Perfectly unremarkable…

It’s been a perfectly unremarkable Friday. The freezing drizzle and fog this morning was a nice touch… and just another reason why working from home is greater than working at the office. Otherwise, the day isn’t really distinguished in any way.

I’ve built a lovely cocoon for myself here at Fortress Jeff. With a few minor exceptions there’s not much I want to do that I can’t do here from the comfort of the homestead. Whether it’s plague, foul weather, or violent insurrection, I’m ready to ride it out right here with the critters. 

True end of the world stuff is another matter, but in fairness, I’ve grown rather fond of civilization and I’m not entirely sure I want to be one of those people who get to stick around and pick through its ruins.

Where you stand depends on where you sit, I suppose. There was a time I was the first to volunteer to fly off to whatever job needed doing and I rarely thought of what might be happening beyond the next weekend. Back there and back then, I could barely stay put for half a day before needing to be up and out on the next thing. The older I get, though, the more stock I put on the world being regulated by good order and discipline. Chaos, in the wide universe of things best avoided, is the one I loath the most.

I can’t control the world, of course, but I can control a fair amount of what happens here on my little piece of it… so I’ll be striving to extend this run of “unremarkable” as far past Friday as possible. 

Lessons from Texas…

There are lots of lessons about the debacle of the Texas electric grid.

The biggest, for me at least, is the confirmation that energy independence isn’t just about making the fuel we consume right here in the good ol’ U S of A, but also in having a bare minimum ability to produce some power or heat separate and apart from whatever grid happens to service your region.

For the average homeowner or renter, even a tiny, portable generator could power a modest electric heater – enough to keep a room warm and a lamp on as a shelter of last resort. For an apartment dweller the calculus is a bit different. Even so, there are indoor use options powered by propane or denatured alcohol that would provide welcome heating in a survival situation. The catch to all of those alternatives, though, if you need to have thought them through a bit before the “oh shit” moment arrives.

I’ll be the first to tell you that even the best generators aren’t foolproof. They need regular service and rely on a steady supply of your fuel of choice. Here at Fortress Jeff, that fuel source is a 500 gallon propane tank buried in the backyard. At best, on the day it’s filled, that tank will contain 400 gallons of propane – or a little more than six days of 24/7 run time for the average sized generator. Since most days that tank is sitting somewhere between full and “empty,” I work from the assumption that I can keep things fully up and running for half that time and maybe even less since the water heater and furnace both draw from the same tank. If it looks like a long duration outage, off and on cycling will buy me a few more days of keeping the place at least habitable.

Beyond that point, we’re at the mercy of the delivery service and the expectation that both the generator and HVAC systems keep working as advertised. That is to say, it’s not a zero risk plan that I put together. There are certainly scenarios where a deep snow or ice, and downed trees could prevent delivery or repair should an event drag into multiple days or some component fail. I assess the relative risk of that happening as being fairly low based on the historical record for the geographic area I currently occupy.

Even feeling fairly secure in my ability to operate independently from the grid for days if necessary, when the time comes to replace the current 21 years old tank, I’m planning to upgrade to a 1000 gallon model. When it comes to fuel on hand, I firmly believe the old logistician’s motto that “more is better.” On days I’m feeling particularly aggressive about my own personal energy independence, the thought of adding a wood stove also sounds awfully appealing. Without a fireplace of any kind in the house, it’s more of an undertaking than I’d really like to get involved with just now, but it’s on the radar for sure.

As for Texas, well, it’s just one more reminder than when shit really gets dicey, you’d better have a plan to get yourself through the worst of it, because the cavalry isn’t always going to ride over the hill and rescue you in the nick of time.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The CDC. I know the CDC has an obligation to follow the science and make recommendations based on data. Even so, rolling out a recommendation that everyone should wear two masks just makes me want to smack someone over there. The previous administration dropped the ball in failing to convince a sizable portion of the people that they needed to wear one mask… and that’s not even counting the ones who technically have a mast on but can’t manage to wear it covering both their nose and mouth simultaneously. Maybe I’m reading the room wrong, but it seems to me that we might be better served to use the PR campaign to convince the rest of the people to wear just one mask before we spend a lot of time and effort hectoring everyone to double up. 

2. Snow. We seem to be in a cycle where every third day it drops a few inches of snow on us. It’s rarely enough to shutter or delay anything, but it’s certainly enough to be obnoxious and need clearing off the driveway and sidewalks lest the freeze-thaw cycle leave me with sheet ice on every side for the next month. I like winter well enough, but if it’s going to snow, it should come in increments measured in feet and not inches.

3. A poll released this week showed that 33% of Republicans would join a new political party if it were formed by Donald Trump. Another 37% said they’d consider joining such a new party. As a long time conservative and someone who has been a registered Republican for most of his adult life, I welcome and encourage their departure from the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan just as quickly as their little legs can carry them. If you can unabashedly continue to support a former president who used his last days in office to call his supports to insurrection against our Constitution and laws, I’m not sure you’re really tracking with the historical principles of Republican Party. I’d rather see the GOP go down in defeat in every election for a generation than throw my lot in with seditionists and wanna be tough guys.

