Thursday, March 24, 2011

College Wars, Episode IV: I'll take "Kittens" FTW, Alex.

Many people love to rehash their tales of debauchery during their college years. Most of these people went to college when they were in the 19-23 age range, and so their tales of debauchery were really just stupid shit that they did when they were a kid.

My college stories are a little different. You see, I went to college almost entirely online, with a select few exceptions, such as public speaking, where they actually made me (gag) show up in person and (double gag) speak, out loud, in front of people. But, my public speaking teacher was from Georgia and called me "honey" and "babe," which made it both less and more awkward. But, that's not what this post is about.

I also took an Intro to British Literature class, where my teacher had a back problem, cracked a few saucy jokes, and made the occasional drug use reference. Also not what this post is about. Pretty sure even I couldn't come up with an entire post about that, to be honest.

I also took a literature class (funny how I got a degree in Information Technology, but I have to take literature classes, isn't it?) about the influence of technology in modern fiction, which was actually VERY interesting, and which I may actually be able to come up with a post's worth of material about.

Also, on the topic, I never want to read "The Yellow Wallpaper" ever again. (You can read it there. It's sort of interesting if you only read it once, but if you want to write a critical analysis of it, you have to read it until you want to die. Which you can also do via that link, if you so desire.)

But, again, not what this post is about.


"But Shad, that's ridiculous," you might be thinking. "How can you use kittens in chemistry class? Things blow up in chemistry class! You don't want to blow up kittens, do you?!"

I may or may not occasionally want to blow up kittens, but I can assure you, no kittens were harmed in the making of this blog post. So, you can keep on reading apprehension-free, vegans, lawyers, and PETA members.

So, during the course of my nerd schooling, I had to take these things. Called electives. Where you pick something that is almost utterly unrelated to your major, and where you may learn some things, but they are generally only going to be good for playing Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. One such thing that They make you take is a lab science class.

Through the wonders of the postal service and the Internet, I got to take my lab science elective online. Chemistry 100 sounded easy, and I could do the experiments in my house? Winning.

As it turned out, the class was actually fun. I got a box full of plastic pipettes of various hazardous and not-so-hazardous chemicals, some test tubes, a little scale, a bit of chalk, some gravel, and so on. It was like playing with crap in the "talented and gifted" class in grade school! (You know -- the room they put the weird smart kids in so they didn't infect demoralize the normal kids with their weirdness intellect? I was totally in that room. I have at least one story about this, too, but that was way before college.)

As an added bonus, the teacher had a sense of humor. Through 11 weeks, I dutifully completed all of my assignments to the best of my ability, and had slightly over 100% of the possible points in the class, due to my overachieving ass taking advantage of the extra credit opportunities to make sure that even if I spontaneously combusted near the end of the quarter, that I would still net an A. I was fairly obsessed with maintaining my 4.0 GPA. (For that one person in Hungary that reads this stuff, that means I was getting nothing but 5s in everything. It's so weird that you can just look up and see what a good grade is in Hungary with very little effort, by the way.)

So, near the end of that term, I was getting pretty worn down -- the chemistry class was a surprising amount of work, and my other classes were also fairly labor intensive that term as well, so I was realizing that I needed to focus on getting 90% or higher, and not on ruining the curve for the other students. So, I started to cut corners.

I only had one lab report left to submit for chemistry class. Now, she (the teacher) would give us a Word document with the tasks to be performed, and the questions to be answered by performing the experiments and reading the text and supplemental material. We would fill out the document and send it back to her.

Fifteen pages into this document, I realized that there was effectively no way for me to not get an A in this class, even if I did nothing more than sign my name at the top of the paper and attach a picture of a kitten. I understood the material. I was totally wasting my time, and not even really enjoying it.

Pay attention: In the next few paragraphs, I will prove that you can use kittens when you don't feel like doing your homework.

As I neared the bottom of the giant now-boring document, there was one task left to accomplish. It was an entire page worth of writing, and a "do it yourself" mini-experiment that proved one of the concepts that we were covering.

As you might imagine if you've read any of my other posts, I saw a blank page and decided to do a little bit of creative writing instead.

Note in the picture below that her instructions indicate that I can include pictures that I "drew." This was clearly an opening. I knew that I was entirely incapable of drawing, but I gave it a go anyway.

So, here is what I came up with:

Imaginary Reader: "Good job, moron. You threw away 7% of your grade and probably spent more time writing a bad joke than you would have spent actually doing the lab work."

Dearest Reader, you are correct on one point. I DID spend more time writing the bad joke than I would have spent actually doing the lab work. If I remember correctly, all I really needed to do was put a solid object in a clear liquid with a different density than water and record observations.

However, you are completely wrong on the other point. She gave me the 2 points, and I got 100% on a lab assignment that clearly included kittens instead of science. She also attached a picture of a snarling wolf. She also went out to lunch with me a couple of months after the class was over. It was awkward, but not awkward enough to be funny.

