Searching the Earth Like a Lost Worker Bee

My bureau started to telework full-time back in March. We are formulating and adjusting our plans to go back into the office. We have been receiving updates and guidelines on how our buildings will be set up to help us practice social distancing and to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

This has gotten me to think about what’s going to change about work as we open back up. I want to look beyond the obvious immediate stuff like wiping down my workstation, wearing a mask when I walk the halls, and maybe even extended enclosures on cubicles. That’s going to be commonplace for the foreseeable future, even if I still can’t foresee the day when I return to the office.

I am thinking more about how we reconnect with each other after spending months only seeing each other through webcams and chatting through Slack. How do we regain camaraderie and support each other as we transition back? How will my place of work bridge all of the digital gaps exposed by the extended building closures? How will the metrics we use to measure success be adjusted now that our traditional model of doing business has been disrupted?

Will we have less meetings? Because I would like to have less meetings.

Those are the type of questions I want to explore on this site in the coming weeks. I plan to write about the tools we’re using and the ones we need, the data we collect and data we should, and all of the issues we face. I want to document how I work now and see how that changes as our situation evolves. We all believe that work will be permanently altered by our response to COVID-19. How will that belief bear out?

Egon and Wally Embrace and Say Farewell

In the midst of a global pandemic and a nationwide look into the mirror to see how our systems are designed to shut people out, it feels selfish to focus on personal matters. And yet, while all of this external tumult swirls around, personal struggles and tragedies continue and gain more poignancy.

I have lost a family member this year, and I know that I could lose more. Not because of COVID-19, but because of more mundane calamities like heart disease and cancer.

My co-workers and I have lost quite a few of our colleagues to cancer in the past couple of years. I don’t think I’ve ever really allowed myself to mourn all that loss, brief eulogies posted on Facebook notwithstanding. I realized over the last month that all of that pent-up grief is dragging like a heavy chain tied around my waist.

So I am in a quiet place right now, taking some time to meditate and maybe just to finally bawl my eyes out. Then I can take time to remind myself that I was lucky to have the time I had with everyone. I am a better person because of them all, and I hope I can live up to their legacies. I feel like I still have a lot of work to do, so I need to give myself permission to move on first.

With a Strange Enchantment In My Heart

True Respite is sort of the big player in the Rockville beer scene. Even though they opened after 7 Locks and Saints Row, they’ve established themselves here pretty quickly through their knack for promotion. As mentioned, they were ahead of the curve during the quarantine by having their Bierme app cued up before Maryland’s stay at home order was put into place. But they also made a big splash when they opened because Maryland Governor Larry Hogan cut the ribbon at their opening.

True Respite co-founder Brendan O’Leary said during the opening ceremony that he was inspired to invite Gov. Hogan to the ribbon cutting after the governor’s speech at the 2016 HomebrewCon in Baltimore. For his part, the governor said that his popularity at HomebrewCon may have had a lot to do with his chugging a beer onstage before his remarks.

I mean, know how to play to your audience, right?

Hogan at True Respite

Of course I went to the opening. Didn’t stay long enough to see if Gov. Hogan chugged another beer, though.

Early on, True Respite had focused a lot on IPA variations. Their signature beer for me is Week Away India Pale Ale. It is the type of IPA that made me fall in love with the style in the first place. It has a red grapefruit aroma, and that carries through to the mildly bitter flavor. But there are also hints of cedar and bitter melon. All the flavors are subtle and they leave a pleasantly astringent taste in my mouth. It also has a sweetness to it, and it develops a faint candy shell finish as the beer comes to room temp. It’s lovely.

But True Respite also aren’t shy about experimenting. One of their boldest creations is Tiki Bula, a mai tai-inspired New England India Pale Ale. It takes the harsh citrus flavor that NEIPAs often have and infuses it with maraschino cherry and rum notes. The tangy pineapple finish makes it quite delightful.

And they are trying out unusual-for-America styles, too. For example, last month they came out with Bear Helles. Helles is the Bavarian style of beer that is popular in Austria. In fact, the house beer at my favorite place in the whole wide world, Fischer Bräu, is a Helles. So True Respite has a lot to live up to.

And it does the trick! Bear Helles has a yeasty, funky nose and a bright, barely opaque gold color. It’s light-bodied, almost ephemeral, and it’s sweet with a bitter, lemony tang in the back. I could judge it harshly based on Fischer Bräu, but honestly, being able to get a good Helles delivered to my house helps me get over my faint desire to fly out to Vienna the first chance I get.

As it is with 7 Locks, I don’t go to True Respite all that often. But the silver lining to 2020 is that a new option to drink local opened up, and I’m hoping that sensible heads will take charge and make sure that this option sticks around.

I Believe that Someday We Will Rise

We had a discussion at work this week about unconscious bias. It could have been one of those bland, safe bureaucratic webinars that would let us check off a box saying we addressed a problem. But the moderator let it become a discussion of what kind of biases we all see at work every day. Some of my colleagues talked about their direct experiences with biases against race, gender, age, and even job status. It was a good discussion and follow-up discussions are planned. The lines of communication are meant to stay open.

