frank sinatra tribute today

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frank-sinatra.jpgToday is Frank Sinatra's birthday, and to honor the occasion Georg and I are co-hosting a two hour tribute on today's Divaville Lounge, 2-4 pm est.

By any measure Sinatra was one of the most important singers of the 20th century. We'll play classics from every era of Sinatra's career, including his early years with the Harry James and Tommy Dorsey big bands; the Concepts series at Capitol; the Rat Pack years; songs from his decades-long movie career; live performances; radio and television appearances; plus some rare finds like an unreleased theme song to "The Man with the Golden Arm," and a duet with Groucho Marx (really! and it's not horrible!).

The Voice, Ol' Blue Eyes, the Chairman of the Board -- whatever you call him, we'll be spinning two hours of Sinatra this afternoon. Hope you can check it out! 88.7 fm in Durham or webcast at http://wxdu.org

sittin' on a backyard fence

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Just saw a great Busby Berkeley number in the movie Footlight Parade. It doesn't approach the dizzying heights of lunacy that his best numbers reach. (like the waterfall number coming up in this very movie, I can't wait!) But it does have dozens of women dressed like alley cats, Ruby Keeler vomited out the mouth of a giant clown face (? not actually sure what was happening there), and Billy Barty as a mischievous rat.

The embed feature is turned off in the video for some reason, so here's a link to Sittin' on a Backyard Fence.

timing is everything

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Last week Georg and I went to A/V Geeks. We had to meet there because he was working late, so I went to the Q Shack for dinner. They were a little crowded and I asked a young woman if I could share her table. She was studying, and though I didn't pry, I could see enough of her book to see that she was studying Chinese.

I wanted to say something to her but after 20 years, I remember so little Chinese that I didn't know what I would say. I can barely say my own name at this point, much less have a conversation. Besides, she seemed pretty deeply involved in her studies and I didn't want to interrupt. So I ate my dinner and websurfed on my phone, and she studied, and it was a nice quiet sharing of space.

Well we were quiet, but the restaurant was noisy. So much so that I didn't notice at first when she started very softly talking to herself in Chinese. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but it has a distinctive sound (and I'm guessing an American just beginning their studies probably has a distinctive accent, which made her speech sound even more familiar to me). It looked like she was reading out loud from the book. Practicing her lessons at just above a whisper. Adorable. I didn't let on that I could hear her; just kept enjoying my dinner.

Finally it was time for me to leave. I cleared my table, stood up to go, leaned over and said "zai jian" (goodbye). She looked so surprised! She said "zai jian" back to me, and we both laughed, and then I just ... walked away. I felt like the encounter couldn't get any better than it was right then. I could have stayed and had a possibly awkward conversation, maybe interrupted study time she needed, maybe made myself late for A/V Geeks. Or I could leave it at that, preserve the moment, and give her a good story to tell when she got back to the dorm. About this crazy thing that happened and the mysterious person who sat next to her all through dinner and never let on that they spoke Chinese too. At the Q Shack of all places.

glitterati

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How exciting of a life do I lead? Well, the highlight of my weekend was spending Saturday evening organizing my sock drawer.

Really! Not just the sock drawer but the whole dresser. It had gotten all messy and overcrowded, to the point where the clothes I wear regularly end up sitting on top of the dresser because the drawers were full of clothes I don't wear that often. The sock drawer was especially a problem because I'm kind of into socks and have many pairs. It was getting hard to keep track of them. I sorted the clothes into four piles: 1. store for the winter, 2. give to Goodwill, 3. throw out, 4. keep in the dresser.

I didn't get rid of as much as I was expecting/hoping, but still managed to clear enough space that everything fits neatly into the dresser with room to spare. I had made a major dent in cleaning out my closet last month and now almost my clothes are organized! I can't remember the last time that was true. I still need to put away the sweaters. I used to put them in this hanging sweater thing in the closet. It was cheaply made and ended up being a hassle to deal with. I might try to find a nicer hanging thing for the closet, or I might be able to fit them all in the dresser now.

