Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Of Buttermilk And Cheese

(From left to right:  Whey, Fromagina Cheese, Buttermilk)

This weekend I made cheese and buttermilk.

Both were from the good folks at New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, pre-arranged packets.  The Fromagina is a soft cheese, good for desserts (with honey); the buttermilk I made because I can and occasionally even I like a glass of buttermilk. The whey is a by product of the cheese making process, a reasonable drink in the morning (people actually pay for whey supplements.  I get it free as a by-product of cheese making).

This was not a great deal of effort at all; in both cases I brought the milk to 86 F, add the culture, and then let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours.  For the cheese, there was an additional 10 hours of draining.  A pretty simple investment of time.

The important factors are this:

1) I can do this.  And if I can do this, then anyone can do this (Literally.  Heat milk, add culture, let sit).  

2)  By being able to do this, I extend the reach of my supplies both through preservation of a product and the transformation of a substance into something else (if there is ever a run on milk, I can at least do something else with the milk I get).

3) Anything that can be done to make something - any creative act, even if it is as simple as adding culture to warmed milk - is striking back against a system that encourages us to be 100% dependent on others.

The reality is there are small ways that all of us can do small things to express ourselves and create small spaces between ourselves and a system that encourages dependence.  Take the small step.  Make the cheese.  

It really makes for a rather delightful dessert.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Plague: Update III

We are now settling in, I suppose, to what the "new normal" is for the foreseeable future.

Since my last fuel fill up on the Saturday previous, I have logged precisely 52  miles in a little over a week:  two trips to the Rabbit Shelter to volunteer (Huzzah, we are considered an essential service and I have received my letter) and a single trip to the office for a teleconference that was better done there than at home.  52 miles in 9 days.  My average 7 days of driving usually pushed me into the 170-180 mile range.  This week, of course, it will be less as there will be no trip to the office and a single trip to shelter.

The house is slowly getting a complete cleaning and reorganization, thanks largely to Nighean Bhean (Middle) and her desire to make sure that everything is organized.  Multiple rooms have been gone through and we are migrating out to the garage.  I expect by the time we are done there will be a great deal less material located in this house (I also suspect that I am going to be much less interested or supportive of buying anything else - my first standard question may very well become "How long until we get rid of that?").

In reviewing the grocery store website for a shopping run today, The Ravishing Mrs. TB noted that our local grocery chain has put restrictions in place that were not present previously:  limits on all kinds of canned goods, rice, beans, and even frozen pizzas.  While part of me understands and appreciates this, the other part of me is concerned for what this might be saying:  we expect the current crisis to go on longer than expected and supplies to come in slower at some point.

One of the biggest problems I found with working from home is that it is much harder to turn work off.  Without effort, my days now run from 0730-1800 without any commute time and a 10 minute lunch.  Throttling back to a "normal" work day is my new challenge.

I am finding time for those sorts of things that I never really enjoyed or had time for, whether from a need to do something or just a realization that I am behind in such matters.  I have raked the front yard three times in two weeks now, the car is completely cleaned and the headlamps readjusted, and all bicycle tires now pumped up to full strength.  At this rate, I will end up going through every drawer as well.

Our Iaijutsu class has restarted, but online.  We are using one of the conference calling tools.  It is certainly not the same as actually being "in" class, but it certainly beats having now training at all.

A final note:  For some time now I have been writing effectively "in advance" in order to make use of the time I had on Sunday and the (seeming) lack of time I had the rest of the week.  While this has been an effective tool for ensuring output, I also think that it has limited my overall thoughtfulness to some extent:  I can write a week's worth of posts in about two hours but I do not know if this represents my very best efforts.  To that end (and seeing how I now have the ability to make time), I am falling back to writing on a daily basis.  Apologies for what will likely be some rough patches as I make the transition.

I will note:  for a writer, semi-philosopher, and some level of thinker, there is no greater time to be alive than today.  Even if I do not fully understand all that is happening or where everything is headed, the ability and platform to observe, ponder, and write about it is a great gift.  In a very unreal and perhaps foolish way, this may be one of the greatest callings of my life.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Rethinking My Time

One of the outcomes of the current "Stay Home" situation is that I have had plenty of time to think. 

What it has made me realize is that my life has kind of fallen into a rut.

With the removal of the activities I usually do (currently Iaijutsu is not having classes until at least 07 April and the gym is closed), my life has shrunk to my house and online. 

I have been reading, of course.  But one can only read for so long before one needs a break (trust me, actual reading material is not a problem.  We probably have close to 1000 books here.  We are fine in that regard).

I have been following the news as well - but that can be rather depressing and updates only come in so fast.

What I have come to realize - after thinking and wandering around the house or around the neighborhood - is that so much of what I have done in the past for entertainment and enjoyment has been slowly removed out of my life over the last three-four years.  Mostly by me.

