In Which I Imagine Having A Job I Would Be Very Bad At


I was thinking of something from a couple years ago. The alternatives are thinking of the present, or worse, of the future. But you know how it is. You read something and then you go and remember it. It spoils the fun of re-reading the thing. But it’s no longer possible to re-find a thing you once read anyway. Once you glance away, it’s gone. You can subscribe to our fun newsletter but you’ll never find it again.

So this is as best I remembered the thing. It was in Russia and like a decade ago. They were having this problem with groups holing up in bunkers and things and waiting for the end of the world. And, like, sure you understand that now. But this was like 2010, when all the Internet was furious about was how Apple sent everybody a U2 album. But there were enough groups holing up waiting for the end of the world that they had an office to deal with this. And that’s what I keep coming back to.

Because I try to imagine working for that office. I’d go out, find a group of people who are in a bunker or a cave or an abandoned factory or something, waiting for the end of the world. And then … what can I do to get them out? I assume I’m trying to get them out. If I weren’t, why would I even leave the office? Maybe there’s a good restaurant nearby I’d wanted to try for lunch. That’s not likely. I’m not an adventurous lunch-goer. It took me six years to try the Big John’s Steak and Onions sandwich shop. It’s like a mile and a half from home and I pass it every time I go anywhere. And that I had to approach slowly, feigning like I was going to the jewelers’ next door and peering at the menu while the cashier looked upset with me.

So grant that I’m there to talk them out. I have a reputation among my friends for being diplomatic. This is because they don’t know about the time I could not convince my love that I was not upset about making the asparagus with sweetened condensed, rather than evaporated, milk. It’s been years and neither of us has suggested having asparagus since. So you can see where I’d fall short handling this. What can negotiations be like?

“Come on out,” I’d probably say. “The world’s not ending anytime soon.” You can see why I have this reputation for diplomacy in my social circles.

But I haven’t made my case. “No,” they’re sure to say. “The world is coming to an end very soon and we’re going to hide.”

“What are you hoping to get by hiding, though?” Here I’m figuring that all I want is them out in the world. It’s fine if they figure it’s ending soon. “Did anything you didn’t like ever go away by hiding? Did school go away by hiding?”

An answer. “I never hid from school. I liked it, except for this algebra teacher in eighth grade.”

“You too?” I’d say. “I didn’t understand a word from my teacher that year. The only thing I ever learned was this two-week stretch we had a substitute.”

And here we have recognition. “She taught this little tic-tac-toe board thing? Kind of a weird magic square for factoring quadratic polynomials?”

“Exactly!” And now that seems good. The person has said something kind of friendly to me, so now I’m bonded. Experience indicates I’ll now take fifteen years of their berating me before I acknowledge we’re not friends, but we could be if they showed more consideration. So that’s all great. I have someone new I can get e-mails from that I’ll never answer because I feel too bad that I haven’t answered them already. But it hasn’t done a thing about getting the holed-up group out, or getting me in. I don’t see how this makes any progress.

And then another thing, if this is a group in Russia like I had read about. I have to trust someone in the group understands English. Someone has to be helping me along there. Oh, wouldn’t that be my luck, if whoever spoke English in the cave wanted to mess with all of us?

Statistics Saturday: Some Names Of Machines That Used To Be Personal Occupations


  • Computer
  • Typewriter
  • Calculator
  • Washer
  • Charger
  • Toaster
  • Mic [ previously “Mike” ]
  • Carousel
  • Fiddler
  • Grover
  • Bumper
  • Terrier
  • Fastener
  • Reuter
  • Rotor
  • Referrer
  • Rotolactor
  • Footballer
  • Compressor
  • Kangarobot

Reference: Star Fleet Technical Manual, Franz Joseph.

Time For A Serious Talk With LinkedIn’s Algorithm


(Reading.)

