Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Lots of kitchens

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Today I had multiple meetings with people in multiple time zones. Some of the people I met with were in NY, others in California, one or two in Seattle, and a few more sprinkled lightly across the U.S.

In pretty much every case, behind my colleague was a kitchen — except in one case where the colleague was just outside a kitchen. But kitchens were definitely the reigning motif.

The big exception to this were students. In nearly every case, students were in bedrooms.

Based on the available evidence, there is a definite pattern: When you work from home, you work in the kitchen. When you study from home, you study in the bedroom.

I really have no idea what this means. What I do know is that I am getting to see lots of kitchens.

Social distancing

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

I know that it’s a very apt term for a very useful practice. Responsible people are doing it everywhere, and lives are being saved as a result.

And yet, there’s something about the term “social distancing” that keeps nagging at me. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me.

Somehow the phrase reminds me of the term “conscious uncoupling”. Am I the only one?

Tugging on my ear

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

I just heard from an old friend who lives in another part of the world. Needless to say, many old friends are contacting each other in this very difficult time, just to check in and see if things are ok.

In this case, my friend explicitly mentioned reading my blog posts every day and thereby knowing that I am alright. I hadn’t really thought of this blog that way, but now I shall.

In a way, a daily blog is a way of signaling “I’m ok” to the people you know in the world. In a way it’s the modern version of tugging on your ear at the end of the TV show, just to say hi to grandma.

So here I am, tugging on my ear again. And wishing good health and safety to all the grandmas (and grandpas) out there.

Political calculation

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

The President says we should get back to work
This outbreak is boring he thinks
He just doesn’t care if we think he’s a jerk
To him this whole crisis thing stinks

The experts all tell us that millions could die
But that isn’t floating Trump’s boat
It’s all too much bother, and why should he try?
The man knows the dead cannot vote

New tools for a new era

Monday, March 23rd, 2020

After all of this is over, I suspect we will not be going back to the same world of work. A new and more sophisticated generation of digital tools for remote collaborative work will be developed, and people will start to widely adopt them.

We may very well be entering into a new era in which telecommuting will become more the norm than the exception. That may end up being a very good thing, both for us and for our planet.

Zoom wedding

Sunday, March 22nd, 2020

Today I attended a traditional Jewish wedding via Zoom. It was originally supposed to be a large gathering, but that plan was scuttled for obvious reasons.

So instead they gathered just the immediate family, and the rest of us joined via Zoom. It all went very well.

It turns out that the very same tools that make Zoom good for business meetings and academic lectures also work beautifully for social gatherings. Those of us who were remote guests could clearly see who else was “attending”.

In addition, the chat feature provided a lovely running commentary on the ongoing proceedings. My favorite moment was when the Rabbi’s spiel went on a little too long, and various people on the chat channel chimed in to tell the cameraman to just forget about him and point the camera toward the bride and groom. Which he did.

After today’s experience, I am feeling more positive about remote social gatherings. Folks, I think we’re on to something here.


Saturday, March 21st, 2020

Generally speaking, we don’t expect most meetings to be recorded. So for better or worse, what we say in a meeting does not become part of the permanent record.

Yet we have discovered that remote meetings follow different rules. Not everyone has access to a high quality internet connection. And some of our colleagues (or in my case, my students) may currently find themselves in a very different time zone.

Which means that, as a practical matter, we end up recording our remotely held meetings. And that means that there will be a permanent record of what we say in our meetings, whether we like it or not.

I wonder whether this will start to change the etiquette of what is said in a meeting, and how it is said. I also wonder whether that change will be a net positive or will be something that we will all come to regret.

I guess we will find out.

Putting limits around the virtual work world

Friday, March 20th, 2020

All meetings have gone virtual. So now we can meet anytime we want. Yay.

But doesn’t that create a problem? If everyone knows that you can meet at any time, then they expect you to meet at any time.

Which means we need to develop a new set of skills: Putting strict limits around the new virtual work world.

I have started instituting some strict rules. There are clear times of the week when I don’t spend any time on line doing work. Those parts of the week are strictly reserved for personal time.

I am also going to encourage the people I work with to do the same. I think it’s the only real way that this brave new world is going to work, without all of us ending up being driven totally crazy.

Virtual shopping cart

Thursday, March 19th, 2020

We’re not supposed to be less than six feet away from each other. This week as I was going through Costco stocking up on stuff (like everyone else) I realized that everyone was doing the same.

Of course that fact that we were all pushing those big shopping carts helped a lot. You can’t really get too close to somebody when you’re behind one of those things.

I wonder, if this outbreak lasts much longer, whether the “six foot rule” will start getting integrated into wearables. Perhaps the first generation of Apple Glasses will warn you if somebody else comes within six feet of your personal space.

Presumably there will be exceptions for family, and facial recognition will be used by your wearable to make that distinction. After all, there’s no point in keeping a distance between yourself and the folks you live with.

Maybe, to make all this easier, our wearables will generate a virtual shopping cart in front of us, right smack in the center of our field of view. An interface that mimics the one we all have in Costco might help to remind us that we all need to keep strangers at a safe distance.

I guess that would give a whole new meaning to the phrase “virtual shopping cart”.

Working without pants

Wednesday, March 18th, 2020

Of course all of my work meetings now are over Skype or Zoom or some other equivalent. That’s true of my colleagues as well.

When you show up on that screen, you still want to look presentable. You think about the background behind you, and you don’t want to look like you’ve just rolled out of bed.

But unlike meetings at the office, you might very well have just rolled out of bed. Maybe you rolled out of bed just for this one meeting. And maybe right after this meeting you will roll right back into bed.

So sometimes I find myself focusing on a dress code just from the waist up. After all, nobody has any idea what I am wearing from the waist down.

And sometimes I go to a meeting without bothering to put on a pair of pants. I suspect a lot of my colleagues are doing the same.

These are weird and scary times, and we take our little compensations where we can. In the immortal words of Kris Kristofferson, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And hey, think about it. After you’ve lost your pants, what do you really have left to lose?