Penzey's store in Raleigh!The other highlight of the weekend was a trip to Penzey's. They have a store in Raleigh now! In Cameron Village. We'd never been there before, and now that we've had to deal with their parking I know why. Still, Penzey's is worth it (though I wouldn't go back before Christmas if I could avoid it).

It's a great place to shop. Nice displays, tester jars of everything so you can sniff before buying. The back wall had all the baking spices (cinnamon, extracts etc) in a cute display like an antique kitchen. I don't know their catalog well enough to know if every single thing is in the stores, but they had every single thing we wanted and then some. We had a shopping list for Georg's brother, and we got a couple of gifts, and we went a little crazy for ourselves. And even with as much as we bought, we only duplicated one spice that we already had. Oh well, it will keep. We buy bags, put a small amount in jars and then store the rest in the freezer.

Our haul from Penzey'sWe had a nice chat with the checkout lady. She's on loan from Houston while they get the new store up and running. Coincidentally, that's the only store we'd ever been to before. When we were there for the art car weekend, Lee and Russ kindly took us. We told her that on our last trip to Houston we had made time in a busy schedule to visit Penzey's, it was the one thing off our itinerary that we had to do. She seemed to get a kick out of it. I heard her helping other customers & she seemed to know a lot about the product. We didn't need advice on what to buy -- I may have mentioned that we're kind of into cooking. Penzey's for us is like being a kid in a candy store. Much more exciting than a candy store.

gold stars all around

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Last week at work I had to teach a short training session on HTML. Two sessions actually, because more people signed up than expected so I broke it into 2 classes. I have to admit that I was apprehensive, though I tried not to show it. I've long thought that I'm a bad teacher, that I just don't have the temperament for it. In fact I was told this years ago by someone I had to teach who didn't think much of my teaching ability -- I thought, and still think, that he was a terrible student, but that doesn't mean he was wrong about me.

So I went into this with the belief that I was going to be bad at it. (Why, you might ask, was I giving this training in the first place? This is what happens when you miss a meeting: you get volunteered for jobs no one else wants to do. After this one I stopped asking "Am I really necessary at this meeting? Can I skip it?") And in fact, if the training had happened when it was supposed to, it probably would have been bad. Lucky for me, scheduling issues dragged on for weeks. Which gave me time to settle in at my new job, develop a little confidence in myself, and realize that just because someone told me to put all my class materials in PowerPoint didn't mean I had to actually do that.

Yes, I came this close to teaching a technical class about HTML that was entirely in PowerPoint. I shudder to think of it! Literally the evening before the first session I realized that if I had to take my own class I'd be bored stiff. I also realized that the person who told me to use PowerPoint wasn't leading the class, I was. And therefore I could change the format if I wanted. I threw out the PowerPoint and worked late writing a new presentation. This one had a very short talk at the beginning, then an actual example HTML file that I would edit on the big screen so people could see how it really works, and much more time for questions.

I think it went well. People asked really good questions, and then would say things like "Oh, I get it!" That was kind of a thrill. After the second session someone even told me that the class had been "good development" for her because she needed to learn more computer skills. Wow. I just wanted to teach people how to do this one thing (send HTML email). It never occurred to me that anyone would see it as part of their overall development. I'm glad I didn't think of it that way; that would have been way too much pressure.

So I'm not planning a career change or anything -- being able to stand in front of a room full of people and teach day after day is a skill that I'm still in awe of -- but at least I won't feel quite so nervous next time I have to lead a training session.

ode to ms. bento

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Now that autumn is finally upon us, I appreciate my Ms. Bento lunch box all the more. In the summer I was eating a salad for lunch most days, and more often than not would use tupperware because Ms. Bento just isn't designed for a salad. It's actually designed for a traditional Japanese lunch: soup in the bottom container, rice in the middle container, vegetables in the top container. That's why only the bottom container is watertight.

Now that it's too cold for salad at lunch, I'm taking leftovers to work every day, and Ms. Bento is perfect for that. I thought the containers were awfully small when I first got Ms. Bento. Now I'm surprised to discover that, when packing richer foods like leftover casseroles or chili, I don't even need all three containers! Two is a lot of food.