Why?  Primarily it is because of my job, because now I had this important position which consumed (and right now still consumes) so much of my time.  I went from working and having time for all kinds of things to working more and feeling like I did not have "time" because I had to work.  Work - or doing things to move forward at work - became the most important thing.  Anything that fell outside of that ring, anything that did not yield tangible benefits, was eventually pushed to the side and became something "I used to do". 

I cannot honestly tell you where this transition happened.  It was well before last year, maybe two years out.  Maybe before the large pay increases kicked in and I felt I need to be more involved.  But where it seems to rapidly brought me to is where I am now - looking at adding time to my life and feeling like I very little to do with it.

(A side note: I think this is why lots of retirees who die soon after they retire.  They have filled their life with nothing but work and, having reached the end, find that they have nothing else.)

So in a sense, my upcoming enforced transition has been a good thing.  And being stuck at home has been a good thing.  But now I need to do something about it.  And it needs to be pretty dramatic, before things become irreparably lost and I cannot do any of these things.

I need to make a list:

- Things I can do (e.g., have done or do and have the materials/training to do)
- Things I need to do (at home, there are plenty of tasks to be done!)
- Related to that, long term tasks I have been putting off)
- Things I would like to do and what that would take
- Finally, I need to arrive on a realistic schedule for actual "work" that looks a lot like a 40 hour work week and adhere to it.

If I do not change things, I will end up not engaged in work (which has become my life) and with nothing to do that I enjoy outside of work.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

The Collapse XLVI: On Boredom

07 November 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

November continues unabated and cold. Two days ago we had a break in the snow coming down, so I got myself outside to see about finding additional deadfalls to cut up and bring back for burning. I am fortunate in that non-private land is within a mile of me. That said, a mile can be a long walk when there are no more snowplows plowing the roads or chemicals to melt the snow down. I found at least one tree that had lost a branch small enough to be dragged back for cutting into smaller pieces for burning. To reward myself, I heated up water for a soak.

The snow picked right up the day after and has continued since then.

As I sat in my soak (oh, how glorious it was!), I had the opportunity to think about boredom.

Boredom is the great enemy. It is now the great enemy of all that are alive, where previously its victims were more selected: the retired, the shut in, the unemployed, the “bored” class with no need for money and nothing but time. It has now reached out to encompass all sentient beings.

In one sense, boredom is less of an issue in the immediate sense. For most individuals now, they are thinking either 1) where their next meal is coming from; 2) how soon until all their next meals are gone; or 3) when this whole experience will end. Survival thinking is the great killer of philosophy.

But in the other sense – if you have a meal or you know where they are coming from for a while or even if you do not have a meal and no chance of securing one – boredom now fills your every waking moment.

We are directly coming out of a society and a philosophy where entertainment and distraction was easily available, readily accessible – and our God-given right, according to some. So much was at the touch of our finger tips, available for our listening and viewing pleasure.

With the snap of a finger, all of that has been erased.

I am fortunate. I have a small library to read, a martial art to practice, and an exercise routine to follow along with a daily rhythm of chores to do. But even with that, I find that there is only so much I can do: I can only read so many books. I can only practice sword so long. I can only do so many push-ups and squats. And (especially in Winter) there are only so many chores to do.

One works on ways to keep the mind engaged of course: organizing and re-organizing, playing solitaire (with a physical deck of cards, of course!), planning for what to do when Spring arrives, practicing drills for a home invasion, moving things around to maximize heat retention. But all of these still only consume so much time.

There are vast stretches of time where I have nothing to do and little enough to think on.

And this is me, with what I have listed above. I can only imagine the struggle of those that are not positioned as I am. What do they think about? What are they doing?

I fear, Lucilius, that Spring will come only to reveal that those that were physically well prepared were not so mentally.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Potential Impacts of The 2020 Plague

We are still very early into The Plague of 2020 here in the United States (if you are an out of country reader, welcome and your mileage may vary).  I have already seem pundits "predicting" how this will change how we are are and how we do things.  Since my opinion is as unimportant as any of theirs, I thought I would share some initial thoughts on how I see things changing as a result of all of this.

1)  My best guess for how long this initial "lock down" lasts is through the month of April.  Someone made the observation that the current infection rate and death rate were two weeks prior in the making, so it would seem logical that we are still two to four weeks out from a peak and whatever "lock down" mode we are in making an impact. 

2)  Telecommuting is about to become a lot more of the way the world works.  Forced to do this, more and more companies are discovering that they can get work done with employees working remotely.  They save on travel expenses and office costs.  While it may not go back to these levels once the "all clear" is given, neither will it go back to what it was before.  Office investment trusts, take note.

