Let Them Eat Cake

I work for a software company. The thing about software companies is they’re always making improvements to their software. And so periodically — typically every 60 days or so — we release those changes out into the wild. When that happens, the other technical writer and I have to make sure the Help Center is all up to date and reflecting those changes.

But the previous release, scheduled for early November, was canceled. I guess the devs needed more time for the new features. Unfortunately, I’d already made changes to the Help Center, and it would’ve been a huge waste of time and effort to try to roll it back. (Don’t ask why.)

So, suffice it to say that we held all the changes we’d made from the end of October through December 6. All those updates went live at the same time, late in the afternoon of release night.

How many are we talking about? Well, for reference, we normally publish 100 or so pages on a release night. On a big night, we’d publish 200 pages. We have to check every one of those pages: What were the changes, and did the changes make it into production? This is not as easy as it sounds, because we have ways of excluding content, and it’s surprisingly easy to inadvertently exclude — or not exclude — content that gets published to production. Hence the diligent checking.

This release, we published 1,080 pages

Imagine two people trying to diligently check over 1,000 pages.

We spent the entire week running up to the release pre-checking pages, even working from home to keep on pre-checking. But even just spot-checking 1,080 pages takes a long time. We anticipated leaving work very, very late.

Fortunately, the company buys dinner for everyone who has to stay late for releases, including us! This time, a different person was responsible for organizing the dinner. She opted to do a group order from Cheesecake Factory.

Ug.

Have you looked at their menu lately? It’s really just different ways to combine grease, carbs, and sugar. This from me, and I love grease, carbs, and sugar! But reading the menu, I could just imagine what a gut-bomb any of those meals would be once I’d consumed all 1,500+ calories.

Again: Ug.

But it’s the Cheesecake Factory. Naturally, the menu includes tons of cheesecakes. I opted to take the road less traveled (by which I mean totally untraveled; nobody else did this) and I ordered an entire cheesecake for dinner. Just the cheesecake. 

Here it is, in all its release-night glory, my 7″ lemon-raspberry cheesecake:

Release Night Whole Cheesecake
A whole lemon-raspberry cheesecake for my release-night dinner.

Release Night Cheesecake
Best release night dinner ever.

To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure the people organizing dinner would let me order an entire cheesecake. I thought somebody would stop me. But no; it went right through and arrived along with everyone else’s gut-bombs.

That’s not to say I didn’t get many comments along the lines of, “You ordered an entire cheesecake?!” to which I gave the only possible answer: “Yes. Yes, I did.”

I took some to save for later, and I took as much as I wanted for the evening (one moderate slice), and then I put the rest out to share. Locusts descended and gleefully partook. It lasted a grand total of maybe five minutes after I made it widely available, and all takers greatly enjoyed the fruits of my audacity.

It was the best release night dinner I’ve ever had. Delightful. 

I hope they let us order Cheesecake Factory again. I’m keen to try one of the chocolate cheesecakes this time.

Oh…yes, in case you’re wondering, I did actually provide myself with a real dinner.

Christmas Movie Madness

My team at work is doing a rainbow unicorn Christmas decoration theme (I found this!). In the spirit of embracing the utter silliness, I have embarked upon an ambitious scheme of watching one Hallmark-style* Christmas movie every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Madness, indeed.

Not that they’re hard to find on Netflix, but I’ve found a handy list of all the Christmas movies available right now.

I’m just going to give my elevator-pitch summary of the experience. I’m not going recap plots, which are trivially easy to find online (let’s be honest: so are reviews). I’ll also include a link to a review I think pretty accurately reflects the experience.

When Christmas is over, I may try to synthesize my sincere thoughts on these — there’s a lot to say about stuff like gender equality, glorification of wealth and consumerism, women’s role in society, and so much more — but for now let’s just leave it light and fluffy.

Week 1 | November 25, 2018 | The Princess Swap

In this movie, you’ll literally know exactly what’s going to happen from the moment the premise is revealed. There’s not one single moment of surprise or even concern that you might not know what’s going to happen. In fact, the director even said so himself:

Most of the similarities between The Princess Switch and its obvious predecessors—particularly The Parent Trap and The Princess Diaries—were intentional. “All we’re really doing is doing a new arrangement of somebody else’s orchestration, and putting our own color to it,” Rohl said.

Vanity Fair: “The Princess Switch Director Answers Burning Questions About Netflix’s Christmas Sensation.”

Sadly, there’s not much chemistry or even acting involved, although there are the occasional wacky hijinks.

Yet it checks all the boxes of a classic Hallmark Christmas movie (including incredibly low production quality), with the kind of mindless sweetness and predictability you must might be hankering for as an escape from the harsh reality of immigration conflicts, climate change politics, etc.

Overall: I acknowledge that it was formulaic, yet I still loved it.

