Friday, January 30, 2009

This Office Drama Makes That Other Office Drama Look Like Crap

I don't come in to work every day. Some semesters I do, but I prefer to have work days and school days. Yesterday was a school day, so I came in today at noon and found out about a billion things had happened since I was last here on Wednesday.

Firstly, there was pizza here. A coworker I'll call The Friendly Slacker said, "There's been some drama today." Then I saw Tito was in a tie and I said, "Where was the memo about dressing fancy?" and The Friendly Slacker said, "[The Friendly Redhead] got fired yesterday."

So those things might seem unrelated, but they actually are, to some extent. Tito was in a tie, it is surmised, because he had a job interview, livid about the way The Friendly Redhead was fired. The pizza was for Tito's birthday lunch, which seemed to some people as poor taste the day after the party line for the termination was "budget concerns." Today's drama was that the company president, who deserves many blog nicknames, but none of them are very safe for my career, agreed to let us continue having birthday lunches as long as they came from Godfather's, which, it was pointed out, is not the cheapest pizza place in town. It just seems a little too much like a firing party (which we've had before at this company).

The truth about The Friendly Redhead: this has been coming for months. She was way too integral to our process to just fire her out of the blue. She'd been marginalized and had to have known this was coming. Not that it was right. The reason they decided to move her out was because she was competent and sometimes didn't mind allowing that to highlight management's incompetence. However, there was nothing surprising about it happening, other than it being on a Thursday instead of a Friday. (Although we've fired people on Mondays here before. We do our own thang.)

The part of it that I disliked the most was the explanatory e-mail from the owner that read, in part: "I sincerely thank you all for your months or years of dedication to [Nameless Company] and want you to know my commitment to help grow all of [Nameless Company]." Wait, so we've shown dedication to the company, and in return the owner promises us that the owner is likewise dedicated to the owner's company? That's a pretty sweet deal for the two of them (owner and company), but not so much for us.

Several hours later, New Manager sent an e-mail saying, "I write to inform you effective Jan. 30th, 2009 [The Friendly Redhead] is no longer employed by [Nameless Company]." Uh, news flash, dude: that e-mail had already been sent by the owner eight hours before. But at least they didn't make The Friendly Redhead send her own termination e-mail, like they did for Crazy Angela of the misplaced boobs. (Old Manager followed that up, though, with a confirming e-mail, lest we think Crazy Angela was pulling our legs.)

This place sucks.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Review: Straight Man

Last week I was reading an Internet chat room and came across someone’s recommendation of Straight Man by Richard Russo. The recommender included a shamelessly hotlinked photo of the cover and on that cover was a blurb that said something to the effect of, “The funniest serious book I’ve read since Portnoy’s Complaint.” I thought to myself, “We enjoyed Portnoy’s Complaint; I bet we’ll enjoy this book, too.” So, since I was at work and bored, I looked it up in the city’s library catalog and requested that they pull it off the shelf and hold it for me. Not that I thought there’d be a rush of people trying to read this book (it’s over 10 years old); I just like pushing civil servants around (and I evidently enjoy using semicolons, too).

The great thing about our city library is that they never actually make you pay your fines. Every time you check something out they remind you that they’re there, but you can say, “Yeah, I’m not going to pay that today,” and they say, “Okay.” Our California town wouldn’t let you do anything until you paid your fine. (This included renewing a book, so once it was one day late it was only going to get later. When I moved to Kansas and brought a California library book with me that I wasn’t finished with yet, sending it home with my mother four months later when she came to visit, I’m sure I accumulated quite a large late fee that couldn’t have been avoided once I’d missed the renewal date by one day.) Anyway, I went in to the library on Saturday to pick up Straight Man and told them I wasn’t going to pay the fine I’d worked up with P.G. Wodehouse’s Heavy Weather. The librarian just acquiesced. It made me feel like a big man.

Well, I read Straight Man over the weekend, aided by puking children which required me to stay home from church. Here are my thoughts: I liked it. (Hey, I’m not a professional book reviewer or something.) More specifically: it reminded me a lot of The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck, which the careful blog reader will know is one of my favorite novels ever. However, this book kind of scared the crap out of me regarding a career in academia. I’m worried it will be just as pointless, boring, soul-crushing, and irritating as any office job, just in a different office and with different co-workers. I’d be interested in what my professor blog readers thought of this book, if they ever felt like reading it.

