Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Technologically brain dead?

Once upon a time, I took pride in my ability to learn and use new technology. I was quite smug about it, in fact. Lately, I'm feeling brain dead.

Case in point. During a recent trip to the local supermarket, I decided to try out the "scan as you go" equipment. The idea is that you carry a portable scanner and bag with you. As you select your items, you can and drop it into your bag. When you get to the cashier area, you don't have to scan each item, just download the results of your portable scanner and out you go. Only, I had a miserable time managing. First I had to guess how to activate the scanner as there were no instructions (scan your store card, and grab the scanner that lights up). But, that wasn't too bad. But, then came the time when I had to scan my first item. I looked at this device in my hand and stared at the various buttons, wondering which one to press to activate the laser scan. After trying each button, I guess that pressing the big one that made the red laser glow was the one. But, the scanning mechanism didn't work well. I had to try scanning each item multiple times. I assume that I was supposed to press the buttons in some order that worked only when I accidentally pressed things in the right order. Then, at checkout, I had no idea how to finish up the order. There was a sign that said, scan the end of order code. But, what I didn't realize was that it meant I had to use the scanner to read the bar code on the sign! I ended up feeling stupid and flustered. I doubt I'll use it again because it's a lot easier to just scan things at the checkout area. Bleah.

Another case in point: We're using our bug tracking system in a new way to track our activities. Only, half the time, I can't see the sub tasks that are assigned to me. I just moved one task to the Done column (because I'm done with it) and the task vanished. It doesn't show up in the Done column. Again, I ended up feeling stupid and flustered.

And don't get me started with Facebook! I don't use it often, so I'm unfamiliar with the interface to begin with. It keeps changing so every time I look at my main page, I'm baffled. I don't even know what I'm looking at and there are so many options now, I'm not sure which one to choose. Thank Heavens that Twitter is still simple.

Either the world is becoming one big, unusable interface, or I really AM getting old and unable to keep up with new technology. Either way, it's making me cranky.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Peppadew - new favorite food

Last summer, while traipsing through the North End in Boston with a friend, we stumbled upon a wine tasting event at one of the local wine stores. Absolutely amazing in that it was free, and included an spread of food that was to die for. Antipasti, Italian meats, cheeses, breads. My friend called my attention to a red pepper called Peppadew®. "Taste this," she burst out joyously - she had eaten them before.

Now, I tend to be a bit leery of unknown peppers. I despise the taste of Bell peppers, but love the taste of hot peppers (odd, isn't that?). I didn't know about this Peppadew thing...I speared one with a handy toothpick and gingerly took a small bite. HEAVEN! I wanted to eat the whole bowl full (but I was polite and only had a few).

A Peppadew is actually a brand name for a type of piquant pepper from South Africa. According to Wikiopedia, the pepper (which looks a lot like a red, cherry pepper) is processed to reduce the heat and then pickled. You're left with a slightly sweet pepper, with just a hint of heat. It's rated at 1,177 on the Scoville scale--quite mild, actually, less than a typical jalapeno. But, amazing delicious.

I recently found them at a local supermarket where I stopped on my way to a rare Mah Jongg game. Where, oddly enough, someone else brought them as well. It has been months so I had a Peppadew -- in fact, I had forgotten about them. But, now, that we've been reacquainted, I'm thinking about all the ways to include them in my normal meals (add them to scrambled eggs? Mac&Cheese? Salads, of course. Quinoa pilaf?).

On my list of things to do today...buy Peppadews and hope I don't eat them all at one sitting!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nothing like good food

Dining to me is more than just shoveling food into my mouth in 15 minutes. I adore fine dining and taking the time to just enjoy the entire experience. Tonight I went out to eat at Ming Tsai's restaurant, Blue Ginger. OhMiGod...what a fantastic meal.

We started out with Ginger Gimlets, a signature cocktail. A perfect drink for the warm weather -- a touch of sweetness, a taste of lime. A perfect way to start out.
Next came the fired calamari with what seemed to be some type of herbed vinegar dipping sauce. Not greasy and the batter was light and crunchy. I had butterfish, one of my friends had the pouisson (tea soaked chicken), and the other had the mushroom and vegetable ragout. Mine was perfectly cooked fish with soba noodle wrapped in seaweed. Fantastic. Dessert was a shared triple chocolate cake with cardamom ice cream.

