chickens lay eggs.

Martha corrected my grammar at work. Man, that is an irritating habit. I know, because I used to do it. Then I realized what an irritating habit it was when people stopped hanging out with me, and they never ever said "Thank you for correcting me, Sandra." Now I only do it to my very close friends, those who are privileged to know the real Sandra with all her irritating habits.

But anyway, apparently no one ever told Martha that correcting the grammar of others was an irritating habit. Actually, it's more likely that many people have told her, but they probably said it with an incorrect sentence structure, and then she just corrected them again. As for me, I was more embarrassed than annoyed. I was busted.

Martha asked about my weekend plans. I said, "I'm going to lay around all weekend." Martha sighed, as if my words had bitterly hurt her. I thought maybe she was going to make a comment on my wild and young single girl lifestyle. I was preparing myself for that, since I'd had a rough week and hadn't been sleeping much. But no, she said, "Chickens lay eggs."


So I said then, quite feebly, "I'm going to lie around all weekend." I briefly considered saying, "Thank you for correcting me, Martha," but that would have only encouraged what others see as an irritating habit. I did appreciate it, in a very weird way. See, I knew there was a lie vs. lay issue, but I'd never figured it out. Now I had a little saying that I could use in my daily conversation that would save me from looking like an idiot. And if I'm talking to people who don't know the difference, well then I can just feel superior. I will resist the urge to use it except on my ever decreasing batch of very close friends. So, thank you, Martha, thank you for correcting me.


having just one more nice day.

I quit drinking coffee last week. Actually, I quit drinking coffee six days ago. I'd been drinking coffee every day for months, and then one morning a month or two ago, I missed my morning cup. By ten o'clock, my head had split open. Apparently my body couldn't have sent me a fax or a voicemail saying, "Hey, I'd like some caffeine, please." So my body sent me the headache that Zeus must have felt right before full-grown Athena sprung from his head. That's when I realized that I had a problem. So I stood up and said, "My name is Sandra, and I'm addicted to coffee."

All say, "Hi, Sandra."

As far as addictions go, a coffee one is pretty wimpy. No one gives testimonials about how they gave up coffee. Those are saved for the crack/heroin/meth addicts. You can't buy a coffee patch. There is no coffee-quitting gum, only gum that supposedly gets the coffee stains off your teeth, which is only an abettor in your denial to your problem. Most people probably don't even understand why I would quit coffee. I'll tell you. It's a control issue. I want the freedom to not have a cup in the morning without suffering the consequences of having a headache nailed to my forehead. Simply put, I don't like the idea of being addicted to something, even if, truth be told, the addiction isn't necessarily harmful. Most reports say that coffee in moderation isn't harmful at all. Those old studies done in the 50s have been retracted, mostly because everyone who drank coffee at that time also smoked, and as it turns out, coffee does not cause lung cancer. But still, I wanted to be done with it.

The missed cup incident had taught me that I was not ready for any sort of cold turkey solution. So I opted for a "slightly more chilled turkey every day" solution. I made less coffee for myself each morning. However, this also meant that I made worse coffee for myself each morning. My regular brew involves 4 cups of water and putting enough coffee beans to meet a certain mark in the grinder. It's very inexact, so trying to decrease the amount of coffee brewed while still maintaining a consistent flavor is nigh upon impossible. I supposed I could have employed some more exact measuring device than "a certain mark in the grinder" and then let my mad fraction skills do the rest, but by the time that idea had occurred to me, so had another one: ah, screw it.

So I came in to work last Friday without my coffee in my hands. I was fully prepared to run and get a cup of company coffee in case of headache. Company coffee is punishment in itself. But I was fine. I continue to be fine. Okay, I'm a little sleepier in the mornings, but that is a small price to pay for my freedom. I'm even going to put my coffee maker and grinder away in the closet with all the other infrequently used appliances. And I guess I'll only buy half-and-half by the pint when I'm expecting people who have yet to give up their coffee demons. Considering I'd been buying it by the half-gallon, I'd call this a step up.

