Tuesday, May 30, 2006

So tired

I left Kalamazoo at about 3:30 PM CDT, and it is now 12:38 AM. This trip went a bit smoother, I think, simply because I have this down now. Also, I did not encounter the congestion I did when I drove north through Nashville Friday evening. Also, I am pleased to note that the A/C drops my mileage by less than one mile per gallon, which is good because I had it on "ARCTIC" until the sun went down.

$2.71 at Meijers on Westnedge
$2.61 at some gas station in old Louisville
$2.50 at Kangaroo gas station here in Murfreesboro

That Kangaroo station must purchase only gasoline that "fell off the truck".

The little bit of Louisville I saw is indeed pretty; aside from the rough neighborhoods I travelled through, I saw a lot of beautiful, older brick buildings. I sort of wish more of Nashville looked like that; of course, it's so big that I could have just missed those parts.

My spawn is obstreperous as usual. At least: one month's absence did not erase her memory of me. She has a summer cold, and the drugstore had no pseudoephedrine in syrup form, so I got to cajole two half-doses of Theraflu down her, one at eleven PM and one at two AM.

My car is stuffed with my junk. Sadly, some bits I could want are not in there, but overall it was a productive trip. In every other wise, Kalamazoo was rather completely stressful.

And HOT. It was hotter in Kalamazoo than in Nashville; what the heck...?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

My Douglas MacArthur moment

I have returned. I have been here one hour. It is now 3:54 AM EST.

Can I call 'em, or what?

Little Poopsie needs her sleep, so I will let her see me tomorrow. Besides, she is usually a little cranky at night.

On the way back, as on the way there (it seems ages ago) night fell just as I was exiting Louisville, Kentucky (which I still think is pretty, and the Ohio is a very large river). Frankly, driving through a dark Indiana is not that much different than driving through it in daylight.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bringing it all back home

Yes, I will be leaving work tomorrow and driving straight up to Kalamazoo to collect all my junk. Sharp kitchen knives, clothes, car title (I need it to register my car in Tennessee), plus, oh, I don't know, my COMPUTER MONITOR, KEYBOARD, MOUSE, you know: general stuff. If I leave Tennessee at 5:00 PM CST (6:00 PM EST), driving 531 miles to Kalamazoo (assuming nothing explodes this time) at an average of 60 m.p.h. is, uh, nine hours, so 3:00 AM.


Yesterday the class had a gang shadow. This refers to doing one-on-one listening sessions with our future teammates while they take, and hopefully resolve, calls. Some people had horror stories about techs with attitude, chewing gum (loudly) or reading stories while talking to the customer. I had three good techs; one was from Minnesota and was happy to work our queue, because he had a chance to really talk to people and help them. One was a former hardware guy who was much less polished, but quite competent. One was a short-timer who had a bit of a wonky customer manner, but seemed okay. (He had all non-technical calls, so I was not able to really judge his technical savvy.) Again, I am a bit nervous, but I do feel pretty confident. My biggest worry is suffering from stage fright during my first calls under a supervisor's eyes.

I am almost at the end of the third week. When I started this I thought four weeks seemed so long, and I had no idea if I would make it to the end without the car blowing up, or starving, or what have you. I am pretty thrilled to have made it so far and only pray I continue to have the opportunity to see this through.

I got my new ATM card in the mail today, which is also thrilling. Now I must run back to the apartment to get the PIN to see if it works.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Onion overtaken

The Onion is being overtaken by the real news. Hardee's has introduced (this is its real name) the Monster Thickburger: two-thirds of a pound of beef, three slices of cheese, four of bacon, mayo and a buttered, toasted bun. 1,420 Calories.

I'm hungry.

The quote:
Health-safety activist Michael Jacobson denounced the new [burger].

"They would argue they are just giving people what they want. I would say this is beyond the pale," said Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Probably no nutritionist ever imagined that a product like this would be marketed."

All we need are Tycho and Gabe arguing over the burger: "There's no way you can handle that much nougat, let alone the flowing caramel. Hand over that Snickers®!" "You'd have to kill me first."

Really, do all nutritionists lack imagination? I guess they do. Creme brulée, Babe Ruth, sausage gravy, Diamond Jim Brady and Gorgonzola-smothered chicken have left them completely unprepared for this fresh assault.

In other news, the Captain and Tennille are, I fervently hope, going to end up in jail. Probation violations are like that. And dealing out of the apartment to crowds of the young and stupid. Not to mention messing with the A/C controls. That right there will cost them heavily.

Tennessee v. Michigan

Churches: Lots and lots. The little ones look like big churches. The big ones look like big cathedrals, warehouses or the Pentagon. Which reminds me, I wanted to look up exactly what a Primitive Baptist is after I saw one of their church signs.

Automotive: Nissan v. Ford/GMC. On the road, people use short beeps instead of long honks. Slow cars (like mine when my transmission acts up) are tolerated. Sometimes, I thought the police were preparing to pull me over when I was only trailing some private citizen who was simply following instead of zooming around me.

Weather: Well, Kalamazoo has a Patchy Frost weather advisory for Monday; Murfreesboro does not, heh heh. The sun down here is intense, though we have not seen much of it lately; the cloud cover and rain have been near constant for about two weeks. I thought I saw a lot of people carrying umbrellas when I came down here, and I note now that Nashville gets about fifty inches mean annual precipitation compared to Kalamazoo's thirty-five. Mean annual air temperature is fifty-seven here compared to thirty-seven back home.

Power: The microwave has the current time on it and had it when I moved in. I am pretty sure no one in the apartment besides myself could care or know about adjusting the time. Ergo, the power in Tennessee rarely browns out.

Let me state that again. The electricity in Tennessee has never browned out while I have been here. No dimmings as if the Atlas that holds up the grid just shifted the weight on his shoulders. No substation switchings that blank everything and cause thousands of generators to cough to life. None of that. Power generation and usage in Tennessee and Michigan are quite different. Through the 1990s, power useage in Michigan was steady at 98 Mwh (million watthours) while Tennessee's grew from 76 to 93 Mwh.

