Archive for September, 2009

Census Part V: The job

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Being all done with training is somewhat liberating and paradoxically confining at the same time. I get some anxiety when I see paperwork piled up around me, which is why I never hid papers i needed to grade in my bag or a drawer. They always sat in the middle of the floor until I was done with them often causing me to curse them while I played XBOX. The liberating aspect is that I do not have to go to the next town over and sit in the library for 8 hours gaping in amazement as people still don’t understand why we can’t have overtime. It’s also confining because I have these assignments hanging over my head as though I were some Greek king.

35 hours of training and I have three assignments. That’s it, three locations to go to, three locations to conduct an interview that should only last around ten minutes. That would be nice and in a perfect world I would be done already, but I’m not. The unfinished work is the result of the people that I must interview ducking me. Which I don’t understand at all since this is the census and though I am technically a federal agent I’m not in the FBI. Believe me people, when the census is done most people won’t even notice.

The first location I hit couldn’t help me because they are owned by a another place that keeps all the records. This prompted a drive to an address that seemingly did not exist. Further investigation allowed me to discover that it did, just that when I cross the town line the addresses restart for some reason. I’m sure the postal workers just love that. I implored the woman giving me the other address that I wasn’t asking for records I needed to know one thing: how many people could theoritically live at that building. She said that she didn’t feel comfortable even after I told her that her answer, and her identity; would not be revealed and in fact could not under federal law, at least not for close to a century.

The second didn’t work out either because the person I ended up talking to felt that we should make an appointment. This objection actually makes a lot of sense and is something that was brought up quite a few times during the training. I’m not going to houses, I’m going to places that for the most part are businesses: hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, colleges, etc. Any place where a large group of people live and share common facilities i.e. not apartments. The trainers acted like corporate managers who think that people want that bullshit extended warranty. They acted as though people would be happy to talk to the census, dropping everything they were doing for the privilege. This isn’t the case, I pointed this out to them and further pointed out that a couple of the institutions we would be visiting would require an appointment. I was told that would not be the case.

Really? I don’t know about anyone else but unless you have a badge you just can’t walk into a prison and start inquiring about the capacity there. College residence directors have busy schedules, and workers at nursing homes have more things on their plates than what i need from them. I was able to squeeze myself into an interview with a woman this morning who had everything else on her mind. The interview took longer than it should have because I kept having to refocus her attention on it so it could get done.

I wonder when this change occurred in management thinking, that people want to do/buy whatever it is that you want them to? I experience it with so much frequency that it must be a course in business school. Working at Barnes and Noble, and Office Max; they always attempted to reinforce the experience of going to a store and how the people wanted to be members of the book club, or the Max perks, and how they really wanted to buy the MaxAssurance (warranty plan); if that was the case then why did I attend seminar after seminar full of techniques on how to sell this bullshit? Now I see that Best Buy is giving us the delightful privilege of being able to experience purchasing scratch protection on all CD based media, I suppose that is going to sell itself to.

Even though it would be an extra task I would rather have sat down on Monday and made three appointments for Tuesday. Instead of reading this rant you would be reading about how quickly I finished this job.

Categories: daily complaint

Civilization IV: Initial experience

September 29, 2009 Leave a comment

Many years ago I was scouring the internet for some free games to play, primarily looking for “the mother of all games” Scorched Earth. Instead I came across a reverse engineered version of Civilization II. It’s a “God Game” that allows you to build a civilization from the ancient period and raise it to superpower status in the modern and post-modern* eras. The object was to either smash the rest of the civilizations into dust, erasing the very memory of them or to build a large space ship and leave the circles of this world to colonize a new planet.

Two years after that I bought the updated version of the game Civilization III, with all the expansion discs. The main difference between those two games were a complete graphic overhaul, culture specific units and abilities (only Romans could build legions, Vikings Beserkers, etc.), a complicated but realistic trade/espionage system, and several new options for winning that didn’t center around your ability to field tanks against longbow archers. However the game was plagued by systemic corruption that was so endemic it would quickly cripple a civilization’s economy provided the computer wasn’t one of those civilizations.

Now two years after that, I find myself playing Civilization IV. I’m attracted to these games because they are a mix of the strategy of games like Red Alert/Starcraft and the developmental aspects of Sim City. I always felt that Sim City needed more explosions and the Civilization series does a good job in delivering.

IV removes several annoying components from its predecessors first off the corruption is greatly lessened. If you don’t pay attention to it your economy and production will suffer but it’s no longer a question of who exactly is running the cities. This is replaced by a system of maintenance that is a decent combination of individuals and totals. The previous games could be won by employing the “zerg rush,” build one city and then as soon as possible build a settler unit to found another one. The AI did this all the time basically forcing players to set the world as an archipelago so that you would have time before the hordes settled.

That’s nice, but the most drastic change has been the introduction of religion into the game. This has both its ups and downs. I’m not going to get on my atheist high horse and talk about how my perfect utopia would be a world without religion–for the programmer’s sake it’s a game, and the religion aspect is kind of fun. You don’t get to pick your religion so the ones that the game employs are the more popular ones now: Hinduism, Daoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Confucianism. I was disappointed to see that the polytheistic religions of the Greek, Roman, and Norse cultures were left out as well as Manicheanism and even some fictional religions would have been nice like Scientology, or something based on the work of Lovecraft. Adopting a religion adds happiness to your culture with almost no draw back. Choosing the religion works like this, if you are the first culture to discover polytheism you have the option of founding Hinduism, which is then centralized in your capital spreading to nearby cities in your civilization and then you can use it to take over opposing cities by sending missionaries.

