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Friday, February 29, 2008

The Regency Gap

In general, I don't sew. I can make a decent Ren Faire skirt or a pair of bloomers, but that's about it. After that most basic level of sewing, I rapidly find myself out of my depth. As styles got fancier and more finished (historically speaking), it rapidly moves beyond what I'm comfortable doing. I would never attempt to make a Victorian gown - too much fiddly detail there. Plus, I know a lot of folks who put my sewing skill and historical costuming knowledge to utter shame. (Beyond that, there are quite a few who are all too willing to make snarky comments about the quality of the sewing or the historicality of others garments, which makes me even more reticent to wade into those snark-infested waters.)

The skill I do have is being a good shopper and being able to find costumes online or in thrift stores. Beyond that, I'm very willing to team up with someone who defines themselves as being able to sew and do the grunty work of cutting and pinning and ironing while they do the fiddly detail bits that make me want to cry.

So for last year's P&P picnic, I didn't have a Regency day dress. This has long been a gap in my historical wardrobe, so I started shopping online for one, found a few here and there, but after losing out on several eBay auctions in the last few minutes, I borrowed a dress from Cathleen and figured I'd work on getting something in time for the March P&P ball.

So in January, I started searching around online in random idle moments and finding that eBay seemed to be my only option for Regency dresses unless I wanted to make it myself. There are hundreds of Civil War sutlers, and tons of Old West retailers, and lots of Ren Faire and SCA garb stores online, but there is little available for the era of Jane Austen.

But I did not want to make it myself. So I started idly bidding on dresses on eBay figuring that in time, I'd win one. But eBay was being eBay and it seems you can't purchase on eBay unless you go to some extraordinary measures (snipe tools, sitting by the computer as the last seconds count down, etc.). I just wanted to buy a dress at a reasonable price, not become an eBay expert, so I consistently lost out again and again in the final minutes of an auction for usually less than a dollar over my maximum bid. After doing this three times, I was pretty sure that it no longer mattered what my maximum bid was or that no one else was bidding against me. Everything would go just fine, and I would usually be the sole bidder, until the last minute of the auction, and then someone would come in and snag the dress for 49 cents more than my maximum bid. After the third time, I got really frustrated. I bid on one more dress, but knew there was little chance I could win unless I were willing to make my maximum bid something absurd like $500, and that by god, a Regency dress doesn't look like THAT much trouble to sew. So, I tromped off to Hancocks, found the Simplicity pattern, found some blue taffeta on clearance, and figured that even I might be able to throw something together.

Meanwhile, I still had a loaner Georgian dress from Cathleen, and Elizabeth loaned me her dress from Much Ado years ago. But both of those are made for ladies with much more ample fronts than I have, so they didn't fit just right. But having them on hand gave me the courage to attempt the sewing thing without having the pressure of being utterly, hopelessly, inappropriately dressed if I couldn't get it to work. Oh, and of course, I was outbid on eBay two more times.

I made up a muslin. With just some minor tweaking of the original pleating in the back and some guess work about the sash (since I was instructed to cut it out, but the instructions never mention it again), it fit right away. In fact, it wasn't even horribly unflattering. Hmm. Rick said, "Take the win." So I cut out the taffeta and spent the last few evenings up far too late working on assembling it. Last night, I went to bed at 3:40 with a new blue taffeta Regency-like gown hanging in the wardrobe, needing only a hem and some buttons and if I have time, some tweaking on the neckline.

My dress is not exactly period-accurate or beautifully trimmed or an elegant expression of my skills. But it's basic, and I built it, and doing so cost about what I expected to pay for a fairly plain dress off eBay, plus a whole lot of time. I hope to enjoy wearing it tomorrow. And if I never have to bid for such a thing on eBay again, I'll be overjoyed.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Taxes - done!

Got around to finishing my taxes today. I'm getting a refund, but in the glamorous life of a home-owner, I expect that it and more will go to getting my house repainted as the trim is all peeling. Oh well. I've got a list of recommendation from Stanford Staffers for house painters, but if you know of anyone you highly recommend who works in San Jose, let me know.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Biff! Pow!

