The New Normal

This is gonna be a long one folks, so sit back, strap in, strap on, fill-er-up, spark a fatty and prepare for the long haul. There have been some changes afoot.

So yeah, I finally have a decent excuse for my procrastination this time. The week of the previous post, I had a temporary crown put in, got really sick for one day, and the recently named SARS-CoV-2 virus (and it’s diseased pal, COVID-19) became an increasingly frequent visitor to the news cycle.

Asshole of the year.

The week after that post, management at work went from “Theoretically, how would we support a fully remote workforce?,” to “You need to implement this FASTER!” Thankfully we had “only” 500-600 people, most of which already had laptops, and a majority of our technology infrastructure was designed for remote work (for quite some time actually). The biggest hurdle was preparing the final 100-ish staff to be “remote ready,” by issuing them laptops and, if necessary, WiFi hot-spots. I helped ensure everything was current from the software side and prepared the first couple dozen machines. Considering the urgency, I worked with my boss to turn my vacation the following week into “50% work from home.” Little did I know that was the last time, to date, I was going to see my cubicle (in person anyway).

In hindsight, that week of “half vacation” ended up as training for our new work-life balance (my wife is also a state employee working in IT, though for a different agency in a different capacity). We found ourselves extremely fortunate to be well prepared. Her home office had recently been updated with a really nice desk and all I needed to do was clear space between the Amigas and Ataris in The Arcade (my “office”). On my first day of “half vacation”, we were told that by the end of the week all staff who could work from home should do that. I felt bad for the folks downtown as they rushed to get things prepared, but like the champs they are, they did it!

An important factoid that requires highlighting is that while I had been working with my current state agency for seven years as a Help Desk technician (supporting staff and their equipment), I had only been an Infrastructure technician (supporting servers and network gear) for five months. These were five months where I was, 1) Training two staff to take over my previous responsibilities – from scratch, 2) Learning how my six new teammates did their job, and 3) Finishing up projects that were underway when I transferred (one project is still ongoing). Yeah, my stress level was already at maximum amplitude, then that goddamn virus hit with full force.

That first week with most staff working from home felt busy, but manageable. Both my team as well as the Help Desk had little issue continuing our duties from home, and we worked so well together that a vast majority of our staff got up and running with little hassle or delay. We kept a close eye on the technology infrastructure and saw very few issues, which was surprising since external connections went from a couple dozen to a few HUNDRED. By the end of the week, our boss was relaying messages of gratitude for our teams.

Eventually things stabilized. Gradually more and more staff started working from home, and we took care of issues as they cropped up. One of our biggest challenges was Patch Tuesday when Microsoft releases Windows Updates. Due to the way our systems were configured, that caused a huge drag on our network that resulted in serious productivity issues and got the support teams scrambling. The cause was quickly identified, and I took over responsibility of designing a solution to prevent it from happening the next month. With a bit of a hiccup in July (which solved the issue, but caused a couple others), the August updates rolled out with no issues.

My current work area, so do not pity me. If needed, there is another laptop on a portable desk.

On a personal note, in yet another bizarrely fortunate coincidence, our vehicle lease expired in May. In hindsight, this may seem unfortunate, and yes it was a PITA, the results were exactly what we needed. We had been leasing a very nice semi-luxury Subaru. While we enjoyed driving it, it was a bit rough in the suspension, but I absolutely loved the adaptive cruise control and lane assist, used whenever possible, with caution (never trust a computer 100%). This car obviously became minimally useful once the pandemic kicked in. While deciding our options, we found a local dealership selling a 2012 Nissan Leaf (an electric vehicle) at a decent price, so we swapped a nearly-useless gas-guzzling car for electric. Sure, that limits our driving range to roughly 70 miles, but in this “New Normal,” is that really a limit?

I absolutely MUST mention the incredible amount of time my wife put into organizing, setting up, and dismantling our yearly “big adventure” trip to England/Scotland/Ireland this year, a process which began nearly 2 years ago. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of work she spent setting this up (using credit card points to save $, to planning/scheduling and, well, absolutely fucking everything else). When feces met fan, she immediately went into recovery mode, completely undoing all that work without losing money. If you happen to know my wife, there will be no surprise she succeeded completely. This resulted in many free plane tickets on the books and enough cash to replace our roof and upgrade the windows in our side porch (and probably more, but that’s beyond my pay grade and crappy memory).

Yup, we were scheduled for an up-close-and-personal visit with these rocks. Shit!

On a relationship level, this pandemic, and subsequent upheavals, have provided evidence my wife and I have chosen the proper partners. No matter the challenge or stress (and there have been many, which keep coming), we’ve never taken it out on each other in a significant way. Sure, there have been tense situations and other challenges, but we continue to maintain balance. Knowing my own deficiencies and bad habits, I just can’t help but to fall deeper in love with the person who’s dealt with them better than any individual in my life.

I nicknamed our relationship “Wonder Twins.”

So where does that leave us now? We’re both operating at near-capacity stress levels while dealing with it well. The house has greatly benefited from our canceled vacations with its new roof shingles and porch windows. Our employment situation remains completely stable and we’re nowhere near struggling financially. Basically the situation royally sucks on many levels, but we keep swimming nonetheless.

This is what we do because we are awesome.