Category Archives: General Thoughts

We Can’t Do This Alone

(NOTE: This is being written during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically during the “Stay at Home” directive in Michigan.)

My Lungs Suck. Barely.

This week, the CDC announced that it is recommended to wear cloth masks while out in public. A friend of mine kindly made and delivered really cool masks for Donna and me to wear when we go out for walks. You’d think this post was going to be about how my friend Dennis making us masks is how we can work together to get through this. And while that’s true, that’s not what I’m writing about.

Donna and I have been in quarantine for a little over 2 weeks now. It’s because I have health issues that put me at high risk for complications if I get the virus. Today, my health issues really just kicked me in the pants. See, about 3 minutes into our walk, I was reminded just how weak my lungs are. Even with the thin, cloth mask — my lungs were overwhelmed. I had trouble catching my breath, I started wheezing, and my chest started hurting.

Had I not experienced this before, it would have been terrifying. But sadly, I was just reminded that I have never been able to wear masks. When we emptied the hay out of our barn a couple years back, I tried to wear an N95 mask (I also have allergies, hay dust is a monster), and I couldn’t even wear it when riding the tractor. My lungs are just too weak. In fact, even after those couple minutes yesterday, my lungs are still angry today. I just can’t wear a mask.

And that’s the point of this post. Wearing a mask is only a recommendation at this point. I was planning to wear one whenever I go out for a walk, to set a good example. But I can’t. If you can wear a mask, it would be a kindness to people like me. Not even because you might be infected and not know it (you could be), but because wearing a mask is an outward sign that you care about others. Others like me.

I feel bad that I can’t wear a mask. I apologize for the appearance I show of not caring, or not taking the CDC recommendations seriously. But if we all do what we can, we can put the humanity into our society. Be safe. Wash your hands. <3

Isolation Funk

Why are you still at my house? GO AWAY, HUMAN!

I work from home every day. This new COVID-19 stuff shouldn’t be all that different for me. But boy howdy is it ever. Part of it is because I’m in strict quarantine. I’m not going to the store, I’m not meeting anyone at the door, and I’m not even going through drive-thru anything. I’m staying in the house, and going for walks with my wife. That’s literally it.

I’m also a hard-core introvert. I *like* to be alone. But it’s different when you’re alone because you can’t be around other people. There’s something comforting about knowing you COULD go to the coffee shop and sit near human beings if you wanted to. Isolation is oddly painful. Thankfully I have my wife with me, but it’s difficult on her, because while I’m at least partially prepared for solidarity, she’s a social person who actually likes people.

My plan has been to livestream often, upload videos to stay connected with the world, and hopefully help others out of their own funk by sharing our funkiness online. But as the days go on, not only haven’t I had the energy to reach out to the world, I’ve found myself less and less willing and capable to converse even textually. UGH.

I’m doing my best to get past the funk. I’ll even try to post/upload/stream more human stuff as soon as I can muster the strength. I think today I’m going to wire a few new birdcams to get some much-needed nature into my life. I’ll share with everyone, especially once the feeders are live.

Stay strong, everyone. We’re still all in this together, even if we’re apart. Keep eating. Keep showering. Keep shaving (legs or face, or both if you’re into that). And if you’re someone who posts positive things online, keep posting. If you’re someone who follows people who can’t help but post online (ahem, sorry), keep following and commenting.

And of course, wash your hands. 🙂

This is Not Normal Telecommuting

Flamethrowers are standard issue for telecommuters…

Those of us who are work-from-home-introverts can be found online joking about how we’ve been preparing for this Coronavirus thing for our entire lives. And yes, I suspect the transition to working from home will be easier on introverts, and will be almost no change for existing telecommuters. That said, working from home this past week was not normal. Even for those of us who normally work from home.

Some things you might be feeling are normal when starting to work from home:

  • Feeling like you’re not really working because you’re sitting at the same table where you just ate Lucky Charms with your kids
  • Worried that your coworkers think you’re slacking off
  • Mortified at the thought of your kids and/or animals interrupting a meeting
  • Being distracted by being home
  • Feeling alone, so alone, so lonely
  • Having a profound fear that you’re actually a senile old person who is being humored by caregivers into thinking you’re actually doing a job when you’re really just sitting at a table in an old folks home typing on an Etch-a-Sketch and video conferencing at an old photograph of a team building event you attended back in 1982
  • Ok, that last one was just me. Sorry if I’ve introduced that into your own psychosis

Some things, however, are NOT part of the normal transition into telecommuting:

Difficulty Focusing

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to get distracted when you work from home. The distractions can be anything from falling into a YouTube hole, to overthinking your interaction with a coworker that seemed like maybe it was tense but you can’t tell because you’re not there to read their body language. Working from home during the Coronavirus is different though.

