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Month: April 2021

Northern Flicker

Sitting on my patio.

Watching the birds feed and mate and sing.

One hand on my book.

One hand waiting to pickup my camera.

Enjoying the sounds of the trees and my feathered friends.

Trying to ignore the drag racers screaming up and down the Pike.

Listening to the low rumble of freight trains.

The urgent whoosh of the Metro trails on their tracks.

The longer, steady chug of the passenger trains.

I mowed the yard yesterday. I expected to see the brigade of Robins hunting the fresh buffet for bugs and worms. But they’ve been absent today. My feeder is full of sparrows and mourning doves.

I share a deep love for the Mourning Doves as they seem large and unsure of themselves as I have as I went through life. Never quite sure if I could perch on a feeder. Or if I could get my head into find the seeds.

The highlight of today though was the Northern Flicker.

Northern Flicker woodpecker

I’ve seen Downy and Red-bellied woodpeckers before. But this was a new bird for me. It’s exciting to see a new friend come to the neighborhood.

One Year into Web Conferencing during a Pandemic

It. Has. Been. A. Year.

One year since I left the government contract I was supporting and took a job with an events company as a Web Conferencing Platforms Administrator. That basically means I make Webex and Zoom play nicely with our software platform.

Let’s set the stage.

Zoom, Zoom, Zoom
March 2020.
Unsuspecting Carl leaves his last job supporting Webex/VTC/video streaming to accept a new position at an events company. The job is to oversee Webex and Zoom. Both keeping up on the changes across both platforms and how to improve the company's offerings using them with its own events management platform.

Within a month, the global pandemic has hit. I’ve been sent home to work remotely and I struggle to learn my job, learn the people I’m working with, learn what exactly the scope of my new role is and field questions coming at me from all angles about how and what and how many and do you think…

…all the while praying to the tech gods that Zoom and Webex stay up and running…

This past year has been a massive learning experience. Taking this job was the second hardest time I’ve had start a new job. But that’s a story for another time.

But how does Zoom look in different browsers and platforms?

I’ve been the entire world change from under me. I’ve seen the business reinvent itself and respond to requests and demands from all sides. I’ve seen the team I got hired into completely change. (I’m the only one left on the team from one year ago.) I’ve learned how to build a product. How to plan and write developer tickets and think about scope of work. I’ve learned scrum and agile processes. I’ve learned so many new terms and systems and ways of working I can’t even try to remember them all now.

It’s been a year. I’ve still never met in person many of the folks I work with everyday. I’ve largely worked remotely, living in instant messaging, Zoom meetings, and Webex meetings. I’ve stared at myself for countless hours trying to document specific functions or answer questions from our team.

I’ve learned how to not only read but interact with APIs. I can speak to Zoom and Webex fairly fluently. I’ve been reminded how I could never be a programmer, but can read bits of code and generally understand the parts of it.

The value of having a supportive, positive, encouraging team who unfailingly has your back as I have theirs cannot be overstated. It has been an absolutely exhausting year. But a challenging one full of failure, success and growth in all the right ways.

I could not be more proud of the work we’ve done and successes we’ve shared this past year. My timing could not have been worse but my decision could not have been better. The team that’s been built around me is unparalleled.

I work in a a positive, supportive environment. I joked this past week that we were working holding a Mutual Admiration Society because we’ve all been thankful for the work our teammates have done these past few months. But this week particularly, as things were coming to a head and crushing us all in different ways. The ability to ask for help and not only receive that help but no where is no risk taken in making that ask.

We’re here to learn together, fail together and succeed together. This has been the most stressful year of my life. I look back and it’s an absolute blur. Even now, it’s been nearly two months since it was a year. I wrote a short post on Linkedin around the actual anniversary to express my thanks to the team and the company.

March to March. And here we are on the cusp of May. Things haven’t slowed down, they’ve only changed. I’m still on a marathon. I’m still sprinting towards a never-ending finish line. But I’ve got good people with me. A phenomenal support network. The best friends I could ask for. And a marriage that has only grown stronger after this storm we weathered together.

I’ve grown extremely fond of Mourning Doves this year. We share a certain lack of preparation but determination.

Lessons from last year

  • It’s OK to say you’re wrong.
  • It’s OK to admit something failed.
  • It’s OK to start over when something doesn’t work.
  • Sometimes, the week of work you put in towards a project just doesn’t work in the end.
  • Document the failures and move on.
  • Take notes.
  • Save those notes in a place you can easily search later.
  • Give Future You a chance to see what Current You is thinking and working on.
  • Rely on your team and they will rely on you.
  • Give Praise.
  • Praise good work publicly. In front of others. Especially your manager.
  • Give Thanks.
Keep your hear up. Look around. Take a breath.