3)  If you had a robot or automated process, they were likely not nearly as impacted by the requirement to close as other businesses.  Additionally, robots and automation do not have the potential to get Covid-19 (yes, I know, they have other issues and need maintenance).  Look for interest in automation to ramp up following this.

4)  I learned that 10% of the global GDP is dependent on tourism, which is dropping to essentially zero right now (let that sink in).  Beyond the incredible strain and number of failures globally of anything dependent on tourism (hotels, airlines, restaurants, ground transportation, tour companies, attractions, and shops catering to them), a longer economic shutdown means that there will be an even longer time for tourism to recover - if ever.  I predict there may at some point there may an initial rush as people bolt for the freedom of travel (at all), but longer term I see tourism seen more and more as a high-risk high-cost event (many of these will also be affected by more of a telecommuting model).  One caveat:  Local  or even in country tourism may recover.  You can always get home if you drive; not so much if you fly.

5)  Our definition of essential and non-essential jobs will change dramatically - as it is already.  How we look at certain functionalities will change forever.  I think will also spill over into new previously un-imagined jobs and entire career fields drying up .

6)  Large scale gatherings will probably never be the same as they were.  Finance again plays a part here - I suspect many people will think the last thing they should do with their money is spend it on sporting events or movies or concerts - but if the potential for this continues throughout the year, few people will want to risk becoming infected.  And few companies or industries will want the liability and bad publicity.

7)  I have no prediction on politics (as you know, we do not handle those here) but I do think there will be an impact from this.  The one impact I think I can see and safely speak on is that for some states, the question of secession will become more relevant.  The ability and impact of a capitol city to destroy local economies will not be forgotten.

It is fun to speculate, anyway.  In a month, we will see where we are.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Plague: Update II

1)  As mentioned yesterday, my company invoked the essential personnel only at work protocol.  Onsite presence has been cut to something between 25 and 45%.  We are now meeting twice a week for updates on how to move forward. 

Working from home has been an adjustment - the biggest, oddly, is learning to separate working and being at home.  Turns out I spend a lot of time working and it is very hard to separate from it.  This is something I will need to work on.

In terms of the ability to work, I am not terribly compromised.  Teleconferences have replaced in-person meetings.  I can do a great deal of my work on my computer.  Perhaps at some point, this becomes a dry run for the future.

2)  Colleges officially went on-line this week.  Nighean Gheal (Oldest Daughter) finally made it back from Europe this week (this is a story worthy of its own telling as she was going to school in Milan, Ground Zero in Europe.  She ended up spending two weeks wandering from European Capital to European Capital as we were afraid if she returned to Milan she would not be able to get out.  All of her possessions are still there).  Nighean Bhean (Middle Daughter) officially moved out of the dorms last week and is home.  For both of them, they will finish out the semester from the comfort of their own home.

3)  High school for Nighean Dhonn (Youngest Daughter)  was in Spring Break this last weekend but it has been extended for another week (to 03 April).  It is unclear what will happen after that.

4)  In my area, all non-essential business are closed or are closing by corporate decree.  (Small example:  We needed to get Nighean Dhonn's phone screen repaired.  The Steve Jobs Memorial Store has completely shut down so we had to go to a Big Box authorized retailer to get it fixed.)  Restaurants are only doing dine out, as are some stores as well (For example, my beloved used book store is closed but will pull individual books for you). 

5)  My gym, in a week, went from no restrictions to limited restrictions to closure in 3 days.  I am working on a new routine (I might recommend The Art of Manliness' Prisoner Workout).

6)  It is impacting volunteer work as well.  My Rabbit Shelter is now varying the schedule to make sure that no more than 2-3 volunteers are present in the shelter at a time.

7)  In general, I have a lot of time to think.  This has been a helpful exercise (and worthy of a different post), but it will shortly be time to move from thinking to action.

8)  Fuel prices continue to drop.  Last week I paid $1.67 for Unleaded, this week I paid $1.57.  A shame that I have nowhere to drive at this point.

9)  Grocery stores are still relatively drained at the end of the day.  There are some interesting gaps - yeast, for example - that I would not have expected.

Monday, March 23, 2020

A Sort Of Hammerfall: Update III

My continuing job transition saga:

A Sort of Hammerfall

A Sort of Hammerfall: Update I

A Sort of Hammerfall:  Update II

1)  Working in a position that you will not inhabit in a relatively short period of time is a very surreal experience.  It is sort of the same as having a terminal disease:  You know about it. Your coworkers know about it.  Your management knows about it.  Yet everyone carefully does not mention it in public and continues to act as though everything is as normal.  It is truly an elephant in the room situation.  To be frank, it makes me uncomfortable.

