Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pre-election Anxiety

I despise most articles of advice for success mainly because I am not convinced that the thing they are trying to achieve is an admirable goal in the first place. Also if I had the inclination to do those things I'd probably be on that path already, but mostly I don't really value the mainstream constituents of typical success, ie children and sybaritic pursuits. So motivational advice just annoys me for being closed minded about what constitutes achievement.

But I came across this enlightened list of advice last weekend before Sandy hit. I've read it over so many times I decided to share it. I love that it helps me with something I've sort of fallen into naturally lately. It shows me that I can improve my worrying and proceed more elegantly to anxiety perfection. Tips for Obsessing from @pourmecoffee's Mom (click this link to send traffic to the source. I tried a lot of ways to block quote it, with the original formatting, without, and finally decided since not that many people read my blog I won't affect traffic negatively from the original. I want this text for my future reference in case that cool workflowy blog site goes away one day.)

Key Concepts
• Blur.
Focus is the enemy of anxiety. Learn to blur reality and see life as a super-massive whirling tornado of bitter defeat -- always savagely churning just over the hill, inexorably headed straight for you, and about which there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop or even influence. Always keep your eyes set softly on the horrible horizon.
• Find connections.
It can be difficult to effectively worry about a large number of discrete items. You can easily forget or confuse some, thereby lessening the negative feelings associated with your angst. To maximize your unease, draw connections among and between the subjects of your anxiety. How will each of them negatively impact people you love? Is it possible all of them are your fault? Find dotted and straight lines to draw your own frightful web of woe. Do the work.
• Establish themes.
Bad things happen to good people is not a lament; it's a coda. If you value your worrying, treat it as high art and work to establish a thematic nervous cohesion unique to you. What is the essence of your obsessing? Bitterness? Rage? Despair? Dig deep. Find a signature brand of fearfulness that flows from and through you, feeding from and into the mighty river of human anxiety.
• Build your network.
Surrounding yourself with positive, well-adjusted people can shine a light on your sadness and turn your paralysis into positive action. Don't let this happen to you. Find people who reinforce your negativity and harmonize your voices into a joyless song of sorrow.
• Think globally, obsess locally.
Don't limit yourself to problems in your area or that you have anything to do with or can do anything at all about. Open yourself up to a world of nightmarish potential outcomes. Treat the world's problems like exchange students -- invite them into your home to live with you and become part of your family of fear.

"But Beachton," you are likely saying, "What do you possibly have to stress out about?! You never have to interact with people, you are working your mind with constant problem solving of a rewarding nature. There is no way you could reduce stress in your life more than you already have!"

Exactly. Yet I am gripped by a constant empathetic angst these days. I'm sort of hoping it's just the election. I suppose a week from now I will either be hugely relieved and will look forward to being able to buy health insurance in about a year, or I will be thrown into a pit of deep despair imagining a weather stricken world without FEMA. Or nothing will happen at all and I will face the fact that I have a crappy signal to noise ratio in my brain. When I disconnect the input my sensitivity is so good I just get a lot of static.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

You can't expect me to be more evolved than I really am!

Rebecca Watson told her elevator-gate story on Slate. It Stands to Reason, Skeptics Can Be Sexist Too: I spoke out about sexual harassment among atheists and scientists. Then came the rape threats.

The comment thread is exhausting.

I have a few take-away thoughts.

1. I am glad I'm a hermit and very few mean people read my blog. For every one mean people I have several nice people who stand up for me.

2. Is "skeptic" shorthand for people that say "straw man!" all the time? Seeing that phrase over and over makes it feel like skepticism is the same as being argumentative. I don't like arguing. I like learning.

3. Some men understand that feelings are real and some do not accept them as valid data points.

4. A lot of men who aspire to critical thought somehow don't realize that they can apply critical thought to their own misconceptions and update their outlook just like they would update how many moons Jupiter has when a new space telescope spots some new ones.

Whenever this topic comes up again I can't help thinking of this scene in Earth Girls Are Easy. As Geena Davis throws sushi at her fiancee he reveals the real issue with men and women.

