Print Story So he asked me, and I told him,
By technician (Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 11:04:59 AM EST) (all tags)
but I never tell the whole thing because I'm mostly unaware of it, and I don't even know that this is it.

My friend and longtime mental twin (the other half of my brain) is living in Denver and about to get married for the first time. Found some woman crazy enough, with enough heart and enough teeth, to deal with him on a daily basis. They've been together for four or five years I think...hard to pin down when she started showing up more than the others, but after a while it was all her.

Anyhow, he's a former rugby player, started out in his teens playing left or right wing because he was faster than anyone else out there. As he got older, he moved up and in. Last I'd heard, he'd played scrum half, fly half and hooker, hell they even set him up in my old position at #4 lock. He's not that big, but he has no fear of aggression, and no mental breakpoints. Back in his late teens he was running down the sideline at the NMSU pitch at mach 9, and someone pushed him into a tree. Broke his face. He has a titanium plate in there now, keeping his face together. Took him four days to see the doctor for it, because pain don't hurt.

He's doing Crossfit now, which is what you do if you're of a certain age and type in the US. The folks who were really into kettle bells and marathons are now into Crossfit. The US rugby teams swear by it. The email that I got recently, "Yesterday I did 10 rounds of 7 x deadlifts @ 165lbs and 15 x weighted situps @ 14lbs in ~14 minutes." Which is nuts.

I'd mentioned that I started running at the first of the year, and that I'd finally reached my 10 mile goal. My 5 mile long run is now my twice-a-week run, and my new long runs are 6, 7.5, or 10 miles. Like most anyone who knows me, he was amazed that I could run ten miles. He knew me when I was 280 pounds with a broken back, and though he's seen me a couple of times since I started running, I still don't look like a distance runner. I stopped losing weight in May, and have been holding steady at 248 pounds. My waist size has dropped, and my legs are like iron now, but the rest of me looks like what I am: a pudgy white guy in his late 30s trying too hard.

So he asks me, why do it? What inspired you to start doing long distance running? And my standard reply is, well, I needed to lose 50 pounds and gain some muscle in my legs and back, because my back surgeon told me I'd be crippled if I didn't. Running is actually great for the back....especially if you use a barefoot or "zen" stride, like I do. The jarring helps circulate fluid into the disks (which has no way of circulating on its own), keeping them mobile and healthy. So that's why.

And he asks me, no, really. Why?

Because, I replied. Because I can't do it. Because I'm not supposed to be able to do this, and truth be told I can't. I hate it. I despise how weak it makes me feel. I hate the way my body reacts to it. It is more work, and more difficult work, than anything I have ever done. I run into a wall at mile 4, and I run into another at mile 8 which is less a wall and more just all-encompassing physical despair. It is so very tough that I'm positive I'm going to die. That's why I do it. Not because I'm sadistic, but because it is very, very tough.

When you're doing something really mind-shattering, you find a place where every thought lasts a brief second or less. You can't dwell on anything. The rest of the world and the way it works drops away completely, and all you can do is run a loop of, come on. Come on. Push, keep working. One goddamn leg in front of the other. And everything else around you is still there, but none of it will help you. You have to find it in yourself, and fucking run.

I work in an industry that used to have artisans. Folks who'd hit a problem and solve it by applying creativity and sheer horsepower. I know a lady who once worked on a new network with a new routing protocol with some new traffic types. It was a solid mass of work for a year, then in that last critical bring-up stage she worked for seventy two hours straight, taking cat naps on her office floor after the first day. No one else could do it but her, and she had to do it, and she did. She took a week off afterward, staring into the sea. The office she worked at in Cambridge is just another cube in a glass and steel building near the Alewife T stop. You'd never know what happened there. There's no plaque. No way to tell that all the stuff we now do is partially her doing, her sacrifice.

We used to engulf ourselves in our problems, those of us who were hack taught and mis-aligned with the rest of the world. Those of us without degrees but with an unfailing imagination and clarity, a way to cut through and find the thread to solve the problem. No short cuts. No easy way to do it. You just put your head into it and pray that when it is all done, you can sleep knowing that the solution is in place.

Now, with most of our thinking offloaded to Google and the main creative purpose of our lives being how witty we can appear in 160 characters, dire life-saving work is a realm once again outside of tech. The only times this job consumes me any more is when something breaks and I'm about to get fired for it. So instead of finding solitude and hope in my work, I struggle three times a week to the point of heat stroke to quiet my mind enough to have one task that I can complete and say this, this is mine. I drive myself to the breaking point to own that moment completely.

It is not a thing or a gadget or a philosophy or anything simple. It is a brutal honest stupid selfish way to prove that I am in control and still very much alive. Everything else fucks off because it can't stand up to that moment.

