Another twelve hour shift, another $WHOA thousand pieces of paper printed, another coming back home with my brain slightly tired but my body ready for more and needing to sleep so that I can do it again tomorrow.

Okay, I need to make one point about yesterday first, because this will probably be completely amusing to any snigglers reading out there who know of my horrid mutant power. So I mentioned that I was helping a pleasant young woman gain some confidence in her Excel intuition, and along with showing her how formulas can be copied and pasted and how to add and remove and resize rows and columns, I mentioned that a great tutorial is "Excel for Dummies" if you can get past the demeaning (and truly unfortunate) name.

So in addition to working my mouse-clicking finger to the bone, this was the day that I settled my employment future. I talked to the superboss I mentioned before (who is apparently so highly competent and effective that she only seems like a superboss) and she recommended a phone number for me to call that got bounced around a few times and wound me up with an admin rep on the other end of my cubicle farm. So I went to visit her, and she took down my vitals and said that she'd see what she could do. The next hour or so seemed to involve everyone in the office to some degree, including my great-grandboss who walked me around all the maps in the office until we could find one with fine enough detail to show what census district I lived in for placement purposes.

After all this, and a brief picnic lunch to enjoy some of the sunshine, I came back to my workspace to see a memo with training info for me for next week signed "Deb". And then a voice behind me said "I got it worked out for you," and turned to see the co-worker that I'd been helping with Excel. So in addition to the dumb luck of even getting all this work instead of sitting by the phone waiting for a message that still hasn't been returned, I made myself useful to the most important person in the office without even realizing it. So I was floating for the rest of the shift, even though getting trained this late means replacing someone who bails out, which might not happen and might put me in a position where bailing out might have been the rational choice. The training itself is another week of work and these contacts have strange and wondrous ways of extending my employment and giving me reasons to get dressed and leaving the house. Later, I found the admin rep from earlier and thanked her for her help, and she said "Deb really likes you ... but you know, you shouldn't have called her a dummy." *headdesk*
So shortly after writing yesterday's post, I got an email from my Census boss saying that those of us who didn't get enumerator jobs could maybe do some clerical work this week since it is OMGWTFBBQ week preparing all of the casebooks for everyone who didn't mail in their forms. He gave a phone number which ... didn't get answered by a person and the voicemail was ignored for at least an hour. I then made another one of those bold decisions that I've become capable of, that since I know where my grandboss sits I can go see her even though if I don't know the number of her direct line. The worst that could happen is that I get escorted out by security.

The best that could happen is what did happen. I said "I heard you need help", thinking that she'd tell me when to come back. She brightened and said "let's find you a chair!" and I spent twelve of the next thirteen hours working. And and my chair turned out to be right next to the superboss who was the most capable of being concerned about my falling through the cracks and working to get me into the final round of training next week when all this dust has settled. That's no sure bet, but at least this time I'll know. But at the least, making the decision to seek my fortune instead of waiting by the phone probably made me nearly a thousand dollars in income this week alone. There's probably a moral in there somewhere.

The work itself is routine office work with the printing and the collating and the cross-checking and the metric-keeping. But it's fascinating to be there. First off, during a recession, Census workers turn out to be the cream of the unemployed crop, so everyone is a caterer or a masseuse or a retired businessman with a lifetime of world travel. Plus we all get to comment on how inefficient the work processes we're doing are, and how we'd do things differently to make the work easier for people in the field. And I even get to share my bounty of Excel wisdom with a cow-orker who needed to make a spreadsheet report. So that was my lesson for the day, both in my work and in my work outlook: to find the awesome you've got to penetrate the corporation and meet with the people. They're awesome and smart even if they look neglectful and ill-conceived from a distance.

Also, holy cow I don't know for certain, but I think I printed out and ran my hands over 7000 pieces of paper yesterday. I'm not sure I've ever done that in a month before now. Now I've got to go make lunch and head back so I can collate and punch holes in those papers I think.
It's snowing. Quite a bit, actually. It's what I call "snowglobe snow" (in my personal effort to prove that we've got SO many more terms for snow than the Inuit) with big puffy flakes that are just as willing to move to the side as to drop, and while the sky seems quite full of action it doesn't amount to much on the ground. If it keeps up, it will be more than a trace of snow and we'll be able to move our last measurable snowfall up from February, which would be helpful for our Arctic cred.

