Thursday, January 04, 2007

Work? What Work?

Some would say, “Ryan, why don’t we ever see you actually working? All we see is you screwing around. What kind of job do you have that allows you that much free time?” It’s an honest question, I’ll admit, and I can’t argue with the sentiment, of course, as on most days you’ll find me poking around at odds and ends, tackling an anomalous project or two or simply wasting as much time as possible until something interesting finds me (my movie production of Hamlet starring Little People falls under this last category).

But as a freelance writer I do work. I have clients, trust me, and what I do is a full time job, for sure, and much more so some times; the difference to the Johnny Nine-to-Fiver is that I choose alternate hours of the day to accomplish my tasks, and usually, I’ll cram 40 hours into two solid day of vocation.

Take today for example. I’m wearing what I wore yesterday, and I only know the difference between today and yesterday by the calendar in front of me; other than that, I’ve been doing nothing but work. I haven’t yet showered. I don’t remember the last time I shaved or combed my hair for that matter, and I left the house twice in two days...and both of those times was to get the mail. Basically I look as though I just woke up, which is true, but it was how I looked when I woke up yesterday.

What do I do? Well, on a good day, I research a story, make some calls, conduct some interviews, get some quotes, write the story, proof it and then wait for the check to arrive. On a bad day, I do nothing and feel guilty about least until the checks from the good day start to roll in. Some checks are small, like the mere $50 I get for my 500-word tech column and the big fat nothing I get for the food critic gig (I did gain four pounds however), but I do these two jobs because I enjoy the subject matter and it doesn’t take insurmountable effort; but some checks are big, like the auction house catalog work I did in June, which covered the bill for the wheels, tires and lift on my truck.

The days that I’m writing a story or “chasing a lead” are what keeps me doing what I’m doing, because it is always something different. The whole point is that I like to write. However, for my main client (and I say main client because they are the ones with the deepest pockets who keep me regularly busy with daily work and a biweekly invoices that amounts to what normal people would call an annual salary)… anyways, for my main client, the work is always different (but related to a singular subject), changes frequently and varies in degrees of difficulty to mind-blowingly exasperating to mind-dullingly monotonous.

The weird part is that I really like it. I find the subject matter interesting, the people I work with are really nice, and I'm learning a great deal (not to mention that I'm somewhat of a favored editor--nice little pat on the back there). Plus, where else can I work in my shorts and a t-shirt or sweats and no shoes? That’s right, only at home! The best perk of all is that everything is tax deductable! Everything I touch during the course of my work gets an automatic 40 percent discount from the government. That book I bought for research is $10? Nope, come April 15, it actually turns out to be $6! How grand!

Don’t judge me unfairly, I’m a avid showerer, as I usually take one or two a day depending on the day and whether the first one “took” or not, but my lack of personal hygiene today is indicative of the monotonous side of my job, as there is a project that must be finished by today but it took longer than I anticipated it would, so I had to pull an old fashioned college-approved all nighter.

It isn’t as though I made it a point not to take a shower today, but I got so wrapped up in my work, time slipped by, the sun went down…and sometimes it comes back up again before I know it. I could have started on it earlier, but then that would go well against the whole put-it-off-until-the-last-minute thing I’ve got going here that gives me the free time to go to Disneyland and spend silly time with Gnatty and Matty.

So, what’s the project that demands you abstain from showering, you dirty bum, you ask? Okay, here’s what I just finished up: I was given from my editor a master file containing 76 pages of charts, probably 250 such charts. The heading on each chart is an individual code that relates to one or two or several different car models from one particular manufacturer (in this case, Toyota). The file is surprisingly thin, about one-third the size that I would have expected, especially for Toyota, as the files I was building last summer were topping out at 300 pages and nearly 1000 charts each. This was a welcomed reprieve.

For this particular manufacturer, Toyota, it has 23 models, and each one has one to five different engines used over a span of 10 years from 1996. I have to take this master file and parse out each individual car for all 250 codes and on all 76 pages… and I have to do that 23 times, once for each model. The end result is 23 files plus the original master.

But there’s a catch, a big catch: Most all of the 250 codes are shared by several different models and all of the engines and years for those models are listed together, so I have to be an expert on this particular car, knowing what models use what engines over which years. For example, the Tundra and the Tacoma each share a single engine, the 3.4L 5VZ-FE VIN N, but the Tundra uses one other engine and the Tacoma has two others that they don’t share. And those three extra engines are usually listed under like codes (the diagnostics of both trucks are very similar), all jumbled together. To make matters worse, the Tundra’s years span from 2000 to 2006 while the Tacoma is from 1996 to 2006. So, with one particular code, take for example P0302, a misfire of the second cylinder, there are four different things (each with two or three possibilities) you have to beware of and separate from the rest of the list before moving to the next code. For instance, you can't have Tacoma's engines listed in the Tunda's codes and you can't include a 1998 Tundra under P0302, of course, as they didn't start making them for another two years.

It can be incredibly intricate and complicated, especially if you make a mistake, as all of the engines are listed by the letter that corresponds to its VIN number (the engine above, VIN N). Sometimes two very different engines will have the same displacement but slightly different letters (the Highlander and the Camry share an engine, the 2.4L 2AZ-FE, but the VIN for the Highlander is D while the VIN for the Camry is E), and if you’re not paying attention you might miss that difference or superimpose the two and not notice it until you 100 codes down the list… well, you’d have to scrap the whole file and start again from scratch.

There you go. That’s the bottom end of the spectrum of my job, and I love what I do, where I do it and the manner in which I’m allowed to do it. However, it doesn’t matter how glamorous your job is, there comes a time you’ve got to sweep the floors, and even though I get immense satisfaction from 80 percent of what I do, sometimes I have to sit at my desk and banally clack away at the keyboard producing what appears to be 23 individual 76-page documents of indecipherable technical automotive jargon. Good times.

I’d kill to write a regular article about now.

My next big project for 2007 will blow your mind, and though I’m just in the outline stages of it, I already feel as though I’m about to jump off a cliff with a giant parachute and it’s going to take me all of 2007 to reach the ground again. Picture a giant spider web, and consider what I told you about the charts and the 76-page document. Well, that was just for one manufacture and 23 models, but this one will cover all domestic vehicles, every production car made in the US… it’s hundreds, and instead of merely 76 pages, there’s going to be probably 300 pages. Okay, are you still picturing the spider web? Good. Now, at each intersection of the strands of the web there is a single code, only this time there are thousands of them and thousands of connections. My job is to write the technical text that connects all of those codes together, so that when one of the strands breaks, you can find it and fix it. Each of the connections are related to the others, but whereas some crossover, most don’t so they’ll need individual instruction for that specific intersection.

Make sense? Probably not, but then your job probably wouldn’t make much sense to me either.

1 comment:

Kara said...

But who will play the lead in Hamlet? I really think Michael should have a part.


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