The most interesting thing about Tennessee is that nuclear power provides twice the watthours as in Michigan. 74.6% of power in Michigan is fossil fuel-based compared to only 60% in Tennessee. In fact, hydroelectric and nuclear showed growth in TN (after the nationwide post-Three Mile Island stagnation), while the only move in Michigan was to increase the capacity share of natural gas. Obviously, Michigan's hydro power potential is limited but that is all the more reason to strengthen the atomic sector.

Yes, the Tennessee Valley Authority is supposedly "Socialism done right." But note that TVA, though government-owned, has been self-financing since it expanded into non-hydro in 1959 and has several times heavily slashed its employment rolls to hold costs down, very unlike a government or union monopoly. Until Robert A. Heinlein's Shipstones (nearly perfect batteries, available in almost any size, in his sci-fi novel Friday) become a reality and you buy your power off a delivery truck that replaces the Shipstone in your basement just as the coal and fuel oil companies resupplied your coal and oil, power must always be distributed over wires: those wires are the prime sticking point between public and private.

Thus, some company will always have power access to your street and home. The only question is, how do we assign which territory to which power company? With TVA, the decision was made to assign territory using the "facts on the ground": the Appalachians and the Tennessee Valley were used to define a territory and a company was formed by government, rather than by private interests, to gain and apply the Federal power over navigable rivers. TVA pays tax equivalents and issues bonds instead of stock to finance new growth. The company may hire and fire as any private company might, protected by the Right to Work law in Tennessee. Interestingly, though the board of directors is listed at their website, how those directors are appointed is not.

I do not think these are the reasons for TVA's success: I have no doubt that it would be less profitable without atomic power and that a significant revenue decline would deteriorate the grid. If anything, TVA is successful because it is successful: its prestige as a well-run, public-spirited, nominally Socialist (but positively free enterprise) entity allows it to split the anti-nuke and anti-capitalist activists and install cheap, reliable atomic generators which feed its prestige even more.

Home repair

Uh… Bob Dylan has an XM radio show, "Theme Time Radio Hour". Now, now I have a reason to subscribe to XM radio. Well, not really. Money is still tight. But I have to listen to Bob play "Momma Said Knock You Out" for Mother's Day:

Don't call it a comeback, he been here for years, rocking his peers, putting 'em in fear, making tears rain down like a monsoon, explosions overpowerin', over the competition LL Cool J is towering. LL Cool J — stands for Ladies Love Cool J.

But someday.

It just gets more and more exciting, no?

Still no ATM card, but I decided to celebrate my first paycheck by… cleaning the bathroom. Sponge, brush and Comet. I still think Comet is the cleaning product of the millennium. Everything else takes too long and leaves dirt behind. The bathroom was none too clean when I moved in, and I have not helped things, what with the ring I left in the tub when I took my first bath in weeks and the ring I left in the sink when I washed my hands after repairing my front brakes. The toilet is white again. I also had to remove a plug of… uh, something that clogged the throat of the drain, which was about as nasty as you are imagining, or remembering, right now. Perhaps the last occupant washed his or her hair in the sink.

And then I had to fix the drain plug lever, adjusting the ball and lever position and adding an O-ring to the screw cap so the threads would not bottom out before the ball was properly compressed.

And then I had to buy an aerator for the faucet. Why is it that about the first thing I do anywhere new is install or fix faucet aerators? I mean besides not wanting the faucet to splash water all over the crotch of my trousers, or waiting five minutes for a cup to fill so I can rinse and spit after brushing my teeth. What do people do with aerators? Are they unaware that they can be cleaned? Do they steal them for use in meth labs? Should aerators join pseudoephedrine behind the pharmacy counter at Wal-Mart, available only with picture ID, thumbprint and record checks?

One thing I have noticed about these kids (aside from the fact that the Captain and Tennille are definitely dealing) is that they know how to fix, clean or operate nothing more complex than a microwave. Setting the air conditioning at 60°, so constantly running, will freeze the heat exchanger and leave us to steam in an 80° apartment? You don't say! Putting a pan on the oven rack below a frozen pizza will keep the fire alarm from going off? You're kidding!

Baptist Keith believes in global warming. I know the leftists are promoting this pathetic "idea" (the successor plague to the population bomb, dioxin, DDT, tobacco, alcohol, nuclear winter, Alar and anti-communism) but this is actually encouraging. The far ends of the spectrum, left and right, even when advocating the same end, do so with such violently different motives that the meeting is usually utterly destructive. It will be tough to keep the anti-globalization jihad in formation when the first born-again Christian mounts the Earth First! podium and takes a sideswipe at homosexuality.

Oh, and the real reason not to see The Da Vinci Code.

While spinning around the Web, I noticed that two of the all-time great Star Trek episodes, "Shore Leave" and "Amok Time", were written by Theodore Sturgeon. One of the reasons that ST survived so long as it did in syndication purgatory was that "real" science fiction authors (i.e., writers of published short stories and novels) wrote many of the episodes. The most popular episode of the original series, "The City on the Edge of Forever", is a work by Harlan Ellison, right down to the style of the title. The Next Generation had greater budgets, quality control, and ensemble acting but the secret weapon for TOS was always the scripts.

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Well, my ATM card still has not arrived, but it was not until I started going to the mail box to look for it that I saw the card in it that listed the last names of the current residents for the benefit of the mail carrier. So perhaps the card is back on its way to Kalamazoo, blast it. On the other hand, Pam sent me a can opener to see if they would actually leave anything for me, and they did; I just got it this morning. And I have actually been paid; I have no checks yet, but I have received my direct deposit.

I celebrated by stopping at Wal-Mart; I now have peanut butter and jam to complement the ham sandwiches.

