new cubicles and other changes

This week, at work, my group moved back into our old space, after having it basically gutted and refurbished. I mentioned last week that I wasn’t too enthusiastic about it. Now that I’ve been working in it for a few days, I guess it’s not too bad. I still don’t like it, really; the cubicles are smaller, the walls are lower, and there’s not much storage space. But I’m getting used to it.

Overall, it’s been a rough week at work. We started using a new process this week that I designed and wrote (mostly) on my own, and we had some hiccups. I was hoping things would have smoothed out by the end of the week, but we’ve still got some issues that I’ll need to tackle next week.

One other random issue we’ve been having at work, which has been getting worse over time, is that Verizon cell phone reception keeps getting worse. It’s obviously a saturation issue, since it’s fine early in the morning, then gets worse over the course of the day. My cell phone is basically unusable by noon. It seems like AT&T works better, so now I’ve starting looking into switching carriers. That would be a big step for me; Verizon is the only cell carrier I’ve ever had, going back to when they were Bell Atlantic Mobile.

I’ve successfully made a few changes to long-standing accounts recently. (See previous posts about YouTube TV, my renter’s insurance, and my new Marcus account.) So that’s emboldened me to look at even more stuff, like maybe switching some stuff around with my phone plan. The first thing I’ve decided to do, finally, is to park my old home phone number. Verizon cut the copper in my building several years ago, so I switched to their wireless home phone service. I’ve had no problems with it, but at this point, I’m really not using it. But I still don’t want to give up the home phone number that I’ve had for 30 years.

So I’m moving it to a service called Park My Phone. They have several options for what you can do with your number there. I’m choosing their $6/month call forwarding service, so I can continue to get calls on the number. I initiated that today. It may take a week or three to complete. I’m pretty sure Verizon will put up some stumbling blocks. I did remove one myself, by logging into the Verizon site and unlocking the number, so the transfer won’t be blocked. I’m sure there are other weird little details that might get in the way.

I initially tried moving the number to Google Voice, which wouldn’t have had any monthly fee, just a $20 one-time fee, but that didn’t work. (And, Google being Google, there’s really no one to reach out to for help.)

Once I’ve got the home number off the Verizon account, then I’m going to think about moving the cell number to either AT&T or Consumer Cellular (which uses the AT&T network, I think).

Consumer Cellular actually has a wireless home phone service similar to Verizon’s, so I thought about moving both home and cell lines to them, but I decided it was really time to retire the home phone. It’ll feel weird not having an old-fashioned phone in the apartment, but I guess I’ll get used to it, the same way I’m getting used to a cubicle with no bookshelf and only two drawers for storage.

priorities, part two

OK, a quick follow-up to this morning’s post:

  1. I watched nearly all of the Roland-Garros men’s final. It was fun! Spoiler: Alcaraz won.
  2. I took a break from tennis at 10 AM to walk over to the Somerville farmers market, and bought a bunch of stuff, so that was cool.
  3. And I got myself into the NYCC ticket queue at 10 AM too. When I came back from the farmers market, I was still in the queue. I didn’t get out of the queue until noon. At that point, all ticket types were still available. I briefly considered buying a four-day pass, but then I saw how much it would cost: $250. (And that’s before whatever taxes & fees they add on.) I could afford it, I guess, but since I was on the fence about going at all, the price kinda pushed me over the edge into “nope” territory.
  4. And, at some point, I realized that I also wanted to watch the Phillies/Mets game from London today. That was set to start at 10 AM, and I thought about maybe switching back & forth between tennis and baseball, but honestly the tennis was good enough to keep my attention, so I stuck with that. I thought about watching the baseball game later, from my DVR, but I’ve already seen the headline to this article, so I know the outcome, which makes me a little less enthusiastic about watching it.
  5. And I usually like to make some progress with the Wheel of Time on Sundays, so I should take some time this afternoon and do that. So that’s likely what I’ll be doing for the next hour or two.

So, for anybody, who wanted to know more than anyone needs to know about what I’m doing with my Sunday, you’re all set now.

priorities

I normally try to take it easy on Sundays. I get most of my chores done on Saturday, so I can rest and goof off on Sunday. I don’t usually have much of a plan on Sunday. I realized this morning, though, that I have a few conflicting priorities. They’re all basically leisure priorities, so I’m not complaining, but I thought it might make a fun blog post.

