Government as a business – perks

I’ve been in the public sector for almost 17 years. One of the more unique aspects of public servant life is the notion of a different standard of ethics that in other domains. Specifically, there are rules around the dollar amount of gifts that you can receive from vendors (something like $25). I can certainly see the benefit of this, as when I was in the private sector the amount of money that would get spent by vendors trying to woo our business were sometimes insane. As public servants we’re not there to make a lot of personal gains.

However, one aspect of this is that it is often very difficult for governmental organizations to do reward staff appropriately. This is often displayed with the notion of purchasing food for public servants. Many times in the IT world, staff are asked to work late hours, and sometimes during major outages this could require very long shifts. However, there are many complicated rules in place about purchasing food for consumption by staff using public money. As a manager, I pretty much have to pay for any perks, like pizza for a hard working team, out of my own pocket.

This also shows in how hard it is to put on large professional development gatherings. The organization I work for manages one large gathering a year for management staff, with all the regular perks, but it is an exception to the rule. The animus about paying for public servant perks with taxpayer money becomes so contentious that many organizations simply avoid dealing with it, and do nothing at all.

This has two detrimental effects. First, it limits how we can reward staff for doing a really good job during a crisis situation. Second, it makes it hard to retain talent that can be woo’d by the abundant perks in the private sector. For the couple of years I was a private sector employee I loved having a corporate American Express card, and staying in nice hotels on business trips. But as a government employee, we’re told to make do with as little as possible.

The public demands that our government services are 100% reliable and available at all times, and when something doesn’t work right (especially in the technology sector) we catch a lot of hell. Yet, we’re hamstrung in how we develop and retain staff by citizen worry that their money might buy a hardworking server engineer a $10 pizza.

Supreme Court Testimony

Today, while driving for lunch, I heard some of the Neil Gorsuch testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The job of an appointed Supreme Court judge is often very politically heated, however, in our current climate it is even more so. What struck me today, was despite the consistent baiting from the senators, Mr. Gorsuch seemed to stand up for what the judiciary should be.

Obviously, he could simply be playing politics to get approved, but I always find it fascinating when a judge is asked political questions, and they can turn those questions around to being one of law and precedent. This is the real purpose behind our judicial system, and sometimes that comes into direct opposition with the will of the legislative or executive branch (as we’ve seen demonstrated recently). What really impresses me about many of these judges are are nominated for high level positions is their adherence to the law, and their willingness to stand by their interpretations, despite political fallout.

It’s not unlike the theological career I trained for. Pastors who are trained in hermeneutics follow a similar tactic. They follow the path that the text leads them in, hopefully interpreting it in a manner that is as accurate as possible. Judges do the same thing with legal statute and precedent, following and interpreting the text as best they can, based on the context that they exist in. It’s why religions change over time the same way that laws evolve. Nothing can be read or written in a vacuum, and everything is subject to the biases of those who are reading or writing it. How we act upon those biases is what makes for good pastors and good judges.

It was fun today to hear some of these arguments and linguistic gymnastics played out. I really haven’t read much about Gorsuch, so I have little opinion about him as a judge, but I enjoyed listening to the conversation and debate.

Neutered coffee

It’s weird how something that approaches an addiction, can stick with you even when the point of it is nullified. For many years I was a huge coffee drinker, and would drink tons of caffeine every day. I even made a cute little video about how to brew with a french press coffee maker.

Then in 2007 I was hit with a weird neurological/anxiety/dizziness mystery, and ever since then I’ve had to cut caffeine out of my diet. I’ve had issues when I’ve been given the wrong drink in the morning, and even ended up in the Emergency Room one time because I wasn’t sure if it was a caffeine issue or my other problems. Yet… I can’t give up drinking coffee.