Talking about these biases, slights, and aggressions acknowledge that they exist. But acknowledgement is not enough now. Vague statements, new task forces or working groups, or any of the other watered down tropes Jenica Rogers shared on Attempting Elegance are not enough now. We need to call out all of those biases, slights, and aggressions when we see them. Our minds need to be open enough to recognize our own biases when we are called out on them.  Not just now when we are hyper-aware, but in the future, when we think things have returned to “normal.”

Will I be brave enough to stick my neck out when the time calls for it?

I don’t like getting my hopes up. A lot of things that I hoped for have been dashed apart before. I foresee a lot of companies (say, the NFL) not following up on their lip service with any real plans to right their past wrongs. And the message will always be ignored by those willfully acting deaf.

We have been brought up on the prejudices of our forebears, and those prejudices are pernicious, even in those of us who think we know better. But they can be overcome. And right now, I have hope that fundamental problems in the United States are going to be addressed.

Maybe we’ll even make quick progress on resolving them too. Maybe.

The final line of Angels In America has been resonating in my mind a lot lately. It feels apropos right now:

“We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

– Prior in “Epilogue: Bethesda”
Angels In America by Tony Kushner

To Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances

I understand that the nationwide demonstrations to protest the murder of George Floyd and every death caused by policy brutality towards African Americans could spread COVID-19. That doesn’t mean the time isn’t right to hold the demonstrations. There is never a perfect moment to stand up and be heard. People risked more than their health in the Civil Rights Movement.

We have the right to protest. It is a right protected by the Constitution, a legal document that the current President is clearly not familiar with. And discussions of the health implications of the demonstrations or the law and order implications of demonstrations that turn into riots or the subtle nuances of what is and what is not tear gas only serve to distract from the reason why the protests are happening. Don’t change the subject. Listen, then change the algorithms.

His Patience’s Long but Soon He Won’t Have Any

I hope the cycle will finally be broken. We’ve gotten angry before, but nothing seemed to change. Is it different this time? Will the protests over the needless death of George Floyd be what it takes for acceptance and equality to finally overcome fear? Sowing fear is an easy tactic for maintaining control. As long as we let those who want power drive our fear, then we can be used.

My wife and I discussed with our son what happened to George Floyd, and what happened to Freddie Gray in Baltimore. That is no small part we can play to change the cycle. You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear, but you’ve also got be taught to treat everyone with empathy and respect. We will and must keep teaching.

Another lesson I want to teach my son is that we are fellow-passengers to the grave, not different races bound on other journeys. Were we to remember that more often.

I Miss My Funky Friends

Part Two of The Falco Project

I adore Falco’s debut album Einzelhaft. Some of my favorite songs of his are here: “Der Kommisar,” of course, but also “Ganz Wien,” “Maschine Brent,” “Auf der Flucht,” and  “Zuviel Hitze.” All classics in my mind.

A lot of my affection for Einzelhaft lies in my general affection for the era it came from. The early ‘80s era of New Wave lands right on the sweet spot of my music tastes. There are certain sounds and tropes that wrap around me like a warm blanket, and I can find a lot of them here. It’s an easy album for me to revisit time and time again.

“Zuviel Hitze” leads things off. It’s an atmospheric song that sounds like the theme to an ’80s noir film. The electronic drumline has a bit too much hi-hat in it, but I love the strong bassline and the thin, bright synth strings. It’s a great opener.

Not much on this album, or indeed the rest of Falco’s discography, can stand up to “Der Kommisar.” Here Falco introduces his hip hop-influenced vocals, his signature style that packs a lot of lyrics into the verses and seamlessly weaves in English phrases. (Note the nod to  Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” which he will reference again on “The Sound of Musik.”)

Continue reading

Back to That Same Old Place

It feels weird to feel comfortable these days, but here I am: firmly ensconced at the end of my kitchen table and settled into a routine. I take a break to have lunch and teach my son. I walk the dog at the start and at the end of the day. Every Friday, my office has a happy hour, sitting in front of webcams instead of around a conference room table.

The camaraderie that we have built together over the past few years, through physical moves, reorganizations, the passings of dear colleagues, and the general wear and tear any close-knit office goes through, seems to have prepared us well for this. We haven’t seen each other in months, though we see each other every week. We’re still cordial, frequently goofy, but always supportive. And even if nerves get frayed and I get grumpy with someone, it’s easy to take a step back and remember that they’re going through the same thing I am.

We’re beginning to formulate our plans to go back into the office after our extended teleworking stint. Not there is any urgency to do so. We just preparing for the inevitable day when it’s reasonably safe to return to our cubicles. That going into the office will be a disruption to the routine is wild to think about. To be honest, I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it. Hopefully, my productivity plan will help me adapt. But, like I said, I feel comfortable right now.

Just Plug In and Go, Go, Go

I adore Google Tasks. I’ve been using it for a long time, although the way I use it now has evolved since the last time I wrote a love letter to it. Before, I had grouped my items by broad topic. Now I have them structured around urgency.

