Treat your tutorials like recipes

Epiphany: The same process that works best for recipes also works best for following new technology tutorials. Read the whole thing through first to try to understand it rather than jumping in to follow along.

(Unlike with recipes, it’s normally not as big of a deal to stop to install needed requirements in a tech tutorial but even if it doesn’t cause you to burn the roux, it sure as hell can block you from finishing the dish)

The Natural Voice

Go listen to this first. No, I haven’t listened to it. I am a woman who runs on headlines, not articles, you think I have time for that kind of thing? A podcast? psshah!


Back when I went to university the first time (The Original Series – TOS) I was studying theatre. That, in retrospect as a woman in computing science/tech, is fucking weird to reflect on.

So! Much! Emotion!

So! Much! Bodywork!

Masks! (no, seriously, Masks!)

One of the assigned textbooks was “Freeing the Natural Voice” (I’m not linking to Amazon, you can’t make me!)

Wow. I mean, just… wow. In a fit of purging a few years back, I got rid of that book but I was sad every day afterwards. (Aside: I need to go back & do those exercises. The more time I spent in offices in software, the tighter and clampeder my throat and voice got. I can do better. WE can do better)

As mentioned in my last post, I’m attending a Shambhala meditation retreat. The director is a prof of dance and theatre at Western Washington University and man-o-man, is he speaking with his natural voice!

Despite the fact that 2.75 hrs is TOO DAMN LONG for us newbies to sit/walk/sit meditate without more lead-in (especially us oldies!) the relaxation in his larynx, his voice, his manner, reminds me of where I started out (duh, theatre, dance, voice, c’mon: you should know that by now) and makes me melancholy for where I am now. I’m searching for human feeling and the more time I spend talking with my old-tymey actor comrades, the more I wonder if that’s where my heart lies.

Birth of a Warrior?

I’m attending the level 2 of the Shambhala training this weekend – Birth of the Warrior. I took level 1 over the Labour Day weekend and although it was extremely valuable and I came out of it feeling alive and connected to other people (and signed up for level 2 while still attending level 1), as recently as this morning I was thinking about cancelling.

You see, there’s a project I’ve been working on that hasn’t been going well. There’s been some ambiguity of ownership and a recent technology change that has resulted in a learning curve that I can’t climb in time for the deadline. There’s someone else who might be able to get it done in time, but it’s not clear if that person is available. I’ve suggested a smaller scope that I could achieve but I don’t know if it’ll be accepted.

So my natural response in that situation is to cancel all my personal commitments – the ones that are for my own well-being – and to spend all the time I can scrape together to try to blast up that learning curve and deliver the project. But here’s the thing. I’ve already spent a TON of time trying to learn it. The docs are poor, there are insufficient reference examples, and an additional two days isn’t going to make a difference, given that the platform is one I only started looking at a couple of weeks ago. And I signed up for this program a month before this project came along.

And I’m not great with self-care and personal boundaries. When I say my natural response is to sacrifice my own well-being for the sake of the well-being of others, I am not kidding at all. I tend to apply about a 10x weighting factor on the importance of things that others care about over those I do. So I made it clear that the project scope was not achievable for me given the platform change and went to the Shambhala centre tonight.

I’m already glad I did. The program director has already said something that hit me really hard: we are so used to trying to ‘fix’ things, to ‘manage’ things, to ‘solve’ things (which is fine for our jobs – that’s often what we’re paid for) that we treat life as a series of obstacles to be overcome rather than a sequence of experiences to encounter. We spend our time thinking “if I do THIS, then I’ll be fixed” or “if I can accomplish that, I’ll be set!”, but what happens when we’re ‘done’? Are we just dead then? What does it mean to have ‘solved life’?

It’s understandable, of course, because solving things gives us a shot of dopamine. Our brains are literally addicted to figuring things out. We really do have to retrain our brains to give that up, and apparently meditation is the best tool we have for that. I did a great job with daily meditation for the first 5 weeks after level 1, but then started to fall off. You know, about the time I started taking on projects and commitments for others. I am NOT good at putting myself first and need to get better at it. This weekend is a start.




“There Can Be More Than One”

This post from Rebecca at Think Simple Now has some really good advice in it, and in particular touches on something I’ve recently realized I strong mental bias about: 

There Can Be More Than One

The Universe is a big fan of multiplicity. Just take a look at how many different flowers there are, not to mention the variety of colors. Just because someone is doing what you want to do doesn’t mean you can’t do it too.

That was shown to me when my friend said I could work at a radio station too. There were several stations where I lived, and she wasn’t even DJ-ing in the same state! How had this never occurred to me?

Since realizing this, I’ve noticed that this thought comforts me and serves to calm down that jealousy most often. A blogger I admire published a book and it’s on the best seller list? There are a lot of best sellers in a year. I could be one of those.

Someone already said they were bringing their amazing salsa to dinner? I’ve got a killer recipe for fava bean hummus.

Remembering that there is not just one of anything can help us all truly celebrate each other’s successes and achievements. It can also serve to help create working relationships among colleagues and peers.”

I do this ALL. THE. TIME. I can’t write because writing is Christine’s thing. I can’t consult because consulting is Reza’s thing. I can’t work in social media because that’s Lorraine’s thing. I can’t get into web development because that’s Mike’s thing. I can’t make a travel blog because that’s Sally’s thing.

That is one hell of a way to limit yourself and to keep you from trying anything new. It’s a great recipe for just sitting on the couch surfing and moping. And lord knows there’s more than one of us doing that thing.

So, in the spirit of trying new things, I picked up some very inexpensive starter paint supplies from Michaels‘ on Tuesday to play around with. To be fair, one of the reasons I got interested in painting was that I don’t really know anyone who does it. But I’m sure I’ll meet someone who does and when I do, I’m going to remind myself that there can be more than one person who paints. And writes. And makes websites.