  • You probably don’t have an established location to work. When you telecommute regularly, you have a work space, even if it is something you set up and tear down every day. After a couple days, you’ll get better at “being at work”.
  • Your kids are probably home with you. This is HUGE. Normally when you work from home, you don’t have your kids with you. During this time of social separation, your kids and possibly spouse are just THERE all the time. That’s not normal, and it’s affecting my productivity as well. And I have a separate office in a remote part of the house.
  • Your company is not prepared to have their entire workforce work from home. As someone who is particularly vulnerable to this virus, I’m grateful and quite honestly proud of companies who are allowing people to work from home. But it’s a sudden adjustment with no time to prep. It will NOT be smooth. It WILL affect productivity. At first, productivity will go down. (That said, I think telecommuting in general is underutilized, and it can help productivity — but this is a special circumstance)
  • YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT COVID-19 ALL THE TIME. And of course you are. So am I. It’s changing the way we live our daily lives. You’re reading this from your kitchen table for Pete’s sake. Our world has been turned bonker-town nutsy-whack. When you’re thinking about if your kid’s cough means he infected Grandma last week, or if you have enough food and toilet paper to stay indoors for a few weeks — it’s going to affect your productivity. Even if you were still in the office. In fact, if you were in the office, and not safe at home, your productivity would probably be even LOWER than it is now.

So basically, welcome to the world of telecommuting. Also, this is not the world of telecommuting. You’re getting a crappy, dystopian version of working from home. When this current emergency is behind us, there might be some changes to how we think about work. There may be opportunities for more employees to transition to telecommuting. Know that while it is a strange adjustment, the weird version you’re experiencing now is not normal. But that’s OK. We’re all in this together, even though we have to be apart. Thank goodness for technology. Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook if you want some social interaction. I’ll even be livestreaming a lot more, just to have a place to spend time together.

Finding the Joy in 2019

Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.
Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.

This won’t be a long, navel-gazing post about all the wisdom I’ve gathered over the past year. Rather, a quick list of things that stuck out to me. And honestly, it’ll probably largely be from the past couple months, because a year is a long time to remember. And I didn’t take notes. 🙂

  • Happiness is a funny thing. I realized this year that, for me at least, happiness isn’t the result of things done well. Rather, happiness tends to cause things to go well. If I focus first on being happy, content, and having fun — those things like work, family, and hobbies tend to be more successful. And how does one focus on being happy? Oddly enough, choosing to be happy.
  • Facebook isn’t a good source for news. But (un?)fortunately it’s a really good place to find out about people in your life. If you want to see who a person really is, look at what they post/share/like. Or don’t, because it’s often more heartbreaking than anything.
  • Proxmox is awesome. Sorry in advance to my non-nerdy friends, but Proxmox is a virtualization platform, and I’m sad to say I haven’t used it before this year. I’ve been so very foolish to wait. It’s incredible. Hopefully you’ll hear more about it from me in 2020, because holy cat biscuits am I a fan.
  • eBay is a great place to buy servers. If you can deal with last-generation hardware, buying use/reconditioned servers on eBay is so affordable, it feels criminal. Granted buying used equipment forces you to focus on redundancy and backups in case of failure — but shouldn’t you be focusing on those things anyway?!?!?
  • Losing weight is HARD. And it’s even harder for women than men. I lost over 50 pounds this year, and although I gained back 11-ish over the holidays, the past 6 months have been a big first step in a lifestyle change. I’m in my mid-40s now, and I need to eat far less, and exercise far more often than I did in decades past. I want to get really old someday, and keeping my body healthy and strong is an important part of that goal.
  • Point of view is critical. I’m a pretty sickly guy. From bad lungs, to bad kidneys, to heart concerns in my 20s — there’s a lot wrong with me. (Seriously, that’s just a tiny fraction of my issues, I don’t want to depress anyone with the entire list, especially myself!) I try daily to focus on how healthy I am in spite of all the things working against me. I’m not sickly, I’m impossible to kill!
  • Learning is awesome. Yeah, I know, I’m a trainer by profession so this sounds like a marketing tactic, but I mean for myself as much as anyone else. I absolutely love learning. This year alone I:
    • Built a hydroponic system in my basement
    • Learned this decade’s nuances with video and live-streaming
    • Installed lighting systems of multiple brands/kinds/styles all over my house and office
    • Learned a bit of a new programming language (python)
    • Read over a book a week
    • Left the country (this is a big deal for me, it’s a phobia)
    • Fixed a refrigerator
    • Installed a dishwasher
    • Bought/used/learned/installed/played_with more technology and gadgets than anyone has a right to
    • Finally pinned a tweet (sorry it took so long, Jake!)

I don’t know what 2020 has in store for me health-wise, work-wise, etc. — but I know that if I approach it purposely filled with joy first, it will be far better than if I try to create happiness by doing things. If I learned anything from 2019, it’s that joy is a choice. A decision. And it puts all the other things in place, regardless of what those things might be. Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s make it awesome together. 🙂

The Powers Family Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunt

Every year, since our (now adult) girls were tiny, Donna and I have created a scavenger hunt for our kids on Christmas Eve. They follow clues, solve puzzles, and at the end, there’s a group gift/prize for them to enjoy together. It’s not our only family tradition, but it’s by far the biggest and most consistent one we have. Since we’ve started livestreaming the shenanigans every December 24th, we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about how we do it.

