Friday, March 31, 2006

A nuisance

Scott just rolled over 10,000 miles in his car. At that moment, a little light appeared on his dashboard. It comes on at all scheduled maintenance intervals, apparently. No problem, they say. The dealership can reset that light for you. Dealerships make a lot of their money on service, and now, it seems, they're trying to make a lot of money resetting little lights.

The 10,000-mile required maintenance consists of changing the oil and rotating the tires. I have done these things myself, already. Even if I did choose to hire somebody for the work, it might not be the dealership.

There's nothing magic about 10,000 miles, anyway. Could I drive another 100 miles without changing the oil? Certainly. In fact, because it was a new car, we changed the oil (again, without help, thanks) at 5000 miles. In a brand-new engine, fine particles can wear off the working surfaces and abrade the engine, so we ignored the manual and we're now off the recommended maintenance schedule. It's not really due for the next oil change for awhile, and we're keeping track of it ourselves.

Fortunately, many people on the car forums out there are just as annoyed by this development. Probably one of them has figured out how to hack these cars to turn the light off, without help from the dealership.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Who's in charge, anyway?

One afternoon at work, two of our admins took on a heap of empty cardboard shipping cartons that had accumulated. One, a petite, slender and young woman, struggled to break down a large box with double-ply cardboard and more than its fair share of heavy duty packing tape.

John, a fairly good-sized technician, saw her struggling with this monster and strode up self-importantly to take care of it for her. As he made equally slow progress through all the reinforcement, Sheila, our other admin, jokingly admonished him, arms akimbo, "John, what made you think we needed a man in here?"

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A phone call

Me: dial number to confirm receipt of credit card.
Too-perky phone voice: Hello, and thank you for calling Large Bank. Please enter your 16 digit number to verify your Large Bank credit card.
Me: 16 digit number.
Too-perky phone voice: While we confirm your credit card for you, please take a moment to consider Large Bank's credit reporting service, something Large Bank would gladly offer its valued customers for free, if it actually valued them. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, only one dollar for the first month, after which we presume you will forget that you pressed the damn button just to get this over with. If you would like Large Bank to attempt to separate you from even more of your hard-earned money than we already do, press one now. [90 seconds have elapsed in the course of describing this offer, and there's no option to press for "absolutely not!"].
Me: [deafening silence].
Too-perky phone voice: We URGE you to consider, blah, blah, increase in identity theft. Blah, blah, blah...pretty please? Are you SURE?
Me: *&%$ this! [I hang up and go complete the transaction online, instead, where at least I don't have to wait through the entire offer to click "no thanks".]

In less time than it would have taken me to finish convincing Perky Phone Voice that I really, really wasn't interested, I walked upstairs, verified the card online, declined two additional offers, and was rewarded with the following message:

"You Didn't Enroll in the Cardholder Security PlanĀ®*. Here is another option that might better suite [sic] your needs."

Sorry, but no thanks, in case you didn't get it the first four times.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

An awkward moment

As far as I know, I am not a scary person. My towering 5'0" frame is accented by a physique that showcases the long hours I have spent honing my powerful sitting muscles, in front of the computer. I balance this grueling regimen with an almost-daily walk and, in fairer weather, an occasional bike ride, giving the overall effect of a mostly sedentary Tyrannosaurus Rex.

I'm basically a quiet, patient, bookish person. People tell me I'm a "good listener". On a bad day, I suppose I might bore a less academically-inclined companion with a too-long, over-enthusiastic exploration of an esoteric subject, or annoy someone with a pedantic insistence on precise adherence to my standards of recycling, dishwasher-loading, or towel folding. Even then, I try to get the hint, if one is given, and rein in such tendencies.

The instructors must have recognized all this when they assigned my lab partner. The class, machine shop for engineering students, aimed to make sure that up-and-coming engineers have some inkling of what was involved in machining a part. This particular exercise began with designing the top end of a mating joint in 2" bar stock, and then swapping drawings with classmates to design a bottom end so that the parts all stacked. It was an exercise in tolerances, drawing and machining, as well as communication.

I summoned my lab partner to the computer lab to work out the details. All I remember of the meeting was his dirty, too-small baseball cap, and him underneath it, trembling in terror. I still don't know if he was that antisocial for everybody, or if he had somehow managed to make it to age 20-something without ever speaking with a woman. Whatever the reason, I completed the project by asking yes-no questions about the shortcomings of his drawing, and doing a lot of the work myself.

I hope for his sake, and the sake of his employers and coworkers, that he got over whatever it was. I wonder where he is now.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Art director for a day

When I was a kid, in late high school, my family went to a camp in the mountains for a week in summer. We went once a year, generally, and had the routine down. It was a family camp, so they had meals planned, tent-cabins already set up, and campfire shows.

They had a pottery area, and my mom had a fair amount of ceramics experience, so she would go down and throw pots on the wheels. Nobody else there, often including the art director, had any such skill, so she often ended up giving impromptu pottery lessons to others who happened by.

One year, she wanted to paint a bunch of bear-themed t-shirts for our family and some friends we knew from that camp. She wanted them tie-dyed to go with her themes. Mine needed a blue background with a yellow spotlight, which later painted a dancing bear into. My dad, who liked nature hikes, would get a bear climbing a hill, so the tie-dye for his shirt was a diagonal brown-and-green patch (hill) below a blue patch (sky). With plastic bags and a lot of time, I managed to keep the blue out of the yellow, and so on.

That year, the camp's art director set up the dye tubs and took the day off. I spent most of the day around there, wearing my mom's pottery apron and working on these special-order dye jobs. I looked about the same age as the college-aged art director, and official, in my apron, so everybody assumed that I was in charge and asked me what to do. The first one caught me off-guard, but by the second or third, I just took it in stride and explained it to each new camper who wandered up. I wonder how many thought I was on the staff.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

How not to interview for a job

For a time, part of my job was to interview the occasional applicant at the small company where I worked. Many of them assured us verbally that they had loads of experience using our preferred software, but did all sorts of bizarre things when asked to perform a routine task with it.

The worst candidate I interviewed never made it as far as the software test. He sat down across the table from me and droned unenthusiastically about what should have been an interesting, engaging project. The real killer was when he got out a picture of the product. Ordinarily, I would welcome a look at somebody's portfolio, but this guy placed his briefcase on the table between us to get it out. I spent the rest of the interview craning to see around its open lid.

I recommended firmly against hiring him.