2)  This week I was asked to work on a transition plan.  I received a couple of tools from our HR department to manage this, but realized that I need to take one step back and list out everything that I do.  It has at least 15 projects on it.  From each of these, I need to make a more complete presentation of what it is, what is outstanding, who is involved, and when it is going to be transferred.

(Two appendices on this:  The first is that I work best with the written word, not so well with planning tools and spreadsheets.  This is a fundamental difference between myself and others in my company.  I cannot think effectively in planning software.

The second is that there is a reason I am feeling overwhelmed.  It is because I am.)

3)  This past week we cut over to our essential personnel only working at the site.  As I can work from home, I am doing so.  What it has made me realize - with the aspects of interaction cut off - is that I have truly reached a point where I am not engaged.  I want to do a good job because that is what I do, but I am no longer enthusiastic the way I was two years ago, or even a year ago. The feeling of overwhelmed has translated into a feeling of  "I am finding hard to care". This was problem that was noted in December and following as we have gone through the work of employees that left the company:  it is pretty clear that at some point, they just gave up.

I cannot give up.  But I need to do everything I can to push on my end to make this transition smooth and quick.  Turns out I am truly ready.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Four Kinds Of People

No matter what finally occurs from what is shaping up to be a major societal disruption (at best), there will be four groups of people:

1)  There will be a group of people that were unprepared, did not panic buy and prepare, and suffered in some way, shape or form.  These people will visibly decry anyone else who prepared, demand laws be put in place to prevent hoarding, and quietly wait for the government and the masses to take care of them in the event of another emergency.  They will blissfully believe that society is indebted to care for them.

2)  There will be a group of people that were the panic buyers but having been publicly shamed and called out, will repent of their ways and quietly wait for the government and the masses to take care of them in the event of another emergency.  They will blissfully believe that society is indebted to care for them.

3)  There will be a group of people that were already prepared for this who, when it is over, take stock of what happened and where their holes were and will prepare all the harder.

4)  There will be a group of people that were also the panic buyers  or were those that suffered and thought society was indebted to them who will publicly repent, but will quietly begin preparing in the event that something like this happens again.  They will do so under the radar because they learned the last time that preparing in the emergency only brings attention and scorn.

As always, be polite and kind to all.  But make an effort to seek out those in groups 3 and 4.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Men Without Chests And The Current Crisis

One of the great questions I see scattering The Book of Face as I wander it is "Why?  Why are people suddenly acting liking the end of the world is nigh, hoarding toilet paper and stripping shelves?  Why are people refusing to follow instructions and stay at home and away from others?  Why are people ignoring what seems to be some kind of danger - or over-reacting to it?"

It is a question worth asking - after all, we are (at least in the United States) on the cusp of a possible serious issue and things suddenly seem to be coming unhinged as if we have never had an emergency before.  And, for many of us, it appears we are going to have a fair amount time to ponder such things.

I see three contributing factors:

1)  The Self As Supreme:  For the last 15 or 20 years Western Civilization - or at least larger and larger parts of it - have embraced the concept of The Self.  More importantly, the Liberated Self.  I as myself am right to be whatever I want to be.  My rights matter, others do not.  Everything comes down to the vindication of me and my lifestyle and my rights.  Others do not matter, their opinions are old or antiquated or even just foolish.  This is the 21st Century, after all.

And so, when an emergency strikes, the Self is supreme.  One needs to worry about one's self - after all, that is the most important thing.  In an emergency, even more so.

2)  The Atomization of Society:  Related to one, American Society (at least) has spent the last 30 years breaking itself down into smaller and smaller fragments.  We define ourselves by every characteristic and category we can dream up.  We have created tribes within tribes, lifting some up and glorifying them while ignoring others.  There is no sense of "us", of "Americans".

So it should not be unsurprising that, when some kind of national consensus of action is needed, no-one acts in the best interests of everyone.  We have trained groups to think only of themselves and promote only themselves.  Why would they stop now?

3)  The Propensity to Panic:  If Climate Change has taught us anything, it is that it is perfectly acceptable to panic and over-react, to say and do things and then only later walk the statements back because "it is that important".  So when we actually panic over something, the only surprise is that this is not something that was carefully planned and scripted.

Do I have a solution?  No, of course not.  The damage is done.  It would take a generation, maybe two, to undo the damage that has been done.  I would like to believe that the crisis will promote sound thinking but sadly, I fear it will only promote even more of the three items above, combined with a growing sense that only a "Benevolent" government can solve such things.

C.S. Lewis, in his quote above, noted that we create "men without chests" and then expect things of them they cannot give.  Likewise, we have created (or have watch as it was created) a generation or two of self centered, atomized, panic-driven herds.  The fact that they cannot meaningfully deal with an emergency should in no wise surprise us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Plague: Update I

I almost feel like in writing an update on our position in the current plague, I run the risk of falling behind.  Still, it might prove interesting to those of you somewhere else what is going on in a big urban environment.