Ever since 2007 I’ve been on a decaf only diet, and although it has a tiny bit of caffeine, it doesn’t seem to affect me enough to matter. Many of my friends tease me about not drinking real coffee, and I wish I could, but I prefer to not have weird episodes in the middle of my day. Therefore, I stick with my decaf, but just like the old days, I’m often downing 2-3 cups per day as I work. The habit of getting coffee throughout the day has become so ingrained in my daily routine that I crave it when I don’t have it.

The thing is, I’m not craving the caffeine. I’m craving the act of drinking coffee. Sitting at my desk with a cup is simply how I work. I type for a while, and take a sip, then type some more. I feel weird when I don’t have it, and I seek it out multiple times per day. I wish my work had a decent coffee machine, but instead I make the trek through the skyway to the local shops, and patronize some small business owners.

I have to imagine that there are other coffee drinkers like myself, relegated to the realm of decaf, and it’s lack of flavor choices, but still drinking it like they did before. Perhaps we can all start a support group to band together against those that would make fun of us for only drinking “neutered joe”. Or at least we can all give each other a hug while we wait for our decaf at the local coffeehouse….

A green death

One of the guys that works for me suffered an injury and has been out of the office for a few weeks. In that time his plant went neglected, and pretty much died. We’re taking up an office collection to replace it, but before we did I decided to snap a picture of it.

In particular I really love the texture of the leaves in this, and how the dry crinkly nature almost makes it look like fabric. Not bad for an iPhone 7 in office lighting.



10 Year Homebrewing Anniversary!

In 2007 I was surprised by my good friend Michael with a birthday present of a homebrewing kit. He had been homebrewing for a year or two at that point, and I have joined him for a couple brew days, showing interest. One day for lunch we stopped off at Northern Brewer so he could pick up some items, and lo and behold, he was picking up the basics for me to get going brewing my own beer.

My first ever batch of homebrew

That day was also memorable because of some health and anxiety issues, but what I remember today is that 10 years ago I got my start into a hobby that would in many ways define who I am. My personal tagline is “Running, beer, and geeky stuff”, which really defines the things that I love doing, and define who I am as a person. Beer is a big part of my life, as a connoisseur and as a brewer. A wonderful evening out with the wife at a taproom is pure happiness for me.

IMG_0627To celebrate my 10 year anniversary, this past weekend I brewed up two different batches of beer. Even though I’ve done plenty of all-grain batches, and am a big advocate of Brew In A Bag (BIAB), I decided to keep things simple. I’ve talked before about how little brewing I’ve been doing, due to all the great craft beer in our area, but I still want to get in a few batches every year. Extract brewing is perfect for someone like myself who knows what they’re doing, but just doesn’t have the time to deal with that extra mash step. It also helped in that this past weekend I pulled a muscle in my back, so my Sunday brew is going very old school and sticking with the stovetop inside, with a smaller quantity of water.

For my first brew this weekend I did a traditional Irish Red. My very first brew in 2007 was an Irish Red, and it seemed appropriate that I do one for my anniversary weekend. This one is my own recipe, and it’s one that has gotten great reviews when I’ve shared it with others. I even got an opportunity to bring a guest keg over to Michael’s annual Oktoberfest, and everyone loved the red I brought.

Brew day went well, and I managed to get everything done before 1pm. The beer is bubbling away, and smells delicious. However, I believe that it was carrying the 5.5 gallons of wort around that injured my back. I’m sure that will be a memory that will stick with me.

IMG_0632My second brew of the weekend is in honor of my love of black ales. I’m making a somewhat hoppy black ale, hopped with Willamette and Cascade for a nice aroma and taste. I also am using Midnight Wheat as part of the adjuncts, which is one of my favorite malts to blacken a beer without too much astringency. I’m hoping for a nice, mildly hoppy, dark ale to get me through any cold days we still have coming up.

Since I’m brewing this second batch inside, on my stove top, I feel like I’m coming back to my roots. This is where I started my beer brewing adventure, and this is where I’m celebrating a full decade of wonderful hoppy and malty goodness. Here’s to another wonderful ten years of beer adventures!