Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

6/8/2006

The Modern-Day Math Test, or, How I Became a Curmudgeon

File under: Righteous Indignation, Those Who Can't, Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 10:03 pm.

(Or, Wherein the Author Learns Who Subscribes to the RSS Feed.)

The other day, against my better judgement, I took on some contract textbook writing work with a company based in India. The main reason, I confess, is so that I can tell my friends that India is outsourcing work to me, something that I’ll also be sure to mention on my résumé when I inevitably overstay my welcome at my current place of employment. The bad news is that the textbook company produces books for use in the United States, which means that I get paid in American dollars, not rupees. Alas. But here’s the general procedure: someone from an American school board sends specs to the Indian company, which hires an American to write an outline for a text, which then gets sent to a Canadian (me) to turn into multiple choice questions. India the goes over the questions, and sends them to someone else (an American?) to review and revise. This seems to me like an awful lot of trouble to go to to produce (what appears to me to be) a text that is essentially indistinguishable from every other text in use in the public school system, but I don’t make the rules: I just get paid to follow them.

Fortunately, the Indian textbook company is not in any way affiliated with the body that produces and markets fucking graphing calculators. However, no company that mass-produces textbooks for use American public schools can remain solvent without permitting the use of some sort of scientific calculator at the high school level, which makes questions such as

5. Which of the following is equivalent to sqrt(50)-sqrt(8)?
a. …
b. …
c. …
d. …

several orders of magnitude stupider than their non-multiple choice equivalents.

You see the problem.

Calculator use aside: in coming up with the incorrect multiple-choice options, I am finding myself borrowing liberally from some of my earlier work in the field. Needless to say, I’m milking the “everything is linear” fallacy, which features prominently in every single option set I’ve written so far, for all it’s worth. So far, India seems happy with my work, which can only mean that India is confident that, for example, hoardes of students will continue incorrectly expanding polynomials in exactly the same way that teachers have warned students against incorrectly expanding polynomials since time immemorial. Good instruction has minimal effect on the frequency of the most common types of algebra errors, I’ve found, so I don’t have to worry that there will be a classroom of students who overlook Option D en masse because duh, everyone knows that (x+y)^2 does not equal x^2+y^2.

No, I’ve done good work with this text, so far. My employers assure me that my questions will be sufficiently confounding to high school students, of whom negligibly few are even adept enough at plugging expressions into their calculators to compare multiple choice options to an unsimplified expression that it’s well worth asking several questions that can be solved that way; and of whom hardly any understand enough algebra to avoid half of the wrong choices I’ve provided.

A skilled teacher is one who acts as a positive influence on her students, and manages to inspire them. Lofty goals, those, and ones that are seldom attained. It’s far easier - and potentially more lucrative - to be a skilled multiple-choice math question writer, whose success is commensurate with the ability to correctly predict her subjects’ deficiencies, which are never in short supply.

5/10/2006

How Canadians are made

File under: Home And Native Land, Talking To Strangers, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:13 pm.

Today I met with a client, who arrived late and frazzled. I didn’t ask him for an explanation, but he offered one anyway, the same explanation he offered me the last time he arrived late and frazzled: “I have a newborn…kid isn’t sleeping through the night.”

This is the same newborn he had when I met him last Christmas.

“Lots of people in the office have new babies,” I remarked idly. “Annie’s little girl must be five months old by now, and Roger just got back from parental leave in March, and Frank’s son was born on Valentine’s Day. And it’s not a large office, either.”

“Well,” said my client, who’d obviously given the matter a fair bit of thought already, “there was no hockey last year.”

4/30/2006

Guess who didn’t send me my tax receipts this year?

File under: Righteous Indignation, Home And Native Land. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 5:08 pm.

The Employment Insurance office! I know - you’re shocked!

Fortunately, I caught the competent, frizzy blond-haired woman’s name, and I remember that she usually worked at the call centre; with any luck (mine, not hers), she’s still employed by EI, and can send the forms out.

Advice for Canadians eligible for EI: just give up, and get a damned job. It’s a lot less time-consuming.

4/25/2006

Murphy’s Law: Homeowners’ Edition

File under: Righteous Indignation, Talking To Strangers, Oh, Give Me A Home. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:39 pm.

I’m alive. I’m just running around acquiring a property, that’s all.

The deal closes tomorrow morning. Based on the assurances of my agent and other relevant parties - it WILL close tomorrow. I know things are really rushed right now, and it’s taken a bit longer to get all the papers in order, but it WILL close, I assure you - this means that there are only twelve hours left for everything to go horribly awry, thank God. Meaning, in twelve hours, I will no longer have to deal with the extensive cast of characters with whom I have interacted, to varying degrees, for the past six weeks:

My agent. She found me the property! She negotiated with the realtor until eleven o’clock at night to save me $5K! She comes to my office to bring me papers to sign! She works stupid hours so I don’t have to! She hooked me up with a mortgage broker, a lawyer, and a guy who does flooring! She comforts the newly heartbroken (see below)! I love my agent, and would bear her children if such a thing were biologically possible.