In addition to the excellent quality of the food, I was quite impressed that the servings were normal size. Enough to satisfy your hunger, but not so much that you had to bring home half your dinner. No plates were overflowing with food. Instead, the portions were a reasonable size. You could clear your plate without feeling like you had eaten like a pig. Really nice.

I so love food....especially when it's extraordinarily well prepared.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Corporate ideas that go splat...

Upper management in high-tech start-up companies often wants to create a "Kool Kulture." Start-ups are supposed to be such nifty, neato places to work that the employees are happy to work all kinds of long hours just to be part of the fun.

So, the executive staff tries to come up with clever ways to "build culture." Of course, culture is something that happens based on how the personalities on the people leading the company as well as the relationships that form over time. When management tries to force the issue, their efforts often fall flat.

Recently, one of the managers where I work decided that a great way to get people to bond was to have everyone share some mortifying or embarrassing moment that happened to them. The idea was well meant -- showing vulnerability towards another can lead to trust between people. But, when the idea was presented at our weekly company meeting, my first reaction was horror. Uh, you want me to get up and have people laugh at me because I did something stupid? Lovely. Just the impression I want my co-workers to have of me. And to leave myself open to being forever teased about the event?

I checked my reaction with a person I trust there as well as a few friends (interestingly enough, all women). Everyone I spoke with validated that my horror at having to endure endless stories of humiliation was reasonable. Nope, I wasn't being overly sensitive (I was teased mercilessly as a child, so I do have some sensitivities in this area).

But, I kept silent. Until the day when I was called on to volunteer to be the next victim at an upcoming meeting. And, somewhat to my surprise, I demurred, politely. But when pressed (I was told that "we'll let you go for now, but you WILL be called on), I made it clear I would not participate in this new venture. And immediately wondered if I had just made a career-limiting move. The only saving grace was that the others who were tagged after me also indicated that they were not interested in playing along.

I'm not sure why I decided not to play the corporate game this time around. Usually, I would go along, feeling that it was necessary to be a "team player." For some reason, I decided that I had to set a boundary and if I didn't want to do something that had nothing to do with my job responsibilities, I just didn't have to. No need to explain my reasons to anyone.

Curiously enough, the manager decided to not continue this practice. Was it me, taking a stand against something that offended me, that led to others taking the same stand? Did other managers feel the same and send that message along? I'll never know for sure, but I do feel good that I decided to set a standard and keep to it. And, I'm thrilled that this nonsense has ended. Ugh. Really, there are so many positive ways to get people to share some personal details about themselves without focusing on humiliation and shame. What leads people to think these things are fun?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A comma made a big difference today

As a technical writer, I am often amused, in a sort of wry, sardonic sort of way, about the wacky, yet intense arguments that arise when a group of us get together. Silly things like where to use bold fonts, the use of dangling participles, splitting infinitives, and the use of commas.

Ah, but today, I am very fond of the comma. I started the process of filing my taxes a couple of weeks ago and didn't finish it because the tax filing software was telling me that I owed the government quite a bit of money. Having had 3 employers and a month of unemployment last year, I kind of figured that my taxes would result in me underpaying. But, I was taken back by how much.

So, I fussed around, trying to figure out what might help bring down my tax payment. I thought that declaring my worthless Nortel stock (delisted completely in 2009...not trading anywhere) would help. But, I didn't realize that the loss there would only help if I had capital gains somewhere else. Which, of course, makes sense, once I thought about it a bit.

But then (drum roll, please!), I realized that the amount shown for my annual income was way off. Yup, I had added an extra comma in the wages and income area! Woo hoo! Making that correction left me with a nice return from the Feds (although I STILL had to pay state tax...why is it that my employers NEVER take out enough state tax????).

What a relief! I'm not getting a huge amount back, but enough to cover what I owe for state taxes and still have a noticeable amount left over. So, here I was, waiting for the last minute because I thought I'd have to pay big $$ and there was a refund waiting for me after all.

What a difference a comma can make!!