Then I go home, sweat for four more hours, and try to act interested in the rest of the day.

< A Day in the Life -- Magnanimous | Attn: UAF sympathisers! >
So he asked me, and I told him, | 24 comments (24 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback
Mental Mojo by hulver (4.00 / 3) #1 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 11:22:37 AM EST
I've lost mine.

There was a point where if there was something I couldn't do with a computer, or something that didn't work, I would glory in finding out what it was and how to bend it to my will.

I once wrote a multi-tasking event driven system in Clipper, just because I could. It wasn't good for anything but my brain, but I did it anyway. No body ever used it and it just went in the bin.

I relished a challenge. Spending hours wrangling code and config files to make that computer do as it was told, well it was like a drug.

Now, I just want stuff to work. I don't look at new languages or new libraries because it changes so fast. By the time you've managed to steal away some spare time from everything else you've got to do, the thing you were going to look at is out of date, old news. Like you.

So if something doesn't work, I just put it to one side.

Instead I go out, and make myself hurt by riding my bike.
Cheese is not a hat. - clock

I know what you mean. by Breaker (4.00 / 1) #2 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 12:07:48 PM EST
I could sit and code forever, reading the assembler output of the compiler to see if I could inline it directly and save a few clock cycles over wht the compiler output. 

I used to know every useful interrupt on an x86 chip and which numbers went where in the registers, which ones in the DOS handlers you had to be really careful of hooking into.

Now it's all just code that bangs itself out; there's a good deal of craft that's been lost as compilers got more sophisticated and hardware faster so you didn't have to squeeze every last CPU cycle and byte.

Everything's Googlable so no having to read ten manuals on technology X to resolve a problem.

The more business minded view this as a good thing; shorter lead times for software and quicker returns to uptime.

But for old skool dinosaurs like me, we've lost the fun - wrestling with the technology, and with it the enjoyment.

It's not gone by garlic (4.00 / 1) #9 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:26:31 PM EST
Just today I've been struggling bringing a XCV4FX60 into a configured state on a consistant basis. We're looking at configuration code commands, and oscilloscopes checking the clock against the data lines and config lines.

Sasquatchen's been having similar low level hardware hassles. Embedded hardware still needs embedded software.

[ Parent ]
same here by MillMan (4.00 / 1) #12 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:46:25 PM EST
I do mixed signal chips and put scopes on I2C digital interfaces all the time.

"Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in financial crises." -Krugman

[ Parent ]
your mother... by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #3 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 12:30:27 PM EST
I thought she was the inspiration for your running ..

She's a source of motivation.... by technician (2.00 / 0) #5 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 01:19:04 PM EST
...of sorts.

[ Parent ]
oh yeah, she motivates... by sasquatchan (4.00 / 1) #16 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:52:48 PM EST

[ Parent ]
exactly. by clock (4.00 / 1) #4 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 12:33:58 PM EST
i think about this every day.  trying to pinpoint when it was that the work lost meaning and instead of some amazing art or mindfuck.  now i save that up for my one hour in the spare room i call my studio.  that's where i go now.  sometimes i wish the work was still that attractive and i was driven to solve a problem rather than just get it live.


I agree with clock entirely --Kellnerin

(Comment Deleted) by aggressive cyclist (4.00 / 1) #6 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 01:32:38 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by aggressive cyclist

Nah, we're not talking about all things. by technician (2.00 / 0) #10 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:41:43 PM EST
I mean, I find a lot of joy in creating music and whatnot. This is different. We're talking about work, and specifically, I'm talking about my work in technology, being a technician.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by aggressive cyclist (4.00 / 1) #13 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:48:42 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by aggressive cyclist

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by aggressive cyclist (4.00 / 2) #15 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:50:05 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by aggressive cyclist

[ Parent ]
sanskrit is awesome. by gzt (4.00 / 1) #17 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 03:11:08 PM EST
seriously, though, it's immense, you'll get lost without a good guide.

[ Parent ]
(Comment Deleted) by aggressive cyclist (4.00 / 1) #18 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 06:00:31 PM EST

This comment has been deleted by aggressive cyclist

[ Parent ]
Growing up by jimgon (4.00 / 2) #7 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 01:32:59 PM EST
Discovery and sacrifice in the name of an occupation is a young person's game.  Don't look at the changes in the industry over the last twenty years.  Look at the changes in you.  You've gotten better.  You've gotten older with different desires in life.  Yeah, the industry is a commodity and not an artisan thing, but I bet a master woodworker looks at the chest of drawers he just put together and thinks, "man just another damn dresser."

