best in the world.

Thing 1: This morning, traffic was rotten.
Usually there's a bottleneck where Business 40 begins from the merging of 421 and the cars coming off of I-40. Today, the traffic was backed up a whole exit away from that, which I took as a bad sign. However, it was because of a wreck. None of the lanes were blocked, but there was a rubber-necking delay, as there was a jeep, a sedan, and a cop car in the median. I didn't slow down enough to really assess the situation, but I did see that the license plate of the jeep read "FECK!" I can only assume this is a euphemism for some other word that the DMV won't let you put on your license plate, and I thought it oddly appropriate for this jeep sitting in the median of the highway after being in a wreck. FECK! indeed.

Thing 2: Josh said he could never marry a North Carolina girl.
This is Josh that I work with, not to be confused with any other Josh in my life. Josh is from California, and frankly, I'm not sure what's wrong with him. NC girls are, like, the best, even when they do pepper their sentences with "like." We're so nice, and we talk purty. He seems to think we're unenlightened as a group. Most of the NC girls he knows are from his studies at Wake Forest. He seems to think there is something wrong in general with a group of people who feel no desire to move to another state. I feel this is a recommendation for that state. Anyway, the conversation left me feeling offended and bummed that even someone who has lived here a couple years still thinks we're all backwoods hicks. I'd like to throw some sweet tea at

Thing 3: I discovered findyourspot.com
It's a survey. You take it, and it tells you where to live. It doesn't include every city in the country, but it does include some pretty obscure ones (Boone, for instance). I think they have to achieve some sort of standard to be a recommended city. Winston-Salem does not achieve this standard, as it's not on the list. Anyway, I took the quiz, and my top recommendation was Hickory, NC (about half an hour from where I grew up). I also got recommendations for places like Chattanooga and Tulsa, and a couple of places in South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. Most of my cities were NC cities, clearly because they are the best ever, no matter what those silly boys in California think.


everything i need to know, i learned somewhere other than college.

One of the things that frustrated me as I was looking for a job for after college was the fact that I was about to receive two degrees, and I still didn't seem to know enough. Most of the job listings I found, I didn't meet the qualifications. Though I had a sheet of paper that said I spent four years learning, I apparently didn't learn the right things. There's a reason there aren't any posters that say "Everything I need to learn, I learned in college." (Actually, there probably are those posters, but they all have statements about kegs or going out in public in your pajamas.)

I shouldn't have been upset, as I had been warned. When I was in the eighth grade, my algebra teacher told me that college is only about getting a degree that proves to companies that you can have the ability to learn. He told me you didn't learn anything in college that actually prepares you for a job, that your employer will train you when you get there. I did not believe him. What a ridiculous story! Not learn anything in four whole years? That's craziness.

Okay, so I believe him now.

This isn't such a terrible thing as long as you can find a place that's willing to hire someone straight from school and train them. It's accepted practice. Apparently, it wasn't just me that didn't learn the right things, it was everyone. So that's why I have a job now, and that's why I'm learning a lot of things that were never even mentioned in all those computer science classes I took. My first couple of weeks, the guy who was training me would ask, "So, have you ever worked with this? Yeah, I hadn't either before I came here." That always made me feel better, because he had a Master's Degree, so he went through six years of school not learning anything.

It's not that I thought learning would be over as soon as I finished my last class. I believed in continued learning, but I believed it in that learn-something-new-everyday, cliche kind of way. No, I'm learning whole new languages and programs and processes. And don't even get me started on all the office politics I'm learning about.

It gets worse - I actually have to take tests. My company wants its programmers to be certified in a language I had no exposure to before I came here. I spend my free time reading textbooks and taking notes for the test I have to take. It's like school all over again, except for the minor detail that I get a certificate and a Microsoft pin if I actually pass the test. That never happened in college.

But it's not so bad. I do like computer science, so learning about it is not torture. And the new language is very similar to one that I already know, because I learned it...in college.


the advent of the three things.

I've been struggling to write lately. You've probably noticed. If not, call my mother, and she'll tell you about it. I'm not too worried about it because I'm a strong believer in ebb and flow, so if the writing isn't coming as easily as it once was, someday it'll be easy again. But until then, I must power through, because it is important to me that I keep writing, whether it's easy or not.