This is the answer, in the form of recommendations if you want to do your own version.

Make it easy to set up, or it won’t be a tradition, it’ll be a single fun memory.

Donna and I don’t usually prepare weeks or even days in advance. Some years, we’ve created clues on the fly, while the girls are doing the hunt. We want it to be a tradition, not a burden. We used to have a tradition of making a Christmas Star together every year. But it turns out that can be difficult to do, and the tradition fizzled. We’ve NEVER missed a year with our scavenger hunt, because we never let it become a burden. It’s truly not about how clever your clues are, or how many people are involved. It’s about doing silly things together, and even the lamest years have been a ton of fun.

Remember WHY you’re doing it.

Our goal has always been for our girls to have fun with each other. We’re not trying to stump them. There aren’t teams competing. They aren’t competing against each other. They’re just having fun working together. The final clue/solution is always something we can do together as a family afterward. Some years it’s a video game. Some years it’s a board game. Some years it’s a movie. It’s impossible to “lose” at the scavenger hunt, and if a clue is too challenging, we’ll totally help and give more clues, because it’s not about challenging the girls. It’s about the girls having fun TOGETHER.

Include everyone.

This isn’t something we have to remind our girls of anymore. They know it’s about everyone having fun, so they go out of their way to include each other and anyone else that might be with them that year. But at the beginning, or especially if your group is varied in age — make a point to include everyone. Something too hard for little Johnny? Let him hold the video camera while Suzy climbs the fence, etc, etc.

Consider your participants’ ages.

Our girls are fairly close in age. When they were young, the scavenger hunt was an indoor event. When they got older, they’d have to go into the yard or on the Internet. (See a clue from 2010: https://youtu.be/KfCDJv7ZXds ) Some years there are friend and/or relatives that go with the girls, and we make sure to consider their ages and abilities while designing the clues.

Now? The girls are all adults, and clues will take them around town and even to other towns. They’ll drive a half hour one way to get a picture with a street sign. And they’ll laugh together the WHOLE time. It’s seriously magical, and allowing friends, etc, join in has never been a problem. We play the scavenger hunt fast and loose, and that means it’s very flexible and age inclusive.

Consider video streaming publicly or privately.

Now that video streaming technology is possible with mobile devices, it has made the entire experience more fun and inclusive. Perhaps you’ve seen the livestream. It’s silly, it’s fun, and holding the phone/camera is something someone can do. If you don’t want to livestream, consider facetime.

How we actually do it now:

We take full advantage of technology. The girls have a phone livestreaming the whole time, for our enjoyment at home (Donna and I stay home). The actual clue/solution goes something like this:

  1. We text them a clue. “I’m downtown, but my phone died, and I’m not wearing a watch. How will I know what time it is?!??!”
  2. They figure out what we’re hinting at, and pile into a car together and drive (safely!) downtown. They get to the clock on main street, and take a photo of themselves in front of the clock.
  3. They text the photo to our family group text, and if they’re correct, they get sent the next clue.
  4. If they happen to go to the waterfront and get a photo in front of THAT clock, we’ll respond with something like, “when I’m downtown, I can’t see that clock…” — and they’ll figure out what we actually meant, and drive to the clock downtown and try again.
  5. Or, we’ll decide their solution was better than what we meant anyway, and pretend we meant the clock by the waterfront after all, and send them the next clue. 🙂

Sometimes, we’ll think ahead enough to have some jigsaw puzzles, which we put into an envelope and send with them. In which case, one of the clues they’ll receive via text is, “Open Envelope #2” — then they’ll follow the instructions inside the envelope.

Some of the clues involve them doing things like, “Open envelope #3, and use the $15 inside to buy hot cocoa from the bookstore, and get a stranger to take your photo” — then they send the photo to us to get the next clue.

We usually make them do some (slightly) embarrassing things, like going into a store and having one (or more) of them sing a Christmas Carol out loud while recording. They send the video to us, and we send the next clue/challenge.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, there’s usually a “build a snowman” challenge, which they need to accomplish and then take a photo and send it to us.

We’ll call a family/friend and make sure they’re home, then have a clue that has them go to XXX’s house and sing them “we wish you a Merry Christmas” while recording it, and we have the person give them the next clue (which we tell them when we call them, sometimes in advance, sometimes just before sending the clue, because we don’t prepare well, LOL)

End with some group fun.

Every “Just Dance” video game we own was the result of a scavenger hunt. We’ve had the last clue lead to a bowling alley (I think… maybe not, perhaps that will be this year’s prize), we’ve ended with video games, DVDs, etc, etc.

My biggest advice is to keep it simple. My girls rarely remember the clues or even the prizes at the end. They remember the fun they had doing silly, simple things together. They remember singing together in the car at the top of their lungs between clues. They remember anticipating the scavenger hunt. They tell their friends how awesome the tradition is, even if when they explain it, it doesn’t sound amazing. It’s far more about doing silly things together than the silly things themselves. 🙂

Good luck, and I hope your version is as much fun for your family as ours is for us!!!