Absolute rubbish…

As we trundle towards the middle of December, we’re almost constantly reminded that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” 

Who came up with that nonsense? It’s cold. It’s dark all the damned time. For about two weeks people pretend they’re not truly insufferable douchebags the other fifty weeks of the year.  We collectively ignore all evidence to the contrary and insist that the vast sweep of human history on this planet has anything at all to do with peace and goodwill.

I don’t care about most of that, really. I can deal with the cold. I can tolerate fake ass people. God knows I’ve got enough experience at that. I don’t mind the snow or ice when it comes right down to it. 

It’s the fact that I’m sitting here at 10:00 AM on a Wednesday and the sun, shining through my home office window, is now nearly at its zenith for the day – and that means by the time I turn around again it’s going to be headed back towards the far horizon and it will be nearly dark by the time I shut the lid on my laptop for the day. Everything else is marginally annoying, but it’s the 27 minutes of non-work time daylight that makes this wonderful time of year excruciating. 

With the exception of knowing that the solstice is fast approaching and we’ll start adding precious minutes of daylight soon, this is just an absolute rubbish time of year and that’s absolutely a hill I’m willing to die on.

A minor concession…

Today was the first of many concessions made to the changing season. Putting on jeans instead of shorts isn’t exactly abject surrender, but it does mark the day as the tipping point of the long slide into hibernation weather.

I’m ready for a bit of a break from schlepping hoses all over the yard, keeping the grass in check, and keeping up with the long list of other items on the summer maintenance list. Even though I’ve largely been home this summer, the indoor “stuff” always takes a back seat when it’s nice enough to be outside. With the extra traffic in here for the last six months it’s probably well past time to shift focus.

I’ll be in love with these days of coffee on the porch during these increasingly crisp morning… right up to the point where crisp gives way to cold. After that, of course, I’ll spend a few months pondering the virtue of those creatures that head south for the winter.

For now, I’ll appreciate the minor concessions… and hope that we catch a last few days of Indian summer in the coming weeks that will make such minor concessions briefly unnecessary.

The reason for the season…

Christmas is soon to be upon us. Yes, yes, it’s all about Jesus and Santa and shopping and family. I’m more than passingly familiar with what makes the contemporary Christmas season swing. I personally don’t have a thing against any of it.

Still, though, I think we’re all forgetting what makes this season really important… and that’s the simple truth that the winter solstice is about to arrive and that within a few days the amount of daylight we enjoy here in the northern hemisphere will start getting measurably longer. It’ll be an agonizingly slow process, but with a few weeks it will be really noticeable. Instead of darkness at 4:45, it will have pushed nightfall back to 5:00 PM and it won’t be pitch black when I take the dogs out for the last time before work.

I’ve never been the kind of guy who wants to lay out soaking up the sun, but I can certainly understand why there’s a thread running through ancient civilizations that finds many of them celebrating the Sun as a god. I’m not a particularly religious person by anyone’s standards, but you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be giving thanks this holiday season that the longest night of the year is about to be comfortably in the rear view and longer days are ahead.

Southern dogs…

It was too dark to make for good pictures, but Jorah got what I presume was his first exposure to snow this morning. Given the fully stricken look in his face I got the impression that he didn’t love it. Hard to blame him there.

It occurs to me that with one long ago exception, I’ve always had southern dogs. In fact, Winston, Maggie, and Jorah all originally hail from Tennessee. I don’t suppose that counts as “deep south,” but certainly a great deal further south than their new home in the mid-Atlantic.

Of the lot of them, Winston was the only one who legitimately seemed to ever enjoy a snowy morning… even though his love was based on shoving snow into his mouth moreso than doing anything particularly entertaining.

So I’ve got another southern dog who doesn’t seem to want to spend a minute longer than abslutely necessary standing around in the snow. Do dogs take on the craracteristics of their owners, or do owners taken on their dogs personalities? Either way, I think this new revelation will work out for the best.

What I did on my snow day…

My first experience with telework, or working from home, was way back in about 2005 when I was home based in central Maryland and working in downtown DC five days a week. Any option that saved me from the 35 minute drive, 30 minute metro ride, and ten minute walk of a commute (when everything worked exactly the way it was supposed to) was a welcome change.

Since then I’ve worked for bosses that were true believers in the virtue of having employees work from home and I’ve worked for others that were firm in the belief that nothing happens unless they could physically see asses in seats right outside their own office door. The truth is, even though I support the idea and take advantage of it at every opportunity, I recognize that finding success working from somewhere other than an office can be very much driven by the personality and work style of the person doing the work.

If that sounds like less than a full throated argument to let everyone work from home as often as they want, it probably should. There are some jobs – and some people – that would be badly served by having that kind of flexibility in deciding were the work gets done. By contrast there are plenty of people and situations that are perfectly well suited for doing the work from anywhere. So, if you ask me if I support telework, the honest answer is, “well, that depends.”

