I’ve been learning some new and fun computer tech lately, mostly related to web development. I’m glad that my job allows me the time and even the motivation to dive in and learn some of this. Here’s a look at some of the things I’m trying to get my brain around lately:

Command Line and SSH: Command line is probably old hat to all the Linux and Dos people out there but pretty new to me. Command line lets you execute things on a computer (or server) by typing in commands to a terminal. Mac and Linux users get a terminal built right into the OS, as Unix (a command line OS) is built into the core of these. The benefit of typing in commands to a computer instead of navigating around a GUI (graphical user interface) is efficiency and speed. From what I’ve learned this is a much quicker way to run things and make changes. I’m still learning some of the basics, so we’ll see, but I’m eager to learn if it’ll speed up a lot of routine tasks. SSH (secure shell) lets you execute command lines to a remote server.

Drupal: This is a big one with a fairly steep learning curve. Drupal is a free, open-source, content management system (CMS). In other words, it’s free software that helps you build websites. It sits alongside the other two big CMS’s on the market, namely Joomla and WordPress. Drupal is considered to be the most powerful and flexible of the three, yet also arguably the hardest to learn. According to it’s website it has 24,000 modules (plugins), 1,800 themes, and over a million users. So it’s fairly big. =) I’m learning Drupal because I’m getting serious about making websites and want something that’ll help me take my abilities to the next level. I don’t expect to master this anytime soon, but it will set me up to make some fairly large sites without too much trouble. It’s very flexible and you can build just about anything you want with it. It’s a lot like Lego’s. Drupal gives you the building blocks and you just have to snap it all together in whatever shape you want. The sky’s the limit. Just have to get over that learning curve first.

Drush: What do you get when you put Drupal and command line together? You get Drush (Drupal shell). Drush is a command line tool used to modify, edit and maintain a Drupal website. It has all the benefits of command line plus the ability to work with Drupal. From what I’ve read if you’re going to use Drupal, Drush is a must.

Virtual Machines: This is also sorta tied with the command line, but it also relates to development. I’ve been getting some practice setting up and configuring virtual servers using something called Virtualbox. Basically virtual box allows you to create a virtual computer, or in my case a virtual server, on your home computer. This is useful for creating websites because I don’t have to upload stuff to a remote server to test things out. I can test things out on my laptop. Very handy.

LAMP: Lamp is an acronym for the four magic ingredients on a server. L-Linux, the operating system, A-Apache, the web server component (the part responsible for serving up pages), M-mySQL, the database that stores everything, and P-PHP, the server side programming language. You see these four together a lot on web hosts and I figured it was about time I tried to learn and configure this myself. I plan on installing Drupal on a Lamp stack for development purposes. So far so good.

PHP: As noted above this is a programming language found on a vast majority of websites. You pretty much can’t work with anything on the web and not run into PHP in one way or another. All the major CMS’s use PHP. I’ve been fiddling with PHP for years and although I have a programming background I haven’t bitten the bullet to actually sit down and learn it. It’s about time I bit the bullet.

So as you can see I have quite a lot on my plate. But it’s sorta neat to see how all the different parts fit together. It makes the web a little less mystical when you open up the hood and see all the moving parts. Websites have been a hobby of mine for several years. It’s fun to take it to the next level. This will also help me do a better job with the projects we’re working on, as well as anything else that might come along in the future. Bring it on!

Well, we’re back home in Indonesia. Our trip back this time took us a total of 44 hours, 38 minutes, and 19 seconds. That’s a long time to travel, especially with a one year old baby! Eli did well. Towards the end of the trip though he got super tired and fussy. That’s to be expected I guess. We were pretty tired too. I don’t sleep well on airplanes. I can doze a little bit but for the most part I have to wait till the trip is over to really get any sleep. The exhaustion definitely starts to catch up with you after two days though. Walking around our final airport with Eli in my arms I was afraid I was going to fall over and drop him! And when we got home I was so hungry but couldn’t finish a muffin. You know you’re pretty tired when you start to fall asleep in between bites! Our jet lag seems especially wicked this time too. Here it is- 12:40 at night and I’m wide awake after four hours of sleep. I should AT LEAST make it to 3 or 4 am! Going back to bed and fighting through it is probably the smart thing to do, but right now I feel like staying up. There are other things on my mind.

I’m always amazed with the relative ease with which we transition from our life in America to our life overseas, and how we can go from one world to another in a matter of days. It’s comparable, I think, to taking a rocket ship to the moon. All you have to do is just put on your space suit, strap yourself in, and hang on tight. After a couple days of interstellar travel you’ll find yourself disembarking on a foreign planet, in totally new surroundings. That’s sorta what it feels like to come to Indonesia. Only here it’s not quite so desolate. We have a house, a Tv, a living area, bedroom, refrigerator, and can speak the local language. And instead of a barren wasteland like the moon this place is teaming with life and activity. Everything is green. We have goats in our front yard. Coconut trees in the back. You can only take the comparison so far. But I can’t imagine the experience of traveling to the moon to be much different from what we do. Our two lives are worlds apart.

When we finally got to our house, tired, and completely exhausted after a long trip we were informed by our neighbor that our ‘uncle’ passed away earlier that day. We weren’t greeted with a hello, or “how’s your trip?”, but informed of the local news. I guess she wanted to skip to the punch. Our ‘uncle’ is a local man whose extended family we are pretty close to. It turns out he had a sudden stroke, was in a coma for two weeks, and passed away the day we arrived. So today we visited his house to pay our respects to his family. In Cousin belief you have to bury the body the same day they die, and then have prayer services on the 3rd, 7th, 14th, and 100th day after that. By the time we got there it was already the 3rd day service. In typical Cousin fashion all the men had on their long-sleeved batik shirts and kopiah (hat). I showed up dressed similarly and Kim wore a head wrap. Pretty different than the polo shirt and jeans I wore just two days ago in Indiana. When we arrived there were a bunch of people there, but it seemed the event was just finishing up. People were starting to head out. Oh well. There were still quite a few people milling around and I sat down and ate a plate a food, which consisted of rice, beef, chicken, and noodles. Yum!