The Master list is where I put new tasks as they arise. Each Monday, I review it and select which tasks I want to add to Weekly. Then I review Weekly each day and move items over to Daily. Obviously, time-sensitive tasks will go directly onto Daily.

Perpetual contains tasks that pop-up on a regular basis. At home these tasks related to items on my wellness plan: reminders related to writing and things like that. Lastly, Follow-Up features anything delegated to or dependent on others.

Google Tasks has been integrated into Google Mail for a while, and recently they made that integration more obvious by making the Tasks button more prominent in the email toolbar.

I used to keep emails in my inbox until I had either followed up on them or got a response. Now I add them to my task list, and I can keep my inbox clean.

Gmail also has three right side bars you can scroll through: Calendar, Keep, and Tasks. I use all three pretty extensively, but I usually have the daily tasks open to stay on top of what I plan to do each day.

There are some quirky limitations. For example, Google Calendar doesn’t display tasks that have a reminder date. Calendar has an option to set reminders, but this similar function is separate from Tasks. And those Calendar reminders don’t appear in the Tasks interface.

And a lot of the functionality I described only works in the desktop versions of these Google apps. You can’t add emails to Tasks, Keep, or Calendar from the iOS app version of Gmail. I’ve been submitting feedback to Google about this, but I have no idea if submitting feedback is actually effective. Someday, I hope these apps will work together as seamlessly as their desktop versions.

I have the same set up for my work version of Tasks, with one additional list to help me stay on top of our virtual intern’s assignments. The main issue I have there is that my place of work is very much a Microsoft-based organization. The bulk of my email comes to my Outlook inbox, not my Gmail inbox.

Because we are teleworking full-time during the quarantine, I almost exclusively use the browser version of Outlook instead of the software version. I tried to recreate my labels using the browser version of Outlook and Tasks by using the Categories feature and email flags. But Microsoft’s Tasks doesn’t have the option to sort by Categories, which makes it difficult for me to figure out which items are daily priority versus weekly and so forth. So I have Outlook folders titled with my labels, and I file emails with actions in them in the appropriate folder.

All of that notwithstanding, I’ve been pretty happy with how this system has been working. And writing about it here has also helped me pick up on things I can improve. For example, in my personal Tasks set up, I had a tendency to put my writing assignments for my Eurovision blog in the Weekly list. Putting together this post reminded me that all of those assignments should go into the Master list until I am ready to write them.

The important thing for me to do is review the tasks in each list on a regular basis. This way nothing falls through the cracks. The Master list also helps me embrace the fact that everything I have on my plate doesn’t need to be resolved right away. Once I got over the idea that EVERYTHING ON MY LIST needed to be completed ASAP, the easier it became to manage my task list this way.

That’s How We Keep You In Repair

The three Rockville breweries have opened up online ordering services during the quarantine. Saints Row has been pick-up only, but both 7 Locks and True Respite have been providing deliveries. True Respite had the foresight to build an app called Bierme before the quarantine was fully in place to help brewers process online orders. It has worked so well that it has been used by breweries around the country, including Union.

7 Locks Brewing, meanwhile, is using ToastTab software to run its delivery service. Regardless of how they take my order, the upshot is that I can now get Surrender Dorothy sent to my house whenever I want. Oh yes, very nice!

Named after an infamous bit of graffiti on the Beltway near the LDS Temple, Surrender Dorothy is a rye-based IPA that tastes more like an English bitters-style ale. It has a subtle and appealing elderflower flavor that gives it depth. I usually pour it into a glass and hang out with my dog on my lap while I read or write or do crossword puzzles. Or just watch a bunch of videos on YouTube. I’m not going anywhere for awhile, and Surrender Dorothy holds up the entire time.

Another selection in my order was Paint Branch Pilsner. I adore Pilsners and am happy that local brewers are beginning to embrace them. Paint Branch was a new one for me, and I instantly fell in love. It has a sweet malt flavor, with a hint of lemon zest in the aftertaste. It’s good cold, but it also stands up at room temp, unlike some more mass-produced domestic lagers.

The last bit of my order was Raspberry Snakeden Saison. It’s aged in whiskey rye barrels and boy, does that come out when I tasted it. Sure, I got a whiff of raspberry when I opened the bottle, but the flavor was mostly of whiskey and caramel. The body was smooth, if a bit flat, but it had a lovely aftertaste of raspberry, yeast, and malt. It’s a complex and fanciful beer, and it made me happy.

And the fact that I could get this delivered to me makes me even happier. I wonder if Maryland’s byzantine liquor laws can finally be rethought after this period where they’ve been temporarily eased. Sure, there’s nothing like having a pint in a bustling pub atmosphere. On the other hand, it’s probably a lot more responsible to have your quaffs delivered to your home then going out for it. In the Baltimore Business Journal, True Respite co-founder Brendan O’Leary says, “I don’t think things can ever go back to the way they were but I don’t think they’ll stay the way they are. We’re probably going to find a middle ground somewhere.” Hear, hear.