Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Palm Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I never would've thought it true - but there are two palm trees growing in Brooklyn. I saw them myself yesterday when I took an excursion over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which is about 2.5 miles from where I live downtown.

Although the cherry blossoms in D.C. are now past their peak, up here in Brooklyn they are in full bloom this weekend and next.

The weather was gorgeous yesterday - finally. It started out at about 60 degrees when I left home but was over 70 by mid-afternoon. It's about time it warmed up here.

We finally got a reprieve from the extended winter weather on my birthday, April 11 - coincidentally the same day that I left NY and flew to Florida to get some warmth and sunshine! I needed to get away - more for my sanity than anything. It's been a stressful few months at work.

Wall Street is everything it's cracked up to be. You've seen it on TV - the brokers running around the floor of the exchange waving paper orders, the ultra-rich hedge fund managers struggling to maintain their vast wealth, the type A traders with a headset in the left ear, a cell phone in right hand, and the other hand on the keyboard instant-messaging their customer. It's insane. It's non-stop.

In order for these brokerage firms and investment banks to function, their computer infrastructures must be up and running before, during, and after trading hours--especially during hours. But after hours there are critical reports to be run for trading to continue the next day. Tremendous efforts are undertaken seven days a week to maintain operational functionality on both Windows and UNIX platforms around the globe.

It's my responsibility to ensure the Windows-based computers in the Americas (tens of thousands) stay up and running. When a server goes down, it can affect a lot of users and can be critical to the business. We call any kind of down time in the computing environment an "outage."

Any time there is a "major" Windows outage that affects users in North America, South America, or Canada, day or night, I have to get involved. A conference call is opened up on a bridge. Two different online instant messaging utilities are invoked for us to communicate with one another, along with email and phone communications, during the outage. It's a big deal and can involve folks around the globe. We stay on the bridge(s) until the issue is remediated, and then spend another day or two writing up a post-mortem.

We've had a number of outages this year. For a while there, it felt like we were in one long outage that lasted over two months - because it was just one after another. One day we had two going at once. It's not just outages that seem perpetual - it's the constant meetings, too. As a manager, I spend a tremendous amount of time in meetings all week. And with each meeting comes more action items. But there is never enough time to do the action items because I'm running to the next meeting, where I get more action items.

Back at my desk the customers are calling me with escalations, and issue after issue comes up. That's the world of Windows operations. I actually have a deliverable that is due June 1. I've never been a procrastinator at work, but this is one item I just can't seem to get to, and it's a biggie - an Operating Level Agreement (OLA) between the global Windows Operations team and all of the firm's business units. But because I'm busy every minute of every hour of every day (and then some), I just can't seem to get to it.

Between the endless outages and some other work issues that I can't go into here (hint: read a book called The No Asshole Rule, and you'll get my drift), I needed a break. So I went to the Buena Vista Palace and Spa in Orlando for a weekend and had my first-ever spa treatment: a Swedish massage, facial, manicure, and pedicure. It was very relaxing. I enjoyed the facial and massage. I've never felt so pampered.

I spent the rest of the time walking around and window-shopping at the overpriced Disney Downtown Marketplace (where you can buy anything and everything with Mickey Mouse's face on it - right down to a box of 10-dollar Mac & Cheese). Funny, I didn't see any live Disney characters, but I did see a Loch Ness Monster made entirely of Legos. I treated myself to a steak dinner Friday night. Sunday it rained, so I went out to see a movie (The Bank Job with hunky Jason Statham). The rest of the time I spent hours sunning myself by an adult pool for spa members only. It was a short weekend (too short), so returning to work this past Tuesday wasn't easy.

But I'm back in the grind. Good old Wall Street. I've been doing this for six months now, and it feels like six years. My job is stressful enough - but can you imagine the pressure of being a stock broker? Not me. No way. I got enough on my plate.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge

It's been about three years since I put "walk across the Brooklyn Bridge" on my NYC to-do list. That was when I lived in midtown. Today I was finally able to check that item off my list. It was about 59 degrees and sunny when I left home around 11:30 this morning. About ten minutes later I stepped onto the bridge's pedestrian on-ramp at Tillary Street.

The bridge was crowded with tourists, plenty of them spilling over the white stripe in the middle of the pathway into the bicycle path. There was lots of photo-taking, including that of a wedding party--the bridesmaids being careful not to step in the cracks between the wooden slats of the path.

And, a little further on, I saw a tall model being primped for a shoot--a man standing behind her combing out her long Cher-like locks and photographers at the ready.
I thought it would be cold on the bridge, but it was actually warm enough for a tank top, although many of the tourists were in their winter coats! There were a lot of joggers crossing the bridge. I also saw one roller-blader. At the other end, I landed across the street from City Hall Park where a smart man was selling bottled water for a dollar.

After a brief rest on a bench in the sun, I decided to head back and time the walk back to the other side. At a good clip, and despite the packs of tourists hogging the pedestrian pathway, it took me about 18 minutes to get to the other side.

Back in Brooklyn, I walked through Cadman Park and headed toward the Brooklyn Promenade where I saw another "model" posing for a shoot (if that's what you want the call the black-clad woman wearing a bizarre combination of black lace, a knight's aventail, and army boots). As usual, there were many people of all ages, from infants in strollers to elderly folks sitting on benches enjoying the views from the sunny promenade.

I like Brooklyn. It's a good walking city with great views of the Manhattan skyline. The past three or four Saturdays I've spent hours walking the streets, getting to know the lay of the land around my new home. I think Baby and I will be happy here. Sure, it isn't Manhattan - but how many people can say they live close enough to walk to Manhattan?