Monday, August 14, 2017

On Working From Home

I've worked from home the whole time I've had my current job--a pretty long time now.

It's not so much that I intended to work from home. But when I got this job offer, I had just moved to a new city, and wasn't able to just pack up again and move a second time. The person hiring me was also based in another city and knew that it was possible to be a productive member of a team and organization even if you're not based in the same city or office as your coworkers.

Since then, I've had family issues that tied me to one city, my wife has had a job opportunity that tied us to another city, and she's likely to have another one of those in the future. Relocating to the city where the office is located really just isn't in the cards. And besides, if I later switch companies, it would mean that I'd have to be moving again. This isn't like working in a restaurant, where I can just go down the road and apply at the next place in town. I work in a very specialized area inside of a technology company.

My intent wasn't to avoid the office. It wasn't to avoid meeting people in person. I understand the value of water cooler knowledge transfer. But I've been working remotely for a long time, and I know that it can work. I know that I can set a schedule, get up, and be productive. I interact with clients every day. Via phone calls, online meetings, and email messages. I help them solve problems, and I answer their questions.

I manage my team remotely. Most of them are based in one city, but that doesn't really help me any, because I'm not in that city. The vast majority of my team management interactions are via phone, email, online meeting, or online chat. I make a point of connecting with each team member at least once every day or two (notwithstanding the organic interactions that usually bring us together daily). I make sure that I reach out to them with positive feedback and good things to say. Not just complaints. Nothing's worse than a boss who only calls you when something bad has happened. It would make anyone afraid to answer the phone. So I try to be aware of it and try not to be like that.

Dealing with management has been pretty good overall. Most managers have understood that it's about the work, not which desk you sit at. Sometimes that has been a bit of a challenge, but those who talk most about team collaboration having to be "in person" might not understand exactly what my team does or what we're working on. Or that the team we collaborate with most often is actually located in another country.

I'm lucky that my employer offers this as an option and sees the value in it. Compared to say, Marissa Mayer's tenure at Yahoo, during which she made headlines by banning remote work. This article pointed out that operational teams don't necessarily benefit from in-person collaboration (which might be more necessary for development): "But there are other kinds of jobs that are operational -- rather than creative. For example, a person who helps solve a technical problem with Yahoo! Mail does not come up with new business ideas -- whether he works at home or in an office with other customer service people."

She even went on to say that "working from home" itself wasn't the problem -- and it sounded to me like there seemed to be a broader cultural issue relating to employee interaction.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Crab Claws and Cocaine

An idiot's observations of Miami and Miami Beach:

  1. Just before we moved, we asked somebody for restaurant ideas and they opened their response by saying Miami used to be crappy, known only for crab claws and cocaine. I've adopted that as my mantra -- whenever somebody asks me what the deal is with Miami, I now explain that it's all about crab claws and cocaine.
  2. There are a million "sushi and ceviche" restaurants. Why this combination? Probably because it's two ways to use raw fish, so perhaps less of their fish goes to waste. My wife and I like this, because I like sushi but not ceviche, and she likes ceviche but not sushi.
  3. There are pretty darn good locals specials during the week in Miami Beach. Can't beat $10 steak night at the Brazilian place.
  4. Dry cleaning/drop-off laundry is really expensive here. I got spoiled in Chicago, where it was actually cheap and affordable. It's now almost cheaper in Miami to just buy new cheap shirts and throw them out after one wear. (Just kidding...for now.)
  5. They aren't kidding about flooding. The sea is going to reclaim Miami someday soon. I can't believe there is anybody here who doesn't believe in global warming. 
  6. When it rains, it doesn't mean that the temperature is going to drop. It's going to be just as sweaty after the rain as it was before.
  7. So far, rainy season means it rains every day, but only for some small or medium part of the time. Meaning there's still a lot of opportunity to get out and walk around, which is great. But when it rains, it really comes down. If you get caught in that rain you are going to get crazy drenched.
  8. Every single grocery store or chain has different prices, and those prices are all over the map. There's still Aldi (and some other chains with low prices, like President Supermarket), but there's also really high end grocers where you can end up paying $10 for a (raw) chicken breast. One really has to pay attention to prices if you want to try to save money at all.
  9. Toll roads as far as the eye can see. Almost like every other highway is a toll road. Why? Because there's no state income tax, I assume. So they have to get the money from us to pay for the roads some how. So you think you're saving money on income taxes but you end up paying it back in user fees instead. And it's effectively a regressive tax, because it probably hits poorer people hardest. Somebody who has to drive to work at a low wage job gets hit a lot harder than somebody like me, who makes more money and works from home, so I can actually choose not to drive on the toll roads most of the time. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Moving to Miami