Linkedin Jobs Similar To Michigan Virtual - Part-Time Temporary Online Instructor (Grades 6-12): Adjunct Faculty, Patten University, Oakland, California. Adjunct Faculty, Management and Technology, NYU School of Professional Studies, New York City. Facebook Director of Global Law Enforcement Outreach, Menlo Park, California.
Also I do not know what Patten University is. I assume that it is an educational facility specializing in the needs of the patten industry. Pattens, you’ll remember from reading the Wikipedia article about them right this minute, are those things Middle Ages people would strap to their shoes so they could walk around in town without covering their actual shoes with all the mud and raw sewage they dumped into the street back then. I trust there is still a patten industry and that like any specialized trade there are things that have to be learned to be expert in said trade that you can get at Patten University of Oakland, California.

(A long, serious sigh. And I send a note to ask for a little chat, “when you have the time”. But before the close of business.)


(The meeting.)

(I turn a chair around and sit with my chest pressing into its back. I put on a baseball cap, and then turn it around.) So! Linkedin Algorithm. Alg. Alg, I like that. You know, I used to know someone named Algus. No, that wasn’t his name, but he felt very positive about that instead. Well, I’m drifting from my point. Look, thanks for coming in for a little honest “rap session” like the kids say today in Imaginary 1967. I want to let you know, I appreciate how hard you’re working, looking out for me like this. I appreciate the idea that I should have a job that is not the one I have now. Really, great, thoughtful stuff. There’s nothing like having a friend who at random times bursts out with the declaration that I should be a part-time copy editor at a weekly newspaper in Rossville, Georgia. It gives me this strong sense of needing to be somewhere. Yes, even somewhere near Lake Winnepesaukah amusement park.

But — yes, this is the compliment sandwich technique, well-spotted — I want to ask you what are the points of commonality in these four jobs that totally exist and are not spammers trying to hack the LinkedIn Algorithm. You, Alg. What about me makes you think I’m equally ready to be a part-time temporary online instructor for some 7th grade class somewhere or maybe, what the heck, Facebook’s Director of Global Law Enforcement Outreach?

Now, now, no. I do not mean to put you on the spot. You don’t have to answer now, or really, at all. What’s important to me is that you sit though and think out what you see in common here. Find some tighter definition about what you see as similarities. This will help you algorithmate better in the future.

Yes, very good. You’ve seized on one right away. Of all these jobs, none of them need me to be in Michigan, which is the one place where I am. As a commonality that’s as useful as noticing that none of these jobs will routinely require that I smear myself head-to-toe with honey mustard. Not needing to be in Michigan is something common to 84 percent of all jobs, worldwide. It’s not productive to sort things on that basis. The mustard thing, that’s 94 percent of all jobs, yes.

Two of these jobs are described as adjunct faculty positions. I think this reflects a misunderstanding on your part about what adjunct faculty positions are. Adjunct faculty positions are for people who haven’t yet been cured of the daft idea of working in academia. Most adjunct positions require long hours in stressful roles. There’s little respect. The pay is low. There’s some community colleges where the English adjuncts are compensated entirely by being kicked behind the library loading bay until their kidneys bleed. And that’s after the adjuncts formed a union. Before the strike they were just shoved off the third-storey balcony until their skulls fractured. No, no, of course I wouldn’t just turn down an adjunct position. I’d just have it not be in a business school. Those people make you talk about business all the time, even if you’ve said you’d rather take the “jabbed with sharp sticks” benefit instead.

Also I don’t know what exactly Global Law Enforcement Outreach is. It sounds like my job would be travelling to exotic countries and hugging the cops. I admit I’m a huggy person. By preemptively hugging I can cut down the amount of handshaking I’m expected to do. But, jeez. Do I look like I want a life where I’m constantly jetting to exciting places like Johor Bahru, opening my arms wide at someone writing traffic citations, smiling as if I apparently weren’t pained by showing enthusiasm, and saying, “Come on over here, buddy!”? Do they look like they want that?

So. I appreciate your energy, I appreciate your enthusiasm. I like your willingness to think outside my career box. And let me give you this little tip. None of these are the job I would have if I could pick anything at all. Nor is my current job. What I’d really like, if you could find an opening, is to be the astronaut who draws Popeye. But don’t worry if you can’t swing that. I’m just glad you’re out there looking.