I always fill the containers with boiling water to preheat them, then dump out the water when my lunch is ready to pack. Yesterday I had an idea that's pretty clever, if I do say so myself: instead of emptying the bottom container, I leave the boiling water in it and pack it like that. At noon when I eat, my lunch is still really hot! I bet if I were packing hot soup, it would work the same way.

knitting

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I've been knitting almost constantly lately. It's so hard for me to find sweaters I like in stores, that it just seems easier t make my own. Plus it's something to do that lets me feel productive while I'm watching television.

I just finished this sweater:
Sweater almost done The photo is actually from right before I finished: you can see that only one half of the button band is done in the photo. It's a beautiful pattern with really nice fitted sleeves. I made it in a cotton from Knit Picks and I think it turned out really well. My only regret is I wish I had made it a little longer.

This is my next sweater:
new sweater The colors in the photo aren't great -- it's actually light green and purple stripes.

Compared to the orange sweater (which was sport weight yarn) it's coming together so fast. I didn't really start knitting until yesterday! It's a pattern on Ravely called "Incredible Custom Fit Raglan" -- not even really a pattern so much as guidelines for designing your own sweater. I really like that it's top-down, so I can try it on as I go and make sure I like the fit.

rally to restore sanity and/or fear

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So, we went to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Well, sort of. The trains were so crowded that we couldn't get on. We went several stops the wrong way, until we finally got to a platform near the beginning of the line where the trains weren't as full and we could get on. Then the trains took longer than usual because at every stop, more people would try to cram onto the train, and they wouldn't be able to get the doors closed. So we'd go through this lengthy process of the lady on the intercom scolding us about standing away from the doors, but no one could hear her, and the people at the doors would argue with the people trying to get on, and eventually they'd either squash the extra people in or persuade them to step off, and we'd finally get the doors clear and move again.

So, the tour of Metro stations was fun but it meant that we got to the rally about 1. Hours after the allocated space had been completely filled and we couldn't even get close. We couldn't see anything, couldn't even see if there were jumbotrons much less where. We could hear that people were talking, but couldn't tell what they were saying. I don't think we ever made it onto the actual mall. We were on one of the side streets next to the mall, packed in like sardines.

I heard that the permit said they were expecting 60,000 people, and that's what they had planned for, and they actually ended up with at least 215,000. I believe it. The part where we were fighting to move through a solid wall of people was fairly un-fun. (And the part where I got separated from our group was downright terrifying.) But when we moved back and got to a less dense area, it was pretty fun. Just watching the crowds, looking at costumes and reading people's signs. We didn't worry about missing out on the actual rally because we had set up the DVR to record in. (In fact, we're watching it right now.) Kinda like going to a Grateful Dead concert and staying in the parking lot the whole time.

My sign was a big hit. Not only did lots of people comment on it, but it was an invaluable tool to help our group stay together when the crowding was the worst. Georg took photos of me with each side:
sanity sidefear side

Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo have good photo collections of costumes and signs. My favorite was one I didn't see on their sites: a guy dressed like Hitler standing on a crate. He was one of the first things I saw when we got to the rally. This sea of people, and whoa, there's Hitler! Holding a sign that said "No, I'm Hitler."

We left before the rally was over and didn't have any trouble getting on a train to go back to Chevy Chase. At first I was wishing we'd left early in the morning so we could have gotten close enough to see the actual rally. But as Georg pointed out, if we had gotten on the Metro at 9 instead of 11, we probably could have gotten a decent place on the mall. But, if we'd done that we would have been trapped behind 215,000 people all trying to exit at the same time. I heard that later in the afternoon it was as difficult to get on the Metro heading out of the city, as it had been to head towards the rally in the morning. Since we had to drive home last night after the rally, it's really good that we didn't get trapped in the middle of it.

rally to restore sanity and/or fear

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If you're attending the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I'll be easy to find: I'll be the one carrying this sign.
rally to restore sanity

See you there!

i voted

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election day accoutrementsI voted today! Up at North Library. There was a short line, 4-5 people, and most of the voting booths were full. I saw my chief judge from precinct 37; she told me she's been working early voting every day.