1)  As of this past weekend, all gatherings above 250 have been banned until the beginning of May.  I am not sure if this was proactive or just a realization that multiple events are shutting down anyway (essentially,  the Spring Season of Highland Games is now shot).

2)  As a result, our church (and most like it) are moving to online services only.  This will be rather interesting come Easter.

3)  Currently, my work has not ceased operations but, like many other companies, has a contingency team in place constantly reviewing the program.  Working from home if possible is encouraged.  They have alluded to a full shutdown and they will attempt to cover salaries for some period of time, but this remains undefined today.

4) The shopping insanity is here in full force.  The Ravishing Mrs. TB and Nighean Gheal made a CostBox run on Friday to top off some things as well as to our local Supermarket.  It was insanity, although CostBox had things well run and well manned.  Most stores were stripped of not just TP and sanitary items but canned goods, meats - almost everything.  Just for fun, I may stop by later this week and see how things are progressing.

5)  This week was Spring Break so both Nighean Gheal  and Nighean Dhonn are out of College and High School respectively.  That said, the other local high school district has extended Spring Break for another week and with the cancellation of gatherings of 250 and up, I do not see how either will not be out of school or online until May (also contributing is the fact that at the college, they now have confirmed cases of The Plague).

6)  In general, people still seem to be out and about shopping and doing things, although the restaurant parking lots I passed were decidedly less packed.

7)  Made some garden purchases - tomato, Jalapeno pepper, and two kinds of Sage.  Gardening, one way or the other, will matter this year.

8)  In case you are wondering, we are fine.  If we had to stay in place for two weeks or possibly even two months, we would be fine.  Our diet might get a bit boring, but we will be fine.

Monday, March 16, 2020

A Sort of Hammerfall: Update II

My continuing job transition saga:

A Sort of Hammerfall

A Sort of Hammerfall: Update I

1)  Letter was formally presented for my approval.  Title is changing (after transition) to Senior Project Manager.  Date of transition remains undefined.

As of my now, my salary is not changed.  However, there was a clause that I am not eligible for a bonus.  I asked my HR contact if it was for this year only.  The response was that it had said "for 2020" but that was lined out by my boss.  That is fine, of course - my salary is what really matters.  We just have to save all the more.  The only risk, of course, is that this makes me very much overpaid for the role and a target for any future layoffs.

2)  I made the announcement to my team.  Thanks to the current plague, we had to do it via a conference call so the only people in the room with me were my two direct reports.  I  made all the points I needed to make: different skill set, good for the company, result of our success, etc.  There were no questions.  Afterwards I talked to my reports.  They both specifically made the point that they had other job offers at the time they accepted this position but took the job because they wanted to work for me.  That was both the kindest thing and the most devastating thing I have heard through this process, even more than being told I was being transitioned.

3)  Spoke with my Manufacturing counterpart and talked about the change - he had heard but was surprised.  Turns out that I am not the only one being transitioned.  He is as well, as is the VP who was formally in charge of all manufacturing as development work.  My friend is being transitioned to an undefined roll within development; the former VP - who has been at the company twice as long as I have and is employee number 5 now - is being transitioned to a sliver of his former role.

The language, from my friend, sounds the same:  they are looking for a place where he "can better use his talents".  He has a team as large or larger that he has built from the ground up over two years; he has to transfer the whole thing to someone else.

His comment - and I have come to agree with him - is that anyone associated in a mid-level senior leadership role is being removed from that area of the company.  There are probably more that we do not know about yet.  The "errors" of the past are being smoothed away, slowly disappearing beneath the surface.

My response to him (he did ask) was that I was really okay with this.  They did not (yet) change my pay.  They did not fire me.  I will - in a very short time - not have deal with trying to get product tested and released and constantly operating at a high level of stress to do it.  My mornings, evenings, and weekends can go back to being my own and not constantly feeling like I should be checking on on work updates.

4)  Item three above really does sadden me.  A year from now I will somewhat not recognize the company; two years from now even more so, three years and it will be completely unrecognizable.

Here is hoping and working on a better option.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Collapse XLV: Of Quail And Darkness

03 November, 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Our days continue to shrink in their daylight hours – we are down to 10 hours a day here now, but it will sink to 9 hours by the time of the Winter Solstice. The summers, of course, are amazing – up to 15 hours – but every year at Winter I always seem to forget, in some ways, that those hours were there.

It wreaks havoc on the greenhouse and the quail, of course. I am not one of those that has ever tried to “extend” the laying season by adding lights to area. They need their off season, just like all the rest of us do. Besides, with a life span of about two years, it seems like anything I can do to make their lives less work is worth it. Their eggs have kept me going in the past and I will be equally dependent on them in the future.

