And I mean tired.
Yes, that’s my excuse for why this site was neglected for the past week. I actually was on track to maintain the “post once every two or three days” schedule that I had fallen into since the new year started, that is until the Scheiβen hit the proverbial Lüfter on Friday.
I was just coming off a week of exceptional productivity at the office, wherein I actually finished ten Flash animations — plus an impromptu 11th on just hours’ notice — thereby crossing off my entire slate. After this feat, I was ready to enjoy a quiet weekend here at the house in advance of the Chinese New Year festivities on the 24th and 25th. But right at close-of-business on Friday evening, our Asia/Pacific office advised that they wanted me to review the API documentation for our software development products in advance of the following week’s major release.
Review all of the API documentation? I thought in bewilderment. That basically amounts to a 500-page, jargon-filled reference manual. They must be talking about something else. They weren’t. After clarifying it with one of my bosses, who heads up the AP office, I learned that I was indeed being tasked with going through the last 8 months’ worth of haphazardly-assembled documentation, acting as editor and proofreader-in-chief. An for extra fun factor, a large portion of this documentation was written by our Chinese developers, whose native language is obviously not English.
The ESOL-style writing I can handle, but when you combine the unique English grammar mechanics of a native Mandarin speaker with the fact that I have very little idea how to actually use our products — I’m not a .NET software developer, after all — it makes for an even larger challenge than you’d expect. I’m finding myself able to get through approximately 50-60 files a day, depending on their size. And their sizes do vary greatly. I always groan inwardly (okay, not so inwardly) whenever I open up the next file and discover it’s 3500 lines long.
These files aren’t Word documents or pure text, either. They’re C# source code. We use a C#-based help authoring system that compiles into a Windows standard CHM in Visual Studio. So I’m making my edits in the source code, using a software development tool that has no spell checker, no ability to wrap overlong lines, and only a rudimentary find-and-replace engine.
So, naturally, I had to tell the AP office that there was no way, absolutely no way, that I was going to be able to review all of the documentation in time for this week’s release.
Nobody was pissed, at least. In fact, my boss seemed quite apologetic. “I know we gave this to you late,” he admitted. “Just work your eight hours a day, get done whatever you can get done and we’ll release that. We can always issue a refresh later once we’ve got all the documentation reviewed.” The fact that he was originally going to do this review himself, but couldn’t bear it once he got a look at it, evidently fueled his sense of contrition.
So I got started immediately, working ’till late Friday night, and then all of Saturday and Sunday each. I worked about eight hours each day — maybe a little more — but have been getting up kinda late in the morning because I haven’t been sleeping too well, so as a result I’ve felt like every day has been a work-fest from sunup ’till sundown. Certainly nothing else has been accomplished; I’ve downloaded a whole slew of anime to watch and music to listen to, but haven’t had time to peruse any of it, much less do anything more constructive like work on a story, post on Oddball Update or upload some of the new pictures I’ve taken.
The frenetic pace of “all documentation, all the time” is finally over, though; as of tomorrow, the review becomes a background process for me. Our product review is starting tomorrow — which will keep me busy enough by itself — but at least I won’t be staring at badly-formed English with my wrists going numb for hours and hours straight. The documentation that I’ve managed to review has already been compiled and issued with the release, so what’s done is done. It’ll likely be another two or three weeks before I’m completely finished reviewing, and there’s lots of other stuff to get done in the meantime, so I’m going to dial the pace back to something more reasonable.
But I think that’s enough about work for one day. What’s been going on here lately? Well, besides what I just told you, it seems like a lot has happened. Nothing really noteworthy, mind you — and admittedly, the fact that I’ve been living and breathing work for so many days without a break may be causing me to regard every minor distraction as a grand event. If I were to sum it all up, I’d say that all of this mindless, yet dedicated language-massaging has given the background processes of my brain plenty of time to really hash things out with themselves. As a result, those deeper recesses of my right brain feel full of ideas and creative energy. The problem is that the rest of me is too burned-out to give a shit, much less do anything with it.
This has been extremely frustrating. With a job as monotonous as reviewing programming reference docs, my mind takes great pleasure in even the smallest creative distraction. Just the music I’ve been listening to since I started this mind-numbing project has imbued me with enough ideas to occupy months worth of downtime. I’m wanting to get back to my creative writing, and finish something that I started a ridiculous four years ago and just can’t seem to finish. But I don’t want to just finish it — I want to press forward, move on to the next thing, fulfill a vision I’ve recently developed for how I want it all to culminate in an amalgamation of both textual and aural media. But there isn’t time for anything but reviewing the next paragraph of warped language, writing the next email or fulfilling the next request from a coworker. There’s a ravenous creativity beast trapped in my thoughts, and it has no path of escape.