Summer dinner: ribs, potato salad, coleslaw

Bill’s secret recipe for pork back ribs (he STILL won’t tell me what goes in the simmering broth), and an adaptation of two of Elise Bauer’s SimplyRecipes

Coleslaw (mayo version) with:

  • 1/4 head green cabbage
  • 1 full carrot
  • 2 green onions
  • 4 Tbsp mayo
  • ~1 tsp yellow mustard (ok, one medium ‘squirt’)
  • ~1 tsp dijon mustard (a similar squirt)
  • buncha freshly ground black pepper

Pretty faithful to the original but with a boosted carrot ratio & a bunch more ‘sauce’

Creole Potato Salad, but with a couple of twists:

  • replaced the (loathed) green bell pepper with a dill pickle (Vlasic’s for the relative firmness)
  • didn’t exactly measure the potatoes – about 16 new potatoes
  • 1/3 cup creole mustard
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs instead of 6
  • 1 stalk celery
  • didn’t have a regular small onion – used 3/4 of a small walla-walla
  • thought it could use a bit of greenery so added about 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley (the relatively flavourless parsley)

Because of the dill pickle, I didn’t actually have to add any salt – the potato salad has a bit of sweetness to it.

(Mostly writing this so I remember it the next time I want to make it, but if you try these variants, let me know what you think)


“I feel your pain”

This is really interesting but I have a follow-on study I want someone to do, or at least redo this one and control for.

In our study, we induced a set of participants to temporarily feel varying levels of power by asking them to write a brief essay about a moment in their lives. Some wrote about a time when they felt powerful and in charge, while others wrote about a time when they felt powerless and subordinate to others. The selection process was random, so that each participant had an equal chance of being powerful or powerless.

The outcome of the original study showed that being in a position of power reduces empathy. But when I read their instruction, particularly the negative side “a time when they felt powerless” I immediately thought of a time when I was UTTERLY enraged and not at ALL empathetic. It was about midnight and our neighbour was having a party. Through some perverse architectural delusion, our bedroom is next to his living room. The music was SO LOUD, y’all. And I fumed and ranted and could! not! sleep! (probably due as much to my own fury as to the actual noise level). After attempting to phone him to ask him to turn the music down three times, I eventually got up, got dressed, knocked on his door (very aggressively) and laid into him.

I avoided talking to him for the next three years. Wouldn’t make eye contact. He’s a good friend now.

But here’s the thing. The thing that drives me MOST into a rage, and reduces my empathy intensely is feeling powerless. When I have options, choices (i.e. power) I’m good. I’m chill. I let things roll off my back and don’t escalate. When ‘trapped’, I’m the normally docile animal backed into the corner and fighting for my survival. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m powerless.”

So I’m curious about that study. Are there different types of power that aren’t accounted for? Maybe ‘power over others’ is different than ‘power over your own environment’. Maybe people with low self-esteem, history of depression, or other factors react the opposite way from these ‘leaders’. I’m actually most open and empathetic when I personally feel safe and in control.

I’m not even remotely trying to suggest that this study has reached an invalid conclusion – its methodology is sound, it makes a lot of sense, and explains a lot about the state of our society right now. But it doesn’t describe my own lived experience which makes me wonder where the difference lies and curious to figure it out.

First day of the rest of your life

I’m pretty happy with how today turned out. I actually followed the plan I had set for myself, so I’m on track, at least for a single day, and that’s not bad.

Today’s Things Done:

  • Eat breakfast (this is rare, but shall become a habit. Eggs scrambled with shallots, orange bell pepper, chilies and cheddar cheese)
  • Meditation (Chapter 2 of Pema Chödron’s “How to meditate”)
  • Exercise (1 hr on the stationary bike)
  • Book sleep research appointment
  • Clean kitchen
  • Make dinner (Cook’s Illustrated Chicken Parmesan, verdict ‘enh’) thereby adding “Clean kitchen” to tomorrow’s plan
  • Clean bathroom
  • Set up Evernote on all the devices
  • 1 hr writing
  • Watch instructional video on WordPress Python development to support a BONUS activity:
  • signed up to volunteer as a TA/coach for Be Like Ada – a 1 day coding bootcamp for teenage girls.

It was a really amazing day, in that for once I wasn’t constantly freaking myself out thinking “there’s something more important I should be doing, there’s something else I should be doing”. Instead, I thought “I should clean the bathroom” and then I DID. Is this how normal people feel? They have an idea of something to do, then they just… do it? Without doubting their ability to do it, or shutting themselves down because there are a million other work things that need doing that trump their home/personal projects so they end up just reading news online all day?

Damn, people. This is MUCH better.

Bringing the wrath: Cook’s Illustrated

I received (by my request) a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated as an xmas present but was very quickly turned off by unexpected ‘premium content’ that had to be purchased separately and a constant upsell to higher tiers of membership (I checked at the time – the fact that there even WERE multiple tiers wasn’t visible until you subscribed and realized you weren’t getting everything). Apparently this was well known (although not to me) and the guy’s considered to be a bit of a jerk.

Once I realized that much of the online content I thought I was getting was not available to me, I was pissed off enough that I tended to ignore the magazines and they’ve just been piling up unread. I was going to offer to give them away, but I’m thinking I might try some of the things in them and review them online instead. I need ideas for writing and I get the feeling that this foodblogging thing might just take off some day. (Is there a tongue-in-cheek emoji? Surely there must be).

At any rate, apparently even reviewing their content may be an invitation for a ‘cease & desist’ letter, so I guess I’m really taking this quest to live life more dangerously seriously.