Tall, Dark, and Mysterious

2/20/2006

Everything I ever needed to know, I failed to learn in kindergarten.

File under: Righteous Indignation, Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 4:32 pm.

This just in: I come across as blunt, abrasive, aloof, distant, and ostensibly averse to small talk - and damned if some people don’t much care for that.

Pardon me, allow me to clarify: this just in from my supervisor, who took five minutes to get [above] across to me. I knew exactly what was coming halfway into the “Well, I’m not quite sure how to tell you this, but sometimes in large groups…” prelude, but coaxing it out of him any faster would have required me to bypass the requisite small talk and cut straight to bluntness, and never let it be said that I can’t take a hint.

Anyway, this is apparently a problem. Not just to my supervisor, but to the anonymous chorus of indeterminate size (”some people”) that has approached him with concerns about my demeanor. Oh, they all know I mean well, but would it kill me to smile a bit more? Spend more of my lunch breaks indoors with others in the lunchroom, instead of running errands or relaxing at the park? Interrupt my work (which I’m apparently doing quite well, thankyouverymuch), whenever the circumstances demand it, with multi-word commentary about how by gosh, it is raining again, whenever will the madness end?

It’s not that I’m not aware of all of this, mind you; it’s that what others see as friendly banter, I see as distractions from my work - work that no one else in the office can do. I am a task-oriented person, dammit, not a people-oriented person! It’s that, much as I like my coworkers, I don’t come to work to better my social life. It’s that in my metric, it’s better to approach people, possibly bluntly, than it is to mediate your concerns through a third party, so that the offending individual is left suspecting all of the friendly chit-chatters of filing complaints with that party and leaving her to guess whether this modification of her behaviour is enough, because it’s not like she’s had the chance to speak directly (that word again!) with anyone who actually wanted her to modify it. So help me, this all strikes me as remarkably inefficient, not to mention, highly inconducive to creating a pleasant working environment, at least for me. I’m just saying.

In summary: damned if I know what precisely I need to change (goddamn, it’s hard to get straight answers from the directness-averse HR set), and damned if I could make whatever changes are necessary without driving myself insane even if I did know exactly what they were. The good news is, I continue to provide my employer with a sort of specialized expertise that they’ve been seeking for years; and by all accounts, I do a very good job of what I was hired to do.

Call me old-fashioned, but right now, I plan to just continue to do my job well, and I reckon that’ll be enough.

2/8/2006

Doppelgangers

File under: Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:21 pm.

On the buisiness trip:

  • Guy who tells me that it’s “nice seeing [me] again.” Again? I say. Not that I doubted that I’d run into him before; I remember having seen people far less often than they remember having seen me, and I often feel tremendouly guilty about this. However, the last time this guy supposedly saw me was “at the conference in Edmonton”, and I was never at the conference in Edmonton. But he swears he saw me, or at least, someone who looked just like me.

    People tell me this disturbingly often, and I can only assume that not all of them think that “I know I’ve seen you before” is a functional, if not especially clever, pick-up line. Apparently there are plenty of people who look just like me floating around, but I’ve never met any of them personally.

  • Speaker who looks exactly like a ten-to-fifteen-years-younger version of my father. Same height. Same build. Same colouring. Same gait. Same haircut. Same glasses. Same style of dress. This is slightly jarring.

    More jarring, though, is the fact that this dude could not possibly sound less like my father. No, whenever this guy opens his mouth, he speaks in a lispy, slightly breathless, gay-guy-from-crappy-sitcom tenor.

    And file under “just plain strange” (or “race is a social construct”, if you’re so inclined): though I’m a mutt and I can’t reliably enumerate all of the nationalities that feature in my bloodline, I am fairly certain that there is no genetic explanation for my parent looking like some guy named Sanchez.

The customer is always…something

File under: Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 6:51 pm.

The room in the somewhat swank hotel where I am staying on business was not ready when I arrived two minutes after check-in time.

Now, I didn’t mind one whit, because I mostly just think about hotels as places where someone else changes your sheets and cleans your bathroom, and I pretty much figure that once you’ve got that, it really doesn’t make much sense to gripe about the timing of the sheet-changing and bathroom-cleaning, you know? Gift horses and misdirected gazes, is all. But I am clearly not a member of the class of hotel patrons that the staff at the somewhat swank hotel has been trained to serve, because the woman at the check-in counter immediately shifted into damage control mode as soon as she had discerned the state of my room-to-be: We’re so sorry! Your room was not available at three-oh-two, so here’s a gift card for a free shoe shine! And another that will allow you two hours at our luxury spa, free of charge! And here, take an exercise kit that we usually provide only to our preferred customers, of which you were not one five minutes ago, but you are now! Because you have been wronged! By us! Oh, and while you wait, go get yourself a drink at the bar - at no cost to yourself! And if you want to enjoy one of the pay-per-view movies that we offer this week, you will not see the charge on your hotel bill!