Thus, when presented with work you don't want to do, kittens are a valid substitute. Q.E.D.

By the way, NOW you can see why I don't illustrate my posts, even though illustration might be greatly entertaining. If you are of the "I have nothing better to do than draw funny caricatures of awkward situations" bent, and would like to assist me with some guest artwork, I'm open to the idea. It pays nothing, and relatively few people will see it, though I will cheerfully credit you for it and if you have your own little corner of the Internet I will use it as an excuse to shamelessly promote your corner. It'll be just like when TV networks take one awful show and one good show and inject characters from the good show into the awful show or vice versa to try and get people to watch the awful one more often. (You can even think of me as the awful show if you want to! I can take it.)

Monday, March 21, 2011

College Wars, Episode III: Deja Vu, or How Not To Get Restarted

So, here's what you missed on the last episode. (Isn't it handy that I don't need to assemble a clever plot summary montage like you do on TV?)

Anyway, I needed a degree, which I was fairly confident would work wonders for my career after completion. After all, the combination of professional experience and a degree should be hard to resist, right?


Ahem. RIGHT?

So, with my newfound determination to Go Back To School, I made a beeline for the Internet, where I found the catalog for my local community college, rifled things, and picked a degree that looked like it was related to my job, because work said they'd help pay for it (awesome) if my classes were all related to my current career path. Which made picking one a lot easier, since I really didn't have much choice.

So, decision made, I boldly went where I had already gone before. To college, men! To college!

I arrived in good spirits at the campus to take my placement tests. Now, it had been some years since I'd done this, but I had a general idea. Oh, sit at this computer? Oh, the whole thing is on a computer? Well, that's handy!

I plopped down in the testing room and began breezing through familiar multiple-choice test questions. Read paragraph, answer question about paragraph's main point, this word means this, yawn, click click click. Oh, great, math. Hey, this is easy! Click click click.

Wait. What am I supposed to do on this one?

Now, humans, theoretically, are supposed to learn from their mistakes. I, of course, did not:


I proceeded to handily come up with plausibly correct answers for questions which I was totally unsure how to answer properly.

I placed in -- and tell me if this sounds familiar to you at all -- math 95. This sounded familiar to me, too, but I wasn't totally sure if it was what I tried last time, so I figured hey, it's just going to take longer if I chicken out and go back a class. And besides, this is where they placed me. Surely the placement test is better now that it's been ten years. Right?

[more crickets] 



As it turns out, it was exactly what I tried last time. I read the first week's material and thought, "Oh. I can do this." A week into it, I realized that no, I STILL cannot do this. I dropped the class. Again.

This time, I was older and wiser and possibly more humble, and enrolled in math 65 instead. I breezed through it, and then took 95 and it was tough, but I did that too, and managed to barely squeeze an A out of it, to boot! Yay!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to find some bug spray or a box of lizards. I grow weary of these crickets. ...They mock me.


Up next: How to win at science!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Update: Lactose, anyone?

So, the night before last, I discovered some chocolate chip mint ice cream in the freezer. I had some. It was good. Being the smart boy that I am, I took a Lactaid before I ate said ice cream, just in case.

You see, I'm sort of lactose intolerant. Not really bad, generally. I can and will eat cheese until my arteries burst with no other ill effects aside from horribly clogging the pipes that keep oxygen flowing to my brain. I can eat ice cream, sometimes, no problem. Sometimes it's not such a good idea. Glass of cow milk? I may as well drink bleach.

Now. If you've studied any introductory psychology, you may be familiar with operant conditioning. If not, there is a handy link.

Now, operant conditioning, and contingency are factors that will reinforce a particular behavior. This is why gambling is addictive. You don't always win. But sometimes you win. Sometimes you have to try dozens of times to win, and that one "yay, I win!" can be enough motivation to keep performing the task of pushing the button or laying down another $10 chip or saying "okay, fine, let's put two hundred bucks on this game, but I already won $20 from you and I kinda feel bad taking your money like this" to the pool shark.

Now, I don't really have a problem with all those things. What I apparently have a problem with is ice cream. You see, ice cream, as I am sure you are aware, is yummy. You get a reward every time. Which, based on psychology, should reinforce the eating-ice-cream behavior to some extent.

Now, when you are lactose intolerant, and you eat ice cream, and it shreds you from the inside, you get a small reward (yummy!) followed by a positive punishment (ARRGH, MY INTESTINES). The difference in relative size of these is considerable, so the lactose intolerant typically will say "Oh, no, I can't eat ice cream. I'm lactose intolerant" when faced with an offer of ice cream, because they know what happens.