The last couple days have been interesting. I got ten out of ten on my last three tests, and got to stand up and deliver a lecture on RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) to explain to the class why, exactly, it existed. RAID is a bit odd to explain to people without a background in, or familiar with, industrial-scale computing. RAID is neither data backup nor immune to damage; it can improve hard disk performance, reliability or both, but to most people it is expensive and useless: they would be better off with a DVD-RW making regular backups of important data.

Wednesday a quarterly meeting was held; we lowly trainees were allowed to attend. The best thing about these meetings is that, in exchange for looking attentive while someone recites a speech for the nth time, you get free food. I had a Coke, three corn dogs and two or three nacho servings. (You learn to take what you can get.) The speeches were actually not bad, fairly direct and usually humorous; awards were given; a raffle was held; they even had a pie-eating contest. That was when eight or ten people in my class managed to humiliate themselves by having a smoke break before the meeting was actually over and were brought back as a group in front of a woman who is about two or three spots below Michael Dell. That bought us a lecture on when exactly break is and that meetings were not exceptions.

Was I among them? Me? Wander off without permission or notification, on my own head?

Perish the thought.

Thursday morning, our chief trainer noted that Dell had always shipped Intel processors and chipsets (a chipset is the thing that supports the processor by providing the bus, the channels, to speak to the PCI expansion cards, USB, keyboards and mice, RAM memory, and often the integrated hard disk controller). My hand shot up because I had read the news last night that Dell, for the first time, would be offering AMD Opteron processors in the high-end servers. Our chief trainer read us an email by one of the CEOs of Dell, sent just that morning, noting this. The letter closed with a line, after listing all the changes that Dell would be making to restore growth and crush its rivals, that our trainer had forwarded to his colleagues: "Competition in the future will be much tougher—for them." Heh.

Wednesday and Thursday mornings were pretty rough, anyway. The alarm clock speaker sound was cutting in and out, which is usually a problem with the volume control dial, but this was different. (I am terrified of sleeping through the alarm.) Eventually, I took the lid off and discovered that the circuit board was screwed to the clock base and the speaker to the clock lid. Two pillars with springy ends rose up about two inches from the circuit board to carry the current to the speaker; I bent the ends up a bit to ensure a tight connection, which certainly would have worked had I been able to then reassemble it.

See, the buttons on top of the clock had their own pillars, growing down from the top, which were there to translate your finger presses to the switches on the circuit board. Well, it was impossible to do it; I could not get the two halves to mate at all. The first night I had to borrow Keith's phone as an alarm clock (I had lost mine), the second I was up until about quarter to two trying to fix it. (I had found my phone, but it had no alarm capability.)

And fix it I did. It took one stove burner on HIGH, one pair of Vise-Grips, a drywall nail, solder paste, and the disassembly of my one jumper wire for the two alligator clips on either end. (Had I had both jumper wires in my tool box, I could have gone to sleep at 11:30 PM.)

Yeah. Thursday morning I was pretty wrecked.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Last night I made a point of hanging out in the Activity Center until a staff member ran the big popcorn machine. Which is where I am, right now. Heck, a lot of guys in that class are. (In financial straits, not in the apartment's AC.)

Fellow trainee David is a very cool guy. So laconic he speaks with a non-Southern drawl, he walks with a tremendous limp: his knee has lost most of its cartilage from a motorcycle racing accident. I had to go to the bank today during lunch and told him so, which led to a discussion on banks that revealed we customed the same bank. He very nicely agreed to drive me, which was nice because we had an interesting conversation and I did not have to risk running out of gas before I got cash to a gas station on my lunch hour.

His car is a white Grand Marquis. Having been in a couple car accidents (and having twice gone through a windshield), he prefers large cars. So, it was a bit like driving with Dad, except that Dad does not drive like a race car driver. I found it very unusual to be hanging on to the hand straps in a big, paternal car like that. We traded crash stories along the way. One of those times he went through the windshield, a Jeep slammed to a halt in front of his friend's pickup truck. Arm hanging out the passenger window, he bounced off the windshield (putting a hole in it), broke the backglass with his head when another car hit them from behind, then went through the windshield again when the front took another hit, ending up draped all over the Jeep's roll bars.

He has almost no facial scars, for all these accidents; probably the kind of guy who prefers full-face helmets. Obviously, he is my new role model.

David had his own business in St. Joseph, Michigan until Whirlpool let him go. We had a fascinating conversation about that, revealing that any cash transfer of more than $4,999.99 requires days to process. Also, even cashier's checks are subject to holds from certain banks. It must make business tremendously hard for small retailers.

Of course, the necessity of arming yourself to make a deposit at the bank in Benton Harbor/St. Joe probably didn't help. The riots there a couple years ago were sparked when a kid was killed by a policeman's accidental weapon discharge. (True? False? More on that later.) Another kid died while eluding police on a motorcycle. This led to the rule that motorcycle riders would not be chased through St. Joe. This led, in turn, to motorcyclists using St. Joe's Main Street to shake off police at 150 m.p.h.

Well. Bad laws are known as such when they reward criminal acts. Rumor has it that Murfreesboro sheriffs, even Tennessee state police, are corrupt. Confiscating marijuana to sell it in county jail, running over a wife's lover and planting drugs on him, various acts. The Tennessean paper ran a story on state police background checks: an allegedly tremendous number had various convictions for violent crime. One had been allegedly convicted of sex with a fourteen year-old girl. (No word if he was thirty-five or eighteen at the time.) On the other hand, with the law outlawing human judgment, anyone who wishes to use his or her judgment is an outlaw, and it's the criminals complaining loudest about those awful police. So file these under "possible BS people once told me".