Review

CNet: “The Princess Switch review: Not the classic holiday rom-com 2018 deserves.”

Week 2 | December 1, 2018 | A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding

If you didn’t watch A Christmas Prince last year, don’t worry, you didn’t miss anything that won’t be amply recapped in the first five minutes. Plus, like A Princess Swap, they strictly adhere to the formula, ensuring that you don’t even need to stay awake for the entire movie to know exactly what’s happening at every moment. On two separate instances, Ian anticipated word-for-word the exact next phrase the character would say.

Unfortunately, I found this way less enjoyable than the original Christmas Prince or A Princess Swap. It’s ostensibly a romance, but most of it follows the strangely hapless, clueless Amber as other people trample her desires — no romance in sight. The few scenes with her and the prince (King?) are so lacking in chemistry they can’t make up for the lack.

Overall: Meh.

Vox: “Netflix’s A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding is straight trash. But it’s cozy trash.

*”Style” because (a) they are probably going to be made by Netflix, not actually Hallmark; and (b) I’m counting Muppet Christmas Carol, which will, without doubt, be the best one of the lot. Because it’s one of the, if not THE, best Christmas movie of all time.

A Little Bike Commuting Math

Today, for the first time all week, I didn’t get soaked by rain on my commute home! I’m not complaining about the rain; not really. We’ve had an exceptionally dry November, with an unparalleled number of beautiful Saturdays that let us keep riding our fast bikes far later than usual. I expect to commute home in the rain most days between November and April, so I’ve just enjoyed all these bonus dry days.

Of course, that all changed this week, which we kicked off with 1.4 inches of rain on Monday. I had forgotten how difficult it is to see in the pitch dark in the rain, with raindrops on my glasses and car lights refracting and my glasses fogging up every time I stop.

On rainy days I wear my Gore jacket, which is phenomenal (although I think the colored sleeve patches are soaking through…). But it’s very light, and the directions specifically say “Use with backpack not recommended” — I assume because it wears through too quickly. So on rainy days I take my pannier and go just a little slower. Meh, I’m so slow anyway in these conditions, it honestly doesn’t matter much.

BUT! Today, as aforementioned, it didn’t rain. Plus, I’m working from home tomorrow and have to carry my laptop. For this, I use my Timbuk2 backpack, which has a perfect cozy padded laptop pocket. Okay, honestly I’m not sure if it’s cozy; I’ve never actually cozied up into the pocket, but I imagine my laptop would say it’s cozy, based on how fuzzy and soft it feels inside.

Anyway… I don’t use the backpack most of the time because, frankly, it’s enormous and I don’t need that much volume most of the time. Long story short, today not only did I need to carry my laptop, but I had some extra cargo that required the larger bag.

If only it wasn’t so darn heavy when it’s fully loaded like that. By the time I’m three or four miles from home, my back has started sending out semaphores, flares, etc., to alert me to the level of discomfort I’m feeling. It’s not fun. 

I wondered, as I waited at a stoplight and tried to take the bag weight off my poor, long-suffering shoulders and upper back, how much all this hoo-hah weights. I estimated about 10 lbs for the bag, fully loaded.

One of the things about having my brain is that you immediately decide to quantify stuff if you can. So when I got home, I got out the scale and did some quick measurements. A few little calculations later, and I got my answers:

Fully loaded bag, including laptop: 7.4 lbs
All the gear I’m wearing*: 8.2 lbs
Commuter bike with rack, fenders, pedals, lights, bike computer, the works: 22.4 lbs

By far the most surprising thing to me was the weight of all the clothes and gear. It never occurred to me that I’d be carrying that much extra in layers. Maybe that’s part of why it feels so much harder to ride in inclement weather… And, also, my bike was lighter than I expected: I thought previously it weighed in at 27 lbs. Must’ve lost some water weight since then.

In any case, if I’m looking for reasons I’m so much slower commuting now than in June, I probably need look no farther than these:

  • It’s dark and I slow down for safety.
  • It’s wet and I slow down for safety.
  • I’m carrying a lot of extra weight in winter gear.
  • I’m riding my heavier bike all the time now.
  • I ate some extra donuts once I finished that Gran Fondo.

Cyclists are so good at excuses!

*All the gear I’m wearing includes counts the weight of all the extra wintertime gear: helmet with light, shoes, booties, and jacket. It doesn’t count the regular base layer of shorts, jersey, etc. that I wear all the time. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have included shoes, since I have to wear those no matter what. Oh well.

Poem to the Rain

I’ve been more wet —
showering.

I’ve cycled to the sun and under the harvest moon
The hum of tires, the shussssh of the wind 
singing counterpoint to my joyful heart-tune.

I’ve been more wet —
swimming.

I’ve fought, dug deep, eyes on a wheel
Discovering strength through pain, 
a core of ever-forging steel.

I’ve been more wet —
bubble-bathing.