The quail in the greenhouse at winter has turned out to be a blessing for both. I simply drop sawdust or wood shavings on the ground and let the quail free. They turn over the shavings, making great fertilizer for the garden, they add to the heat load in the greenhouse, and they are protected from the wind and rain (the biggest killer of most livestock, by the way: keep them dry and out of the wet and cold is not quite the issue it is for us). The plants, of course, are up off of the ground. Every now and again I simply throw down another layer of shavings, although I wonder what I will do when the shavings are gone – is grass an alternative?

It is dark by 1700 hours now, and the snow and wind makes it seem all the darker. I have come, in some way, to appreciate those that came before us here and view them with even more respect. The Sioux survived in this for hundreds of years without any of the accouterments of civilization that we cling to. Even the settlers of the 1800s and 1900s had much less than we, yet managed to cling to life throughout the long winters until the Spring. I load my stove, cook my soup and tea, and listen to the howling of the wind outside, the wind they undoubtedly heard howling at their doors all those years ago.

I sometimes watch the fire and wonder how others in the small pockets of the world are surviving. How is it in Iceland (I still treasure my visit there 12 years ago and regret never going back. Ah well, no use complaining now)? In the Shetland Islands? In Nepal or Bhutan? In the Outback of Australia? Are we, those that live on the fringe of society, huddled around our stoves, thinking of places and times that will never return? Or is there a sense that the world is simply returning to the way that it has always been, a struggle for survival where life is a privilege, not a right?

My fear, Lucilius, is that we will survive this tragedy only to discover that we have learned nothing from the experience.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

The Current Plague And Economics.

I am not an economic guy.

Oh, I have a general understanding of "how things work".  And I completely get that the global economy is simply that:  global, incredibly complex, and incredibly reliant on all its parts working perfectly together to make the world run.  Autarky is simply not possible (perhaps it never is, in a complex technological society).

I am not an economic guy.  But of all my worries of the modern plague upon us, the economic worries are the ones that far outstrip my concerns about my own physical safety.

My concern is twofold.  The first one is the fact that much of our economy runs on "tourism".  Some countries figure it as a critical part of their income (Italy, for example, or Iceland).  Over time, their economies have been remade to support this.  So what happens if - or maybe when - the tourists stop coming? 

(There is not really an if here.  We are seeing this play out in real time).

The other concern is the fact that as a global economy, everyone relies on everyone else to produce pieces and parts to make things go:  Foxconn stops producing chips and Apple has no I-Things to sell, Auto parts makers ex-US stop making parts and US plants can no longer assemble autos.  And the damage is worse, of course, because those Apple employees and auto maker employees ate, shopped, entertained themselves at other businesses, which are then impacted by the lack of income of their customers (again, not an if - we are seeing this in places where The Plague is ongoing).

It is not that I fear widespread death.  What I do fear is widespread economic destruction, which leads to all kinds of bad things.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

2020 Winter Garden Update

So in a bit of a "Let us ignore the insanity of the world around us", a view of the winter garden.

Finally, after years of hoping I may have a bumper crop of lime blossoms.  Hopefully this leads to actual limes:

A measley one each of lettuce and two spinach plants.  At this point, they are destined for seed.  The garlic and onions farther on, however are doing well:

The saffron growth are laying over.  No idea why, as we have had significant rain over the last week.  Something else to learn.

Winter Rye is trucking along fine, despite the leaf fall:

And the mint is returning!

Monday, March 09, 2020

A Sort of Hammerfall: Update I

So as a semi-recurring feature (until it finishes and a bit after), I thought it would be useful to update the ongoing transition due to A Sort of Hammerfall, if for no other reason than it may prove useful to someone, somewhere.

Last week was initially hard - somewhat unexpectedly so. It is hard when you know the ending but have to present to others as if all is as it ever was.  It is hard to be enthusiastic (frankly) when you are essentially functioning in the role of a lame duck, a caretaker until the next round of management comes in with the likelihood of anything that you do will be undone.

As I said, this was unexpected.

My boss did stop by and discuss things with me.  He offered to speak with the two departments involved where I might have a role, for which I am grateful.  He also stated the best I could have hoped for, that my salary will be frozen through the transition and then "restarted" when the new person is in place. as will my bonus structure.  So, best case, I may be paid my current salary through the end of May.  Worst case, it could end the middle of next month.

I have started mapping out budgets based on what I think the likely salary will be.  I have assumed a minimum of a 50% cut up to a 71% cut.  I have no idea that things will be that extreme, but am taking no chances at this point:  better prepared and surprised than unprepared.  For now, we are working on starting as if the salary was lowered and dumping the excess by category into savings.

