Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Waiting for Dixie on the synaptic bus...

Dixie and I have been working together since May 1997 when she volunteered to help hand-edit the Xena Online Resources directory. Xenite.Org was only a couple of months old at the time. By the end of November, I had to turn control over the entire domain over to her while I moved to a new house and dealt with other personal issues. At the time, Dixie claimed she didn't know a thing about birthing no babies -- I mean, running computer networks.

How the years have changed her. And me. And us. Now Dixie is a sysadmin or techsport or something like that for a university in Texas and I, once a highly sought-after programmer, now sell insurance for the sixth largest brokerage in the U.S. (and I'm still highly sought after, but I promise I'll pay the bills as soon as possible).

As the years have passed, I've transferred responsibility for a lot of the technical details of operating the Xenite network to Dixie. I do this partly out of guilt and partly because she has access to resources that I don't (at home, people, at home), and partly because I don't enjoy system administration. In fact, I pretty much hate doing it. Maybe that's why I've spent over half my life doing some sort of system administration.

The guilt comes from a day when I decided to reboot the Xenite server over a telnet connection. That was the day I learned you don't reboot Web servers over telnet connections. New Zealand actor Kevin Smith had passed away only a few weeks before and our server was being hammered by immense traffic due to CNN featuring our Kevin Smith forum on their hourly reports of his death. Thousands of Kevin Smith fans came pouring in to our forum to share their grief and their words of comfort for his family (I was told at the time that Kevin's family and friends, including many of the people associated with the shows he participated in, visited the SF-FANDOM forum to read the fan memorial threads).

Well, Dixie was a huge KS fan. Still is. And, heck, I had a soft spot for the guy, who went out of his way to send a special videotape greeting to the Hercules and Xena fans at Dragon*Con when he couldn't attend the convention. His message was one of the most hilarious and heart-warming 15 minutes of special attention any actor has ever given to his fans. He had no way of knowing how his ad lib comments would be received, but the fans loved it. I was offered money for that video. I wish I had kept a copy, but I returned it per my agreement to my contact.

So, I accidentally wiped out the only archive in the world containing several thousand messages of love and devotion for Kevin Smith. We had no current backup at the time. Dixie struggled for four days to get that archive back. What makes me really sick, years later, is that last year she told me she is now sure she knows how she could have recovered the data. But we reformatted the drive and it's gone. And no one can ever forgive me for being stupid.

Well, I can't. So I let Dixie do the dangerous stuff even though I've wiped out dozens of computers and brought back dozens more from the brink of death through my career. It's not that I lost my nerve. It's not like you're afraid to go skiing again after slamming into a tree at 60 miles per hour. It's just that you realize that you hate to do something so much that you don't take the necessary precautions or exercise the diligence you should. I was irresponsible and lazy because I didn't want to take the time to fix a minor problem the right way.

But as I've shifted more and more technical responsibility to Dixie, I've sensed that she has pulled back from me. Or, it's just that she has become immensely more useful at work and they shift more responsibility to her and she just pulls back from the technical world. So, now Dixie likes to ride her Harley on the weekends and I try not to nag her with stuff that I am perfectly capable of doing myself. I'm irreversibly guilt-laden and lazy. Or maybe I'm just a little bit jaded. Xenite has gone through so many server crashes that Dixie and I just shake our heads and say, "Yep. We need to write down exactly everythng that needs to be done to get the system back up and running."

But we don't do that. Instead, we spend the next six months to a year slowly fixing all the problems that really could be fixed in a matter of days if we would just write down the little tasks we need to do as we do them. Because we spend a lot of time trying to remember what it took to get everything in place the last time we fixed stuff. For a low-impact design Web site, Xenite.Org sure does an awful lot of stuff under the hood.

I first met Dixie in person at a Dragon*Con. She came up to me at the end of a session and started talking like we were old pals. She forgot that I have people do that to me all the time. In fact, in the old days, when I was younger, especially at college, people went out of their ways to talk to me and I'd spend 30 minutes wondering who they were.

