work from home, week two, done

I’m not sure I should really be writing a blog post right now, but I think maybe it’ll help me sort some stuff out. I haven’t been sleeping well, so it might not be super-coherent. Bear with me. (Or feel free to bail out. No one really needs to read my ramblings.)

I’ve now been working from home for two weeks, and it looks like my group will continue doing that for the foreseeable future. I think that our management has accepted this as the new normal this past week, since they’ve now deactivated our access cards for the building and told us that if we need anything from our desks that we need to get manager approval first, then the item can be picked up at the loading dock. And that we should only do this for critical items like medication or glasses. So my plan of going in at some point and picking up my granola bars, tissues, and hand sanitizer is now out of the question. Oh well. It’s amazing how fast we went from “you can maybe work from home, I guess” to “you can’t enter the building even if you want to.”

I’ve got things set up now so that I can be reasonably productive from home. But, honestly, not nearly as productive as I can be in the office. I really only have room here for a single-monitor setup, and I’m used to working in a multiple-monitor setup. And the office chair that I have at home is OK for occasional use, but not really great for a full eight-hour work day. I’m wondering if it’s worth blowing $1300 on an Aeron chair for home use. That’s what we have in the office (though I’m not sure of the exact model we use). Or maybe I should figure out some way to use a standing desk at home. The limited amount of space I have here makes it hard to do much. Anyway, I’ll probably muddle through, by taking a lot of little breaks to stretch and walk around a little.

I’ve continued to do all of my grocery shopping at the local ShopRite, in person. I’d love to switch to delivery or pick-up, but all of the local options for delivery or pick-up are constantly booked solid. I’ve tried Instacart, ShopRite, Whole Foods, Target, and Walmart, and they’re all, always, booked up. I’ve heard that the way to get a slot is to go online right after midnight, when a new day opens up on the schedule, and grab a slot right away. I’m not sure I’m desperate enough to try that yet. (And maybe I should leave that option for people who actually need grocery delivery, as opposed to people like me who are just lazy and/or scared.) In theory, all of these services are trying to ramp up, but it’s definitely not going smoothly. I see that Instacart workers are planning to strike on Monday. I can’t blame them. If nothing else good comes out of this thing, maybe at least we can get better working conditions for “gig workers” like these folks. (Not that I’m optimistic about that, but you never know.)

In terms of living with the solitude of “social distancing,” I’ve found two recent articles helpful. One by Scott Kelly, who spent a year in space, and one by Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned in Iran for almost two years.

I’ve been bookmarking articles about the mental health aspect of all this, though I’ll admit I haven’t been reading all of them. (And I probably shouldn’t be reading all of them. Obsessively reading/watching news about COVID-19 is one of the things to avoid, according to the experts.) Anyway, here’s an article on 10 Ways to Ease Your Coronavirus Anxiety from the NY Times. (Yes, even the NYT succumbs to publishing listicles occasionally.) And from the HBR: That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief.

On the lighter side, if there is one, it seems that Americans Coping With the Coronavirus Are Clogging Toilets. People: do not flush paper towels or disinfectant wipes!

And, for anyone looking for distraction, here’s Brian Michael Bendis’ Stuck at Home Comic Book Reading List. There’s some good stuff on his list, though some of it is maybe a little too heavy for me right now. Speaking of comics, it’s looking like COVID-19 is going to do a lot of damage to the comic book industry. I know that this shouldn’t be the first thing on most people’s mind right now, but it is troubling for long-time fans like me (and of course more so for people who make their living in the industry). Diamond has halted new comics shipments into their warehouses. And a lot of shops are going to be in some trouble if they can’t keep selling regular monthly comics every Wednesday, as usual. I’m still ordering my books from Westfield Comics, and they’re still going, for now. Their statement about COVID-19 can be found here. I’d been thinking about dropping my monthly books at some point this year, but now it feels like I should keep buying them, just to help out.


work from home, week one, done

I’ve got a lot going on in my head. (I’m sure I’m not alone in that.) I keep reminding myself that I’m way better off than most people, right about now. My job is (fairly) stable, and I can work from home effectively. I live alone, and don’t really have anyone depending on me, so I can stay home and isolate myself, for the most part. I have a grocery store a short walk from my apartment. I don’t have any ongoing medical conditions that require management or treatment right now. Still, this thing is pretty scary.

It looks like working from home and social distancing will be the “new normal” for some time now. I’m very worried about this, for a variety of reasons, but there’s not much I can do, aside from doing my part, being responsible, and being kind.

