Reason to Be Over Optimistic

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The Who’s rock opera has a song called ‘1921’; which follows a couple of the main characters discuss the new year, 1921, ahead of them.  The main lyrics run through my head today saying: “I’ve got a feeling twenty one is going to be a good year”, and “I have no reason to be over optimistic”.  I keep thinking about that song today because, simply, I have a feeling that seventeen is going to be a good year.

But I would be wrong if I didn’t mention that after those first few lyrics, 1921 goes all Milhouse (remember this theory:  Everything’s Comin’ Up Milhouse).  The two characters kill a third, then convince the boy Tommy (who saw it all) that he didn’t see or hear anything, and do such a good job Tommy ends up ‘deaf dumb and blind’ – thus creating the tragic incident that drove the entire rest of the rock opera.

Kinda puts a stick into being overly optimistic, doesn’t it?

What’s funny is that I checked out my Facebook which includes posts I made on this day the last few years.  Repeatedly I kept saying “So long 20XX I’m glad your over; and I am excited about 20XX”.  It becomes almost laughable how routinely I was sure the next year was going  to be better.  Hindsight says ‘overly optimistic’, definitely.

So now I am saying goodbye to a difficult 2016; a year that needed chapters to be closed.  But going into 2017, those chapters are closed – and new chapters are already starting up.  I literally have reason to be overly optimistic.

There is the well reported new job; and just a few shorts week into it I am excited about what it will be.

There is the new life in a new state.  I already am connecting with new friends and new things to do.

I already have a potential offer on my Boston condo (I am going to counter, so nothing to announce there yet).

I already have some good leads on places to live here.

To me, what is really different this year is that I am not relying on blind hope for the year to come.  It’s not like I am saying “there is no way this year will be worse than last year”.  The proof is out there.  I can see what may happen.

And for what I can see, I have reason to be over optimistic.

However you are or did celebrate,
Happy New Year!
See you in 2017

 

Habitation Master Plan

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I’ve lived in my temporary housing for a quarter of the time I’m allotted, so I am starting to sneak into the period where I need to get serious about something far less temporary.  Specifically, executing the ‘Habitation Master Plan’, or finding a place to live … which more directly means that it is the ever changing and ever tentative plan to find a place I can live.  Since this is my third major move in the last four years, you would think I have a more solid plan than that, but if you think that way … you don’t know me very well, right?

Besides, this move is full of tougher challenges and harsher realities.

In general, my master plan follows two steps:
1) Find a rental to live in for awhile until such time I figure out where I really want to live, and find a house I really want to live in
2) Buy that house
The real intention of the master plan is that it opens up options for me.  So many times, when you go looking for a house to buy, it isn’t as much about finding that ‘perfect house’, it’s about finding that ‘house that is as perfect as it gets at the time I am looking‘.  For instance, when I was in Boston, the condo I ended up getting was the best on the market at that time – not my favorite place, but I was so time bound with getting out of my current residence that when issues came up during inspection, I couldn’t back out of the offer unless I was going to literally be homeless for two months.  There are always tons of great places in any area you want to look, you just have to commit to being patient until it comes along.  Thus … renting first gives me the time to look.

So … Step One is the priority, find a place to live.  But I tell you what, it sucks.  It sucks a lot.

Don’t get me wrong, there are nice places to live, it’s just that I threw three criteria that severely limit the options.

First — I want to live near where I work. Specifically, I don’t want to commute more than 30 minutes one way.  That cuts me off to a lot of areas.  Basically, that leaves me looking at: Pasadena, Not very far to the East of Pasadena (Temple City, Monrovia, maybe Azusa), a little farther to the west of Pasadena (La Cañada, La Cresenta), Glendale, or Burbank.  My hotel is currently in Burbank, which is a top contender for me – but then again Pasadena is a pretty cool place.  There are good options throughout these areas, if it weren’t for the other criteria.