You Can't Expect Me to Be More Evolved

There's no way I would do what Rebecca Watson does. I was NOT a communications major. I would feel woefully underqualified to address issues of society and education and to respond to the kind of remarks she gets. I think not enough men are evolved to the point necessary for this to advance the way she wants. (There are a lot of men who are sympathetic to Rebecca and who are painfully aware of making women uncomfortable in elevators. I am calling them the evolved ones.) Now maybe I'm just ignorant about forums where women make violent threats, but to my view there is clearly a difference in men and women in vile YouTube and blog comments.

When I say stuff about science it's usually because I do feel vaguely qualified to rant about somebody less qualified getting it wrong. But it's still just my opinion. I don't ever spend more than a couple of hours writing these things. Everybody knows that right? I'm not claiming to be infallible. The peer review on my blog is whoever is on IM when I post it. If I get anything backwards somebody will pop up and get me to fix it pretty quick. This is not the Journal Nature. If I worked on something that much I would be getting paid for it.

I got a weird comment on an old post about ocean acoustics today that made me wonder. They claimed I was less credible than Wikipedia. (I don't think they understand how Wikipedia works.) And they told me not to write blog posts unless I was a recognized expert. Umm, if everybody followed that rule there would be no content on the internet. I'm not claiming to be the best opinion -- my typical rant is just trying to clarify something another writer clearly understands less than me (a sky diver can't go faster than the speed of light) -- just AN OPINION. It's a private blog. Surely it's obvious? The way I get at the root of a topic is by comparing different people's opinions, find the things they have in common, then try to verify that. "You're a nobody, and you just googled most of the things you mentioned in here." Is that unusual? Doesn't EVERY nobody do that? Since I wasn't a communications major or a journalism major maybe I'm doing something wrong. Only difference in my blog and my term papers in grad school is I don't have access to the peer reviewed journals on the library log-in anymore.

At least I'm trying to improve by making an effort, exercising my writing and researching skills, and getting feedback, unlike these men who won't take a woman's word for what makes her blood pressure jump and her hair stand on end.

Quiet Bat People Halloween Costume

I love the creative process of dress-up, but I never go to costume parties. I had a great idea for a costume this year and realized I could just describe how to make it here so somebody with less creativity but more sociability can reap the benefits of my free time. Timely reference costume for this year: Quiet Bat Person

(The reference comes from The Thick of It, Season 4, Episode 2 and then recurring through the rest of the season. It's a BBC show but they have it on the internet in the US.)

All you need is an all black outfit, a black eye mask, and something to indicate how quiet you are.
http://www.halloweencostumes.com/adult-affordable-batman-mask.html $4.99

http://www.halloweencostumes.com/bat-eye-mask.html $2.99

You can also get a 3/4 Batman Dark Knight mask from Walgreens.com for $12.99. While you're on that site you can stock up on Batman band aids too.

For Quiet I like the idea of a vest made of acoustic foam. You can buy single 12" squares of Sonitex from foamorder.com for $3.90 each.

http://www.foamorder.com/acoustic.html  $3.90 ea
I would make a vest out of black vinyl and use rubber cement to attach the foam to the front and back of the vest (be sure to change the direction front and back.) Or if you don't feel like going to all that trouble you could just pin the foam to your shirt with safety pins. I actually was getting some other stuff from foamorder.com so I had them throw two squares of Sonitex in the box for me. When it arrives I might throw together an outfit to illustrate.

I might also add some bat wings. There are some online for sale, but I would make some by sewing some black fabric cut in bat wing shapes to the sleeves of my shirt. If you can crochet it would be awesome to make bat wing arm warmers. For a guy this would probably be stupid. Some cool batman gauntlets wouldn't be amiss though. 

For an added hint you might want to download a Sound Pressure Level app for your smart phone and show it to anybody that doesn't get your outfit. Then make them sit down and watch the whole episode until they get it. (This is why I don't go to parties.)

This video won't let me embed it. Big Bang Theory Halloween costumes. (from @Rojsmith) http://youtu.be/Y5KaeCZ_AaY

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Smoke is Pollution!