I thought I’d post a few links today, broken down into three categories. First, links about working from home:

  • How to pair Apple AirPods with your Windows 10 PC — My USB headset is still on my desk at work, so I’ve been using my AirPods for conference calls. They’re working pretty well. I wasn’t sure if they’d play nice with Windows, but they’ve worked fine.
  • Scott Hanselman blogs and tweets about working remotely a lot. Here’s a recent blog post. (It’s from back in February, before things got quite as crazy as they are now, but it’s still relevant.)
  • And here’s a post from Eric Lippert about his work from home setup.

Next, distractions:

  • I’ve been watching a lot of Joe Pera Talks With You lately. It’s a pretty funny show, and it’s also pretty quiet and slow, which is nice at a time like this. The episode Joe Pera Takes You to the Grocery Store is a good one, and particularly funny now, given the current situation. I’m not sure I’m ever going to see a grocery store that looks that calm and organized ever again. (I mean, I guess I will eventually, but it doesn’t seem likely any time soon.) Joe’s grocery list from the episode is online too.
  • Bandcamp did a thing on Friday where they waived their cut for all sales on that day. I’d meant to go online after work and buy a few albums, but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. Buying a few albums from Bandcamp is still on my to-do list for this month, but I keep getting distracted.
  • Yo-Yo Ma started a #SongsOfComfort hashtag going and posted a nice video on YouTube, of a little Dvořák piece. I found a couple of other nice things under that hashtag. I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music this week, generally from WQXR and BBC Radio 3. It’s nice background while I’m working, and calms me down a bit.
  • Disney released Onward digitally yesterday, after only a few weeks in the theaters. I went ahead and bought it, and I’ll likely watch it tonight. I also bought Rise of Skywalker yesterday. I saw it in a theater when it came out, and I’m not in much of a rush to see it again, but it’ll be another nice distraction, so maybe I’ll watch it tomorrow.

And, third… I had some idea for a third set of links, but it’s gone now. I guess I’m too tired. Saturday morning is generally busy for me, but not stressful. I just do my laundry and grocery shopping. But today, both of those things were pretty stressful. Our laundry room isn’t cleaned that often, and gets a lot of use, so I was being really careful about what I touched while I was down there, and washing my hands every time I came back upstairs. And of course the grocery shopping was stressful, dealing with the crowd and the spotty product availability. I had wanted to relax after I was done, and I did for a bit, but then came Gov. Murphy’s press conference. He honestly didn’t say anything I wasn’t expecting him to say, but for some reason, the lead up to it made me nervous, and then I felt I had to sit through all of it, to make sure I was fully informed.

Anyway, there’s no reason I can’t relax for the rest of the day. I have clean clothes and a reasonably full pantry for the coming week. I’ve checked in with friends. I’ve cleaned the apartment. I think I’m done for now.

working from home, day two

I’m working from home this week, as are most (all?) of the other folks in my group. I’m a little unclear as to how many people are actually going into the office this week, overall. I’m not really part of any office cliques, so I don’t hear much chatter. Reading between the lines, I’d guess that more than half the people who’d normally work in the NJ offices are working from home. Our Austin, TX office is closed entirely, due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 (from a visitor to the office). So that’s a lot of people working from home. Here’s SHI’s public statement on our COVID-19 response.

I was expecting the VPN to get really bogged down, but surprisingly, it’s been holding up really well. Apparently, we had the foresight to add a lot of extra capacity to it recently. And, also surprisingly, my cable internet connection has been great too. I kind of expected that to bog down, between all the folks around here who are working from home, plus the people who aren’t going out as much, and are watching a lot more Netflix than usual.

I’ve been collecting a few interesting and/or useful links. Here are a few:

  • The Somerset County Library System’s Be Safe At Home page. They’ve got links to all of their digital resources here. I already knew about most of these, and use a few (Overdrive, Lynda, and Flipster), but there are a couple of news ones that I wasn’t aware of. I may try BrainHQ, if I get bored at some point during this thing. The physical libraries are of course closed through to at least the end of March.
  • The Internet Archive sent out an email with some COVID-19 related tips and ideas. I can’t find a link for the newsletter itself, but it links to this blog post, which is pretty good.
  • SMBC has made some books free to download, in PDF format. You can find them here. I already own most of them, but there were two there that I didn’t already have. (Not that these books have anything to do with COVID-19, but if you’re looking for some laughs, SMBC is pretty funny.)
  • Adam Engst’s TidBITS post Thoughts and Recommendations Surrounding COVID-19 is a pretty good read.
  • Take Control has released a free ebook on Working from Home Temporarily. I haven’t read it, but it might be useful.
  • I’ve always been careful about what I use to clean my iPhone, iPad, and other computing devices. I’m always afraid that I’ll use the wrong thing and mess up the screen. Apparently, it’s fine to use disinfectant wipes on Apple products, at least, so I’ve been getting a bit more aggressive about how I wipe down my devices.
  • Ars Technica has been updating their Coronavirus guide regularly.
  • MIT Technology Review has some good coverage of COVID-19, and they’ve made it available for free. (I think they usually have a paywall of some sort.) The article We’re not going back to normal is a little scary, but interesting.
  • Finally, here’s Alton Brown’s handwashing tutorial. It’s pretty informative, and kind of funny.