And so I announce the advent of Three Things. A guy at work plays this game at the dinner table with his family. Everyone gets three turns to tell something that happened that day. So that's my new game. All I have to do is tell you three things that happened, and I am free to elaborate as much or as little as I want. I may elaborate so much that one of the Things becomes an entry by itself. Or I may not feel like going into detail and a Thing may be just one sentence long. I haven't yet decided if I'm going to limit myself to just Things that happened that specific day, mostly because I write at different times of the day, and if I'm writing in the morning (not at work!), then much may not have happened yet.

I like this idea very much. Not only because it take some pressure off of me to produce a lot of writing, but also because there are often things that I would write about, except I don't really have enough for a whole entry. Now I don't have to. I can tell you about the funny incident, even if it does only take up two sentences.

And since this entry would suck if it stopped here, here are the first Three Things.

Thing 1: I bought Girl Scout cookies from my coworkers.
There were two cookie order forms in the break room last month, and so I ordered a box of cookies from each of the two daughters of two coworkers. This morning, there was a box of Iced Berry Pinatas (with real strawberries) on my desk. I'm expecting a box of Thin Mints (with no strawberries, real or otherwise) as well. I'm very excited about my cookies, despite the fact that I'm a little bitter that I never had parents who would take my various sales to work and peddle for me. But in any case, I ordered cookies partly because buying cookies from a coworker's daughter seemed like an adult thing to do. I am a grown-up, and I have coworkers old enough to have children. Plus, I like cookies.

Thing 2: The guy who sells newspapers at the corner of Stratford Road and the off-ramp of Silas Creek Parkway South wore an umbrella hat this morning.
You know, those little head attachments with mini multi-colored umbrellas on top? Like this. I've seen him wear it before, when it was raining or rain was in the forecast. It wasn't raining this morning, but it had been and the clouds remained dark. Anyway, the umbrella hat makes me like this guy even more and on the mornings when I'm feeling frisky, I wave at him. A couple mornings last week, he wasn't there, and I was getting worried that he might be sick or that he had been fired. But he's back now, and all is right with the world.

Thing 3: I used expensive conditioner this morning.
I bought it last night, because it was on sale. Also because I always wanted to know whether expensive hair products really worked better. Usually I get the dollar or two-dollar brand (which smells nicer than the one-dollar brand). This stuff is the four-dollar brand, very pricey. My hair is awfully soft and nice-smelling this morning, but I don't know about twice as soft and twice as nice-smelling as it usually is. The true test is volume, because I have limp noodle hair (the professionals call it ultra-fine, which, as I was disappointed to find out, is not really a compliment). By the end of the day, I'm sure it will be just as flat as usual, and I'll be able to go back to buying cheap products, confident that the expensive brands are no better.

See? That was easy.


what would bruce do?

We all hate her. Despite the fact that many of us grew up with parents who told us it was not nice to hate, we all hate her without remorse.

Usually computer projects are not referred to with a gender-specific pronoun, except maybe in those languages that assign gender to everything. But we speak English at my company. We call the project a her because the project name is actually a girl's name. So if you happen into our doors to hear us talking disparagingly about Sheila, don't feel bad for the poor girl. If you worked with her, you'd say all those words, too.

Sheila is the name of the company that we are building the project for. Some man probably named it for his wife in a misguided tribute. If it were me, I wouldn't want a company that makes truck parts named after me. Maybe a company that makes really great tea, or vintage tee-shirts, or unique clocks. Truck parts? I'll pass.

In any case, we hate her. We are releasing a new version of Sheila tomorrow, or we are supposed to. The program doesn't work. The install doesn't work. It is all Sheila's fault. So the half a dozen of us who are assigned to her sit at our workstations and plug away and making the stupid hussy work stopping only to call someone else on the team and complain about what a dumb broad Sheila really is. We call her all sorts of names reserved for females, just as if she were some very lazy and uncooperative girl that we all happen to know.

I feel that it is also the fault of the guy who named his company that makes truck parts after his wife. If he had named it after himself or maybe a best friend, we would not be having these problems. These things would never happen to a Bruce. Would a Bruce make everyone beat their heads against their desks? Would Bruce mess up all the other projects when he was installed? No, of course not. Not Bruce. He'd never do something like that.