Second — I want to live with Auggie the Doggie.  That sounds like a “erm … DUH”; but it’s not that simple.  If I get a rental, it has to be a rental that is “Pet Friendly”, which on any apartment sight that button is easy to find.  The problem is the sliding scale of what it means to be “Pet Friendly”.  For starters — it turns out “Pet Friendly” can mean, Cats Only.   It can also mean, Small Dogs under Auggie Size only.  The worst though is that many rental properties enforce breed restrictions.  Auggie is a Stafforshire Terrier, which by many people are considered to be an ‘aggressive’ or ‘dangerous’ breed.  I went off on this a couple of years ago in one of the cutest blogs I have ever done (How Could You Pass A Law Against This Face?).  The guts of it is that many people have a prejudice against specific dog breeds; not because they are aggressive, but because they are perceived to be more aggressive than other (and sometimes notoriously aggressive) breeds.  The thinking is that these breeds are dangerous to other dogs or humans, regardless of their training.  While there has been good effort the last few years to keep breed specific laws off the books, private businesses – like rental management groups – can still have their own restrictions.  As a result, I am finding about half of the rental properties who say they are “pet friendly” are more aligned with the “pet friendly, but only to those pets we don’t carry a prejudice against”.  Even those that wouldn’t say no to a face like Auggie’s falls under the third tough criteria.

Third — I have to afford living there.  This may ultimately be my downfall.  Rentals around here are expensive.  Like … holy cow expensive.  I’m not looking for a grand housing choice here folks, I just prefer to have a place where the pup can be stupid and I can hang a TV on the wall.  But a rental property smaller than my Boston condo rents at nearly one-and-a-half times what my mortgage was.  I am not kidding you – the last time I rented an apartment was in Milwaukee in 2000, and that rent was 12% of my high limit I am putting on my search.

The search may get better next week as we pass through the first of the month.  I worry I will get to a point where I say ‘beggers can’t be choosers’ and stick myself with someplace I don’t like much.

But if that happens, well, it just means I have to stick with the Master Plan … and start looking for a forever home.

I’ll try to sneak in another blog before the end of the year, but if I get lazy … as we know we do …

Happy New Year everyone.

XMAS Letter 2016

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It is a standing tradition to write an annual letter with Christmas Cards … and I’ve extended that tradition to an open letter to all you Bear Feeders out there.  Enjoy.

 

Happy Holidays Everyone,

Once again, it’s come time for me to share with you the year that was.  The challenge this year isn’t for me to try to summarize the whole of last year – but to at least talk about something other than what has happened in the last couple of weeks.  I have to tell you, that’s just going to be tough.  It all starts with the really big news in my career:

Last week I started a new position at the NASA – Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) as a Procurement Quality Assurance Engineer.  Now, there is a good chance you have heard of JPL – I mean, don’t tell me you didn’t see The Martian with Matt Damon, cause that movie was kinda awesome (best film ever about growing potatoes) – but if you haven’t … JPL is contracted as the primary source of unmanned space flight for NASA.  Any unmanned program you can think of going into space for the USA likely came through JPL including:  Viking, Voyager, Cassini, Juno, and Every Mars Rover Mission ever!  That’s who I am working for now.

This new job meant that I had to move to California.  JPL is in Pasadena, CA (literally just up the street from the Rose Bowl).  While the new job requires travel, I will still be based here and worked out of the lab when in town.  Where exactly I will live, well that is what is in the air.  It’s going to be a bit before I find a permanent home, while I am in the transition for the new job and selling my old place.  I am writing this letter from my temporary home, a place that is so temporary that it actually is a hotel in Burbank.

Ironically, to portray the previous 11 months, ‘temporary home is a hotel’ is about the best way to describe it.  The job I left had me traveling a lot.  In 2015, I was little shocked to find out that I stayed in hotels for 226 nights.  Well – 2016 will be 267 nights.  That’s 73% of the year I was staying in a hotel.  In truth, I felt like I was home a lot this year – but that was mostly because I spent a good part of the summer home on the weekends, and the fall was nearly a full month and half at the condo.  Still, it added up, and was a driving factor to throttle that back to something closer to 25% of my time.

I did get a few chances to do some fun things along the way.

In June, I was able to work in some time in England, the first time I have been there in about four years.  It’s always fun for me to visit London, and I was able to get a full week and a weekend in the big city.  Along the way I got to take a walk around Hyde Park, see some of the sites around the city, and catch couple of shows.

In August, I caught up with my brother and nephew when they spent a couple of days in Gettysburg.  After they left, I got a couple days there myself.  If you haven’t heard me say it before, Gettysburg is a great place for me to visit to help me relax and enjoy.  Even when I got there with family, I seem to love those moments walking the battlefields or strolling through the old Civil War era city.  So it was good to get back again.