I just read an article about hookah smoking. I had no idea people thought it was GOOD for them?! What the hell? Why do people believe such nonsense? It's STILL SMOKE! If all the "harmful" things were taken out of it it wouldn't be SMOKEY! When is it EVER ok to suck something you can SEE into your lungs? The author said to his cigarette smoking friends:
“You schmucks know you’re going to get cancer, right? You cool with that?” 
“You are too,” they’d shoot back.... “You smoke hookah like two hours every weekend.” “Yeah, but that’s ‘pure’ stuff,” I’d tell them. “The tobacco smoke is cleaned by water.”
I almost like the cigarette smokers better than the hookah sucker. (I mean that both ways)
Several studies have found that an average 30-60 minute hookah session is about equivalent to smoking a whole pack of cigarettes. This really made me think, because most of the people I know that smoke hookah (myself included) sat around smoking for at least an hour. That means that we were smoking the equivalent of 1-2 packs of cigarettes each time we went out. Not good.

Ya THINK?! Why the hell did you imagine you were doing was GOOD? Smoking constantly, surrounded by second hand smoke, for an HOUR? Have you timed your friends on cigarette breaks? And THEY'RE going to get cancer?

I just can't believe how stupid people are. If I have a wildfire and I have to run around with a rake trying to put it out I can feel a SIGNIFICANT affect to my sinuses and lungs from breathing the smoke. Tobacco is leaves, and my wildfires are all basically leaves. The volatile compounds in pine needles are probably like the ones in tobacco, inasmuch as they're POLLUTION!

Don't breathe that. For serious. What idiots.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Speed of Light, Speed of Sound, Whatever!

When I was a teenager I had the speed of light and the speed of sound saved in my HP-15C calculator. I'd written the constant in pencil on the face of the calculator next to the button where the number was stored. I used a subscript l for light and s for sound because both constants share the symbol c.

Speed of Sound (in dry air at sea level, 20°C) cs = 343.2 meters/second

Speed of Light (in a vacuum) cl = 299,792,458 meters/second

My professors often approximated these as 300 x 10^6 m/s and 340 m/s to plug into equations to see if the answer looked plausible. I had a pretty good grasp that these were very different speeds. Six orders of magnitude. That's a lot. But only if you know what an order of magnitude is. But there are still physical examples everybody should know. Thunder and lightning? Count the seconds to the thunder to know how far away the lightning was? We don't do that anymore?

This past week has revealed to me that this distinction is lost on a lot of people working in media.

Tweeted by @maggiekb1, with the caption, "MSNBC science desk has an embarrassing typo." retweeted by @TreeLobsters with the joke, "I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you! MSNBC has a science desk?!"
Sidebar: After the skydiving stunt on Sunday the AP released a story saying he jumped from 28,000 ft, or 24 miles. Well they left off an order of magnitude in that feet number. They quickly went in and changed their copy to the real number, 128,100 ft. But it was too late. TV stations all over the country had scraped that copy and posted it on their websites. A lot of them went back and changed it with no correction statement. A lot of them just left it alone. Here's a screen shot I made from a Google search Sunday.

But that's distance. I was talking about velocity, distance divided by time. Speed, for those in the media. For Baumgartner 308 m/s was Mach 1, not 340 m/s. The speed of sound increases with the density of materials. Speed travels faster in steel railroad rails than in the air. It travels faster in sea level air when it's cold because the particles can cozy up to each other when they aren't vibrating like crazy from heat energy. Cold air at sea level is denser. (Why do race cars go faster when it's cold then? Seems like there would be more drag. It's because the denser air gets more oxygen to combine with the fuel to burn more efficiently. There is also increased down force that lets the cars turn faster. And when the pavement is too hot the rubber on the tires doesn't give good grip.) Sound is a great deal slower in the thin, cold air at 100,000 feet. I don't expect media folks to know this. Fortunately Red Bull Stratos managed to phrase it to satisfy the media and pedants. (Christopher Mims saw that typo on MSNBC and analyzed the possibilities of a skydiver going the speed of light on another blog.)

Back to me now: I was contacted last week by the Discovery Channel about my rocket video. Remember? The one where the rocket reached the speed of sound exactly when it passed through a cold dry/warm moist air mass transition? Refraction made the shock wave visible from the ground?