(I stand up, confident I’ve got this all worked out and there’ll be no unwanted side-effects to my honesty with Alg.)

If It Is Not The End Of The World


It’s hard to avoid thinking about the end of the world sometimes. I suppose most of us figure the world’s got to end sooner or later. Most of us are banking on later. If it’s any sooner than that we don’t want to know about it. Except there are people who want to know about it. And who figure they know about it coming sometime soon. Where this gets me is I remember hearing years ago about how Russia had scads of groups of people figuring the end of the world was near. There were enough groups bunkered down in … bunkers … somewhere that it was causing a crisis in bunker space. Apparently the Russian government had an office of people trained to deal with groups bunkered down for the end of the world.

That’s the sort of thought sure to last long in my mind. First there’s how some people work in the Office of Talking Groups Out Of Their End-Of-The-World Bunkers. That’s either a job that you spend years aiming yourself at, or else it’s one you stumble into without meaning it. Either way is a heck of a story. More of a story than how people end up at whatever factories make those tiny little cocktail-drink flags on toothpicks. But that’s because of what the job is about. There’s still something weird that anybody has either of these jobs at all. Oh, and then there’s the regular old administration and support staff. They must need good transcriptionists at the Office of Talking Groups Out Of Their End-Of-The-World Bunkers. That’s got to be the table at the farthest, strangest corner at Transcriptionist School.

But it’s the mainline officers I wonder about. The people who go out to a group that’s all gathered in some secure spot waiting for the end of the world. The job is to talk them out of the bunker, but, how? What is there to even talk about? I know what a mess I’d make of the job. I’d go up to the door and wave at the security camera. We get some communication going somehow. They call me on my cell phone and then someone reminds me I left my cell phone in my messenger bag, on the chair we don’t otherwise need, at the dining table, back home. I’m always doing this and it never makes my life easier. But let’s pretend that I’ve got my phone, which is the least plausible part of this scenario.

“Come on out,” I bet you I’d say. “The world isn’t ending anytime soon.”

And then they say, “Shan’t. The world is coming to an end really very soon, and we’re going to hide.”

“Well, if it is going to end soon, what good is it staying in a bunker like that? The bunker” — and here you see the reasoning skills that earned me a PhD in mathematics but not work in mathematics — “is located inside the world.” (I’m assuming they’re not bunkered down in a space station, for the fourth most obvious reason.)

“That’s as may be,” comes back the voice, “But we’re fairly sure this is the part of the world that’s going to end last.”

And at that point I’m stumped. I can’t think of evidence that would prove my proposition that the world isn’t ending soon, or that if it does end it’s going to end there last. I’m assuming they want to be part of the last group that’s ended, to see if there’s anything good in the world’s closing credits. Start with the end of the world and there’s not a lot of places to go. Yes, yes, I know this is a fallacy. Of course you end with the end of the world. But you know what I’m getting at and I thought we were friends here. But what could I offer an incentive to come out and stop all this hiding away in caves or bunkers or whatever in Russia somewhere? (Also they’ve hit one of my weaknesses. I love when people say “shan’t”. If they only started bunkering so that they could say “shan’t” to a person who urged them to come out, then I’m on their side.)

Of course, I lack training. They must prepare new hires on simpler assignments. Perhaps new hires talk with groups that are holed up and waiting for the end of smaller things, such as Thursdays, or ironic detachment, or baked goods. I don’t know how I’d deal with those either. But the consequences of my failure would be less. Or consequences of my success. Wouldn’t it be my luck to talk a group out of their end-of-the-world bunker, and then the world comes up and ends right then and there? Think of the humiliation! I want to hole up and hide from that today and it hasn’t even happened. Oh, gosh, what if there’s some misunderstanding and that’s what all those scad groups were really hiding from? That could change everything.

In Which My Sleeping Mind Doesn’t Accurately Remember When Ogden Nash Died, Somehow


It was your typical sort of dream, by which I mean typical for me. One of those long, rambling, confusing dreams shuffling back and forth between offices as cramped and overstuffed as a used book store’s aisles are. I was doing the best I could to help a friend interview for a job he wasn’t actually qualified for but could probably get up to speed on fast enough that people wouldn’t catch on. The way all of us do.