In other election news, my barrettes arrived! They're super cute. A little bigger than I had expected -- that just makes them easier for the voters to see! The only drawback is, every time I remove the "VOTE" one, it catches my hair & pulls one or two out. Ouch! I just have to make an extra effort to put them in correctly and not have to adjust them. I guess considering all the painful things I don't do for my appearance, this isn't so bad.

We went to A/V Geeks tonight at Fullsteam Brewery. Really fun. The theme was alcohol. My favorite was a 1970s movie where they got several volunteers to drive an obstacle course three times at the Catamount stock car track: sober, tipsy and super drunk. Drunk driving has never been so funny.

exceptional

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This evening was equipment training and exceptions training. Equipment training means learning how to operate the tabulator (the machine people stick ballots into), the voter assistance machine (it helps disabled voters mark their ballots) and the hand scanner. At the ballot table we have to scan the ballots and the ATVs (authorization to vote forms) to make sure everybody gets the right ballot style.

We broke into small groups to practice using the scanner. I was intimidated beforehand but it's really not hard. There's a little red crosshair that you hold over the barcode until it beeps. I guess if I'd worked retail in the past 15 years I would have done it already. They tried to make it relatively foolproof -- for instance it won't allow you to scan the same ATV twice.

The funny part was my small group. It was me, a guy and an older woman. We each took turns scanning a sample ballot and then we took turns starting up the scanner. When it was my turn, the older woman kept trying to yank it out of my hand -- I mean she literally grabbed my hand and tried to take the scanner from me. I didn't say anything, just didn't let her take it until I was done. While she took her turn I chatted with the guy. He's an ... I forget the term but he's an emergency judge. If someone's sick he fills in for them; otherwise he acts as a runner, delivering supplies to precincts throughout the day.

I thought this was really interesting so I was asking him a bunch of questions. Suddenly the older lady shouted at us, "I need help and you're standing there talking!" We were so taken aback we had a hard time not laughing. We thought she was reading the instructions aloud to herself, but apparently she was asking us for help. Without looking at us or phrasing anything as a question. Clearly we were remiss.

He apologized, which I thought was pretty generous of him. She just kept ranting about how we were supposed to help her and we were just talking. Then he said "Is that my job, to make sure you're doing okay? I'm sorry, I didn't realize that." The amazing thing was how even and pleasant he sounded. He really sounded like he was apologizing. But she took it at face value -- accepted his apology even.

I kept my mouth shut until after the session, then went up to him and congratulated him for handling that so well. He said he felt like he was being incredibly snarky! He must just be a super nice person. Even when he's trying to be sarcastic, it comes out kind and sincere. Not me -- if I tried to cut someone down, believe me, they'd know. Anyway we had a good laugh about it, and it wasn't until after he'd left that I realized I never even got his name. Oh well, maybe I'll see him at training again in 2012.

carbolicious

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At lunch today I saw a guy get the "Mike's Slammer" breakfast special (eggs, sausage, and pancake), pile the eggs and sausage on top of the pancake, pour the entire ramekin of syrup over it, fold it over and eat it like a breakfast burrito. Kind of amazing. I don't like eating that much in one sitting, and I don't even like eggs, and I still wanted to try it.

He looked super fit -- lean like a runner or cyclist -- and was wearing one of those shiny exercise shirts. Maybe he had just finished a 40 mile ride or something. I'm still in awe.

flu shot

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Before every election, NC poll workers have to be sworn in. Typically we do it at poll worker training, so I was sworn in on Thursday. Everybody stands up, we raise our right hands, then swear an oath together. I always remain silent on "so help me god." Likewise the "under god" in the pledge of allegiance. I would prefer not to say the pledge at all -- I think it's kind of ridiculous to pledge allegiance to a flag. Pledge to the country? Kind of jingoistic but I can see the point since we're officially government employees. But a flag? We pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth? I don't like it at all. But I always sit up front, and it would look bad to stand there silently for the entire pledge. So I say it, and omit the "under god."