First, there’s the Roland-Garros Men’s final. That’s starting at either 8:30 AM or 9 AM, depending on who you believe. The NBC/Peacock coverage starts at 9 AM. But the Roland-Garros app says it might start at 8:30. I tuned into RG radio a few minutes ago, and they were airing a repeat of a previous match, so that’s no help. I guess I’ll tune into RG radio at 8:30 and see if the match has started.

I resubscribed to Peacock recently, since they had a deal where you could get a one-year sub for $20. I assumed they’d have more coverage of Roland-Garros than airs on NBC, but they really don’t. I guess that’s all just on Tennis Channel.

My second priority is the Somerville farmers market, which runs from 10 AM to 1 PM today. I have a few things I want to get there today. I also know that there’s going to be a tent there collecting donations for the people displaced in last week’s fire, so I want to give them some money too.

My third priority is the NYCC ticket presale, starting at 10 AM today. I’d kind of decided to give up on NYCC entirely last year, after getting COVID right around the same time that NYCC started. I’ve found myself considering it again though.

And finally, the Pathfinder campaign that my brother tried to put together in 2023 fizzled out, but someone else who was going to participate in that has decided to take the bull by the horns and organize a D&D campaign, so I’ve been invited into that. They had a “session zero” last week, which I missed, because the info got sent out on WhatsApp, and, while I was on the chat thread for it, I’d turned off notifications on WhatsApp a long time ago, due to spam. I think they’re probably doing a session today, though I’m not sure. I feel like I should reply to the WhatsApp thread and see if I can get in on it, but since I missed the “zero” session, I’d be a little behind the curve. And since it’s D&D instead of Pathfinder, I’d be dealing with a slightly different set of rules. I’m not sure I have the mental energy to deal with it right now.

So, wow, even typing all of that up tired me out a bit. It probably makes sense to prioritize activities that involve interacting with other humans, since that’s probably better for my mental health than sitting in front of the TV. But I’m not sure I have the mental energy for any of that. I think I’ll turn on NBC at 9 and watch some tennis, then head over to the farmers market at 10 or 11, depending on where we are in the tennis match.

And maybe I’ll click on the NYCC presale link at some point, and get myself in the queue, just for yuks. Maybe it’s better to just stay out of it though.

I started thinking a bit yesterday about the idea of “listening to my body.” I took two naps yesterday, mostly because I just felt like I had to. As I get older, I think I need to pace myself and be more careful about things. I shouldn’t feel guilty if I decide I need a nap, or take a day off, or whatever. I need to think about keeping myself healthy, overall, for the long run, which, at this point in my life, probably requires more napping that it used to. And fewer comic-cons.

disarrayed thoughts

My head has been a bit muddy lately. There’s probably a bunch of reasons for that, but I think a lot of it comes down to lack of sleep, which I think is mostly due to allergies. So this post might be a little dizzy.

First, here’s the latest on the fire. Main St is now open to traffic again, though the sidewalk in front of Mike’s and King Tut is still roped off. I’m guessing that Mike’s isn’t coming back any time soon, if at all. That’s a bummer for me, since I got food from there at least once a week. (And, yes, I know it’s a bigger bummer for the guy who owns Mike’s, and the people who lived above it, and so on…)

And here’s a couple of fire-adjacent topics: First, looking for news on the fire has reminded me of how broken local news coverage is. I’ve gotten info on the fire from a combination of sources: TapInto, Patch, MyCentralJersey, and NJ.com for “regular” news. All of those sources are, shall we say, flawed, though. And I’ve picked up bits and pieces from the Somerville town Instagram and Facebook accounts, and other Somerville-related social media accounts. But it’s hard to piece all that together, and there’s so much cruft to wade through. I guess what I’m saying here is that, if somebody wants to start a good local newspaper or news site, that would be nice.