Reminders to myself

  • Nothing is as big a deal outside of your own head.
  • When you’re exhausted, everything feels worse.
  • Take breaks.
  • Eat lunch.
  • Step away from the computer.
  • Walk outside.
  • Breathe.

Gardens Nourish

I got Moderna #2 on Monday.
Yesterday, I felt wiped out. I can best describe it as the flu with a touch of dementia. I couldn’t find words. My brain was foggy. Everything ached. I laid around all day half-watching things on Netflix.
Today, I took the day off to fully recover before leaping back into the stress of work.
I spent the morning listening to poodcasts and taking a photo walk around my favorite lake.
Then I went to Brookside Gardens, and took more photos of the beautiful flowers there. It was a superb day that I desperately needed.

White little flowers
Tulips
I loved this two-toned flower.
This one reminds me of NIN’s 1999 The Fragile artwork

Zombie persistence

People said I did the impossible, but that’s wrong: I merely did something so boring that nobody else had been willing to do it.

Embrace the Grind – Jacob Kaplan-Moss

I was reminded this morning that much of technical support work is to continue trying something until it works.
“I rebooted already.”
Try it again.
“Now it works.”

My wife’s phone started booting in a loop this morning.
I held the power button down until it restarted and then it loaded properly.

I joked about it needing the hands of a seasoned technical support technician.
Likely, it just needed another reboot. More forceful than the last.

I thought about a recent post from Jacob Kaplan-Moss about Embracing the Grind. And I’ll admit I rolled my eyes a little bit. I thought it was going to be another missive about working hard and through hard work comes success.

And it was, but not in the way I expected.

I often have people newer to the tech industry ask me for secrets to success. There aren’t many, really, but this secret — being willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to be magic — works in tech too.

I think about that a lot. Especially in my early days starting out when I would have computers running disk scans to repair issues, trying to recover deleted files without backup, or scanning to remove malware. Sometimes it took multiple scans that would run for hours, sometimes overnight. But eventually I’d find success.

There is magic in hard work. But it doesn’t have to be 90 hour work weeks or 17 hour days. Sometimes just persistence. A little bit of effort over a long period of time. A mundane task slowly worked through.

This is the grind I embrace. The slow advance of a tireless zombie hoard. They’re not fast. They’re not hard working. But their determined. And in the event, their simple determination is what makes them dangerous.

Lessons from a minimalist

Matt D’Avella‘s last newsletter shared 10 lessons from 10 years as a minimalist. I learned about Matt from his work with The Minimalists’ film Minimalism. I’ve enjoyed his video work and like his newsletter. The one he sent today was a look back at 10 lessons from 10 years as a minimalist. That hits my sweet spot of lessons learned through introspection.

There were a couple that really resonated with me, as I turn 40 and haven’t had a crisis (yet) but have thought about how I got to where I am. And while I am no minimalist, I embrace its intentions.

The excitement fades but the value remains. When I first started practicing minimalism, I was truly giddy. I felt like I had a new lease on life. My perspective had completely shifted and I felt a rush of excitement as I purged my things. This faded as minimalism became my new normal. But that’s not a bad thing. Even though the initial honeymoon phase ended, the benefits of minimalism have remained.

I think about his entire idea in a few ways. First, the Shiny New Thing™ is always exciting and fresh but dulls in time. That’s true of any new endeavor or thing. Second, I try to think about this in terms of starting new things. Will I want to be doing this in a year? Is this a habit I want to continue with when it gets hard? What are the reasons behind my motivations?

If they aren’t for me or I don’t see a future with a product, project or habit, I don’t start it. I think about the impending divorce before I’ve even said I Do to the new.

We upgrade too often. Brands do a great job at convincing us we need to replace our phones, computers, and kitchen appliances every couple of years. But do we really need to make the upgrade? Will those extra pixels, different buttons, and a new sleek design really improve our lives? That’s up to you to decide. But you may find that the phone or laptop you have now meets your needs just fine. Maybe if you choose not to upgrade, you’d be able to pay down more of your debt, and you could save one less thing from ending up in a landfill.

I’m guilty of this in some areas. (We don’t talk about the number of computers in the house. They all serve as purpose.) The siren call of a new phone is one I am nearly immune from. I was waaaaay late to even having a cell phone. I held out through much of college (maybe all of it, I don’t remember). I enjoyed being able to leave my dorm room and be out in the world, unreachable and unfindable. Untethered to the desires of those outside my immediate vicinity.