I think this infusion of constructive energy was starting to develop early last week. Then, I felt absolutely vital and full of life. Every minute I slept felt like an incredible squandering of precious time. I was waiting impatiently, nearly slobbering with anticipation, for the arrival of the weekend. And then, as I reached for that door, it was slammed shut and deadbolted right before my eyes. I underwent a near-immediate transmogrification into a grumpy, irritable brute of a thing whom I don’t doubt has been rather unpleasant to be around. I’m sure my wife would admit as much if you asked her.
And how do I explain why I’m in such a foul mood, as I’m invariably asked to every time I lose grip on myself and let the crushing, sagging disgust show on my face or come through in my voice? “Because of work” becomes little more than a hollow and meaningless excuse after a day or two. “Because I can’t follow through on my creative vision” would be more accurate, but requires too much follow-up explanation that I don’t have the patience or energy for, so I leave that one unsaid. And any other excuse issued simply to stop the line of questioning — I’m bored; I’m tired of feeling trapped here; I miss Italian food — makes me seem petty and ungrateful to the gracious hosts my family members here have proven themselves to be. So what do I say? Lately, I haven’t been saying anything. Naturally, my logical process that’s meant to eliminate all malice has been rendered useless, because no response is usually construed as being malicious enough.
Tomorrow is Thursday. To be honest, I had to look that up, because I have lost nearly all track of the passage of time. I imagine that tomorrow and Friday both will be filled with release activities. We’ve got three new product versions to deploy, plus a major update to one of our other enterprise-class services, all of which will require the requisite website revisions, PAD file updates, discussion forum posts, documentation refreshes, press release deployments and so on. Plus, I have to write this month’s email newsletter, which focuses on the new releases, and have it ready for deployment this coming Tuesday. So any hope of my being able to sneak some downtime into the next couple of days — perhaps even during the evening hours — looks pretty slim.
Our Asia/Pacific office is off all next week for the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival, so naturally they’re tying up a ton of loose ends before they leave. This has led to the huge release schedule we now face. Next week, the rest of us will each be putting on two or three extra hats to cover the bases left vacant during the Chinese holiday, during which, life will go on as usual in the western world. And here I am, caught somewhere in between — literally and metaphorically. I support the U.S. office when the AP office is away, and I support the AP office when the U.S. office is away. I cover the gaps left by every culture’s independent holidays but I don’t have any of my own. It’s a grim reality to face, but one that must be faced in stoic silence.
In the meantime, I’ll give my fair readers a glimpse of what’s to come, both here on the Oddball Update and in my personal pursuits, which some of you may be privy to as the hours unfold. In the next day or two, I’ll be posting the first of a two-part analysis and introspection regarding the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I have recently rediscovered as part of the curiously high-octane creativity surge I went through last week. I’ll begin with a classic post from my first blog ever, written while I was watching the Evangelion series for the first time, and consisting of my thoughts surrounding the series’ bizarre ending and myriad of mysteries.
Then, in the days following that, I’ll post an up-to-date look at Evangelion from my present perspective, including a technical evaluation of Rebuild of Evangelion, the ongoing tetralogy of new feature films that’s serving as a means to reboot the series and tell its incredible story anew. I may also get into a fair amount of obscure metaphysical discussion over the deeper meanings behind the series and its take on the human condition, assuming I feel existential enough. Yep…we’ll see if we can’t just bury the needle on the nerd scale around here, once and for all.
On a more accessible note, yesterday was Inauguration Day back home in the U.S. Apple and I watched the proceedings via our Slingbox, which streamed a rather muddy but watchable live picture to us from the other side of the world. After an embarrassing flub of the Oath of Office, Obama went on to deliver what I thought was a very good — if somewhat predictable — speech that served both as an “official kickoff” of sorts and a distillation of his reaction to Bush’s policies and a roadmap to where his own will take us. The man has presence, that much is undeniable. In a rant not long ago, I posted that America badly needs a galvanizing force that can bring us all together in some semblance of hopeful agreement. It seems that we have been granted that in our new Commander-in-Chief. I can only hope he inspires those around him in government to rise up to his level.