They were interested in licensing this footage for all media in perpetuity. I was pretty excited because that sounds like a decent payday to me. Since the Japanese paid me $1000 to use it just once and only on TV, not the internet at all. But there were some red flags. The first person to contact me left a comment on YouTube. I sent her to my website to get my email address. She said "I'm brand new to YouTube." That seemed odd for a TV producer. A few days later I got email from a different person. The first woman isn't with them any more, so I have to start over. She wanted to know if I could prove I owned the video because she saw it first on Jokeroo and contacted them already about licensing. Umm, really? You don't know those sites steal everything? That's like contacting FunnyJunk for permission to use a comic by The Oatmeal. Also she used two spaces after a period.

On advice from Phil Plait I asked for details about the show and who their expert would be to explain this stuff. When I got that information back I knew it was a dead end.
We will be using the footage in our new series Alien Mysteries airing on Discovery Channel next year. The show candidly chronicles first person accounts of UFO sightings, alien encounters and abductions. In each episode real life characters take viewers on a suspenseful and often terrifying retelling of their bizarre, life altering encounters with forces from beyond our planet. Each story is backed by credible witnesses, investigative reports and tangible evidence. We turn to hard science experts (physicists, astronomers, astrobiologists, along with psychologists, and law enforcement officials) to probe the question: How is this possible? 
Your footage would be used to visually support the explanation one of our experts provides regarding the speed of light and sound and if an alien space craft could travel that fast.
I don't want anything to do with a show about alien encounters. But just to be certain it wasn't a legitimate explanation of sonic booms, I emailed the expert she said they were using, an aerospace engineering professor at UT Austin.
I was interviewed by the ######## ##### folks last spring. They are trying to figure out what happened with a UFO sighting at Stephenville, TX several years ago. I think that I was the “voice of reason” in their approach to the situation. I explained that the “UFO” sightings were assuredly not “alien” (in the “off-earth” sense) and were probably mistaken identification of earthly phenomena or deliberate fabrications. I looked at the problem of traveling to the nearest known “earthlike’ planet in the so-called Goldilocks zone – 600 light years away. If you accelerated at 1 earth g until you reached one tenth of the speed of light, flew at that speed until it was time to decelerate, and then decelerated at one g, it would take more than 6000 years for the flight. If Einstein is correct, the energy and time required for such a trip are far beyond reasonable for any beings. 
I was not asked about the sonic boom / halo occurrence. I had never heard of it until your note.
So no, it was a completely illegitimate use of my footage. The expert never even mentioned the speed of sound, only the speed of light. Which, apparently to people in the media, are interchangeable. By this time I'd already sent the producer an email saying I was not interested in participating in their project.

I wanted to make a chart to illustrate the distance light travels in a second next to the distance sound  goes in the same time but Numbers won't let me make a column chart with more than 10 divisions on the height. I stretched one out to 180 inches tall by 4 inches wide and the column for sound hadn't even shown up yet. If I put it on a log scale that won't help illustrate it to anybody that doesn't already understand.

My next idea was to make a chart in Keynote using transitions to illustrate how much slower sound is than light. This could be a useful method for a teacher who is talking the whole time the slide is building. But a movie of that is just a giant waste of bandwidth. I truncated it to an animated gif.

For a sound to go as far as from Atlanta to Los Angeles it would need to be about as loud as Krakatoa exploding in 1883. This would kill everybody in Atlanta and people in California would be ready for the sound because people in Texas would have been tweeting about it for an hour. If there was anything on CNN it would be from their New York office because the Atlanta headquarters would be dust. Reports that say people in Perth heard Krakatoa explode immediately are wrong. The ones that say people heard it across the Indian Ocean 4 hours later are amazing. ("The concussion or shock waves produced by the blasts at Krakatoa were remarkably high energy and could be heard by pressure sensors around the world. In fact, many stations recording barometric pressure revealed that the atmospheric shock waves created by the explosions travelled 7 times around the Earth before they were dissipated to immeasurable levels.")