And the second fire-adjacent topic: My renter’s insurance just came up for renewal. I’ve been with the same company (Liberty Mutual) for all 30 years that I’ve been in this apartment. I’ve never had a problem, but then again, I’ve never had to file a claim. The cost of the policy, 30 years ago, was fine, but it’s crept up, and this year, the renewal price was almost $400. So, for the first time in 30 years, I decided to shop around. It turns out that a Hartford Life policy, with AARP discount, would be about half what I was paying Liberty Mutual. So I called LM to cancel. And, of course, they offered to “rerun my quote” and see if they could get the price down. Well, they did that, and (with no change in coverage) they got the price down to $117. So, the lesson there is: maybe review your insurance more often than once every 30 years.

The fire isn’t stopping the Friday night classic car thing on Main St, but they did cancel the street fair this weekend. (If I had to choose one to cancel, I would have gone with the car thing, but that’s just me. It’s too noisy, and I’m old.)

Oh, and my last, totally unrelated, topic is this: We’re moving out of our temp space at work and back to our old (now remodeled) space. We moved into the temp space in March. We packed up yesterday; the movers should be moving our stuff over the weekend; and we’ll start working in the new space on Tuesday.

I’m not fond of the cubicles in the temp space, but I’m even less excited about the cubicles in the new space. The cubicle walls are a bit higher than the temp space, but not as high as our old cubicles. And the cubicles are smaller, with less desk space and less drawer space. (And no bookshelf.) The desks are sit/stand, with the monitors mounted on arms, so that might be cool. And we’re getting new monitors, so that’s nice. (Assuming they’re better than the old monitors.) I don’t know. I guess I’ll have to give it a shot and see how it all works out. I need to figure out if I can thrive in a more minimalist environment than I’m used to.

Fire follow-up

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, I see that a section of Main St is still closed off. I had to drive around the back way when I got home from work today. Here’s a follow-up article from News 12.

Walking down there, it looks like King Tut and Mike’s Courtside are both in pretty bad shape. I never ate at King Tut, but I got stuff from Mike’s almost every week. Right now, their web site isn’t loading and I haven’t seen anything posted from them on social media. I guess they’re basically gone now. There are apartments above both of those businesses, and it looks like they’re all uninhabitable right now too. So, not good. But things could have been much worse. A lot of the buildings on Main St are basically connected to each other, so it seems like a fire could spread easily. And I haven’t heard about anyone being hurt in the fire, so that’s good.

Work-life balance

From the NYT (2022):
Why Wall Street Is Suddenly Bullish on Work-Life Balance

Some fun quotes in here:

In this second pandemic year, bonuses would reach the highest point “since the Great Recession,” the business press repeatedly exulted, overlooking the incongruities of a system that so reliably converted the hardships of the many into gains for the very few.

And:

In his 1931 essay, “The Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren,” the economist John Maynard Keynes speculated that by 2030 we might have achieved a standard of living high enough that people would work no more than 15 hours a week, devoting themselves to relaxation, culture, enjoyment, “meaning.”

And finally:

But are we perfecting “the art of life itself” in the meantime? It would have been hard to draw that conclusion on Wednesday in Central Park when the German pop artist Niclas Castello displayed his hollow 400-pound gold cube opposite the Naumburg Bandshell, where people in parkas stood in slush to take selfies with it. The gold, worth about $10 million, had been procured by the artist from a Swiss bank after which he paid a fabricator to turn it into a box. His plan is to sell the exercise as an NFT.

Yes, I know this is an old article, but I’m only now getting around to reading it. (As usual, my “read/review” email folder backlog is daunting, and has me in Feb 2022 right now…)

Memorial Day

I have a habit of writing posts on Memorial Day. Here are some past posts: 2023, 2022, 2021, and 2020. This year, the Tour of Somerville prep started at 5 AM, with contractors setting up the metal fencing on Main Street, which of course woke me up. At some point between 5 and 5:30, we had a quick little storm, which dumped a bunch of rain outside. But it stopped by the time I got out of bed, at 5:40. Things are looking OK right now, around 9 AM, but there could be more thunderstorms in the afternoon, which would probably mean that the main race would have to be cancelled.

Coffee & Sleep

I had a lot of trouble sleeping this past week. I think that was mostly due to allergies and the change in weather. (It was very hot most of the week.) I’ve been compensating for that by drinking probably way too much coffee. So, for the weekend, I decided to go cold turkey.