I’ve ridden the miles that build
A firm friendship foundation,
reward of valuable time fulfilled.

I’ve been more wet —
But I’ve never been more happy.

For the Children. Seriously.

On Thanksgiving, I woke up at 5:00 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. Fortunately, there’s plenty to do on Thanksgiving, starting with baking pie! I have a deep-dish berry pie I love to make, but don’t have the time to bake as often as I’d like. I had the time on Thursday morning! So I got baking, and while I did, I listened to NPR.

They played a story about the war in Yemen, something I haven’t kept close track of. But this story said that since the war started, 85,000 — let me repeat that, EIGHTY-FIVE THOUSAND — infants and children under the age of five have starved to death because of the conflict. Let me reiterate, because this is stunning.

85,000 infants and children.
Starved.
To death.
Because of this war.

Yemen’s Civil War Pushes The Country To The Brink Of Famine

Here I am, making a zillion-calorie pie, with plans to make dinner rolls and buttery, sour-creamy mashed potatoes later, and every intention of enjoying the biggest, most luxurious meal of my year… and infants and children are starving to death. At that exact moment. Probably at this exact moment, too.

Whatever you think of the war in Yemen, the role of Saudi Arabia and the United States in that conflict, Middle East politics in general, all that stuff: Set that aside for a moment. Imagine watching your son or daughter slowly starve to death, while you couldn’t do a thing about it, because of something you cannot control, through no fault of your own.

This isn’t a political issue. This is a humanitarian crisis. We’re still the wealthiest, most powerful country in the world. We have the power to do something — a lot of somethings — about this. Do we have any conscience left? Do we only care about news-bingeing on the latest Trump scandal? Can we take off our political blinders for a moment and look around at the rest of the world, maybe summon enough empathy to imagine our own children starving to death?

We had Thanksgiving dinner, and I honestly felt more thankful than usual. But I also felt deeply disturbed. It seems so wrong for us to have so much, so much that we’ll probably end up throwing away a lot of this pie because we can’t even finish it before it’s no good… when there are people so incredibly desperate for anything.

We’ve decided as a family to make a real, substantial donation to one of the charities working directly to help in Yemen. Benji is donating his allowance. This isn’t about liberal or conservative; it’s about peoples’ lives. 

We found a good list on Charity Navigator. Feel free to join us.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me. 

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:34-40

Compliments?

Yesterday I received an amusing backhanded compliment while commuting home. I passed a guy on the way up Dexter. At the top he caught up with me again and said, “The way you passed me, I thought you were on an e-bike!”

Why, thank you.

E-bikes go sailing up Dexter, which has a small but steady incline for a good distance, and they pass all the regular cyclists constantly. I rarely have a conventional cyclist pass me on that road, but moms in jeans on cargo e-bikes do it all the time. I’ve gotten good at recognizing the unique way people pedal on e-bikes, an effortless and blithe steady spin. If that’s how I looked, I’m doing okay.

That reminded me of another backhanded compliment I received on the Levi’s Gran Fondo. At the 50-mile food stop, a guy came up and said, “You’re really pale. How are you so fast?”

Apparently in California, you can gauge fitness based on someone’s tan. If they spend a lot of time outside riding, they’re more tan.

Of course, even in summer, that’s not the case for us Washington cyclists. I told him where I came from, and it all made so much more sense to him.

Bike Update

Let’s see, what’s happened since I last updated about this mess?

I filed a claim with FedEx. They wrote me a check, and I was briefly really excited… Until I learned it was only $100, again, the full extent of their liability since I didn’t buy extra insurance.

All I need is another 48 payments like that and I’ve got the frame replacement covered!

So, that finishes off any possible claims with people who did the shipping. They agree that I have a legitimate claim, but they just don’t have to pay fully to make it right.

Meanwhile, our homeowners insurance has rejected the claim unless I can prove somehow it was one of the 16 perils listed in our policy. Which is impossible. I can’t imagine how I, or anyone, would determine exactly whether something was dropped on to the box, or whether the box fell off a truck, or what.

I have contacted John Duggan, a lawyer specializing in bike issues, to get some advice. But lawyers are expensive, so I don’t want to waste a lot of time and resources going down that road. I suspect all the parties involved–BikeFlights, FedEx, and USAA–all are thoroughly covered with impenetrable armor of legal language absolving them of any responsibility.

It’s so frustrating. I made one possibly wrong choice–to not get shipping insurance–and now even though I did nothing wrong, my family suffers the consequences. The insurance was super expensive (relatively) and I thought my box would protect it. I guess I feel like I’m not the one who crushed the frame. Why am I the one who gets punished? Why do we pay for homeowners insurance if they can just weasel out of paying for personal property damage?

I’m just disgusted with the whole system, and resigning myself to not replacing the bike. I have my old Cannondale. I can’t justify spending that much again on what is ultimately a toy.