Since Persephone writes book reviews with specific required content, I feel like I should mention some of these things, too. There are a few F words, but not a gratuitous amount. Maybe an average of one every 20 pages. I can’t remember any sex. The main character spends some time in a hot tub with a naked woman, but then he walks home. Another character is found naked in bed post-coitus. The main character, who is married, spends some time attracted to other women, which might be offensive to married female readers who prefer to keep their heads in the sand. On the whole I give this book 5.5 out of 7 giant inflatable monkeys.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Office Drama

A card came around the office for Tito’s birthday. A coworker we’ll call Bike Dude wrote, with no punctuation, “Happy Birthday Bike Dude,” so I added a comma and an exclamation point and my name so it said, “Happy Birthday, Bike Dude! A Random Stranger.”

The office warden came over and said, “A Random Stranger, did you misread this? This card is to Tito.” I said, “Oh, okay.” She said, “So do you want to fix that?” and then stood there to make sure I corrected it. So I put my name next to someone else’s happy birthday wish, so it looks like the card is to me. She’s not too happy about that.

Here’s my beef with professional women: why do they all have to be crazy? Every single one of them. I can even make a rule of thumb about this: How do you know if a coworker is bat-guano crazy? If she’s a woman. This is why I think being a sister missionary must suck: because all of your companions are just as nuts as you are.

Every office I’ve worked in that had drama had it supplied by a lady or an effeminate dude. People who don’t mind their own business at work are always women. Clerical workers who try to behave like supervisors are always women.

DRAMA UPDATE IN REAL TIME!!!! The office warden tore up the old card, FILED IT, and sent a new card around with instructions to not let me sign it! Now it’s sitting before me and I am wondering what to write. I think I’m going to write a big apology to Tito for all our differences and promise to be a better friend, and we’ll see if the office warden lets it through her screening process or not.

Scripturegate RESOLVED!

Yesterday Fate smiled upon me by way of making two of my kids vomitous, so I got to stay home from church. When Persephone returned from church, she had my scriptures. They'd been returned to her by a ward member. (They were not, in fact, under my car seat as some doubting readers had suggested. I'm looking in the direction of the Deerfield Elementary service area.)

"See, they weren't stolen," Persephone said.

"Sure they were," I said. "They were just returned."

"Probably because you complained to ward members," she conceded.

The bad news: I'm going to need a new excuse to go inactive. Or at least get my kids vomitous every Saturday.

(According to Blogger's spell-checker, I've invented the word "vomitous." However, these things can't be trusted, since Blogger doesn't recognize the word "blogspot," just like Facebook doesn't recognize the word "Facebook.")

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Kansas Mormons Are Dirty Thieves!

Justin suggested "Scripturegate" as the name for this crisis. I had my own idea, but when I ran it by him he said it might be "too sacrilegious for the Internet." I didn't even know such a thing existed. So I took Justin's suggestion and added a date to give it more immediacy, or whatever. (Really it was just so I could ignore his requests for royalties when I start selling crisis-themed tee shirts.)

Handful of readers, I give you...

Scripturegate '09!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Stolen Scriptures: Update

The update is: there IS no update! They're still gone! I just thought I'd pull a Main-Stream Media on you and "update" you on the fact that everything is exactly the same. I'm about to implement round-the-clock coverage of this growing crisis, which needs a graphic and name.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Finally, My Excuse for Inactivity!

Well, I've been praying for it and yesterday my prayers were finally answered: I can go inactive!

Here's what happened. Baby X and I went in to priesthood opening exercises in the chapel and sat down with my scriptures next to me. Since he was an hour late on a nap, though, he didn't want to sit. So I got up and paced the back of the chapel with him. The ward mission leader came in to ask if I had an oil to help administer a blessing. Baby X and I left and were gone for about ten minutes. When we came back, opening exercises were over and the high priests had taken over the choir seats from the elders. I went to the pew where I'd left my scriptures and they were gone. Yes, my scriptures were stolen during a priesthood meeting.

Possible explanations and why they are crap:

"The person sitting next to the scriptures thought they were his." But I hate other people, so I made sure we were on a pew by ourselves.

"One of the high priests picked them up to give to you." When I came in and looked for them, that would have been the time to return them.

"One of the elders took them with him to give to you." When I got to elders' quorum, that would have been the time to return them.

"One of the young men took them to give to you." Why? And have you met any young men? You really think they would think about anything like that?

"Your scriptures look like someone else's." But they don't. I was a missionary in the United States speaking English, so I don't have one of those hand-tooled leather cases that's covered with the name of my mission and the nation's flag. And in the front pocket of my scripture case, sticking out to be plainly seen, are two years' worth of tithing slips folded around a Missionary Handbook. Does everyone else do that, too?

"Someone from one of the other wards took them." But it was at 3:00, and the other wards had been out of the building for over an hour.

"Someone turned them in to the lost and found." But they weren't in the lost and found (a plastic tub on the stage). They also weren't in the library, on the shelves above the coat racks, or in the clerks' office. (Yes, my apostrophe usage is correct, since our ward clerk shares an office with another ward's clerk, so suck it!)

