Signs that You are Old

The world is changing — fast — and you don’t often realize it until it slaps you in the face. That happened this week. I’m starting to plan for an office move, and that means figuring out a new office layout. I’m going to a smaller office, and that means getting rid of the table and keyboard tray I use for my computer. As I needed to get a smaller computer table, I asked our office assistant. She pointed me to a website where I could get a new table (or I could go to the warehouse and rummage around). It was at this point, I realized I was living in a different era.

I wanted a simple table with a keyboard tray, possibly with a riser for the monitor so that I could have good ergometrics. What I could order, however, were standing desks with motors to rise or lower them; keyboard trays were an options. Standing desks. You mean I need to do something other than sit at my desk all day.

I also asked about boxes for the move; I was told that we no longer do that. Now we get reusable plastic bins.

As for whiteboards: Now, when I started, we had real chalkboards. But then we went to whiteboards, which were, well, white. Now we have these Quartet Boards, which are glass things all fancy. My old whiteboard? Going into the trash.

We’re being encouraged to downsize and get rid of paper. I’m getting rid of two four-drawer file cabinets and a 3′ bookcase. We’re being encouraged to print less and review on the screen more. Many are moving to open offices, or offices where you camp and share your space.

I understand why this is all being done. We need to use less paper and cardboard, and standing is much better for your health than sitting all day. Cognitively, I know this is a good thing. But it is also wasteful. Think of all the perfectly serviceable furniture and boards that are being tossed and not reused; manufacturing energy going to waste. We used to have Steelcase desks that lasted 50-80 years. Now tables less than 10 years old are considered obsolete and are being toss. Everyone wants the newest and greatest; the whole notion of “reuse” is disappearing. It makes me think of an article I read recently about trying to move to a new apartment without using anything new. You used to be able to do that when you changed offices. But upgrade mania has overtaken the workplace.

Emotionally? It’s making me feel old. I’ve gone 30 years in the workplace with traditional desks, and traditional computer tables. I’ve gone 30 years reviewing documents on paper and marking them up. I’ve gone 30 years of having historical files of paper that I could go through. As they sing in Working, “It worked for me then, what’s wrong with it now.”

I am increasingly feeling old, and am increasingly understanding how seniors feel the world is moving too fast and passing them by. I know that I must keep up with it, but it is shocking when you think you’ve been keeping up, and discover you’re out of date for the modern workplace. This could very well be one reason why older workers find it harder to fit into new tech.

It’s very disconcerting, but I’ll eventually figure it out (and probably grow to like it). Inertia is a hard thing to overcome.


The Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Reading the news today, I’ve been unsure about whether we’re getting some articles for tomorrow today. After all, who would believe a new TV series about a former governor who decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crime-fighting center under his house in Brentwood, or Google being so blatently copycat as to introduce a “like” button. But those stories are true. Here are some other ones that caught my eye:

  • Jhon Royal Underwood Returns. We’ve all heard about how, in this “digital generation”, good-old-fashioned records are making a comeback. For some of us, they never went away (I was just recording vinyl last weekend). But that’s not all that’s coming back. The digital generation is embracing… the typewriter. Kids today are fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, recognizing them as well designed, functional and beautiful machines, swapping them and showing them off to friends. At a series of events called “type-ins,” they’ve been gathering in bars and bookstores to flaunt a sort of post-digital style and gravitas, tapping out letters to send via snail mail and competing to see who can bang away the fastest. As I said earlier today, you can’t make this stuff up.
  • Only the Young. We’re all aware we’re a culture of youth and beauty. A survey that came out today indicates that women consider themselves over the hill when they reach 29; whereas for men, the number is 58. Women evidently consider themselves to be old once “assets go south”. Men? Decreased libido/not as ‘able’ in the bedroom. (As for me, it was when Nell Carter died at age 56, and I went “She was young”). But we do know that sex sells. Another survey that came out today (which I expect to see on “Wait Wait”) shows that women with larger chests get bigger tips (you know, there’s no good way to say that). Better service? A step up on a 1-to-5 rating scale of customer satisfaction translates into just a small increase (say, from 15 to 16 or 17 percent of the check). Who would believe it?
  • What a Past. They are creating museums for almost anything these days. In Las Vegas, a city that could no longer support a Liberace museum, there are going to be not one but two museums celebrating Vegas’ history of organized crime. The museum at the Tropicana features life-size holograms of chatty gangsters greeting visitors and offering them a chance to get “made,” as well as the diary of mobster Meyer Lansky, Spilotro’s gun and family photos and home movies from other infamous criminals. Not to be done, the downtown museum features the wall from Chicago’s St. Valentine’s Day massacre, the only gun recovered at the mass shooting and the barber chair where hit man Albert Anastasia’s life came to an end in a 1957 New York murder. No word yet regarding whether there will be field trips out into the desert.

