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Global Domination

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Tuesday, April 8

Plane Sailing

You find me on a plane. I can't actually post this blog entry right now, because I'm on plane. By a plane, I mean an aeroplane. I'm not on a two-dimensional surface. That would be ridiculous. As far as I know, I exist in at least 4 dimensions, and I would have trouble in pinning down a moment when at least one of my spatial dimensions became irrelevant enough to discount from my...

...sorry. I'm boring myself here.

It's 6.10am and I'm on an aeroplane that is bound for Rome. Fiumicino airport to be precise. It sounds nice, doesn't it? It sounds even nicer when I say that, though my ticket has been temporarily placed on my credit card, my employer will be paying for this trip. However, there are three twists. One, I shall be working for entire duration of my visit. Two, I will be in the area for approximately 8 hours only. Three, and really this is the clincher, when I said I'm headed for Fiumicino, I really meant it. I'm not actually going to leave the airport campus. Oh no. I shall be here to go to a site within the airport and then, when I'm done, get back on the plane.

I may be a three dimensional person, but this is a two dimensional visit.

About 10 years ago, I was engaged. I was invited to a wedding with my fianceé and we went. You do. It's rude not to. The wedding was in Italy and we were encouraged by the groom to make a good solid trip of it. It coincided with Easter Sunday, so it really was around this sort of time. If I had the internet working right now (which I haven't, being up in the sky and being fearful of trying to connect via mobile, lest the aircraft decides to go a plummeting) I would check and might even be able to find out. I've been blethering about my life for long enough that the data is up there.

I'm now starting to doubt that it was 1998 that I was at the wedding. I can't check.

Let's pretend that it was in 1998. It's about right. I was very fat.

Anyway, part of the trip included some time spent in Rome. When you go to Rome, you're supposed to visit the Trevi fountain. You're supposed to turn your back and throw a coin over your shoulder at the fountain. This will ensure that you pay Rome another visit sometime. Mmmm.

"What's the purpose of this trip?", I don't hear you cry, because you are, in fact, a figment of my imagination, and even if you're a real person, denying your figmenthood right this minute, this minute to you is undoubtedly several hours after the minute now in which I'm writing this and, unless there are wormholes in the space-time-continuum (and you can tell I'm a sci-fi geek) then I ain't gonna hear ya! But, to answer my rhetorical question, the purpose of this trip has changed. When it was mooted, the idea was to race over to Italy to look over the shoulder of the people saying that the system didn't work and go "ahhh - but look - it does really, doesn't it?". That would be quite cool. A quick phone call back to the office to say "I talked them into it, they really think it's great". That was the idea on Friday. That was the idea on Monday morning when I was told "Congratulations, you're going to Rome".

Things have gone aglay. They aft do. At around 4pm yesterday, a series of small facts congealed. The word congeal is appropriate, since it felt like a hardening of something gooey into something deeply unpleasant. The reports from Italy matched a report that came in from France and further data from Heathrow. This, in turn, matched some evidence I'd seen first hand. Something was up and the conclusion is not good. So, my "oh, come on, look, it's perfect" session has been recast into an "aye, that's well knackered" session.

"Why travel all the way to Rome to do that?" I hear you cry, metaphorically, and illogically.

At first, I think it was necessary. Now it's sort of an expectation, the flight got booked, may as well use it.

There's a certain fatalism to the way I lead my life. Sometimes I just give myself to the plans. Like the gig that was cancelled on me. I didn't mind it being cancelled... then I found out it wasn't cancelled, so I had to go and do it. Why? Well, it was a demand on me, and I don't say no. So now you get the idea. I did a gig after work, I had a first thing flight. What's a girl to do? More importantly, since I'm not a girl, what's an IT Technical Lead supposed to do?

Well, you have to know a little bit about what motivates me. I have two work-related objectives, three if you include general wellwishing to all people I like. My objectives are to avoid utter disasters, and to prove, once and for all, that I'm a rock hard computer dude. Let's compare these objectives with the situation I found myself in at 5.30pm yesterday evening. I knew I was heading to a gig. I knew that I was in my rights to do so, but that I was also risking time on the project and potentially making myself miss the flight through over-sleeping. I also knew that I was heading to Italy to look a total loser in front of some stylish Italian types who aren't wrong. It's the software that's wrong.

I mitigated my selfish "doing something in my own time" by having an hour or so on the phone with various management types discussing contingency plans and technical solutions. I knew I'd have to communicate the action points from this to my team so that there would be immediate action. We are at a stage in the project that I've described in gambling terms as double or quits. I've also described it, perhaps more accurately, as playing Roulette and sticking all the money on number 34... with the added bonus that the other numbers are in some ways blocked, and the number 0 appears a few extra times on the wheel. The bad news is that the results are in, and it's not looking good. It's time to start thinking outside of the box.

It may not be as bad as it looks. It certainly needs more scrutiny. I needed to push the big red button and get things focused on bringing the project back in line. The gig should, perhaps, have taken a lower priority than the one I gave it. Namely going to it.

However, I do gigs to keep me sane, and the rest of my life is presently deeply insane. I have a special trick up my sleeve - the extra 6 hours trick. You don't sleep, you get more out of the day. It's worth pointing out that I only use this totally mad trick on gig nights, which means that perhaps the thing which is keeping me sane is driving me insane. Let's not go down that route, you can't handle the truth, and by "you", I mean "I".

Anyway, I had a plan to solve three problems in one go. How could I brief the team, not miss the flight, and have something up my sleeve for my Italy visit? The answer was simple. I would go home for a shower after my gig, pick up my passport and rucksack, and then return to the office. At the office, I would implement step one of the action plan and send the email to brief the team. I would even send it a bit later than 2am, so that they'd get the sense that it had been written just before going to the flight, rather than mid-way through a panic-stricken all nighter.

In truth, I'm not panicking. I don't like panic and I try to avoid it wherever possible. I'm just driven. I went into the office for just under 3 hours. I did what I wanted to do. I have an arrow in my quiver. I have a team that has been given enough to keep things moving while I'm up in the air. I hope they won't panic with the "Don't Panic" email I sent them. In many ways, I'm having my cake and eating it. Note: I am eating airline cake while I type this.

Going back to the Trevi fountain moment, some ten or so years ago, then. If you'd told me back then that throwing my coin into the fountain would cause me to return to Rome to demonstrate that I'm a dickhead, in software terms at least, on no sleep, having left my familiar settings in Newcastle to live down South to do a highly stressful job that sends me around the world to look stupid on a project which seems to have bad luck every time that there's room for it, I might have kept my coin in my pocket. On the other side, though, if you'd told me this time last year, as I was stewing in a job which wasn't engaging, that there was a challenging, crazy job, which sent me around the world and gave me 2 hours here and there to turn myself into hero or villain, I might have jumped at the lifeline from a world of boredom.

So, perhaps all of this nonsense, which is driving me mad, is, in fact, the very thing which I might come to look back on with some sort of fondness. It's certainly a talking point of a thing. I lead just the sort of crazy messed up life I like to lead. It's doing me in, but there are occasional weeks, or mornings, when the pressure is off and that's when I catch up on the sleep.

Come May, of course, if there's no success from the pot of failure that this project has been, I may have to reconsider my position. I may have no choice.

I described this problem earlier as a "wicked problem". I read this in a book once. The example they gave in the book related to suspension bridges. Until they'd built the first suspension bridge and had it blown down, they had no idea how suspension bridges could be blown down. You have to fail to succeed.

I'm very successful, then.


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