Here's the problem. I am sort of lactose intolerant. So, I get a small reward (yummy) followed by either a good night's sleep after a nice dessert (positive reinforcement) or moderately angry intestines (positive punishment). And the punishment is not generally severe. Also, Lactaid helps me avoid said punishment. So, the odds are good that if I have my trusty enzyme supplement, and then some ice cream, I get to enjoy the ice cream without risking the punishment. Neat, right? Just like the commercials say it works. If there's ice cream handy? I will totally eat it. Sometimes even without the Lactaid if I'm feeling risky.

As I was saying, the night before last, I had some Lactaid, and some ice cream, and all was well. So, hey, this ice cream thing, not so bad. And there's still a bucket of it left. Last night, I had some Lactaid, and some ice cream again.

Now, before I get to the next part, let me explain that my Lactaid is really infrequently used. I don't buy ice cream, nor do I buy milk, because what's the point if they might wreak havoc on my innards? But, sometimes ice cream appears in the freezer. My Lactaid is expired by a few months. Now, with most medications, they tell you it's no good after a year, but most of them are perfectly functional for five years if you store them properly.

Lactaid is not one of these medications. Throw it the hell out and buy new stuff.

At 7 A.M. this morning, after nestling in for a good night's sleep (...okay, I went to bed at 4, maybe it's a good morning's sleep) I woke up. For no reason. Except there was some sort of knot in my guts on the left side.

Guts: "Excuse me, sir? I seem to have a dilemma."

Me: "Oh? Whatever could be the matter? I was asleep. Surely this can't wait until I am fully rested?"

Jigsaw/Guts: "I'm afraid not. You see, I have tied myself into one of those knots you use for rock climbing. Good luck figuring this one out. Also, if you move, or if you do not move, it will get worse. If you cannot untie the knot within six hours, you will die."


The timeline of events went roughly like so:

1:00 A.M.: "Mmm. Chocolate chip mint ice cream with orange cream magic shell stuff on it is good."

2:00 A.M. - 3:00 A.M.: Shooting mutants in Fallout 3.

3:00 A.M. - 4:00 A.M.: Nodding off listening to a Delerium album.

4:00 A.M. - 7:00 A.M.: Guts were clearly watching a horror movie instead of listening to relaxing music, and are secretly laying an elaborate trap. (I was asleep, so I am just assuming that this is what was going on.)

7:01 A.M.: I am issued a challenge by my guts to struggle for survival.

7:02 A.M.: I realize I am going to die. In fact, I am actively being mauled by a bear. From the inside. And I didn't even EAT a bear.

7:10 A.M.: I resign myself to death after trying to analyze whether I have indigestion from the ice cream, food poisoning from who knows what, or what organs are even on that side of me, because I already don't have an appendix, and it's not in the back so it can't be a kidney stone...

7:15 A.M.: I do exactly what I know I should never do while sleep deprived and in horrible pain. I search the Internet for solutions. But, of course, I do not start with anything but "left side abdominal pain," which immediately tells me that my liver is failing, I have diverticulitis, cancer, three dozen parasitic worms which are only found in Africa, and also indigestion.

9:30 A.M.: I somehow manage to fall back asleep.

10:00 A.M.: Still not dead, but not asleep anymore. The pain is worse, because I am clearly failing my challenge. No one is home. I get up, and go to the bathroom. I'm totally delirious and exhausted. I sit on the bathroom floor.

10:05 A.M. - 11:00 A.M.: I throw up. Then I drink water. Then I throw the water up. Lather, rinse, repeat. Can I die yet? I also try running up and down the hallway. I don't have any idea how this was supposed to fix anything, but it seemed sensible at the time and was better than throwing up.

11:00 A.M. - 11:30 A.M.: I try stretching. It doesn't feel any better. I stretch more. It still doesn't feel any better.

11:32:07 A.M.: Convinced that the game can only be won by contorting myself in such a fashion that I untie this diabolical knot, I stand on my right foot, raise my left arm up and over my head and behind me a little bit, placing my palm flat against the wall, then I try to put my left foot flat on the floor from this position. It hurts worse.

11:32:31 A.M.: I try the exact same thing again, because -- after all -- it made it hurt worse last time, so that makes sense, right?

11:32:33 A.M.: My guts make the quietest little 'gurgle' sound. Turns out, that is the sound of Jigsaw losing the game. Anticlimactic, but whatever. I win, jerkface intestines.

11:33 A.M.: Already asleep in bed.

Later: Realized that this needed to be on the Internet.


Moral of the story: Improvisational yoga will save your life. That, or maybe I should stop eating ice cream.


[EDIT 3/21 - Okay, fairly sure this was ACTUALLY a kidney stone. But whatever, the story's entertaining as-is. Kidney stones you -expect- to feel like internal ursine destruction. Gas, not so much.]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

College Wars, Episode II: Bet You Wish You Hadn't Given Up, Stupid!

When we last left our intrepid hero, he had, as a mere boy, dropped out of college.

