Monthly Archives: September 2013

Phone Interview Update

Enough people have asked about my recent phone interview, I figured it might be advantageous to write an update, as well as some background info.

Back in June or so, one of my fencing friends brought to my attention the fact that her employer (a local university library) was going to post a job that she thought I would be especially qualified for. They were looking for a “digital media specialist,” someone to aid the digital and technology programs of the library (like a digital discovery wall and a maker space), provide A/V and computer support, and other things. So a lot of the kind of work I’ve done in the past (I worked as an A/V tech during college, and in a computer lab during grad school). My friend even thought my architecture background may come in handy, in regards to the library’s architectural planning committee. The more I heard, the better it sounded than working retail.

Due to the wonderfully efficient processes of academia, the job listing didn’t get posted until mid-July. I had applied by the end of the month, and basically stopped thinking about it; I have applied to quite a few long-shot jobs over the past year, and have learned it’s best to not get too attached lest I set myself up for disappointment.

Rumor has it there were several hundred applicants for this position. It was kind of a dream job, from my position, but I tired very hard to not get too attached. So I forgot about the job for a bit, and concentrated on not going crazy getting up before dawn to stock shelves. Eventually I got an email asking for a phone interview; apparently I had made it to the top eight!

The interview was only twenty minutes long, and consisted of answering a series of five questions for the four-person search committee. I think it went well, but I was nervous and adrenalized enough that I don’t remember much of what I said; I prefer to have time to thoroughly think through things ahead of time, and of course you can’t get that during an interview. I tried to sound excited, so hopefully I left a good impression. The questions were worded such that it was hard to infer the logic behind them. So I did my best with what I had, and hopefully that will be enough.

There will be one more round, with the final three being called in for on-site interviews. I haven’t heard anything yet about whether I made the cut or not. But I’ve been telling myself that the fact I made it as far as phone interviews, as well as the fact that people who know me well think I’m well-qualified for the job, should bode well.

My fingers are crossed. And if I good news, I will sure to sing it from the metaphorical mountaintops.

Websites I Frequent (Part 2)

I will admit that these [NOUNS] I [VERB] posts originally started as easy filler for the weekends, something that if it gets skipped, it’s no big deal. But I’d like to think that they also provide a small window into my interests and hobbies. And if they destroy your productivity (as they often have mine), well, I regret nothing.

Anyway, here’s Part 2. I’m sure I’m forgetting some websites somewhere.

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Is That Even a Word in English?

Ah the joys of speaking a foreign language.

For those of you who don’t know, in addition to speaking English (duh), I also speak French. In fact, I majored in French back in college (but that’s a different story), spending my junior year in Paris. But I had been learning French long before I went to college; I actually started learning it all the way back in elementary school, when my mom spearheaded a foreign language program at my school. Although I haven’t had to use it in years, I like to think that at my peak ability I was fairly fluent. And yes, I am willing to concede the relative uselessness of a French degree in the American Southwest; I’m qualified to say “Papier ou plastique?” But that’s not the point.

What I find interesting are the more subtle effects that knowing more than one language can have on a person. For instance (and no small source of amusement, I’m sure): pronouncing anglicized French words with anything but a French accent is psychologically painful for me. The reflex is so deeply ingrained that I have to make a conscious effort to keep my “R’s” flat and chop off any diacritics like they’re Marie Antoinette. Even then, I cringe internally: I should know better, and yet I sound like a Totally Witless American Tourist (or TWAT, if you prefer). Of course I cringe when other people deliberately mispronounce things, but that’s a different kind of twitch.

I also more or less lack the ability to pronounce a foreign word, no matter what the source language, with a French accent. Again, I can control this reflex, but it’s hard. It’s like my brain has two tracks: English and French, and everything must go down one or the other. So if it ain’t English, it must be French, right? Eh, not really.