Oof. I had a bunch of other thoughts that I wanted to write up here, but I’m kind of exhausted now. My work day is over, I’ve eaten dinner, and maybe it’s time to put the computer down and watch some dumb TV.

today’s Coronavirus post

OK, I know I’ve been posting too much about this lately. I promise that this post will only be Coronavirus-adjacent, and not Coronavirus-centered.

First: one silver lining in this grey cloud is that I probably don’t have to worry about Real ID this year, since it’s now highly unlikely I’ll be traveling by plane any time soon. The Somerville DMV has been clogged lately, presumably due to demand for Real ID licenses, and they’ve been thinking about shutting it down on Saturdays, just because the parking situation has gotten so bad. (It seems to me like maybe having it open more often would be a better solution, but what do I know…) Also, NJMVC is granting automatic two-month extensions on all driver’s licenses expiring over the next few months, so if you’re worried about going to the DMV right now, you can put it off for a month or two, at least. (I’m only really posting about this to have an excuse to point out that someone either at Patch or NJMVC has created a dummy NJ license for “Renee Montoya,” living at “321 Gotham Avenue” in Trenton. As a big Renee Montoya fan [preferably, the original B:TAS version], I approve.)

Second item: I’ve been wondering what’s appropriate to do to help other people through this. Is it better to patronize small (or large) businesses right now, or should I just stay home? I got an eggplant parm from my local pizzeria last night, and it was pretty empty in there when I went to pick it up. I usually just buy two slices when I go in there, and I’ve definitely decided to put a moratorium on buying slices for now. Those things can sit out there on the counter for hours, and god only knows what gets on them. Right now, I’m trying to decide if I should go out and get a sub for lunch, or just stay in and make myself a sandwich. I like the guy who runs the local sub shop that I go to, and I don’t want him to suffer, but I also don’t know how clean he’s keeping things in there. I know that the cancellation of the St. Patrick’s parade is going to hurt some downtown bars and restaurants. And I see that they’re allowing free parking in the town lots for the next month, so maybe that’ll help.

And I worry about how much this thing is going to hurt independent musicians, artists, and cultural institutions. I’m not worried about the “big boys.” Apple and Disney will be fine. But I am a little worried about small-time musicians who make most of their money touring (since they get so little from streaming music), and maybe some independent comics creators who rely on convention sales to make some money and find new fans. So maybe I should pick up a couple of things from Bandcamp this weekend (maybe this, for instance), and maybe look into the #ECCCOnline thing (see here and here) and buy some comics.

Third item: I swear I’m not panic-buying anything, but I did pick up an eight-pack of bamboo toilet paper today, since it was the only kind of toilet paper they had left, and, OK, I guess maybe I panicked a little about the possibility that the whole “paper products situation” might not return to normal until after I’d exhausted the eight rolls I have in my pantry. So now I get to find out what bamboo toilet paper feels like.

one more Coronavirus post

OK, I should stop now, but here’s one more Coronavirus-related post. I took the day off from work today. I had a doctor’s appointment in the morning, and had originally planned on maybe doing something fun with the rest of the day. Well, obviously, that plan got scuttled.

For the record, the doctor was an ENT guy, and I was just getting my hearing checked out. Nothing surprising came out of that: I’ve got some hearing loss in my left ear, but not enough to warrant a hearing aid. He told me to stay away from loud heavy metal concerts and get my hearing checked every year from now on.

After the doctor’s appointment, I went to ShopRite to see if I could get some grocery shopping done. It was, shall we say, a madhouse. It was very busy, and people were buying a lot of stuff, but I managed to get pretty much everything I needed. They’re still out of hand sanitizer, and now also nearly out of liquid soap. There was plenty of regular bar soap. The shelves where they keep the toilet paper were empty, but they had a pallet of 20-packs of Scott TP out. Luckily, I don’t actually need toilet paper or hand sanitizer right now. If they’d had six-packs of TP, I would have bought one, just to be safe, but I really don’t need a 20-pack.

My employer issued some more Coronavirus guidance, but they’re still not requiring or encouraging anyone to work from home. So I guess I’m going in to the office on Monday. We’ll see how that plays out.

Meanwhile, I see that both WonderCon and Tribeca Film Festival are canceled. (Technically, they’re both postponed, but  rescheduling either of them would be difficult, if not impossible.) I went to WonderCon last year, and was seriously considering going to it this year. Then, when that started looking like a possibly bad idea, I started looking into going to a few movies during TFF as a lower-risk mini-vacation. But I guess they’re both off the table.