Insert a whole bunch of years of being an all-purpose nerd. Building computers, tech supporting technical things, and cultivating a healthy fear of telephones and Baptists. Blah blah blah. I'm a badass. Or whatever.

After misadventuring my way through a lot of things that I will probably tell embarrassing stories about later, I ended up working for a giant evil empire who will remain nameless because I will probably spout something that could be construed as rude about them at one point or another, and they have a phalanx of lawyers who will send me angry letters and/or envelopes of white powder.

If my life was a movie, this would be the boring part if I left out the office romances and corporate espionage and all that. Which I am going to do, because it's not really relevant. Maybe later. So, fast forwarding more.

Starting in technical support, I worked my way up the food chain a few rungs, where I discovered something new. Contrary to my previous experiences, once you made it up a certain distance, you hit some sort of magical invisible ceiling. Okay, it wasn't invisible, and it wasn't magical, but it was totally a ceiling. They'd let me poke my head up through the ceiling and see what was there, but the HR Manager monsters had weaved some sort of impenetrable barrier. Turns out, the name of this spell is Corporate Policy. This casting of Corporate Policy enforced limitations on my paychecks; namely, I was unable to be promoted to a position whose title had the word "Engineer" in it unless I could produce a counter-spell known as a Degree.

[Flashback: Velociraptor in a dress, laughing like a mad scientist, while I dangled impaled from Indiana Jones style spikes protruding from the wall.]

Here's how it went down.

Manager who wanted to hire me into the Software QA department as an engineer: "Hey, I have a job opening in QA, you should apply for it."

Me, unusually excited but probably showing no actual emotion: "Yeah?"

Manager: "Yeah, it'll be posted today sometime, keep an eye on the internal job postings."

Me: "Cool. Will do!"

[Quick time-lapse montage of me doing boring looking things and occasionally poking at a website]

Me, thinking out loud: "Ah ha!"

[I then fill out an excruciatingly complicated internal job application, which takes a hilarious amount of time.]

Me: "Done! Oh, this is awesome! Okay. Time to go home."

[I drove home. I then played video games, went to sleep at four in the morning, then woke up at 7 and bolted to the car in a panic, possibly without any pants on.]

Me, thinking out loud because I can't afford a narrator because I am blogging and it doesn't pay anything: "I wonder if I'll hear anything about that job today?"

[Time-lapse montage of me doing boring looking things to the tune of cricket sounds.]

Manager: "Hey, do you have a minute? I need to talk to you."

Me: "Sure, what's up?"

[At this point, the manager is abruptly dressed in a long, flowing black robe, his face mostly covered by an oversized hood. He's holding a bloodied sickle, the tip of which is dripping onto my shoe.]

Me, utterly breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly into the camera like a complete amateur: "Oh, not again. Why does this always happen to me? What did I ever do to you?"

Death/Manager, confused: "What? Who are you talking to?"

Me, still talking to the camera like an idiot: "This guy's about to tell me I'm screwed. It's like the raptor attack from the last episode. Can't I just, like, meet a pretty girl and do something romantic or say something funny or get a cool car?"

Cameraman: "No."

Me, storming off screen: "[expletive deleted]!"

Anyway, Death very sincerely apologized and told me that he wasn't allowed to hire me because I didn't have a four year degree yet. He asked how close I was -- how many years I had left to finish school. I answered honestly. Four years. He said I'd better get to work on that, then.

In the meantime, I was determined not to give up. Four years? That's a lot of juggling a full time job and full time school. Ugh.

So, at this point, if you are ever faced with this dilemma, let me give you a list of things that will NOT work to fool HR into letting you have a job for which you are clearly not qualified:

  • Asking the HR manager if they can make an exception just this once, for meeee. No, they won't.
  • Asking the HR manager if they actually check up on the validity of a degree that I claim to have. Yes, they will, and I will be fired if I lie about it. Damn.
  • Asking the HR manager if the degree has to be from an accredited school. It does. Sorry for bothering you, crappy "life experience = degree" internet college. You won't be getting any money out of me because your degrees are utterly worthless.
  • Asking the HR manager (on the advice of a different HR manager who said it was worth a try) if I can have the job, but if we could just name it something less impressive and pay me the same amount. Nope. Not even if you come up with something clever or self-deprecating.
  • Asking the HR manager if I can have the job, but if we could just name it something less impressive and pay me slightly less. Bzzt.
  • Asking the HR manager if I can have the job and keep my current pay and job title until I finish my degree, but just not do that job anymore and do this new one under a new manager. No dice. I thought this one was actually a pretty attractive offer, too, since I was being paid in peanuts at the time.

I'm sure that I came up with half a dozen more cockamamie ideas to try and interest this monster into giving me a chance, but I don't remember any others at this point.