I am again ducking the question of why I moved. I am just not up to it today, nor has part of that issue been laid to rest, which makes it impossible to write about unless I give myself hours in this blog to dissect my emotions and then bleed them until no color, no life is in them. I keep this blog to avoid having to maintain a mental mailing list, but it also serves a useful purpose: by grouping everyone I know, I just imagine speaking any given sentence in front of them all. It has a wonderfully concentrating effect on my mind and removes the impossible task of rereading every letter to see who should read that particular letter. Anything better said in private is said, later, in private email. This puts me in complete opposition to the general birth cycle of blogs where kids (and dumb adults):
  1. start a blog,
  2. invite a select circle,
  3. insult and denigrate anyone outside of that circle,
  4. get at loggerheads with a circle member,
  5. get exposed by disgruntled ex-intimate,
  6. close the blog.
In opposition, I am happiest.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Attrition warfare (update)

I found a little more about the attrition rates at Dell's tech support. I spoke to one guy today who had twenty-nine people in his class (XPS Gold, a higher level of tech support than I am in). Five were hired in the first round, after about six months as temps. Two in the second, a couple months later. Two more were let go.

So, seven out of thirty are now "Dell-badged", which gives us 76.8% attrition. Sounds bad, yes?

No, it doesn't. What happened to the other twenty-one people? According the people I talked to, the biggest wasters of new employees are finding other jobs or poor attendance. In class every day, I observe: some of the most talented people are interviewing elsewhere. (Heck, Nissan is paying part-timers over $16 an hour.) Some of the least are just not the people who will make that boring commitment to be at work twenty minutes early every day.

Everyone is very friendly there; I've not seen a lot of cranky people about. (Just one, who is likely to be my boss. Argh.) I am sure it is a high-pressure environment. I am not sure how I feel about that: it will be either a great experience or a horrible one, I'm sure. And who cares? I will last at least six or eight months, and I will be saving a good part of my income, and time will tell after that.


You know, I have no idea what "ETA" means, apart from Estimated Time of Arrival. But I see other bloggers use it, so...

Last night I checked the phone lines and found nothing that could be causing the problem. Either this apartment complex or the phone company has a wiring snafu, which creates a problem, as one roommate thinks he needs to call the apartment managers, and the others think they need to call the phone company. So, again, no phone for a while.

I went to an Episcopal church here in town yesterday. The contrast with Bethel Murfreesboro was pretty extreme. I would rather not badmouth a particular church or congregation in public (or as public as this gets) but I suppose I would rather have my quota of stiff formality in some place other than church. More looking is in order.

I am halfway through Tocqueville's Democracy in America and The Theban Plays of Sophocles.

Because someone asked: to post comments at this blog, just click on a post, go to the end, and click "Post Comment". You get a text editing box to write your comment, and a choice of how to identify yourself. Unless you have your own blog here at blogger.com, go ahead and click "Other". You have the option of entering your name and a personal Web page, but you can enter both, one or none. Click "Publish", and the page should then say, "Your comment is awaiting moderation." Eventually, I get around to approving the comments. This last step allows people to post without having to get their own blogs and keeps out comment spam.

Oh, and I have tried to be discreet in my use of names, so you should be, too. And if my discretion slips, if anyone asks, you never heard of this blog. ;-)

Friday, May 12, 2006

First week done

It is Friday, and I have completed one of the four weeks of training. We had two assessments today: out of ten questions on each, I scored nine and seven. The latter was the Dellserv test, which is to say it is entirely about the Dell software which tracks customers, purchases, systems and incident calls. Much of it involved questions I will have little day-to-day dealings with, and I am practically guaranteed to become much more familiar with Dellserv since I will be using it on a daily basis.

At the end of the four weeks, the final will have fifty questions, and we will have two hours to complete it; I will need to score 70% or more to go on as tech support.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Coffee achiever

I am back in the computer room again tonight to blog and to send my resumé to Nissan. One of the guys at Dell training has a lead on a job there. I admit my ambition had not sought so high when I arrived, but last night I spoke to a guy in the Activity Center who had a part-time job at Nissan (I never asked doing what) that paid $16.35 an hour.

Well. And the full timers make $23 plus. That is indeed tempting, and indeed worth sending in my resumé. Obviously, I would prefer to be IT, even in tech support (which is bottom of the food chain in IT), but I would feel I was spitting in the face of Providence not to at least apply online. (I will also be handing a printed resumé to that guy at work.)

I also told the woman who gave me my phone interview at Dell that I would try to put her in touch with Pfizer's soon-to-be-ex-IT staff. One hand washes the other's back....

Speaking of work, I spoke to one older man in training. He was able to give me the name of a computer shop that probably has used Wyse and DEC VT monitors. He guessed that they would sell one for $15.

Oh, yes.

In other news, I read a Rolling Stone issue at the library. It had a review of Liz Phair's newest, very commercial album, which noted, "Why would the greatest mumbler in recent memory choose to be a mediocre pop singer?" A good question. Tonight, though, I popped in a CD and was suddenly seized with a thought: Liz Phair's next great album would be a duet with The Magnetic Fields.

Think of it:

'Cause I always say I love you when I mean turn out the light,
And I say, let's run away, when I just mean stay the night.
But the words you long to hear, you will never hear from me,
I'll never say, happy anniversary,
Never stay to say, happy anniversary,
So I think I need a new hea-ea-art...

You said you were in love with me.
Both of us know that that's impossible.
And I could make you rue the day,
But I could never make you stay.

Not for all the tea in China,
Not if I could sing like a bird,
Not for all North Carolina,
Not for all my little words.

Oooohh, yessss... someday.

I went to Wal-Mart tonight for some groceries as I needed gas ($2.75 a gallon) and I would rather not go there some other time, wasting more gas. I have been living on ham sandwiches: wheat bread, mayonnaise, ham ($2.30 a pound or something, which, for real ham, is a good price), tomato, lettuce and a little onion. Aside from the mad craving for an odd snack just to shake things up, it seems to keep me going pretty well. Of course, my roommates have no pans or sharp knives (I should be glad they have silverware and plates) so I slice my veggies with my ancient Marine K-bar-style knife. (I had forgotten where it was, and am glad I have it now, as otherwise I would have to use a tiny Victorinox pen knife.) I also got more coffee. This was a bit more involved, as it required a hammer and a screwdriver.

