July 2010 Archives

week 1

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Week 1 of gainful employment is completed! Successfully, I think, and I hope my employers think so as well. The first couple of days were completely overwhelming. So much information to absorb all at once, and such a different environment from what I'm used to.

I was expecting the change in workplace culture to be disorienting. It's such a larger organization than I'm used to, and while it's informal compared to a lot of corporations, it's by definition much more formal than my former clients. Like the company of 6 people where everyone set their own hours. Or the place where employees were not just allowed but encouraged to use the shop facilities for personal projects, or even to run their own side businesses. (I'm still bummed out that I have no woodworking skills so I couldn't make use of that perk.) This just isn't like that at all.

What I wasn't expecting was to be disoriented by my own lack of knowledge. Until a week ago I was Ms. Fix It. I was the person that people would be waiting for me to get there because something was wrong and they knew I could take care of it. Even if I had no idea how when I got there, by the time I left it would be solved. (Does that sound like I'm bragging? I don't mean to. I just like figuring stuff out. And after years of managing a system, when something happens to it you usually have a pretty good idea what it's about, even if you've never encountered that exact problem before.)

Now I'm the person who doesn't understand anything and is confused all the time. Actually it's not that bad, although it felt like that for the first couple of days. By the end of the week I'm starting to get the hang of the physical layout, starting to remember people's names, and most importantly, getting to do some actual work. It's amazing what a difference that makes. Not only the quiet time, but doing something I know how to do. It feels like a mental anchor. Funny story: on Wednesday my group had a longish meeting to review an ongoing project with me. Near the end of the meeting my boss suggested that in the afternoon maybe I could do task xyz. This was the first actual work they'd given me (so, 2 1/2 days of almost non stop meetings at that point) and I jumped at the prospect. They looked a little surprised so I explained "There's so much to learn, it would be a nice break to just sit and do some work." My boss said "Aw, she wants to code!"

Plus I've been going back to Hillsborough every evening to help out with one of my jobs -- one of my former jobs I guess I should say. That wasn't hard to do, it just added several hours onto the day. On top of the new job being overwhelming on its own, and I've had difficulty sleeping because there's so much to remember and think about. The end result is a very tired me! Last night I finally slept soundly, and woke up late this morning. I plan to do the same tonight.

I also have a shopping list of things I want to get for my cube. Hand lotion, a potted plant, that sort of thing. I was also going to get tissues, until I mentioned my list to my coworker and she showed me a whole cabinet full of tissue boxes that we can take whenever we need! It's right next to the cabinet full of pens! There's something to this office thing.

on the bright side

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After years of working mostly at home in my pajamas, it's a bit of an adjustment to sit at a desk in a cube. (For one thing, until three days ago I didn't know they're called "cubes" now, not "cubicles." Those extra syllables are so 20th century.)

The good news is the office isn't laid out in a vast expanse of cubes. There are small groups of cubes here and there, like little neighborhoods. I'm in a row of three cubes and the people on either side of me are fairly quiet.

The best part is that I sit in front of a huge window. Right behind us are some apartment buildings, though we're up high enough that I can see the woods behind the apartments. I have to keep the blinds down until mid-morning to keep the sun off my computer screen. After that the sunlight is indirect and I can open the blinds all the way. This afternoon I watched a hawk circling over the woods.

I need to measure the window sill for a planter box. The previous occupant had plants -- I can see faint water rings on the sill. I also got permission to cover the beige cube walls with my own fabric, which will make the space much more cheerful. This was my first effort to brighten up the cube:
my new desk buddy I made two Flying Spaghetti Monsters as gifts last winter, and clearly it was time to make one for myself. Right now he's sitting on my desk between the computer and the phone. There's a bookshelf in the front of my cube, and this afternoon I noticed that it's just the right height that I could put the FSM up there and have his eye stalks peering out at people as they walked by. I think I might have to make something else for my desk and move the FSM to sentry duty.

pod a

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I started my new job today! It was exciting and a little overwhelming. Spent the whole day on orientation and meeting people. I asked what the policy was on blogging about work and they said it's okay as long as I don't give away trade secrets or anything. So I will stop being coy and say that I work for Ipas. According to the web site Ipas "is a nonprofit organization that works around the world to increase women's ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, and to reduce abortion-related deaths and injuries."