I like to think I’m reasonably successful at carrying out the vast majority of my day-to-day tasks regardless of where I happen to be physically located. Tending to email, participating in meetings, reading or writing, pondering recommendations are all things that, thanks to the wonder of the interwebs, are location agnostic.

Due to the slightly comic language of the agreement that lets me work from home on a regular basis, when the outpost of the bureaucracy where I work is closed, I’m on the hook to log and and carry on business as usual. The catch, of course, is that I’m one of the few people who have taken advantage of this opportunity… which means my snow days are largely made up of sending email and leaving voicemails for people I already know aren’t going to be around to read or listen to them for 24 hours. Yes, it’s ridiculous. No, it doesn’t get after the kind of continuity of operations anyone wants to pretend we have during an emergency. It’s just the way things are.

If sitting around largely talking to myself on a few rare days in the dead of winter buys me a day a week of staying home and working in my fuzzy slippers the rest of the year, it’s a farce I’m perfectly willing to go along with to keep the peace.

Winter of our discontent…

It was 10 degrees when I woke up yesterday morning. It’s winter, so that’s not unheard of here along the shores of the Chesapeake. I do have to wonder at the first settlers who arrived here and endured their first long winter. What compelled them to stay here rather than picking up stakes and opting for somewhere south of Norfolk. I can only speculate that they were stranded and without means to build a boat of their own to get the hell away to somewhere more temperate.

The poor bastards that lived here in log houses with mud insulation and wood heat and managed not to freeze to death were surely hearty souls. Far more hearty that I feel during the current unpleasantness. I don’t mean to imply that I heat the place excessively. I’m generally comfortable around 68 degrees. I try to get by at 67 as at least a passing nod towards saving fuel. Even at that my fancy new ultra high efficiency propane furnace was running flat out more often than it wasn’t.

I’m fortunate in that the house is well constructed and reasonably well insulated. Even at that, it’s teaching me a few details I’ll remember when I build the final version of Fortress Jeff. I’ll have more south facing windows with interior shutters to close at night. I’ll cut back the tree line far enough to get unobstructed sunlight. There will be in-floor heat for the bathroom. It’s going to be way more insulated than code requires. And there’s going to be zoned heating. I find myself here pumping hot air into parts of the house I only walk into a couple times a year.

Finally, I’m missing the one thing on my wishlist that I traded away because the current house ticked so many of my other “must have” items – a wood stove or fireplace. Let’s face it, if I can prop my feet up on a hearth with a good book and some coffee most of my basic requirements are already being met. Unfortunately, with every passing winter I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of the cold. The amount of time I’ve already spent devising ways to push the natural environment away by a few degrees just doesn’t bode well for what I’ll be spending inordinate amounts of time thinking about in the future.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The time of the year. There’s a popular perception that people’s moods tend to improve has we head into the Christmas season. Maybe that’s the case for some, but not so much for me. By this time of year I’m just about worn down to the nub from relentless repeats of leaving home in the dark and returning there many hours later again in the dark. I loath and despise this time of year for the simple reason that for all practical purposes it means living like a mole for two months. If I manage to leave work on time and if it’s not cloudy, I do manage to catch the last few rays of watery sunshine on an occasional weekday. On a good day at mid-winter that lasts for somewhere between 5-15 minutes. So while everyone else is preparing their celebration of the birth of the Christian’s nailed God, I’ll be over here quietly awaiting the solstice and celebrating Sol Invictus.  

2. Thirty minutes. That’s how long it takes my work computer to boot up from a cold start on the average day in the office. Look, I can dick around for the first 30 minutes of the day with the best of them, but it doesn’t feel like a particularly great use of time. But hey, whatever. I can only use the tools and resources I’ve been assigned… Which is why I keep a stack of magazines on my desk.

3. Bulldogs. I love my bulldog. He’s almost eleven now. He’s got a permanent limp, only hears when he wants to hear, and seems happy enough to pass the time between feeding and being let outside lounging comfortably in one of his beds. He’s an old man and I don’t begrudge him any of that. For the last two months, though, we’ve been trying to get on top of what’s become a particularly aggressive skin issue. After two month of antibiotics and medicated baths we don’t seem to be any closer to a solution than we were at the back in late October. The condition itself isn’t something unusual – we’ve been working with bad skin for years – but the amount of time it’s taking to knock this one back is far more than history suggests should be necessary… and don’t get me started on $80 bottles of pills that don’t seem to do a damned thing. I love my bulldog, but if you find yourself ever thinking you want to fall in love with their wrinkly little faces, my advice for you is to take a hard pass. I’d never deny this one anything, but get yourself a dog instead of an eating, breathing, ongoing medical disaster… unless you have a sick desire to take lots of time off for vet visits and would rather not have to worry about disposable income. Then, by all means, bring home that adorable, smushed faced little pup.