The home inspector. I never met this guy face to face. My agent hooked me up with him, let him into the house, and delivered his extensive report to me. All I had to do was pay him a lot of money. This made my dealings with the home inspector far less time-consuming and stressful than my dealings with various other people, for instance,

Every bank manager in the Lower Mainland. Some free advice from your friendly neighbourhood curmudgeon: by all means, diversify your assets, but for the love of God, diversify them within the same goddamned bank. Trust me on this one.

The mortgage broker. I’ve never met this guy either, but I’ve talked to him a lot - around fifteen times in the last three business days. He’s the one who sends the relevant papers to the lawyer, except that they didn’t get in on time, which is why I’ve talked to him around fifteen times in the last three business days. Most of my calls went something like this:

Me: The lawyer just called! She doesn’t have the papers yet! Closing is on Wednesday April 26 and it’s almost then and this is going to fall through she needs the papers now!!!

The broker: Hmm…the papers should have gotten there already. I’ll go check with the people who are supposed to send her the papers. I don’t know what the delay is. But I assure you that everything will be completely taken care of by Wednesday April 26.

I later found out what the delay was: my agent explained that it had to do with

The appraiser. “The only thing you have left to do is pay the appraiser,” my broker told me last week.

“Do I have to go to the other side of the city to sign stuff?” I asked, worried about taking yet more time away from work. “Do I have to go meet him?”

“No,” the broker assured me. “You can pay by credit card. I can have him call you now.”

Five minutes later, I got a call from the appraiser, which went something like this:

The appraiser: Hi, this is the appraiser.

Me: Oh, yeah, the broker told me you’d call.

The appraiser: I need your credit card number.

Me: Here you go.

It occurred to me later that I had no idea who the appraiser was, or what I’d just paid for. I could very well have just given my credit card number to some disenfranchised Nigerian prince, or peddler of penis-enlargement elixir. Spammers, take note: if you want to get rich dishonestly, you could do worse than to tap into the market of frazzled homeowners-to-be.

And what had I just paid for? Not much! Two days after the relevant papers were supposed to have arrived at the the lawyer’s, but one day before they actually did, I received a cryptic email from my agent:

Dear Moebius Stripper,

I hear you’re back in town. There have been some complications, but don’t worry. The deal will close on Wednesday, April 26. Call me.

I called her.

“What the hell is going on?” I demanded.

“Oh, there was a problem with the appraiser,” she informed me.

“A problem? What sort of a problem?”

“Well, he was supposed to show up the other day, but he forgot.”

“He FORGOT?”

“Yeah. And then we tried to reschedule, but it was kind of difficult, because -”

It was kind of difficult, I’m told, because the seller - showing wanton disregard for my feelings in this matter - chose the very day the appraiser was supposed to show up to be unceremoniously dumped by her greasy-ass biker boyfriend (whom I met) and go into hysterics. The appraiser didn’t show up, and that was the last straw. Fuck rescheduling, she shouted to my agent. She didn’t want to reschedule! She couldn’t take this! She couldn’t take the stress of rescheduling, let alone moving! She wasn’t sure she even wanted to sell!

My agent whose children I would bear if such a thing were biologically possible high-tailed it to my soon-to-be residence, let herself in, and spent the next hour comforting the seller. You do want to sell, my agent said as the seller sobbed. You do! You have a beautiful new property downtown! You can’t let this stop you from pursuing your dream! You have a bright future ahead of you! You’re smart and funny and have a great job! He wasn’t worth it anyway!

The seller sniffled a little, and seemed to be agreeing somewhat, but she wasn’t entirely convinced.

“And if you don’t sell,” my agent continued, “You’ll be sued for breach of contract by my client, and probably by the seller of your new property as well, and I can tell you from experience that you’ll be out a hell of a lot of money.”

The seller agreed to reschedule the appointment with the appraiser.

My agent is a total hard-ass, and I mean that as a compliment.

Nevertheless, the appointment was’t rescheduled quite in time to get the papers sent this morning to

The notary public. I met with her anyway, and the dozen-odd documents I needed to sign were still spilling out of the fax machine when I arrived. She was scrutinizing one of them closely when I settled into the seat across from her.

“Hmm,” she said. “When do you close?”

Tomorrow, I said. Wednesday, April 26.”

“This says the funds will be ready Friday, April 28.”