My team leader took us out to lunch, woo! Nice way to get started on my first day. We had lunch at the famous BLT place whose name escapes me at the moment, then went to Sugarland on Franklin Street, which I had been wanting to try since seeing them on Food Network. Really fun selection of cupcakes. They also have gelato in interesting flavors like blood orange. While we were there, a group of three came in to get gelato martinis. Unfortunately they take a bit of time to make and we left before I could see what the finished martinis actually look like.

I didn't want a cupcake right then, so I got two to bring home for Georg and me: pumpkin chocolate, and boston cream pie. We shared them after dinner and they were both wonderful. The pumpkin chocolate was my favorite, because while the cake part of both was extremely good, the icing on the pumpkin chocolate was better. It was a really light cream cheese icing, I think they must have whipped it to get such a light texture. The icing on the boston cream cupcake was a thick ganache which was kind of too rich for me. My new team leader says she loves icing; to her cake is an icing delivery mechanism. I feel the opposite: I often scrape the icing off and just eat the cake. I think we'll get along well at office parties.

After my first day at Ipas I drove back out to Hillsborough to the furniture company. The owner is out of town all week so I'm going over there to check the email, write quotes etc while he's gone. (My replacement doesn't start until next week.) I rather stupidly took the most direct route, which sent me right through the middle of downtown Chapel Hill. Fun traffic! Tomorrow I'm going to detour through Carrboro. It will make the drive longer in terms of distance but probably faster.

shen wei

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We just got back from seeing Shen Wei Dance Arts at ADF. Wow. They did a performance called "Folding" which blew me away.

This video fails to capture how special "Folding" was:

That first segment, where they're wearing red and running across the stage. They had this odd, fluid way of running so that the upper part of their bodies didn't move at all, as if they were being pulled on a moving platform (like that famous hallway scene in Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast). And the lighting was dim at first, and with those large white headpieces and white body makeup, at first I honestly couldn't tell whether they were moving forward or backward. At times it seemed like the headpieces were masks and they were moving backwards. But then I would think that they had to be going forwards, to move that quickly and smoothly. The effect was eerie and almost a little disturbing.

Besides "Folding" they also did a beautiful piece set to Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." There's a video for this which for some reason has no sound, so I'm not bothering to link to it. And a short solo work by Shen Wei called "A Solo Work By Shen Wei." Which was odd and kind of .. funny? I wasn't sure what was going on.

just call me sher

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Today I said goodbye to two jobs I really loved. The first one gave me a little party with a cake. The second gave me the gift of treating it like an ordinary day thus preventing me from having a complete meltdown. Which would have embarrassed everyone.

At one of the jobs, the boss's daughter works there too. She has Down syndrome and this afternoon she presented me with a card she made for me:

I asked her to read the front for me and she told me it says "Getting Ready to Have a Party for Sarah." With that translation as a guide I was able to read the inside.

She wrote out goodbye messages for me from everyone who works there. I've seen her make these cards before so I know that she wrote the whole thing herself, imagining what people would say. These are the messages:

from Allison (the author): You left and have a new job. I miss you.
from Katie: Sarah, you have a great time.
from Arin: Sarah, you have nice [?] work days.
from Brooks Ann: I am so happy for you.
from Louise: Like you, we miss you.
from Edward: You have a nice time.
from Donna: I miss you and I like you, Sarah.

The best going-away card ever. I have to say, I was a little surprised by her reaction to my departure. She just never seemed that interested in me. She knew my name and would always say hi, but there were other people there that she was much more excited to see. The day she found out I was leaving, she cried. And today, when she gave me the card she said "Don't cry! No crying today!" I promised her I wouldn't cry, and I didn't. Well, maybe a little misty. While I was driving home, when no one could see me.

change is afoot

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So I have a new job, full-time, which starts on Monday. It's with a non-profit that promotes women's health and reproductive rights. Not only will I be doing interesting work, but in support of a cause that means a lot to me. I'm pretty excited about it.

The past week has been taken up with preparing for, well I guess it's going to be a pretty big change in my daily life, after being freelance for so long. Taking care of errands, enjoying "one last time" of things I used to do on weekdays, etc. I bought the lunch box last weekend, and today I bought work clothes. I had forgotten how much I hate clothes shopping. Especially when it's a million degrees out. Thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster I won't have to wear hose.