So, we've decided that the town of Ithaca, New York, was not for us. When considering where to move next, my criteria was that I wanted to "move aspirationally." What I meant by that was, I want to move to some place where we like being, is someplace we've been and have had fun before, and is maybe some place where life would be really different for us. Someplace where we both have thought, "gosh, we really wish we lived here" during previous visits. And with Kate leaving her day job, and my job allowing me to work from anywhere, we thought that we really ought to take advantage of the freedom that this allows us.

So, after a lot of thought, we decided on Miami as the place to move to. We have been visiting Miami for years. We love the weather, we love the palm trees, we love walking around and exploring the parks, the beaches, and the culture. And we are tired of winter. We have friends and great memories from both Minneapolis and Chicago, but it's time to try taking a break from the snow.

We're in the midst of that move to Miami right now. We've secured an apartment in a great area, one near water with a ton of walkable amenities nearby. We're working on filling the new place with furniture, and we're winding down our old place back in New York state.

Furniture shopping in Florida has been a challenge. We were initially delighted to see that Miami has an IKEA. We tried to buy nearly a whole apartment's worth of furniture from them (can't beat their prices), but we had so much trouble trying to get their delivery partner XPO to actually deliver what we purchased, that we were forced to give up and start over. We're still smarting a bit from that. It was quite a snag and we are saddened that IKEA didn't come through for us. I think it'll take some time before we feel like giving IKEA another try.

But, our apartment is great, and we're loving the neighborhood, and the weather -- while a bit soupy during rainy season -- is still pretty great. And we can't wait to see how the weather is come this winter.

The sheer number of restaurants in our neighborhood is amazing. It's a bit of a touristy area, which for us means there are some good specials during the week, when things are a bit slower for them and they're eager to get locals to come through the door. And there are a ton of hotels, which means it'll be easy for friends to come and visit us (our place being too small to house friends directly).

I'm really looking forward to this next year.

Monday, September 26, 2016

I almost bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 7

I almost bought one of those exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones.

A few months ago I dropped my iPhone 6 and cracked the glass along the top edge. It didn't make the phone unusable, but it lost its cool factor significantly. Then I was reading about the upcoming iPhone 7 and how it was mostly an evolutionary design, perhaps not a ton of difference from the iPhone 6s, and not a revolutionary new design. So I asked around to find out what peoples' favorite Android phones were, and everybody seemed to love the Galaxy Note phones. And the Note 7 in particular, had a cool slightly-bigger screen that goes all the way edge-to-edge on the device.

But I couldn't decide if I really wanted to go back to Android. I'm mostly platform agnostic, but it would definitely take some effort to update my music library in a place where Android phones could access it. So I hemmed and hawed for a while and then I decided I'd wait until they announced the new iPhones, and then I would compare and decide.

Then the shit hit the fan with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phones. Literally catching on fire due to incorrectly manufactured batteries. After what seemed like a long delay, then there was a recall. "Turn your phones off now!" they warn. And it sounds like perhaps Samsung has bungled the recall -- lots of customers are unsure where to go to get a replacement phone. Or are getting the runaround. Or their mobile provider is out of stock. (And it's not even safe to use this phone in the interim, until you can get that replacement? Ouch.)

This has to be terribly damaging to the Samsung brand, no? I read in some random tech blog that "this will all blow over" and "nobody will remember it in six months." But I'm not so sure about that.

