Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Business Anniversary

Over the weekend, I received a Thank You card from my bank. It was one of those form letters to say 'thank you for your business', but at the bottom was this in handwriting: "Thank you for trusting us for the past thirty years." Thirty years? Really?

When I first moved to Boston in January 1991, I knew one of the very first things I needed to do was get a bank account. Some of my co-workers at the time recommended Cambridge Trust, because it was near the office. Back then it was next to the train station (Kendall Square, inbound) that I used to go home. If I close my eyes, I think I can remember the tellers there, back when everyone used to regularly step foot inside banks to make deposits.

I opened a safe deposit box with Cambridge Trust a few years later, in their Harvard Square location. I stuffed the box with my "important papers". Mostly I liked the ritual of visiting the box inside that large musty safe. The attendant would usher you into a little room so you could examine the box contents. When I was done, I'd stroll around Harvard for a bit, feeling grown-up.

Thirty years is a long time. I've worked for seven companies and I've given all of them the same bank account and routing number. (Three of those companies have since dissolved.) I've stuck with the same design for my checkbook even though practically every financial transaction is electronic now. A lot has changed in thirty years, so it's nice to be reminded when things stay the same.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

My 2020 Books and Movies

In 2020, I watched 48 movies (Letterboxd) and 18 books (Goodreads).

My favorite book last year was Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel (2014). It's about the world after a deadly virus wipes out nearly all of the population. How does a society survive? How does a society rebuild? A fitting fiction for 2020. Also check out: The Three-Body Problem.

My favorite movie last year was American Sniper, starring Bradley Cooper and directed by Clint Eastwood (2014). This is a modern war movie with high patriotism on display, but Cooper's powerful and poignant depiction of Chris Kyle sends it to the top for me. Also check out: Safety Not Guaranteed.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

COVID-19: Working from Home

When the company I work for closed its office for COVID, it was meant to be temporary. In March, we were told that the stay-at-home order would be for only a few weeks. A few weeks became a few months. Then it became the new normal. As of now, our current return-to-office date is July 2021.

It took a while to get used to working at home full time. In the beginning, I worked off of my laptop, at the dining room table. Then I moved to a side table/bookshelf, on which we displayed potted plants. Around July, I made arrangements to retrieve the full-size monitor from my desk at the office. That made a big difference.

When my company extended our stay-at-home policy in the Summer, I bought a little desk. This helped greatly, because although the bookshelf was a flat surface, I had to sit on the floor to use it. The little desk was foldable, so I could move it around. We experimented with a few locations. I first worked out of an unused hallway. When my daughter went to college, I moved it into her room. Today I work out of the master bedroom.

All throughout these changes I had regular meetings and calls which took place over Zoom and Slack. I first took these calls in my closet, valuing sound and reception. Then I became mildly obsessed with my video calls' background and lighting. My tips: 1) sit next to window, 2) stare at the camera, not your thumbnail, and 3) instead of playing with the 'mute' button, just leave it on.

Other high-tech companies have begun to embrace an all-remote model, though I'm not sure I'm ready. One reason: my wife already works from home for an all-remote company. Her normal is me being in an office all day. Another reason: I like my office campus amenities, which include free bicycles, a table-top multi-game arcade machine, and a half basketball court.

It'll be interesting to see where I'm working 365 days from now, but one thing was proven this year: my office is truly wherever my work laptop is open and plugged in.

Monday, November 30, 2020

With the Beatles

A few years ago, I requested and received The Beatles Anthology, a DVD set containing a television documentary about The Beatles that was broadcast in the US in 1995.

Only recently have I started watching this documentary. So far, it is fantastic. I'm through the first three parts, taking me up to 1964 of their history. The Beatles have returned from conquering America, and released their movie, A Hard Day's Night. The documentary contains footage from television appearances, concerts, and old interviews. From their early days in Germany, to their appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, it's a marvel seeing the young John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. In the documentary they're playful, sardonic and seemingly well grounded. There is no interviewer or host or voice-over narration, which somehow makes the footage more immersive.

Growing up, we had the red and blue Beatles compilation albums on vinyl. It would have been something my parents bought as I don't remember clamoring for it. And while I no longer remember the exact moment I heard about The Beatles, I can say with good certainty that the radio brought them to my attention. Radio was still king when I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s.

My appreciation of them has only grown over the years. I have a box set of their music, and I made it a project to listen to every album. Their songs, progressively complex as they grew, are still catchy, potent and accessible. It's effortless to dip into their music. My favorite album of theirs (and a Top Five album of all time) is "Revolver", released in 1966 and featuring "Eleanor Rigby", "Yellow Submarine", and "Taxman".

