I knew I needed to get back to work weeks before my sabbatical was up. I don’t know how it happened, but I do remember when I realized it. It happened similarly to a cocaine addict’s sobriety relapse. One day he’s being bestowed a 10 year sobriety coin, and the next he’s doing coke lines off of a stripper’s back– not knowing exactly how or why it happened, but for a brief moment, realizing that– boy does it feel good.
A few weeks before my leave was up, my sister shipped my laptop to Hong Kong. Not wanting to leave things to the last minute, I wanted to make sure everything was in order, and that I wouldn’t be caught in an airport on the first day of work, with a broken operating system or an invalid SSL certificate (you can’t watch YouTube with the latter
Opening the laptop box was not entirely dissimilar to a child on Christmas day. I smiled, and then ripped the wrapping apart. Mind you, this is not a new laptop, something which should have clued me to my addiction. I turned it on, and spent the next few hours amazed at how much better Facebook and email looked on a bigger screen. I occupied myself with bigger pixels for a while, but eventually retired to my third nap of the day, as any self respecting sabbaticalee is prone to doing.
I put the laptop away for a few days, but it wasn’t until I took my next flight to Laos that I realized I had “problems”. I spent the few hours before my flight departed playing around with unsecured WiFi access points and noticing that most allow ‘ping’ requests to servers on the other side of the world, even though normal TCP/IP traffic is not allowed (read “web traffic”). That’s like realizing that UPS won’t ship your bike for free, but that if you pack bike components in small and different enough boxes, put them at the UPS door, they’ll deliver them for free without complaining. Ok, that’s not exactly how it goes, but I bet all my non-nerd friends think they know what we’re talking about now :).
So, right before I boarded the plane I bought “The TCP/IP Guide: A comprehensive, illustrated IP reference” for my Kindle. Which at 1600 pages, I will add, is a gargantuan piece of verbose crap. Seriously folks, have all the technical editors died or left the planet? Why are we allowing authors to write 1600 pages of anecdotes, useless diagrams, and verbosity explaining the obvious? Are we paying authors by the page now? Anyways, in my defense I only bought this nonsense because Stevens of TCP/IP fame is either dead, not writing, or hasn’t bothered to release his TCP/IP bibles electronically.
Fast forward 6 hours of brushing up on stuff I thought I’d never see again, and I turned off the Kindle, concluding that yes, I bet I could tunnel TCP/IP packets in an ICMP envelope: I could put all my bike parts in small (different) boxes and UPS would deliver them free of charge. At this point I had the bright idea that I would use the remainder of my leave of absence to design such a tool. The clever reader will note that had I actually known anything about TCP/IP, or had access to the internet, I would have realized that at least 3 people have written such tools.
At this point, I’m nodding and congratulating myself on such cleverness, never stopping to think of the stupidity of my venture. I would be designing a morally suspect, though legal, tool that would save me (maybe) $20 a year in free airport and coffee shop internet, while using up the remaining time of my sabbatical from a company which pays me handsomely for working on precisely such interesting projects. Yes, I would be working for free, not seeing Laos, in exchange for designing tools that have already been designed. I should’ve just called my boss and asked to come back: “Hi Matt, I have this great idea for a useless tool you could pay me for… oh yeah, I’m in Laos but I’m not seeing any of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Hello? Matt? <click>”.
But no, I didn’t realize I had problems yet. It wasn’t until my second day in Laos, that I realized I hadn’t seen anything, and was only leaving the hotel at night to search for pizza, Twinkies, and Coke (the cola type, not the stripper type). For the record, you can’t find Twinkies in Luang Prabang, and Digital Ocean will rent you an outward facing Linux server to experiment for 16 cents a day. Woo hoo to the latter!
Frustratingly, the last few weeks have been spent picking technical fights on Facebook, hacking hotel security mechanisms, and voluntarily asking strangers in cafes if I can help them with their PHP code. This, and the fact that I traded seeing elephants in Laos for experimenting with outward facing Linux servers in a hotel room with no windows, are a few of the many reasons that I think I’m ready to go back to work!
Bring it on!