Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's the Arts

A friend asked why I was spending all my time indoors on such a nice day,
volunteering my time at a non-profit and then, more selfishly, in local museums,
to which I replied:

The worst that mankind
can do through politics and wars,
can be assuaged, at least temporarily,
by the uplifting arts,
of which man is, otherwise, if not equally, capable.
Feel free to quote me. ;)

Friday, April 8, 2011

Drive or use the phone? Make up your mind!!!

A few years ago, I was driving in the Blue Ridge Mountains between Virginia and North Carolina with a U-haul trailer. The speed limit is 70, but most people go 80, and cops are few and far between rest stops, which are also few and far between. As the U-haul was full, I was driving around 65 mph on a flat area (BTW, did you know that you're not supposed to drive faster than 55 with a trailer? Not that anybody drives that slowly; I'm just saying), when the road curved a bit. Just then, in my side view mirror (my rear view mirror was blocked by the trailer), I noticed an old station wagon (yes, they're still around!) less than one car length from the back of my trailer! That sounds bad, right? You're probably thinking, "Well, the traffic must have been congested for him to be tail-gating like that, right?" WRONG! This was broad daylight, on a clear, beautiful, summer day, and the particular stretch we were on was FOUR LANES WIDE (with virtually no traffic, EVER, don't ask me why!) with NO vehicles ahead, behind, or on any of other lanes (we were in the far right lane). So, why was this moron tail-gating me? I have no idea, but I slowed down to 65, hoping he would get the hint. No?
How about 60? Uh-uh.
55? Nope.
50? Nada.
45? Zip.
35? Still behind me.
25? Stuck like glue.
10? Oh! NOW he gets the message, and passes me as nonchalantly as if we were both driving horse and buggies. I waited until he was well out of sight before I resumed speed.

I have no idea why he felt it necessary to tailgate the one driver in, probably, a five mile radius! He wasn't on a cell phone, which causes most drivers to be magnetically attracted to the nearest moving object, even if that car ends up in an accident! Don't believe me? Once, on a Wash DC Metro, a guy with his ear permanently attached to his cell phone, followed me into the train and stayed on my heels every minute until we got off. Only then did he exclaim, "Oh, crap! I missed my stop!" He had missed it by 10 stops a half-hour before, all because he was distracted by his cell phone. If it affects WALKERS that way, I dread to think how it affects drivers (n.b., of the four accidents I've witnessed in the past few years, one was due to a drunk, the other three were due to inattention by cell phone use. Can we add a Constitutional Amendment for Cell Phone Driving Prohibition? Nah! we'd only get bootleg cell phone drivers!) ;)

P.S. Did you know that cell phone drivers use only half their bran? ;)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Bad, The Worse, and The Worser

Had a bad, half-hour, phone interview on Friday afternoon.

I've been out of work for 3 years, now,
and was grateful to get any kind of interview.
But, this one was just plain ugly.

The manager was an Asian-Indian whose accent
was slightly above barely discernable.
I had foreseen such, given his Hindi (?) name,
but, had hoped for otherwise.

In the first 15 minutes, he asked me to rate myself
on various technologies for the computer programming position.
Afterwards, he said I was the most honest (earnest? . . . couldn't tell) interviewee
he has ever had. He meant it as a compliment.
I'm guessing that everyone else he has interviewed said "I'm a '10' in everything."

So far, so good.

The next 15 minutes got worse.
He asked me minor, technical questions,
despite the fact that I had to pass an online series of tests in those technologies,
which I did, with about a 75% rating (as I said, I've been out of work for 3 years,
so cut me some slack, okay?).
He then asked me a relatively simple programming question,
which, at least, as far as he was concerned, I got wrong.
I tried to explain to him that the results depended on a number of factors,
but he was going by the book (a book written in the 1980s, FWIW).
He abruptly stopped the interview
(again, even though I had answered all the other questions well,
and I even anticipated, aloud, half the programming question,
which he said was impressive, until I pointed out that I recognized the example
from the aforementioned book, which may have embarrassed him),
and that was that.