I sat there gawking. NOT FOR LACK OF ME TELLING THEM FIFTY TIMES THAT COMPLETION WAS TOMORROW, I said.

“That’s ok,” she said. “I can call them.”

Which would have been less of a problem if the folks preparing the documents weren’t three time zones away, and probably tucking their kids into bed instead of poring over boring legal documents in the office.

Except for one of them, who the notary managed to track down. He was very sorry! He’d get that fixed right now! He’d send over the new papers and talk to the bank first thing tomorrow morning! Everything would be taken care of, and I could sign the papers now!

I signed a bunch of papers. I signed everything except the cheque, which no one bothered to tell me had to be certified.

“Oh, you’ll have to go to the bank for that,” said the notary. “You can’t just write a personal cheque for [mid-five figures].”

“I need to go to a bank? What do they do, just put a seal on the cheque, right?”

“Yes, it should take less than ten minutes.”

“Don’t you have a seal, like right here?” I said. “Don’t all seals pretty much all look the same to anyone who isn’t looking terribly closely?”

She gave me a look that told me that lawyers think it’s really funny when you joke about having them help you commit fraud.

Fine, then; off to the bank tomorrow. To certify the bloody cheque. And then give it to the notary (in trust, always in trust), who will turn liquid assets into solid ones, by tomorrow morning, because that’s when the deal closes.

They promised me it would.

4/13/2006

A Canadian moment

File under: Home And Native Land, Talking To Strangers. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 5:19 pm.

The rain was coming down hard when I waited for a break in traffic to cross the street.

I paused at the intersection, waiting for the Volvo, and the Honda that trailed perilously close behind, to pass. I saw the Volvo decelerate, and I tried to catch the driver’s eye. Speed up, I willed her, don’t stop. I can wait five seconds to cross.

But the Volvo stopped, and within an instant the Honda collided with it. It was a gentle hit, and I stood transfixed at the corner, wondering if the two drivers needed a witness. The Honda was technically in the wrong, but the Volvo shouldn’t have stopped.

The two drivers’ doors clicked open simultaneously, and the women approached the touching bumpers.

“No damage,” said the Volvo. “Sorry about that; I shouldn’t have stopped.”

“No, I’m sorry,” said the Honda. “I was following you too closely. And in this weather especially -”

“No, I shouldn’t have stopped,” repeated the Volvo. “It’s my fault. But no harm done.”

“Is everything okay?” I called out.

“Everything’s fine,” they assured me, and I forget which one apologized for making me stand out there in the rain watching a minor car accident.

4/8/2006

I’m not signing anything until I read it, or someone gives me the gist of it

File under: Righteous Indignation, Talking To Strangers, Oh, Give Me A Home. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:44 am.

Some exciting developments on the home-buying front: I have a banker and a mortgage broker fighting for my business! It’s not often that I have people fighting over me, so I am milking this opportunity for all it’s worth, shamelessly playing the two parties off of one another, and deliberately holding off on making any commitments until that magical deadline, ten days before closing. And, oh, the desperation is a thing to behold. “I can understand that you’d want to talk to your bank about getting a better deal,” wheedled the broker, “but do you really want to go with someone who doesn’t give you their best offer up front, and makes you go back and forth negotiating for something better?”

I replied that 1) actually, yes I did, because the only reason that I was getting better offers to begin with was because of the competition - ain’t the market economy grand; and 2) the broker himself hadn’t offered me his best deal up front, and I’d only told him I’d sign with him if he could negotiate with the bank to get me an interest rate that was 0.05% lower, which he was able to secure without difficulty, so what’s with the sudden “best offer first” ethic? Fair enough, said the broker.

Anyway, I’ll probably go with the broker anyway, assuming I can get some kinks in the contract worked out, where by “kinks” I mean “the part that has me making a huge down payment and taking out a huge loan for the mortgage, thereby having me pay an extra $15,000 (!) that is not accounted for, and could you please issue me a contract where that is not the case?” Assuming that gets fixed, I’m in better shape than I would be if I went with the bank, who offered me (this part was uttered in quiet tones by the banker) “a slightly higher interest rate”, but (more loudly) WITH ONE PERCENT CASH BACK!!1!1!!! on the amount of the mortgage. And that’s a lot of money! Think about that! Over a thousand dollars in my pocket!

I thought about it, but my thought process involved a calculator, which revealed that the over a thousand dollars in my pocket would be more than absorbed by the close to two thousand dollars in extra interest. Well, that’s true, said the banker, but…. I guess could use this as a springboard to another rant about innumeracy, but it’s not even that: even someone who can’t compute these things by hand could make use of any number of online mortgage calculators, which make the comparison process quite easy indeed.

Maybe I’ll try to find a third mortgage specialist, but time is running out.

[Credit where it’s due.]

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