31 March 2017

Movin' Out

My department at work is moving to new office space in a different building. We've been preparing for the move for the past couple of weeks, packing up belongings in plastic bins, discarding unwanted files and other stuff, and labeling our computers and other equipment.

We also moved a decade ago, but that was within the same building, just from one floor to another. It was still a fairly complex procedure, but this will involve trucks and dollies and bringing everything outside during whatever precipitation happens to be falling later this afternoon. We don't have to do any of that; it's all being handled for us. We only have to disconnect our computers later this afternoon, pack the peripherals into special plastic bags, and leave everything. So work will be wrapping up a little early today.

For the whole time I've worked here including my earlier period, and for some years before that, the department has been located in a building that is also a library. I enjoyed the notion of coming to work each day in a library, but in fact there are several downsides that will be eliminated when we are settled in our new space. We've had to make do with kitchen facilities that were never supposed to be built where they are, and so have inadequate plumbing and no real space to sit and eat. We've had to share the restrooms on our floor with everyone else who passed through the library. And the building itself, built in the 1960s, has little natural light due to its structure and the unusual placement of the windows.

In the newly renovated space we will be sharing a floor with a couple of other departments, but we will have our own distinct area. We're going to be in cubicles, but the way the floor is arranged, the rows are only three cubes deep and perpendicular to the exterior wall with the windows, so everyone will get a reasonable amount of natural light. The desk part of the cubes will be situated so we are facing that direction, and the desktop surfaces are adjustable, so we can work sitting or standing. And there will be a spacious kitchen area with storage, appliances, and ample seating.

It feels good to be having a fresh start a mere few weeks after returning. Now I just have to see about getting my work computer swapped out for a Mac...

27 March 2017

Groovin' on the Bus

The things you miss when you are not commuting via public transit: this morning I got to hear someone else's music being played out of either (a) the tiny, tinny speaker of their phone, or (b) an actual radio with equally poor sound quality. The culprit was too far away for me to see the device, but I am confident that it wasn't an old-school boombox. I heard what I thought was a station ID, so it could have been a streaming radio station.

However, it must be said that the listener did have good taste: during my short shared ride on that particular bus, I got to hear "Evil Ways" by Santana and "Got To Give It Up" by Marvin Gaye.

19 March 2017

Green Light

As a guy in my fifties, I don't pay a lot of attention to what's going on in pop music. I almost never listen to radio anymore, and you may recall that last year I had some observations about how current pop sounds very homogeneous.

So it's at least a little unusual for me to be saying this: I really like "Green Light," the new song from Lorde. I happened to come across the official video online a few days before her appearance on last weekend's Saturday Night Live. Hearing the song again, and seeing her perform it, solidified my feelings about it. (Entertainment Weekly called it "the year's first great pop anthem.")

Lorde (I was quite relieved to learn that is not her given name) is a 20-year-old from New Zealand who has been performing since she was in grade school. She has a distinctive, unusual voice, and there are moments when it sounds like she isn't really a good singer, but she is. As a consumer of music I have always responded to talent, and that's what I see and hear in Lorde. It's clear that in her young life she has listened to and absorbed a lot of music, and that she is capable of using that to create something that stands apart from what most others are doing.

See for yourself. Here are both her SNL performance and the music video.

10 March 2017

Overheard: Unreliable Brain Edition

On the platform at the Mass. Ave. T station, I unavoidably overheard one side of a phone conversation. The caller asked the other person, "Did I leave my scarf in the car?" And then, after some explanation as to why she did not want to have to retrace her steps looking for it, she added, "Do you remember if I was wearing it?"

09 March 2017


When you have a dog, but you don't have a fully enclosed yard, you have to walk the dog, regardless of the weather, so you have to have appropriate seasonal clothing. I have had to venture out with the dog during blizzards, and I have a heavy-duty Eddie Bauer down parka that I bought over 20 years ago (still made in USA, back then) that is too warm to wear if it's above 20 or so.

But when conditions aren't quite so bad, I still need to be warm and (preferably) dry. About ten years ago, I bought a Woolrich jacket from Cabela's, and somehow it ended up being designated as my winter dog-walking (and snow-shoveling) jacket. I thought it was a good idea to use one jacket as much as possible, to minimize getting dog hair on everything. The shell is a wool blend, and it has a fleece lining and also some insulation.

But after many years of use, I was starting to feel like the jacket wasn't cutting it anymore. Even in temperatures around 25 to 30, with layers underneath, I was still cold, and it's not exactly waterproof or even water-repellent. Wool does have some natural water resistance, but I decided it was time to replace it with something more winterized. The challenge was finding something that hit my targets for functionality, with style being a secondary consideration, but still important enough.