Eyes widened in anxious anticipation. Expectant stare. Is there anything else we could do to pursuade you to forget this unpleasantness?

At this point I was so disoriented by this wholly unnecessary song and dance, that my ability to adjust my behaviour to my surroundings took leave of me completely. “Well, to be honest,” I deadpanned, “short of giving me a free upgrade to one of your luxury suites - no, I’m afraid there really isn’t.”

Without a word, the clerk nodded, pursed her lips, and briskly entered some data into her computer. A minute later, she handed me a key and dispatched me. It was only after I arrived at the door to my temporary residence that I realized that there was no reason for my room to be ready so soon, and oh my god there are two bathrooms in this place and I need a pair of binoculars to watch TV in here.

It did come to my attention, however, that even the preferred customers who spend, I swear it says this right on the door, seven hundred dollars a night to stay here, still have to pay for their own high speed internet connection on top of all that, ten goddamned dollars a day.

I considered calling the front desk and asking for that charge to be waived, but I thought that might be pushing it.

1/31/2006

Technology: the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems

File under: Sound And Fury, Those Who Can't, Queen of Sciences. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 8:58 pm.

Reading this article about a series of math workshops directed at students and parents, I am reminded of a famous fifty-year-old psychology experiment:

In Festinger and Carlsmith’s classic 1959 experiment, students were made to perform tedious and meaningless tasks, consisting of turning pegs quarter-turns, then removing them from a board, then putting them back in, and so forth. Subjects rated these tasks very negatively. After a long period of doing this, students were told the experiment was over and they could leave.

However, the experimenter then asked the subject…to try to persuade another subject (who was actually a confederate) that the dull, boring tasks the subject had just completed were actually interesting and engaging. Some subjects were paid $20 [for this], another group was paid $1…

When [later] asked to rate the peg-turning tasks, those in the $1 group showed a much greater propensity to embellish in favor of the experiment when asked to lie about the tasks. Experimenters theorized that when paid only $1, students were forced to internalize the attitude they were induced to express, because they had no other justification. Those in the $20 condition, it is argued, had an obvious external justification for their behavior, which the experimenters claim explains their lesser willingness to lie favoring the tasks in the experiment.

In what I can only infer to be the 2006 version of this experiment, two math experts who believe that students rely too much on calculators, are then sent into schools to…teach students to use calculators.

Sunshine and Speier will show students how to do math problems without having to reach for the calculator.

Sunshine and Speier both said students rely too much on using the calculator to solve math problems.

“Get the pencils and papers into their hands as soon as possible…,” Sunshine said.

Sounds about right. I can’t wait to see where this is going!

Speier will also work with Lego Robotics and show high school students how to use graphing calculators.

Huh? But didn’t you just say…? Oh, never mind:

Speier and Sunshine will help students understand basic math because they said they have seen students struggle with basic math concepts like multiplication.

So have I, and so, I presume, has everyone who has ever taught math on this continent. And I agree with Speier and Sunshine when they talk about how the best way to understand basic math is to put pencils and papers, rather than fucking graphing calculators, into students’ hands as soon as possible.

What, then, accounts for the schedule of these workshops?

Monday, Jan. 30: Providing a good start in math at home: graphing and multiplication.

Tuesday, Jan. 31: What is Algebra all about? A two-hour crash course in the subject.

Wednesday, Feb. 1: Programming and Robotics with the Lego Robotics systems.

Thursday, Feb. 2: Programming the TI-83+ Calculators.

Given Speier and Sunshine’s lack of enthusiasm for the calculator-based curriculum, my guess is that Texas Instruments put them into the $20 group.

1/30/2006

Somebody is going to regret this

File under: When We Were Young, Know Thyself, Welcome To The Occupation. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 9:25 pm.

“Applicant must be willing to travel”, read the job ad, and they weren’t kidding: I’ve got five trips scheduled this quarter alone, and they range in purpose from the interesting to the Dilbertesque. Next month, for example, I am to attend a conference that will teach me the ins and outs of effectively managing one’s employees, and I leave the taxonomy of that one as an exercise to the reader.

I’ll give the reader a hint: I do not, myself, have any employees. I am the managee in this relationship, not the manager.

And another: preparation for said conference involved taking a personality test, which revealed such things as - try to contain your shock - “subject is highly independent”, “subject is task-oriented” and “subject scored in the lowest decile on the ‘cooperation’ scale”; in other words, subject is the sort of person for whom it would be in everyone’s best interest if subject were just left to do her bloody job, as opposed to, say, attend a conference on managing one’s employees. Oh, and subject is a pain in the ass to manage.

And, a little anecdote that I know full well does not constitute a reliable statistic, BUT STILL: during my tenure as a college math instructor, every single one of my most difficult and manipulative students, to an individual, was a psych major. For whatever reason, these students were really interested in human behaviour.

