Innocents Abroad

Today’s blog is from D. Brown, currently in Santa Fe, New Mexico which he claims is “following an all too familiar cultural evolution. Discovery by artists and bohemians, influx of the bourgeoisie followed by the merchandising of the brand, (the City Different). Ah well it’s usually sunny and a lot of people still think it’s in Mexico anyway.”

He calls his entry:

“Memoirs of the Golden Age”

A Day in the Life
Setting:  Somewhere in the Netherlands circa 1992-1995)

1. Breakfast 

The Engineer was not usually awake early enough for the regular coffee rolls, ham, and cheese set and I (for some reason, now forgotten) was designated to drive him to work from the hotel. He had no credit cards, hence no rental car, his expenses being taken care of by bundles of cash, carried by senior staff and delivered in plain envelopes. His preparations for the working day were to wander off into the woods behind the hotel and smoke a huge joint. Thus fortified, he was better able to deal with matters as they arose.

2. Lunch

Site cafeteria. Such was the pace of work (based on time and materials) that it was a relief when someone would announce: “Must be time for lunch.” After lunch, the Dutchman who had been incessantly reminded of the strict California no-smoking policy lit up. The Americans all objected.

“It’s my country now,” he replied with a grin.

3. Dinner 

Many and varied meals with wine (at up to $200 a bottle) were routinely charged to expense reports and everyone would offer their cards simultaneously to the confusion of the wait staff.  After dinner, if a particularly naive Manager was on site, the Engineer would suggest going for coffee at a convenient local coffee shop. He would then ask for the menu and select  either skunk or perhaps B52 plus jumbo rolling papers, and then proceed to roll up an enormous joint and smoke it as the Manager gazed on in horror.

“Its legal,” he explained, which of course, it was. The Manager made a rapid exit.

Le week end

Usually there was no requirement to work Saturday or Sunday due to strict European labor laws. Hence, one was free to sightsee. One Saturday I was the designated driver and, along with a MikeW and the Engineer, we set off to explore Flanders. As a result of a navigation problem I attributed to some magnetic anomaly, we ended up in St Nicolas rather than Bruges. Ironically, St Nicolas was the home of Mercator (of the projection). The Engineer, being of a certain religious persuasion, set off determined to find a suitable brand of church. I encountered him later as he stood gazing in astonishment as a veritable swarm of people dressed in various animal costumes poured out of the gothic pile on the main square.

“Must be Baptists'” he declared.

For people like Jan: The Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer GerardusMercator, in 1569. It became the standard map projection for nautical purposes because of its ability to represent lines of constant course, known as rhumb lines or loxodromes, as straight segments.

The Acceptance Test

It was the morning of the Great Day when the proof of concept, defined the day before, would be revealed. The serious Dutch Suits were all present, up to, and including, their CEO. The  senior TFS staff and the responsible Engineer were standing around with little or no concern. Then the moment came for the system to be turned on, the moment when dozens of machines and computers could synchronize, scanning, storing, processing and printing. The moment came and passed. What could be the problem? Suddenly the computers could not talk to each other. Was there some crucial information stuck back in Berkeley, broken links dead servers -who knew?  Was this a real test or had the man behind the curtain gone to sleep? Consternation brewed as the Suits became increasingly restless. The Engineer typed furiously at a couple of keyboards. His manager started to ask pointed questions. The TFS senior management now were looking more worried. The pressure was mounting.

Suddenly the Engineer exploded: “F**K off. I can fix it.”

The Suits drifted off muttering. Somehow, our critical host files had been changed earlier that day. Fingers were pointed, blame was assigned. The Engineer left the site never to return.

The Explorer
Setting:  A clearing bank, Oslo Norway, 1993 

It was a quiet afternoon cold and gray but inside it was warm and the usual gaggle of programmers quietly slept under the work tables, exhausted from their efforts the night before. Money and time were running low.  Added to which, one of their number had never showed, remaining ensconced in the SAS hotel for the duration suffering from jet lag.

Suddenly, security called from the main entrance to announce the unexpected arrival of a TFS staffer. Perhaps it’s the replacement for the jet-lagged programmer, they theorized. One of the site maintenance staff was assigned to deal with the situation. He telephoned back. It was the same programmer who’d exhibited unstable behavior following a recent concert for their departing and popular Chief Science Officer.

“What does he want?” asked the site manager.

“Shelter for a while.  He is on his way to Mt Everest and thinks this is the base camp.”

A heated discussion followed. Ingvar went downstairs to offer him some money, but he had left already.

We never did find out if he reached his Mt Everest.

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