Tuesday News Chum: Cursing on TV, Facebook Panic Buttons, Accepting Women as They Are, and Baseball

Some quick lunchtime news chum for your dining enjoyment:


The Journey vs. The Destination

Last night, I had the opportunity to reconnect with a childhood friend, uisna. We hadn’t spoken in, oh, about 35 years — we had lost touch with each other when I moved from Playa Del Rey to Brentwood (the community, 90049). Going through the photo albums got me searching out folks from my youth, and I was lucky enough to reconnect with her. But that’s not specifically why I’m writing this; rather, the call was a catalyst for some gelling thoughts.

When we spoke, there were these awkward pauses, almost like there was too much information to give out, and you couldn’t quite put it into words. I think that’s because the questions were about where we are now. That’s a hard question to answer after a long gulf, for there is so much context to describing where you are today. This got me thinking about the journey vs. the destination.

Back in the “old days”, we would savor the journey. We’d remember the car rides in the back of the station wagon. We would remember all the little places we stopped at. That greasy spoon. The men’s room at the Madonna Inn. The basque restaurant in Bakersfield. The meandering over the business route where we got lost. All the little side roads and trails. The destination was captured in the postcards, but the journey was what made it special. This is why air travel doesn’t have the same romance as driving or the train. We get to the destination far too fast: we don’t have time for the journey.

I was thinking about the reconnection, and I realized that I not only want to know where my long-lost friend is today (I know much of that from her Facebook), but her journey to that point. These aren’t the little day-to-day things we did as kids that are inconsequential, but what were the stops along the roadtrip of life. That all night diner where you made your spiritual choices. Those beat-up gas stations where you determined your career bit by bit. The parks where you met the loves of your life. The bus stations where those you loved departed. The side road you chose to take… or not take. Where you got lost. That dicey neighborhood you got into, that left you a little scared, but you made it out and to a better place. The journey is what makes and shapes your life, and it is the story of your journey that makes a reconnection special. It is the journey that captures the life, not the resume that indicates where you live today. Think about any successful movie or play: you watch it for the story of the journey.

Journeys are stories that can’t be told in a single status update or a tweet. They are long-form conversations, multiple-act plays. They are what makes life special.

I think that the next time we talk I’ll keep this in mind. I’m curious about her journey in life, and I’m guessing she’s curious about mine. And for the other folks reading this, I’m curious about your journey as well. I look forward to your sharing it.


Lunchtime Musings: Friends and Aging

Today’s San Francisco Chronicle has an article that dovetails quite well with something I’ve recently been thinking about. The article talks about Facebook, and how its user demographic is aging. The issue is not that Facebook is losing younger users — they are still flocking to the site. But people 35 to 54 are now the biggest group on the site, and more importantly, are joining the site at a faster rate. For those that want the numbers, people 35 to 54 account for 28.2% of all U.S. users as of July; 24- to 34-year-olds represent 25.2%; 18-to-24 age group are 25.1% of users, down from 40.8% in January; and those 17 and under made up 9.8% of the Web site’s users, down from 13.5%. Why are these (ahem) older folks joining Facebook? It’s not to play MyFarm or Lil’ Green Thing. It appears they are joining to network, to find long-lost friends, to build or rebuild relationships from high school or earlier.

This goes to what I’ve been thinking about. As my father aged, I noted he was more curious about, and spent more time and effort researching, what happened to his Navy buddies. Letters were written, visits were made. I’ve noticed I’m doing the same thing as I approach 50: I wanted to go to high school reunions, I wanted to find long lost friends. (However, I’ll note this isn’t common: my wife has expressed no desire to find out what happened to those she knew in high school). This desire has intensified as I have gone through my dad’s albums (70+ condensed to 10; I need to order more binders). I’ve seen people from elementary school and early JHS days, when I lived in Westchester — and reconnected with a couple. I actually joined Classmates, and have been attempting to reconnect with other folks from JHS and high school (some I have found on Facebook, some I can’t seem to find, and some I’m not sure I was close enough with to friend). I’ve also done some reconnecting at the college level, although surprisingly it appears a lot of the UCLA Computer Club folk aren’t on Facebook (odd, for folks that have been on the Internet since it started). I’ve made a few college connections, and sent some mail out to others I haven’t heard from in ages.