Now, I upgrade when my old phone breaks every couple of years. Since switching to Android years ago, I’ve bought an evolving series of Pixel phones. When they launched their mid-tier line starting with the 3aXL my wife and I both jumped at it. Our combo 3a for her and XL model for me cost less than a single iPhone.

Even recently, when my phone took an accidental swim, I replaced it with a 4a. The non-5g model of course. Because why pay for something I don’t have access to, or even a need for in the next couple of years at least. I walked to our local Best Buy and for $350 walked out with a brand new phone unlocked and ready to activate with Google’s Fi service. Which costs my wife and I around $80/month for two phones. The benefit being we pay for what we use. It can fluctuate, but we’re not paying for potential.

In giving up the latest in gadgets and appliances and televisions we’ve been able to pay off huge amounts of debt and save for disasters (like when your washer overflows and floods your carpeted upstairs laundry room).

People overthink it. Should I keep the manual for my toaster? Should I get rid of my Harry Potter book-set? What should I do with that vase that my mom got me last Christmas? Listen, I get it. I overthink just about everything. But there comes a point when these questions become a stalling tactic. You’re afraid to let go because you don’t want to make the wrong decision. But ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen? You recycle the toaster manual and need to look it up online. You give away the book-set and later decide to repurchase it on your Kindle. Your mom gets a little upset about the vase but understands that it didn’t match your design taste (good luck with that convo btw). Stop overthinking, and start taking action. You can apologize later.

I am so guilty of this. I keep everything. I have instructions manuals for everything. Even though I can readily find what I need online, and that’s where I do first. Ask me how many Ikea wrenches I have. (OK. Don’t. It’s an embarrassing number.) I keep so many things Just In Case™. Just in case of what I don’t know. But I feel prepared.

It (surprisingly) makes receiving gifts easier. Now that my friends and family know I practice minimalism, they really understand my values. I’m unlikely to receive random crap I don’t need (and that I’d eventually have to give away). Instead, the gifts I get these days are really thoughtful experiences, a nice bottle of whiskey or fresh-baked treats. It’s important to have these conversations before the holidays begin. If your family and friends care about you and want you to be happy, they’ll totally understand you don’t want random electronics from Sharper Image this year.

While no one in my house is a card carrying minimalist. It does make gifting easier. We’ve turned down things and instead asked for experiences from people who insist on getting us something. Pay for my nice meal out. Giving myself permission to get anything from the menu financially guilt-free is a fabulous present. We’ve gifted family money for their children’s 529 accounts instead of buying them more toys.

Detaching yourself from stuff makes you less of an ass. When I was in college, my brother gave me 4 really tall beer glasses… they didn’t last very long. One by one, each of them shattered, and I remember feeling pain and frustration each time I had to sweep up the broken pieces. This was likely in-part because I was struggling financially and they would have been difficult to replace. But I was also way more emotionally attached to stuff than I am now. Cars will get dinged up, my phone’s screen will crack, and coffee will spill on my clothes. But now that I’m less attached to stuff, it doesn’t affect me at all.

I don’t have any stories that come to mind of particular things getting ruined. But the overall lesson applies. When I haven’t spent Top Dollar on new things, I don’t feel as bad if they become dinged, dented or destroyed. When I dropped my phone in water, it was a $400 purchase a few years old. Replacing it with another $350 wasn’t the end of the world.

All of my cars have been used and I’ve driven them until they expire. My last car decided when it hit 100,000 miles, it was time to no longer have a transmission. So it was donated. I’m giving my current vehicle pep talks as it approaches the six-digit mile mark. But when it dies, I won’t lose sleep over it. It has dings and dents from mishaps in parking garages and being bumped into by persons unknown. But it’s not a big deal.

My clothes are bought to fit, with an eye for comfort. It’s not brand name, nor fancy. Shoes are an absolute joke. I buy shoes by walking into a store and looking at size 14, wiping tears of sadness from my eyes, then buying whatever basketball shoe they can muster.

I don’t place value in things. They’re all replaceable.

Minimalism is a practice. As your life changes, the stuff you own will need to change as well. And that’s because what we own today might not be useful or helpful one year from now. When you move into a new apartment, adopt a pet, give birth to your first child, you’ll need to buy new stuff (or get hand-me-downs from family). And when you find that stuff is no longer adding value, you can find a better home for it.

I’m actively in the midst of this lesson. Working from home and truly living in my house for the past year has taught me a lot about what I will use or not. What is valuable and what’s just taking up space? There are things that hold value in my head I think that someone might want. The reality is more stark. No one wants that old thing. I’ve got some things I need to find a way to donate. Or give away. Or generally get out of my house and into the hands of someone who will find value in it.