Monday, March 25, 2019

it BARAD secDURity

I work in IT.
IT security, to be exact.
IT security project management, to be even more exact.
I’d be even exacter, but I’d lose my one reader to sleep (Hi, mom!) if I did that, so let’s let this be the exactest we get.

Of course, being part of a security team, it is my top priority to make all my colleagues and the people in our department (and the whole company, logically) feel super duper safe. Really. Not just safe, that wouldn’t be enough. You don’t need a dedicated IT security team for that. So with us on board, people can feel super duper safe. That means there’s a bunch of measures in place ranging from password policies over firewall protection to a bunch of stuff I am not going to tell you about either, because it would be too exact. (Read, I have an NDA.)

In order for the people around us to feel the super duper safety at all times, we want to let them know that we are here for them, working our butts off for them, and watching over them/looking out for them. How to let them know that? They know we are here for them, because they see stuff and things being implemented, like, constantly. And there’s info mails and news bulletins about that. And I do get on a bunch of people’s nerves about wanting their input and cooperation. They know we work our butts off for them, because we make sure to complain a lot by the coffee maker any time anyone will listen. And also if nobody listens. And also not just by the coffee maker.

But how can we make sure they know we’re watching over them?
How can we make sure they know we’re looking out for them?


We found a wonderful solution for that little dilemma in the form of a literal watcher. An eye. On a tower. If that sounds a little familiar, it’s because it is. Like dear old Sauron, who built a structure that would allow him to watch over everyone from a convenient location and without having to stretch his resources too thinly, we, too, To look from our section of the open floor plan office space over everybody else’s, because we are kind of in a corner that allows us to keep an eye on everybody. One angle to see them all, if you will.

In order for our colleagues to know we’re watching over them
and looking out for them
at all times…

I have built a model of Barad-dûr.

Does that make our space Mordor? Probably! Just like there, here is a place people totally want to visit and I’m sure there’s someone who would take up a major quest to come see us. Also, obviously, we all know that one does not simply walk into Mordor. And my coworkers are, slowly and one by one, learning that one does not simply walk past me at work.

You walk past me? I will ask how you’re doing with that deadline. I will let you know I’m looking forward to your feedback. I will make sure you remember to send me that one email you promised to send last week that somehow I still haven’t gotten but will be in my inbox in about two to three minutes, right? Good times.

(Just so you know, there’s not really a way to get around the office without walking past me. 
Extra good times. For all. Definitely.)

Here’s our own little Dark Fortress, in the process of being built and as the finished masterpiece:

Here’s my kittieboy seeing if Sauron is home and wants to go play (for a size comparison).

"Hello? Heelloooo?! Anybody in there? Send out some orcs to play!"

Unfortunately, for the time being, it only has a light. There is no camera. Yet?
So, for the time being, it is just a representation of us watching over and looking out for our coworkers with our human eyes.
There’s a light in the camera’s, the real eye’s, place. At least, like that we can use it to remind everybody that we’re here (for the rare moments they manage to sneak past us unstopped).
But it’s still a cool thing, even if it’s not 100% like its inspiring counterpart in the actual Middle Earth.

I’ll post an update when I’ve set it up at work.

I just know they're all going to love and appreciate it!

I can’t wait!

Monday, March 4, 2019


A few weeks ago was the one-year-anniversary of last year’s Ash Wednesday. Who cares, I know.

It was also the one-year-anniversary of my decision to quit sugar. Woot woot, I know.

Because of that, like I said back when I wrote about the chocolates I got from my dear friend in Luxembourg, I ate a bunch of sweets that day. Everything I had kept (in the freezer, just in case) over that one year, I got out and taste-tested on the evening of February 14th. Don’t worry, this makes it sound like a lot more than it actually was. 

Here’s what I had:

These are all the things I thought I should keep because I might want to try them at some point, if and when I ate sweets again. Because they were limited editions or because I saw them outside Austria or because they were made by a very special person who might decide not to make them again or because they were an important gift.

I’m going to now go through all of the treats, in order of eating, and rate them on a scale of 1-5 of whether keeping and then eating them was worth it or I think I would have been better off continuing to ignore their existence. 5 means “ohmygodthiswasperfect”, 3 means “whatever, take it or leave it”, 1 means “I wish I hadn’t just done that…”.