A screwdriver; yes, the screwdriver is necessary because I have no cold chisels here for some damnable reason or other and dulling the K-bar would be disasterous. Yes, I have no can opener. Hold your laughter: the tin can was invented fifty years before the can opener so I am not so unusual. My roommates, I think, have never seen cooking that has not involved a microwave. I think they would be confused if they tried to eat anything out of a can without a pull top. (Even Campbell's soup has fallen prey to the new, godless, and opener-less ways.) I punch out three sides, then use channellock pliers to tear off the new flap and crimp down the rough edges.

coffee == creativity

The downstairs neighbors should be glad the floors are concrete and steel because it takes a while to punch a proper-size hole in a coffee can. With a screwdriver. And I had to do it tonight because I would rather not do it tomorrow morning, late for work, bleary-eyed, and terminally short of caffeine: I'm lucky enough to still have all my fingers as it is.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Car pool lane

I have never understood car pool lanes. You trade lanes few can use for even more hectic lane changing by everyone else. Express lanes would be a better deal, I think, except for one thing: anywhere you put them creates traffic lanes cutting across each other, which is bad news forever. We simply must deal with the fact that cramming people into a city is inherently tougher and slower than letting them scramble back out.

Now that I have indeed woken for three days in a row (including church) using the new alarm clock I may be able to relax enough to go to sleep early enough. Also, I might be able to car pool with two guys from work, which would save us a tremendous amount of money over the next three and a half weeks. Yes, I made fun of car pool lanes just now. So? You speak of the environment. I speak of money.

Monday, May 08, 2006

First day at work

I spent much of last night fretting over my new/used alarm clock. What was not spent worrying over that went into worrying about I-24 and traffic.

And indeed, I was right to have so worried. I made it in on time, of course, but the trip itself... well. I drive from exits 78 to 56; traffic stopped dead at about mile marker 65. The worst, of course, was the drifting, but not stopped, traffic: fast, slow, fast, slow. It is practically designed to trigger my transmission problem, and sure enough, it did. At one point, staying with traffic had me pushing 4500 r.p.m. in second gear (red lines at 6500).

That isn't very fun. I will simply have to leave about twenty minutes earlier, which should push me in front of the great mass of rush hour. (I hope.) The truly odd thing is that the transmission did not drop into limp mode the whole way home.

Work. Well, not work, training. We have three instructors. One is a guy about my age, ex-military, I think, who, if you close your eyes, sounds a lot like Wilford Brimley. Another is an older guy who is quite witty. The third is a younger guy, with Dell only two years, who just started training people a month ago. Which is why we have three instructors, I think: the younger trainer is being trained himself.

We started by talking about ourselves. Several people there were from Michigan. One guy worked for the Whirlpool IT department before being let go, and had 15 people at his own ISP. Now he's down here. I think that after Pfizer's IT department is let go, Dell may have majority ex-Michigan classes. One was downsized from AOL; a lot of the people there were downsized from somewhere, recently or not.

The premier jokester sat down next to me (I swear, not the other way around). We managed to crack each other up over our Coke bottle lids (they were white, black and red. He was black and had the black lid, as he pointed out. Another white guy had the white one. I exclaimed, quietly, "I must be part-Indian! Cool!"). We continued with "A Brief History of Troubleshooting" and finished up with a test. I finished first (way first) and got 103/125, or 85%. No, I couldn't have improved it: I have not been buying new computer equipment for some time and so some questions about WiFi, Bluetooth and Serial ATA are simply beyond me for now.

The Michigan guy was born in Findley, Ohio. We chatted a bit during lunch (I had a whole tiny bag of Doritos and coffee). He was not unhappy to leave Michigan. As he put it, he had to get used to a whole new speech down here: "Hello", "How are you?", "Thank you" and "Have a nice day". I had told everyone about sleeping in my car; he had done the same when he moved to Michigan ten years ago.

I find it hard to believe that this will take four weeks to complete. Of course, I say this now; time will show me how hard it really is, I suppose.

I have a few books I brought with me from Kalamazoo. A few nights ago I finished Conrad's Lord Jim and started on Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, vol. 1. I have had this book for ages, and now I intend to finish it. Part of the reason it is so difficult is that so many of his points (news then, so explained slowly and at length) are old hat now. When he wanders into European government it actually gets much more interesting for me. The amusing thing about DiA is that half the Democrats in America now would choke and gag on de Tocqueville's admiration: the "sacred right of property", the importance of wide-spread democracy and individualism over central control or group or minority rights, the importance of an armed citizenry. He also made an important distinction between centralized government (a near absolute in the early U.S., when the state Legislatures reigned supreme) and centralized administration (practically non-existant). de Tocqueville's observation on how self-reliance is a greater good, and a greater public virtue, than perfect government service would gag and kill a post-Katrina Bush-hater today.

Or the French, for that matter.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Church in holey boots

Luckily, I had black socks. This made the separation of upper and sole in my Doc Martens more or less unnoticeable; my black dress shoes, as so much else, are cooling their heels (heh heh heh) in Kalamazoo. I showered, shaved, dressed nicely, and accompanied Baptist Keith and his friend (in real life, they have the same given name) to the church.

Bethel Murfreesboro is an Every Nation church. EN is an offshoot of the defunct Maranatha Campus Ministries, which, indeed, was accused of cult-like behavior: most of these problems arose from abuse of an idea called discipleship, which is far too involved to explain here. Some interesting points are made at this discussion board. I can only note:
  1. Religious fervor, or, even better, belief itself is often cult-like, as any number of quotes from the New Testament, if not of Christ Himself, may illustrate,
  2. Religion without belief is hollow,
  3. I agree with the poster on the board above who noted that EN is fulfilling a genuine need for fellowship and belief; society is better off reforming the denomination's dysfunction, and
  4. If I want religious authority, I know where to find it.
I really enjoyed the service, actually, which is remarkable given my social discomfort with large groups of new people and my terminal embarrassment at finding my slacker butt in an Evangelical, born-again church. The music was pretty outstanding, and I thought one number was particularly moving. (Though a judicious selection from Bob Dylan's overt, evangelical albums might have added some kick.)