But dragging me down was one of the people with an actual job there, who kept demanding I explain how it was Ogden Nash wrote such a fantastic book explaining nuclear fusion. And to be fair it did look like a great book. Even in the ancient, falling-apart copy they had, all the illustrations were still animating very well. Had to agree the publisher had a lot of confidence to publish a book quite that lavish. She wanted to know when Ogden Nash was going to publish another science book and I had to say, I was pretty sure he had died. Even found in the preface that the book hadn’t been quite finished as Nash died just after turning in the first draft in December 1956. I felt like a bit of a heel dashing her hopes for a follow-up book on brane theory. In the non-dream worlds, Nash died in May 1971, so my powers to accurately pluck dates out of nowhere seem not to extend to writers of amusing verse.

I have no evidence that Ogden Nash wrote any science popularizations of note.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index woke today to find it was the close of trading and it was seven points higher than it was that time yesterday. It has no explanation for this mystery.

113

New In Town


Here’s some of the new openings in town.

Four Flats. This newly opened concept bar charges a flat four dollars, serving up just as much volume as your four dollars is worth. This simplifies the problem of working out what you can afford but complicates the problem of how large a glass you’re going to get. Fair selection balanced by more variable-sized glasses than you can possibly imagine. Tour groups are admitted to the stock room for two hours before the open of business every day. Do not ask for the complimentary water as that’s just delivered by fire hose. 4 pm – 2 am except Sundays we think. 118 E Quarrel St.

The Can Trader. Just the spot for the beer fancier looking for something new and unexpected: before the bartender fills your order any other patron is allowed to swap your order for hers or his. The trading doesn’t stop there as in the ten minutes leading up to the hour anyone is allowed to swap their drink with someone else’s yet again. Add to that the lack of labels and you could easily spend a night having some fantastic pale ale or IPA or something you never heard of before and never have the faintest idea what the heck you’re drinking. Opens 2 pm daily, closes after the brawl. 44 Upper Pridmore’s Swamp Road.

Newscaster Karaoke Brew Pub. Taking the karaoke-bar concept up just that one extra notch this spot lets patrons sit at a real working news desk. They can try to work their way through the local, state, and national news, then on to weather, sports, human interest features, Mister Food’s Recipes For People Who Guess They Like Food As A Concept, a recap of weather, and the humane society’s adoptable pet of the day in-between batter-dipped mushrooms and $2 PBR’s. 3 pm to 2 am except between 6:00 and 6:30 and 11:00 and 11:35, or any time the security guard is noticed down the hall. Channel 6 broadcast studios, back door, password “Chris Kapostasy sent me”.

Molecubrew. You know that Carl Sagan quote about making an apple pie by starting with a universe? People who can’t get enough of that are believed responsible for this new experience in being surrounded by test tubes. No brand names, but patrons get to pick quantities and amounts from over 4,500 flavor compounds. And, gads, yes, you have to tell them you want ethanol and water and carbon dioxide and good lord. Though it’s been going only a month they’ve got a thriving community going on Telegram with all sorts of recipes that range from “kind of PBR-ish, if I have to pick something” through “an experience you probably will admit you had” and on to “Diet Pibb Xtra”. Act cool. Best menu item: fried stringy things most of which are potatoes, although if you get one that is an actual fried shoestring your entire tab is free. An evening here will let you know which of your friends think it’s the height of hilarity to speak of “dihydrogen monoxide”, so you won’t have to spend time with them anymore after that. If they start talking about the hazards of dihydrogen monoxide you can shove them under the safety shower and flee. 12 noon – 12 midnight except Mondays. Gibbs Alley, Science and Educational Store District.