My grandpa used to work as a baker and Vanillekipferl are one of his specialties. Every single Christmas, my grandma would bake all kinds of sweets, but never Vanillekipferl, because they were his and his alone. Now, I’m the one bringing Christmas cookies and stuff to him and my dad, but he still makes Vanillekipferl. I make them too, but his are better. This Christmas, he wasn’t going to bake at all, but then spontaneously did it anyway. My dad was so kind as to bring me a few and I went ahead and froze three.

They were the first thing I had, because I wanted my palate to be untarnished by any other flavors and they were heavenly. It didn’t matter at all that they’d been frozen for a few weeks, they were still perfect. Melt on the tongue quality, just delicious. I don’t know if he’s going to make them again, because already he wasn’t going to, but I’m lucky even if they were his last ones to have had them at all. They’re what I strive to create when I make them – and when he tried this year’s batch he said I could take over. Heart exploded with pride and happiness, obviously.

Score: 5,000,000/5.

All of this stuff was OK. The pink KitKat was a limited edition that I wanted to try because of the different cocoa used. I thought it would taste special, but all I could detect was a mild tanginess, which may well have been my imagination trying to create something for me (everybody told me it tasted just like any other KitKat but with white chocolate…). That leads me to the white Twix, which I wanted to try because it was a limited edition and I was curious about whether the “insides” would taste different with another kind of chocolate around them – they didn’t. I know it’s now regular stock and no longer a limited edition, but they made that announcement after I had already got mine. The Duplo is special because it’s a limited Christmas edition from Germany and I hadn’t seen it in any supermarket in Vienna. The Christmas in the Duplo comes from the fact that it’s supposed to be Spekulatius-flavored. I say supposed to, because it didn’t really. It was just sweet. Which applies to all of them, the being sweet. This was obscenely sweet, though, so therefore the extra mention. Last but not least (I’ll tell you who was least later) was the Ferrero Rocher. Not a limited or special edition, not something only available outside the country, not a gift from anyone. But I used to love those things and I have them at home for visitors, so I added one to my collection.

KitKat: 3/5
Twix: 3/5
Duplo: 2/5
Rocher: 2/5.

This is the chocolate my dear friend Nai gave to me in Luxembourg, from Luxembourg, as a souvenir to remember our trip to Luxembourg. I had no idea what was in them beforehand, so each one was like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. I figured it out by taste for most of them, but because the sweetness was the main ingredient for all of them, I didn’t catch each flavor. Here’s what I think they were, from top left to bottom right, although I have to say “alle Angaben ohne Gewähr” because I wasn’t 100% sure with any of them, except the caramel one.

Purple with white splashes: ...cherry jelly and milk chocolate ganache.
White with red dust: ...strawberry through and through.
Light brown with gold flecks: ...salted caramel and caramel cream.
Orange with yellow and black: ...crunchy hazelnut praline, nougat, and marzipan.
Light green with red and white: ...I have absolutely no idea whatsoever.
Red with green/black/white splashes: ...fruity jelly and dark chocolate ganache.
Dark brown with white, blue, and yellow: ...banana jelly and dark chocolate ganache.
Dark green with Colombia splashes: ...pistachio jelly and pistachio cream.
Yellow with red, green, and more yellow: ...tutti frutti.

Overall score: 4.5/5.

Important notice for those who think I’m crazy: of course I didn’t eat all of that! I tried and tasted and then shared what was left with my very-happy-to-get-to-try-them-too mom.

I like that I tried all of that candy, because a) it was mostly very good (especially the Vanillekipferl and the Lux’ian chocolate) and 2) it gave me the opportunity to make a more informed decision about how to proceed moving forward. That’s because the second item on my to-do-list for that day was to start thinking about how I would continue along my no-sugar path, to make a decision over the next few days. Should I continue with zero? Should I go back to eating “normally”? Should I find a way  in the middle? Lots of thinking went into this, but in the end my gut made the decision. 

Quite literally.

Gut decision number one: it hurt.

My stomach hurt. Literally. All night and all of the next morning, there was rumbling and churning and a bunch of noise going on in the middle of my torso. It was insane; I haven’t heard anything like it before or since. I mean, wow.

Gut decision number two: it’s not worth the stress.