The other thing I have started mapping out is how we want to prepare between now and then.  There are certain home repair and car repair items that could happen and probably should while we have a higher income (one of these questions, actually, is if I should sell some more stock and buy a good used car instead of continuing to pour money into the van at this point).  None of it is probably terribly expensive, but doing these items would put us on a better track on the other side.

Still, there is a great deal of uncertainty.  The next big shoe to drop will be when all of my reports are informed.  That will make it all the harder.

Thursday, March 05, 2020

The Collapse XLIV: Luther And Cassandra

31 October 20XX

My Dear Lucilius:

Happy Hallows Eve, my friend! As Protestant and Catholic we do not always share all things in equal understanding, but as fellow history buffs and Christians we can at least celebrate this day both in memory of the those that have lived the Christian life before us and the Ninety Five Theses by Luther.

Yes yes, I know – we have ultimately different (very different) views on their value and their impact. But it can not be argued that even within the Catholic Faith, the Theses enabled a reformation of sorts within the Church as well.

These come to mind this day both because of the date and because, frankly, I got to wondering about Theses of our modern times.

Looking around now – the world lit largely by candle and kerosene and fire - one wonders where the 95 Theses of our day were. Surely the signs were there, even as they were there for Luther? (Of course they were there; we discussed them many times). But could not the country, the nation – good Heavens, even a city – find one person to nail them to a door?

The reality is, of course not – as our current circumstances attest to. But I wonder, even if someone had successfully “nailed” them to a door – would anyone have listened?

Society – not just the media but society in general – took great pleasure into destroying verbally (and in some cases physically) anyone who disagreed with the stated narrative of “Everything is really alright”. And there are no more church doors – public places – where such things can be read with any frequency. The most available sites are carefully screened to cut out such chatter; the lesser sites always ran the risks of simply being “unavailable” or disappearing.

And even if Theses had been posted, would they have been read and discussed as in Luther’s time? Not at all: we are no longer a society that discusses anything. We go to verbal war and bury the opposition and then salt their land. In the end, I suspect, the Luthers of our day simply chose to prepare within their own small communities and lives and await a better day.

Sadly, we had no Luthers to listen to. Now we only have the voice of Cassandra crying out that Troy has fallen to fill our ears.

Your Obedient Servant, Seneca

Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Work Likes and Work Dislikes

If you will humor me for a moment, I would like to give some thought to things that I like and things that I do not like in the work environment.  This matters, of course, because I am about to have to undergo an exercise in deciding what I want to do - or have to do - next.

What I like:

- Writing
- Interacting with people on a personal level
- Planning (in the vague, blue sky sense)
- Spreadsheets
- Talking through problems
- Working alone or with a few people
- Explaining things

What I do not like:
- Managing people
- Commanding people (instead of interacting with people)
- High levels of stress.
- A rapidly changing environment that I have to consistently and quickly adapt to repeatedly
- Moving immediately to solutions instead of vetting things
- Being in a reporting structure where my opinion is theoretically wanted, but the expectation is that I really am going to do what I am told.
- Meetings (I have come to loathe meetings)

Initially looking at this list, it appears that management or working in a corporate environment is not really for me.  Difficult, as that is where the bulk of jobs are.

Well, at least I know.

Tuesday, March 03, 2020

A Plethora Of Things

Last week (before A Sort of Hammerfall happened), I was actually giving thought to the fact that I was reaching the limit of what I wanted in terms of things in life.

Two of my swords are getting refinished.  I am able to get a more formal black hakama and gi for Iai (along with my blue one).  My list of books to buy (I do keep a list) was down to the point that a single year could close it out.  I even bought myself an inexpensive pocket watch.  If I looked ahead to the next year, all that is "left" is completing one more sword, a cheese press, and going to Iai training.

Sure, there are always some small things that will come up (more books, for example).  But I came to the realization that most of my big purchases and purchasing days are behind me.

The thought took me by surprise.

For so long, life has consisted in the acquisition of things - things I want, things I need, things that would interest me.  Now, I am virtually at the end of that process (and with the potential change in income, probably more than virtually for a while).  It is an odd inflection point.

Yes, of course I understand that I will still "need" things. Cars do not last forever (although watch me push my 2010 Mazda to the edge of that statement), we still need groceries, even electronics break (he says, typing a way on a 6 year old computer with personality issues).  And there will be things I want.

But at this point, I would trade most money for two things:

1)  Living where I want to live, not where I have to live.
2)  Doing what I want to do and what interests me, not doing what I have to do that does not interest me.

In other words, I want my time and life back.  I am willing, at this point to take less money and things.

Oh, and books.  Still more books, please.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

A Sort of Hammerfall

Last Friday I had my annual review.  It went partially, but not completely, as I had expected.