Next on Observational Tragedy Theatre:
College Wars, Episode III: Deja Vu

Friday, March 11, 2011

College Wars, Episode I: How Not To Get Started

So, last year, I finally finished my undergraduate degree (leading to my current job search situation). While attending school, I realized something: I LOVE SCHOOL. Boy howdy, do I love school. Learning things is rad.

(Kids: Rad is one of those words that old people say. It's short for radical. In this case, I am using it synonymously with 'good and/or enjoyable.' Don't say it at your school. Someone will accuse you of being old. Unless that's cool these days. In which case, feel free to say it at your school. You will become the most popular kid in the whole place, and you have my permission to use 'rad' as some sort of Bart Simpson catch phrase. ...Bart Simpson is still relevant, right? Right?!)

I started my return to school while I was still working full-time, so I took the vast majority of my classes online, so while I didn't really get the full experience of college life, I did have a few interesting little episodes. You know, those experiences that textbooks just can't capture or convey. Usually, these are conveyed instead in facepalm-inducing photographs or snippets of conversations posted to a blog that is dedicated to a certain sort of schadenfreude.

In this case, I will attempt to retell some of my more memorable college stories. If you're getting excited and hoping that they will be stories of debauchery, or touching commentaries on the human condition, or something else that they make top-grossing films based on best selling novels out of, you're in for a major disappointment. But, try and keep an open mind, alright? Some of these are better than others, some of them might have morals, most of them have me in it.

Unlike George Lucas, I have no idea how many of these I can come up with, so I'm going to just start with the first one. As for the prequels, where I tell stories from grade school and I start including ridiculous computer generated characters, I'll just number those with negative integers. Also, I might not post those for 20 years or so.

College Wars
Episode I: How Not To Get Started

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away.. wait, no. Okay, Portland, there was.. me. And something something.. anyway, I was probably wearing normal clothes, and I was a (relatively) normal teenage boy, and I went to a normal community college to take a placement test. Now, if you've never done this dance before, the first thing that the college wants you to do is to show them how awesome you are. I mean, they want to know at what level your basic education is. Reading comprehension, writing, vocabulary, math, flying, and how much damage your psychic fireballs can do.

So, I sat down with a booklet (yes, I'm that old, we used pencils and paper and Scantron forms at that point. They still use them now, if your teacher is over the age of nine thousand.) Now, I've got a booklet of questions and a timer and a form to put my answers into. All multiple choice. Probably for ease of grading and not for accuracy.

Blah, blah, read a paragraph, this word in this context means this. Yawn. Math problems. In this equation, x equals this. Double yawn. I've only been through a year of high school and this stuff is making me doze.

Oh. What's this math problem? Hell, I don't even know what that symbol means. Well, I've always been told it's better to guess in a multiple choice test than to leave it blank because at least you've got a solid percentage chance of it being wrong.


I ran into all sorts of problems that I totally didn't even understand, but was able to make good, solid educated guesses on. I felt a little stupid, not actually understanding some of the stuff, but hey, I'm 16 years old, and this is college stuff, right?

So, I have them grade my tests. Long story short, they say I don't need to take any reading classes, I should start with WR 121 (as if I were a regular ol' college student and not a high school dropout with a GED), and I start with Math 95. 95, huh? Aren't college classes starting with 100? Hmm. Well, okay, I can live with that. I did, after all, drop out of high school and get my GED.

Fast forward a little: I register for classes, there's math 95, there's a fascinating Hindu Mythology course, there's writing 121, and there's a computer class of some sort -- whatever class I could take without prior instructor approval. Turns out that class is dumb, and the teacher suggests I drop it and take something more my speed, since I have been tinkering with computers for years. Okay.

Fast forward a little more: Math 95 isn't so bad. I took some algebra in high school, and destroyed geometry. But one day, I ride my ten-speed to school at the-sun-isn't-even-up-yet-A.M., I sit down dutifully in the desk I always sit in, surrounded by people who are all several years older than I am, and the teacher starts up with her lecture. Blah blah, math, blah blah, this thing, blah whatever, she's explaining things very meticulously and going over special cases and why we do it this way and not that way, and it all makes sense, and I'm getting very good grades.

And then, this happens:

Teacher: "And then, we factor this out. Everybody knows how to do factoring, right?"

Everybody: *generally bored nods and grunts of agreement*

[The lights in the room shut off, and the teacher swivels the overhead projector around so it points directly at me like a makeshift spotlight. The entire class vanishes and the walls -- which now have giant dusty, spider-covered spikes which are clearly tipped with deadly poison manufactured by the ancient Mayans -- start to close in like I've either been caught in a space trash compactor or an Indiana Jones movie. Not sure which, but this totally happened exactly like I am describing it. EXACTLY.]

