What a Week!

In a little more than 12 hours, we are packing the whole extended family (me and Jeanette, our daughter, her husband and the two grandkids) into my son-in-law’s minivan and heading west, to Boulder, Colorado by way of Minnesota and South Dakota.

I’ve said more than once that the worst week of the year is usually the one right before a vacation. There are so many loose ends to tie up. This week certainly typified that perception.

The best part of this is that I’m on a new consulting gig, cataloging software for one of the big local companies. This project is still ramping up, so it’s OK that I spend two weeks getting my feet wet and take off for parts unknown. But the rest of my life has been something of a shambles lately. This has mostly centered on my impending deadline for returning the final galleys and screen shots for openSUSE Linux Unleashed (in better bookstores everywhere in October). Deadlines have a way of making me surly, and I tend to go all over the map emotionally depending on whether I think I have enough time to complete the task. And this vacation (which, as you might guess, I didn’t schedule) comes at not-the-best-possible time.

So a few weeks ago, I ordered my very first laptop computer, to take with me on the trip. Now that Dell is offering Linux machines, I wanted to encourage them in the language they understand best, so I went to them (although I’ve been panting for a ThinkPad for awhile now). My first mistake was waiting for a good cash flow moment, which didn’t happen until July 2. Ah, but no problem–the website gives me an estimated delivery date of July 17, four whole days before I leave. Except after I customize the shiny new Ubuntu machine, the date slips to July 23. Ah, but not to worry–those ETAs are always worst-case scenarios, they always come early so as to look good.

So Monday rolls around (and I get older). Let’s check on the Dell–still In Production. Now I’m worried. On Tuesday, I chat with a very nice Indian Dell customer service rep (missing the Web414 meeting as a result). Khushboo will keep tabs on my system and let me know when it ships. If it ships too late, we can ship the box to Boulder instead. Great!

Wednesday night, just before bedtime, Khushboo tells me it’s ready. He even has a DHL tracking number. I go to bed thinking it just might make it. I rise Thursday morning and track the package. By gosh, there it is in Nashville! That’s not so far away. Even by Ground, it might get here in time. I’m nervous, but confident.

This confidence evaporates as the day passes, and the package never leaves Nashville. I call DHL Customer Service. “Is there any way I can get this by tomorrow–I’m leaving town Saturday.” The response is the rough equivalent of “Are you nuts? Ain’t gonna happen. Maybe you can talk the shipper into changing it from Ground to Next Day Air.” I quickly email Khushboo (since I have a Case Number over there already), asking if this might happen, or if it was too late to change the shipping address. Some hours later, the answer comes back: “Well, it might take 48 hours for them to process the change, and another 48 hours to get it out there.” OK, I can live with that. Better a half-week’s worth of editing than none at all, right? I write back: “Just Do It!” I have not received a response by the time I go to bed Thursday night. Who knows when Khushboo’s shift ends? Did s/he see my note? Don’t know.

I wake up this morning to track the package. Oh no, it left Nashville and is sitting in Niles, Michigan. It’s now in the pipeline, headed to Milwaukee. Estimated delivery date is still Monday. I leave for work convinced it will never arrive. But wait: I can’t help myself–I track the package again when I arrive at work at 8  this morning–It’s in Milwaukee!! Got here at 6:34 AM. I call DHL Customer Service again, and it’s plain the human I speak to isn’t seeing the same thing I am. She says it’s still in transit. I won’t get it today; it’ll come Monday like they said. I don’t know what to think. An hour later, I check again (told you I couldn’t help myself). It’s on a courier truck!! I call Jeanette at home and tell her not to go anywhere. The laptop is going to arrive any minute now (we’re not that far from the airport, you know). Call me when it gets there!

I’m actually capable of doing work now, even meet with the boss to figure out what’s going to happen while I’m gone. But the phone doesn’t ring. Go to lunch, send out a couple emails. Time to track the package again. Heart sinks again: “Customer address information required. Call DHL Customer Service” with a 1PM timestamp. I do what it says. Have my second conversation of the day with a (different) rep. I’m thinking “my house isn’t that hard to find. It’s in an established neighborhood on a corner lot, you’ve got the right address.” But I don’t share these thoughts. After a few minutes on hold, I’m told that someone will call me at work, or home within two hours with an ETA. It’s a little before 2 PM.

So 4:00 rolls around, no call at either location. Now I’m getting testy. My box is probably in a warehouse 20 minutes from my house, and I may not see it till August. Yet another rep answers the phone. “Listen, I’m leaving town tomorrow and I really need this package,” I say. “You can’t leave without it?” she says. “Un-huh.” More time on hold. You know Bob Weir’s rhythm guitar part on the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band”? The muzak DHL plays on hold has that same riff–different melody, but it is kinda soothing. But I digress. The rep comes back. “Sorry you’ve been holding so long; we’re trying to get an ETA. I will call you back in 10-15 minutes.” OK, sure. And she really does this time! “Your package will be there within the hour.” As I head out the door, I call Jeanette to phone as soon as it gets there. That call comes at 4:50 PM.

I am pleased to say the machine booted to Ubuntu beautifully. I am a happy man. I’m going to install openSUSE Alpha 5 on it tomorrow before we leave, and update to Alpha 6 whenever I can get a consistent WiFi signal. The book will get done, and I’ll probably have some travel notes here. I may even get to relax a bit!

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