Well, that didn’t last long! I had decaf on Saturday morning, then felt crappy all day. Not all of that was due to caffeine withdrawal, but some of it certainly was. So I had a Coke Zero at some point in the afternoon. And for Sunday and Monday, I’ve decided to have about half my usual weekend morning coffee. I usually have a full Moka pot, which means two scoops of ground coffee and enough water for two mugs full. Which might not sound like a lot, but the Moka pot produces something like espresso strength coffee. So, basically, I’m cutting back from around six shots of espresso to three shots. That’s working out OK. I’ve also cut out afternoon coffee, so I haven’t gotten cold brew from either of my usual coffee spots at all this weekend. And I’m sleeping a little better.

Pain & Finance

I also had some pain in my right hand that had been building through the week. So, in addition to going cold turkey on caffeine, I was going to avoid computer keyboards and mice, to the extent that I could. I really didn’t touch a computer on Saturday. On Sunday, I spent a good bit of time on my PC going through some financial stuff, and today, I’m writing this blog post, but probably won’t do much more. The pain has been gradually going away.

On that financial stuff yesterday: I moved a bit more money over to my new Marcus account, and opened a couple of CDs. So now I have some money making 4.6% in the savings account, a 12-month CD making 5% and an 18-month CD making 4.6% APY. So that should allow me to hedge my bets a little, if rates go up or down over the next year or two. Of course, all of that is pending until the banks open up again tomorrow, so I’ll have to check it again tomorrow or later in the week and make sure everything went where it was supposed to.

TV & Sports

I just hit the three-month mark on my YouTube TV subscription, so I had to make a decision on whether or not I was going to keep it going, past the $10 off promo rate, and into the regular pricing. I almost decided to cancel it, but changed my mind at the last minute.

Right now, I’m watching some coverage of Roland Garros on T2. I’ve found that watching tennis is very relaxing for me. YouTube TV includes T2 in their base package, but not Tennis Channel. I hadn’t really looked into this before, but I guess T2 is basically the overflow channel for Tennis Channel. So the bigger matches are on the main channel, and a bunch of “lesser” matches are on T2. I can get Tennis Channel with the Sports Plus add-on for YouTube TV, which costs an extra $11 per month. But I’m not going to do that. I’m mostly watching tennis as background noise, so it doesn’t matter if I’m watching an “important” match or not. And there’s going to be some Roland-Garros coverage on NBC later today, so I can watch that too. (And if I still had Peacock, they’ve also got Roland-Garros coverage. TV has gotten so confusing and fragmented.)

Kobo & The Wheel of Time

I’m well into Crossroads of Twilight on my Kobo now. I’m finding it to be a little better than the Kindle for most things, but not substantially. So, I really didn’t need the Kobo, but I don’t regret buying it. I want to get back to it and read a couple more chapters today, if I can.

And, with that, I should probably stop writing. My hands are starting to hurt again. (Getting old sucks.)

old man thoughts

I’ve been thinking old man thoughts this week. There are a variety of reasons for this.

First, I was contacted by somebody new at Merrill earlier this month to go over my finances. I had a couple of relatively long phone conversations with him, the end result of which was really to just… do nothing. Basically, my money is where it should be, doing what it should be doing. Looking back at my history, I could probably have done better with some stuff, but it’s too late to change that. At some point in the next few years, I should probably start moving some stuff into less risky investments, but I don’t need to do anything yet.

This was all kind of surprising. Since this new guy at Merrill called me out of the blue, I assumed there was going to be a sales pitch at some point to move me into a more actively managed account, with a management fee, but nope. Overall, it was probably the most casual and least pushy interaction I’ve ever had with a financial professional.

That all got me looking at some other financial stuff, including one oddball account I have, at MetLife, which was set up as a payout for my Dad’s life insurance, back in 2010. This kind of account is basically a sneaky way for life insurance companies to get out of actually paying out on their life insurance policies. Instead of a cash payout, they set up an interest-bearing account which you can write checks against. You can, of course, write yourself a check for the full amount in the account, but they hope you won’t do that. I decided to keep the account, since it was making more interest than my regular checking account. I used it once, in 2012, to buy the car I’m still driving. Other than that, I’ve just let it sit there and accrue interest.