Bizarrely, after the inauguration, I went to bed and dreamed I was driving my GTO on the wintery roads of Michigan, en route to Genopolis’ On The Grill in Farmington Hills. When I got there, I encountered none other than Michigan’s governor, Jennifer Granholm, who informed me that my car was being confiscated on the grounds that it was a waste of energy. She also informed me that, going forward, the federal government would retain the right of final approval on every vehicle proposed for production and sale on the U.S. market. “If a model doesn’t meet CAFE-mandated fuel economy figures, we’ll forbid it from being produced,” she said. (Nevermind that CAFE stands for Corporate Average Fuel Economy.) At that point I awoke, disturbed, and never quite got back to sleep again.
In the last few weeks, from the unmitigated anti-Detroit bashing in the media to the gathering storm of the New Energy Paradigm in America, I’ve come to realize that there has been no facet of my personality that I would rather shed than my love of cars and the art of driving. Anymore, this preference has become a liability — and just too much of a goddamn pain in the ass to defend, rationalize or even enjoy. Combined with my own innate propensity to resist and even abhor change that affects my personal space (which I have only recently come to recognize), the result is a near-bottomless source of stress, indignation, anxious conjecture and defiance.
I almost wish I could be one of those people who sees a car as nothing but an appliance that gets you from A to B; a tool merely to be used and discarded. Then I could get a boring little compact with more years of warranty than horsepower, hang a little bouquet of daffodils from the mirror and be on my merry way. But isn’t that always the lament of one who cares enough about his situation to learn of its true nature? “If only I didn’t care,” we grouse when things spiral out of our control; for the release of ignorance truly can be bliss in today’s world, but we can no more change the ideals that define us than we can change color. So for now, I remain to performance cars as Charleton Heston was to firearms: “From my cold, dead hands.”
Backing away from that precipice a bit — hey, I never said I was going to give up melodrama — the subject of cars reminds me of the short list of “things missed” that I’ve been mentally assembling. Given our present whereabouts and situation here in Thailand, what are the things that I’m finding myself missing most? If you’d asked me this question during one of our previous trips, I’d have said something substantive — an ergonomic chair; our comfy bed and pillows; my video game consoles. Now that we’ve gained a lot of those material things here at our Asian home away from home, I’m more likely to focus on privileges and ideals, like the freedom to come and go at will, or the self-sufficiency to decide what to do and how you’ll do it.
While I’m here, I feel less like a man than a boy. I live under an elder’s roof; I am subject to the schedules (and vehicles) of others when I need to go somewhere; I have care and sustenance provided for me, but little control over their aspects. For an American who loves his independence, this situation feels very alien indeed. For one who salivated almost every day of his life over the chance to escape ordered society and control his own destiny down to the minutiae, it is near untenable.
Still, don’t get me wrong; there are some material things left on that wish list too — most of which, with the notable exception of my car, are edible. For example, I could really do with a visit to Carrabba’s. Despite eating there as one of our last acts before embarking on our trip, I can’t get the thought of that calamari, lasagna, fresh bread and olive oil out of my mind (or off my taste buds, as the case may be). And on top of that, I need a pizza — a real pizza. With a few exceptions, most pizza in Thailand resembles what you’d get if you asked a third grader to make you one. With ketchup in place of tomato sauce and a mayonnaise-based dressing in place of melted cheese, well…I think you can form your own conclusions.
Thailand makes up for its gross misunderstanding of western cuisine by being an absolute haven for fresh produce and seafood. I’ve had crab legs here that are out of this world, and most days there’s some kind of delicious, fresh fish for lunch. Bananas here come in different forms, one of which is sweeter, juicier and contains none of the chalky texture of western bananas. They’re a delight, whether sliced over a bowl of cereal or peeled and eaten as-is. And I haven’t even mentioned the huge, 25-cent guavas (they’d be $4 back at home) or the vast array of sweet oranges, which seemingly come in as many different varieties as apples do in America. These are all things that I’ll miss just as much as pizza and lasagna once I get back home. It’s the nature of life: You can have some of its riches some of the time, but never all of them at once. Unless you’re either very lucky, impossibly smart, or incredibly evil.
Well, I hate to cut this short — hah; “short” is the one word which cannot possibly apply to this entry, I think you’ll find — but it’s nearly 1 a.m. local time, so I’d better hit the sack before I make things even harder for myself tomorrow than they already are. For those who are interested (and I recognize that this is a very small subset of my audience), you’ll hopefully see the first post of my Evangelion retrospective within a day or two. With any luck, I’ll manage to eke out some time this weekend or early next week to find an outlet for this pent-up creative energy. (It’s volatile stuff — hopefully it doesn’t evaporate before then.)
Thanks for putting up with this novel-sized entry. Come back the next time you’re bored and there’ll be more to tell.