I sat down with my boss.  He re-emphasized the point that he had gotten a vision into my world during my trip to Japan and had found - and I quote - "fundamental and troubling flaws".  As a result, I was adjudged to be unfit for my current position and "we" needed to find a different position in the company for me.

I responded that I understood, that I had the same thoughts in terms of the fact that the position required a different set of skills than what I could bring to the table, and that I did not take his comments as an insult.

I surprised him.  I really surprised him.  I do not think I have seen him this relieved in months.

It also completely changed the nature of the review.  We went through my failings - of them, I will only say that there is validity to some of them but the review took into account none of my successes and did not reflect the environment - ever changing - that we work in.  Not one victory was mentioned.  But of course, that is never the time to argue it.

We then talked about next steps.  The recruiting drive probably started today, and is expected to take two to three months - so right now it is business as usual.  He asked if I thought at all about what else I might do.  I had one suggestion, a gap I know needs filling - but he suggested something entirely different (project management - knowing my boss, I am sure this has already been vetted and will come up as the end result).  I said, of course, I would be fine with that.  We shook hands and I went on my way.

So on the bright side, I still have a job and the promise of a job (Really, it is a thing - I had all of my personal things ready to go in the event it was a different conversation and I was permanently on my way).  They value me - or probably equally accurately my knowledge, to probably extend a job through the end of the year.  I will need, of course, to learn whatever the new position is, and quickly.

I have expectations, of course.  I expect that my salary will drop, somewhat precipitously (and from my HR friend, our salaries and positions that they handed out like candy in the old days are definitely a hiring burden now when looking for a new positions, whenever that day will come.  Too high up and too expensive in my previous position - most now assume you are just there until another opportunity).  I expect to be isolated from my group - which makes sense and is what I would do in similar circumstances (cement the new leader's role and authority, etc.).  And I guess we have enough warning that we can start adjusting our spending and savings now - the biggest concern, of course is college tuition.

I have had some to think about all of this, of course - originally I was just numb, but I have become numb and depressed.  Am I really that bad?  Am I really that out of touch?  And realistically, once I am out of the job skill, I suspect I will never be back in.  That will be a change from something I have done for 19 years.

I think the regret - the big regret - is that I did not express the fact that I felt out of my league earlier.  I knew it.  I felt it, but was told by my HR friend not to say it because it would lead to bad consequences.  Perhaps; I cannot imagine consequences much worse than this.

The next three months will be hard.  I need to keep my team in place and focused, even as I know that I am leaving them and cannot tell them.  I have to prepare for my successor, and then the inevitable handover of authority and questions.  I have to prepare to quietly disappear from the stage when called upon to do so. And I have to deal with a serious look inside to match this realization that management - senior management, but really any management - is not for me.  And most of all, I have to plan for a major change in  incoming cash (our life style is not too elaborated, so I hesitate to say a change in that).

But to be clear, I have a job now. I have a salary now.  I have a house and care and family and pets and books and my swords and Iai.  All is ultimately well.

I had blogging earlier that I felt unsettled, that something was leading to a change of sorts (here and here).    Turns out in a single hour, that can happen.

The Seventh Day

Last week during the sermon on Mark 3:1-6 (Jesus healing the man with the withered hand), our pastor made the point that the Sabbath was originally instituted by God to demonstrate to the Israelites that they were no longer slaves and had to work seven days a week (yes, the Pharisees messed that up a bit, but that was the original idea).

That single thought hit me like a ton of bricks.

I (and I suspect the bulk of my readers) can remember a time where on Sunday, everything was closed.   You went to church, perhaps went to breakfast, and then spent the day doing anything other than shopping or working.  These times are within my living memory.

Now, we are subjected to the 24 hour shopping cycle (similar in many respects to the 24 hour news cycle).  We shop any time and every time - and for most that have Monday through Friday jobs, that shopping comes on the days that free.  Saturday and Sunday.

Well and good - after all, this means that people are employed and revenue is being generated.  Those are good things, right?

Right.  Except we have effectively reached back to a time when all of us are working as if we were slaves.

Oh, we (the global we: our society, our Western Civilization) are not slaves to cruel masters like the Egyptians anymore.  We are slaves to a more insidious master: our own selves.  Or even worse, if we have the luxury of shopping on a Non-Sunday, of making slaves of other peole.

I can take myself as the example:  do I really need to work on Sunday?  No.  I kid myself that I am somehow getting ahead of the curve (but I am really not, just layering the plate for more work).  And do I need to shop on Sundays?  I do it mostly out of convenience to my activities, but it could just as easily be a Saturday activity.

What would a Sunday look like if I went to church, worked at the rabbit shelter (Doing good there - that is still on the menu), and then just spending my time - consciously spending my time - resting.  What would that look like?

It would look a great deal like someone trying to break free of the system and trying, in some small way, to live other than a slave.