The holiday season, burnout, and sundry other matters.

29 November 2011

Well, the holiday season is upon us once again. Not that you could fail to notice unless you've been living in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and your only link to the outside world is a 300bps modem connection over shortwave radio. As it's wont to be down here, the weather in the DC metroplex is a little erratic, swerving drunkenly from shirtsleeves comfortable to bone-chillingly cold to damp and rainy almost on a daily basis. Lyssa and I took a few days off last week to drive back to Pennsylvania and visit our respective families for Thanksgiving and came back a day early to recuperate and get ready for the home stretch of 2011. Everybody at home seems to be doing well, and things are going swimmingly on the home front. Much of Thanksgiving Day was spent lounging around the house trying to stay out of the way and working on our respective projects. Lyssa spent much of her time working on a couple of time-sensitive knitting projects while I got some work done on the Byzantium codebase (more on that later). At one point, my father-in-law Bill sat me down to see if I could get him past a particularly tricky part of the game Battlefield 3; unfortunately, I don't really play video games (Portal 2 is more my speed, and even then I only play sporadically) but even after digging up a couple of walkthroughs I had to admit defeat. I guess it's time to turn in my "Child of the 80's" membership card and delete the InSoc discography from my iProduct.

At my parents' place, everybody seems to be doing pretty well. Lyssa and I had dessert there on Thanksgiving Day and got the fifty cent tour of the house, post-remodeling. The basement (my old lab) has undergone a sea change, and is slowly being converted into a usable gameroom of the sort common in older Pittsburgh houses. My grandfather's getting up there in years (93 - a good age, no doubt) and is still up and around. At one point on Saturday he decided that a breath of fresh air would do him some good, and so went for a short stroll around the back yard, walker be damned. On Friday afternoon, while Lyssa and her mother braved the Black Friday crowds I drove back home to visit my family again, and spent the afternoon pulling the model train platform out of the shede, eating too many cookies than is really good for me, and searching for a few choice components (namely, a power supply for my old public address system and some replacement parts for the train (which wound up not happening and turned into an eBay scavenger hunt)). For the first time in many years (since college in the late 1990's, actually) I went out for dinner with my mother, and we caught up on everything's that's transpired in the past decade or so. Unfortunately, travel takes its toll after a while, and it always demands exact change. Despite a lot of work over the years, sitting in the driver's seat of a car for longer than an hour or two becomes extremely painful for me, not just because I have particularly long legs but also because the positioning of pedals (a mistake with which could be disasterous) and steering column makes it difficult to find and keep a comfortable position. When you consider that it was a six hour drive from DC up to Pennsylvania (counting the hour and change stuck on route 68 after a wreck reduced traffic to a crawl) and multiple two hour trips to and from Pittsburgh, I was neither in the best of shape or mood when all was said and done. I'm still a little sore even after sleeping off steady doses of Advil, and the few pounds I've put on since Samhain aren't helping matters any, either. Prior to moving out of the old apartment, I was a good deal more active than I am now because I had steady access to the gym in the apartment complex, and it wasn't difficult to get a couple of good workouts every week. After relocating we have only a stationary bicycle and a couple of free weights in the basement, and you just can't get as good or as complete a workout as you can in a gym. Thus, I'm looking around for a membership at a gym that won't cost an arm and a leg that's fine with someone keeping odd hours (such as driving in at 2200 for an hour or two). If anyone out there lives in Maryland and knows of such a place, please let me know in the comments.

I mentioned earlier the unreasonably early kick-off of the holiday season. Admit it, the first time you see a full Christmas set-up in a store on 30 October it was enough to drive you a little batty, especially when you haven't purchased any candy yet and you're sharking for whatever you can get your hands on before the kids come to your door. So, I think we're on the same page when I say that the news coverage on Thanksgiving day that seemed to consist entirely of people camping on the sidewalks of local malls and outlet stores so they'd have a good position was, to be frank, too much. I get the whole human interest angle, I really do. But - and I realize I'm asking a lot here - the holiday season isn't about getting up at what-the-fuck-o'clock in the morning to stampede into a mall, nor is it about skipping out on Thanksgiving with your families (whether or not this is your actual goal, and if it is that's your row to hoe). This is certainly not anything to admire or aspire to (though the idea of getting fifteen nanoseconds of fame on Failblog makes a twisted kind of sense). Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky, or maybe that Charlie Brown was one of my biggest media influences as a loomling is starting to show.

Oh, and those crazy-shopper-lady commercials that Target's been pimping like a character about to be force-fed Draino in a production by the Lifetime Movie Network? Knock that shit off. It's irritating. It denigrates the whole holiday season by making it all about spending money you don't have and not about spending time with the people you love. It's guaranteed that at least two of us won't be spending any money in your stores, and I hope that everyone who reads this considers not buying anything from Target this year, also. End of rant.

In other news, the Occupy movement proceeds apace around the world. New York City's encampment is gone, and the damage done to their library and computers took the Net by storm. Things were tense at Occupy LA early yesterday but the riot police were recalled shortly before sunrise on the west coast. On Thanksgiving Day a band of protestors completed their march from New York to Washington, DC and joined everyone for Thanksgiving dinner. About two weeks ago a small contingent of us did a couple of loads of laundry for the protestors of OccupyDC. There's a good laundry not too far away from where we live, so it was the work of an evening to throw a couple of bags of clothing into the washers, dryers, and back of a vehicle for delivery the next day. We've also been donating food when we can to their kitchen, mostly vegan fare cooked up in industrial quantities but a few loaves of homemade bread have also been warmly received.

In other fronts, I haven't been paying as much attention to things happening in other places, such as Syria and Egypt as I once did. Frankly put, I think I've done all I can and now I have to pay attention to things happening a little closer to home. Burnout has well and truly set in and the energy I have left would be better used for local efforts and programming. I'm taking a few days off from my other projects to rest and pull myself together for what promises to be a very hectic December. I have more travel lined up (a few more trips to and from home for Yule) and a work schedule the likes of which I haven't seen since I worked in the telecommunications industry (which is a nice way of saying 70 hour weeks plus being on-call). A code freeze has been called on my parts of Project Byzantium - I'm not going to be adding any new features to it until after we get v0.1a out the door and into everybody's hands but there are still some things that we have to get in place before the alpha is ready. Mostly, I've wanted to just relax and enjoy myself for a change, rather than worrying about what I have to do, when it has to get done, and who needs it soonest. I need a break before important parts of me start breaking; I'm already showing signs of wear and tear, things that I've come to associate over the years with impending breakdown.

So goes the holiday season.