I stared at the board and the teacher awkwardly as my stomach tied itself into one of those knots that your headphone cords turn into every time you put them into a pocket or container for longer than six seconds, and raised my hand. Probably imperceptibly. Thanks, however, to the spotlight and the shrinking room and the fact that I was now the ONLY student in the classroom, or maybe just because she could smell my fear, my terrified gesticulation was noticed immediately.

Bloodthirsty scaly monster with ten inch blood-dripping claws: "Oh, dear. Let's talk after class."

Me: "Okay."

I spent the rest of the class alternately trying to will myself to spontaneously combust and dredging every conversation I had ever heard in my entire life in the vain hope that I had even heard someone say 'factoring' in the context of math before. Neither scheme worked. I was doomed.

The students filtered out of the classroom after all the talking that I didn't hear a word of was done with, and the monster approached like the queen from Alien, or maybe like I was that dude in the outhouse in Jurassic Park, right before he was chewed into mulch.

Monster: "Okay, so, you're sure you don't remember how to do factoring?"

Me: "I don't even know what that means."

The monster demonstrated quickly on a piece of paper for me in the hopes that I could rescue myself from embarrassment by going "OH! Oh, ha ha, I was just kidding! Silly me. Of course, who doesn't know how to do THAT?" Nothing of the sort happened, of course, so she then gave me A Choice.

If you have ever been given A Choice by an authority figure or a slavering bloodthirsty monster or a serial killer, or have ever at least overheard a discussion where a person must make a choice, you are aware that it often involves two things that are both horrible.

In this case, my things were as follows:

  1. Go to the bookstore, and purchase a $100+ textbook for Math 65, then review two chapters of it that cover factoring in depth, do the exercises for those chapters, and then do the week's Math 95 homework before the next class session in two days.
  2. Drop the class with a "W."

When the phrase "textbook for Math 65" escaped the monster's lips, my ego, which had already been severely battered by a golf-club-to-the-temple in the form of me not understanding a concept that was clearly simple to all of the other students, started bleeding from its eyes. If I chose option 1, the bookstore staff would certainly notice that I Was A Moron. Also, the bleeding eyes probably would have sent me to the emergency room or the Vatican, depending on how I dressed that day. So, I chose option 2. I quit.

In fact, I didn't just quit. I really, really quit. I dropped everything but writing, which I only didn't drop because the teacher said I was doing fine. End of term? My grades in four classes amounted to: Nothing from that class I dropped right off, a W from that class that I dropped out of terror, an I from the Hindu Mythology class because I refused to go out to eat at an Indian restaurant and write a paper about it (nope, not kidding, I consciously decided to suck at the class because they wanted me to go eat dinner out somewhere and I didn't want to do it at all) and the crown jewel of my collection, a C in writing. WIC. Isn't that a government cheese program? I, the boy who was too smart for high school, was doomed.

I went to school for one more term after that, but I was demoralized. College was a horrible place, full of giant monsters hungry for my blood and/or soul, and college kids. I think I got some more grades that term, but had lost my appetite for it, and that was as far as I went.

Fred Savage: "Wow, Grandpa. You've babbled an awful lot and I don't even know what you were getting at there. What's the point? Does the princess get married or not?"

Old Me: "Now, now, don't get ahead of yourself. The point I was trying to make is that when you are taking a placement exam for college, you should just leave the damned answer blank if you really don't know how to do the math problem. Otherwise, they put you in the wrong class, where you are impaled on poisoned spikes and fed to a slavering velociraptor wearing a very conservative dress."

Fred Savage: "That's pretty fucked up."

Old Me: "Tell me about it."

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Finer Points of the Cover Letter

One of the worst things about applying for jobs in a shaky economy is the sheer number of applications you can send out without ever hearing so much as a peep back from anyone. (There are other worst things, but I'll stick to this one for now.)

The correct way to go through this process is something along these lines, according to "experts". Note here that anyone who is an expert at applying for jobs is either a terrible worker, just making shit up, or is flat out lying. Or, maybe just really, really unfortunate, but I'm not leaning that way. As one such "expert," I will leave it up to you to determine which one I am, while offering my incredible advice, absolutely free of charge.

So, here is what I believe you are supposed to do, based on my interpretations of countless (okay.. maybe four) work search classes, websites, and a pamphlet on prostate cancer that I found in the stairwell of a parking garage:

  1. Locate a company that you would like to work for. Research the company thoroughly, determining the specifics of their culture, goals, operations, et cetera.
  2. Once you have spent weeks of your life determining that they are the ultimate combination of all magical unicorn fairy happiness cuddly love fuzz and that you simply cannot take another breath without contributing to their worthy causes and/or profit margin, look to see if they have any jobs open that you could do.
  3. Research the job thoroughly, determining the specifics of the job's merit as it compares to your talents, skills, and ability to lie about your talents and skills.
  4. Update your resume, utilizing the best of your abilities to lie about said talents and skills, so it looks like you were manufactured in the (Company_Name) (Job_Title) worker factory especially just for them. Print enough copies of this resume to choke a donkey, even though it is only relevant to applying for jobs at SpumCo as a journeyman acrylic faux-cotton-candy trophy mounting machine operator.
  5. Sit down, and use your brilliant and thorough research, the results of your soul-searching, and a generous dose of PCP, and write a cover letter.

