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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Late breaking winter. I had a passing thought that I might get through this winter unscathed in the landscaping department. It would have been the first winter since buying the place that was the case. Clearly that’s the kind of thing that’s a homeowner pipe dream. In the bright light of afternoon – and now that a lot of yesterday’s snow has melted off, I can see at least three boxwoods that appear to be broken at the stem, several other shrubs that may have been bent and twisted beyond recovery, and a reasonably good sized maple limb that landed squarely on top of a forsythia that was just starting to take off. Some people love nature for what it is. Me? Aside from the adorableness of the fuzzy animals, I find nature to be something to be pushed back against at every opportunity. Seems like I’ll have reason to break out the chainsaw after all.

2. Six hour days. I use to enjoy two hour delays. That’s until I ran into a short day that felt like it lasted at least 2,476 hours instead of just the six that the “clock” says passed.

3. Congress (again). These asshats literally only have a handful of things specifically named in the Constitution as part and parcel of their responsibilities as elected representatives. The fact that they fail so spectacularly to get those few things done even when one party controls all the levers of government speaks to both their uselessness and our stupidity for continuing to elect 90% plus of the same 535 people time after time after time. Truly democracy has given us the kind of governance we so richly deserve.

Allowing for weather…

They’re calling for shit weather tomorrow morning. On a typical day, that would have been the sign to drag my laptop home in hopes that there was some combination of liberal leave or a closure called by the Destructive Weather Team. Having another day to work at home uninterrupted by 30 ringing phones and eight or ten pop up meetings would be a godsend in terms of getting some actual work done.

Sadly, I’m the guy who’s supposed to run the meeting tomorrow – which means I need to be there to flip the slides. Because it’s not an official meeting unless someone flips slides… and we certainly can’t expect people who come to a meeting to print off their own slides or bring their own laptop so they could see the slides. If we could count on either of those things there’s no part of what needs talked about tomorrow that needs my physical presence in a blandly decorated conference room.

We’re stuck in some kind of bizarre world where we want everyone to be prepared to work from wherever they happen to be, but make in next to impossible to do so. Where it is possible, we make the processes and procedures painful to the point where most find the option unattractive.

Me? I’m a contrarian and poker of people with pointy sticks from way back. I’m already turning over plans in my head to slowly drag my team into the 21st century – and prep them for the day when I’ll be leading the discussion while wearing sweats and fuzzy slippers. Until people see working from some place other than your designated spot in the cube farm getting results, I’m afraid the bureaucracy will never get away from it’s favored mode of business as usual. I like to think I’m feisty enough on this point to lead the way by example.