Speaking of the lunch box, I heart Ms. Bento. When I first saw it, the containers looked awfully small. I was worried that maybe I should have gotten Mr. Bento, which has four containers. But Ms. Bento turns out to be perfect. I fill one container with a protein (like barbecue chicken), one with vegetables (like spinach salad, or cherry tomatoes and mozzarella) and one with fruit. I should take photos but my lunches often taste better than they look. It would be a good motivator though. And I have a lunch box buddy!

rupaul's drag u

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RuPaul's new show, RuPaul's Drag U, premiered last night. Georg and I were both big fans of her hit show, RuPaul's Drag Race, of which this is sort of a spinoff.

RuPaul's Drag Race is basically America's Next Top Model with professional drag queens instead of teenage would-be models, and RuPaul instead of Tyra. If that description doesn't appeal to you, you probably skipped this entire entry and aren't reading now. Trust me, it's fantastic.

The concept of RuPaul's Drag U is less interesting to me: in each episode three former Drag Race contestants give a drag-style makeover to three biological women. The women have to wear big costumes, big wigs and big makeup, walk the runway, and do a lip sync performance. They are judged and the winner gets $10,000.

I don't generally watch makeover shows. I'm kind of put off by the tearful confessionals & the conceit that a TV show can improve someone's life by giving them a new outfit and some makeup tips. That said, if I had the opportunity to get a new outfit and makeup tips from a drag queen, hell yeah I'd do it. I'm, shall we say, a fan of elaborate costumes, and no one does costumes better than a drag queen. And most of the Drag Race contestants I really liked are on this show (everyone I had hoped for except Jessica Wild). So of course I watched Drag U.

It's almost by definition not as good as Drag Race, simply because more time spent on the makeovers means less time spent on the drag queens. It seemed like the drag queens weren't exactly sure whether the show was about them or the makover-ees. For instance Jujubee seemed to focus on the woman she was helping, while Raven clearly wanted all of her face time to be all about herself.

What I liked: Most of all, RuPaul's sense of humor. The funniest thing in the entire episode was when RuPaul advised one of the women to "Take a page from my book. No, really. [takes autobiography off a shelf] It's right here. Take it." I only wish she'd made the woman actually tear out a page. RuPaul also used that creaky old "walk this way" gag to great effect. And Jujubee had a funny exchange with her makeover-ee, who put on a tight dress after wearing nothing but pants for years:

"Do you feel powerful?"
"I feel like a sausage."
"Do you feel like a powerful sausage?"

What I didn't like: the idea, implied throughout the episode and stated outright once or twice, that the makeover subjects, all "tomboys" who never wore makeup, were not fully women until the drag queens taught them how. I'm all for playing around with the expectations of gender roles. A man who wears dresses, acts out an exaggerated version of femininity, and calls himself a queen is no less of a man. Likewise a woman who rides a Harley, hates dresses and makeup, and calls herself a biker chick or a tomboy is no less of a woman.

When Raven said "They were boys when they walked in here, and now they're women," she couldn't have been more wrong. Whether they were in jeans or gowns, they were always women. No one can give womanhood to them because no one can take it away.

I was also deeply uncomfortable when one of the makeover-ees said that she never wore dresses because she had a history of sexual assault and she felt unsafe in feminine clothing. That was where I felt the show crossed the line into exploitation. (A line that Drag Race never crossed in my opinion, because the contestants were all professional drag performers using the show to promote their careers.) That woman needs counseling, not a reality tv show.

I'll continue watching Drag U, just to see more of favorites like Nina Flowers and Pandora Boxx. But I'll be glad when this show is over and the next season of Drag Race starts up.

lunch ready

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Ms BentoMs. Bento arrived today! As I was told by a Ms. Bento owner, the containers look a bit small. I put a spice jar in the photo for scale. Apparently the Japanese don't eat very big lunches. I think it will be a good amount of food when it's filled. Which will be tomorrow!

I ran the smoker today. Smoked a chicken, ribs and pork butt. (Plus a sausage I had for lunch today. I love those cheddar brats from Whole Foods.) We'll have the ribs tonight and I'll pack some chicken in Ms. Bento. It comes with a bag that looks big enough to also hold my sport cup that I use for iced tea. And the spork has a little carrying case too. I'm so excited about having a lunch box. It was expensive, but will pay for itself in a few weeks if I use it every day.

call me ms bento

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I bought a lunch box today! Well, I ordered one. It will arrive on Monday.

Years ago I had a Tupperware lunch box which was wonderful. It was a big box with several small bowls that fit inside, and a sandwich box that stacked on top, and a handle that held the two together. I rarely eat sandwiches for lunch, but the sandwich box was the perfect size for a portion of leftovers. Then the bowls could hold a small salad, snack, whatever! The big box also doubled as a regular large Tupperware container for storage at home. I loved that lunch box so much. I had it for a long time -- 15 years? 20? and gradually lost almost all the pieces. I looked in the cupboard last night and could only find one of the bowls, sans lid.