They had about six people doing vocals. You couldn't call it a choir. No, that word evokes Gregorian chant and Protestant hymns; these were modern vocalists, standing in front of a modern band, cordless mikes in hand, laying down modern vocals. It was very pretty, very moving, and the minister, or rather, pastor, made a good sermon.

After, the three of us repaired to a Chinese restaurant for the lunch buffet (they even had sushi). It was only $5.25, and I am very happy about that, as it will be my only restaurant meal from my second day in Nashville until at least the 19th of this month.

(At this point I must note that Internet Explorer crashed and killed a lot of this post, which is annoying, but, oh well.)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Braking training

Today I fixed my brake pads. Being me, I am, of course, incapable of fixing them without in fact creating more worries about how I fixed them.

In this instance, I have these shims on my brake assemblies. The pads line up on each disk, one to a side. Each shim goes on the assembly mount (one at twelve o'clock, one at 8 o'clock) and the ends of the two brake pads ride on them, sliding into and away from the disk.

So. New pads. New shims? Or no shims? I had no shims on the rear pads and one rusted solid and gouged my disk into Replacementland.

I installed the shims. Tomorrow, I will look at them, and take them out, most likely. Then I will drive around a bit and see if I like them like that.

And the next day, I will probably put them back. I am someone's wife, always rearranging my furniture, only I do it with car parts.

I accepted an invitation to go to Baptist Keith's church. (I should note that he actually goes to an interdenominational church.) Actually, I should go home so we can talk about it. He was thinking about accepting the mailman's invitation to his church. Also, I need to impress upon him that my Church background is pretty much vanilla and non-Evangelical.

I used to think I was Congregationalist; this was based on rather hazy memories of the sign in front of the church my family attended. I was rather embarrassed to discover, from my mom, that I was in fact baptized in a Methodist church.

Me: "I'm an Anglophile."
Todd C.: "Please. You don't even belong to the right church!"

Amusing, that after repairing so many Episcopal church organs with Todd, it turns out I am indeed a member of the Anglican's sister church. (And, of course, the Congregationalist church is so English, though Independent, it bleeds pints of bitter. So, nyeh, Todd, wherever you are.)

Oh, and just in case, on the off chance, you understand, that the church Keith takes me to is actually a cult, and someday you see me handing out religious literature and pounding a tambourine in an airport....

Kill me.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Heigh ho, heigh ho...

It's off to the auto parts store I go.

The other day, when I rotated my tires, I became a bit alarmed to see that the front driver's side brake pads were wonky. More exactly, it looks like a chunk of braking material came off the inside pad backing plate. Judging by the rust, this happened a while ago.


Needless to say, this freaks me out, but only a little. I mean, it isn't like the transmission, which has frustrated me thoroughly for two years and may require expensive repairs. Brake pads are easy. I did the rear pads a while ago, the front ones are sufficiently worn that they need to be replaced anyway, and new pads are $19.99 plus tax. Depending on the rest of my chores, I should get it replaced today or tomorrow. I have almost no doubt that car repair in the parking lot is not allowed but little more that I will be done before anyone notices. Hmm. Most of the staff here in this complex are residents. I think early morning would be the best time.

I do not want to drive on I-24 in rush hour with wonky pads. It would be like a death wish.

And if I don't get a phone book soon, I will tear someone's throat out. I mean, come on! A phone book! People pay phone companies to place ads in it! You would think trucks would drive around throwing them at pedestrians and into open car windows year-round!

How terribly apropos

I’ve decided that the title of my blog could apply equally well to this student housing complex. It is like a playground for older teenagers. I've just sat down in the Activity Center, which is equipped with a pool, patio, two gas grills, a gym and this computer room. (Never mind the basketball, volleyball and tennis courts.) I have to enjoy it now, as I am sure that, come the end of July, when my sublet runs out, when everyone's lease runs out or gets renewed and the fresh crop enters, it will be uninhabitable: screaming, drinking, smoking, toking, puking teenyboppers everywhere.

“My gorge rises to think on’t,” said Hamlet.

It comes with everything a young college student needs; I’m sure they even have lawyers on call for the occasional misdemeanor possession charge.

I just did a Google search for “apropos” to see if it needed an acute or a grave, and in the helpful completion bar Internet Explorer throws up (so to speak) I see someone did a search for “collage grove appt”, which is, I think, undergrad for “college grove apt”.

Yes, I will need to thoroughly enjoy this place, this Activity Center, then escape, running and screaming, to Maturityland come August. Oh, and speaking of August...

I spoke to Captain Smack’s girlfriend today. She is nice, a little flighty, but she is only, I think, nineteen years old. She offered me a freezer McMuffin when I left this morning for my photo shoot, which was awful nice of her. I offered up, by way of conversation, that she didn't have to spend all day cooped up in the Captain’s room, as it must get claustrophobic in there after sixteen hours or so. She said she didn't mind, and besides, she had a room herself in the complex, but the girls she roomed with were constant partiers, cramming as many as one hundred people in their apartment and private rooms. And the Captain worked six days a week, I think in construction, she said (a little proud), and she herself was off to job interviews.

I had thought, as I explained to her, that she was in there all day, as I had no way of knowing if they were in or out and, wishing each other luck, I left.

I had spoken to the Captain (sum of conversation: “Hello.” “Hey.” Lucky I spoke first or I would have gotten no words from him at all) once, and had seen the girl more often, usually doing laundry or putting together food in the kitchen. But she, again, was flighty or shy, and, aside from her poking her head out the patio door while I was smoking, which apparently startled her into speaking, we didn't really talk.

After the shoot, I scoured a couple Goodwill stores looking for a single pot and pan. When I got home, the Captain led a party of four guys out of his room. I said I was sorry to have missed the conference, which got some laughs. Then when the girl (haven’t nicknamed her yet, oh wait, yes I have) when Tennille got home she found the room locked.