It's time to accept the facts: someone stole my scriptures during a priesthood meeting while I was giving a blessing. It looks like next Sunday I get to stay home and watch, well, whatever sporting event is on in late January. NASCAR? No, NASCAR sucks. Golf? I'm all right with watching golf, as long as it's not the Skins Game. Nothing bugs me more than watching rich guys not even pretend that they're playing for something other than more money.

How Do I Love the Slap Chop? Let Me Count the Ways

0:02 "Slap Chop!" Already Vince's hand motions and level of excitement make this product seem much cooler than it really is.

0:05 "Slapping your troubles away." The first of many references to how this product is going to change my life. Also, the first of many assumptions about just what my current life is like. Vince is assuming that I've got troubles that need slapping.

0:21 "Salad!" Evidently salad is comprised of one carrot stick, one celery stick, and a smallish radish.

0:27 "Change your eating habits." Again, Vince assumes my eating habits need changing.

0:34 "This tuna looks boring." Because it's been drained and left in the can. Anything looks boring like that.

0:36 "Stop having a boring life." Whoa! The most assertive assumption yet!

0:43 "You're going to have an exciting life now." So who is the Slap Chop's target audience? People with poor eating habits and no excitement. They'd like to eat better if someone made it take two seconds, and they'd like to have a 6-8 week waiting period of anticipating the delivery of a mail-order product. So fat single people. And America is full of them.

0:54 "Breakfast to go." Vince is redefining all the meals. First salad, now breakfast. Even though I never would have previously considered mincing an egg, a green onion, a pickle, and ham and calling it breakfast, this commercial makes me want to try it. Does it taste good, or is Vince just making stuff up as he goes along?

0:56 "You're going to love my nuts."


0:56 "You're going to love my nuts."


0:56 "You're going to love my nuts." And then he begins to bring something out from below the counter. Notice that every other food he uses is on the counter top; it's only his nuts that he's got to go down and get.

0:58 "It comes with a cover." I love the way Vince says "cover" with his New York accent.

1:01 "Or you can do it on the board, whatever you like." That's very nice of Vince to allow for the fact that I might want to use my Slap Chop differently from how he uses his.

1:12 sparkles

1:13 "Stop throwing your money away." Oh, so it's not just fat lonely people they're targeting, but fat lonely people with poor financial discipline. So what I hear Vince saying is, "A Random Stranger, we've designed this product specifically for YOU!"

1:19 more sparkles

1:21 "The reason you're going to be slapping away every day." Given the nut unveiling 25 seconds before, I've got to believe Vince understood the humor behind this line.

1:27 "Like a butterfly." Very poetic. And more sparkles.

1:37 over-shoulder, no-look competitor toss. How long did Vince have to work on that one to get it right?

1:45 "You're going to eat more garlic." That's a good thing? I thought this product was for lonely people.

1:50 "Life's hard enough as it is. You don't want to cry anymore." It's a little spooky how well Vince knows me. He should be my freaking life coach.

2:00 "The skin comes right off." Wait, where? Oh, the arrow shows me.

2:07 "We're going to make America skinny again, one slap at a time!" I always thought the way to make someone skinny with slaps was to employ Mickey Ross's Pyramid of Pain from one of the 10,000 times Alec Baldwin hosted "Saturday Night Live."

2:32 "Fettuccini. Linguini. Martini. Bikini." Okay, Vince got hired because he's good-looking* and could make a food dicer look fun and interesting, but was this commercial's producer on drugs? You don't have to use everything Vince says on tape.

2:37 "It comes with a cover." Again with the word "cover." Love it!

2:47: "You know we can't do this all day." What does this say about the economics of this industry? They are somehow saving money by only opening up the call center for 20-minute intervals? Otherwise they've got people just sitting there playing Free Cell and reading Penthouse Forum? ("I never believed this could happen to me.") And if that's not true, they at least think that I think it's true. And while I'm at it, this gets into a question I've always had about these ads. How do they know if I've called within the last 20 minutes or 30 minutes? Do they have a schedule of when their ad is airing in different markets? It seems like it would be easier to just give everyone the special deal, but they tell you it's only available if you act soon so you don't write down the number for later but then never use it.

2:53 "The Slap Chop with the Graty! Here's how to order!" Vince has made these two products seem ten times cooler than they really are. I mean, I already own a variety of Slap Chop but this commercial makes me want to buy another one. I guess I am the typical American consumer they're targeting. If one is good, two must be great!

* Isn't he? I can't tell. I think if I were a girl I'd think he was attractive. Plus, being fun like Vince goes a long way towards getting a girl to like you, right? I always figured that was why I could occasionally get girlfriends, since we all know it wasn't the looks that were making them line up.

