Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Some days you're the bug...

...some days you're the windshield. Some days you're just the car in the ditch on the side of the road.

Today you're the poor shmoe reading an extra long edition of the Lemming's travels. But in my defense, it's been a while since I had the time to sit down and write.

It's been an emotional couple of days. The go-live in Kenya went mostly OK. There was one small argument with the operator because he refused to believe that we'd failed over to the redundant setup. I showed him logs, successful messages getting through and even the cables dangling loose from the back of the active node before he finally believed that we had done it. 'snot my fault I got the failover down to just under a minute when they were expecting 15. I offered to put a 'sleep 900' between the time we take the services down on the active node and bring them up on the redundant node, but he said not to worry. Go figure ;)

The egress from Kenya was a bit of a bitch. The Panari kicks you out at check-out time sharp, so there I was with all my luggage and too many hours to kill. So I ended up spending 10 hours at the airport. It should have been 8, but Kenya Airways didn't get us off the ground for far too long, and my ticket was non-endorsable so I couldn't hop on the SAA flight which did leave on time. But the Kenyan people are truly lovely, and their coffee is wonderful, so I survived. A little hyped, but survived nevertheless.

Swaziland is interesting. Someone got confused with where I'm staying, so instead of being at the Royal Swazi Sun, I'm at The Royal Villas. I'll send pics of the room after they clean today and it doesn't look like I live here, but I have an olympic size room and bathroom. "What?" I hear you ask... Well, there must be at least two olympic sports you can play in this room if you just moved the furniture out, and I get out of breath walking from one side of the bathroom to the other.

Sadly, that's the only thing to recommend it. There is no 'net access in the rooms unless you want to pay hotel telephone costs for a 48k connection, but more importantly, it's not a normal hotel... more like houses with lots of rooms with en-suite bathrooms and a communal living area. That's not so bad in itself, but there are a couple of families with children staying in my unit. Don't get me wrong, I love kids, but I couldn't eat a whole one by myself, and this is the first time I've ever walked into my room to the sound of screaming children. They do get points for endurance because they've been going for well over an hour now. Hopefully their lungs will collapse from the effort at some point, or their parents will do the decent thing and drug or smother them until they quiet down.

The sight I had walking down the passage tops this though. One of the rooms had its door open, and there was a kiddie play-pen, (a portable, legally sanctioned prison for small children) visible from the door. And draped over this was either a large ladies brassiere or a lethal siege weapon designed to reduce castles to rubble. Now the sign at the border said no weapons allowed without an import permit, so I'm going to have to assume this was just a brassiere. It's a high class lifestyle I'm living, I tells you! ;)

You're probably still wandering about the car in a ditch comment. Actually, you're probably not since most of you, my beloved readers, are just completely slack when it comes to the lyric connection to the diary entry. So far I've only had to add one beer to the tab, and Scott only got the song and artist, but fell short of the relevance. I'm only honouring the beer offer because I need to catch up with him :)

But I digress... I rented a car instead of driving the pickup out to Swaziland today. The wheels on the pickup are a little unbalanced (no, not crazy like me - just unbalanced in the literal sense of the word), and the constant 'rattle-grind-squeak' orchestra would have done my head in before I made it halfway here. I'm really glad I rented this car because it may have saved my life.

No shit, there I was (no, this isn't a skydiving story - pay attention!) heading up this hill at about 100 km/h looking in the potholes to see if I could see the giraffes that they use to indicate depth. I would have been going faster, but I'm in a rented Corolla 1.4 and it only does more than 120 if you load it fully and drop it down a very deep mine shaft. Next thing, from over the blind rise ahead come two trucks. The problem is that they were side by side with one slow-assed 10 ton killing machine driving next to another one. So I dropped speed a little and waited to see what would happen.

Over the last few days, a lot of things have happened to convince me that I'm just the invisible man. No-one sees me until they need me to do something or run over me. And the situation with this truck was no different. I flashed my lights but by the time it got to about 200m away from me, I was down to about 40 km/h and he'd given no indication that he'd seen me - nope, he was still coming straight for me (*blam* *blam* *blam*).