The speed of light in air is about 90 km/sec slower than in a vacuum. It makes no difference if you round it off to 300 x 10^6. In glass the speed of light is about 200 x 10^6. But the change in speed of sound matters a lot more when the medium changes.

Light wouldn't really travel from Atlanta to Los Angeles because the earth would curve out from under it. If you put it in a fiber optic cable to bend it the speed is reduced. Sound would take 1 hr 36 min to travel as far in dry air at sea level and 20°C as light in fiber optic cable travels in 0.01 seconds.

I did some other charts at the same time for other conditions. I didn't bother to animate these.

I don't think my charts will help make it clear to ignorant people that speed of sound and speed of light are not the same. But MAKING the chart was sure a good exercise. This would be quite a good homework assignment for high school students. Go make a chart to illustrate the difference in the speed of sound and the speed of light. They should assign this in English class since these are the people that don't seem to get it.

* Update. @ed_davies on Twitter disagrees with me that speed of sound goes up with density. "Speed of sound in air is dependent on temperature, not density (mostly). (with wikipedia link)" "Halve the volume of some air. P, ρ, T and c increase. Let it cool to original T. P & ρ are double but c is approximately original."

I'm trying to illustrate that speed of sound is less than the speed of light, and as an aside that the speed of sound in the "thin air" at 100,000 ft is less than at sea level. The nuances of the ideal gas law and acoustics are beyond the scope of this article. I am aware of the details of the physics and intentionally left them out. By using what's left of my memory of studying this stuff I'm trying to get closer to the stuff that laymen can understand. At this point even I struggle with my old college notes -- partial differential equations. If I get them out and mention all the conditions and exceptions like a scientist then the whole point is lost. Members of the media that don't understand light is faster than sound probably aren't ready for PV=nRT. I might have gone too far even using the word "density."

If you want the details of all this the way I learned it Amazon is there for you. My acoustics professor, Dr. Eugene Patronis, just finished a new edition of his book, Sound System Engineering.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Enforcement for Geoengineering Violations? With what? The Science Army?

I'm shocked, appalled, despondent, and depressed at this story about some asshole running a scam on innocent people to take their money to pollute the ocean.
A controversial American businessman dumped around 100 tonnes of iron sulphate into the Pacific Ocean as part of a geoengineering scheme off the west coast of Canada in July, a Guardian investigation can reveal. 
Lawyers, environmentalists and civil society groups are calling it a "blatant violation" of two international moratoria.... 
Satellite images appear to confirm the claim by Californian Russ George that the iron has spawned an artificial plankton bloom as large as 10,000 square kilometres. The intention is for the plankton to absorb carbon dioxide and then sink to the ocean bed – a geoengineering technique known as ocean fertilisation that he hopes will net lucrative carbon credits.
Anybody besides me remember what happened when oceanographers tested iron fertilization? Using ordinary grant money with an honest explanation of what they really wanted to do? When iron ceased to be a limiter in the ocean chemistry there was the expected algae bloom that sequestered carbon, but it also caused a shift in the distribution of plankton in favor of one that released a strong toxin that killed all the fish. It pretty much convinced all oceanographers that iron fertilization was off the table. No point in even testing it further because it does so much harm.

And then this ass goes and does this.
The dump took place from a fishing boat in an eddy 200 nautical miles west of the islands of Haida Gwaii, one of the world's most celebrated, diverse ecosystems, where George convinced the local council of an indigenous village to establish the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation to channel more than $1m of its own funds into the project. 
The president of the Haida nation, Guujaaw, said the village was told the dump would environmentally benefit the ocean, which is crucial to their livelihood and culture. 
"The village people voted to support what they were told was a 'salmon enhancement project' and would not have agreed if they had been told of any potential negative effects or that it was in breach of an international convention," Guujaaw said. 
International legal experts say George's project has contravened the UN's convention on biological diversity (CBD) and London convention on the dumping of wastes at sea, which both prohibit for-profit ocean fertilisation activities. 
"It appears to be a blatant violation of two international resolutions," said Kristina M Gjerde, a senior high seas adviser for the International Union for Conservation of Nature. "Even the placement of iron particles into the ocean, whether for carbon sequestration or fish replenishment, should not take place, unless it is assessed and found to be legitimate scientific research without commercial motivation. This does not appear to even have had the guise of legitimate scientific research."
The problem with highly motivated psychopaths like this is they have no compunction about ruining the ecosystem, stealing money from people, and breaking the law. But the people that want them to stop have to worry about all those things. And often they are ineffectual little wimps to boot.