I had her. She had to talk to me.

As I noted a while ago on this blog, I am suffering from a deficit of human conversation. Lately, cashiers find me unusually chatty. Since most of you know me as a dedicated anchorite, a hermit, I should explain. A person not needing much human contact can miss what little he has more than you think. I have spent my life, all except for the year in my own apartment, cohabitating with family, then roommates. I find I need those other people. I don’t need much: perhaps relating some story or picture I saw on the web can do it, but I need it and miss it.

(Incidentally, no one can find the street address and apartment number I had when I was in that apartment. Even I have no record of it. Coincidence? I think not.)

So, anyway. She needs to speak me. Muahahaha. I have her now in my clutches. She calls the Captain, complains, hangs up. I ask her how her job interviews went. Well, she has a problem. Turns out she was in a car with several other students when it got pulled over and one ounce of marijuana was found. Everyone in the car got charged with felonies but she got a lawyer and had it reduced to misdemeanor possession; she is now serving out her probation. After she is done, the record will be sealed, but for now, “I hate telling them. They’re all happy until they get to that section, and then their faces change, and they talk different to me.”

I understand how she feels.

She can get a warehouse job, but with a misdemeanor she ends up on third shift, which she, like most people, cannot handle. She also ends up there with tweakers, meth or cocaine abusers. She joked to some guy that he looked like he had been up for days.

Turned out he had.

Being a partying, drinking, toking and thoroughly modern girl, tweakers creep Tennille out. Also, you can have any kind of misdemeanor (assault, DUI) and work at a gas station (Mapco is the chain all over Tennessee) unless that misdemeanor is narcotics-related.

Then you’re screwed.

We chatted a bit about the police stop. Aside from bloodshot eyes and speeding (with the accelerator), it was a knock-and-talk operation. She complained that other cops had used the line about going easy if you cooperate and had meant it, but this guy didn’t.

“Wait, how many times have you been pulled over with weed?”

“Oh, like nine times.”

“NINE?! And you got busted once?! As your amateur psychologist, my diagnosis is that you have burned up all your bleeping luck, young lady.”

She laughed and agreed. She admitted to using tears to get cops to let her go. I was very bitter at this, and wished loudly for more female cops. Her dad was upset, too. That she got caught: both her parents toke.

What’s the emoticon for “rolling my eyes”?

The cops turned out in force, bragging about this being the kids’ first arrest, “like a party” she said, with about ten cop cars, taking three and a half hours to interrogate them before placing them under arrest and taking them downtown. Cavity searches for all!

I’m serious. Dumb local kids get nabbed with one ounce of pot and get cavity searches. All of them. Everyone in the car, because they were in the car. Now, if that doesn’t scare kids off drugs, and away from drug users, I don’t know what will. It’s right up there with Chris Rock's Tossed Salad Man.

Oh, but she still smokes. Apparently some nationwide nutrition supplement chain sells a “blood purification product” that, oddly enough, purifies you enough to pass urine tests. She has two months to go. Finally, her boyfriend shows up. His two friends, teasing her, talk about the plain brown wrappers (unmarked cop cars) hovering in the parking lot when they drove up.

“Dude, if anyone knocks, you don't know me. ‘Tennille who?’”

And folks: I knew that guy was Captain Smack. I didn’t smell anything, he didn’t tell me nothing, but I knew. I rule!

Heh. Baptist Keith (no tobacco, no alcohol, no coffee) and Captain Smack (vodka in the fridge, pothead girlfriend if not him as well) each have the rooms farthest from each other. Go figure. Me, I just want company: I know no one here.

Suddenly, I find myself playing social director.

Gah. 1:14 AM. And so to bed.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Say cheese

This morning I got my badge, or rather, I stood for the picture on my badge; I should get it the first day of training, Monday. About twelve people received more info and got their pictures taken. I hope, assuming, of course, that this job works out, to get my various certifications for IT: Microsoft Certified Engineer (MSCE), and perhaps others such as the RHCE, Linux+ and/or A+. Dell has other levels of tech support for people with certs and I hope to qualify for other jobs, as well.

Afterwards, a few of us were chatting in the lobby about the Dell On Call games room: a dark room filled with networked computers loaded with games, especially first-person shooters (Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, &c.). For my breaks, I can choose games or a cigarette.

I think I'll quit smoking.

Meanwhile, a young woman with short brunette hair walked in, wearing a white top and bell-bottoms. She was pretty, but perhaps the most noticeable thing about her was that the fabric was about one step removed from sheer, and, as far as we could tell, she was wearing only a thong. And yes, I looked (discreetly), but mostly I had fun teasing the Georgia boy who had some trouble with the "discreet" part. Honestly, I was wondering more about what her business was that this kind of outfit was considered a "good idea", or even "not remarkable".

I mean, really. It was almost sheer. Like the shirts female, bra-less celebrities wear in front of flash photographers to get their nipples in the tabloids.

I went to Goodwill in Smyrna yesterday and bought a phone, an alarm clock and a French press. The phone ($3) is useless: I thought one of the land lines in the apartment worked but I was wrong. The alarm clock ($4) works fine. The French press ($5) works great. It was so nice to hit the Murfreesboro roads (lots and lots of traffic) with a full dose of caffeine next to my blood cells.

I am lusting after monitors and keyboards, having left mine in Michigan. Nevertheless, I have held off purchasing any before I decided whether or not to come up to Michigan this weekend. Well, I have decided to hold off driving up until after the first few weeks of classes: if I am doing well, I will come up then. Meanwhile, I am looking for a used computer shop that has a DEC VT220 terminal for $5.

Yeah, cheap bastard, I know.

I missed 1 Dell Parkway when the plane roared down the bridge across Murfreesboro Pike and took off directly overhead. I had thought it was a taxiway, not a runway, heh.