But what’s really funny is when I use a word that I can’t remember which language it came from. This is of course exacerbated by the fact that a lot of English words came from French back in the day (merci, Guillaume le Conquérant). So while there’s a chance that a word may be present in both languages, it’s meaning may be completely different. For instance: my girlfriend and I were having a conversation last night, and I was trying to describe someone’s personality as slightly abrasive, sometimes blunt. But I wanted a word that summed up all those qualities (we’re all about efficiency here at Kart Before the H0rs3 [except when we’re not {like now}]). The word I was coming up with was “brusque,” which I pronounced “broosk.” But as soon as I said it, and felt the tickle of the guttural French “R” at the back of my throat, I had to pause and think. It took me a moment, and then I asked the question in this post’s title. Luckily the answer was a positive one, even if most Americans pronounce it as “brusk.”

And that isn’t the first time that’s happened to me. Part of me is amazed that it still happens so long after my days of regularly using my French. It’s a testament to how deeply ingrained the languages we learn as children can be.

I still won’t pass up an opportunity to poke fun at the French, though.

Advice vs. Programming

While I was at fighter practice last night, I had the interesting opportunity to talk with and give advice to another fighter. Now, part of me was thinking: “What authority do I have to give advice? I’m not a knight.” But I also had a feeling that that part was being more humble than necessary, and the more I thought about it, the more confident I felt. Not to toot my own horn (no sarcasm there; I really don’t like bragging about myself), but I do have quite a bit of martial arts experience. I’ve been doing some sort of martial arts for at least twenty years: Taekwondo for ten, and SCA for about the same. I’ve also taught martial arts professionally; teaching definitely takes a different skill set than practicing, and I’d like to think that I’m pretty good at it.

We talked about a lot of things, mostly about the mental game (à la The Axesperiment), and I may expound upon certain points at length later (how to “unthink” being one of them). But one thing came up towards the end that I thought was important, and that’s about the dangers of well-intentioned advice.

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At about one in the morning last night I rolled over and woke up (probably because my nose was all snotted up from the cold my lovely girlfriend shared with me). I looked at the clock and realized I had forgotten to write a post.


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Nerves of Rust

So I have a phone interview tomorrow. Needless to say, I’m both excited and nervous. A friend tipped me off to this job opportunity, and I’ve apparently made it from a huge pool of a coupe hundred applicants to the top 10 or so candidates.

It’s an interesting situation, one that forces me to really challenge my self image and level of accomplishment. Obviously, if I’ve made it as far as the phone interview stage there must me something there the search committee feels is worthwhile, even if I have trouble seeing it myself.

But as you can probably tell, I’m not the most objective when it comes to self-analysis. So this puts me in an odd place: multiple people think I’m qualified, and I’m worried that I’m not.

Compounding the stress is the fact that this is a really awesome opportunity, one that would let me use my diverse range of skills, to say nothing of the fact that I’d be making more than I’ve ever made before. And of course, it would let me get out of the soul-sucking hole of retail employment that I’ve been stuck in since I finished grad school.

But like a shelter animal, I’m overly wary. I’ve been excited about job opportunities before, just to have them fall through (or not pan out). I often get so excited and attached (to the point of fantasizing about being able to give my two-week notice) that I’m absolutely devastated when nothing happens. Usually this has the consequence of driving me directly into a Funk. It’s like you’re treading water, barely able to keep your head afloat, when you spy a life preserver. You swim over to it, using precious amounts of energy, only to have it snatched away at the last second. If you believed in that sort of thing, you’d be convinced the universe was laughing at you.

So am I nervous? Of course, understandably so. I’m also cautious, since you have to grow attached to something to feel excited about it. But I am also trying to account for my personal biases; pretty much everyone else thinks I’m awesomely qualified for this position, so maybe my brain is the one that’s wrong. I’m doing my best to prepare, as well: researching the institution and their recent innovations, looking up buzzwords from the application, and overall giving myself enough to to so that I don’t panic. After all, this is only a phone interview. Assuming I make the cut (fingers crossed), there would still be an in-person interview to weather.

