Tag Archives: work

Confessions of a Reluctant Tent Pole, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Make the Perfect Martini

I keep having thoughts that are too long to go into a tweet, but that I’m not sure are enough for a blog post. So I don’t write them down at all. Which has resulted in many weeks where they only thing posted to my blog has been the Friday Five posts.

I’ve resolved that I need to get back to posting things, especially if they are not about troubling news stories and the like.

I rhetorically asked on twitter recently: "Is there any better way to kick off a night of editing than with an ice cold martini made with Botanist gin, Noilly-Pratt vermouth, chilled to near freezing?"

The reason I had such an ice cold martini ready to go that evening requires a bit of a story. During the last year and a half at work we have frequently had software release days that had way too much in common with a marathon. Part of the issue is that there are a few of us (I’m the only technical writer in our entire division, for instance) who are on every single project. So I am the one who finalizes and releases all of the documents related to a particular release, right?

And no matter how I try to get any of the documents done early, there are always some last minute changes that are deemed show stoppers. And some details that need to go into the Release Notes, in particular, can not be known until the final build artifacts are finished. So I’m usually up late on these days, scrambling to get things done.

Our group currently only has one Project Manager, and she has to send out the official release notification, which can’t be done until I have uploaded all of the finalized documents to the official locations. She is in the Eastern Time Zone, while I’m in the Pacific Time Zone. Which means that if I don’t get finished until 9pm, she isn’t finishing until after midnight.

We had a particularly bad couples of weeks a while back with two or three releases in each of the two weeks, which meant a lot of very late nights for some of us. (I should mention that we have managed to make the process slightly more rational since, so the really late nights are happening less often). Back to those two weeks. It was very cranky-making, so on the Friday of the second week, having had four previous recent nights were I was working until at least 9pm, I really felt I needed a reward to look forward to when we completed the work.

There was a moment in the early evening were I had finished the more that a dozen other documents and uploaded them, when I was informed by one of the engineering managers that it would be at least an hour before they could give me the last remaining details of the Release Notes. So I headed into the kitchen to start dinner cooking, and made myself a martini.

I mixed up one of my usual 8 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth in one of my metal cocktail shakers full of ice, and then stuck the shaker and its contents into the freezer to wait.

I got this idea from an interview some years ago of Sir Roger Moore. Because Moore had played James Bond for many years, he was more than occasionally asked about his favorite way to make a martini. He was specifically interviewed on that subject at least once on the occasion of World Martini Day. At that point, Moore mentioned that for health reasons he could no longer drink alcohol, but he explained the process, which included putting the shaker full of ice and the mixed alcohol into a freezer for a minimum of two hours. He made the suggestion that if you followed his recipe, that you put at least two olives on the garnish, so that when you had finished the drink you could offer one olive to him, and thus give him a taste.

The week that Moore died, I searched out that interview and mixed myself a martini his way, including keeping it in the freezer to two hours.

It was so, so delicious!

Since that one evening, I often on software release days mix up a martini in the late afternoon and stick it in the freezer to way to serve in a chilled glass once we’re finished and I have logged out of the work network.

I mentioned that my usual martini is an 8-to-1 mix. And it’s always gin and dry vermouth. If you’re making it with vodka it is not, IMHO, a martini. And it’s not thus me, the official ANSI standard for martinis agrees: ANSI STANDARD K100.1-1974: SAFETY CODE AND REQUIREMENTS FOR DRY MARTINIS.

That document heavily prefers a 16-to-1 ratio. I’ve made martinis to that ratio and they are good. I happen to like a good vermouth, and also since I’m usually serving myself my martinis in a classic coup glass or a nick and nora glass–which only hold a bit more the 3 ounces of cocktail–it’s just not easy to measure out the vermouth in a teeny enough quantity to make it work.

My favorite gin for a martini has been The Botanist for a while, and my favorite vermouth is Noilly Pratt. The Botanist is about twice as expensive per ounce as my next favorite and several other acceptable brands, so I often make martinis with one of the other gins. I really like olives, so I usually garnish with one or three olives. My favorite olives for martinis are San Diego Olive Company Pimento Olives, by the way.

There are several gins that do not go well with the briny taste of olive (New Amsterdam, Roku, and Brockmans) so if I’m using one of those for my martini I garnish with a twist of lemon or a twist of lime.

The fun thing about last week’s software release day is, that during my lunch break I mixed up the martini and shoved it in the freezer compartment of our fridge, assuming it was going to be one of those late nights. But when I got back to my computer, all of the other work from other departments was finished. So we managed to release whole thing before 2pm my time, which was before 5pm for the project manager.

The martini wound up sitting in the freezer for a bit over 7 hours before I poured it and took my first sip.

And it was delicious!