And, just for good measure, a story from my childhood: when I was five years old, my mom had this childhood development book called Your Five Year Old. Not included in the book: anything about the five-year-old who was so precocious, and so antagonistic, that she would pry the book off of the shelf while her pregnant mother napped, and say to herself, “The child may be extremely bold one minute and shy the next? Nuh-uh, Mom, I’m afraid it’s going to be just a little more difficult to predict my behaviour.”

I tend to be brutally straightforward and impatient in any sort of team setting: I tell people explicitly what I want, and they don’t deliver, I do it myself. I perceive - uncharitably, to be sure - anything else as manipulation, which is why I’d be a crappy manager and have no overwhelming desire to be one. And I am hyperalert to any hint that I am being manipulated by, for instance, a superior who is choosing his words in such a way as to elicit a certain sort of response that he would not get if he were being more direct. And when I sense that someone is trying to manipulate me, I am quick to respond in kind. Skillfully.

And here I am, not only being led into temptation, but collecting Air Miles for the trip.

1/27/2006

Business sense

File under: XX Marks the Spot, Know Thyself. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:20 pm.
  1. At the local Sears, women’s jeans, unlike men’s, are indexed not by pairs of numbers that denote waist size and inseam, but by single numbers that denote nothing. Yeah, I know, I’ve been over this before, but that’s what you get when you keep reading the same blog for over a year. Anyway: a few weeks ago I subjected a (middle-aged, male) coworker of mine, nevermind why, to a passionate tirade about how I will not even try on jeans whose manufacturers can’t even be bothered to provide a two-parameter description of them. Why waste my time? Except that some of the Sears jeans are labelled with waist size and inseams: one pair, filed under the marker “8″, sported a tag that read “30/32″. Seems the dolt in charge of the women’s jeans section decided that that information should be hidden from immediate view. (Aside: you know those women in fiction who describe themselves as “I’m a size n”? Does anyone actually do that? Because if I were to give the single-number pants size, I’d need to provide a margin of error as well.)

    Credit where it’s due, however: I did manage to pick up some great pyjama bottoms at Sears. They came from the men’s section - and were labelled with waist and inseam. Which is kind of weird, but goddamn, do those pyjamas ever fit.

  2. My employer sprung a new business trip on me after I’d already booked tickets for another one. I called the airline to cancel my original flight, had some conversation involving the words “non-refundable” and “thirty dollars”, and I agreed to a bunch of stuff, and then, a few weeks later, saw my credit card bill, and -

    “Excuse me, but did you people charge me thirty dollars to change a flight from return trip to Edmonton to return trip to nowhere?”

    “Yes, we did.”

    “That doesn’t make any sense.”

    “It’s our policy. We explained it over the phone to you.”

    And, in all fairness, they did: they said that my tickets were nonrefundable, and that I could cancel the flight “for thirty dollars”, which I (understandably) parsed as “…but we’ll refund you $30.” You know how I always complain about students not reading the damned question, and instead just doing whatever they want with the numbers in their word problems? Feel free to point me to this post next time that happens.

    Nevertheless, “But if I just didn’t show up to the airport, it wouldn’t cost me anything to fly to nowhere. I thought that the airline would prefer to know that I wouldn’t be flying so that they could sell my seats to someone else.”

    “Yes, we do appreciate it, thank you for notifying us.”

    “But you just showed your appreciation by charging me thirty dollars.”

    To be fair, they were charging my employer thirty dollars, and perhaps I should have shown my appreciation for my employer by not spending more than thirty dollars’ worth of my time debating this issue with the airline. However, it wasn’t about the money; it was the principle of the thing.

    “That’s our policy.”

    “May I speak to your supervisor?”

    Yes, I may! And let me skip the ensuing thirty-minute conversation and go directly to the coda, which is this: supervisor agreed that why yes, now that I mentioned it, this was ridiculous from the perspectives of both company and customer, and we’ll credit your account thirty dollars, have a nice day.

  3. The hotel where I last stayed on business had a pizza place on the first floor. “Available in the restaurant on the first floor, and in room service!” boasted the menu on the desk. Also: “15% gratuity extra for room service.” Why not? I’m sure that lots of folks who pay their own money to stay in places like this also pay their own money to avoid walking to the lobby.

    “I’d like to order a pizza,” I said.

    “Room number?”

    “Oh, I’ll pick it up myself.”

    “Okay, but we still need your room number so that we can call you when it’s ready.”

    Fair enough.

    Twenty minutes later, a knock on my door, along with man holding a pizza.

    “Oh,” I said, “I told them I’d pick it up in the lobby.”

    The fellow nodded, and walked over to the end of the hall. I followed him into the elevator and into the restaurant. “That’ll be twelve dollars,” he said, reading from the receipt he’d carried up to my room and back down again. “Price of the pizza plus tax.”

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