The Introverted Turtle. This charming former abandoned laundromat has joined the city’s growing Introvert Chic movement. Its concept, perfect for the country’s newest self-identified self-satisfied community, lets one spend the night hanging out with almost no social interaction. Patrons, bartenders, and kitchen staff alike spend their experiences hiding underneath the cloth-draped tables and never speak to any other person out loud. Submit orders by crumpled-up pieces of paper tossed in the general direction of the bar without looking or by Twitter direct-message to an account they swear no living person is monitoring. Instead of attaching a name to your order list the name of your table’s mythical South Seas island. Hours not listed because the staff kept whimpering whenever we asked them. Sorry. 2250 Lower Plank Lake Road, Upper Level.

A Space. A combination sports bar and live-action roleplaying experience, this newest addition to the Shops That Used To Be Part Of Muckle’s Department Store has the look of a partly-open-plan office floor for one of those companies where nobody really knows what they’re doing or why. Settle in pretending to be part of the sales, marketing, IT, administrative support, or janitorial sections, and enjoy a different selection of food, drinks, prices, and of course programming on the highly realistic computer or TV screens at every desk or corners of “break” rooms. An extra feature described as “Orwellian” and “a nightmarish intrusion on privacy but also strangely comforting” is that the TVs in the bathrooms show footage of the most recent employee to use the bathroom, proving they did indeed wash their hands before resuming service. 10 percent discount if the maitre d’ can guess your actual job. Must bring W-4 for verification to collect. 11 am – 1 am, 111 Canal Street, Lunch Entrance.

Curious about a new place? Contact us care of some office for more!

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index stayed at 105 today as none of the surrounding numbers looked any good at all.

105

Cleaning Up Around Here


I want it understood that I didn’t use the snowblower to clean the sidewalk for a couple houses on either side of us for any base reasons. I did it because I like to feel smugly superior to others. If you don’t like that motive, I have others. For example, using the snow blower to blow snow all over allowed me to accomplish a thing, and to do so using a machine that makes a whomping great racket. This is something I don’t get in my day job, which consists of sitting nervously at the computer wondering if the boss thinks I’m doing enough job, or jobbing well enough. It would be nice if I could do a job in which I was sure I had accomplished a thing. But mostly I want the chance to do something using a machine that makes a whomping great racket. Auto-playing video ads does not count. I think if more of us had jobs like that we wouldn’t be wondering quite so much why we have these jobs exactly.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The Another Blog, Meanwhile index picked up two points by sneaking over to the Labor of Like blog index and grabbing a couple while they weren’t looking. Don’t tell.

95

Me Week: What Are Jobs Even About?


One of the essays I’m happiest with was Working Out The World. That’s from May 2015. It was inspired by some of the baffling things we were asked to do as students. And it got into some mulling over what jobs are, and what kids understand jobs are. I grant that in many ways I was a nerdy, oblivious child, but I never really quite understood what grown-ups did all day. A couple tasks I understood but they didn’t seem to quite fill a whole job, much less a career. Decades on, I’m still not really good about it. I don’t think I’m alone, but, maybe other people do.

I think the line about “what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow” is maybe the most Ian Shoalesian thing I’ve written. If it isn’t, it’s only because identifying corporations as the imaginary friends of an adult who had money edged it out. I don’t think I quite manage the transition to the closing paragraph right, but the closing paragraph is where everything falls apart.

Senior Physicist Sought!


I try to read the local alt-weekly, the City Pulse, every alt-week. I keep finding wonderful things in it. That’s not even counting how the architectural critic for the Eyesore Of The Week column is out of control. He’s taken to insulting fine enough houses that have too large a picture window next to the driveway.

One of this week’s wonderful things is in the classified ads. These are normally almost one-third of a page of shakily formatted ads. Some of them aren’t even for the newspaper itself. This week, literally next to the ad for Lawn Mowing Service (“Ask for Dave”) and the appeal to “Donate plasma and earn $$$!” (to earn three $ and a whole factorial is a special treat), was an ad for physicists. Here’s how it starts:

Physicist: The Michigan State University National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory seeks qualified candidates for the following full-time positions: Senior Physicist (East Lansing, MI).

Senior Physicists wanted! Act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager.
Job listing in the Lansing City Pulse from the 23rd of June, 2015. Say, you don’t suppose that in asking for someone to “Act as [ … ] Manager” they mean they don’t want an actual manager, just someone who can pretend convincingly, do you?