Ya know, I honestly don't mind being rejected for a job
- - heck, it has happened so many times, I'm quite numb to it - -
but, to be rejected for something I know was right
(and proved it - - to myself - - by running it on my computer)
is just galling. On the other hand, would I really want to work for someone
who won't see the other person's point-of-view,
especially after that person proved himself capable?
And, even if he accepted my explanation,
I know he wouldn't have hired me,
because no boss likes to hire people smarter than themselves.

Sour grapes or being practical?
It doesn't really matter, does it?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Beautiful Mind

Earlier Friday evening, I went to Blockbuster Express to see what I could get for my free rental ("like" their Facebook page or sign-up on their website for a freebie). All they had was ultra-violent or ultra-kiddie or ultra-inane movies (some spanning all 3 "genres"!). 
But one movie stood out.
‎"A Beautiful Mind" (2001), starring Russell Crowe.

It is the true story of a Princeton mathematics student, John Nash, in the 1940s, who suffers from severe schizophrenia and delusions, and, eventually, overcomes his psychological difficulties, at least, to a degree, to become a professor at Princeton, and win a shared Nobel Prize for economics in 1994 (n.b., as of the date of this blog, he is still living in Princeton).

Near the end of the film, I had a bit of a revelation. I recalled a physics professor from my alma mater (Oswego State, NY, class of 1979) who dressed in winter clothing - - including the seemingly ubiquitous apparel for people deemed strange: the hunter's hat with attached ear flaps - - even at the height of spring semester warmth. He walked around campus carrying a cardboard box, containing odds and ends, hastily, if not haphazardly, tossed in. Understandably, everyone thought he was, for lack of a better word, "off".

Students repeated a story started by who-knows-who, that he had worked in a nuclear facility, and that he had been exposed to radiation, and was afraid that students might become radiated, so he kept his distance and to himself. Neither I nor anybody I knew, at the time, had the guts to ask him about it. He never allowed anyone closer than a few feet to him, and never shook anyones' hand, and I never saw him speak to anyone outside the classroom, so, perhaps, there was truth to the gossip.

He taught a freshman-level, "cake", course called "Light and Color", although the word "taught" is something of a stretch, in this case, because all he did in the first class was tell us to buy copies of his "book" (each was about 100 sheets of typewritten notes with diagrams) from the school store, and then he handed out a daunting-looking, 25-page, take-home, final exam, of which he encouraged us to simply copy the answers directly from his book, and that he would be available in the classroom (a small physics lab which he kept dark all the time) to answer any questions. The only rule for the answers was that they must be in complete English sentences, printed or typed, with accompanying diagrams, if applicable; the blank backs of the test as well as additional sheets of paper could be used for extra space, as long as the answer was clearly identified. The completed exam was to be put in a small cardboard box outside the classroom at any time throughout the semester.

There were a few errors in the book, and even a few omissions (i.e., questions on the exam of which the answers were nowhere to be found in his book, and a couple of questions couldn't even be answered from any book in the school library, if the student was so disposed), so it was necessary to see him on occasion, although those few questions, compared to the whole of the exam, were, for all intents and purposes, superfluous, if not totally meaningless, grade-wise. Even then, I wondered if he had those errors purposely put in to see if students bothered reading and understanding the material, and not merely copy from it. And, yes, I did go to the professor for some questions I could not figure out, and one paragraph in his book that I could not figure out. During those very few times, when I asked him a question, he wouldn't look me, but I could see a glint or spark of light in his eyes, and he would give me a short-and-simple response, and the spark would vanish. But, when I pressed him on one particular question, a very tiny smile appeared on his face, and he started to ask me questions, which, not being a physics student, I could barely understand, much less answer.

Since my life, at least to a degree, as a sometime, if not ersatz, artist, photographer, writer, reader, revolves around light and color - - even to the extent of being the eyes for the blind and disabled through my volunteer readings for a local radio station - - I wonder if this professor, whose name I have long since forgotten, had "A Beautiful Mind", and whether I misjudged him, as others have misjudged professor John Nash.

I am grateful that, even at this late age, I have learned something of a lesson in humanity, if not in the humanities, that people, like a book, truly, should not be judged by their cover, and that I shall strive to be more tolerant of those who may be deemed "strange" either by myself or society. In this, I include my father, a once brilliant man, who is suffering from Alzheimer's and slowly wastes away. And, I even include friends, whose quirks, until now, I may have passed off as mere personality traits, but who may see a brighter light than I will ever know.