Whatever! That's neither here nor there. The point is that to be an election official we have to take an oath. And part of the oath is that we will not reveal what happens inside the voting enclosure. I'm not sure whether that means the little booths where people are actually voting, or the entire room. To be safe I assume the latter. And I'm about to break that oath.

I always work the registration table. Where people walk up, state their name and address, I look them up in a book, if they're in there they sign a form, then take the form to the ballot table and turn it in for a ballot. This means that hundreds of people walk up to me and use my pen. On election day it's just them signing, I don't have to write anything. During early voting, because anyone can go to any voting location, there's a notation the poll worker has to make on the form. This means that I am sharing a pen with hundreds of people.

Which didn't bother me, until one day during early voting two years ago when a man walked up to my station, pulled a (clearly used) hankie out of his pocket, blew his nose loudly, picked up my pen and signed his name.

I was cool about it. I didn't recoil in horror or anything. Just sat there until he walked away, then grabbed the pen and ran to the back where I knew there was a bottle of hand sanitizer. Coated the pen and my hands with it. It got me to thinking though. That guy with the used hankie, his behavior disgusted me but in a way he was doing me a favor. Because it was obvious he was sick. How many sick people were coming in to vote, breathing on me and using my pen, and I had no idea?

I think of that moment as the beginning of the mild germ phobia I experience now. I never touch the door handle of a public bathroom with my bare hand. If someone uses my pen at work I clean it with hand sanitizer as soon as they walk away. If I'm near someone who's coughing or sounds sick, I try not to touch anything near them, and if I have to then I take care not to touch my face until I can wash my hands. I wash my hands kind of all the time. And I get flu shots now, which I never bothered with before.

It takes 2 weeks for a flu shot to be effective. I got mine early last week so I'd be protected by election day. I was super tired that night and my arm was sore for a couple of days. No other symptoms. And the guy at CVS did such a good job with the shot that I literally didn't know he had done it until it was over. I didn't feel the needle go in at all. Word to the wise, CVS on Hillsborough Rd. is the place to go for a painless flu shot!

I did get horribly sick right after the 2008 election, but I don't think it was the flu. It was a hacking cough so intense that I spent a day literally unable to talk. Georg and I communicated via online chat that day, because every time I tried to talk it would set off another coughing fit. It was kind of comical, the two of us sitting there with our laptops typing to each other. I wasn't surprised that I got sick that year: what with the campaign I'd been under such intense stress. It was no wonder I got rundown, and then got sick as soon as I allowed myself to stop. This year it's much less stress. Just the one day, plus training, plus I've been putting in some extra hours at work to "bank" against the time off. I think it's much more likely that I'll be able to avoid getting sick this time.

because it's the law

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vote.jpgPoll worker training was last night! Mike Ashe is back on his feet and in fine form. None of the folks from my precinct were there, they must all be scheduled in other training sessions. Instead I had a nice chat with some people from another precinct. One was completely new. Not just to being a poll worker but to voting in NC; he just moved here from another state. At one point he asked a question that referenced voters being behind a curtain, although we don't use curtains here in NC.

The hand scanners at the ballot table are here to stay, apparently. They're used to make sure each voter gets the right ballot. I signed up for equipment training just in case I end up at the ballot table on the 2nd. At the request of my chief judge I'm already scheduled to do exceptions training, which means being able to help people who have a problem, are in the wrong place, need to use a provisional ballot, etc.

I have to admit I'm a little nervous about working the exceptions table. There's so much more responsibility, so many possible situations to deal with. At past election days, my job has always been so easy! I'd sit there saying "Please state your name and address. Thank you for voting!" all day long. On the other hand, it's nice to know that my chief judge thinks I can handle it.