Sure, who isn’t seeking qualified candidates for the position of senior physicist? Well, besides the newspaper. They need an advertising sales representative and a route driver. And I know what you’re thinking. “You have a math blog, Nebushumor or whatever your actual name is [ it’s Joseph ], you should apply!” I’m flattered. Thank you. But the listing says they’re looking for someone with:

exp in the design, construction, system integration and commissioning of a hadron linear accelerator with a beam power of an order of 1 MW, including electromagnetic and mechanical designs of accelerating cavities, beam focusing elements and vacuum systems for use in an accelerator.

As a mathematician naturally I have exp all over the place. I would imagine sweeping it out periodically except — you know what? Just trust me that this was heading in the direction of a mathematics joke. Mathematics and some physics majors were already giggling in anticipation. Forgive them. Anyway, I’m weak on the mechanical design of beam focusing elements for use in an accelerator. Whenever they were the lecture topic I was staring out the window at the campus’s albino squirrel.

Yes, I’m excited by the invitation to “act as Facility for Rare Isotope Beams Linac Segment Area Manager responsible for the integrated design and commissioning, and coordination of construction of the driver linear accelerator segments 1, 2, and 3 technical systems”. I’m so excited I didn’t even notice they used the Oxford comma inconsistently compared to the one quoted above. It spruces up the back pages of the newspaper. That’s the neighborhood where they run an ad for themselves showing Dave boasting how he got fifteen calls in April from his classified ad for lawn mowing. I assume it’s Dave. They don’t actually say.

I have to wonder how many applications the advert is going to get, though. Sure, anyone might be qualified to “design, fabricate and install complex superconducting accelerators”. But how many of them happen to read the classifieds in the alt-weekly any given week? There’s only so many people going into the hipster bar and the bagel shop at any moment.

It’s possible they already have someone in mind and are only posting the advertisement for form’s sake. They do specify they need candidates with “a PhD in Physics or a closely related field + 5 years exp. as a Research Scientist or any related physics research position”. But that seems like a fair requirement for an aspiring FRIBLSA Manager. It’s so reasonable that I didn’t even notice they were inconsistent about including a dot after abbreviating “experience”.

But what if they don’t? What if this is the best idea they’ve got for finding FRIBLSA Management talent? Maybe they got plenty of applicants interested in research and integration of linac segments from the normal physics-job channels, but still felt something missing. Maybe all the CVs got to looking the same. And then the head of the FRIBLSA Management Search Committee threw up her hands and said, “We need new talent!” And someone looked up from checking whether the new Hideous Art Museum was named Eyesore of the Week and pointed out they had the classifieds section.

I’d love to know if it works. I’d love to see a picture of a physicist saying “I received 15 calls in June from my City Pulse Pulsified for senior physicists.” Wouldn’t you?

Also if you are a Senior Physicist and get this job because I mentioned it let me know since my placement fees are reasonable.

Statistics May: Or, Statistics April, Continued Again


Finally I have a window to explore the strange state of my readership statistics. I’d had a weird, catastrophic drop in my readership, from 1,053 views by 483 visitors in march down to 808 views by 303 visitors in April. That trend … well, in May the number of views dropped to 759, though the number of unique viewers rose back to 359. I don’t know what to make of this. The number of views per visitor was more in line with what I’d expect. That was 2.11 in May, compared to April’s anomalously high 2.67. March was 2.18, which is about what I expect.

Still, the number of likes received over the month dropped again: from 443 in March, to 402 in April, to 380 in May. The number of comments similarly fell, from 113 in March to 108 in April to 81 in May. Perhaps I just didn’t have subjects that lent themselves to cross-chatter? Or that might reflect the end of the First Betty Boop Cartoons project, since listing all the previous firsts was counted by WordPress as a comment for reasons that make sense to WordPress’s statistics team.

If I’m reading it right stuff was basically fine except for the third week in May (the 18th through the 24th) when people just didn’t come around. I don’t see anything odd about that week’s selection of articles and cartoons and stuff, though.

