Day Two has been posted.

Monday
Feb092004

PalmSource DevCon: Day One

And we're off! Things have progressed smoothly today. As I write this, I'm presently lounging in the Milwaukee terminal awaiting the boarding of my first flight. There was a spectacular cattle-riffic crowd at the security check-in this morning, so I was happy to have arrived extra early for my flight. I much prefer time to relax a bit if possible, in this case it afforded me time to enjoy a coffee and breakfast, sketch the plane and do a little writing here.

It was quite gusty at takeoff, causing the tail of the plane to fishtail pretty wildly. For a moment, my mind drifted back to my younger days, driving my old '70 Chevy in fresh snow, spinning out the rear end. Once we hit cruising altitude, the joyride ended.

Had a pleasant surprise boarding the flight in Chicago. I heard a voice calling "Mike! Mike!" and when I turned to face the call, saw Craig Froehle, a fellow Palm OS User Council member, boarding the flight. We ended up across the aisle from each other on the flight to San Jose, which provided us with a good chunk of face to face time.

Craig had his Zodiac 2 along, which I had a chance to play with. Wow, what a nice bit of hardware! The video performance is very good, games are impressive and the audio quality is top notch. According to Craig, his battery life matches the hardware specs, giving him 3 to 3.5 hours of solid gaming time. Craig's only major complaint was a freaky analog controller that seems to have a mind of its own. It randomly steers to the top right... ghost in the machine. Hopefully he can swap his Z2 for a new unit at the DevCon.

Upon departing the plane, and experiencing the spring-like weather of San Jose, Craig announced he was officially "fed up with winter!" I heartily agreed. On the way to lunch, we stopped at a little hi-tech shop in the airport terminal, and checked out the new Panasonic SD Video/Still cameras. Wow! These little devices, about the size of a Palm handheld, can shoot MPEG 4 video straight to the SD card. With an A/V cradle, they can import and record video input (TV, DVD, whatever). Think portable TiVo.

After lunch and a meet up at the baggage claim with Michael Ashby, the three of us headed to the Fairmont hotel by cab. Greg Gaub from the User Council met us at the hotel. After settling in, the three of us paid a visit to Subway so Michael could get a bite to eat. While at the booth in the Subway store, I saw something slightly freaky -- a customer in line with a gold plated M-16 automatic rifle on a gold chain around his neck. "Yes sir, you certainly can have those cucumbers for free!"

Back to the Fairmont and time to register for the DevCon. There was no backpack given out this year, as it had been replaced by a sporty blue pullover jacket (with cotton lining). PalmSource must have been concerned about the multitude of backpacks given to delegates in prior years. I guess it was time for something new. While these jackets are slightly geeky (you can spot 'em from 30 yards away), they are quite nicely made.

To end the evening, it was off to a dinner with several PalmSource people, members of the Palm OS User Council and other various handheld people from the community. After a nice time of dining, we all sat around and chatted about tech and Palm-related topics.

I was especially pleased to finally meet Chuck Horner of the PCCPUG Palm User Group (East San Francisco Bay area). We had intended to meet last year, while I was still running the Tipsheet, but it never worked out. We had a nice time discussing a variety of topics, including some great input Chuck had offered to iambic about Agendus features.

One thing that always impresses me about these conferences, is the passion of the attendees. Our after-dinner discussions touched on many high-tech topics, including wireless access to data and what's being done of late. One person talked about MP3 streaming to Treo 600s, another about hard drives in devices of the future, about WiFi, bluetooth personal area networks and more. I'm constantly buoyed by these excellent discussions, especially in tough economic times, because it gives me hope for the future.

And now I'm back in my room, posting my first travelogue report from San Jose on my weblog. There's high-speed net access in the rooms, and WiFi in the lobby areas, which is incredibly handy for things like this. And so ends the first day of DevCon. I'm heading to bed now, but I'll post a new report tomorrow, hopefully with some interesting new info.

Until Tuesday...

Update 2004-02-10: MobileWhack.com Dispatch Day One has been posted.

Friday
Dec052003

Vagabonding

VagabondingThere's a wonderful weblog/site I came across a few months back called Vagabonding, that I pop over to check out from time to time to read the latest posting. I visited the site today and noticed that the author has now come home after a year vagabonding, so I thought this would be a great time to mention it.

As a backgrounder, Vagabonding is a travelogue weblog by Mike Pugh, a Chicagoan who's very fond of world travel. Mike took an entire year to travelled through Asia and Africa while carrying a small contingent of tech items (laptop, videocam, digital cam, etc.) with which to record his experiences and post them at the site. Mike's site is gorgeous and easy to navigate; clean and simple with lots of nice imagery.

But what makes a travelogue site special is the writing, and Mike's writing is superb. He has the knack of capturing his environment and sharing stories as if you were tagging along, two things I really enjoy about good travel writing.

Here's a little sample of a near-mugging in Durban, South Africa:

"A young man approached me on the sidewalk with an outstretched hand and said, "My friend." No chance, son, I thought. I know the friendly handshake trick; you've got something to sell, be it a trinket or a sob story, and I want none of it. I maneuvered around him and continued walking.

I sensed something was amiss a half block later. I glanced back and saw the young man and his friend following a few paces behind. I stopped, put my back against a storefront, and let them go by. They slowed to a stroll. One of them nodded to a man further up the sidewalk. Two more men came from the other direction; they were looking at me.

Something was up. But could all these guys be in on it? Who was who?

I wasn't going to stick around to find out. I made to cross the road right where I was. I checked for cars and started walking.

A man in a floppy brown hat blocked me. He placed his right hand lightly – almost delicately – on my left shoulder. With his left hand he flipped out a rusty four-inch blade and pressed it to my chest. I looked down at the knife dumbly, and then up at the man's eyes; I didn't really see either.

It was noon – lunchtime – on a beautiful spring day. The sun was directly overhead. Cars went by. People were all around. How can this be happening?

I felt someone try to wrestle my messenger bag off my back. The man with the knife said something in English, but his words didn't register.

I wasn't thinking. I was running."

Really well done! I appreciate the level of detail that Mike has poured into his website project -- travelogues, photos and movies -- they are all top quality and seem to draw mew back again and again.

In fact, I've now turned the archives page into a nice iSilo document so that I can read through all of Mike's Vagabonding travelogue entries on my Palm. I can't wait to start digging in tonight! ;-)

I appreciate that Mike has decided to put his trip out there for anyone to see, read and enjoy. I think he's done a superb job of bring the story back for his site visitors, but more importantly Mike has been a lone ambassador to everyone he's met and befriended along his route. Thanks Mike!

Hopefully, Mike's year-long travels will convince readers who might be on the fence about a trip somewhere, to go for it. I know that my travels have significantly changed my own perspective of the world and those who live in it. If you happen to be someone who's considering travel, I highly recommend it.

Further, if you are planning to travel, write a journal! I always encourage travel journals (paper, PDA or weblog, whatever) because you must capture your thoughts shortly after you have them. I can say for certain that trips on which I didn't do a journal have been lost in my collective memory, while those on which I've travelogued have remained very clear in my memory.

So, go check out Vagabonding. It's a great example of how the web and weblog can become a valuable resource when in the hands of a creative, dedicated person.

Have a great weekend everyone!