I didn't want anything with down, because I already have that, plus I'm not a fan of the current trend in the styling of down outerwear (I can never not think of the Michelin Man). I did think it would be a good idea to get something with a waterproof shell, and also a hood; while I always wear a hat, and sometimes those behind-the-head earmuffs, there are times when the added protection of a hood is welcome. I used to hate coats with hoods, but sometimes it's more important to be practical. But if I'm going to use a hood, I want it to have some insulation in it, and not just be a piece of fabric that rolls into the collar (because then what's the point?).

I spent a couple of weeks browsing through multiple online stores, including outdoor outfitters I would never otherwise have reason to visit. I saw a lot of coats and jackets that were much more than I wanted to spend, and a lot of stuff I thought was quite ugly. I kept circling back to the standbys L.L. Bean and Lands' End. Bean has serious winter parkas, as well as a number of "3-in-1" jackets, but I didn't need or want to be able to separate the jacket into layers, and I found them to be a little overpriced too.

Lands' End has had a bumpy few years, so they are always offering some sort of a discount code. If you miss one, chances are there will be another in a few days. And every now and then they do 50% off a single item. I decided to watch for one of these offers, and one showed up about a month ago. I also wanted the jacket to be red if possible, figuring it would be reasonably visible both at night and against snow.

I found a jacket that I liked, but it was only available in black, navy, or safety yellow. Yellow is not red; yellow and I have never gotten along. I don't like navy either, so that left black. (Maybe there were other colors available earlier in the season?) I wouldn't have wanted to pay the original asking price of $150, but for a marked-down $100 it was all right; with the code, half off that made it a legitimate bargain. I was pleased to find that it's decently put together, seems like it will last a while, and keeps me warm enough.

It does have a hood that's lined with fleece, so it is actually useful in the cold (with proper layering underneath). I'd had it about a week before I realized that the hood is removable. (It probably says that somewhere in the description, but I didn't catch it.) I had only one minor complaint: when it's zipped up all the way, there's a gap between my neck and the coat. When I'm taking the dog out for "last call" at 11 pm or so, I don't want to have to fuss with winding a scarf around my neck. So I found one of those "neck warmer" things to fill the space. When it's cold enough, it's quicker and easier to pull that over my head.

I just need to be careful when I'm crossing streets, and remember that I'm not quite as visible as I ought to be.

07 March 2017

Back to the Office

I've been in my new/old job for a couple of weeks now, and getting used to again having a morning routine that includes getting out of the house in time to catch a bus. I've needed to make a few adjustments, and I admit that I'm trying to keep the routine a little tighter so I don't have to get up quite as early as I used to when I did this before.

Commuting via public transit is still a mixed bag. Some mornings everything goes smoothly; I get a seat, I read the paper, stations whisk by until I look up and realize it's time for me to get off the train. Other days the train is packed way beyond what is comfortable or safe, and doesn't thin out until Back Bay. I sympathize with my fellow commuters, because we're all in it together. We're all on that train because we have to get somewhere and don't have any better option for how to accomplish that.

At the moment, though, I'm only going to the office three days a week. There are space issues, which is part of the reason the department is moving to newly renovated office space some time in April. After my coworkers and I were laid off five years ago the department no longer needed all that space, so it was divided and another organization took over the other part. But as time went by the headcount started to increase again, and eventually they had to start doubling up in offices.

I am currently sharing an office, meaning my desk is a rectangular folding table wedged into a corner. It's not terrible, but I feel to some extent like I'm intruding on the original occupant's space, so I work from home on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This also helps create a transition period for the dog, who was used to me being here every day for the previous eight months. We were concerned about how she would react to this change; we have a dog walker coming on the other days, and Charlie seems to be okay with things. It certainly helps that she's getting treats stuffed into a Kong toy when we leave, and another one when the dog walker leaves.

One disappointment: when we move to the new office, we're going to be in cubicles. They are inescapable, I guess. Given what the renovations must be costing, the institution needs to maximize the number of people who can use the space, so we will be sharing the floor with two or three other departments and the floor will be filled with cubes. We have been told that they will be equipped with adjustable-height desk surfaces to accommodate those who choose to work while standing. I'm interested in trying this, even if only for part of the workday.

But cubicles are still better than the completely open office layout that many companies have adopted (allegedly because it "fosters collaboration"). I shudder a little every time I see one of these photos, and I'm thankful I don't have to work in an environment like that. I don't know how anyone could get anything done with so much going on around them; work requires focus.