Technician - "We can't even get decent physical health care. Mental health is like witchcraft here."
Occupation vs Vocation by iGrrrl (4.00 / 5) #8 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:13:02 PM EST
A lot of us have jobs, occupations, gainful employment for the purpose of providing food and shelter and toys. For most people, it beats busting sod behind a mule and making sure to can enough to get through the winter.

I'm exceedingly lucky, in that I seem to have a vocation. I get paid for it, and I will work as much as needed to get it done. When it becomes "just another damn dresser," it may be time to go buy me a mule.

"Beautiful wine, talking of scattered everythings"
(and thanks to Scrymarch)

[ Parent ]
I'm still looking for my vocation. by technician (4.00 / 3) #11 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:42:43 PM EST
(what a great word....a calling!)

I have a feeling it involves teaching.

[ Parent ]
software is a pretty stupid industry by infinitera (4.00 / 2) #19 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 06:50:05 PM EST
But I like my vocation. There's creative solutions on a daily basis, and completion. Here's a sample opening:

As a vocation, it's really not as bad as the REC diaries would lead one to believe. I solve puzzles, and ignore everything else.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

[ Parent ]
Tech wise by MillMan (4.00 / 1) #14 Thu Sep 02, 2010 at 02:48:48 PM EST
I've never worked in a creative space.

I am looking for a vocation too - and while what I have planned out isn't guaranteed to be it, I know I'm looking in the right direction.

"Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there are no libertarians in financial crises." -Krugman

I love your facespace updates. by ammoniacal (4.00 / 1) #20 Fri Sep 03, 2010 at 01:07:26 AM EST
It seems like at least once a week you snatch your job back from the jaws of defeat. Like Flash Gordon with a pocket protector.

"To this day that was the most bullshit caesar salad I have every experienced..." - triggerfinger

There is this passage in Nostromo by Scrymarch (4.00 / 2) #21 Fri Sep 03, 2010 at 06:48:09 AM EST
.. about young engineers, and it's the truest thing, I have seen it from the inside and sometimes from the outside. And it's about these engineers at the railway and the silver mine, busting a gut to solve these tremendous problems, these fascinating technical problems, and make some lives better along the way, probably, to you know, serve the future. Those engineers are the most minor of characters, they don't even have names, but it's one of my favourite passages, or at least I thought. Because when I just looked up the Gutenberg version of Nostromo and did a search on some remembered words from it, I couldn't find it.

I guess I should read the book again anyway.

Iambic Web Certified

That is why i want out of tech by coryking (4.00 / 1) #22 Sat Sep 04, 2010 at 11:21:20 PM EST
The magic went away.  The novelty is gone.  Facebook (which hooked me in) took away the opportunity for little guys to get in and win.  Nobody wants to bullshit with random people—or something.

I know exactly what you mean though.  Who cares how it works, the damn thing just should work.  Its why I'm typing this on that I-thing from some fruit company that the brainwashed and the left-coast elite hype all the time.  It is why I don't go on my desktop computer at home more then a few times a week, and that is only cause quiuckbooks doesn't work on the I-thingy (yet).  Every time I go on the "real" computer i curse how slow it is (seriously, how can a machine get slower!? windows gets slower the longer it sits on the disk drive).

Tech is mature.  Tech is corporate.  Tech is dominated by hundred pound gorillas.  And I find that really, really depressing.  Oh well.  Time to move on and find some other passion to tap into I suppose.

Dog food. Snack for some. Feast for others.

that should be the new occupational label by infinitera (4.00 / 2) #23 Sun Sep 05, 2010 at 05:24:38 PM EST
Professional gorilla groomer.

[…] a professional layabout. Which I aspire to be, but am not yet. — CheeseburgerBrown

[ Parent ]
I got out of tech... by Metatone (4.00 / 1) #24 Mon Sep 06, 2010 at 06:51:19 AM EST
because the space for the artisan had gone.

It's funny, I have an engineering degree (about making things fly) but I was drawn into tech because it was an artisan space.
This also maps my move out of photography as digital arrived. The darkroom is an artisan space. Photoshop still has some artisan moments, but fewer - and those moments are less about the everyday production. Ironically I worked at one point on software that took even more of the artisan out of it...

Mind-shattering exercise is a problem for me, though. I used to do it on the bike. I'd go around the loop of backroads, up and down some not very big hills (although the last was a killer) - but I used to push so hard I'd finally get to the place you're talking about. But I had to stop, because the physical point where my mind would calm down would leave me jelly-legged at the end and typically needing an hour's nap to function even three months into doing it...

Of course, the other reason things had to change is I live in the city now - cycling like that just isn't an option.

So now I go to the gym - but it's not the same. I ache like buggery afterwards, but the challenge isn't the pain, it's the boredom...

So he asked me, and I told him, | 24 comments (24 topical, 0 hidden) | Trackback