Saturday I started the day with a self-defense class offered by the Stanford Kenpo Club. It was a great class. They let us beat up on them as much as we wanted, stomping and punching and wriggling out of holds. In general it was nice to know my basic instincts are good and that everything I ever learned from tickle fights applies here, save for if it's real, then you don't have to feel bad about leaving marks. Saturday evening I toddled off to Gaskells, but even then, I knew I was starting to get stiff. I'd pulled one muscle in my back on a mislanded punch and I was pretty sure that Sunday morning I'd be feeling rather old.

Sure enough, Sunday I woke up, and went back to sleep again, having absolutely no desire to move at all. After several rounds of that, I rolled out of bed around eleven and didn't want to move at all. So I went and sat very still on the sofa, waiting for Rick to wake up so that we could grab some breakfast and I could take a handful of Advil. I gave up after another hour of being patient and decided to work on getting dressed.

All in all, yesterday went very slowly. I didn't get done nearly what I'd intended to do and I frequently succumbed to, "Oh lemme just sit very still here for a minute."

And all I can wonder is if I feel like this, how do those poor guys who we were wailing on feel?

Fashion Faux-Pas Conundrum

I'm pretty sure I'm wearing the exact same outfit I was wearing last Monday for ceili. Is it worse that I did it or is it worse that I noticed this and am now wondering if anyone else would've noticed?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Donated Blood

I got an email from the Blood Center today and realized that I was 1. not sick, 2. didn't have big plans tonight, and 3. didn't have any meetings this afternoon after 2. So I called up to see if I could get an impromptu appointment and they said, "Sure!" So I drove over at 2:30 and let the vampires have their pint of blood. This had the added benefit of giving me a few minutes to finish the last 30 pages of Expendable, which I can highly recommend. Emily handed it to me when I had a "No more chick lit!" outburst a month or so ago and it was definitely the perfect antidote. Good chewy sci-fi that launched on a foundation of uncomfortable truth and kept going with strong characters, good lit references, and a plausible denouement.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dozing...

My Zimbra demo at 10 went well. There were several things I hadn't thought of, but one I figured out how to do on the fly and others that we said we'd look into it. I was here til ten prepping for the demo, and back at 8:30. At lunch I went and had my usual taco and side of beans and since the indoor tables were full, I found a spot in the Beckman basement lobby sofa. After eating my lunch, I was going to finish a few more pages of my book before heading back, and I promptly dozed off. Waking up in a very public space at your place of work is a bit disconcerting. But now I'm off to do my final Remedy Changes training session. Believe it or not, next week it looks like I may have the right amount of work for a single mere mortal. Hooray for 8 hour work days in my future!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Yipe!

That didn't sound like thunder. It sounded like a bomb going off. Rattled the windows in my office too. Good thing I saw the flash four or five seconds before the thunderclap or I would've freaked out.

Oh God I'm Old

Whoa. Here's something that will quickly remind you that you're aging: seeing one of your childhood icons with a full head of white hair.

Yep, that's Princess Leia. Back when I was 9, she was making boys around the world recognize the onset of puberty.

Really, she looks awfully good for her age (and especially for the life she's lived). But oh man. Somehow thinking of Slave Girl Leia as a grandma just hurts in the dark alleys in my brain.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Productive Procrastination

There comes a point where you realize you can't get it all done and that that day off is really just a myth. To get close to the minimum, work has to happen that day. And in a panic of how to do it all, time is slipping away.

That's when the clutter and dust on my desk gets to me. I spent 30 minutes cleaning my desk because it was one discreet thing I could accomplish and that would make me feel better in the week to come. Plants are watered. Desk is wiped clean of spills. Papers are filed. Shelves and picture frames are dusted. Really, it's just productive procrastination. But I can't revise the Transition Cycle document before the end of the day, and I can't get all the project plan updates done, and I can't prep the SofE demo (which is really what I'm totally freaking out about). But I can have clean and calm in my workspace, and it helps a little.

EDIT: As it turns out, I did just get through a rough draft of the project updates and the transition cycle documents, and I attribute that directly to a tidier space leading to a little clarity. So here's to productive procrastination actually turning out to be productive!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

La La La - I Can't Hear You!

My mom got me new headphones for Christmas and they're really great. Totally great sound. Full sound range. But one funny thing - they're earbuds. They came with three different sizes of silicone covers, and one fits just perfectly. Really, they're great. But they don't cover my ears.