I’ll be honest and say that when it comes to certain foods, especially “sweet crap”, I feel like an alcoholic or drug addict. It is very hard for me to control my consumption of sweets when I do not restrict myself and the thought of not having any rules in place like I did for a year was a gigantic source of anxiety for the few days I took to make a final decision. I felt tense and nervous and it was on my mind a lot, which is how I imagine a sober person feels if somehow they are confronted with their vice and no controls to help them out. Not that I ran out to get cookies and ice cream and dig in like a nutcase, but I did get to a point where I dreamed I had had some of the chocolate in my kitchen (that I buy for visitors, like the Ferrero Rochers) and I woke up stressed and more tired than the previous evening. I don’t need that in my life. When I baked the 106 mini muffins I took to the office for my birthday, I ate the last spoonful of melted chocolate that I had used to decorate them. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing. The bad thing is that I didn’t actually want to eat it. I just did it anyway. It made me feel bad about myself, angry, and guilty. And I don’t need that in my life either. The moment I decided to go back to zero, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I felt safe and relieved. That might sound crazy to some, but others will understand. Either way, honestly, I don’t care. It works for me and that’s what’s important.

Now, the final verdict: Zero*

What does zero with an asterisk mean, you ask?
Oh, you didn’t actually ask?
I’ll tell you anyway.

Zero* means that I am continuing the way I described in the post about not having sugar. There are two *exceptions: new things and special things. 

New things means I make something I have never made before and need to see if the taste is right. Before, I happened to have company while baking and didn’t have to taste the thing myself. If I’m on my own when I bake, I will taste what I’m making if I’m not sure the flavor and/or texture are right. This does not mean actually eating it, but it means tasting a fingertip or knife point and not wiping my tongue on a kitchen towel and rinsing my mouth. Yes, I have done that. Get over it. 

Special things means one or two of my grandpa’s Vanillekipferl while they’re fresh. It means one of my goddaughter’s first ever Christmas cookies she made with her grandma. It means one select praline candy in a famous chocolate shop in Luxembourg city. It means a small piece of a new thing I make that might be something I enjoy or a small piece of a thing I’ve made before that I know I enjoy. Like day and night brownies, for example. I only make them every few years, because they’re quite intense (in flavor and calories!), but I made them for birthday-coffee-and-cake with my family and had a little bit (off the knife when I cut them and an actual piece at work on Monday, probably around 3 tbsps in total). 

Those are my asterisk.

I like this. It seems restrictive, but it’s actually freeing.

You know what, I do care if you get it or not.
I actually hope you don’t.
It’s no fun.

But it’s all good now.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Triple (anti-)threat!!!

This is just one single blog entry, but it's a packed one.
I wanted to call this a triple threat, but it's quite the opposite of a threat, actually.
Only I can't remember what that's called, so the word anti-threat officially exists as of right now.

It will give you, like it did me, the opportunity to save three things in one fell swoop: 

your body,
your teeth,
your world.

This sounds very dramatic, because I wanted it to sound very dramatic, but it really does allow you to change your drinking habits in order to be healthier, to slow the progress of discoloration of your teeth, and to greatly reduce your reliance on single-use plastics and, in turn, their terrible impact on the environment, especially our oceans. All of this is out of my Not Resolutions post.

Three intertwined issues rolled into a ball of let's make the world a better place and give you a reason to smile the biggest of smiles, without feeling bad about your teeth! 

Q:   How can I keep my teeth from staining every time I have coffee, tea, or a sugary/colored beverage?
A:   Drink those beverages with a straw.

Q:   Didn't we say we would reduce single-use plastics?
       Using straws all the time seems somewhat counter-intuitive.
A:   Get metal and/or glass straws to use instead of plastic ones.

Q:   And what about my health
       How do these straws help me consume less stuff like lemonade or iced tea?
A:   You will have to wash the straw every time you use it. 
       Every. Single. Time.

Some of my metal and glass straws, with their cleaning brushes.

Drinking beverages like coffee and tea can stain your teeth and make it hard to keep them nice and white and healthy, unless you brush your teeth immediately every time you have any of that. The same is the case with colored drinks, like sodas. You might say that there's gum that helps with discoloration, especially for heavy coffee/tea drinkers and even smokers. But have you tried getting chewing gum over your front teeth? Exactly, you can't really. I call a scam... Using a straw, however, allows you to manipulate the fluid in your mouth to not even touch your front teeth but go straight behind them and down the tongue. Yes, of course brushing your teeth after every drink is even better, but, I mean, honestly... ain't nobody go time fo' dat!