In other news, my week of vacation from Census work is at serious risk of growing longer, since they never called to let me know when training for the next phase would begin and it might be that it's happening now. At the same time, they could be really busy figuring out how to assign teams and plan training locations and so they decided to push the training back a few days and they're so darned busy that they don't have time to respond to phone calls from enumerators wondering what's going on. I'm not bugged one way or the other, I just wish I knew which way it was so that I could look for another job if that's necessary and know that I can now schedule things for my evenings and weekends.

In my offtime, my brother pointed me toward the Sphere Online Judge, which seems to have all of the good things about online programming judges that I've seen in the past without quite so much of the annoyingness. As you can see, I have been busy at it. The thing that is quite pleasing to me is that I've gotten this far just in Python, although I think that there is getting to be a backlog of programs that I'm going to have to recode in C to get the speed boost I suspect.

That wasn't precisely a true statement, because a few of the programs have finally pushed me into learning brainfuck. I had been gunshy of it for a while because I had be given to believe that it was an actively hostile language, when in truth it's just very very minimal. But it's been great fun to tackle thorny problems and then wake up in the middle of the night saying "Aha! THAT'S how you write 'if x==58'!" I don't even particularly know if my solution is elegant, but I don't care because it's mine, and it looks like the first rule of coding in brainfuck is that you don't talk about coding in brainfuck.

And now it's stopped snowing.
Barring any surprises, the facility enumerating phase of my Census work ended this afternoon. Then more training next week (with our team being split into as many as twenty-one pieces waaaaah) for the door to door operation. It was a lot of fun, being a beautiful day and kind of a FUBAR dorm to count so we stretched out the schedule to make a few final passes of the floors that we were assigned to maximize our count and put off the inevitable breakup for an extra half hour.

But something happened. Yesterday I went through my floor interviewing the people I could find and leaving forms for the people I couldn't, except there was one woman who I met that was too busy for the interview so I left her the form. So I come around this afternoon to pick up the forms, and hers has a post-it note saying that she's a photography major and would I mind if she took some pictures of me?

And, I, uh, well, huh.

I know my powers of self-image are totally borked, and also that I'm not a horrific looking person especially if I make an effort to clean myself up. I can smile at babies in checkout lines and they smile back, so I'm aware that I'm not a freak. But I never like pictures of me. I don't know if it's the freezing in time or the perspective switch needed to form a two-dimensional image, but I can pretty much count the number of pictures of adult me that I've liked on one finger. In fact, the very reason I don't have a userpic here or on my LJ despite having a digital camera and a USB port is that this process is one of the things that I'm afraid of.

I'm going to sleep on it, but I think I'm going to agree to her proposal. I'm certain to learn something. But I can't stop looking at my bottle of clonazepam and asking WTF is in these pills that I could think of agreeing to model for a woman that I only met for twenty seconds. Strange days indeed.
"Some of you may have had occasion to run into mathematicians and to wonder therefore how they got that way." - Tom Lehrer

I don't know so much about this question, but I got a really stark insight yesterday into how it has transformed me.

I was doing prep work for the enumeration of one of our local college dorms. In a nutshell, it is putting two hundred one-page census forms into an envelope. The form has to have a sticker and a control number written on it, and the envelope has to have its own sticker and the same control number, plus some extra information like details on where and when the respondent should return the form plus some god-awful fourteen digit "for official use only" code that I don't think any officials actually use. (Indeed, I think that I'm the official the code is intended for, and I'd make much better use of it if it had three or four digits.) And all this work has to be double-checked against two other forms to make sure that I'm assigning the proper control number to each student and that I write in the proper RA for each student's envelope. (Yeah, now you wish you had taken the Census test yourselves, amirite?)

And I'm doing this work, and it quickly becomes routine. And I suspect that an average person would put some music on and zone out and through passive consciousness would look up five hours later and see that the job was completed correctly. But my brain only does passive consciousness when driving long distances in nice weather. While doing grunt work, I get hyper-conscious and continually analyze whether it wouldn't be more efficient if this piece of paper was over THERE and whether I should do those two steps in the reverse order. And so I'm done in four hours but ready to publish a time-motion study on this process that, um, only gets done once every ten years. Curses.

And the punchline of the story is that average person made more money than I did because they could charge for their extra hour of work. That's me, always thinkin'.

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Matthew Daly

December 2012

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