Reprieve from the Governor

My moustache was almost history this weekend. Almost.

Persephone was supposed to call a girl in town to babysit for us Saturday night. If that had happened, I probably would have shaved it Friday night or Saturday morning. But it didn't happen and then on Sunday morning Persephone told me, "It has to be gone by at least June when Rachel takes our family picture."

So now I get to keep the moustache until June! Huzzah huzzah!

(When I get a really good picture of the moustache, one that does it justice, I'll upload it here.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

"I See Trees of Green/Red Roses, Too"

This commercial restores my faith in humanity.

Title from Louis Armstrong's song "It's a Wonderful World."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Negative 14

When I was a missionary in Wisconsin, if the wind chill got down below about negative 10 or so the mission office would call us and tell us to not go out that day. It only happened about three times in three winters, but it did happen. So when I walked to the bus this morning and it was zero degrees and felt like negative 14, I thought, "Not even God wants people outside when it's this cold."

When I got to school a German friend of mine showed me where the metric button is on I didn't even know it existed. Then she showed me how to get permanent marker off a white board by tracing over it with a white board marker and then erasing. Those will probably be the two most-useful things I learn this semester.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I can't stand when people use the word "hoodie." What the hell is that? It's just a marketing word. Until ten years ago, they were called "hooded sweatshirts." If you use the word "hoodie" you're saying to me, "I buy whatever Old Navy tells me to buy."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Making My Own Awesome

I can’t tell you how much of the day I spend wishing there was something awesome on the Internet to help me pass the work day. (Quick estimate of how much of the day I spend wishing there was something et cetera: 8 am to 6 pm continuously.) But so far all you deadbeats are letting me down. It’s time I be all proactive and whatever, and make my blog be the something awesome on the you get the picture.

Firstly, it needs to have hilarious pictures. Like this:

Secondly, it needs to have awesome pictures. Like this:

Thirdly, it needs to have the type of information I would like to read about. Like this: Eddie Gaedel batted for the St. Louis Browns.

Fourthly, it needs to have awesome stories. Like this:

I was working late one evening when I heard scratching at the office door. It stopped, then started again. I thought it might be a dog happening past and stood to see it over the cubicle wall. Through the glass front door I saw the massive frame of a black bear. His skin was hanging in loose sheets from his emaciated frame. He obviously had wasted away during his hibernation and now was in desperate need of food. He had begun to turn away before my movement caught his eye. Now, convinced there was something edible inside, he turned back to the door and began trying to grip the handle in his massive jaws. I sat back down and began to review my options. The office had no back door. I thought I might move some desks under the skylight and climb up there to await the bear losing interest, but just then the loud crack of glass told me I didn’t have enough time.

I looked over the cubicle wall and saw the snout of the bear, bloodied from the broken plate glass, sticking into the office. All the glass of the door was gone, but the metal arm across the frame was still intact. The bear was trying to squeeze under the arm into the bottom half of the door, thus gaining entry to the office and access to his dinner. Even in his starved state, the bear’s body was too large to easily fit. I decided my last chance of survival was to fight the bear while it was in this constricted space.

Taking a folding metal chair from beside my desk, I quickly ran to the door and, with all my momentum behind the swing, smack the bear straight in the nose. He let out a deafening roar of pain, but didn’t withdraw. I brought the chair around my shoulder and crashed it down on the bear’s head.

“Stop that!” yelled the bear.

“Never!” I replied, getting ready to swing again.

“Dude, if you don’t stop, I swear to--”

I hit him across the face, knocking his head into the side of the door.

“Oh, that’s it,” said the bear. “I’m totally going to eat you now.”

“No way, bear! I could club you over the head all day.” I reared back for another blow, and the bear began to pull away. As he did so, his head pushed up on the metal bar across the door, bending it slightly and giving him more room to maneuver. The bear stopped and appeared deep in thought. He then looked at me and saw the fear in my eyes as we both realized he could easily expand the door’s passageway enough to give him entry.

The bear squinted slightly and said, “Oh, it’s on, bitch!”

I backed away from the door. The bear used his powerful frame to first bend, then completely detach the metal bar. He carefully walked over the shards of glass on the floor below the door. I raised my arms high in the air and made menacing noises.

“What the hell is that?” asked the bear.

“It’s my defense. You’re supposed to make yourself look big to bears.”

“You just don’t get it, do you? I’m a freaking talking bear. I’m not going to be awed by this piddley crap.”

“I guess you could say you’re smarter than the av-er-age bear?” I ventured.

The bear shook his head and muttered to himself, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” But that slight delay was all I needed. I jumped back into my cubicle and, stepping on the cord running to my computer’s battery backup, pulled hard on the box, exposing the live wiring on the end of the cord. As the bear charged at me, I grabbed the cord a few inches back from the sparking end and thrust it in the bear’s mouth.