There was also a disquieting rumor: someone at training said that she had also gone to a "poll watcher training" sponsored by the Republican party. She said the poll watcher training said that when the voter states their name and address out loud, which they are required by law to do, we the poll workers are required by law to repeat their name and address out loud. According to Mike Ashe this is not true. I hope there aren't any confrontations between poll workers and misinformed observers. They're not supposed to interfere with poll workers or with the voting process, they can't even hover behind us while we're working. I'm sure it will be fine.

flag.jpgEvery year they encourage us to wear patriotic clothing (non partisan of course). I've never done it because everything suitable that I've ever seen was horrible kitch. Yesterday I finally found something patriotic, cute and non-tacky to wear: vintage barrettes from the 70s! I found them on Etsy: one has a flag design and one says "VOTE". They shipped today so I'll be sure to have them in time for election day. Yay!

I have to say, being a poll worker is such a great experience. It's fun, you get to meet your neighbors, you get to promote democracy, and work with nice people, and you get paid! It's the total package.

clinic escort

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I signed up to be a clinic escort for a local abortion clinic that's being targeted during "40 Days for Life." Which is apparently an annual event at which antiabortion protesters spend 40 days targeting clinics around the country.

Today I went to a "mini training" session. So called because there wasn't any training per se (no role playing or whatnot), it was a veteran clinic escort who just talked about her experiences, gave advice and answered questions. Some of the advice wasn't surprising -- like for instance, her rule #1 was don't engage with the protesters. Because you're there to help the patients get in the door without incident. If you start exchanging insults with the protesters, that's not going to help the patient at all & might even make her feel worse. The best thing to do, she said, was to get in between the protesters and the patient. Don't react to the protesters at all; just provide a physical barrier so their anger seems to be directed more at the escort than at the patient. That made sense to me.

The advice that surprised me was not to talk too much to the patients. At least, not to assume they want to talk. Because a lot of times they're feeling emotional about what's about to happen, and all the ugliness from the protesters just makes it worse. And you might think that a sympathetic conversation would make them feel better, but that may be the last thing they want. She said to just identify ourselves as clinic escorts, ask if they want us to walk with them to the door, and then leave it up to them if they want to talk or not.

I'm signed up to go this Saturday morning. As far as I know there's only going to be two escorts there that morning, so I hope there aren't too many protesters. Wish me luck!

health-freedom-tastic

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When I got this job at Ipas, my old friend Kevin said "That's health-freedom-tastic"! I promised him I would make a sign for my cube with that motto, and here it is.

health-freedom-tastic

I have no idea what the real-life Amitabh's position is on reproductive rights, but the imaginary Amitabh in my mind thinks they're wonderful. And he will kick the ass of anyone who restricts a woman's reproductive choices, and he'll dance and sing a catchy number while he's doing it. Dishoom!

(If you don't get the "Cheers, gentleman" reference, watch the first 20 seconds of this clip.)

orphan orchid

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I try not to impulse buy plants. So many times I've bought a plant that just did not work, because it caught my eye in the store.

So, yesterday when I saw a big shelf of clearance orchids at Big Blue, I passed them by. Sure the price was good, but what do I know about growing orchids? I used to have a couple of orchids: there was this nursery that would take care of them for me, and every year they would send me a postcard when an orchid was in bloom. I'd go pick it up, pay the nursery fee, enjoy the flowers, then when it bloomed out back to the nursery it went.

That nursery closed down years and years ago, and I haven't had an orchid since then. And I couldn't stop thinking about the poor sad clearance orchids at Big Blue. I searched online and found out that lots of orchid people buy them and nurse them back to health. And oftentimes the plants aren't unhealthy; the store just can't sell them when they're done blooming. On the other hand, the people at the big box stores don't usually know how to take care of orchids and sometimes they're in very bad health. It's hit or miss.

So I read online about how to identify a problem orchid vs. one that will be okay, went back after work today, and bought a cattleya. I also bought a bag of orchid potting mix. Before dinner I repotted it, with help from this fantastic photo tutorial.