The funny thing is that without having my ears covered, they don't seem to do the trick for helping me block out the rest of the world and providing focus for work. This is totally unexpected, but after several weeks and a lot of thinking about it, normal over the ear headphones act as both a visual cue and a physical reminder that I'm more or less sitting here with my hands over my ears, but since it's really headphones, my hands are free to continue working.

So I'm going to pack the earbuds with my mp3 player and use them for exercise and such, but I'm going back to old school headphones for the office.

It Was a Dark and Blustery Night...

I had big plans for getting stuff done last night. It was my one free evening all week, so I knew I at least had to get packed and ready for the weekend. I got home after tap class, showered up, and then the power went out.

Um...

It came back a few minutes later, whereupon I promptly emptied the dishwasher and refilled it to retest the hose repair. I made a quick bite to eat and settled in to eat and then get started. I had just finished and was waiting for Pixel to get up when the power went out again.

Um...

This time it seemed to be gone for the count. So, climbing up to the attic to pull together some costume stuff? That's out. Starting laundry? Nope. Tidying up around the house by flashlight? Not very inviting. So, to bed early then? Why yes, let's do that.

Lots and lots of wind last night but no rain. Go figure.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Extreme Beagle Cuteness

I can't explain it. I just happen to think beagles are the cutest dogs ever. So there was beagle glee on the way to work this morning when I heard that Uno the beagle had won the Westminster Kennel Club show for the year. Still, I think Porthos from Enterprise is actually cuter. I swear, I kept watching that show for way too long just because Porthos was so cute.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Qarbon - So Much Better Than Captivate

Remember the horrible week - the one where I worked 65 hours, had a totally demoralizing run-in with a coworker insisting on doing my job, culminating with Microsoft threatening to buy Yahoo? One other thing that was going painfully wrong that week was recording and producing a video helplet about the Email System in Remedy 7. I'd upgraded to Captivate 3 in the fond hope of escaping some of the bugs in Captivate 2. After wrestling it most of Wednesday and Thursday, at quarter to five on Thursday, I went and sat down in Linda and Nuriya's office and just whined. The thing I just couldn't work around was that no matter what I did, I could not get Cap3 to record additional slides with the mouse displayed. It was pure torture. I was half-way through a project, needed to add a few more slides, and I couldn't unless I wanted to manually animate in the mouse for each of those slides. Nuriya (who is one of my favorite coworkers ever) suggested searching the Adobe site for solutions. A quick search didn't find much. I headed back to my desk to start redoing my project in Captivate 2. I got an email from Nuriya a few minutes later with a link saying "Oh dear, looks like you're right." This guy had all the same frustrations, only he'd given up before going on to Cap3. So he wrote a review of a couple of alternative products saying "If I can avoid giving Adobe $1 dollar for a 3rd generation piece of shit that they cannot get right, I’d love to."

After reading the reviews, I thought I'd try the Qarbon Viewlet Builder. It sounded like it might just fit the bill for me. So I figured I'd finish my project tonight via Captivate 2 and I'd download the other product the next day, but while poking around their site, I didn't find any mention of educational discounts. So I figured I'd start a dialog about that. I wrote:
Hi,
After a grueling day fighting Captivate 3, after upgrading from Captivate 2 hoping to fix some of the worst bugs, I went and complained to a coworker, who did a Google search and found this article online:
http://www.breakitdownblog.com/adobe-captivate-review-and-screencasting-alternatives/
I hope y'all are offering this guy free upgrades from now through eternity, because he's your best advertising.

Anyway, just wondering if you offer an educational discount? Adobe offers Stanford some ridiculously cheap pricing. Captivate 3 cost just $79, plus $23 for the CD. Unfortunately, it looks like that was money wasted because the bugs are even worse (or different but equally frustrating) and I'm sick to death of creating workarounds.

So I'm going to download a trial copy in the morning (after my blood pressure has dropped a bit) and see how I do, but in the meantime, I figured I'd start the conversation about pricing. From your location, it looks like you're the little guy, with Adobe's buildings looming just over your shoulder, and I'm all about supporting the little guy, but the cost has to be competitive. And while Stanford theoretically has mad stacks of cash, my department certainly doesn't. Heck, I can't get my boss to spring for a monthly iPass subscription at $10 a month, so spending $200-400 on software that should do something I already can do (argh!) will be a long conversation.