But now, man, I kinda want some coffee. It's not one of those I-quit-smoking-twenty-years-ago-and-I-still-want-just-one-drag kind of things. It's a hmm-coffee-would-be-tasty-right-now thing. With most addictions, once you quit, going back in even a minor way is bad news. But if I'm driving past my local independent coffee shop one day and I get to craving a vanilla latte, am I backtracking so much to give in? Caffeine is addictive, but not in such a way that once you have a drop, you're doomed to be its slave forever.

There's a short vignette in Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes featuring Iggy Pop and Tom Waits. Tom Waits lights up a cigarette from a pack he's carrying, saying that he quit smoking, so he can have a cigarette now. Iggy is pretty confused by this logic, but he quit smoking, too, and he wants a cigarette, so he goes with it. My question is, now that I've quit coffee, can I have some?


pray for rain.

Josh was checking the weather report at about 2pm. This Josh is the one that works with me, not to be confused with any other Joshes who may or may not call me in the middle of the night. Apparently Joshua was a popular name about twenty-five years ago. Anyway, the one that was checking the weather report read aloud, "Heavy thunderstorms from 3pm until midnight." Josh was excited. He had a softball game that he didn't want to play. He said his team was going to get creamed. Josh can stand losing a game by 3 runs, but when he faces the prospect of losing a game by 20 runs, he'd just as soon pray for rain.

About an hour later, I heard thunder. I don't have a window in my office, so I go across the hall to Josh's to remind myself what the world outside my office looks like. I trotted over to see rain pouring not down, but sideways. The tree right outside was whipping every which way and showing us the underside of every single leaf. Small tree limbs were being washed up the hill next to the building. I asked Josh just how well he was in with God to get results like that when he didn't want to play a softball game. Mark ran down the hall past the door, crying, "I left my windows down!" Josh looked out in awe and said, "Man, I'm glad I didn't park underneath the tree." And then I said, "Oh." I always park under the tree. Then Josh leaned back, satisfied, in his chair, confident that there would be no game. He gestured proudly out the window as if he himself had created it, saying that he'd never been in a hurricane, but that this was how he imagined one would be. I have been in a hurricane, I told him. "This weather is like a hurricane. Well, a really far inland hurricane." I stared at Josh in amazement, and started thinking about things that I could get him to ask God to do for me.

Mark came back in, his inch-long hair all leaning the same way. "A tree branch fell right in between Sandra's and Lee's cars. You got lucky." We would all later find out that only I had been lucky. The tree branch fell right on Lee's car, and then rolled off to land in the empty space between our two cars.

The storm lasted only a quarter-hour or so before the window showed us a typical sunny Southern summer day again. Josh left at 4, prepared to go home and watch a movie in his pajamas, not play softball. The next morning I came in and asked him how he'd enjoyed his lazy evening completely devoid of softball.

"The game didn't get cancelled."

"What? How is that possible?"

"They called me and said the field was fine."

"Aw, man, that sucks. I'm sorry. How was the game?"

"We won."

"What? I thought you said you were going to get killed."

"I thought we were. But then we came back in the last inning and won."

"Man, God is laughing at you right now."

"Yeah, I know."


not for your pet elephant.

There's always buzz when a new Star Wars comes out. I tend to ignore buzz. Actually, I tend to do the opposite of whatever the buzz says. I'm just contrary like that. But then I was in Best Buy, and on their huge TVs, they were showing The Empire Strikes Back. I became engrossed, and suddenly I wanted to see them all again. I've seen the original trilogy once, back when I was about 16. I haven't seen any of the prequels. But I figure I should refresh myself, since Episode III will be at the $2 theatre soon, and I'm planning on taking advantage of that.