Well, the month of June started at 17,231 page views, and 568 WordPress followers. Ten of them added in the month of May, so, hi there.

Now on to the popular business of listing stuff. The most popular articles in May were:

As for the popular listing of countries: the greatest number of readers in the reader-deprived month of May came from the United States (542), with runners-up the United Kingdom (33), the United Canada (28), and the United Australia (20). Sending me a single reader each were the United Belgium,
the United Bulgaria, the United Chile, the United Egypt, the United European Union, the United Finland, the United Hong Kong, the United India, the United Italy, the United Norway, the United Saudi Arabia, and the United United Arab Emirates. United Finland United is on a three-month streak of sending me a single reader. I don’t know how a reader can be coming from the United European Union considering there’s countries in it that are already listed.

Here’s some of the search terms I got. Good luck working out what they mean:

Working Out The World


My love and I were reminiscing things we did in elementary school for reasons we couldn’t figure. I don’t mean stuff like declaring someone who was busy with not playing kickball “The Kissing Bandit”. I mean stuff that doesn’t make sense, like the time my class got taken to the Garden State Arts Center and was taught how to clap with our hands curled. I guess we did other stuff there too, but the cupped hands was the lesson that stuck.

But the thing we shared was the class exercise thing about telling everyone else what our parents did for a living. I realize now I don’t know what the project was supposed to prove. That we could ask our parents what they did for a living, I guess. Maybe be able to tell our peers that our parents are shift supervisors. As skills I suppose that’s up there with cursive and being able to name vice-presidents who resigned, since you can test it. I don’t know how the teacher’s supposed to know if the kid was right, though.

But adult jobs are baffling concepts for a kid, anyway. What do adults need supervision for? They’re adults. Kids need supervision, because if you tell a kid, “stand right here, by the school bus stop, for five minutes and don’t wander away”, there’s an excellent chance before you even get to the second comma they’ve wandered off and got a beehive stuck in a nostril. All a kid knows is that their parents go months without unintentionally ingesting beehives, or they would know if they asked their parents.

For that matter, what’s a job to a kid? It’s just a place adults go to become tired and unhappy somehow. There are maybe five adult jobs a kid understands. There’s being an astronaut, there’s fighting stuff (fires, supervillains, crime, wrestlers [other]), there’s being a nurse, there’s being a teacher, and there’s driving a snowplow. Everything else is a bit shaky. For example, when I was a kid all I quite grasped about my father’s job was that he worked in a chemical factory in the parts that normally didn’t explode. He had to go in for eight or sometimes sixteen-hours shifts and I understood that most of the time things didn’t explode. But that leaves a gap in the imagination about just how he filled his working days. Come in, check that things hadn’t exploded, sure, and then it’s four hours, 56 minutes until lunch.

A kid might understand what someone in a service job does, because they could see a person bringing them food or taking clothes to clean or so. It’s why someone would be hired that’s the mystery, because getting that service means giving someone else money. Money’s hard stuff to come by, what with birthday cards arriving only for a one- or two-week stretch of the year, and maybe a bonus at Christmas if they’re lucky. The tooth fairy can help cover a little capital shortage, but that’s too erratic stuff for a real economy.

But non-service jobs are harder to understand. What is an office job anymore except fiddling with a computer? And a computer job is a matter of pressing buttons so that electrons will go into different places than they otherwise might have. A bad day at that sort of job is one where the electrons have come back for later review. On a good day the electrons all go somewhere you don’t have to think about them again. But the electrons aren’t getting anything out of this. They’re not happy, or sad, or anything at all based on where they’re sent. And they’re not the one getting paid for it anyway. They’d be fine if we just left them alone. All we do by getting involved in their fates is make ourselves unhappy but paid, and we get tired along the way.

The jobs might be leaving us alone soon anyway. Capitalism interprets a salary as a constant drain of capital, and does its level best to eliminate that. For service jobs this means doing less service, making the customers unhappy and making the remaining staff tired and unhappy. For office jobs this means never getting electrons to where they’re supposed to be, because otherwise you’d be an obvious mark for layoffs.