My wife and I were in New Orleans this past weekend. She had a speaking engagement at Tulane, so I tagged along to enjoy a weekend in New Orleans. We now live in a small town with a tiny airport, so there are no direct flights anywhere. That means we rode on four different planes for our round trip. Each time, a flight attendant explicitly named the Samsung Galaxy 7 Note as unsafe, that the FAA has taken the unprecedented step of banning this phone from charging or being used on any flight. One of the flight attendants asked for a show of hands, how many people owned this unsafe phone? Another joked about it. At one airport, the gate agent warned people about the phone before they even boarded.

How would you feel, if you were traveling and had a person or two at every airport tell you that your phone was unsafe, strongly implying it was inferior? I know that if I *had* bought one of those, I would have returned it and bought some other phone from some other manufacturer.

Because, even if I had gotten a replacement Samsung phone, I bet that I would have had to endure "dad jokes" about the phone, for months or years to come. I imagine that perhaps every time I pull out the phone, some comedian would ask me, oh, isn't that the exploding phone? Har har har. Yeah, that was a couple years ago, I'll get tired of explaining.

So, by holding off, I dodged that bullet. Ended up picking up an iPhone 7 plus to replace my two year old iPhone 6 plus. The outward design is very similar, but the fancy new camera appeals to me, and the overall boost in speed appeals to me. And I maxed out the memory so I can load my entire music library for offline listening.

And even if I get tired of the iPhone....would I ever buy a Samsung? After all that's happened, I just don't see myself doing that.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ithaca


Greetings from Ithaca, New York.

Need any bugs? Bugs are everywhere here in Ithaca. Flies, mosquitos, gnats, spiders, crickets, they all love us and want to come live in our home. Our tiny chihuahua is terrified of the bugs, but our other dog will chew on them upon request.

Everything is a .9 mile walk from our home.

Parts of it are flat, unless you want to go to Cornell, then it's straight uphill, on streets at scary angles, and that's before there's any snow and ice.

The falls are pretty, though.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Bud Iverson, 1942-2016

My father, Bud Iverson, passed away due to complications from COPD on August 11, 2016, at the Hilltop Care Center in Watkins, Minnesota, where he had been residing since March. His ex-wife, my mother Kathy, predeceased him in 2014. He is survived by son Al, daughter Liz, and various brothers and sisters. He was cremated and no services will be held. The family would like to thank the wonderful staff of both the Hilltop Care Center and the Rice Hospice program for their care and support throughout our father's final days.

(I'm posting this notice here so that friends and relatives might find it while searching online for information.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Need a home phone? You need this.


This little box plugs into your internet router. Then you plug your regular old (land line) telephone into it. Then you have free phone service over your internet connection. Don't pay Comcast or somebody else for phone service! The only caveats here are, you have to set up a Google Voice account (which isn't hard), and if you want 911 to work you pay something like $15/year. It's still stupid cheap, and Google Voice is pretty slick.

My wife and I have used Google Voice for years, and we have an older version of one of these boxes, powering our home phone (which exists only to answer intercom calls). It works great!

After we first moved into our new place, we got a landline phone, because she needed one for radio interviews. But it was like $28/month for something we used for about 60 minutes each month. It's just crazy to pay that. So I dug out and reconnected our Google Voice phone instead.

Friday, March 25, 2016

World's Easiest Vegan Chili

Before Cooking



Fake meat chili in the slow cooker? Super easy. We eat meat, but occasionally buy meat substitutes, and they're usually packaged in a way where you can keep it in the freezer until you need it. This takes under 10 minutes to prepare, and you spend most of that time dicing an onion.
Ingredients:

  • 1 can mild chili beans in mild chili sauce, 14.5 ounces
  • 1 can black beans, 14.5 ounces
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 14.5 ounces
  • 1 package fake meat grounds (11 oz. in our case)
  • Your favorite onion (we had a big ole' white onion)
  • Chili seasoning packet (Aldi's Stonemill Original Chili Seasoning Mix)
The fake meat doesn't really matter; just get one that looks like crumbled ground beef and comes in a package of somewhere around or just under a pound. I see both 11 ounce and 14 ounce packages. I bought these "Beyond Beef" grounds on a whim at our local Target. Everything else came from Aldi, my favorite grocery store. You don't have to buy "chili" beans, either. Almost any kind of beans will work.