My justification for keeping it was largely as an emergency account, following the general principle that you should have one account that’s at a different institution from your regular bank, just in case something happens with your main account(s). On several occasions, I’ve thought about closing it down and moving the money to a higher interest HYSA. Honestly, I should have done this long ago. Right now, some HYSAs are paying close to 5%, so I finally decided to do it. (The MetLife account was paying a little over 2%.) I was also starting to get fed up with the web interface for the MetLife account, which was always a mess, and a pain to use.

So my goals for a HYSA were to find one that (1) wasn’t associated with BoA or Merrill, (2) had a good reputation and user interface, and (3) had a good interest rate. I settled on Marcus, from Goldman Sachs, via an AARP link that got me a slight bump in the interest rate for the first couple of years. (And the link in that last sentence is an affiliate link, by the way.) I wasn’t 100% sure I should go with Marcus, since there was some talk last year about Goldman getting out of consumer banking. But they still seem to be pushing Marcus, at least via the AARP partnership.

Setting up the Marcus account was pretty easy. I didn’t have to do much to prove who I was. (That might have something to do with the fact that I have an Apple Card, which is managed by Goldman, so they already know who I am.) I couldn’t link the MetLife account to the Marcus account to transfer money out of it, though. Instead, I linked my BoA checking account, then wrote a paper check out of the MetLife account and deposited it to my BoA account. It hasn’t actually cleared yet, of course, but I have enough money in my BoA account that I could transfer some of it into Marcus and get started.

So now I need to wait until after the Memorial Day weekend, see if the check clears, then transfer the rest of the MetLife money from BoA to Marcus. And I then want to see about taking some of the Marcus money and putting it into a CD, since they have CDs paying around 5% right now.

I’ve already set up the Marcus account in Quicken, which is another thing I couldn’t do with the MetLife account, so that’s cool. And I have the iOS app for it installed, though there’s not much point to that.

Of course, now that everything is set up, I’ve realized that Marcus maybe isn’t great as an emergency account, since the only way I can get money out of it is to transfer it to a linked account, and I only have it linked to my BoA account. So if the BoA account got locked or hacked or whatever, I’d have no way to extract money from Marcus. But, hey, we’ll cross that bridge if/when we come to it.

Looking back at some of my old notes, I see that I looked at HYSAs back in 2021, and found that they were only paying around 0.5% interest, which is the same as I was getting from MetLife at the time. So I guess that partially explains why I sat on the MetLife account for so long. When rates were lower, it was making about the same as a HYSA or CD.

So that was all a bunch of long-winded old man financial stuff. I remember, when I was younger, often zoning out whenever my dad started talking about his finances. (At some point, as I got older, I started paying attention, of course, and learned a lot from him.)

My other big “old man thoughts” instigator recently was listening to this episode of .NET Rocks, with Shawn Wildermuth, talking about being a senior software developer. Shawn is 55, so he’s around my age (as are Carl and Richard, I think). All three of those guys are self-employed, though, so their issues are a little different from mine. But there’s still the challenge of being an older guy doing software development, trying to keep current and stay interested, being an “individual contributor” later in your career vs. going into management, and other interesting stuff.

Along those lines, I tried to keep up with the stuff coming out of Microsoft Build this week, but it was a lot. It’s kind of funny how they’re talking about all this cutting-edge stuff, and I’m still working on stuff in our Dynamics AX 2012 system, on my Windows Server 2012 R2 VM. And also working on ASP.NET web services using .NET Framework 4.7, from 2018. Oh well, at least I’m using Visual Studio 2022 for that (though it’s on a Windows 10 VM). Someday, I’ll work on something in .NET 8, on a Windows 11 PC, but that probably won’t be until I’m 64.

And my last old man thought for the day, since this thing has gotten way too long: At work, we got to see our remodeled space yesterday. (I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it on the blog before, but our company is in the process of remodeling everything in our building. My group is currently in a temporary space while our regular space is remodeled.) Our old space wasn’t great, but the cubicles were reasonably large, with fairly high walls on three sides. The new cubicles are… not great. There’s a single sit/stand desk, with a surface that seems to be around 3′ wide by 2′ deep, with two arms to mount monitors on. And there’s a two-drawer rolling file cabinet under it. The cubicle walls are a little higher than the ones in our temp area, but nowhere near as high as our old cubes. Around 4 feet high, I think? Also: I’m not sure there are any regular Ethernet ports in the cubicles. There are a couple of AC outlets, and what I assume is a USB power outlet, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a network port. I’m not sure if that means that they’re hoping we can get by with just wifi, or if I missed something.