I'm fond of saying that The Beatles are firmly in humanity's subconsciousness. Their music will be played for centuries, passed on from generation to generation, and constantly interpreted and performed by musicians. Paul McCartney was recently interviewed and when asked about The Beatles he said (in a massive understatement) "It was a great group." Indeed!

Friday, October 30, 2020

Musings on Facebook

Facebook is going to cancel their notes feature, which is where some of you read these postings of mine. The 250 or so notes I have posted here will remain, but if I want to post my writing on Facebook in the future, I'll have to copy them into Facebook posts ("What's on your mind, Rick?"), or post a link to my BLOG.

This update from Facebook had me thinking about how different things were before Facebook. Back then, in order for people to share their thoughts they'd have to post on specialty websites, or post on pre-browser communities like email lists, IRC or even USENET. In the end, the mass audience ended up on Facebook. And everyone wants the audience.

Mark Zuckerberg succeeded in making the web a lot more relatable, by creating a platform that was so easy to use that practically everyone I know in my immediate and extended family is on it. I was naive back in the 1990s, thinking that everyone would have their own websites, and people would largely communicate by email or through links.

I remember a co-worker in the early 2000s complaining that he'd have to get on Facebook eventually, because he kept missing out on party invitations. I did a quick check and sure enough he's on Facebook. Eventually, people succumb to the network effect: the more people on a network, the more useful the network. Facebook has become a mandatory online destination.

I do admire people who have managed to stay off of Facebook, despite its wide reach. One of my favorite pieces of writing is Steve Pavlina's 30-day Facebook fast. It's worth reading for its reminder that Facebook isn't everything: cultivate and cherish your real relationships, your real experiences.

All that said, I'm still on Facebook, perhaps now a bit more begrudgingly.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

COVID-19: Getting Tested

I had a colonoscopy this month. My original appointment was for April, but a few weeks before the gastroenterologist's office called me and said they'd need to postpone. Many doctors at that time stopped performing non-emergency procedures to help flatten the rising curve of COVID-19 cases.

Fast forward to September, and the gastroenterologist office said that before I could come in for my rescheduled appointment I'd need to have a COVID-19 test, with a negative result. The testing office called me separately and scheduled an appointment for a few days before the colonoscopy. "It's at a drive-thru facility. You won't even need to leave your car."

The day of the COVID-19 test, I drove to a medical building in North Cambridge, and pulled into its garage. The "facility" was a folding table and a few rolling storage cabinets by a side door. There were signs that indicated I was in the right place however. A technician signaled to me, and he walked over to my car.

The tech confirmed my identification. He then put on some gloves, pulled out a labeled test tube from his smock, and broke the seal on what looked like a small cotton swab. I had heard that some tests just need to scrape a sample from my mouth, or just the first 1 or 2 centimeters of a nostril. The way he was holding the swab, I thought it was going to be the latter.

"I'm going to insert this into your left nostril, and twist it around for 10 seconds," he told me. "Now, if you could look to your right at those trees in the distance." I did as I was told, and then he proceeded to insert the swab. Suddenly, it seemed to telescope to about 10 inches because I felt it reaching and probing all the way to the back of my left eyeball.

I didn't dare look at the tech. He started counting down from 10, twisting the swab with each number. It was a very uncomfortable process, and I was glad when he pulled the swab out. My nasal passages and left nostril felt irritated when it was all over. It took 3 to 4 hours before my head finally felt normal.

A few days later, I got an email from the testing facility. Negative. A mild relief. I kept thinking that for my next invasive procedure, the colonoscopy, I would be blissfully sedated.

AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

Monday, August 31, 2020

Sunday Driver

Of late, I've been taking long meandering car drives over the weekend.

In the lazy part of the afternoon, I'll jump into my car and start driving. No GPS, no set plan. I only decide what direction, then I take a highway and take an exit. I generally drive lost until I can find a familiar highway exit.

We moved earlier in the year, so these drives are helping me become more familiar with the area. I know all the nearby towns and cities by name: Billerica, Carlise, Bedford, Chelmsford, Woburn, and Reading. Driving through them is another matter.

GPS has made all of us expert navigators, but we shouldn't fool ourselves. We've become good at following a computerized navigator but our sense of direction, our sense of orientation is fading. GPS inhibits our ability to develop our sense of direction.

The GPS in my pocket (in the form of my smart phone) is a lifeline, but I resist it so that I can practice dealing with uncertainty. I am rewarded when I see the same landmark from previous trip, perhaps coming from another direction, and I feel my internal map becoming larger. More and more of the surrounding area is becoming familiar.

It's my afternoon adventure these days, but it's hardly strenuous. I'm not in the wilderness after all. If I get really lost, or if I truly uncertain which direction to take, I'll use that lifeline. Often I'll find I was near some place I already knew!