Anyway, soon I'm going to have to start packing a lunch every day, so I need a lunch box. I did a little poking around and I was amazed at how much lunch box technology has improved! They have insulated lunch boxes which will keep your food warm (or cold) until lunchtime, no need for refrigeration! Why didn't I find this out years ago? I've been spending my lunch hour a couple days a week in a place with minimal fridge space, and so have been buying lunch. All this time I could have packed lunch in one of these newfangled lunch boxes!

41HBH2ucxAL._SL500_AA300_.jpgI decided to get a Ms. Bento lunch box. It's a metal jar like a thermos, with three containers that stack inside. According to the Amazon customer reviews, it will keep your lunch either hot or cold for hours if you preheat (or prechill) the containers. And the plastic containers are BPA free, which makes me feel much better about eating hot food from it every day.

I had a hard time deciding whether to get Ms. Bento or the larger Mr. Bento, with four containers. It's kind of expensive, and I didn't want to get the wrong size. Lucky me, there's a flickr group devoted to photos of lunches packed in Mr. or Ms. Bento. (There's a flickr group for everything apparently!) Looking at a bunch of photos let me get a better idea of how much food each one will carry, and Ms. Bento was the clear winner. I think filling a Mr. Bento would be way too much food. It would work if I made a big production out of lunch, with lots of different foods every day, and didn't try to fill up the containers. But that's not what I want to do.

It's kind of ridiculous how excited I am about getting my new lunch box. It even comes with a spork!

the best team that never wins

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Had a funny conversation today with the Scottish guy from the other end of the building.

me: Are you following the World Cup?
him: Of course I am!
me: Who are you rooting for?
him: I've thought all along that Spain could win it all. But then again, Holland will be difficult to beat.
me: They're the best team that never wins.
him: That's true. .. No! Scotland is the best team that never wins!

I've never seen Scotland's national team play so I can't comment on that. Georg says that the Netherlands and Spain are both described as "best team that never wins." One of them will have to give up that title on Sunday.


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I got to use science yesterday!

I was baking a pie, and didn't have enough butter in sticks to measure the crust. All I had was a giant tub of clarified butter, about 5 pounds, that Georg had gotten from work. The problem was measuring the butter: sticks come with measurements marked on them, and I needed exactly 1 cup. How to get a cup of butter out of the giant tub eluded me.

Baking requires precision, so I couldn't just scoop out some butter and moosh it into a measuring cup. The air pockets would throw off the measurement. The most accurate way would be to melt some butter, pour it into a measuring cup and wait for it to resolidify. Which would take forever and I wanted to make the pie that day.

I thought maybe I could weigh the butter and convert weight to volume. Unfortunately, a quick google told me that different butters have different densities based on fat content. So a weight conversion wouldn't work unless I had an accurate volume measurement to start out with. And if I had that, I wouldn't need the conversion! (This method would have worked, however, if I had a big restaurant-sized block of butter that hadn't been cut into. Because the total volume would be marked on the label; it just wouldn't have tablespoons marked like the sticks do.)

However, googling the weight of butter provided another suggestion: water displacement. I got out a 2-cup measuring cup, filled it with 1 cup of water, and added butter until it measured 2 cups. Poured off the water and voila! Exactly one cup of butter.

Water displacement is very accurate, as good as if I had melted the butter and poured it into a measuring cup. And much faster! I just had to put it back in the fridge for a few minutes to rechill. In honor of Archimedes I said "Eureka!" out loud when I got the measurement. Unlike Archimedes, I did not run naked down the street.

madam x

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I've installed a GPS app in my phone called MotionX. As an alternative to the built-in map feature, it has its upsides and its downsides.


  • It talks, which makes it much easier to use while driving. I've had way too many solo trips where I was driving with one hand, holding up the phone with the other and trying to read the directions and watch the road at the same time. Not safe! MotionX reads the directions to me with a female voice which is almost soothing. I think I will call it "Madam X."
  • If I miss a turn or change the route, it recalculates my directions. This is huge. For me this feature alone makes the app worth it. My biggest gripe with directions from Google Maps is that, on the phone at least, you can't edit the route at all. If you miss a turn, you have to find your own way back to the directions. And if Google wants to send you a different way from the route you want to use, you're out of luck.