The pot it came with was covered with a thick layer of sphagnum moss. In the store I had pulled away some of the moss and seen enough healthy roots to feel comfortable buying it. Though I was expecting to find rotten roots also, since it was clearly being over-watered in the store. The surprise was that the orchid had been very recently potted up from a much smaller pot. But all they had done was yank the orchid out of its original pot, stick it into a bigger pot, and stuff sphagnum moss all around it. It was still potbound in the shape of the original pot -- this mass of roots in the shape of a small pot, sitting in the middle of soggy sphagnum. Poor cattleya!

I read that orchids don't like having too much space, they prefer to be slightly potbound. So Georg found a smaller pot out in the shed that would be a better fit. I had to cut away about 1/3 of the roots, and I think I got all the bad parts. The weirdest part of the instructions was to sprinkle cinnamon on all the cut ends! Apparently cinnamon has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, and it's used to prevent opportunistic bacterial infection.

The cattleya is all potted up, though I think I might pull it out and try again. Orchids get potted in this really loose mix made of bark chips, chunks of charcoal, even bits of styrofoam. No soil at all. You just have to poke and tuck the bits in and around the roots. And that tutorial said to plant it really firmly, and I think I might have left too many air pockets in there. It's kind of wobbly and they said that's bad for the plant when it starts to grow fragile new roots.

So the best case scenario is that it will like my sunny desk, and it will grow, and in a couple of years it will flower again. It came with a tag that identified it as Burana Beauty, which is a dramatic yellow and red flower. I read that a lot of orchid growers mislabel them though, so I won't count on it being any particular color until in blooms. If it ever does!

the prince and the moon

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Today I learned that ergonomics are something one should think about immediately when starting a new job. I never much worried about it before, because no matter what kooky desk setup I was working at, I knew I'd only be there for a couple of hours and then onto the next job. Now I sit at the same desk for 8 hours or more, and the ergonomics were apparently terrible. The desk is way too high for me, and the chair way too low. Last night pain in my left wrist woke me up in the middle of the night, and I couldn't get back to sleep for over an hour. (Thank you, I think, to the Sleep Cycle app for providing a cute graphic of how long wrist pain kept me awake last night).

This morning I contacted HR and within an hour I had a taller chair, and a plan to install a keyboard tray on my desk, replace my keyboard with a standard size that will fit in a keyboard tray, and give me a foot rest. It will be next week before the keyboard tray and foot rest come in. In the meantime they gave me a wrist pad so at least my wrists get some relief, and a temporary foot rest (it's kind of broken but it works as long as I don't put too much weight on it). I have to say, I've felt more than a little culture shock coming into this environment. But there's definitely something to be said for working in a place where there's a whole department whose job includes making sure my desk is comfortable and will not injure me.

For a long time I've slept with a brace on my right wrist, and today on my way home from work I stopped and got one for the left. I wanted to knit tonight, even had a project all ready to start, but I couldn't because of my wrists. I've been wearing the braces since after dinner & I hope the soreness will be gone in the morning.

Since I couldn't do anything craftsy tonight, here's a photo of my last project. A katamari! I had made one as a gift last Christmas, and now that I have a desk I wanted a katamari of my own to use as an office supply caddy. I splurged and ordered rare earth magnets so it would hold a lot of stuff.
katamari for my desk

I looked up rare earth magnets because someone asked what they are and I wasn't exactly sure, to be honest. Except of course stronger than regular magnets. According to Wikipedia, rare earth magnets are made from alloys of rare earth elements. Thus the name.

Wikipedia mentioned the danger of careless handling of rare earth magnets, and I can confirm it. The ones I used were only 5/8" diameter and 1/8" thick -- like a stack of 2 pennies -- and I pinched myself pretty bad when I let two magnets get close enough to jump together and catch my finger. I thought I was going to end up with a blood blister but the next day it was just a red spot. After that I learned to carefully separate the magnets. When I needed to join two together, I would put one inside the "bump," (which was like a little cup until sewn in place) hold it open from the back, and let the other jump inside without coming anywhere near my fingers.