I decided that trying to reason or negotiate with this maniacal monster was going to be a bit futile, and remembered Sangamon's law of traffic; the biggest asshole wins. While I was totally within my rights and had the right of way, I didn't fancy explaining this to my mortician, so with great care and class I eased my car off of the road at about 40km/h. Sadly at one point, two wheels were on dirt and gravel, and then one of the remaining wheels got caught on the lip of the road slightly and a skid began. Calmly steering into it while sweating, swearing and praying for dear life, and trying _desperately_ to keep my foot off the brake lest I flip the car down a hill and kill myself, I watched the world go by. Or round. Or something. Half a rotation later, I persuaded the car to point in just one direction. When I finished, looking the wrong way down the road, there I saw two trucks, side by side, continuing onwards into the distance, oblivious to the invisible man and his plight. Ayyy, what you gonna do?

Now I must interrupt these tales of globe trotting adventure for some personal reflection time. This is not something I normally use this forum form, but today you're going to have to sit through it. Or press delete - you've got the power :)

I've come to a bunch of conclusions over the past few days, and they're going to lead to some changes in the carbon life form known as me.

You can either have a life of meaning, in which you are constantly obsessing over the past and worrying about the future, or a life of happiness in which you live entirely in the moment and make no difference (Thanks Darren!). I want a life of meaning, no matter what the cost to my already receding hairline or happiness. I want to change the world, even if it's just in small ways every day..

The other thing is that sometimes you have to put yourself first and be the most important person to you. If you don't, you're always going to be waiting for someone else to better your life, to improve your situation or to make you a whole person. And you're going to wait a long time for that, because bluntly put, no-one else really knows how to make you happy besides you. Other people can help, but only if you lead the way. So even though it may hurt people to find out that you have to be the most important thing to yourself at times, it's something you have to just get on with if you want to be happy. Hopefully people will hang around enough to find out that when you treat yourself this way, you're even better to be around and better for them, but that's a risk I have to take - roll them dice!

Everyone seems to think I've got everything going for me, that I'm so lucky because I can do all sorts of stuff, but if they looked at the train wreck I like to call my life, they might be a little less envious and a lot more thankful for their vicarious enjoyment of it. I've made a lot of bad decisions recently, and now I have to live with that. You have to be more than just what your job is. There is far more to life than just a good career, and when you take away the stuff I can do, my technical and management skills, what do we really have left? Just a lonely guy with no real clue as to how to fix his life. Most of my friends are spread across half the world which is great for holiday destinations, but a bitch when you just want someone to sit down with and get battered out of your mind.

A wise man (or possibly just wiseass, the jury is still out) told me that Africa isn't for sissies, and he was right just for a change :D But I think it goes beyond that. Any job that takes you 9000km from home is going to be tough. Any job that has you living out of a suitcase for 4 weeks in a row, across two hemispheres and 4 separate sites back-to-back is going to be hard. Doing this in Africa is just a bit harder. And I'm now sure I'm not up to the job. Sure, I'm enjoying it where I go, but I'm just not up to it. I can't cope with the loneliness of the road and I've eaten too many meals alone with just a book for company. So gloat away dear readers - we finally found something that the Lemming can't do. Bit of a shite time to realise this, but there was no other way to find out.

I'll leave you with my quote of the week and my random tip of the day...

Quote of the week
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
- Yeats

Random Tip Of the Day
When roaming around Africa - plan your haircuts in advance.

Anyways, thanks for reading if you're still with me at this point. Go get a coffee or something to wake yourself up, and get on with your life. Well? Don't just sit there - there's nothing more to see. Get moving. Go on, git! Shoo!

/Lemming wanders off

Friday, July 20, 2007

Vicarious existence is a f$#!ing waste of time!

Ahhhhh.... another shit day in Africa.

Last night I was forcefully dragged from my hotel (after a mild earthquake earlier in the evening) to the office at around 23:00. By 03:00 I was back in my hotel with my first system live on an operator network.

I was woken at 07:00 by a baby screaming and lay dozing peacefully in a comfortable bed until the alarm kicked me out at 07:50. I had a nice soak in the tub, regained some sense of awakeness and headed down to breakfast.

There I was forced to eat a delicious warm breakfast including fried egg, 2 different kinds of sausage, heaps of bacon, creamed spinach (yes, on purpose!) and some kind of potato things. To wash all this down, I had two great cups of fresh Kenyan coffee all served by smiling, friendly people.

By 08:30, I was outside and there was Luke, waiting for me, even though I'd told him to be there at 09:00, but hey, what you gonna do?