I was just going to rent the trilogy. But then I realized that I work at a software company, and someone surely had the SUPER-MEGA-EXTENDED-BONUS EDITION WITH SPECIAL FEATURES FROM THE DIRECTOR'S CHOICE COLLECTION. We have a lot of dorks here. Two of my coworkers had the VHS versions, and the third led me to another, Todd. Apparently, Todd is a kind of a sci-fi nut, so he definitely had them. I asked very nicely if he would mind if I borrowed the set for a few days.

I personally have a hard time loaning out my belongings. My old roommate's friends used to borrow things from us. Maybe they would ask her, and she's an accommodating kind of girl, so she would rent out our things. Maybe they wouldn't ask, knowing she would agree, and have every intention of returning it. Maybe they were thieves. In any case, I lived in terror of my stuff being borrowed out and never returned or returned damaged. I don't like it. So I understand that when people lend things to me, they may very well be the same way. In fact, since they're my friends, they are very likely the same way.

But it's rude to not let people borrow things when they ask, and it's rude to look pained and uncomfortable and to say, "PLEASE DON'T BREAK IT AND PLEEEEEEEASE DON'T LOSE IT, AND BE EXTRA-SPECIAL CAREFUL, 'CAUSE IT IS MINE, MINE, MINE." However, that is probably a good way to get the thing back immediately and to never be asked to lend anything ever again because you are such a freak. No matter how much you want to not let the person, and no matter how suspect this person actually is, being stingy is no good.

So when I got a response email from Todd after I asked to borrow his DVDs, I laughed. Thrown in with some chit-chat about the series, Todd said, "Not that I think you'll intentionally mishandle them, but please take care of them: no scratches please." I imagined him agonizing over this, trying to word it just right so that I wouldn't be offended, but that I understood that I was to be careful. Or maybe Todd is just a confident enough person to remind me that it was not my own DVDs that I was playing with.

I should be such a person. I should be able to say "Be careful, please." Maybe if I were silly about it, I could get away with it, because it would be like I'm making a joke but I'm not. I could say "Don't let your pet elephant play with it!" or maybe "Don't use it for scrubbing your pots and pans!" And see, that would serve the double purpose of me feeling better because I was able to warn someone to be careful, and it would also make that person think twice before using the item to scrub pots and pans.

In any case, I have Todd's DVDs, and I won't be letting my pet elephant play with it, although I might tell Todd that I did, just to have some fun. I'm pretty excited about seeing the trilogy; I hear there's an exciting twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, something to do with Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. I can't wait.


build master®.

We've had a series of employees who have held the title of Build Master. I'm the current Build Master. There was once talk of calling me the Build Mistress, but that just doesn't flow as well. The Build Master packages installs. The reason that no one person is the permanent Build Master in residence is no one wants this job forever. So the company started making the new hires be the Build Master. The first was Zach, who was Master for a year and a half. He trained Josh, who had the title for six months. Josh trained Sandra, that's me, and I've been Build Master for four months now. Josh was the new Zach, I was the new Josh, and I can only hope that soon there will be a new Sandra. We were due to get a new Sandra in August, but he passed on the offer. Frankly, I think anyone should be honored to be the new Sandra.

The company sent Zach to a Build Master class where he learned about the install software, InstallShield. I was given his books from the class when I started in the hopes that in my spare time I would read both the text and Zach's scribbled notes. I browsed through them during my first week, but haven't touched them since. Rather than send Josh to another class, Zach just trained him to do the job. Then Josh trained me. It is the passing of the torch, or rather the hasty throwing of the torch and then running away before the other guy can try to give the torch back.