To prepare, all you need to do is:

  • Dice the onion.
  • Open the two cans of beans and can of diced tomatoes. Drain them, but do not strain them. Meaning, hold the lid down and turn the cans upside down, draining most, but not all of the liquid into the sink. (If you don't do this, the chili comes out watery.)
  • Throw the onion, frozen fake meat crumbles, beans and diced tomatoes into the crock pot.
  • Add the chili seasoning packet.
  • Stir everything together.
  • Set the slow cooker for at least eight hours on low.


Then when dinner time rolls around, you've got delicious chili that tastes pretty good.

If you hate animals, you can add sour cream and shredded cheese to taste.









Friday, March 18, 2016

Hidden Gourmet Treasures Await You at Twisted Tapas

Hey, look! It's our favorite restaurant, Twisted Tapas in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, getting a fine write-up over on the ChitownConnections blog. Check it out!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Artists' Quarter Lives On

Like many other folks, I was saddened with the Twin Cities' best jazz club, the Artists' Quarter, closed at the end of 2013.

I have a bit of a bias; I was a long time friend of the club; having ran the club's website from its inception at the end of 1998 until I left Minneapolis for Chicago in 2006. I was proud to help owner Kenny Horst bring people in the door, and build up the email list from zero to thousands-- the email list had over 5,000 subscribers in 2006 -- not bad for a local business. It was easy to gauge the reach of the email list -- all I had to do was include a typo in a cover charge price, which happened accidentally on occasion, and it seemed like everybody through the door that night wanted to receive the discounted, typo'd price. That wasn't my preferred method of proving that the website and email list actually connected with folks, but it surely proved the point.

In 2006, my friend Don Berryman took over the AQ website and managed it under his own steady hand. After our successful and fun AQ New Year's Eve 2015 pop-up event at Hell's Kitchen, we realized that it no longer made sense to continue running the dynamic-content laden incarnation of the website with its associated technical and financial overhead. But instead of shutting down the Artists' Quarter website, we've transitioned it in a way that will allow us to keep it alive for the long term. You'll see that it's still out there at http://www.artistsquarter.com, awaiting your visit. But now, we're focusing on the history of the club, video clips from various musical acts over the years, and links to insightful articles with more detail, including Pamela Espeland's fabulous "Pleased and Flipped: Memories of the AQ" series, and the occasional shout out when a musician known to grace the AQ stage gets a solid mention elsewhere.

The site's now hosted on Blogger; Google's free blogging platform. This allows us to post and share content easily, while eliminating any hosting costs beyond the regular renewal of the domain name.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Internet in Minneapolis

We just found out that Comcast was overcharging us by $10/month for the past year, due to a billing error. They'll only refund $20 of it, which strikes me as really unethical, and I'm really disappointed with them.

We're looking to change internet providers as a result. But the options aren't very promising.

I could get Centurylink DSL, 7 megabit. But that's too slow AND they force me into a bundle with dial-tone, making it $66/month, which is more than the ~$50ish Comcast is nailing us for 50 megabit cable.

US Internet has 1 gigabit fiber in Minneapolis. But not in our neighborhood. We're just not cool enough. I don't see it coming to our building, either, since we live in a high rise and live so close to downtown.

Minneapolis has municipal wi-fi, but we're probably too high up in the air to get it. And I don't trust that service anyway; it seems like it probably doesn't scale well or reach far. I'm not going to fight to make that kind of thing work.

So....boo. I do know that I'm at least going to dump our HD cable box and plug in a TV antenna and see if we can get local HD channels for free. Might as well at least minimize what we pay to the monopolists.

Verizon LTE works great in our apartment, but since it's not unlimited, it's not suitable for streaming TV and movies.

If anybody has any other ideas, I'm all ears.