Once I started becoming "famous" ( as a programmer doing conferences, road shows, and teaching or helping with classes) I got used to complete strangers comig up to me and resuming conversations we'd had online months in the past. Not that I ever had a clue what they were talking about, but I learned to smile, pretend I understood who they were and why they were relevant to my life, and if I was lucky they'd eventually come to their senses, realize I was lost, and gently guide me back to the edge of techno-humanity's sub-culture.

So imagine how my life became after I started making a name for myself with Hercules and Xena fans, and Tolkien fans, and who knows what other kind of fans. Now there are Michael Martinez fans. I've spent whole days walking around with groups of fans asking me questions and acting like I am the center of attention. It's a great feeling and it makes you want to give something back to the people who express so much interest in you.

Anyway, here was this strange woman talking to me like we'd known each other for years. I suddenly looked down at her name tag and realized that, yes, we had known each other for years and she didn't miss a beat. "You don't know who I am, do you, Michael? You don't even recognize my voice." I didn't grovel too much after that.

But that's why I keep Xenite going, I suppose. I don't really do it for me or my ego any more. I do have a sense of "If I stay the course, I'll be able to celebrate a 10-year anniversary in 2007". There are not many Web sites that have hit the 10-year mark yet. I do it because I like the people who like me, and Dixie likes me despite my flaws, and many of you like me despite my very blunt, straight-from-the-heart, "I'm so right because I've had to argue this point a thousand times before and no one has changed my mind yet" way of trying to be a considerate, helpful, big-hearted guy.

But to keep Xenite going, I have to keep Dixie going. So once in a while I start calling and emailing her and after a few weeks of playing hard to get she'll call me or email me or somehow connect with me to let me know that, yes, Xenite is still on the schedule of Dixie Rounds. The latest Waiting-for-Dixie request is a blog at a new domain we'll be launching...soon... for Tolkien fans. I had hoped to get the site going this month, but I've been very busy myself. In fact, I've been so busy I've spent entire weekends avoiding anything that seems like work, and working on Web sites seems like work.

But waiting for Dixie reminds me of how intimate relationships can change over the years. I've had a few that changed. Someone loses interest or both people lose interest and one day you wake up and realize the relationship is over.

Which has nothing to do with me and Dixie. But whenever I get like this I think about something she said to me one time. We were on our way to the Texas Rennaissance Festival and somehow talking about relationships (quite probably it had something to do with all those girls I kept falling into infatuation with because Dixie spent a lot of her time rolling her eyes). I was probably gushing about how it is so cool to have girls do the chasing on occasion. Women don't like to hear that.

"What is the problem?" I said as Dixie rolled her eyes for the upmteenth time. "Why can't the girl do the chasing?"

"Because that's just not the way it's done!"

Well, Dixie had told me a few stories about her courtship with Kim, her husband. I pointed out that she had admitted me to on more than one occasion that she knew she wanted to marry him before he asked. WELL before he asked. "Yes, but I let him chase me until I caught him," Dixie explained.

Hm. Does this mean I'm running into a Dixie trap somewhere down the road? Will she one day hand me a present, maybe a copy of "Sysadmin For Lazy People" when I finally pop the question, "Dixie, will you please fix the server?"

I do have to admit that Dixie's remark had a profound impact on me. I've since come around to realize that, yes, I the man have to do the chasing. Why? Because the girl decides who she will catch.

So when I'm with my very traditional Vietnamese girl, and she is laughing at my jokes and holding my hand, and looking at me out of the corner of her eye, I wonder, "Am I chasing you until you catch me, or am I already caught?"

Well, I suppose if I don't run in the wrong direction or try to remotely reboot her server via telnet, Linda will eventually get me out of Dixie's hair.

And then maybe she'll get some work done on Xenite....


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