Thursday, July 17, 2014

Existential crisis: Follow-up and behind the scenes

(Note: this post was started while I was on my way home from MacAdmins, and finished up after a week of vacation. Tone/etc mileage may vary.)

So I'm currently sitting in the Penn Stater conference hotel in State College, PA.

The panic, terror, and trepidation I've felt for the last seven months just lifted off my shoulders, and I'm sitting in the lobby feeling hollow and drained.

I just spent the last five days surrounded by other Mac sysadmins, techs, support staff — and the glitterati amongst our diverse and motley crew.

I spent two hours standing up in front of my peers and colleagues speaking, delivering two talks which, as far as I know, were well received.

The first talk was what I suppose I would call a passion project — lifehacking and coping with wetware. I will never claim that I am the absolute best at either of those things. In fact in my own perfectionistic opinion I think I'm incredibly terrible at them, but I've gotten good enough at it that no one seems to realize that deep down I'm as freaked out as a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Honestly, it's probably something I could give a whole talk on "Placid: Conceal the feels, don't let them show — how to be an island of calm while silently screaming on the inside" (apologies to Disney and Frozen), but I digress.

I decided to submit "Load Balancing for Humans" to MacAdmins last year after I attended the New Relic Engineering Offsite and heard Nick Floyd's "Nerd/Life Balance" talk — having a chance to share out best practices with my peers seemed like a good way to contribute back to the community. As it stands I'm not in a position where I can provide better documentation on command line tools than Apple or write applications to replace depreciated systems from OS X Server — I can interact with humans pretty well, so what the heck, I may as well try to speak on it.

I pretty much knew what the platonic ideal of my talk was going to be from the get-go — equal parts "here are tricks for figuring out how much you're working" to "here are some tips on interacting with people" to "here's some info on coping with burnout/fatigue/etc" and "stop procrastinating" amongst other things.

I used up all my panic and worry before my talk, including my 2AM "OMFG why won't Keynote open" troubleshooting session (answer: bad ~/Library/Containers/ directory) so when it was finally time to get up and talk I took a deep breath and, hopefully, knocked it out of the park.

…I wasn't so lucky with my next talk. It was a tech talk on setting up ESXI VSphere on Mac Minis.

TL;DR — if I eat anything made from mammalian milk I end up with horrible fast onset food poisoning symptoms, and I accidentally ate some at dinner after my talk. This is one of those "assumptions make an ass outta you and me" situations. I entirely forgot that the rest of the world eats butter on their corn on the cob. Whoops. I somehow managed to not get horribly sick until after breakfast the next morning.

Through a careful concoction of Benadryl, caffeine, and Bene Gesserit style "mind over matter" thinking I managed to get to a place where I could walk, talk, and be mostly cognizant. It was by no means my most shining moment -- I was woozy, and the Benadryl was definitely winning out over the caffeine.

On top of my "Ray has gone bye bye" level of consciousness the AV in the room had gone sideways. At first everything was yellow. I switched to a VGA adapter I'd brought with me. Suddenly everything was cyan blue. Better than yellow, and after 5min of fiddling I resigned myself to everything being blue.

A week out (when I'm finishing this post) I can't remember much of that talk, other than that I kept going over the content on slides before they were up, that I sadly talked to the door at the front of the room when it randomly closed, and I recovered from my lost train of thought several times by exclaiming "SQUIRREL!" and looking in a random direction, like Dug from Up. Apparently I apologized quite a bit as well.

For once being a perfectionist paid off — I managed to phone in my talk and with the help of Rich Trouton I managed to get through Q&A, although I may have gone "anyone, anyone, Bueller?" before closing out questions.

All in all, it was an incredible experience, and I can't wait to spend more time with my fellow Mac geeks. They get the awesomeness of SheepShaver, recognize Clarus the Dogcow if she's on slides, and embraced me with such warmth that sitting here almost a week after the conference I'm still humbled and amazed.

Suffice to say, anything that I can do to help the Mac community going forward will be done.

It's also really weird to suddenly no longer be fungible. But that's a whole other kettle of fish, and a separate blog post channelling my time as a philosophy major…

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