On the downside, most of the first eleven months of this year were focused on work – sometimes intensely and unrelentingly.  I spent January thru March based in California working through some projects; having driven cross-country to get here.  The return trip that required a lot of visits and stops to work issues, took nearly a whole month.  Then the next few months were an tough run of projects and audits to work through with the old job.  Hindsight, I am proud of the work I did with my old job, but it took a lot out of me, and pushed me to some of my breaking points.

It’s just that there isn’t much to fill in for the gaps between work and ‘not being in a hotel’.  I mean, I got to spend some quality time with my friends The Creeds in the Temecula, CA wine country a few times.  I attempted and got through another year doing the National Novel Writing Month in November.  And I continued to blog on the good old Bear Feed (find it at bearfeed.net). But for the most part it was getting through the year with my best pup by my side.

But that of course is now behind me, and that, more than ever, is the reason why this season of hope and happiness, is just a source of me bursting with happiness from hope.

Like I said, this letter was hard to write because I don’t want to focus on the year behind, I want to focus on the year ahead.

So while I don’t believe it is possible, I hope you are looking forward to a greater 2017 that I am.  Let us see what the world will be and the world will become.

 

From Auggie & Mitch

Merry Christmas &
Happy New Year

Christmas Street

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Last night, I experienced a great event – LA Zoo’s LA Lights.  The zoo, opened after nightfall, was lit up with loads of holiday lights.  The place felt magical, with the hint of joy and celebration about.  The night was cool, rain threatened, and the air had the chill that reminded you what time of year it was.  The pathways were filled with young and all, and there wasn’t one that wasn’t happy to be there.

It reminded me of an album I keep on my phone just for this time of year.  A Prairie Home Companion’s Garrison Keiller’s “It’s Christmas Again”.  Rather than try to steal the concepts, I will give you a few lines stolen directly from the album.  Mostly from the track fittingly called “Christmas Street”.

It’s Christmas, and our hearts are open
to the time when all ages and all times meet as one.
We’re the parents, and we are the children
Childhood was the country we had to leave behind,
and at Christmas, we get to go back and try to speak our first language.

We aren’t so emotion, God’s frozen people is who we are
But on Christmas Eve we sit in church with bows of pine in the candlelight
And the choir sings from in back
And we lean forward
And we cry, if we have it in us

Christmas is when we gather up everything good in our life
all the warmth and the light and all the good memories
and we draw it close
and enjoy it
as much as we are able to

It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, it’s cold – but then again it’s Christmas
Anyway, cold is a stimulus to sound thinking, you know that.
There is nothing like cold to bring you back to reality, and the reality is …
we are very lucky

Geek Boy

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Co-Worker:  “So this is the Mars Yard.”

Me: (trying to be all cool inside)  Oh!

CW: “This is where they simulate Mars’s terrian with the spare rovers to test out programming.”

Me:  “So, this is like the real Mars surface.”

CW: “Yeah”

Me:  (fighting the inner Geek Boy from exploding, but still staying calm)  “Oh”

CW:  “Yeah, that shed there has all the replicas of the real things.”

Me: (picturing the level of awesome on the other side of the luckiest corrugated aluminum walls yet still trying to be as calm and professional as I can be)  “neat”

CW: “And do you know Star Wars?”

Me: (scoffing on the inside, but staying calm)  “I’ve heard of it”

CW: “You saw Force Awakens right?”

Me:  “Of course.”

CW: “You know BB-8?”

Me:  “The droid?”

CW: “He was here.  The real one, they had him on the Mars Yard with the Rovers.”

Me:  (looking down at the ground where Star Wars props once stood beneath my feet, the damn finally bursts)  “SQWEEEEEEEE”

Going to an engineering college, I was always surrounded by the geekiest of geeks, the nerdiest of nerds.  And I am not describing the hipster millennial nerds who think that slapping a pair of dark rimmed glasses on when you do your vintage gastropub crawls around Portland; or anyone who says  “I’m a real nerd for crochet / vinyl / Harry Potter”, or anyone who is tagged a ‘nerd/geek’ even though they are socially outgoing & extroverted (see also the whole cast of TV’s Big Bang Theory) — I mean real geeks, real nerds.  The one thing I tried to be was the cool kid among the geeks.  It was pretty easy sometimes, because let’s face it … they are geeks.  But it was also hard sometimes because, let’s face it … I’m one of them.  I go full on Geek Boy at some point when surrounded by what I find to be the coolest of the coolness.