In doing so, something strange is happening. I’m remembering things. For the longest time, I had very few memories of college, high school, jr. high school, and elementary days. One or two incidents. As I reconnect, it’s coming back… and these are the good memories, for folks seem to want to forget any bad times (I certainly do). Thus, I’m happy this is happening. Reestablishing friendships is a good thing, especially for someone like me that didn’t establish a lot of close friendships. I plan to continue reconnecting, as I can find folks… or they find me.

But I’m curious about whether this is a “just me” phenomenon (do do do do do), or whether others do the same. For those of you who are 25 years or more out of high school: are you starting to feel the urge to reconnect? How are you doing it?


Fathers and Photographs

My father died in 2004 (story at grandpa_a). One of the various collections I inherited* was his collection of photo albums… at least 200 of them. Although my dad had lots of cameras, he wasn’t the best of photographers. There were a fair amount of blurry pictures, which he would dutifully put in albums. He would also go on lots of accounting seminar trips with my mom, and take loads of pictures of scenery and random people (I have a picture from 1977 in front of me labeled “George. George’s Wife” — I have no idea who George is). There are also a fair number of pictures of clients and people who may have been dear to my parents, but whom have no meaning to me. So I’ve been going through these pictures and condensing the albums. I’ve been tossing pictures that have faded beyond visibility (old color film does this when stored in a garage). I’ve been tossing scenery without meaning. I’ve been tossing pictures of people I don’t know. So far, I’ve condensed 48 albums into 7½ albums, and I’m up to the beginning of 1978. I’m sure things will go even faster after I move out of the house in 1979.

In doing this process, I’ve learned quite a bit about photos and building photo albums. I’ve realized that the albums I’ve assessmbled of my family probably suffer the same problem as my dad’s did. Here’s what I’ve learned; perhaps you will find this advice useful:

  • Photo albums serve two audiences: those who were present at the event, and those far in the future. These are distinctly different. My father used the albums to remind him of where he had been and the good times. After he died, those memories went with him. The albums now serve to remind me of the people, and less the places. So I’m focusing on keeping the pictures with people I know. This leads to Lesson #1: Put people in your pictures. Pictures of just scenery age fast, and are meaningful only to those who were there with you. Having people in your pictures, especially family or extended family, make the pictures meaningful and root them.
  • Memories fade. There are loads of pictures in people I don’t recognize, and good number that I do. It really helps me when the pictures are labeled with date and time. Lesson #2: Label the people in your pictures. Now, these are old film prints, so we can label with a pen. For digital pictures, use the metadata.
  • I’m dealing with physical albums. There are loads of blurry pictures, pictures of random strangers, bad angles, bad composition. My dad just put them in the album. I’m sure it would have been even worse if he had gotten into the digital era. Lesson #3: Weed Before, and Weed Again. When you assemble your album, weed the pictures down to the meaningful. Yes, there will be more weeding to do as the years go on, but why keep the drek now?

After my dad died in 2004, I just stopped taking pictures. I don’t know whether it was my film camera dying. I don’t know if it was my workplace getting rid of the convenient developing service. I don’t know if it was never having a decent digital camera, or a printer for what few photos I took (or finding it much harder to keep digital photos organized than my printed film images). Just recently I’ve begun to think about taking pictures again, but I want to go out and get a decent digital camera setup. I’m sure the 15 or so film cameras I inherited from my dad** are less than useful these days, and my old Canon is dying.

A side note: This process of going through the pictures, especially the pictures of my youth and Jr. and Sr. high school days, has really been bringing back memories. I’ve been exploiting Facebook to reconnect with folks I haven’t spoken to in years (welcome to those reading this), and it is wonderful to reestablish long-lost friendships from that part of my life. I’ve gone to the paid level at Classmates for a year, and I’ll see if that permits me to find more folks to reconnect with. Finding old friends: That’s been an unanticipated side benefit of this process, and perhaps the real gift of this inheritance.

* I also have collections of First Day Covers and Autographs. I’d welcome help on figuring out what to do with those.
** Yes, I need help figuring out what to do with these as well.