You can only know so much about another culture when you see it through a pinhole. And oftentimes what you do see is colored by our own perceptions.

Social events, even funerals, are always an interesting experience. It’s hard to know what to talk about, especially when I just stepped off an international flight, jet-lagging pretty badly. They just can’t relate to that. And when I tell them about our time in America (something so fresh and real to me) it always seems like a fairy tale to them, as if I’m describing a magical far off place. They ‘re very curious about America, naturally, but they don’t know much about it apart from what they’ve heard. They ask about the form of government, what snow feels like, and if we eat rice over there. Usually their questions are trying to scratch an itch, answer a rumor perhaps, but they don’t really know for sure. They’re inquisitive but they have such a tiny window, a small frame of reference with which to ask questions from. It’s a similar story in America when people ask us questions about life over here. People in America often ask, ‘Do you feel safe? Do you have to cover your head? Do you drink a lot of coffee?’ etc. These are interesting questions but are usually based on a rumor, or hearsay, or even worse, television. You can only know so much about another culture when you see it through a pinhole. And oftentimes what you do see is colored by our own perceptions. It’s rare to find someone who’s lived in both places and can talk about travel and airports and the struggles of overseas living having done it themselves. It’s hard to find someone like that. Maybe that’s why we appreciate our team so much. We’ve done similar things, gone through similar struggles. You bond quickly with people you share a common experience with. And in our case making rocket ship commutes to the moon and back is a pretty unique experience. We’ve bonded quickly!

Our trip back to America has been short and very sweet. Despite that we’ve only had four weeks, this has been one of our nicer trips back. The weather has been delightful, everybody is healthy, and we’ve really had a lot of time with our parents and family. My brother got married, Eli has been so smiley and happy, and it’s just been a great little vacation for us.

Whenever we come back to America people always ask us if we experience any culture shock or if it’s difficult to readjust. Honestly, this time around it hasn’t been that bad. Maybe it’s because this is the third time we’ve ‘visited’ and by now we know kind of what to expect. We were also here only 9 months ago so Indonesian culture hasn’t had as much time to soak into our blood. Our memories of living here recently (for Eli’s birth) are still pretty fresh. Time spent away makes a big difference with the ‘shock’ factor and we haven’t been away long.

If you speak English than we immediately have something HUGE in common!

That being said though we do notice new things every time we’re here. One thing, for example, is that all of a sudden I  find it so easy to talk to people again. It’s been so effortless to engage people in conversation. I find myself gladly talking to random people in grocery stores, at church, the gas station, standing in line. . . This is new for me. I’m not normally an outgoing person. But I’ve enjoyed the ease of it all. I’m not intimidated to talk to anyone and no social encounter seems too difficult! If you speak English than we immediately have something HUGE in common! The topic of conversation might lose me (like the latest Tv shows and current events), but I find myself comfortable talking with just about anyone. Contrast this to what we’re used to in Indonesia. We’ve been there for almost five years and there’s still a struggle to understand and be understood. We’ve made significant progress in learning two languages, but it’s still difficult. It helps when we can control the topic of conversation or can steer it back to things we have the vocabulary for. But this naturally limits the scope of what we talk about. That’s why I feel so free and at ease with conversation here in the States. There’s enjoyment in talking because it’s so effortless. What a relief!

The other thing I’ve noticed the last couple weeks is the immense diversity we have here in the States. I always thought Indonesia was such a diverse place, and indeed it is. But we’re pretty diverse here too. I noticed this immediately upon arriving in the Chicago O’Hare airport. Looking around the terminal were people of all shapes and sizes! Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people. Black, white, and dark. People with mustaches, people with beards. People with dyed hair, people with NO hair. Asians, Hispanic, African, European. . . people from all over the world. The style of dress was all over the place too. All the way from business suits and jilbabs, to skimpy skirts and tank tops. Incredible diversity we have here. America really is a melting pot of cultures.

There’s an organized group for just about anything you want to be involved in. This doesn’t exist in other parts of the world.

I’ve also been struck with the diversity of opportunity here too. Not just the people, but the things we have and can do is wide and broad. America still is (in my opinion) the land of opportunity. Especially when you compare it to other countries. Goods and, especially, services are abundant. Organizations, sports, music, clubs, hobbies, etc. You can do art, or music, or sports. . . there’s an organized group for just about anything you want to be involved in. This doesn’t exist in other parts of the world. Or if it does it’s much more limited. They don’t have the same opportunities overseas that we have here. That’s one of the nicest things about America. If you want to pursue something, you still can.

These are a couple things I’ve noticed about America this time around. Having lived overseas has really made me appreciate these little things about the land of my birth. And I think the experiences I’ve had overseas and the people I’ve met have already changed me for the better.

We’ve really enjoyed our time in Wisconsin the past couple weeks. The weather has been just beautiful and just about everyday we’ve been out taking walks enjoying the delightful breeze and scenery. Eli’s been taking in all the new sights and sounds here on the farm. Everything from swings, to trees and grass are all new to him and he’s been enjoying every minute. And of course grandpa and grandma have been more than willing to watch him giving Kim and I a much appreciated break. It’s fun to have a little time to ourselves again, just the two of us. We couldn’t have asked for a better couple weeks to visit. Here are a few pictures I took recently.

My parent’s barn looking right at home in the country.

My little racer.

High-bush cranberries on the vine. Yum.

Eli’s first birthday, and lovin’ his cake!