Sunday, April 26, 2020

Individually, how do we return to physical socializing?

I'm not talking states, nations, counties or cities and the laws and restrictions they are imposing to stop the spread of the coronavirus, I'm talking about each one of us as individual humans. There are weekend days where I eat out for all three meals. It's not common, but it happens. I think the most takeout meals I've had in a week recently is three times. Other previously normal things, going into an office with 40 people. Going to church with 100 people. Going to a ski resort with who knows how many people, 1000? Sometimes I go to densely packed concerts or bars. Or at least I used to.

So what do we do individually to open up and return to socializing?

This weekend, I had dinner with two friends, who are both younger and in good health. It's the first time in over a month any of us has had dinner with anyone. We explicitly said we weren't sick, or hadn't been sick, as far as we knew. It wasn't an implicit agreement that there was a risk to seeing each other, we said it out loud. So for me, I think that's how I'm personally going to open up. Part of opening up will be going back into work, like sheep to the slaughter. But the part where it's my choice, those will be hikes and climbs and dinner with friends. No, I doubt I will go to restaurants when they open. I doubt I will be the first to go sing at church. I'm afraid to be too close to people or around large groups of any size.

In addition to my little social outings, I plan to space them out. In other words, while I could possibly hang out with four different little groups of one or two people over a weekend, I'm not going to do that. I may be contagious as I write this. That's the challenge, we just don't know, and you can't really get a test until you are sick and it's too late you've already spread it. So basically it's like hang out with A1, then hang out with J and K, and then wait a week before any more socializing. It's going to be that way for awhile. Church in particular scares me. Why? Everyone is over 50! They're just more likely to get really sick and die. When I see that 31% of people over 80 in Colorado who test positive die, that's a huge number!

We have to strike a balance. The world is not risk free. I don't think we can ask everyone to stay home except for going to the grocery store once a week, for six months without causing a host of other mental health problems, or even delayed care for other physical health issues that scares people away from going to the doctor. And, frankly, with 3 million cases of Covid-19 worldwide, we're not going to stamp it out this year. It will continue circulating, somewhere in the world until we reach herd immunity either through lots of sickness and death or a vaccine or most likely both. We need to be safe and keep our distance, but also let our loved ones know we love them. Finally, we need to be responsible and not put anyone at undue risk, and when we inevitably do get sick, be as clear as possible about others that might be sick too.

Monday, April 20, 2020

We are Living at the Perfect Time

When I was younger, I often wondered why I was alive now? I mean, it feels like I have a diverse set of skills, and I could have thrived at many periods earlier in history. The whole lifetime scientific progress of Ben Franklin or Leonardo Di Vinci can be understood by most graduate students these days. Of course, to a physics graduate student the majority of what Einstein did is understandable too, and we still haven't proven or disproven a fair portion of his work. However, it's always hardest to be first, or to push the limit in some way.

In the book "The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" Earth is destroyed to make way for a super highway on the day that someone woke up with the answer to the question "what is the meaning of life?". Up until that point Earth was basically just an experimental computer to answer that question. A human, living experiment. In a similar way, each one of us is pushing the collective world forward, in some tiny little way. We all have a purpose, even though it doesn't feel like it all the time.

In other words, for my peers, I know we suffered at the start of our careers in the Great Recession, and now as many of us were just getting established we're having the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 to deal with. Not to mention the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that many fought in. Then assuming we survive all of this, we still have climate change, automation, and inequality to deal with. Any one of those three could lead to wars and famines if we aren't a little more generous and equitable with the wealth of the world.

The point is, I believe we are all here at this point in time because it's when we were meant to be. You weren't born in 2090 or 1890, you were born in 1990. That doesn't mean it's easy. That doesn't even mean you will survive the pandemic. But to me, it's like a fun puzzle, like a very interesting game, where you want to keep playing to see what happens. Along those lines, people are freaking out over the cover-19 coronavirus and the resulting recession we have entered, justifiably so, both are pretty serious, but I'm hoping we're going to have some roaring 20s, so please try and be patient as we get through this.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 84

Another week, being employed, working semi-hard. I worked six days, all but Easter, and it was like drinking from a firehose most of the time. Requests came in from all directions and while trying to address them all, I made a mistake.