Mike is training me. He's not in charge of training me, and he doesn't even do the same work that I'm being trained to do. Mike is a tester, and I'm the new Build Master (we considered calling me the Build Mistress, but that sounds like I'm just sleeping with the Build behind the Build's wife's back). I do work with Mike, because when I make a build, it has to be tested, and sometimes Mike is the one that tests it.

So he isn't training me to make builds. He's training me to make builds his way. Mike likes his builds to be burned to a CD. Yesterday, I finished a build for Mike that fixed a couple problems the previous one had. I told him that I finished it, and I put it up on the public company hard drive where he would be able to get it. This morning, Mike came in and asked if I had fixed the problem. I was confused, because I thought I had told him I fixed it. Then he said, "Well, I didn't know if you did, since I didn't get a disc." Ah. Point taken.

Technically, that was my fault. I knew he likes to have a disc. He likes to have them labelled. He likes to follow SOP (standard operating procedures). The first disc I ever made for Mike was sometime last week, and I didn't label it. The guy who is actually training me, the previous Build Master, didn't tell me to. So Mike trotted back to my office and asked me to label it. Mike could have easily labelled the thing himself. He knew what it would say. But I needed to be trained to do it. It's SOP. So I labelled it, and I've labelled the two discs I've given to Mike since then. I even went to the office manager and specifically asked for a Sharpie so that I could label Mike's discs. It's green.

Two days ago, I revised a build for Mike. Builds are supposed to restart the computer when they fiddle with the registry, more as a precaution than anything else. The previous versions of this build did not restart, though they did change the registry. I fixed it so it did restart, because that's SOP. Mike came to my office and asked why this build restarted when the others did not. I told him it was because the build changed the registry, and the others should have done that. Mike said, "Oh, good, so we're going to follow SOP?" It was really hard not to laugh.

I could be irritated. I'm not. I'm the new guy here, and since all this stuff is new to me, I don't mind learning it this way if it's what keeps people happy. Besides, being anal-retentive (or "detail-oriented," as we call it) is what makes a lot of computer scientists good at what they do, even if it sometimes makes them a little obnoxious in social situations. So I'll burn the disc, and I'll label it with my green Sharpie. And I'll follow SOP, but not for Mike. That just makes good sense.


the site of somebody's family dinners.

My kitchen table is old. It's old and dirty and grimy. It wobbles when it stands up at all, which hasn't been very often lately, considering two of the four legs haven't been attached. Somehow when I was living in downtown Boone, one of the legs decided not to hang on to the table anymore. I blame Krystal, mostly because she was the only one who knew it was even broken for months. The leg was just wedged under the table, and somehow it stayed up.

But all that aside, I love that table. It's over 50 years old, one of those kitschy dinette sets everyone used to have. I bought it at a yard sale with six matching chairs for $15. The guy who used to own it said it had been in his grandmother's kitchen since the 50s. And yeah, it showed its age, but, man, that table was cool.

For the entire month that I've lived in Lewisville, my table has been lying on its side against the kitchen wall, as much out of the way as possible. My family tried to get me to throw it out when we were moving it. It's true that it's given me at least $15 worth of service and that it's barely functional. During the move, another leg came loose. But I couldn't bear to let this table go. This table has a history! Family dinners were held there. Not my family, but somebody's family!

I decided to fix it. This was kind of a problem. I couldn't just screw the legs back on because the table top is made of that old table material that you only find anymore in places called Mel's or The Silver Dollar Diner or Eats. The underside was very old corkboard, reduced with age until it looked more like cardboard. The old screwholes were wide and eaten and unusable. What a dilemma.

But I fixed my table last night. I bought some boards at Lowes (actually just one board that the nice man at Lowes cut for me into eight little boards), and then attached the legs to the boards. Then I attached the boards to the table. This engineering idea came from my brother, whose other engineering idea was to throw the stupid thing out. And my table stands again. It wobbles, and it's a lot higher than it used to be, but it stands and it works. In this course of this project, I got some splinters in my fingers, broke a 3/32 drill bit, and almost spoiled a gallon of milk (I forgot to put it away before I left to go buy screws). But I fixed my poor $15 table. And now it's my $20 table when I add the $4 for the boards and the $1 for the screws.

See? The value of this table has gone up already. And you were going to let me throw it out.


i'm here to win.