He convulsed and roared as the electricity coursed through his body, much like Luke Skywalker before Emperor Palpatine. I quickly grabbed another power cord and used it to strangle the bear to death. As the last vestiges of life drained from his eye, I spat in it. I then used a few power cords to tie up the carcass from the sky light by the hind legs, then used my computer to find out on the Internet how to gut a bear as the battery backup beeped infuriatingly.

The End.

Lazy Professors

So I wrote the other day asking for advice about a lazy professor, and the two professors who are regular readers of my blog have been too lazy to respond! "Oh, but we have classes starting this week!" Excuses!

In other news, I think my level of laziness makes me a perfect candidate for a professorship.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Call for Advice

I've got applications that are due next week and a professor who hasn't written my letters yet. Three of the letters due Thursday are mail submissions, not online. I first asked him to do this for me early in November because my first letter was due to our own school on December 1st. I got an e-mail this week saying he hadn't written it yet. I've tried e-mailing him three times this week and he hasn't replied to any of them. However, he's updated his Facebook status every day. I finally called the office and asked to have him call me. He called yesterday afternoon and gave me attitude for hounding him, saying, "They're going out." I checked the applications that let me review their status online and he STILL hasn't submitted anything for the online letters.

I understand that a large part of academia is kissing asses and making people feel great about themselves. "Oh, professor, you're such a genius. I'm really lucky you're unemployable in the private sector!" However, at what point can I say, "Idiot, you're laziness is jeopardizing my family's future"? And how can I go about saying that in a more constructive, if slightly wordier, way?

Friday, January 09, 2009


This isn't a post about pirates, it's a post about finding drafts lurking in my old posts, taking up space, throwing off my post count. So now, nearly two years later, I have to correct it so my 1,000th post stays in the 1,000th position.

1,168 Friends


A strange coincidence: the Facebook friend of mine whose number of friends makes me think he's a phony also has 1,168 friends, and thus prompted my prior post! What are the odds?!

As soon as I finish playing Solitaire (I mean, writing important letters that need to be mailed today), we're off to Saint Louis, with a stop at the Circuit City in Columbia, since they're supposedly having a great sale due to bankruptcy. (Bankruptcy?! What's that? I thought companies were just supposed to ask for a bailout.)

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Wikipedia Friday

I know it's a day early, but I'm not going to be at work tomorrow, and, the reality is, I waste several hours on Wikipedia every work day, not just Friday anymore.

Today I came across "Dunbar’s Number" and thought, "Finally, I'm vindicated in thinking people with more than 500 Facebook friends are shams!"

Related topics:

When I accidentally got my blog, the reason I decided to keep it was because it gave me an outlet to anonymously say all the things that were running around inside my brain. Then my wife found out about my blog, so I had to make sure I didn't say anything I didn't want to have to explain to her. Then my friends found out, so I couldn't complain about anything they did. Then people I know in Kansas found out, so I couldn't say anything that would make it awkward to talk to them in person at church on Sunday. I ask you, what's the point of having a blog if I can't say anything I wouldn't say in real life? If that's my restriction, it's easier to just say it in real life. I wanted to start over with a completely anonymous blog, but I don't have time to maintain two blogs, and my wife already knows about the new one, anyway, so it's still not anonymous. Then this week I got suckered into linking my name to my blog in a blog comment on someone else's blog, and there's no way for me to erase it. When we lived in California there were things we wanted to be able to say about our family members that we couldn't because everyone knew our family members. Not anything horrible, just normal stuff, like how you can tell your friend, "Oh, my sister said the lamest thing yesterday." I don't really know the point of this paragraph. Let me just say there is a particular Facebook personality I want to write about who has more than 500 friends and strikes me as a phony, but I can't. This is why smart writers don't share their work with their friends and family: people will take a lot more crap from an unknown than from a friend. You'll read a book with a minor (PG-13 style) sex scene and not care too much, but if I came to you and said, "Do you want to read my book?" and it contained a PG-13 sex scene, you'd be very uncomfortable. If you don't agree, just leave a comment asking for a PG-13 sex scene and I'll write one up for you and you'll see I'm right.

The other day Cristin asked if I consider a county visited if my plane laid over there. Yes, I do. If I'm in contact with the ground, I've been to the county. Early in my mission, when I was still worried about mission rules, I drove to the mission boundary (which was a county line) and placed a finger on the other county. (Of course signs aren't exact markers, but pavement changes usually are pretty close. If you are interested in this sort of thing, you can tell when you change jurisdictions because they've paved their roads at different times with different materials.) Later in my mission I spent entire days outside my mission. I've come to terms with that and I don't really care if you can't.