The job isn't that bad, but it's very ebb and flow. You can be sitting around reading Microsoft books one week, bored out of your skull, and then the next week you are up to your ears in deadlines. Plus, there is no advancement in this job. You're making installs, that is all you'll do, and even though each one is different, it's still an install. While that's okay for a while, no one goes to college with dreams of doing it. I hear that people who do want to do installs forever are in demand for those companies who need full time Build Masters. It can be stressful. No install is ever as simple as it seems, because there is always that one little catch. "We need this install to just copy some files over - real simple like, should be no problem. Here are the files, it's no big thing. Oh, by the way, we need it to launch this other install in the background. You should have this by the end of the day, right? Actually, maybe before lunch, because Martha's testing it and she likes to leave at 3." Okay, I'm exaggerating - no one has ever given me a deadline like that. But installs are never as simple as they seem. Our company isn't big enough to have someone do it full-time, so we use the passing of the torch system, which seems to be working pretty well.

So I like to think that each Build Master adds something to the fount of Build Master knowledge that is passed down. It's like that name game you play on the first day of camp where everyone's going on a cruise, and each person is taking something that starts with the same letter as the person's first name. "We're all going on a cruise, and Zach is taking zucchini, Josh is taking jumpropes, and I'm Sandra, and I'm taking silkworms." Zach's class didn't teach him everything, and even if it had, he would not have remembered it all. The thing about using InstallShield is there is a lot of functionality included that you never know about until you need it. One day someone says, "Hey, wouldn't it be nice if the install could do this? Is that possible? Can you find out?" And then the Build Master spends some time researching by looking at the InstallShield help files (which vary wildly in their levels of usefulness and ambiguity) and searching online forums full of questions and answer from other Build Masters across the world. This part is actually one of my favorite parts of the job. I like to figure out first if something is possible, and then how it is possible, and finally how it is possible in my individual install. Then once I know, I can add it to the list of the things that I'll tell the new Sandra, just in case he ever needs it.

So it's just like the name game where you're going on a cruise, except in this case, it's more like "We're all adding to the Build Master know-how pool, and Zach taught us how to modify dialogs, Josh taught us how to record installations, and I'm Sandra, and I taught you how to use the Character Map."

I thought everyone knew how to use the Character Map. But maybe it was just the kids like me, who found themselves sick of Solitaire and wanted something else to play with, so they started exploring anything on the computer. For those of you who don't know and are using Windows machines (post Windows 95): Go to the Start Menu, then to Programs, then Accessories, then to System Tools, and you'll see the Character Map. It's fun, for like, five minutes. You can make cool emoticons and Greek letters and funny pictures. It's like when you discovered Wingdings, only better. I never thought I would ever use it in my job, until the day came that I had to install something with a trademark in the name.

Most installs just have a (TM) or (R) if the product has a trademark or registered trademark in the name. But at some point, someone asked me, "Sandra, is there any way to make that prettier?" So I went to the Character Map. See, the tiny TM and the R in the circle are actual characters in most fonts, just like a lowercase letter 'a,' a plus sign, or the Greek letter gamma. But putting those characters into an install took me four hours to figure out. It was a whole big font issue that I'd rather not retell. The moral of the story is that you can get the little R in the circle, but not the tiny TM. At least I haven't figured out how to do it yet.

To be fair, I've done more than figure out the character map issue. I also learned to turn off the update feature, how to associate file extensions with a program, how to restart the install after a reboot, and that any install that includes Adobe Reader 7.0 will be trouble. But no one cares about those things because they can't really see them. Anyone can see and appreciate a little R inside a circle. My coworkers are regularly delighted with the little R's in circles. Josh was so delighted that he asked me how I did it. He'd never heard of the Character Map before, and his life hasn't been the same since I showed it to him. He uses it whenever he gets the chance. Note his last email to me:

>> -----Original Message-----
From: Josh
Sent: Wednesday, May 25, 2005 3:17 PM
To: Sandra
Subject: demo


Can you make a new diagnostics® demo and give it to Mike?



That's a lot of little R's in circles. And that is my contribution to the collection torch of knowledge to be passed down to generations upon generations of Build Masters. I'd like for all those future Zachs, Joshes, and Sandras to know just who brought them the ability to put the little R's into the circles. I thought of trademarking the idea, but then again, I still don't know how to make that tiny TM.