I was in the math building at 8:30 am on a Saturday to take a math test. Oh, and it was a voluntary math test. I wasn't even getting extra credit in any of my classes like some of the other kids who showed up. Before we started the test, we went around introducing ourselves and telling why we were here. Most were there for the extra credit. A couple, like me, were there more out of curiosity than anything else. Then there was this skinny sophomore kid, who shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm here to win." The other kids looked aghast, and I laughed out loud at his audacity and arrogance, but thought, hey, if he's going to be full of himself, he might as well be honest about it.

The Putnam Math Exam is a Big Deal. Undergraduate students all over the country take it, and basically, if you make a positive score, that's considered really good. You're given a dozen problems and about six hours to work on them. You're not meant to finish them all. The hope is that you'll get far enough along on at least one of them to get partial credit. That's how you get a positive score. Whoever has the highest score is the winner. I don't know what the winner gets, maybe a scholarship to grad school or something like that. I wasn't there to win, so I don't know.

There were maybe a dozen kids there. For the test, they put each of us in a different classroom, and we were allowed to draw all over the chalk boards if that helped us think. I don't like using chalk boards. Give me a good sheet of scratch paper and I'm set. Plus, I ended up having to share a classroom anyway. The other guy in my classroom used the board a little for the morning session. He drew triangles. There was a triangle question on the test, so I assume he was working on that rather than just killing time with three-sided figures.

I was the only senior there. I knew only a couple of the other kids. During the half-hour lunch break, I mostly just listened to the others talk. I could tell that some of them were pretty smart and others not so much. I talked to Adam because he was the only guy I knew well. I like Adam. He has math tattoos. Plus, I think he was the only one besides me there who was of age.

After the morning session, we were all looking a little discouraged. The test is apparently designed to make you feel stupid. Most of us questioned how long we would even stay for the afternoon session - what was the point? Most of us weren't there to win. Adam joked that we should blow off the afternoon session and just walk to Murphy's and have some post-Putnam beers.

The afternoon session was a joke. No one cared anymore about this stupid impossible test. I made myself at least make an attempt on the afternoon questions. There was one that looked doable, at least more doable than the others. The other guy in my classroom gave up after about fifteen minutes. I thought I was getting somewhere on my problem, but then realized a kink. There were always kinks in these questions. I had spent the whole morning session feeling like I was getting somewhere and then finding a tiny kink that made the problem exponentially harder. Once I found the kink in the afternoon problem, I gave up. I didn't care. I wasn't there to win.

Security was much more lax in the afternoon. I peeked in the other classrooms to try to find Adam to see if that post-Putnam beer offer was still good. I found one of the other kids in his room, and they were discussing the problem I had just given up on. This was definitely not allowed, but I joined in since I had already given up. Adam wanted to finish the problem - he thought it looked doable, too. He and the other kid talked about it for a while while I watched. Adam started getting excited. Then I pointed out the kink. I had to explain it twice. Then Adam saw it, too, looked at me, and said, "Let's go to Murphy's." We didn't care. We weren't there to win.


talking about hypercards and the yellow beetle.

Driving back from Mario's, an old yellow Beetle pulled out in front of Rob's black Civic. We all cursed him mildly before returning to talking about hypercards. Actually, Rob talked about hypercards. Dave and I listened because we didn't know what they were. I'm still not sure. As it happened, we ended up behind the yellow Beetle at the next stoplight.

We were still talking about hypercards when we interrupted ourselves to talk about the guy in the yellow Beetle again. He was dancing, and he was doing it like no one was watching. His head was bouncing back and forth and all over the driver seat of that yellow Beetle. Whenever we happened to catch a shot of his profile, we saw him singing, his mouth wide open.

Amused, I started imitating him. I bounced back and forth and all over the passenger seat of that black Civic. I think our dancer saw me in his rearview mirror, because he became even more animated. Apparently he dances even when someone is watching. He began to point back and forth a la Saturday Night Fever. Then he somehow managed to jump while in the car, causing that old yellow Beetle to shake dangerously when he landed. It was awesome. We were fascinated. I wanted to know what he was listening to. Dave wanted to know what he was on. Rob wanted to just follow him around town.

The light changed, and when the yellow Beetle made a right turn, the black Civic kept straight. I wish we had followed him to see where he went and just watch him groove; instead, we went back to talking about hypercards.