Confessions of a (supposedly) Veteran Remote Worker

Every time I’ve sat down this week to try to compose a blog post that isn’t somehow related to the pandemic, I’ve found myself digressing into the topic, anyway. A comment about it crept into the draft of my Star Trek: Picard review, even. I think I need to just admit it’s a part of my life right now and deal with it.

I’ve seen a lot of people sharing tips about staying productive while working from home. I’ve been working from home at least one day a week for many years, now, but I still have been reading those posts and twitter threads because 1) it’s always interesting to see how other people handle things, 2) they may have some ideas I’ve never tried, and 3) it never hurts to brush-up a skill set.

Now, just like writing advice, what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone. And pitfalls that trip up some people don’t interfere with others. For instance, a lot of folks are advising against working in your pajamas or such. To which I say, “pffft!” I wear sweats or shorts (depending on the ambient temperature) with no problem of thinking of it as a work day. OTOH, I always grab a clean t-shirt and do a runs a comb through what little hair I still have before I log in to work. But I admit mostly that’s because I’m paranoid that I’ll accidentally turn on video conference while I’m in an on-line meeting.

I realized while I was reading the various posts that I haven’t been doing a very good job of sticking to at least one of my own rules about working from home lately. And it started before the semi-quarantine.

That rule is that there is a point in the middle of the day when I close the work laptop, go make my lunch (or pull it from the fridge, whatever), and sit somewhere away from the workspace to eat lunch and scroll through some news sites OR do some writing.

Since we’ve moved to Shoreline, that also almost always meant that I take a fresh mug of coffee, my food, and my iPad out on the veranda, so I’m technically outside. Even in cold weather, a few minutes outside with hot coffee was a great break. But this year we had a small version of the snowpocalypse, again, and I wound up working from home for at least one week. It was a bit too cold to sit outside that week. I did go out every morning and make sure the hummingbird feeder wasn’t frozen, and that the other feeders all had food, but that was in the morning before logging in.

Then I had another two week period not long after that where I had the flu so I didn’t go into the office my usual days. And I didn’t do my lunch outside during that time, either.

Since the current work-from-home stretch started a bit more than two weeks ago, I have occasionally thought, after finishing lunch inside (usually wolfing it down quickly, often at my desk) that I ought to have gone outside to eat. It occurred to me that maybe the reason my work days aren’t feeling as productive and I’m being more cranky late in the day might not be merely ambient anxiety because of the pandemic or all the network lag I’ve been experiencing since everyone is working from home.

So today, Thursday, is the second day in a row that I have made myself stop, close the laptop, get a fresh mug of coffee, and take my lunch and iPad outside to sit at my silly IKEA outdoor table, watch the birds at the feeder, listen to the nearby traffic, and have a real lunch break.

And I’m really glad I have. I think Wednesday afternoon went much better because of it!

So: tricks and tips to put your mind in the work-day mood are good. Just as important, though, are to take regular breaks and a little self-care.

Confessions of a whiny patient

(click to embiggen)

I have two more writing-related posts half written, one of which I hoped to queue up for Tuesday, but I was cranky, exhausted, and still sick when I got home from work. So I’m just going to whine about feeling sick and how I cope and related things. Which means that this post is going to be, as one friend calls them, a “what I had for breakfast post.” I probably won’t talk about breakfast, but if you’re not interested in just mundane stuff, don’t click through: Continue reading Confessions of a whiny patient

Coffee karma

I like to think that I’m not superstitious. I’m a science geek who majored in mathematics and has studied (both formally and on my own) physics, astronomy, relativity, logic, rhetorical theory, chemistry, biology, and a wide variety of related topics. Mr. Spock has long been one of my favorite characters in fiction. My real-life heroes have included famous skeptics such as Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov, Stephen Jay Gould, Billy Nye, and James Randi.

But every now and then things happen that make me believe. Lately, it’s been the coffee pot at work.

Continue reading Coffee karma

Where’d the time go?

Just hanging out this holiday.
It has been five years since I was laid off from my previous place of employment of 20 years. And the thing that I miss the most is still the paid time off.

A lot of other people have written about how stingy American employers are with paid time off. About how even at companies with policies which, on paper, appear very generous while the realities of work schedules require workers put in longer and longer hours. Despite studies showing the workers become less productive in those situations, we seem incapable of grappling with the problem in a meaningful way.

For me it manifests most strikingly at this time of year. I seldom took long stretches of time off at my previous place. I would take a week off in the summer, and I’d lake a few days off here and there to go to conventions, and I’d take a week off for Christmas.

And for several years I had gotten in the habit of taking off all the Fridays from Thanksgiving through New Year. And that’s the thing I really miss. I realize that part of the reason I seem to feel more tired all the time is that I don’t have as many of those little vacations throughout the year. And I’m getting older, which isn’t helping.