It reminds me of working for the Bureau of Beaches for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. There are unambiguous laws against building walls on the beach. In the rare event they give a special permit to build a wall it has to be a certain kind of wall. This is spelled out plainly in only two pages or so of regulations. So when I found a condominium complex building a wall out of dry stacked concrete blocks backfilled with gravel I immediately called the enforcement officer. I sent him pictures and expected to see the Sheriff roll up while I waited to stop the contractor and tell the men stacking the blocks to start shoveling up the gravel instead and get it all off the beach. None of it is "beach compatible material." It all has to go. Instead the enforcement officer in Tallahassee did nothing. They finished building the wall, using $1mil of the homeowner's money. For a blatantly illegal wall. I felt helpless and frustrated and miserable every week when I took pictures to document the progress.

The example was set that the State of Florida is unable to enforce it's own laws. Anybody walking on that beach would know they could do anything they wanted and get away with it, as long as they had money.
The parties to the UN CBD are currently meeting in Hyderabad, India, where the governments of Bolivia, the Philippines and African nations as well as indigenous peoples organizations are calling for the current moratorium to be upgraded to a comprehensive test ban of geoengineering that includes enforcement mechanisms.
How in the hell am I supposed to be reassured that the UN is going to be able to enforce something like "no dumping iron" on the high seas when Florida can't do it right where officers with guns in cars with lights drive by several times a day?! Is there going to be a budget for drones to patrol the Pacific Ocean? Are they going to drop sondes that can tell ordinary sewage which ships are allowed to dump at will from an insidious experiment?

I'm having a very disappointing day. I only got on the computer again this afternoon to look at pictures of baby platypuses to try to cheer myself up. I imagine they feel like the ears of Labrador Retrievers. I can't fix the world today, must go to my happy place....

Monday, October 15, 2012

Unsafe at any status

I just got an automated email from one of those outsourced job application services telling me the job I applied for has been filled. I get those all the time, but this one is different. It's a job that was thought up for me and I actually had an interview. Spent $80 on gas to drive to Atlanta and back and spent two nights. Fortunately my college roommate put me up for free in her palatial estate.

It all started back in August. I got email through LinkedIn from a friend I worked with a lot in the internet boom. We were both owners of our own companies at the time and took turns hiring each other on various electronics projects. I did hardware and he did firmware. Of course after the tech crash in 2003 we both had to change course. He ended up as a regular employee at a military contractor, wife, kids, big mortgage, the whole bit.

He's been working on the design of the display for the new joint strike fighter. It's like two iPads side by side, only not as technologically advanced, but with much more stringent physical requirements. It's time for all the qualification testing and massive amounts of documentation and everybody is freaking out. This is when my college friends usually contact me. Nobody likes documentation, but everybody knows I put words on a page like trees put leaves on the ground. Word is my bitch. Style sheet, mutherfucker. Get behind me, Track Changes!

And for this particular job my friend thought it would work out to have the person managing the documentation also manage the actual testing. This is something I have also done. Environmental chambers, shake tables, take a prototype to the extremes the specs say it should handle and measure all the pertinent parameters with $100,000 analyzers and $100 cables. (Hint: The problem is usually the cable.) My friend envisioned that I would go to the testing labs in Huntsville and Philadelphia and call the design engineer every night to troubleshoot the day's work; probe the circuits with the digital volt meter and oscilloscope and tell him what I measured. And all the while write this all up for the official reports. He wanted me to be based out of Atlanta with 75% travel.

After outlining this job and presenting it to the vice presidents and getting approval it was out of his hands. The proper organizational hierarchy put me in a different group. I would need to report to one person administratively but work for this other group. It was tricky to get them to schedule an interview. It went from "Be here Monday," to crickets. A month went by. I was desperately trying to get the Spartan door finished so it would be waterproof if I had to leave suddenly. I stopped writing my blog because the only thing on my mind I couldn't really discuss.