My wife blogged recently about how much she hates product reviews that start with "I haven't used this product yet." The other night she found an review she'd written several years ago that started with "I haven't read this book yet." To be fair, though, it was the fifth in a series, she'd read the previous four, and just wanted to comment on how stupid it was to switch book designs mid-series.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Public School

I got roped into volunteering at my daughter’s school yesterday. Now, the astute reader might say, “Isn’t your daughter homeschooled, so really you’re saying you got roped into volunteering at HOME?” Yes, she’s homeschooled, but just mostly, not completely. And if you were really as astute as you claim to be, you should know that no amount of roping could get me to volunteer at home. I have a wife and kids so I can come home after a long day at work and watch a woman tend three children. It’s like television but without commercials.

Since Crazy Jane only goes to school at 1:30 in the afternoon, I also got to stay away until then. It was like high school all over again, with the satisfaction of knowing I should be in school when I wasn’t. (This might have been a contributing factor to my not graduating from high school on time.) When we finally went there, they gave me a list of rules and a schedule. The rules included, “Don’t share religious or political views,” and the use of the word “where” instead of “wear.” Good advertising, public schools. Keep enticing me to send my kids to you by misusing homophones that every fourth grader should know.

How do I know fourth graders should know homophones? Because my first task was to go to a fourth grade classroom and help kids with their homophones. Seriously. And how were they learning their homophones? By looking up each word in the dictionary and copying its definition to their notebooks. The students who knew the difference between the words but didn’t copy the words correctly got to finish the work during recess. The students who didn’t understand the difference but copied the letters in the correct order got to go to recess. Keep up the sales pitch, public schools. You’re doing just fine.

And the good news for the smart kids was that they got to do more work. One student only had to do the first eight words while the smarter kid had to stay in at recess to finish all 17 words. He was finishing the last word when the other kids came back in. That was the saddest part of the day. What did he learn? To either be stupid or at least act stupid. The kid with the worst language skills of all got to cut a sheet of paper into squares, staple them together, and then misread the “book” to me. He didn’t have to do a single homophone, and he got to play for all of recess. He’s in fourth grade and reads more poorly than my first grade daughter, but he just had to guess at some words and then play some basketball.

My schedule had large blocks of unaccounted for time. Was I supposed to take a smoke break? No, because the rules sheet told me, “Don’t use tobacco products on school grounds.” So I stayed in fourth grade and finished working on homophones with two boys during their recess, then went to fifth grade. With 20 minutes left in school, fifth grade was at recess. Since the school has decided to take recess one class at a time (to avoid inter-class fighting), by the time they cycle through the entire school, they end up with a recess right before going home. This is the type of decision that results in kids eating “lunch” at 10 o’clock. I watched some kids play basketball, then went back in with their class for the last five minutes of the day. Their teacher had me file some papers for her. Yeah, that was the type of student interaction they were going for when they created this program.

The school had a library that was open the entire time I was there, with no students inside and a librarian surfing the Internet. My wife read somewhere that you had to have a master’s degree to be a school librarian these days. Gone are the days when the local old lady volunteered in the school library. Surfing the Internet is serious business. (Of course it is; I get paid handsomely to do it at work several hours each day.)

I came away from this experience convinced of two things: 1. Public schools are a racket that exist to provide jobs to teachers, not to educate children, and 2. My daughter loves the hour-and-a-half she gets to spend at a public school each day.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Mail Bag

Justin wrote in with a question: “How do I start a county map like yours? I have no ArcGIS to assist me. Is there a paper version or something?”

There are two online resources for tracking the counties you’ve visited. One I discovered about five years ago, and the other just last week. But before you turn to these websites, you’ll have to know which counties you’ve visited. Here’s how I would go about doing it.

Go to Wal-Mart or Target and get the six-dollar atlas they sell in the book section. You can buy the same atlas at a bookstore for 14 dollars, or at a grocery store for nine dollars, or at Wal-Mart and Target for six. It’s up to you. Don’t get distracted by the slightly smaller atlas. It’s more expensive and targeting fools who want to pay more money for less information. The reason you want the big six-dollar one is that it shows more roads and shows the county lines. As I’m sure you can imagine, for something like this, county lines are sort of important. I also prefer the cheap atlas because you can mark all over it and, if you need to, get a new one fairly easily.

Now that you have an atlas, start thinking of drives you’ve made and mark those counties. When I first started, I just traced the outline of the counties I’d visited, but then I got my first county that I’d circled without entering, and just tracing the outline made it look like I’d been there, so now I also underline the county name if I’ve been there.