Now, there are other steps, but today, I'm covering step 5. Write a cover letter. So, we'll stop here.

The art of the cover letter is to manage to not repeat anything that already exists in the resume that you drafted for the express purpose of applying for This One Perfect Job. So, you should tell them why you're awesome, which you already did in your resume, but without actually restating anything that they could already learn by reading your resume. This way, you don't look like you're just being redundant.

Therefore, if your resume already states something like, say, you have been attending college and have earned a degree in acrylic faux-cotton-candy trophy mounting machine operations, you should not remind The Reader that you have this degree. They know. Or they will know if they read the other page(s) of what you handed/faxed/emailed/pigeon'd them.

As you may very well be aware, or at least imagine, this can be a sticky sort of task. If you are not aware and are unable to imagine this, it is possible that you are either a house plant or a zombie. If this is the case, congratulations on your excellent English skills; you are an exceptional house plant or zombie, and I am brimming with pride that I have as one of my esteemed readers an exceptional house plant or zombie. Also, I would love to interview you.


In my efforts to accomplish this task, I have hastily carefully crafted what I believe to be the largest time saver imaginable for the unemployed: The Perfect Cover Letter. I have written it in the format of an open letter, but you may adapt it to suit your personal tastes by replacing the greeting with "Dear Stan" or "Hey, Asshole" as necessary. Just don't use Comic Sans as the font. Nobody takes that seriously.


The Perfect Cover Letter

To Whom It May Concern,
I realize that the purpose of a cover letter is to detail exactly how my qualifications match the desired qualifications for the position that I am applying for.
However, after some consideration, I believe that it is possibly more important to inform you of the following:
 1.) I am utterly and irrefutably badass at everything.
 2.) That includes numbered lists, and levitation.
 3.) I'm actually writing this list while I hover six inches above the ground.
 4.) I use hyperbole and sometimes outright lies in this cover letter. But the badass part is totally accurate.
So, the question is not whether or not you want to bring me in for an interview. The question is whether or not you want to bring me in for an interview right now, or whether you need some time to collect yourself.
 5.) I'm not even done with that numbered list.
-(Your Name Here)
P.S.: Seriously. Badass.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fear and Loathing in The Conference Room

So, as the people who know me (which is probably everyone reading this, unless my introductory post has taken the entire Internet by storm -- dear Google, please let me know if I'm choking your poor servers out on accident) are likely aware, I am not currently employed.

As someone who is not employed, I occasionally end up going to job interviews when my resume, which I print exclusively on hot pink paper, dunk in a Chanel No. 5 knockoff that I bought out of the back of a van, and then put rubber-stamp lipstick kisses all over, gets me a response. (If you received one of these resumes and threw it out immediately, telling your friends about the idiot who printed his resume on the hot pink paper and made it reek of cheap faux-French perfume... don't you feel silly now?)

As someone who is not employed and is pretty good at technical things, when I do go to these interviews, they are almost inevitably conducted by a horde of ravenous monsters.

I humbly present to you an examination of some of the various types of monsters one can expect to encounter when attending job interviews, to help you maximize your odds of a positive result.

So, without further ado:

The Compleat Guide To Surviving Office Exploration, 1st Ed.

Chapter The First: Humans

Monster: Executive Officer
Frequency: Common

When interviewing for any position within a large organization, you are likely to encounter an Executive Officer, generally considered to be the Boss Monster of the level. Executive Officers are often in generally good physical condition for humans that rarely see combat, and may be wielding a cup of overpriced coffee. Generally older than the other monsters in the cave, the Executive Officer may also be a spellcaster, or possibly some sort of vampire or lich; the other monsters will generally defer to it when it decides to stop peering at its phone/book/wristwatch long enough to speak. Expect to defend yourself against open ended behavioral analysis questions such as "Why do you want to work for us?", "Where do you see yourself in five years?", and "If you were a fruit, which fruit would you be, and why?".

Protip: The correct answer to the fruit question is NOT "A banana. It's a painful memory, and I don't want to talk about it. Let's just say that cartoons do not paint an accurate picture of the hippopotamus. They are less jovial than you might expect."

