It is said that the drivers of horse-drawn omnibuses in London in the 19th century were so solicitous of their horses’ well-being that the drivers would often spend their days off surreptitiously riding as passengers on their own trolleys to make sure that the substitute driver was treating their horses well. This practice was so widespread, it is said, that “busman’s holiday” came to mean, as you say, “doing on your day off the same thing you do all week at work,” with the added connotation that you are doing it out of the goodness of your heart.
I often feel very lucky. I’ve found a career (working with computers) that is interesting, intellectually stimulating, and economically profitable. Not everyone can say that, and I wish more people could. I am therefore grateful that I can say that I love what I do and get paid well for it.
I can remember when I first appreciated this fact. It was toward the end of a work day about ten years ago. I was in my first or second year of graduate school, and, I had just spent about eight hours in the computer lab working on projects, assignments, and research. I was at a point in my life where I found myself doing occasional “reality checks” because some of my choices seemed unsure. During one such check that day, I discovered that despite of the fact that I’d spent all day in front of a computer, I was eager to spend a couple more hours planted there to finish up one or two small “fun” side projects (I believe that an online diary now falls into a similar “fun” category). In high school, I considered a career in law but decided against it (I’d heard that associate’s hours are murderous) and realized that my decision to pursue a career in computer-related engineering and science was a good one.
Believing profoundly that the energy we put out into the Universe in some measure determines what we get back, I try to give of my knowledge to those around me in order to keep my career karma intact. So, I help my family solve computer problems whenever I visit them. I sometimes help out at the school where my girlfriend S. works. I help S.’s family when I can as well. I even try to help out my infinitely patient dissertation advisor from my graduate school days. My price for these efforts… a free beer or two, maybe a meal, or perhaps that old, unused hard drive sitting in the corner. My parents call these efforts “busman’s holidays.”
I’ve been doing a lot of this work during the last three weeks or so. I’ve returned to my old graduate school stomping grounds to repair the installation of one machine I used to tend and consult on the upgrade of another. I’ve helped S.’s cousin turn a noisy mess of a hand-me-down machine (literally, the fans sounded like woodworking power tools) into a quiet responsive workstation. This weekend I got to help girlfriend S. set up her new Apple iBook with OS X.
It does take its toll though. Too much time spent with computer has a draining effect on the brain. If I can be called a geek, I prefer to think of myself as a “Renaissence Geek” with diverse interests. Therefore, it is not just Sir Walter Scott’s maxim “too much rest is rust” that is my enemy, but also too much of one thing for too long (which is one reason grad school drove me CRAZY, but that’s another LONG story). Even the busman needs to read a book, take a walk in the country, enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine, and enjoy the embrace of a beautiful, loving woman.
That busman is me. No more busman’s holidays for a few weeks I think. It is Spring, the sun is warm, and the sky clear.
ps. Let me offer a tip of the cap to the enterprising engineers and designers at the University of California at Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University, NeXT corporation, the FreeBSD project, and most especially Apple corporation for their work that lead to OS X. Being a Windows and UNIX man for some time, I was most impressed with my first exposure to OS X this weekend. The Windows, Linux, and FreeBSD operating systems are like lowriders you see in magazines — performance machines, but made starting with stock parts and augmented with a universe of after-market accessories. Mac OS X, on the other hand, presents itself like a vintage Rolls Royce or Dusenberg; it’s plenty powerful to be sure, but not in much need of extras. Why? Because it’s aethetics are those of art rather than craft, and therefore desires to meet all your needs through the elegance of its total design without additions or augmentations. So, when it came time to set up S.’s Internet connections (one at school, one dial-up from home, and one here at my place), her printers (at school and home), her digital camera, her ZIP drive, and her Handspring Treo, OS X made all of it eminently simple, recognized everything correctly right away, and allowed her to use almost everything with OS X utilities rather than software downloaded from elsewhere. It was truly amazing for a Renaissence Geek to behold. The fact that I could then open up a Terminal window and use a very familiar UNIX command shell with equally familiar FreeBSD utilities just bowled me over completely.