Peeking out from the Land of No Should

This is not a doorSorry about dropping out of the blog mid-trip there. Well, it wasn’t really mid-trip – we were on our way to the airport to head home, and there was only one more post in the offing, about how much we adored the overwhelming cheerful, helpful hospitality of the Dutch. But I kind of ran out of writing steam there, and couldn’t bring myself to tidy it up and hit “post”. Maybe for another trip.

Anyhow, we’ve now been home for four days or so, and Devon, the kids and I have mostly gotten the better of our jet lag. Devon’s recuperating, getting the house back in order. Kids have immersed themselves in the internet like parched explorers stumbling into a desert oasis. Me, I’m trying to focus on what’s next.

This week marks the one-year anniversary of me handing in my badge at Google. As I explained when I made that announcement, I was going to take time for myself, time to figure out what I wanted to do next. I wasn’t going to let myself be bullied by expectations – either my own or others – of what I Should Be Doing with my time. Instead, I wanted to let the noise in my head settle and tune into whatever faint signals might have been getting drowned out by the crush of deadlines, quarterly objectives and meeting requests. I was going to play for a little, trying things and letting them go if they didn’t stick. I might to read more, write a bit, fly. I would dabble in woodworking, rock climbing and long walks with my wife. I was going to just see how things went – I had been granted asylum in the Land of No Should, and I wasn’t coming out for at least a year.

So it’s now been a year, and I’m taking a peek outside. Some of what I’ve found myself gravitating to hasn’t been surprising, some has. For example, I’d been assuming that, given the amount of time and effort Devon and I have been putting into philanthropy, I’d find myself using my new-found free time to dive deeper into it, spending more time evaluating non-profits, connecting worthy projects with people and appropriate technology. Right? But strangely, I’ve found myself shying away from it this past year – Hmmm. I’ll get back, I’m sure – it’s important work and needs to be done. But not quite yet – it’s going to have to wait until I’m ready for a longer excursion from the Land of No Should. On the other hand, travel and flying and writing – I think we can safely put those down in the “lifetime addictions” column.

So, the focus thing: over the next month, I’m going to try focusing myself more on those three addictions in particular: 1) Flying – pretty self-explanatory. 2) Writing – my short story writing has sort of dropped off, and I’m going to try to crank out at least one new story per week until 3) Travel – the next big travel adventure is already looming frighteningly close on the horizon. Read on.

For those of you who’ve not been following the pabloverse timeline closely, August is the Antarctic icebreaker gig, where I’ll be returning to the USAP to serve as sysadmin on the Nathaniel B Palmer for a month or so. There’s the travel planning and packing to do, of course (how does one pack for mid-winter on an icebreaker working in the roughest seas on the planet?), but the real prep is getting myself up to speed for the actual job. You see, at the South Pole, I was the Helpdesk guy – the “human face” of the IT department when anyone had computer problems. Sure, I could fix a lot of the more mundane stuff, but my primary responsibility was to be cheerful and responsive. If I came up against something I couldn’t fix, I had Daniel, our Senior PC Tech, right behind me. And if he couldn’t fix it, there was still Ben, our sysadmin and the ultimate authority on Make it Work for everything from recovering trashed hard drives to reconfiguring server kernels.

But the icebreaker, as enormous as it is, carries is a much smaller crew. There is no Helpdesk guy. There is no Senior PC tech. There is only the sysadmin. And that would be, ah… me. Out in the sea off of Antarctica. Terrified yet?

Actually, it’s not that bad. The USAP isn’t stupid, so there will be two sysadmins, and Sean, the other one, is about as bulletproof as they come. Scott tells me he’s been working the systems on the Palmer for years and could probably patch a hull breach using vi (that’s a Linux joke, for you non-techies). Since Sean and I will each be on for 12 hours a day, my assumption is that I’ll be working what passes for night shift for the duration of the tour. Yeah, August in Antarctica, the whole damned month is “night shift”, but you know what I mean. Anyhow, if there’s anything I can’t handle, all I need to do is stabilize the problem until Sean comes on duty. Scott tells me that, in a real emergency, I can just wake Sean up. Sounds like a fine plan to me.

But I’m still trying to come up to speed as best I can. Digging through my old sysadmin books, trying to remember how to run backups and restores, how to configure DNS and network services. I’m pretty solid at administering my own systems, but when it comes to taking care of larger installations, well, I’ve got a lot of studying to do.

(By the way, if you’re curious, I’m working the AMLR cruise, at sea from Aug 19th-Sep 18th. An entertaining video of last year’s AMLR is over here on YouTube.)

2 responses to “Peeking out from the Land of No Should

  1. “route -n” is probably the first thing you’ll want to make sure you understand. :) (I’m teasing of course…)


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