The trap that exists is that I am on the cusp of full on Geek Boy on a daily basis.  Ever since I was a kid, I had an interest on what lay beyond our planet, and half the reason I pursued a job at JPL was because I ticked off the coolest of the coolest, and it was right at the top.  For me working at JPL … it’s like letting someone who is obsessed about shoes work at a Foot Locker … or a teenage boy work at a porn shop … or a person interested in intestinal diseases work at a McDonalds.  It is ready to trip me into Geek Mode with every picture hanging on every wall.

As part of my incoming, we took a little tour around the lab this week – which included the exchange at the Mars Yard.  We also visited the Hi-Bay Assembly building – where every project over the last 30 years was put together, where literally history was built.  We also visited the museum where mock-ups of all the projects were on display, including full scale models of Explorer I (the first US satellite and answer to Sputnik), Juno (the current project spinning around Jupiter), and Voyager 1 (the furthest traveling man made object in history, currently outside of our Solar System cruising along as it has for nearly 40 years) … just to name a few.  We even visited Mission Control … not named to copy a place like Houston’s Mission Control … named because it is where they (get this) control the current JPL missions.

Someday, I may blog a more expanded version of all that information .. but for now … just picture me rolling around on a red sandy soil somewhere on the JPL campus squealing like a school girl in hopes that all that space stuff sticks.

First Weeks

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Contrary to some mixed reports from fake news sources and maybe the Russians … I made it through my first week in California.  I am writing this exactly seven days after I broke the state boarder and finalized the long drive and plan to get here.  I started the new job, worked the full week, and have now the weekend to finally decompress after a very hectic and stressful month of December.  In fact, it became pretty clear on Saturday morning, I would be hard pressed to actually be motivated to do anything … and still fight that motivation (even on a Packer-Bears Sunday).

As for how the first week went, I’d have to say it far exceeded my expectations, and went quite well.

Which means it was boring, frustrating, and seemed to last forever.

First weeks in any job sucks; and probably more so in a professional contributor role like mine.  First of all. you were in a constant state of awkwardness of not knowing things.  Like, where the bathroom is, what do you do for lunch, where did I park my car, was I supposed to park there or not, no seriously where is my car parked.  I mean, I joked in the first day blog about getting lost … but that was not the last time I did.  Tuesday I got lost from the parking lot, didn’t get lost getting back but wandered around the thing for twenty minutes trying to find my car.  I got lost at least three more times the rest of the week, and I wasn’t even on lab one of those days.  The harder part of this awkwardness is trying not to do something that is essentially ‘screwing up’.  Like breaking some security rule, or leaving at some inappropriate time.  It wasn’t that there was much of a chance of doing anything like that, but when you don’t know … you question everything.

Also, there is just loads of things you have to learn that you will eventually forget, but are required to know.  We are talking all the mandatory training — ethics, cyber security, safety, etc.  These are all the rules that you have to follow or will get some part of the business coming down on you.  Tag on departmental policies, group discovery training, and general ‘how to use your computer/phone/microwave in the break area’ stuff; and it seems most of what you do for the first month is training of some sort.

The real frustrating part about first weeks comes down to just simply not having anything to do.  If you think about it, most of our jobs is a series of projects, tasks, activities, and functions that get assigned or thrust upon you.  I think many of us get used to the fact that we could have five to ten of these projects going on at any given time, and in a good empowered environment, you just work to knock them all out.  Well, when you start — you don’t have any.  I mean, you might get one or two assignments, but usually they ease you in.  Of course, any good job will have it all snow ball, but we are talking the ‘First Week’.  This is the week that you are ready to kick some tail, ready to be the solution, ready to do whatever you can to make an impression … and instead, you are waiting for that stuff to do.  Granted, if you got assigned enough, you couldn’t do it – you wouldn’t know how to; that’s the point.  But that doesn’t change the fact that not having something to do makes the week drag on.

So, first weeks suck.

That being said, this was a pretty good first week.