Anyway, I’m thinking about all the adjustments I’m going to have to make. The old cubicles had L-shaped desks, with three drawers on either side, for six total, plus a bookcase above the desk. Now, I’ll just have two drawers. And about half the desk space I had previously. (Or maybe a third? It’s a lot less either way.) Over the years, I’ve cut down on the amount of physical crap I keep at my desk, but I’m still wired to want/need more stuff than the younger folks typically do. I had around a dozen tech books at my old cubicle; they’re all in a box in the back seat of my car now. I’d assumed I’m be able to keep them at my new cubicle, but it doesn’t look like there will be room. I guess they’re getting recycled. I’ve noticed that some of the younger guys in our group have literally nothing on their desks, aside from their laptops and monitors. I need to figure out how to work that way.

Kobo, Pocket, Instapaper, and some Wheel of Time thoughts

I finished reading Winter’s Heart yesterday, the ninth Wheel of Time book. I do want to start the next one, Crossroads of Twilight, soon, but before I do, I want to catch up with the last couple of episodes of The Wheel Weaves podcast. A lot happens in the last few chapters of Winter’s Heart, and I feel like I need someone to walk me through it so I can understand it a bit better.

I haven’t been actively reading Sylas K Barrett’s “Reading The Wheel of Time” series over at reactor.com, but I noticed that I’m now further along in the series than him, since his latest article is on chapter 25 of Winter’s Heart. The Wheel Weaves, on the other hand, is currently on book 12, so I have a while to go before I catch up with them.

Anyway, I thought I’d take a break from book-reading today and experiment with reading some short fiction and newspaper/magazine articles on my Kobo, via Pocket. Overall, I think I’ve decided that I like the experience of using Pocket on Kobo, but there are a few caveats.

I started this process by taking a couple of New York Times articles, saving them to Pocket, then reading them on the Kobo. That worked out fine. Then, I thought I’d see if I could take a few things I’d saved in Instapaper and read those in Pocket. The first thing I discovered is that Pocket seems to have two modes of saving articles: for some articles, it saves a readable view of the article in Pocket, and for others, it just saves a bookmark. For the latter type, those don’t sync down to the Kobo. Pocket calls these two modes “article view” and “view original” apparently.

One idea that I had for saving Instapaper articles to Pocket was to just hit the Pocket button on the webpage for Instapaper’s readable version of the article. But that just triggered the bookmarking mode for Pocket, and didn’t save the readable version. So that was useless. And I found that, for a few things I’d saved in Instapaper, either the original article had disappeared from the web, or the original article could also not be saved to Pocket except as a bookmark. That was an interesting experiment, and I think it convinced me that Instapaper is still superior to Pocket as a general read-it-later service, since I don’t think I’ve ever found anything that Instapaper refused to save to its own database. Pocket definitely works for the New York Times and the New Yorker, but it’s only about 50/50 on other pages I’ve tried.

So, anyway, having saved a few things to Pocket, I did some reading on the Kobo. I found that the experience was pretty good, with a few caveats. The biggest issue is that I realized that you can’t highlight Pocket articles on the Kobo. That’s maybe not a big thing really, but it is something I’d like to be able to do.

It’s occurred to me that, for longer articles, I could save the Instapaper version to an .epub file, then transfer that over to the Kobo via Calibre (or Google Drive). There’s a point where I’m jumping through too many hoops just to read a short story though. I may spend some more time messing around, but not right now.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about using the Kobo to read the next WoT book. I’ve already copied it from my Amazon account, into Calibre, then over to Kobo. (The WoT books are sold without DRM, so I don’t need Calibre to remove DRM, just to convert them to EPUB.) On Kobo, I’d lose the X-Ray feature that the Kindle has, which sometimes comes in useful with WoT, given the large cast of characters. But X-Ray is often useless, and I’ve taken to looking up characters in the WoT Compendium app on my phone instead.

I’m not sure if I spent more time today actually reading, vs. playing around with Instapaper, Pocket, Calibre, etc., but I did have a relatively pleasant morning, so I guess that’s good either way.