Cheers,
Ammy Hill
IT Services
Campus Readiness Lead

I got a response from Jay at Qarbon about an hour and a half later.
Hi Ammy,

I really enjoyed reading your email about Captivate. We had such a good day today, I'd like to offer you a upgrade for free if you don't mind.

Gimme a little PR or a blog and we'll call it even.

Jay Lucke

Allow me to just say up front: Rock On.

So this week I've been playing around with the Qarbon product, getting familiar with it and building something non-critical. It's pretty sweet. It does pretty much everything I need, and some things I always wished Captivate could do (hello scale to fit browser!), and I had three things that I wished it could do, so I called Jay to talk it over. We talked about:
- Preview with sound. He said this is slated for the next version due very very soon. Current work around is to preview in browser, but that makes editing sound tricky because the browser version doesn't show slide numbers. He offered to send me the 5.5 beta (with all the usual caveats for beta software). This rocks.
- In Captivate, sound goes before the mouse action by default. I can adjust this manually using the timeline, but I suggested that their stylesheet function might be a good place for that. We ran through a bunch of scenarios and he's going to talk about it with the team and see if he can get that to happen.
- Accessibility. There's currently no facility for closed captioning. Captivate does this, but awkwardly. He's going to have the graphic designer see if he can create a skin that shows the slide notes as captions. This would totally rock and sublimely improve on the Captivate way of doing it.

So consider me sold. This is such a great product and they really originated it (and won the lawsuit to prove it) and they're so much more interested it meeting the needs of the customer. It's frightfully refreshing.

Turns out Jay also lives in San Jose and is familiar with my favorite place - the Naglee Park garage. I told him I'd buy him a drink one of these days. Or breakfast. Or something like that. Anyway, isn't it great when the little guy really does win against Goliath? Yah.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Unsurprising

What's the first thing that happens after a period of extreme stress starts to let up? I get sick. Yep. Got a cold. Going home now to drown myself in wonton soup.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Little Things Make a Big Difference

Friday night I was pretty shaken. Dealing with one project going badly was one thing, but I had my entire year laid out before me on the Zimbra implementation, and then the Microsoft takeover of Yahoo news broke and I lost my anchor. First, we chose Zimbra over Exchange for three big reasons:
- open source
- standards-based
- Mac & Linux friendly
None of those reasons are values that Microsoft holds. The future looks pretty grim. Worse, we'd just offered the job to Jo-Ann, so not only is my world rocked, but I just got a good friend to jump from the stable, smooth-sailing ship she was on to my ship, and then it got hit by a torpedo before she even moved all of her stuff in. I feel pretty bad about that too because we've both been through too many layoffs over the years together, and the Zimbra project is funding her position, so if things get really bad, we may be there all over again, only this time with me having drawn her back.

Add to that the emails about my "suggestions" and having to be direct and forceful about the training plan and feeling like all my late late nights were totally unappreciated and that it was all spinning my wheels, and well, I was pretty fragile.

Kev said he was coming to FNW, but when I asked about dinner, he already had plans with Rachel at home. Karen and Crystal were sick and not headed to FNW. I needed dinner and I needed to walk away from my desk, so I headed out to Palo Alto around 7 to find it. I parked in the garage nearest FNW, grabbed my book, and started walking. Everything looked packed. I didn't want loud and bustling. I wanted quiet and safe. Finally, I wandered back and forth a few times between Il Fornaio and CPK. I finally sucked up enough courage to tell the maitre'd that I wanted a table for one. He frowned (per expectation) and said there was room at the counter. I asked if they served the full menu in the bar. "Oh, yes." Okay, so to get a table there. Headed for an empty table in the back corner, Becky said, "Oh hey Ammy."