I know my father eventually moved to a job as an ISO 9000 consultant. In that role he ordered companies to put together a list of every word they had ever used for everything they had ever done. Then they put that into a cross-referenced volume of every document every word had ever appeared in. By the time that was done, the company might qualify for a certificate. Or my father had to explain what they had to do again, using different words and Happy Meal toys to get the point across. As a kid, I’d have been better off if he just told me he taught companies how to clap. Sometimes he probably did.

Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver


My spouse, the professional philosopher, startled me the other day while we were driving to Meijer’s by mentioning that Socrates had been a master stonecutter. That’s really the sort of thing you expect to hear on the way to Kroger’s. Up to that point I had never imagined that Socrates even had a profession. I’d assumed he had always made his living by committing acts of philosophy against the Athenian population. My mental model was that he probably had started out seeking wisdom and truth and maybe beauty around the holiday seasons. I had thought I was supported in this by Plato’s recording of Socrates’s discussion with Isocrates, which I had to read for an undergraduate history class about the Cold War, 1945 – 1963, because the professor was bored:

Isocrates: Good fellow Socrates! It has been an agora’s age. No, no, say nothing, I’ll not be engaging you in any conversations anymore. Everyone knows perfectly well how talking with you ends up.

Socrates: Everyone does? How does everyone come by such perfect knowledge?

Isocrates: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA [ continues for 26 scrolls of papyrus ] AAAAAAUGH!

Euryptolemus: Sorry to interrupt but the Spartans are invading Mytilene again.

So with a background like that you can see why I’m stunned to know Socrates ever had to do anything to pay the bills other than collect ransom for going off and talking to other people instead.

Continue reading “Also, Heidegger Was A Shingle Weaver”

How I Started Consulting


So I realized I could use a little more income, at least for a couple of months. My first instinct naturally was to set a little money trap on the lawn, but our pet rabbit said I looked like an idiot holding a string tied to a stick that propped open a little box and that anyway I didn’t even know how to bait a money trap. I thought seat cushions would do it for sure, but all I did get were the peanut sprinkles from the tops of doughnuts. This lead me to the alternative route of consulting.

Consulting, I learned from my father, is pretty sweet work. The core of it is to find a company that wants to do a thing, walk around their offices while wearing a suit and nodding grimly, and then handing out a thick set of binders and tell them to go ahead with whatever they wanted to do, and then submit an invoice. It’s a toss-up which is the harder part, the nodding grimly or the suit-wearing, because I have these weird mutant feet that curve way too far to fit in any shoes. If I fit my heels into the shoe heels, my toes rip through the front of the shoes, and vice-versa; I’ve lost many heels to a stubborn shoe. The last comfortable pair of dress shoes I had featured a little sidecar shoe for my heels, causing people to stare at my feet and then sidle away. This was fine when I was someplace as an employee and not responsible for my presence or appearance, but it won’t do when I’m representing myself. I set out wearing the shoe boxes as camouflage.

Continue reading “How I Started Consulting”

What The Rabbit and I Do


“Oh, you again,” said our pet rabbit, between little snuffling noises (his).

I nodded while opening his cage to drop a handful of hay on his head.

Between excited chews he said, “Look, what is it exactly you do around here?”

“I feed you,” I pointed out while rubbing his head. “I’d think that should make you at least a little happy to see me.”

“You’re not very reliable about it.”

“What do you mean? I’ve never seen you go twelve hours without being fed something.”

He sort of fluffed his head while shaking it out. “All that time before you started being here all the time, you barely fed me once.

I was so unable to dispute this I couldn’t even think what to say next.

“But what I mean is, what is it you do all that time you sit in the forbidden zone and don’t move? Why do you do that?”

“The dining room. Well, I … do … web stuff. For a company.”

He snuffed. “And this is something that needs doing.”

“Don’t get so huffy there. What do you suppose you do all day that needs doing?”

I,” he pronounced slowly, “eat all the hay. I don’t see you or the other one even trying to help with that.”

Suddenly I realized just how complicated was our relationship.