Wikipedia says that rare earth magnets larger than a few cm can break bones. Also, I did not know that they are more brittle than regular magnets, and if you let big ones jump together they can shatter on impact and then you can be hurt by magnet shrapnel. Magnet Shrapnel would make a great band name.

lunch geek

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I am officially a Lunch Geek. I love making my lunch every day. It's so much fun to pack everything in the little Ms. Bento containers. And I got my spork back! It had disappeared during my first week at work. I guess someone saw it in the dish drainer and thought it was part of the communal kitchen supplies. I wrote out a note with a drawing of my spork crying because she had gotten lost and missed Ms. Bento!

The note disappeared from the kitchen last Thursday and I figured that was it, my spork was gone for good. Well it turns out the note was removed when the spork was returned! I found it in my pencil cup on Monday, it must have been there for days. I thought it was a letter opener, pulled it out of the cup and it was my spork!. I left another note with a drawing of the spork laughing and saying "thank you."

While the spork was missing I ordered a set of travel silverware that all fits together. The knife handle is hollow and the fork and spoon fit inside. It's a nice set; I'll set it aside in case I ever need a knife for my lunch. I also picked up a set of cloth napkins at Ikea. Super inexpensive and now I don't have to use paper napkins every day.

Ms Bento 9 AugThe past couple of days I've packed a hot lunch instead of cold. I filled the containers with boiling water to preheat them while I heated up my lunch. When I got to the office I set it in the windowsill so the sun would help keep it warm. Ms. Bento works as advertised: I packed my lunch at 8:30, and at noon it was still, well not so hot it burned my mouth, but about like I'd expect a meal right from the stove. I had put peach cobbler in the smallest container, which is the one intended for soup & therefore the best insulated. I had the cobbler at 2:30 and it was still kinda hot.

I was so excited about Ms. Bento's heat retaining abilities that I took a photo of yesterday's lunch and posted it in the Mr. Bento group on Flickr. And now I have written an entire blog post about my lunch.

sleep cycle

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I've been trying a new app on my phone, called Sleep Cycle. The idea is that you program in the time you want to wake up, and then leave the phone on your bed overnight. The phone tracks your movements and figures out when you're in deep sleep, when you're dreaming and when you're awake (or nearly so). In the morning, starting 1/2 hour before your awake time, the phone looks for a time when you're close to being awake and then sounds the alarm. It wakes you when you're ready to get up, so you feel more rested than if you had slept 15 minutes more and then had to wake up from a dream.

I've used it for 3 nights now and I'm mostly impressed. The first night was the best:
my phone is my sleep monitor / alarm clock

It looks like a pretty accurate representation of my sleep that night. Deep sleep at first, then dreaming on and off. I remember getting up to use the bathroom around 5:30 which caused the tall spike in the graph. Then at about 6:40 I woke up, pulled out my earplugs and the alarm went off. (I had told it to wake me by 7.) It worked as advertised and I found it easier to get up than usual, even 20 minutes early.

The second and third nights weren't as accurate -- there were times when I remembered waking up and sitting partly up to look at the clock, which the phone indicated as dreaming. The problem, I think, is that it's not truly measuring your level of sleep. It can't because it's not measuring brain waves, and I'm not quite ready to give my phone that kind of access to me. It's just measuring how much you move. I've trained myself over the years to move as little as possible when I wake up during the night, so as not to disturb Georg. And so the phone can't generally tell when I'm awake unless I get out of bed.

The other problem is that it can't make you sleep better, and the trick of waking you when you're ready to wake up won't work if you're just plain still tired in the morning. For instance, here's last night:
sleep-cycle-aug-8.jpeg

As you can see I woke up around 4:30 and had a really hard time falling back asleep. And when I finally did fall asleep, the clock ran out on my wake-up time so the alarm went off when I was still tired. I think it was wrong about me being in deep sleep, but it was pretty hard to get up. I don't know why I set the alarm on a weekend anyway. I should have just slept in!

So far the first morning was great, the second morning the dog woke me before the alarm could, and the third was a bust. I'm going to keep trying and see if it improves. One out of three isn't great, but then again that first morning really was wonderful. It felt so refreshing to get up and not feel tired or groggy. I sat in bed and web surfed until it was time to get up, and felt like I'd had extra time that morning, for free.

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