This is the hard part, for some people. It’s not enough to say, “I’ve driven to Chicago,” but you have to remember how you drove there. When you are dealing with childhood trips, that’s close to impossible. However, you can rest reasonably assured that your parents weren’t county-hunting nerds, so they took main highways. If your parents are alive and you haven’t burned your bridges with them to the point that they have restraining orders, you can ask them about some childhood trips you dimly remember. Case in point: I remembered living in Pennsylvania and driving to Orlando, Florida, but I didn’t remember that on the way down we drove along the Outer Banks. My parents knew that part of it. Just last year in casual conversation my father mentioned that he’d been to the Florida Keys. I asked him when and he said, “On our trip to Florida.” All of the keys are in a different county, so that’s how I learned that, 27 years before, I’d been to Monroe County, Florida.

Of course, the scale of this atlas is so large that sometimes it’s difficult to determine if you’ve been to a county or not. In those cases, I use Mapquest. I prefer Mapquest because GoogleEarth doesn’t show many roads until you are zoomed in incredibly close, and GoogleMaps doesn’t have county lines shown at any scale. Mapquest has helped me figure out which Texas counties I-40 actually enters and whether I-95 in Georgia goes through Effingham County, Georgia.

Here’s what not to do: a guy I work with decided (as most people do who hear about this hobby of mine) to figure out the counties he’s visited. He said, “Well, I’ve lived around Kansas and Missouri most of my life, so I’ve probably been to all of those.” Then he said, “I’ve driven to Colorado a bunch,” so he marked a three-county-wide swath into Colorado. By the time he was done, he had marked over 80% of the country, then he felt pretty smug that I’d been at it for so long and was under 30% at the time. Once we made fun of him enough for his idiocy he was ashamed. The fact is, unless you get off the interstate (and before you started thinking about counties you had no reason to), your cross-country trips will result in very thin strips, not Shermanesque columns. Another guy I work with has just started and is doing it correctly and figures he’s been to fewer than 300 counties. That seems about right. When I married my wife she’d only been to about 160. That number’s a little low because she’s from California and western counties are much larger. Unless you did a LOT of driving as a kid to different places, taking different routes each time, your number will probably be 300 or fewer.

Now that you have a reasonable idea of where you’ve been, you can enter the data on a website. Here are the two I use:

Why Do You Think They Call Them Counties

When I joined you had to send an e-mail to the webmaster with your desired username and password and he would create an account for you. As a result, my username is one letter different from the one I actually wanted and, when I requested an account for my daughter, her name was misspelled. Oh well. The general function of the website is pretty easy and enjoyable, and there are a lot of other users, so you can see how you stack up against your fellow nerds. This site also has some helpful rulings for some of the most frequently-asked questions, such as, “Does I-294 enter DuPage County, Illinois?” (Determination: no.) In the past year or so they added a feature where you can color-code counties and give the colors meanings, so I could have red for counties I’ve been to alone, blue for counties I’ve been to with my wife, et cetera. (They also have links to webpages of others who track their counties. One such page has been blocked by my company’s IT guy; evidently I spent too much time there.)

Counties Visited Map

This site allows for easier account creation and their maps show a basic highway grid to make entering easier. There are fewer users, so you will have less of a chance to compare your totals to others, but it will also be easier to look like a top gun (I’m No. 23 on their site right now). They allow you to keep more than one map at a time, so you can track different things. (This might be an easy solution for those with kids or spouses you’re tracking.) I’ve noticed that this site doesn’t have Broomfield County, Colorado, and it still has Clifton Forge Independent City, Virginia, but since I haven’t been to Broomfield County yet, I haven’t bothered to send them an e-mail. (However, Broomfield is on the itinerary for this year, so they’d better fix it soon!)

So there you are. If you’ve been to Alaska, Georgia, Hawaii, Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, or Virginia, there are special considerations you might want to hear about. Otherwise, you can get started. If you want a paper map of your travels, I guess I could make one for you while I’m at work once you know which counties you’ve visited.

Monday, January 05, 2009

County Summary Map

Remember what I said about being a sassy black best-friend? Well, part of that is that I get to talk about whatever I want to talk about. And what I want to talk about is counties.

Here's a map I made showing the counties (and county equivalents) I've been to. The darker-colored ones are the 104 that were new in 2008.

(Why do I only have Canadian municipalities for Ontario? Because I haven't gotten around to adding the municipalities of the other provinces to my file yet. When I finish this stupid 10,000 record spreadsheet they've got me working on right now, I'll add some more.)