I then had to suffer a 15 minute drive under steel gray skies, looking at the brightly painted buses and taxis, chatting to Luke and gazing out of the Nairobi National Park.

Yep - truly another shit day in Africa. However will I cope ?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Man eating badgers!

Gotta love this story on the BBC... Most importantly though, you have to love the tongue in cheek responses by people quite a way up the chain of command in the British military:

UK military spokesman Major Mike Shearer said: "We can categorically state that we have not released man-eating badgers into the area."


Wednesday, July 11, 2007

This is a public service announcement... WITH GUITARS!

Ok, so I lied about the guitars - get your own.

When traveling abroad, always carry plenty of immodium. And avoid the Black Steer on Hans Strydom.

Thank you, that is all.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A briefcase, a lunch and a man on the edge...

Well, it's not really a briefcase... More of a shoulder bag thingy, but the lyrics still work :) I'm 9000KMs away from home, but so what? Gravity still needs testing you know! According to the 'merkins, evolution is just a theory, so I figure that if gravity is also just a theory, I should test it rigorously and often. Newton would appreciate all my hard work even if you ingrates don't!

To this end, I dragged my skydive rig along for this first leg of the adventure, and boy am I glad I did. I just love Johannesburg Skydive Club. They have the best people, the best facilities and great packers. But most importantly, they don't insist that you stay with the plane all the way to the top!

They are about the only DZ I've found outside of Lodi that will let you out early. So after a 2 way with Brando (awesome birdman bloke), I spent the rest of the day getting out of the plane early. I told the tandems that it was because I was scared of heights, but I just wanted the sky to myself. So for three glorious jumps, the plane went to 5000 feet above the ground, and I got out. All by myself. The plane carried on carrying everyone else (in the now even more spacious interior) to the top and I just played for a good few minutes, spiraling, getting the canopy pointing straight at the ground, diving it, all sorts of neat fun.

So that's that then... That'll probably be my last relaxation for the next 6 months, but what a place to do it, and what a way to do it!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Lemming has landed!

Well, I'm on the ground 9000KMs from home. The main things I learnt during the trip over are...
1. It's hard to use the facilities when you have two suitcases and a shoulder bag that you don't want blowed up. Sorry to any disabled people who had to wait while I abused your bigger room so I could keep my stuff close.

2. Airlines lie. I knew I was going to be at least 2 hours late, but they kept trying to assure us that everything was on time.

3. Shoulder slung bags are useless. I need to get a decent laptop rucksack for the rest of these trips. The shoulder bag pulls you off balance, and slips about. This takes attention away from where it's required, and makes you lurch like a drunken sailor. Not the best idea when the special olympics team are trying to blow the place up and you don't want to draw unwanted attention.

My dad saved Wayne (my new boss, not me... and you better believe that's getting confusing already!) a trip to the airport. Sadly, he did so when Wayne (not me, try to keep up!) had already left the office, so he just turned around and came back.

Yesterday was the first time, and probably the last time that two members of the Pascoe clan signed into the Ericsson Woodmead building, one after the other. Looking at the register brought a tear to my eye, almost like the passing of a torch. Speaking of torches, I wonder what having two Pascoe's on the same site does to their insurance premiums?

The real crowning moment of the day was being abused (and dishing out a little abuse ;)) when we walked down to a meeting room and Noah was finishing up a meeting.

The accommodation is fairly spartan, but comfortable nevertheless. Most importantly, the bandwidth is good and I was able to skype home for 30 minutes last night and a few this morning.

It's kind of weird being back. There are a lot of echos of Wayne's old company (no, not mine - pay attention already!) about the place from mugs to files. There are also a few of the old team in the mix, so in some ways it's a bit of a homecoming.

I'm starting to get an idea on what they want me to do... It's two part really - they want me to wander about the place doing these deployments. And they want me to do anything else that catches my fancy. So I got my first code commit into their application today. Nothing major, but at least there are some sensible MySQL housekeeping scripts in place. I've also got an idea of how to seriously reduce the current deployment time on sites. Now I need to sort out tuning MySQL on the Solaris boxes.

So yeah, I'm still doing basic IT thingy's for now, but tomorrow I start playing with the gear that I'll be using to hook this into the GSM network and then the real learning starts.