I'm not actually upset about it. Usually I beat myself up when I make a mistake. However, I'm in therapy trying to look at the bigger picture. Frankly, I was rushed, and made a relatively simple error at 5:30 pm on Friday, on a project where I see a limited amount of value added. I didn't even know about it until Saturday morning. Sigh... It's just one of those errors where I'm like, 'eh, on to the next one.'

I ran 30.5 miles, didn't get a long run in this week because my ankle started acting up, specifically a tendon on the outside of my ankle.

We're going to get there, we're going to be okay, even it takes two years of this kind of shutdown. Here is the best article of the last couple days I have read about how we will open up from this shutdown/lockdown.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

India, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan Covid-19 Pandemic

India, Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan are four of the world's six most populous countries, with the USA and China being the other two. I've been to all four of those, and let me tell you, you think the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is bad in the USA? It's going to be worse in all of those countries. Brazil has a strong fighting chance, but the other three, have some big challenges. Why am I so pessimistic?
  1. Large populations, it's no secret larger populations have more people who might be infected with Covid-19.
  2. Dense urban centers. Sal Paulo, Islamabad, Pekanbaru, Mumbai... these are cities I've been to in those countries where people live in close quarters, and not all have electricity and clean running water, in any of those cities. It's a recipe for a virus to spread.
  3. General wealth of the country. This is a stand in for all things medical, because in short, a more wealthy country is going to be able to mobilize doctors, nurses, ventilators, medications, etc. better than a poorer country. Again, Brazil has a strong chance here, and frankly India and Indonesia do too, but not like the USA has.
The big upside those four countries do have is younger populations. Covid-19 is affecting older people far worse overall than younger people. Sure, it's still killing people in their 20s and 30s, but it's far more deadly to people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. An upside for Indonesia and parts of Pakistan and Brazil are that islands and very remote areas make frequently contact with urban centers not too common. In other words, being a little remote in 2020 will turn out to be a good thing. 

In short, I fear for, and pray for, my friends and acquaintances in those countries, because their risks are so high. If countries are going to get herd immunity, it's going to be countries like those first before the wealthy countries like the USA. Oh my heart breaks thinking of the people that need to work every day or they starve!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 83

I ran only 27.2 miles last week. It's kind of the upside of the week, despite being a big dip from last week. I purposely took Sunday off after a step up of 12 miles last Saturday, then ran Monday but work was a bit stressful this week so I didn't run Tuesday through Thursday. Friday things eased up a little and I want for a run again. Saturday I went big and did 14.6 miles! That's the longest run post ankle breaking I've had. Oh I'm older now and my ankle was sore after, but I'm okay. I mean... that's training. Building mileage I have always found to be the hardest and as I get older and deal with more significant setbacks that is definitely true.

I went into work on Palm Sunday, and then every normal work day. We made a lot of good progress this week, but it had it's stressful moments. In particular, I sometimes send out a daily update email on our progress when we're nearing a product release. I'm not really a fan because day to day progress can vary widely, and seems to bring up more questions than answers. I'm more a fan of weekly updates because that's how you can see progress or not. These aren't simple engineering tasks we're dealing with and we can't just work harder and do 30% more every day. Sometimes you can, but frequently you can't.

On top of that, this was the fourth week of people working remote. It's an adventure. Everyone is a little more on edge. We all want the same thing, but when we can't "see" people at their desks working on it, it's hard to know that work is getting done. It is getting done, quite a bit too. Frankly, when it comes to hardware companies (not software or services) we have got to be one of the best positioned to weather this crisis. We can build products with 2-5 people in the office (should be two with better communication, but it's more like five at the moment as we figure out communication). We can then test products with four people. That's it. We don't need 200 people on an assembly line to make our product. We're very very engineering intensive and low on the actual number of assembly and test people needed. Honestly, it's a pretty great spot to be as a company in April 2020.

I have mixed feelings on the Covid-19 coronavirus. A part of me thinks, 'we're all, or at least 40% of us are going to get this before we get a vaccine, might as well get it now.' Another part of me thinks, 'if I get this, I will inevitably spread it to someone over 60 who will die.' Another part of me wonders, 'if we value each life at $9 million in the USA, how long can we shut down the discretionary part of the economy before we just give up and try and try to go back to normal?' Reopening the country is going to be interesting. The adventures I'm planning for the coming months are all a little stealthy. Meaning, the only real infrastructure I need for them are gas stations and roads that are still open. Everything else I could possibly carry with me.