Here’s hoping I’ll have good news for you in the near future.

Websites I Frequent (Part 1)

That’s right, everybody: it’s time for the start of another [NOUNS] I [VERB] series! This time, I’ll be talking about websites I frequent, either through daily visits or RSS feeds. Also, rather than doing a separate “Websites I used to frequent” post (or three, in the case of webcomics), I’ve included websites that are a little further of my daily visits these days. Many of these can be considered blogs, but I’ve decided to save single-author blogs for a separate series.

Anyway, on to the content!

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Free time can be a funny thing. No matter how much we have, we are often left wanting more, but when we have too much we run the risk of getting bored.

Earlier this week I quipped on Facebook about finally having enough free time to get bored. The past month has been quite a whirlwind of activity. It seems like I’ve have one thing after another since the second week of August.

First there was the extra-long work week (10 days, with a close/open shift in the middle); my work schedule is such that I don’t really have any consistent days off, (especially not weekends). Then there was my trip to Los Angeles. Then there was Labor Day weekend, of course filled with an SCA event (I did have fun, to tell the truth). Then my mom, who I hadn’t seen for more than a year, flew into town (don’t worry Mom, I enjoyed seeing you). And then it all culminated last weekend with Crown Tournament. Of course, any scrap of free time seemed to be taken up by preparing for events (especially Crown) or people being in/out of town.

But by this week I was finally in the clear. There were no big events on the horizon (not for a few months, at least), and there was nothing else to do besides attend to the small things that piled up during the mad rush. But those could wait. I decided I needed a mental health break.

So Wednesday was my first full day off in what seemed like quite a while. As was fitting, I did a whole lot of nothing (having short work days on Monday and Tuesday also helped). And yes, I did get bored. But it was kind of nice, a change of pace from having to steal moments of relaxation at the expense of productivity. For a while, I reveled in my boredom.

But as the day drew to a close, I started to think about having to go back to work, and how I would soon have to take care of things like laundry and dishes. I thought about all the video games I would have liked to try, that would have to wait. Even though I had almost a full day to myself, I wanted more time.

I suppose that’s our lot in life, though, to be dissatisfied with what we have until it’s almost gone. Knowing that doesn’t make it any easier, of course, and the drive to slack off wasn’t enough to keep me from fighter practice (as usual, I knew I would have fun once I got there) or from writing a post (even though I had a buffer). I just lament the fact that there’s more I wanted to do, but am going to have to wait (not that long, probably) to experience. It’s silly.

But so it goes, I guess.

Punching Trees Gives Me Wood: Settling In

Well, it’s been a bit longer than I would have liked since my last installment. I hope I haven’t lost the thread. It may end up being like starting over, but let’s soldier on anyway.  I’d like to have this series go up at least once a week, but I promise nothing.

You have survived your first night in this strange land, but you still have no idea where you are. You are surrounded by hills, but they are nowhere near undulating. Rather, they seem terraced, a series of one meter cubes stacked one on top of the other. Even the trees and the leaves are cubic.

You look behind you at your feeble shelter from the night before. In the daylight it looks more like a tomb, enclosing only enough space for you to stand up and move around slightly. You’re sure you can do better.

Looking around, you spy a slightly higher hill to the east. You work your way up to the top, having to hop up from one terrace level to the next. Luckily, this repetitive jumping doesn’t seem to leave you overly tired. Once you reach the summit you find a flat spot with a few trees. Without hesitation you start in on the trees, punching them until logs (one meter cubes, of course) fall into your hands. You clear out the bottom of the trees first, punching straight up from the hollow spot and effectively coring the tree. The leaves stay suspended after the trunk is gone, but quickly begin to fade. Some drop things as they disappear. You end up holding an apple and what appear to be a few saplings.