Baptist Keith thinks he needs to call the office to get the phone lines fixed. So maybe I will get to use the land line!

The French press (retail $29.95) is, I think, already saving me lots of money on gas station coffee. That's a good thing. Hey, I was down to one cup a day, which for me is almost nothing, but every large cup was $1.20 down the hole, plus tax and gas. I bought a small can of Wal-mart Columbian for $2.16 plus tax. After seven cups or so, I will have amortized the cost of the setup. Of course, having no pans, I microwave the water in my travel mug, then dump it in the press.

Tennessee taxes: the state has an 8.25% sales tax. Many municipalities charge another 1% or so. There is no income tax. Unprepared food is also taxed, but at a lower rate.

The radio today was complaining that Tennessee is facing a budget surplus.

My schedule as a future D.O.C. technician is fluid, but for the training it is strictly 8-5. That means four weeks of fighting traffic on I-24. I am in the wrong place for it: everyone commutes from Murfreesboro. If I was coming down from Nashville, it would be easier, so I think I will look for a place there, once my position is more secure.

Having discovered the "free" computers provided for residents, I have seriously downgraded the KVM (keyboard/video/mouse) search. It can wait, and I can post here. UPS deliveries to apartments are a pain in the butt. And I never thought I would say this, but I am heartily sick of the libraries—or rather, their computer time limits. And of not being able to check anything out.

All these computers have is Internet Explorer and Office 2003. But, that's all the library computers have. No, this will do fine.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sundry others

All right. Because I have a very tiny mind, I forgot that I turned comment verification on AND made it Blogger users only. I have turned those off and turned comment moderation on: from now on, you can post under any name you like, and then when I get on a computer, I will go through them, delete the comment spam and post the real comments. So, don't be surprised if it takes a few days to see your comments.

I paid my first month's rent. I am now down one mind- and spirit-crushing anxiety and only have one or two to go. One thing to worry about is this weekend. Hopefully, I could come up after I get my badge Thursday. On the other hand, I am loth to spend $100 on gas for the round trip before I know I am at this job. Randy, who rented me the room, seems to think on-call tech support is good and steady. He had thought I was in sales, where tenure is much more volatile.

Having had a few days at the new apartment, I've pretty much emptied my car into the room, leaving, of course, much more room in both room and car. I have food in the fridge and a bed with a sheet and my sleeping bag draped over it. I've already made myself useful by thawing the air conditioner and telling Keith Moon to not run the A/C with the door open. (I don't know if he did, actually, but the A/C seems to work fine otherwise.)

Also, I had to tell Keith Moon because I never see the other roommate. I think I'll call him Mr. Smack, because, though I know he has a girlfriend who is usually in there with him, he spends way too much time in there for anyone who isn't coding or doing heroin. I mean, I remember being twenty, but even I took the occasional walk, you know? So: Mr. Moon, Baptist, drummer, closet Donnie Darko fan, and Mr. Smack.

I am now on the lookout for a supercheap monitor and keyboard. Failing that, I will accept a VT220 or the like, heh. I still need a phone, the land-line phone number and sundry other things... oh, an alarm clock. I need to get an alarm clock. Yes.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Could you hold this cup?

"Urine analysis complete," announced the shipboard computer.

Orientation done. Drug test passed. I go in for a badge Thursday. Monday begins a four week training course.


Sorry, that's just my Pre-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, finally letting me go.

I can't believe they asked me about my GED: my non-high school high school diploma. They wanted to know when it was issued. I said, "1987 or 1988, probably."

It'll have to do.

The best part was out-professionalizing the recruiter. I showed up, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at 10 AM today. I stopped and asked a woman where new hires went to report to security.

She was the recruiter, outside on a smoke break.

We had a laugh and I showed her my notes where I had written down "May 1 10 am". She noted that her usual times to run orientation were 9:30 or 1 PM. I said I had no idea how I had gotten it wrong, but agreed to return at one.

Fifteen minutes later, my cell phone buzzed. It was her, asking me to come back. Her usual scheduler was absent and she was working on half a brain that day (I know the feeling). We shared another laugh and I turned the nose around again.

Orientation was surprisingly painless. Many companies test your patience and boredom resistance at the orientation, with evil videos and paperwork. The video was short, filmed there at the Nashville call center, and the paperwork was only mildly evil. I was given to a support technician to watch him do his thing for 30 minutes. The customer service paperwork (all computerized, of course) was quite complex, but with four weeks of training, I should be okay.

I am so tweaked.

I celebrated with... more White Castle. Only five burgers this time. And it wasn't so much celebrating as trying desperately to stop my blood sugar from plummeting. I need to get that ATM card down here: I'm sick of starving myself every Sunday night after drastically underestimating my potential costs. Like Kinkos. I was rather surprised at how quickly twenty cents a minute adds up: all I needed to do was log onto my webmail, download a file and print it out. First I took a card and put two dollars on it. Then I logged into my email and saved the Word file. Then I had to get up and put more money on the card to print it out. There was a line.

Um, it cost more than I thought it would.

Also, I had no coffee this morning. The gas station's small size was $1.20 and I had $1.08 and no more time to search. I swear, by the time orientation and the drug test was done, and I had found a bank to make a withdrawal, I seriously thought I was getting the D.T.s. Either that or, again, the plummeting blood sugar.

Frankly, given all that, I am probably lucky I'm here posting this.

Oh, wait. I *am*. :-D

So, last night I slept on a bed, had a nice talk with Keith (Moon, the drumming Baptist roommate's nom de blog, who is a really nice guy: he's so nice, I feel seriously bad that he can't use my room for his drum kit), and... realized I forgot to pack the alarm clock. Gah. How did I forget that? I am convinced it is still in my car and I am just too dumb to find it. Fortunately, Keith had to pull an all-nighter (exam time) and he very kindly woke me at 8:30 AM.


And when did I start liking pickles on hamburgers? I can narrow it down to two things: how hungry I am when I finally order food, or that Good Eats episode on homemade pickling.

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