2008 in Review

46 books read for 11,519 pages: The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore; Snakes in Suits by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hare; Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne; Twilight of the Idols/The Anti-Christ by Friedrich Nietzsche, Blandings Castle by P.G. Wodehouse; On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Junie B., First Grader: BOO...and I Mean It! by Barbara Park; I Am America (and So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert; Stage Fright on a Summer Night by Mary Pope Osborne; Maybe Life’s Just Not That Into You by Martha Bolton and Brad Dickson; Faster Than Fast by Irene Trimble; The Age of Turbulence by Alan Greenspan; In the Presence of Mine Enemies by Harry Turtledove; God Wants a Powerful People by Sheri Dew; By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. DuBois; My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas; The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Baseball Economist by J.C. Bradbury; Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie; How to Wash a Cat by Rebecca M. Hale; The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant by Douglass Wallop; These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder; The Copper Scroll by Joel C. Rosenberg; Oral History by James Hoopes; Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton; The First Four Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder; Queen of the Road by Doreen Orion; What’s Math Got to Do With It? by Jo Boaler; E=mc2 by David Bodanis; How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish; The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody by Will Cuppy; Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson and Nancy Fletcher; Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s Magic by Betty MacDonald; Clementine by Sara Pennypacker; Cricket Explained by Robert Eastaway; Nets, Puzzles, and Postmen by Peter M. Higgins; Heidi by Johanna Spyri and Mary Caprio; Death By Chick Lit by Lynn Harris; The Mound Builders by William E. Scheele; Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary; Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary; A Train to Potevka by Mike Ramsdell; The Curse of the Bologna Sandwich by Greg Trine; The Book of Mormon by God.

104 new counties: Monona IA, Burt NE, Thurston NE, Dakota NE, Woodbury IA, Plymouth IA, Sioux IA, Union SD, Lincoln SD, Clay SD, Turner SD, Minnehaha SD, Lyon IA, Rock MN, Nobles MN, Osceola IA, Dickinson IA, Jackson MN, Cottonwood MN, Murray MN, Redwood MN, Lyon MN, Lincoln MN, Pipestone MN, Moody SD, Brookings SD, Kingsbury SD, Miner SD, Lake SD, McCook SD, Hanson SD, Davison SD, Hutchinson SD, Douglas SD, Charles Mix SD, Bon Homme SD, Yankton SD, Cedar NE, Knox NE, Pierce NE, Wayne NE, Dixon NE, Cuming NE, Stanton NE, Madison NE, Platte NE, Polk NE, Butler NE, Colfax NE, Dodge NE, Taney MO, Boone AR, Marion AR, Ozark MO, Baxter AR, Fulton AR, Howell MO, Oregon MO, Shannon MO, Kingman KS, Harper KS, Barber KS, Pratt KS, Kiowa KS, Comanche KS, Clark KS, Harper OK, Beaver OK, Ellis OK, Woodward OK, Dewey OK, Roger Mills OK, Blaine OK, Major OK, Alfalfa OK, Woods OK, Grant OK, Garfield OK, Kingfisher OK, Grady OK, McClain OK, Cleveland OK, Pottawatomie OK, Seminole OK, Lincoln OK, Okfuskee OK, Okmulgee OK, McIntosh OK, Hughes OK, Pittsburg OK, Muskogee OK, Wagoner OK, Tulsa OK, Osage OK, Pawnee OK, Creek OK, Washington OK, Rogers OK, Nowata OK, Craig OK, Montgomery KS, Labette KS, Neosho KS, Wilson KS.

1 additional state completed: Missouri and its 114 counties (and one independent city).

1 new state: South Dakota.

1 new child (that I know of!): Baby X.

1 new degree earned: bachelors of science.

1 new state capitol visited: Oklahoma.

1 new temple visited: Oklahoma City.

3 medals won (sort of): one from my half-marathon in April, and then two from my marathon in October. They mailed one to me, then a week later mailed another one. Persephone thinks I should mail the extra one back, in case they still need it.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Your New Best Friend

That's right, fools! The new year has brought some minor changes to A Random Stranger that we'll pretend are major changes so I can feel like I'm doing something meaningful with my life. One of them is my self-declaration of best-friend status. Just be a man and suck it up, because there's nothing you can do about it. We're best friends now. Deal with it.

Now, many of you might be saying, "Does that mean I can walk all over you like I do to my real-life friends?" And the answer is, sadly, no. Don't think of me as a regular friend; think of me as some super-duper sassy black girlfriend, who will tell you, "Honey, you are way too fat to be wearing those jeans!" and say it in such a way that you don't think, "Did she just call me fat?" but instead think, "Oh, I know! I'll go change right now!"

Now that you're thinking about me like I'm a black lady, it's important to remember that I am not, in fact, a lady. Rest assured, people, I'm all man.

While it's important to think of me as your best friend, it's also important to remember that this is going to be the best year of my life and I will not let you people stand in the way of that. I'm going to be such a good best friend you're going to want to puke, but I also will be ruthless when necessary and will not think twice about taking any one of you out at the knees. Don't get in my way. This is your only warning.

But hey, enough with warnings of vengeful reprisals. On with the best-friendship, that's what I say!