Being The Anomaly

Today’s lunchtime news reading has been light, so I’ve been thinking…. always a dangerous thing…. My recent review of history (triggered by going through my dad’s photo albums), combined with friend rediscovery, has reminded me how I am in many ways quite an anomaly in my surroundings:

In my teen years, I went to Jewish summer camp. In this situation, I always felt like the odd person out: I was interested in science, math, and computers, and I was surrounded by future doctors and lawyers. Of course, this has continued in our synagogue memberships. I distinctly remember the new member orientation at our previous congregation: “People would stand up and state their professions. Lawyer, Lawyer, Lawyer, Lawyer, Appelate Lawyer, Social Security Lawyer, Assistant District Attourney, Banker, Doctor, Teacher, Producer, Director, Casting, Production Manager for a Studio, etc. I stand up: ummm, I do computer security for an Aerospace firm. There was one other IT person there, and one other retired engineer.” It’s a little bit better at our current congregation.

Having gotten burned out a few congregations ago when I held a large number of congregational positions, at our new congregation I’m just getting involved with Men’s Club. Of course, I’m an anomaly there, not having one whit of interest in sports (I never really have). Perhaps this is why I’ve never had close friends of the same gender: men bond over shared sporting events, and I can count the number of sporting events I’ve been to… in my entire life… on my physical fingers.

In high school, you would expect a math and computer geek to have close relationships with similar folks. However, my best friend (Karen Pratt) was not a computer person: she was a creative person: an artist, a book lover, a complete imaginative spirit. I still miss her creativity: she was taken from us in a car accident around 2000. I’ve just gotten back in touch with someone (uisna) who was a very close friend in my pre-teen days (a friendship I hope to reestablish). Again, she’s an extremely creative person. Must be a long-delayed application of the law of conservation of creative good friends.

But, you say, you married an engineer (gf_guruilla). True, but if you know her, she is always creating. She had a doll business with the other Karen; she’s into almost any fiber or sewing art. She’s the creative, artistic person. Although I was creative when I was younger (at camp I always did arts and crafts), I’m not that artistic now. Perhaps it is buried.

Most computer folks aren’t into theatre. They are into various fandoms, usually related to science fiction. If they are into art, it is often manga. Their entertainment is typically movies. Although I do enjoy science fiction, I’ve never been the fannish type, and as you know from this blog, my ideal entertainment is live theatre: plays and musicals. A year with more than three movies is an oddity. I will note that some creativity must be rubbing off from my daughter and her theatrical design skills: I’ve begun to see choreography and staging when I listen to music.

I love music: as you know, my iPod has over 18,400 songs on it, spread over a wide variety of genres and artists from cast albums to folk, from rock to Sinatra, from big band to calliope music, from Roger Whittaker to the Austin Lounge Lizards. Yet I can’t play an instrument — others in my family have the music playing ability.

So I’m an anomaly, and I guess I should just embrace it. Love the creativity around me, and hope it sinks in more, and treasure not being the cookie-cutter doctor or lawyer. Who knows what might happen if I ever have that mid-life crisis (which I’ve had to put off because I’m too busy :-)).

What about you? Are you one of the pack, or anomalous like me? In what ways?


What’s Goin’ On

Not much in the way of news chum today, so I guess I’ll have to report on life…

I’ve begun the process of condensing my father’s photo albums. This means going through the 200-so albums he had, and only keeping the pictures with people that I know in them and that are in focus. So far, I’ve condensed about 38 albums into 6, covering the period from around 1944 through 1975. While doing so, I’ve uncovered a bunch of pictures that are reminding me of my Jr. and Sr. High School days, and of people I’ve lost touch with. I’ve looked a few of them up on the interwebs and found them. For some reason, a lot of folks my age aren’t on Facebook :-). I plan to look up a few more. I’m always amazed where people end up. Still others, however, I can’t find easily. Perhaps that’s a message from nature :-). It is reminding me, though, of how badly I dressed in the early 1970s, and how I wasn’t the party (or even the heavily social) animal.

My daughter is now in high school. She’s a hostess type (meaning she likes being the party host: bringing fudge, food, etc.). We have a pool. Combine these facts, stir, and what conclusion do you get. That’s right. Monday: out to dinner with tech crew. Tuesday, tech crew over to our house to swim. Tonight, they are coming over after the mall. Now, these are good teenagers, and it does mean I know where she is…. but I think this is going take some getting used to.

On tap for tonight: more photo albums (I’ve only got 3 binders before I have to order more). Next up: 1975 moving into 1976, and coming up on my high school graduation. I’m sure once I move out of the house the albums will condense even faster. I feel like a backup compression program: some go fast, some go slow….