The weather is going to be a little bad this week, and I'll be in the office, so fairly bland as far as the blog goes. Although, hopefully we get past my portion of the product release, which is a pretty huge accomplishment.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Communicating to Different People

I have a friend, who has been asking on and off for a year or so about how to get set up for retirement. As far as I know she has not opened a Roth IRA yet, because it seems overwhelming to her. In the past month I dumped about $5,000 into various company stocks that were tanking from the pandemic recession. While I'm delighted to tell you I bought Boeing for $101.45 a share and AT&T for $26.28, how do I describe to a person, a very educated person, how to simply open a Roth IRA? It's night and day. A different friend bought puts on a company back in February, and while I've never actually bought or sold and options or puts, I understood it (and he might have made thousands on it). Yet there is this huge gulf where people don't even have investing accounts. Frankly, 48% of Americans 55 and older do not have any money in a 401(k) or IRA.

I work in a role that is highly, highly cross functional. I work with all the departments. Lately I've been stressing out (and I'm in therapy in large part because of it) because I don't know how to communicate with the different groups in ways they understand. My friend who wants to get into a self directed retirement account (she has a 401(k)), but missed out on the recent 23% gain is a great analogy for communication with a person who has very different experiences and ways of communicating.

Here's another example, give me a map, any kind of map, a flight map, a topography map, a road map, and I'll get to where we want to go. But some people need to know the exact distance between each turn. Some people need to see what each intersection looks like before they get to it. Some people can't find themselves on any map.

The point is, communication has to be tailored to the audience to be effective. Each one of us has skills. Sometimes we don't even realize our skills, but we definitely notice when that is not someone else's skill.

When we are entering a critical time at work every 6-12 months around a product release or entering a pandemic I tell people the same thing, "Be patient. Keep Communicating." Yes I came up with it myself. Because impatience often leads to not only yourself getting upset, but others getting upset. And often, communication can mitigate those issues. The problem is, when one person stops communicating well, and starts being impatient, it spreads, other people get impatient and then stop communicating well.

I don't have the answer. I mean, being patient and keeping communicating totally helps, but ultimately it's a two way street. Another way to put it is the best teacher in the world can still have a student fail because the teacher's attempts to communicate in different ways doesn't inspire the student to want to learn.

Where am I going with this? Try. Try to communicate. Try to understand the people you are communicating with. Don't just give up. I've done four 24 hour races and essentially flopped in three of them, but the one that went well, it went quite well, and I look forward to doing that again. So hang in there. Take another step. Keep going. And worst case, if you can't figure out the communication, at least you know you tried.

Monday, April 6, 2020

I Went to Work Today

In my role at my company I'm kind of the liaison between design and manufacturing. We're nearing a big milestone and it was requested I go into the office while we sort out this product build. For the record I offered to go in. So for approximately a week I'll be in the office. I wore a buff over my face most of the day except to eat or drink. Wow, the world has changed.

We have free coffee at work, so I made the first pot this morning, and touched two buttons and three  handles to make it. In the last three weeks I touched approximately five communal handles total in like 22 days. Two at Starbucks, one at the grocery store, and two at FedEx. Going to the bathroom, turning on the sink, going outside to take a walk, handles here, handles there, handles everywhere. Filling up my water bottle, there's one button, I used my elbow.

I know so many people over 60, and people over 60 with health conditions, that I am terrified that I could essentially kill someone I love by inadvertently spreading the virus to them. I go for a run most days, and when I get back and the adrenaline wears off while I'm walking around in the minutes after I often cough a little. Coughing has become taboo. Wearing masks has become very acceptable. We've changed in a month.

The deadline for our little product build is the end of this week, and to be honest, I'm planning to work this week in the office, and then work from home another two or three weeks. I could use a vacation, but it's like, where would I go? I don't want to staycation, and I don't think I really can go anywhere. Assuming we settle down a little this year I'd like to go up to Canada and climb, and go to Hawaii, maybe get my SCUBA license. I won't lie, I feel like one of the old and fragile people amongst my coworkers in this pandemic. Again, I'm sure I would most likely come through fine, but it's those up to two weeks of being contagious and not knowing it where I am afraid to break bread with my older friends.