Finally in September I got email from my friend telling me to come on up to Atlanta. He would get me in front of the 5 people I needed to meet on Wednesday. Of course this is when I was packing a UHaul truck of furniture to take to my brother in Jupiter. I thought it would be good for me to spend the weekend around people and fly back Monday and practice all this being in public. Good preparation. I was going to nail this interview. I got in my car Tuesday morning and drove to Atlanta, found the office I needed to go to the next day, and checked my email on my phone obsessively. I still didn't know when I was supposed to be there on Wednesday. Finally at 8 pm on Tuesday I got an email from my friend telling me to be there at 10 am.

I showed up in my outfit approved by two HR professionals. I even let their 8 year old paint my toenails. (She did a great job.) I turned in my iPhone and iPad at reception -- no cameras allowed inside -- and went in with my friend.

I met five different people, one at a time in their desperately sad tiny white offices with outsized particleboard furniture, depressing old Dell computers and cruel lighting. Each one told me something completely different that they wanted me to do. The first thought it was important that I schedule the testing. Send all the proper equipment to the labs, plan the travel for the people that needed to be there, be sure the purchase orders went through.

The next wanted me to go into the database and verify that every spec had a corresponding document and that they were all in the same format with the same style sheets applied.

The one after that stressed that I needed to be a spy for management. Reporting if the customer was trying to stop at performance spec level and not go all the way to qualification specs. I was to talk to the design engineers every day and trouble shoot any problems and repair anything that went wrong with the electronics.

It went on like that. What they had in common was they all seemed really stressed out and had no sense of humor. I was smiling my interview smiles and making jokes, as I do, and I was getting these stoney looks. None of them asked me any normal interview questions. They just told me what they needed and I said, yes, I can do that. Here's when I did something like that before. If their behavior was stiff I wrote it off as just being engineers. I didn't think anything of it. I sort of expected the same dispensation.

The last person I met was a contractor working in Human Resources. She had prepared a job description to put on the internet. She used their standard Technical Writer job description. English or Journalism major, experience with Federal document databases, know Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Framemaker, Adobe CS. 75% travel. It didn't say anything about doing all that electronics troubleshooting or project management.

The pressing question I had this whole time was "What's it pay?" It sounded like a very expensive job. I would have to pay for all this travel up front and be reimbursed, provide my own computer and about $10,000 of software, and there would be no health insurance or other benefits. But it would be over in 9 months. I finally got to ask that crucial question of the HR person in the last meeting of the day. It would have the same pay scale as their other office based English Majors, about $30/hr. It made me sorry they shut down fuckthatjob.com in 2002.

I left the HR office and my friend showed me back to the lobby. I got my iPhone and iPad and we went outside. He told me that he'd had a chance to talk to the people I met. They all were easily convinced I had all the technical skills to do the job, but they thought I wasn't tactful enough to keep the customer happy. I was floored. "Well, I guess they met the real me!" I said.

My friend laughed, which is more than I can say for any of his humorless colleagues. I mean, yeah, I'm tactless compared to my extrovert public-relations-major step-sister, but I'm not tactless compared to my engineer brother. And nobody mentioned the customer was anything but Lockheed test engineers. Engineers are my peeps! They don't need passive-aggressive mollycoddling! What the hell is this bullshit!? We're all after the same goal. Get the best display system possible, approved and in production.

But nothing more to do about it then. I got in my car 290 miles from home and went back to a week of jury duty. The HR person said she would call me the next day with an offer, if there were one. Then she would let me know when she posted the job online, I would apply, and she would immediately take it down. Of course I never heard from anybody at all. I kept checking online to see if they posted the job that looked like the description the HR person showed me. I found it a week after my interview. I realized if I applied for it then it would automatically send me a "fuck off" email when they filled the position. So I half-heartedly filled it in and submitted it. Just over a month later my plan came through. I like a little closure on these things.