You get ready to start building house out of your logs when you stop. There must be a better way to use these resources. You close your eyes to think, and can practically see a small grid in front of your eyes. Great, even your imagination has been squared off. But this gives you an idea: you visualize one of your logs on the grid. It changes, breaking into a set of wooded planks. The vision is so strong that you can’t help but reach out your hand to the planks, and when you open your eyes, you are holding them in front of your face.

You don’t know what you just did, but it sure is useful. It looks like your resources will stretch much farther if you craft them, so you go about doing so. Logs quickly become planks, and before too long (the sun is still high, but has started its downward arc) you have created something resembling a house, complete with four walls, a roof, and even a plywood floor. It’s practically cozy.

You have some planks left over, and you can’t help but feel there’s even more you could be creating. You close your eyes again, and the grid returns easily enough. But you notice it’s only got four spots, in a 2 by 2 layout. Maybe that’s what’s limiting you. Is there any way you could expand the grid? You tug on it with your mind, but all you succeed in doing is giving yourself the start of what could be a very bad headache.

On a whim, you visualize four stacks of planks (in one meter cubes, of course) on the grid. Sure enough, this gets you a result: a crafting table! You open your eyes and place it in a corner of your shack. Looking closely, you can see a small grid inlaid on the surface, but this one has nine slots. The possibilities are endless!.

You quickly get to work with this new grid, trying combinations in an almost random fashion. The dirt blocks you have don’t seem to be of any use, but wood is proving to be quite useful. And the more you experiment, the more you come to get a feel for the logic of crafting. Things seem to be roughly visual: you can use the grid to visualize a rough approximation of the object you desire. Sticks are the result of stacking two planks into a stick shape. A door is crafted using six wood plank blocks laid out in the shape of a door.

You can even craft tools. By the time the sun sets, you have managed to craft yourself a wooden sword, pickaxe, shovel, and axe. You are sure your knuckles, square as they may be, will thank you in the long run.

But the moon is rising in the east, and you can already hear the monsters stirring. You pass the night experimenting with more crafting recipes, although it gets hard to see in the dark. You decide: first thing tomorrow, you’re going to go looking for a light.

Post-Crown Thoughts: Conclusion

What started as one recap post finally draws to a close today. I’ve also written about my first and second rounds in Crown, as well as the Warlord tourney the next day.

So what did I learn this past weekend? I didn’t perform as well as I had hoped in Crown, but I think the lessons were well worth the effort.

I learned that I still have trouble getting into the right mindset from a cold start. I got a clear example of the mindset I need to cultivate for fighting, the goal at the end of the Axesperiment. I learned that even if you don’t get the tangible rewards you expected, you can still come out ahead in the end (just not in the way you thought you would). I learned that while it can be intimidating to be noticed by higher-ups, it can be nice to know that you’re on the right path. I learned that the people who tell me I’m a good fighter may actually know what they’re talking about.

So all in all, the weekend was a great experience. I was feeling bummed about my first round performance in Crown, but the more I think about it the less upset I get. As long as I learn something, it wasn’t wasted time. Besides, how can you feel bad losing to someone who has been fighting for longer than you’ve been alive, and is still at it? You’d have to be pretty wily to get that far: age/treachery vs. youth/skill, and all that. I am also glad that I made it back out on Sunday for the Warlord tournament. Given the long stretch of one thing after another it took to get to Crown, I wasn’t sure if I would just need a day off. But my knight suggested I fight in Warlord, and by Jove I’m glad I did.

It’s odd: usually I’m not too keen on fighting in tournaments, let alone winning them. But my experience this past weekend has let me motivated rather than discouraged. I’m even considering driving down to the Crown Tournament in March if I can get the time off work (and my girlfriend will put up with it). Sure, I went out in two, but my second round fight gave me a glimmer of what my future could hold.

So thanks to all the people who made this weekend possible, from my friends who processed with us, to my girlfriend who sacrificed many an hour of downtime to make us both presentable. From my knight who encouraged me to fight, to all the fighters I faced, win or lose. It was a great experience, and one I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Here’s hoping it’s less than four years until I get to do it again.