I've read more than one article that suggests for the next year or two, until we get a vaccine, we are going to self quarantine and isolate, return to a little bit of normal, then self quarantine and isolate again when cases get higher and hospitals get full. A recurring bounce between semi-normal and pandemic life and back and forth, that might last two years. So bizarre. I'm hopeful. I mean, even in the most pessimistic projections I doubt that 50 million world wide will die like did in the 1918 flu pandemic. We have medicine and technology that didn't exist back then. Still, my heart aches for those that die. If that caution means I work from home for two years and don't eat with my parents for two years, well, this is a sacrifice that must be made for the greater good, meaning saving the lives of those susceptible to the covid-19 coronavirus.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Colorado Startup Life: Week 82

The Covid-19 Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020... What a story we are living through. What is the summer and fall going to look like?

Overall it was a good week for me. I was fairly productive at work. Frankly, I'm pleasantly happy with my productivity working from home. It's not that great, but then again I started therapy back in February because I was stressed out that I "wasn't enough" at basically anything. So I'm getting better with being enough.

I ran 41.5 miles! I said back in early March that when we got to working from home, I was basically just going to run and that would be it. No climbing. No mountains, because I don't want to put anyone else in danger if I would get injured and need a rescue. I've never needed a rescue and I've offered more than once to help in a rescue, including being first on the scene of a basejumping accident in Moab in November. Point being, it's just too much of a risk for me to be out doing anything other than very basic mountain sports right now.

My life was super basic. I didn't touch any common door handles with my hand this week, I always use my sleeve now, and always wear long sleeves, like a hoodie, when I go out. Wake up, work, spend too much time reading coronavirus articles, work some more, send a daily update email, call someone, go run, watch a movie, drink too much alcohol and go to bed too late. While that could be perceived as depressing, it's not. This "sacrifice" that I am going through, isolating and cutting off interactions with people, it's minor and temporary. I'm very very fortunate that I have the wealth and the income right now that millions of Americans and probably billions around the world do not have. Meaning, I now pay $80 a month for high speed Internet at home, and I can afford that because I still have a good paying job. Sigh... all of the economically unfortunate people that might go through what I went through in 2010.

The thing that worries me the most about this whole pandemic is not the economic fall out, or the sickness itself, but the deaths. I think the USA will pass 27,000 deaths this coming week, we're at 9,616 as I write this. My heart aches knowing that is coming.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

I'll Buy a new iPhone this Year

I'm a saver. As I continue to work in a lucrative engineering career I am in a far far different financial position than I was in 2010. In 2010, with deferred student loans, I maxed out three credit cards. It was the worst year of my life. I don't like to talk about it. I don't say I'm in a good financial position now to brag, I actually say it as a burden, as an obligation to help restart the economy when the pandemic subsides. The fortunate need to pay it forward. People like myself will most likely be able to jump start the economy better than those who have been laid off from median and lower wage jobs. And frankly, I feel it's our duty to do that, to help our neighbors recover and get back to work.

That being said, I write these things in the moment, based on where I am today. It is entirely possible that I am laid off in the near future and quickly begin looking for a job in a terrible job market.

In normal times, talking about financial independence (and retiring early) is this fun thing where we all have jobs, salaries are increasing, and there is a little thrill in saving money and seeing your 401(k) and saving account increase a little every month. However, in a recession it's entitled. Oh I know, I applied for over 400 jobs in 2010 and was pretty angry at anyone with money and a job at the time. I have not forgotten that experience or those feelings.

The point is, we with jobs and wealth can hole up, stop spending, and not come out of our caves until the vaccine arrives likely sometime in 2021, or we can get out there. I bought two 3D printed facemarks at Shapeways to donate to medical workers today. It keeps Shapeways in business, who I use from time to time, and gets some medical equipment to hospitals in New York City that need them.

I realize that my going out for take out food right now isn't going to keep a restaurant in business by itself. I realize that buying some piece of outdoor gear 40% off isn't going to keep that company in business either. But I also realize than an economy is the flow of money. If the money stops flowing between people, the economy stops. During the Great Depression the stock market dropped 86% from it's high to it's low. If we allow the economy to drop 86%, we're so screwed. (Of course the stock market does not equal the economy, but they are related.)

Point being, I basically unintentionally shut down the spending the last three weeks living and working from home, and seeing now that I am not sick, my company is stable, and even somewhat productive, it's time for me to not only think about my financial defensive strategy to worry about myself, but offense too, how I can help out those that are clearly in need.