  • It's slow to load. Ree-ee-ally slow. You can't sit down in the car, pull out the phone and say "ok, which way do I go?" If you don't want to be sitting in your car waiting for it to find the location and calculate the route (which would be hazardous to your health in this weather), you have to start loading it up while you're walking to the car, and pretty early in the walk.
  • The UI is confusing compared to Google Maps and the place where you type in addresses is much less forgiving of typoes.
  • It chews up the battery in no time. I've watched it drain my phone's battery, then I plugged in the phone and the battery continued to drop while it was plugged in. You really have to stay on top of keeping the battery fully charged to use it.

So, MotionX isn't a slam dunk but it's well worth the cost. Especially for someone who gets lost as easily as I do. I haven't had the opportunity to try walking directions yet. I somehow doubt MotionX will be able to beat Google Map's public transportation directions. Google has subway and bus schedules built in so you can see not only where you have to go to get the bus, but when the next bus is going to be there, and the one after that in case you miss it.

a mania for pennsylvania


I think the show went really well! Here's the playlist. It was so much fun to put together.

I had found a web page with "fascinating facts about the 50 states" and had compiled a couple of facts about each state for the talksets. But then I discovered a couple of incorrect "facts" on the website, which made me afraid to use the rest. So I only mentioned facts that I knew for sure. Georg had said that I should just make stuff up -- "the first yak colony in the US was in New Hampshire!" -- which would have been funny but I didn't have time to invent 50 fake facts.

I did have a time problem. I plan the timing of these shows with a Google spreadsheet -- the left column has the time of each song and then at the top is a formula that adds up all the times. Thing is, I always copy the spreadsheet from the previous theme show. And this one was twice as long as normal and had 87 songs in it. The set being added up by the formula wasn't big enough, it didn't include the last couple of songs. You could say I was using a faulty algorithm.

I noticed that the times in my spreadsheet and in iTunes didn't quite match. iTunes is always off by a few minutes because the tracks always have a few seconds of silence at the end. So the songs are always a bit shorter than the tracks. But this was more, it was off by a few minutes too much. If the times had been off by an hour, I would have known what the problem was. With just a few minutes discrepancy, I couldn't get it. I thought maybe I had an extra song in there somewhere and spent a long time last night comparing the flowsheet with iTunes, trying to find the discrepancy. I never figured out that the problem was the formula until the last 10 minutes of the show, when I looked at the flowsheet and realized that I had about 14 minutes of music to go. Eek!

It wasn't actually that hard to fix. I had two songs planned for Hawaii, and I simply dropped one, and stopped the last instrumental before it was over. Ended up running about 30 seconds long. That would be a serious problem on a pro station, but no big deal for college radio and Ross (the next dj) was really really nice about it. And now I know to adjust the formula for next time.

songs of the 50 states

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human-flag.jpgAlmost done preparing for the Fourth of July show tomorrow and I'm really happy with how it's coming together. Four hours celebrating the United States, with at least one song for every state, plus DC. I'm going to play them in order of statehood, starting with Delaware and ending with Hawaii.

At this point my flowsheet is a couple of minutes short but that's easily fixed. I just need to choose longer versions of a couple of songs. Or I could choose a shorter version of one song and then add another. Either way, I'll work it out.

Some states were super easy -- New York, Texas, California -- and some were really hard. The most difficult states were Minnesota and, to my surprise, Maryland. Indiana was surprisingly easy. Partly because Hoagy Carmichael was from Indiana and wrote several songs about it.

I was a bit lenient with what I considered a state song. Had to be, in order to find songs for all 50 states that were more or less in format. I tried to find songs that named the state in the title and were specifically about the state. But if all I could find was a song about a place in the state, that was fine. "Meet Me in St. Louis" for example. Or a song that mentioned the state just for the rhyme scheme, and kinda could have been set anywhere. That wasn't as good as a song genuinely about the state, but I wouldn't reject it if that was all I had.

The format is a bit loose too. Lots of Western Swing when we get around to the western states, some straight up country, and a few songs that are newer (also a couple that are older!) than I would normally play. Whatever, I think it comes together well and people won't mind hearing a newer song in the mix.

I think it's going to be fun! The show will start at noon tomorrow (eastern time) and end at 4 pm.

A few people have asked me what song I picked for their home state, and I got a couple of requests too. If anyone reading this has a request, let me know today (Saturday) and I can probably still work it in. Tomorrow I'll have the whole thing prepped and it will be too late to make changes.

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