But it’s really noticeable right now, when I’m further behind on all the holiday stuff than usual. Each Monday that’s rolled around, the alarm clock goes off and I have this little argument with myself about how it can’t be Monday already.

And I feel like an ingrate for even feeling this way, as I know several people who are looking for work. Or have jobs that they don’t like (I love my job! I sometimes feel guilty for that, too!). Or just have much more complicated, busy, or unpleasant lives.

I would just like to stop feeling as if I need to sleep for a week.

Halloween silliness

Me wearing all black clothes and a blonde wig.
It wasn’t a complicated costume.
For many years my Halloween costume has been driven by a party hosted by some friends of ours who have been hosting a Halloween party every year for more than 20 years.

It began way back when a sub-group of the Elfquest/sci fi fan groups we were associated with went to the Evergreen State College the weekend before Halloween to celebrate K’s birthday. Our friend, Mark, bought a piñata shaped like a Pokémon. I think more time was spent trying to figure out how to hang it from the window of the dorm/apartment and a nearby tree than anything else at the party. Though I also recall that the piñata was really difficult to break.

Anyway, K, D, and Auntie have been hosting Halloween parties ever since. The parties always have a theme, and one of the activities at the party is a piñata that matches the theme. There was a skull representing Horatio at the Shakespeare party, for instance, and a moon with little stars floating around it for one of the space themed parties.

There was never any requirement that one wear a costume that matched the theme of the party, but for those of us who are procrastinators and indecisive, having the theme could give you some ideas. The year the theme was “Antarctica” Michael and I showed up in shorts, Hawaiian shirts, leis, and sunglasses. We had a little act we did where we fumbled with a map of the Hawaiian islands. Our costume was “Lost Tourists.” I don’t remember what the theme was that had me dress as the Next Doctor and Michael dressed as his companion, a 1950s hard-boiled detective.

Anyway, having the deadline of our friends’ party pushed us to make a decision, and having the theme gave us something to either conform with, make a joke of, or just ignore.

Then, because of a series of events which culminated in a major appliance failure at their house and has kicked off a long-delayed kitchen remodel, they didn’t host a party this year. Which is understandable, but also a teensy bit of a downer.

So I thought I wasn’t going to be doing a costume this year.

Then one day at work I got an e-mail with the subject line “Top Secret!”

I don’t want to go into all the background, but during the last year among the changes and shakeups have been that the person who had been the VP of Sales for our group has been promoted to the head of our business unit. In some ways it was a very big change, as the guy who had been leading the unit had been in that position for well more than 10 years, and the company (like a lot of American corporations) didn’t have very many female executives. She’s not entirely conventional. She almost always wears black, for instance, and among her definitions of office attire (and not on casual days), is Levi jeans.

Anyway, it had occurred to someone that all of us could get long blonde wigs, and just show up wearing all black and with the wig. Then we could surprise her by coming into her office, all of us dressed as her. We even had “masks” that consisted of a printout of a photo of her that we could hold in front of our faces.

It wasn’t a very complicated costume, and it wasn’t something that anyone outside the company would recognize without an explanation, but it was fun, and silly, and what else is Halloween for?

Image of typewriter keys and the words The Alternate NaNoWriMo.
The Alternate NaNoWriMo, as proposed by Cafe Aphra (http://cafeaphrapilot.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-alternative-nanowrimo.html)
In other news, my word count at the end of day two: 3928. Behind on the big goal, but ahead of my minimal goal! And, I may have talked my Mom into giving NaNo a try!

Juggling chainsaws

I often use the metaphor of juggling to describe my work load. Particularly since my work is often covered by multiple non-disclosure agreements, it’s best I keep things metaphorical and oblique.

Because of re-orgs and various forms of attrition, we no longer have a technical writing team, instead we’ve been separated so that divisions and/or groups of the company have one (singular) tech writer each. For months my boss (a director of software development in a group within a division) has been worried about my workload this summer, because when we plotted the projects, based on my estimate of the total hours required for the doc sets of each of the projects, their deadlines, and the typical distribution of my workload (for waterfall projects most of my time and effort is needed during the last two and a half phases), July and August looked like they would require more than 80 hours each week from me.

It hasn’t come to that, for several reasons (one being that I know what that kind of workload did to my health when I was stupid enough to do it in my thirties; I don’t want to find out how much worse it would make me feel in my fifties—so I found ways to pull a lot of the work into earlier phases), but I am running very ragged, juggling the six or seven full-sized chainsaws, a couple of lighter chainsaws, plus a couple of knives and at least one flaming baton.

I’m surprised I managed to keep the blog going as well as I did in July. Things may be very spotty for a while.