Becky and Sam were having dinner. Rattled out of my quest for quiet, safe dinner in the corner, I interacted with them, and we decided to reform a table in the corner and they'd stay while I had dinner. (They'd just finished as I was walking up.) I ordered what they'd had and got to hear all about Becky's crazy day and got to tell about my crazy day and Sam told us about the Federal court document system that charges eight cents per page to download court docs so that you can print them. (Still not sure how they justify that rate per page to download. Freaky.) We shared a nice Zabaione alla Gritti for dessert. It was just the right thing. At quarter to nine we were headed to FNW and I felt much much better.

Dancing was good. Cathartic. Even though all I'd wanted earlier in the day was to go home and hide under a pile of blankets, I knew even then that getting out and dancing would be the right thing. I danced (glided, flew, swirled, and swooped) and talked to good friends and came home feeling much better. It would all rise up and grab me again later, but for a few hours and with the help of a few good friends, it took all of my cares away.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Vote By Mail Tracking

A coworker just pointed out to me that you can track your vote by mail. This totally assuages my final fear about voting by mail - distrust of the USPS. Now I can see that they received my ballot on January 31, 2008. Yay!

Reevaluating

Okay, so I'm stepping back from the madness this week. I don't perform well when there's a lot of negative feedback, and I've just reached a place where I'm pretty sure that part of the Remedy project team doesn't want or value my contributions. With the knowledge in place, I feel like I need to do some self-preservation. So, if Remedy would be keeping me at work late, I'm going to opt to get done what I can during the normal work day and then walk away.

How'd I get there? Well, the moment of clarity came last week when I sent an updated training plan to the team list. Then one of the team members (whose job is neither in the documentation nor the training department) sent out a revised training schedule. I asked for a meeting about that and we got together on Wednesday. On Thursday he sent another revised training schedule that did not include the changes we discussed. Hmm. So I send a polite note asking about the most important change and get back a message the next morning saying that he opted not to "take my suggestion". Um... suggestion? I had had a meeting where we came to an agreement. I didn't realize that that was merely a suggestion. Well, now he had my hackles up. So, I wrote back a very direct note about why this would be a problem. In this situation, we had to identify people for a new role, and he had said on Wednesday that only 2 people had been identified thus far, and I suggested a way to get more folks identified and suggested we postpone the training until we had more folks identified rather than having two training sessions for two people. We laughed, and he said, "Yes, sounds good." So in my note, I expressed this issue to the whole team list. He wrote back that he'd look into adding more sessions later. Meanwhile, someone else took the initiative to pursue my original suggestion to help quickly identify people for the role. Crisis averted, but it wasn't pretty.

The more I thought about it, the less good I felt about it all. We could discuss til the cows came home, but apparently nothing I said mattered to this person, and ultimately he was the one who would own the product going forward, so why should I work like crazy to make things better for him and the folks who had to use this if he didn't want me to be involved?

So I'm stepping back. I'm going out to dinner before the ceili tonight. I'm planning to go home at 6pm tomorrow. I'm turning my attention to other projects. I will not give my all someplace where it won't be appreciated. I've discussed this with my manager and my director and they're supportive (and slightly anxious). But they really want to see me going home at a reasonable hour too.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

www.stanford.edu

I was working on an SSP document for the IEC project and I couldn't get back to the project web site. So I say to Rick, "Are you doing something to the internet?" He says, "No." Hmm.

So I check a few other sites. Google works fine. Even Live Journal works. So I try the main Stanford web site. It's down too. Everything on the dubs domain at Stanford is down. All this just before the Super Bowl kicks off. Somebody has undoubtedly gotten paged and is now being pulled away from their seven layer dip and heading in to the office. Bummer dude.

Mmmm... Pancakes

Breakfast was pancakes. From the moment Rick grumbled, "I'm hungry. I'm going to go get take out from Linda's." to the moment where pancakes were hot on the plate was under five minutes, including dusting off and heating up the griddle.

The verdict: they were good pancakes! Way better than Bisquik pancakes. Way better than Denny's pancakes. In fact, they were the best pancakes I've had in ages. And the cleanup was a simple as rinse the spout and wipe the griddle clean.

Tips - make smaller circles than you think. They spread and it's harder to tell when to flip larger ones. They are also pretty delicate, so a big wide spatula helps.

That's it. Y'all should try it.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Oh Crap!

Microsoft is going to buy Yahoo.

(This matters a lot to me because Yahoo bought Zimbra and now is getting eaten by the competition.)