Some people I have told about this immediately countered this idea saying that drinking coffee with a straw changes the taste of it and makes it weird and not enjoyable. This hasn't been my experience. Maybe that happens with plastic straws, but I've been using glass straws and have not noticed any weird taste changes with my favorite hot pick-me-up. Also, most glass straws are shorter than the metal ones you can get, so there's no issue of anything cooling down on the way from the cup to your mouth. For me, the only outcome has been the very positive one of my teeth not staining as much.

And it looks cool and allows you to take artsy pictures like this whenever the "latte art" isn't on point!

Using metal and glass straws means that you won't be using single-use plastic straws anymore. At least at home. I also have one of each of my straws in the office so I can also be more mindful of the environment, my teeth, and my nutrition at work. Because of crafts projects, I still have a lot of plastic straws at home, but I have plans for upcycling all of them (another point on my non-resolution list!), to continue as I have been doing for years.

Now to the health part. 

Fizzy drinks and sodas are not good for us, obviously. We (almost) all know that, but we (almost) all still drink them anyway. My personal vice is and has been for a while Coca Cola Zero/Coca Cola Light. Not only is this a terrible choice of drink, it's also full of artificial cr*p that is bad for our organs and messes with our metabolism and food-related hormones. Especially if somebody is trying to lose weight, contrary to what you might think consuming artificially sweetened drinks instead of those chock full of actual sugar doesn't help at all. Quite the opposite is often the case!

What I learned from #NoomArticles is that "our brains have trouble registering the difference between real sugar and artificial sweeteners" which means that "when we eat [or drink] something sweet, our brain expects calories to come along with it. When no calories come, our brain feels cheated, and we end up with cravings for more sweets to satisfy ourselves." Often that will lead to people actually ending up gaining weight when they replace sugary drinks for artificially sweetened ones... not good.(the quotes are from the Noom app article Dissecting our drinks)

If you know that the stuff is bad for your teeth then embracing the idea of using a straw when you drink it is easy-peasy. But that doesn't reduce the amount of cans or bottles we drink each week, because the elephant is still stronger than the rider (#NoomNerds know what I'm talking about). Using non-plastic straws, however, does. Because that elephant is not in the mood for housework.

Think about this: if you have water, you can just rinse the straw when you've finished your glass or bottle; at the end of the day, you wash it properly. If it's not water you're drinking, then just like it stains your teeth it will also get your straw all sticky, so you can't simply rinse it when your cup is empty. You have to clean it well. I don't know about you, but for me, that's been very helpful - I'm too lazy to basically do dishes every time I'm a bit thirsty! Automatically, then, my lazy butt switches to water and keeps the artificial drinks to a minimum. Laziness FTW! 

Of course, I'm not saying to skip brushing your teeth. Not altogether and not even during the day. I still do that, at home as well as at work. Just not as many times.

No filter, no edit.

This, now, is a smile that says "I feel good about what my teeth look like even though I will never stop drinking aaall of the coffee." It says "I'm mindful of what I put into my body and I'm able to take better care of it." And it says "I'm less of a burden on our environment and my ecological and carbon footprints are dropping sizes just like I am."

Sounds good, right?

Add-on: elephant and rider.

For the non-Noomers out there, here is who the elephant and the rider are: they make up the brain. You used to think it was grey matter and all kinds of cells and whatnot, but the truth is inside your skull live an elephant and his rider (all quotes here are taken from the Noom app article Tame your inner elephant). 

"The rider is our rational, analytical side. It's our self-control.
The elephant is our impulsive, irrational, emotional side."

The elephant rages for the sweet, fizzy beverage, while the rider tries to calmly explain that water or at least tea would be so much better for their human host. Sometimes one wins, sometimes the other. There are all kinds of different strategies Noom equips app users with to help the rider control the elephant while also keeping the elephant happy (from controlling one's environment and planning ahead for meals and snacks, to making sure all goals set are realistic and being nice to the elephant, meaning regular treats!). 

I quite like this analogy, or rather, this new science that completely wipes out previous theories of brain hemispheres made up of neurons and dentrites and axons and water and fat.