I'm still baffled by what I did that was so tactless. I chalked it up to them just not getting my jokes. I couldn't get a smile out of anybody. Then today I read something interesting on Guardian Science about how status affects people returning smiles.
Carr found that responding to smiles was more complicated than expected. "If you feel powerful, you suppress smiling to targets that are of a higher status," he said.
Oh, really?! So maybe they felt somehow THREATENED by me and that's why they wouldn't smile back at me? This is fascinating. I mean, why wouldn't it be? It makes me AWESOME. I think if you are going to get rejected for a job that was designed for your exact experience then you are allowed to fabricate some kind of flattering rationalization for why you didn't get it.

I understand I'm unemployable by the usual means, but I really did think that my high-level friends could still hire me if they wanted to. I have skills. But it turns out the only important skill for holding down a job at my age, as long as I'm a woman, is social skills.

I'm not broke yet though, and my Spartan isn't finished. Some work will come along as soon as I'm ready! It always does. Also, that was a fucking awful sounding job. I feel bad for whoever got it. If they call me in January and want me to come fix everything after that contractor quits suddenly I'm going to make them pay a good sight more than $30 an hour.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Paul Broun: That's why I'm a hermit in Georgia

I woke up this morning to a Twitter message from my friend in Northern Wales, @RojSmith: @beachton Evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" po.st/hB7oo6

I clicked that link:
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said in videotaped remarks that evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory are "lies straight from the pit of hell" meant to convince people that they do not need a savior. 
The Republican lawmaker made those comments during a speech Sept. 27 at a sportsman's banquet at Liberty Baptist Church in Hartwell. Broun, a medical doctor, is running for re-election in November unopposed by Democrats.
Well isn't that special. I read it as a state representative, which means he can't do much harm. Then I googled him to see if he went to UGA, as you do, and realized he's a US congressman. How embarrassing. (And yes, he did go to the university in Athens. They are a big football rival of my alma mater, Georgia Tech, and we mock them relentlessly for lacking academic rigor. "Be sure to roll your windows up when you drive through Athens or they might try to throw a diploma in your car." "What does a UGA grad call a Tech grad? Boss." "How 'bout them dawgs?! Piss on 'em." "At the football game the UGA fans kept throwing firecrackers in the Tech student section. But we didn't care. We just lit them and threw them back.")

My twitter feed revealed that this is indeed an international story with this link from Guardian Science, with the video of him talking nonsense. gu.com/p/3bvyn/tf

Whoo doggy! Lookit the deer heads! Lookit them looking at Paul Broun! I love how they arranged them to all look to the center. I bet the person that hung those up worked on the yearbook staff in high school. I couldn't watch this whole thing. I stopped after the "pit of hell" quote.

Welcome to rural Georgia. Just so you know, this clown's district is on the other side of the state from me, so even if somebody was running against him I couldn't vote for them. But it's not any better where I live. And as much as I'd like to blame UGA, those are really just jokes. My creationist relative-by-marriage went to Georgia Tech. Religion can even corrupt smart people with good educations. I cannot understand how they believe the earth is only a few thousand years old, I can't argue with them, I don't even want to know they exist.

This is why I can only live here if I maintain complete isolation from society. I am a highly sensitive person. I only maintain my happy disposition by delusion. And I maintain my health by trying hard to avoid migraine triggers. Emotional rage triggers migraines. I knew better than to watch the presidential debate. I've been having trouble with my eyes lately so I haven't worked on the computer much. I just got some new glasses Friday so I thought I could brave a post today. But it's so bright in my house I got aura already. I'm working very hard to finish the Spartan for my lab/laundry which should be a lot darker than my house and better for computer work. (I went to the eye doctor and tested 20:15 uncorrected. I can see better than most people my age. I have a tiny bit of astigmatism and only need 1.00 reading glasses. But I'm just so sensitive what's trivial seems monumental to me.)

In honor of all the deer skins stretched over fiberglass forms in that video here's a picture of a real live Georgia deer with antlers. (Taken out of my bathroom window some years ago.) I don't ever shoot these because they are way to big for me to clean and eat by myself. And I'm not a big fan of taxidermy. I prefer photography. Also prefer staying in bed until the sun comes up. And chicken.