Monster: HR (Humanoid Resource) Manager
Frequency: Common

The HR Manager is also a common encounter when delving into office buildings in search of gold, experience, and loot. Generally, the HR Manager's task is to appear to ignore every word you say and write arcane runes into the spellbook it always carries. Beware! These runes are a ritual method of ejecting you from the dungeon; if you provide too much, too little, or the wrong information, it will speak a Power Phrase, such as "Thank you for coming in to see us," which is a form of clever mind control that compels you to stop trying to talk your way deeper into the complex and instead to shake the hands of any surviving monsters, turn around, and leave defeated. The exact mechanism of this spell is unknown, however, and while you may avoid its effects by wearing protective equipment, you will suffer a severe penalty to your appearance of normalcy if you have to pull earplugs out every time one of the other monsters attempts to address you in your language. Be keenly aware of the HR Manager's facial expressions, as they may indicate when it is about to strike.

Chapter The Second: Humanoids

Monster: Troll Systems Administrator
Frequency: Uncommon

Trolls Systems Administrators are occasionally found in the conference rooms. Their duty is to test your ability to resist telling offensive jokes. You can identify a troll systems administrator using three key characteristics:

  1. Extreme body odor. Depending on the clan the systems administrator belongs to, this may be that of garlic, too much Drakkar, or hobo. While the too much Drakkar clan is often actually the most offensive smelling, never underestimate the cunning of the hobo systems administrator, who spends much of its time practicing movie quotes and MMORPG references to expose you to the other monsters as an outsider or an infiltrating member of a rival clan.
  2. Embarrassing cell phone ring tones. These can also help to classify which clan of trolls system administrators the creature belongs to (for instance, Star Wars vs. Star Trek).
  3. The systems administrator may or may not introduce itself at all, choosing to allow the Humanoid Resource Manager to perform the introduction, whereupon the systems administrator is directed to nod its head a little bit to confirm that it has not yet died of sloth.

Very little action is ever necessary on the adventurer's part to defeat a troll systems administrator. Under normal circumstances, some machine somewhere in the building will have a panic attack and summon it to perform a resurrection rite, leaving you with one less monster to contend with. In the worst case scenario, you may find that following it into a room and simply using "kill troll with sword" will suffice. (Note: You might have to type it a few times. Do some finger exercises.)

Monster: Orc (Sales and/or Marketing Rep)
Frequency: Rare unless someone tells them lunch is being catered

The Orc is a relatively low-level monster within the monster chain of command which has been endowed with more responsibility than it seems reasonable for it to handle. Some Orcs seem to actually be successful when faced with these responsibilities, and unfortunately it is these glib creatures that you are most likely to encounter; the Orcs who do not enjoy such success are more typically found in the basement of the office building, shoveling the bodies of rejected job applicants into the furnace to heat the cavernous offices.

The Sales and/or Marketing Rep Orcs often like to claim to be college educated, having completed their MBA from the University of Phoenix, where they purchased papers written by grade school children from India occasionally to ensure their success. They will interject largely meaningless comments while eating the free food provided at the meeting, or will interject entirely meaningless comments about the lack of free food provided at the meeting: "Excuse me. I was told there would be punch and pie." These monsters, while occasionally novel, may be safely ignored. If angered by an act that they consider offensive, such as someone taking the last bear claw (which they were hoping to pack into their cheek before escaping to their cubicle to hide it for later), they can be easily distracted by silver change. Nickels are most cost-efficient, as they are often mistaken for highly-desirable quarters by the Orc's myopic vision. This trick continues to work because the Orc Sales and/or Marketing Rep's hyperinflated ego insists (wrongly) that its vision is just fine, and that only nerds wear glasses.

Chapter the Third: Quadrupeds

Monster: Canis Familiaris
Frequency: Extremely Rare

The office dog is not a common sight, because the other office monsters have typically either already eaten the indigenous dogs of the office, or are hiding it from the other monsters to avoid having to choose between paying for doggie day care or having the small monster destroy their living cave while they are trying to trap adventurers.

Years of abuse have left the office dog docile and used to strange creatures, so it is exceedingly rare that one will ever be a concern, but it has been included in this manual for the sake of complete documentation of known species.

Generally small (so that they can be hidden in drawers or breadboxes), the office dog, once discovered, may be used as a projectile weapon in a pinch, but its damage potential is much smaller than that of a stray cat (which are not included in this manual, as they are not generally found in offices unless one of the Orcs has a laser pointer and not enough bodies to shovel). The lesson to learn here? Always be prepared with a stray cat in hand when entering an office building.

Chapter the Fourth: Other (Special Cases)

Monster: Wumpus

There is almost always a wumpus somewhere in the office. Be vigilant; while the wumpus is a large and easy-to-spot creature in many environments, its sucker feet allow it to hide where you might least expect. Have you ever noticed, for instance, that most offices have false ceilings? And remember, if you shoot at it and miss, it might move into another office.

You might argue, "but, shad, those are to conceal network, telephone, and power wiring in an open environment! You're being ridiculous!" I assure you, I am not. 

The moment you stop watching that false ceiling, you're screwed. Teeth and gore EVERYWHERE.

In fact, it might be better to just avoid these offices entirely and start a blog.