For one, I did get thrown into something right away.  My main duty with this job is auditing, which is something I have had a lot of experience in.  Still, I will need to get signed off as an auditor, which requires four audits of shadowing (working with another).  Well … X goes to square on the first one.  We rolled down to Costa Mesa, CA for an audit on Thursday; giving me a chance to jump straight into the fire.

Friday also was a group holiday party.   While I was being a pretty awkward introverted newbie for most of it, I did get to be a part of the team and get to know many of the people I will be working with in this job.  Since the Fridays of a first week are the worst … the worst!  Having that party was something that made it so much more palatable.

But most of all … I find myself on a pretty dang good team.  Friendly, smart, relaxed, playful, and hard working.  So good, I worried that my sarcastic, sometimes lazy, grump jackass of a self wouldn’t fall in.  But that’s when the boss uses that phrase that seemed to historically mean something negative – but now was uplifting and hopeful:  “We hired you for a reason.”  Which is true … of everyone they could have hired, the picked me.

So I am being patient, letting this job come to me rather than fighting the urge to blow myself up with frustration over first weeks.  This is about the long term, and the long term will happen.

Plus the first week is over now.

 

Lost In Space

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On my first day, I got lost.

Part of my issue was that I went straight on Surveyor Rd rather than taking a left on Voyager St, so I can walk up Pathfinder Rd instead of finding a back stairwell up towards the visitor center.  Soon enough, what became a five minute walk back to my car became closer to ten minutes; and could have been worse if I stopped to look at the placards.  Luckily for me, there are worse things you can do to screw up on your first day of a new job.  Getting lost as you are heading home is probably pretty low on that list.

Today was my first official day as an employee of the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).  As with any first day on the job, it seemed like it lasted forever.  It didn’t help that I was up at 4AM, because I am still on East Coast body clock time.  The pup and I went for a walk, I had time to do some goofing around on my computer, and time to have a good breakfast.  Fifteen minute commute, and there I was … waiting.  I mean, waiting was the rule of thumb trying to get this job, so it makes sense that I had to hang out at the badgeing office for an hour hoping someone would punch a button to let me get badged in (and then still not getting that button punched).  There was no new hire orientation for me, that will come January 3rd (since there were all of 2 people starting today, and they will have over 70 spread over the fours weeks of next month).  Then came finding my desk, meeting my team, getting a computer set up, getting initial training on how things will work, and access to all the stuff that I need to read and get familiar with over the next couple of weeks.  First days are always like that — it’s overwhelming yourself with mundane tasks separated by trying to learn things you will probably forget.

Oh and the utter panic about screwing things up on your first day.

So, it was nice that the only thing I really screwed up was trying to find my way back to the car.   JPL is on a big campus (or a big ‘lab’ is the correct term).  There are loads of buildings that are inconsistently structured and seem to be in different orientations.  I am going to get a full tour tomorrow or the next day when the team gets time.  Still, I kind of fell into a tour by getting lost on the way out of the place.

But along the way came one of the great bits of symbolism about the day itself.  All those streets I named, they are named for different programs … programs you should know.  Voyager, those satellites built in the 70s that are still hurtling out of the solar system and sending back pictures.  Pathfinder, the first Mars probe that came with a rover we all loved to watch.   And that wrong turn I took … it went right by the ‘satellite assembly building’ … where they are literally building the missions you watch do all those great things.

And there were other moments like that.  We are sitting around talking about quality clauses on contracts and someone says “Good thing the Mars 2020 program is getting with us early.  Let’s hope Europa does that too.”  They basically just name dropped the two biggest unmanned space exploration programs in the near future.  One with the purpose of understanding the sustainability of life on Mars, and the other the sustainability of life on a moon of Jupiter.     Like … no big deal, just exploration of our solar system.  In my one-on-one time with my boss, who has only been there for a few months himself, we shared geeking out stories between each other about how cool this place is.

And the people … awesome.  I showed up at there wasn’t one, but three ‘welcome to the team’ signs and cards.  I am already getting pressure to RSVP for the holiday party (that I didn’t even know I was invited to).

So it’s been a long day, an overwhelming day, but a good day.  But if I was going to summarize how I feel right now, I keep thinking of a song from the musical Annie, which is simply titled:  “I think I’m going to like it here”.