Once I got the doctor’s appointment and the shopping done today, I spent most of the day reading Batman comics and listening to WQXR. That was a good break from both work and my Coronavirus anxiety. I even worked in a nap and a walk. So I guess the day wasn’t a total loss.

[EDIT: Ten minutes after I posted this, I got a memo saying that we’re allowed to work from home next week. Yay!]

More Coronavirus News

OK, this is my third post on Coronavirus and related topics. The last one was a full week ago though, so I’m not overdoing it. Lots of stuff has been going on this week. Lots of stuff has been canceled, people are hoarding toilet paper, and the stock market has tanked. You don’t need me to tell you any of these things, so feel free to skip this post if you’re tired of reading about Coronavirus. This post is more for my own sake than anyone else’s. I think that, maybe, if I write up my thoughts, it’ll help me process the barrage of news.

So, let’s see, where to start… Maybe with the “barrage of news” issue. Here’s an SMBC comic from today that addresses the issue of driving yourself nuts by spending too much time checking the news on your phone, instead of just getting on with your life. I am very guilty of this. I’ve had trouble concentrating at work the last few days, to be honest. And I’ve been having trouble sleeping this week. The sleep trouble isn’t all Coronavirus. It’s maybe equal parts Coronavirus, the DST change, and the recent change in weather. I’ve taken melatonin a few times this week, in the hopes that it would help with the time shift, and I think it does help me fall asleep, but it doesn’t help me stay asleep. I’m hoping I can get a bit more stable next week.

I’ve been keeping an eye on what’s canceled or closed, and what’s not. At this point, it looks like pretty much everything that involves 200+ people gathering together in the same place is going to be canceled/closed. Classes have been canceled at most NJ colleges, including Rutgers and NJIT. My old college, RPI, has canceled classes. Most stuff in NYC is going to be shut down, since they just banned gatherings of more than 500 people.

Locally, the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade has been canceled. (I’m surprised at how long it took them to decide to cancel it.) Somerset County has a page set up with local information on Coronavirus. has had some useful coverage; here’s today’s update. I see that there’s a case in Bridgewater.

For general information, is kind of useful, though a little scary. The Ars Technica guide is pretty good. There’s plenty of other good resources out there too. (But it’s easy to fall down a hole reading too many of them…)

A lot of tech companies have pretty much told everyone to work from home, if possible. My company still hasn’t closed any offices or warehouses, though, and they’re generally encouraging people to come into the office as usual. (They did just announce today that, if you have kids and their school is closed, and you need to take care of them, you can work from home.)  I have a feeling things may evolve next week, and a large portion of our staff may be working from home. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, people are panic-buying toilet paper and hand sanitizer. I guess I should hold off on any visits to Costco any time soon. I’m actually a little worried about how far the panic buying has gone. I think I have enough of everything to get through a couple of weeks of being holed up in my apartment, but it might be a little rough. I’m in a small apartment, and I don’t generally don’t buy stuff in bulk. I’m hoping I can do my usual shopping this weekend without too much hassle, and maybe pick up a few extra items to help me get through, if I can’t shop next weekend. Just in case. (But I’m not going to buy 100 rolls of toilet paper. Even if I could.)

And, finally, there’s this week’s stock market meltdown. Today was the worst day for the market since 1987. I’ve been keeping an eye on my accounts, and… wow. Things are looking bad. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not retiring any time soon, so there’s plenty of time for the market to bounce back.

Well, I’d hoped that getting all of this stuff out onto the blog might help me clear my head. But nope. I’m still pretty stressed. Maybe I can decompress with some comics or a funny podcast or something.

Coronavirus News

I have to admit that I’ve been following the coronavirus news a bit more closely than is probably good for me. Some of it is amusing though. And I’ve got a condition that makes me more likely to catch something like this than most people, so I need to be careful. There haven’t been too many cases here in NJ yet, but it looks like NYC is starting to see more. I’d like to get into NYC and do some stuff this month, now that the weather is getting a little nicer, but I’m not sure it’s worth the risk right now.

On the lighter side, this article about how the rich are preparing for and dealing with coronavirus is amusing. (And a little annoying, of course, though at this point my capacity for outrage about the excesses of the 1% is pretty much exhausted.)

In the “news you can use” category, here’s an article about how to stop touching your face. I will admit that I cannot stop touching my face. I think I may have to start wearing a cone of shame to work. Or maybe a nice welding helmet?

And looking at this from a higher level, here’s something from Bill Gates, and something from Think Global Health. I don’t have much to say about either of these articles, but they’re interesting.