I'm a geek on the verge of a nervous breakdown

This week I put in 100 hours - time I'd just be wasting otherwise, doing things like sleeping
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The Independent Online

I'm frantic. It's not that the job of being an Independent Network columnist isn't a great one - because it is. The pay is, uh, well, good, and my colleagues are sophisticated, sharp-witted and eloquent. You get invited to great parties, and publicists in short skirts sometimes fawn all over you.

I'm frantic. It's not that the job of being an Independent Network columnist isn't a great one - because it is. The pay is, uh, well, good, and my colleagues are sophisticated, sharp-witted and eloquent. You get invited to great parties, and publicists in short skirts sometimes fawn all over you.

My editor can raise the prose of geeks like me to unimagined heights, and I'm not just kissing up. He always makes me sound smarter than I am, so I almost never argue with him. He makes me sound so smart that I get invitations to give speeches to groups of really smart people. True, normally the invitations are quickly withdrawn after I answer the speakers bureau's first live phone call, but it makes for great bragging to my peers in the interim.

So I should just sit back, write twice a month and enjoy life in between times, right? Read all the latest books and take leisurely strolls with Cassie the Australian Shepherd in Silicon Valley's oak woodland, right?

But I have this, uh, "part-time" job at a local start-up. And please don't tell my editor, though I think he's starting to suspect something. At the very least he squelches my every attempt to mention a certain really cool start-up company. Some of my more sanguine colleagues say he's not fooled, he's got the whole book on me, but the spectacle of an American start-up nerd spilling his guts every fortnight is just too precious to pass up.

As for the start-up, well, it's a great way to pick up some extra cash in my spare time for those "little extras". Problem is, lately, I don't have time to even go out and buy the little extras, much less enjoy them. I resorted to ordering the stuff on the Web - big-time saver - but stopped when the unopened merchandise began to pile up. The unopened boxes form a kind of drift against the wall in our family room, a cardboard wave that occasionally breaks and spills Fed Ex, and UPS, and DHL and US Parcel Post packages all over the hardwood floor.

There are three new books - The Linux Problem Solver by Brian Ward, Words and Rules by Steven Pinker and Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen; two magazine subscriptions ( The New Yorker and Mac Tech Journal), a new, photo-realistic Epson colour printer, seven new application software packages (downloaded from the Net and sitting untouched on my hard drive), a brightly packaged copy of Yellow Dog Linux (the four-disk set), a boxed copy of Red Hat Linux (two-disk set), a DVD of Terry Gilliam's film Brazil, the new BB King/Eric Clapton CD, a Handspring Visor, four bottles of Pinot Noir from the Greenwood winery, and an airline power adaptor for my PowerBook.

My wife is making a lot of how-much-could-I-need-things-that-I-don't-even-open noises. I've learned to give her an icy stare and then fumble, briefly, with an Amazon.com box that somehow always winds up back on the pile. I have successfully opened the wine, and managed to consume a bottle, maybe two.

Moonlighters can work pretty much any time they want. This week, for instance, I put in about 80 hours, well, make that 100 hours, many of them at interesting times of day - like 5.30am and midnight - time I'd just be wasting otherwise, doing things like sleeping.

And the variety of work is good, too. This week, I got to hack a database - three databases, actually - and build and operate a permission e-mail marketing program, replete with about 2,400 personalised e-mails - each with a different, snappy note from me.

I wired the three databases into an e-mailer program arbitrated by a quasi-artificial intelligence. I set up a new e-mail server, then redid it when an anti-spam spider program found a security hole. I did a word-frequency analysis on my composite e-mails, to make sure they'd get past the current, popular anti-spam algorithms employed by the tech-savvy companies in my target market space.

I met with the VP of another start-up, and tried to hack a strategic alliance. He was a good guy, and spent an hour telling me about his business model, and I spent an hour telling him about ours, and we agreed we'd try to work together on one deal and see how it went. Next week, I'll work really hard on the deal, so we'll look like a really good partner. He knows that, and I suspect he just did it to get really good service for the account in question, whose founder lives next door to his boss, but that's how "strategic relations" works.

A friend e-mailed: he was having problems with a bunch of Russian programmers he'd hired to hack a massive biotech project. We looked over his project's RFP (Request for Proposal) and spent half a day figuring out his acronyms, then e-mailed him a quote larger than the gross national product of a third of the world's nations. If you work cheap, you immediately lose all respect: it's better not to work, than to work cheap, unless you do Open Source, in which case it's an honour.

Then I answered the 943 responses to my 2,400 e-mail messages. I booked the biggest conference room in town, and ordered an "afterwards" bash for 600, all on my American Express. I e-mailed a Famous Computer Scientist notorious for the steep fees he charges to give speeches, and booked him for a day. Then I sent the 943 respondents a message saying if they were really good, and would let me e-mail them with news about my company's services and products, then I'd let them in to see the Famous Computer Scientist.

Then I watched while the 943 "blessed" respondents tried to get themselves, their sisters, their cousins, their CEOs and their boyfriends into the big event.

And, oh yeah, I have to file a column - 900 words due by Wednesday. Problem is, it's Thursday already. There are seven e-mails from The Independent in my in-box, and voicemail from the local police, inquiring about my health.

Did I say I was frantic?

cg@gulker.com

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