Thursday, November 19 2020

training, analyzing food, and paying credit card bills



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Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. Welcome to Thursday. For me, this is the point of the week where the mental gas tank starts to run low, and feeling alert is a struggle. I'm sure I didn't help things by staying up an extra half-hour last night hacking on a side project. My tired Thursday morning self wants to rebuke the careless, frivolous sleep habits of my wayward Wednesday night self. You sacrificed a half hour of precious sleep so you could dick around with a Makefile? Was it worth it, Alex?. In a way, it was. Even at the expense of physical comfort, I'm sure it was nourishing me on a deeply subconscious plane.

Sip. How's the relationship between evening-you and morning-you? Do you two work well together? Do you look out for each other? And how was your Wednesday?

I had a full day yesterday between moving the chains on my security work for this week, as well as training the interns on a tool I helped write four years ago. My enthusiastic, thoroughly memorized tutorial echoed through the halls of our house yesterday. After the session, I found my way to the dining room to do some prep for dinner.

"Sounded like a lot of fun up there," said Marissa.

"Oh it was fun," I laughed. "I've given that training so many times, I feel like a club DJ, or like I'm leading a conga line on a cruise ship."

The funny comparison spurred me and Marissa to riff on what that would sound like.

I gripped an imaginary microphone, pretending to be a low budget DJ. "Aaaaalright everyone, let's get ready to write - some CLOUDFORMATION. All hands on deck, grab your favorite editor and open up a new YAML file."

"Just a reminder for passengers, make sure you turn your VPN on, or you will not be able to proceed with the tutorial," Marissa added cheerily.

Our "moment of Zen" in the training session had to be when I was explaining the uniqueness of stack names. "Each stack name is unique for the whole region," I explained. "So I'll name mine cfn-training-alex, and you two should name your stacks something similar. I think using your name is a good idea."

Connor and Ritik busily typed away at their computers. I opened a window to the AWS console and refreshed the list of CloudFormation stacks. Two new stacks appeared.

"Nice," I said. "Looks like that worked. So we now have cfn-training-ritik and..."

I squinted at my computer screen. "And also cfn-training-ritik-2. Which one of you made that?"

Connor slipped his hand up. "That was me," he said. We broke out into hearty laughter.

"Well the next step is copying the stack template into a new stack," I said. "I was planning on naming mine cfn-training-alex-2, but because you were a smart ass now you're going to have a naming problem to solve."

After work, I found my way back down to an empty kitchen. While Marissa and Rodney busied themselves with their top secret Christmas lights project, I started to prepare chicken. Last night was an important meal, you see. It was chicken redemption night.

I may have been burned last week by a partially frozen chicken, but I was prepared this time. The bird had enough time in the fridge thoroughly thaw. Just after lunch I cut it up into quarters and left them salted in the fridge to dry all afternoon. I'd go on to sear the pieces and finish them in the oven while making a pan sauce. We gathered around three plates of crispy chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and a french green bean salad. For five minutes, no other sound was heard at the table but chewing, swallowing, and the cracking of chicken bones.

"So I'm realizing that I have a weird food impulse," I said. "I can't eat food without analyzing it."

Marissa looked up from her plate. "What do you mean?" she asked.

I leaned back into my chair, wiping my mouth with a napkin. "Even though this version is a slam dunk compared to when I tried it last week, my first thought digging into this was 'I missed a few parsley stems, the chicken needed to rest for at least another five minutes, and I can taste the burnt pepper that should have been applied after searing it in the pan'."

Marissa set down her fork. She looked disturbed. "Oh gosh, Is... is that something you want to stop doing?"

"No, not really," I said. "I think before I understood it, it has gotten me into trouble. But I think it's also just how I enjoy food. If you care about something, you want to make it as good as it possibly can be."

"Just striving for excellence," said Marissa.

"Yeah," I nodded. "Anyway, just bringing up the realization in case it comes across like I'm being overly negative. I think I'm just wired to look for things that could be optimized, no matter how small."

"No," said Marissa. "I appreciate the comments, I think you're on to something."

After putting the house away, Marissa found me in our bedroom at the computer. I was hacking on the same silly Makefile. She slumped down in the chair beside my desk, visibly frustrated.

"I need help paying this credit card," she said. "I just don't know what to do."

It was my main credit card, the one I got from our bank. Recently, BMO tried consolidating their old legacy credit card paying site with their newer revamped online banking portal, and we had regrettably slipped through the cracks. The old credit card site we had bookmarked just redirected to the new site, and the new site didn't reflect anything about our credit card.

"Let's try online chatting," I said. "I think I've done that with them before."

I clicked through to the support tab of the clunky website. The chat feature was taking down, alluding to staffing issues related COVID-19. I grabbed my phone and dialed. An automated voice greeted me and began to drone, then music started to play.

"I've tried this one a bunch of times," said Marissa. "I wouldn't even bother, you're going to be on hold forever."

It blows me away that a place like a bank can be so bad at collecting their money. Wouldn't they want to make it as frictionless as possible? For crying out loud, even a loan shark would have sent one of their street toughs to break my thumbs. It would have been easier that way, at least then I'd be able to explain the situation to a real person.

I hung up and tried a different number. A different voice greeted us with some options.

"Oh this one is new," said Marissa leaning in. We both hovered over the phone intensely. Carefully navigating through the labyrinthine voice menu options, Marissa and I felt like we were remotely disarming a bomb.

"BILL PAYMENT," read the voice. Marissa's eyes bulged out of her head. "OH! You found it. CRAP, they're going to ask for the routing number," she said, scrambling to look it up on her phone. I snapped my fingers, wildly pointing at my computer screen. "Just use my laptop, we can log in here."

"To agree to the terms of services and submit the payment, press 1," droned the voice. Holding my phone with both hands, I mashed the button. "Payment complete."

Marissa sighed, sinking further into her chair. "Thank you so much," she said. "That bill was due today. I was afraid I'd have to go in to the branch or something."

Thanks for stopping by today. Have a wonderful day today.