The problem with the game’s religions is that not one religion has any advantage or disadvantage over another. I know this was a decision based on the unwillingness of the developers to offend but there was some real opportunity here. Just look at Judaism, the first culture to develop that religion could have a bonus concerning the development of a legal system, or Islam and the spread of literacy, or Christianity and certain cultural developments. So much potential to have fun but alas someone would have been offended despite the historical legitimacy. This is certainly a case where PC should have stayed away from PCs.

The largest game related problem with the religion feature is that in the long run it really doesn’t matter what you do with it. You can let it develop in your culture and then just ignore it. On my third play through I noticed that there wasn’t that much of a difference, although that may be wrong in the light of harder difficulty levels.

Reinstituted from II is the ability of barbarians to conquer cities. In III, they just robbed and could usually be ignored, they can also overrun your area burning everything on the way. This makes them a threat that needs to be dealt with as their technology also increases, something no previous version allowed for.

Also changed is the government forms, replaced with a civics feature. No longer can you rest on Democracy until war is declared causing you to switch to Fascism or Communism. You make subtle changes in the way the culture is run, which adjusts much greater than just who gets representation. This makes your experiences much more varied, although it probably makes a huge difference in harder levels.

In all, the addition of an ingame time clock is a nice reminder that perhaps three hours is a bit long, but you can always just save as soon as the next turn is over.

*Post modern meaning in the near future, not in the academic sense.

Categories: reviews, video game review


September 28, 2009 Leave a comment

Since I moved back to Buffalo from Toledo, many people have remarked on my resemblance to the starting goalie of the hockey team, Ryan Miller. It’s something of a joke because most people think that it’s pretty obvious that I am not him. I don’t think that I look that much like him, but then again I look at my face quite a bit more than most other people so someone less familiar with me than me could make the mistake.

Last night I’m at my friend’s wedding in Buffalo and the best man makes a comment about meeting the groom’s friends for the first time and how one friend looked like Ryan Miller. This caused some of the people at the reception to look around for the guy he was referring to. Once that was over I think everyone pretty much forgot about it. Well almost everyone.

There were a couple of hockey fans in the room asking me why I let in a certain goal last night, myself never having an interest in preseason sports shrugged and reminded them that no games matter until this coming week. They laughed and let it go. Fine, I head to the bar, where a guy gets me a shot because shots are hard to get at an open bar, and begins asking me rather upfront questions regarding myself and my resemblance.

It started innocent enough but then it went kind of downhill. I should mention that the only thing I ever received from this alleged similarity were a couple drinks from people who bothered me and then realized that I wasn’t who they thought I was. I was then asked if I ever got any fellatio from girls because of it. I said no, which is the truth, and he said that he would have if he were me.

This made me think about his assertion of what he would have done. If you can get something for someone else thinking you were someone else is it really worth it? I’m the type of person with a flexible morality but this attitude vexes even me. So what was I supposed to do when I lived in Buffalo? Go out pretending I was someone else in order to get laid? That really is a mark of low self-esteem. Unless this person is a hedonist of some sort and just wants the physical pleasure as an intrinsic value.

There was an episode of HBO’s Real Sex (I think) where they were interviewing customers at the Bunny Ranch, a bordello outside of Las Vegas, and one customer was asked why he was paying for two prostitutes that night. He answered that it was every man’s fantasy so why wouldn’t he. I retort that the fantasy might involve not paying for it.

Which is why the man’s question last night really bothered me. I wouldn’t want that type of attention because a person thought I was someone whom I wasn’t. The final issue with the whole thing is that it isn’t practical, there’s no end game without a complicated web of lies that would require extreme gullibility on the girl’s part. To where would we end the night? Do you think she might wonder why a sport’s star was driving a ten year old grand am? Or why he lived in a tiny one bedroom apartment on Virginia Place rather than owning one of the three story houses there? Or maybe I just thought about it too much back then and am wrong.

Categories: daily observations

Census: Day 4

September 24, 2009 Leave a comment

It was cartography day at Census training. I thought that yesterday’s hour and a half was the worst of it but I was wrong. Today’s five hour lecture on how to read a series of maps really took the gold in the insulting olympics. It was rather obvious what we were looking at when we opened the map packet:

A set of maps all for the same county with one map being an enlarged section of another map and so on. Yet this sort of training is on the level that every tiny little thing needs to be explained or else run the risk of someone not knowing something that everyone should know by at least my age. When the zombie war begins those satellites only have a finite amount of time left to them.

The actual lessons didn’t occur until later in the day. It involves an issue that is very unique to my experience working anywhere. The whole reasoning behind using the map is so that we, the enumerators, do not stray out of our zone and take down information from a place that could be A) some other census worker’s causing us to double report a building or B) a place that is listed as something else again causing a double reporting. So if we are walking within our designated area and see that there is a building not on our or anyone else’s list and also not on our map route we are not supposed to report it. That is someone else’s job.

Which is ironic that this frustrates me since my whole mantra at the theater, coffee shop, bookstore, and pretty much anywhere else I have worked at has been “not my job…not my problem.” When I’m told to do exactly that, I get confused probably because I’m not getting away with anything this time. However I am supposed to make about four notes regarding the mystery building, which is contradictory because I don’t know if it is not on someone else’s map. I think if I play it safe and don’t “see” it then I’ll be ok.

Which isn’t to remove from the accuracy of the Census, because it has more redundancies, backups, and oversight then the three mile island reactor (remember TMI’s accident killed NO ONE). I write everything down three times, my supervisor checks it, and sends it to his supervisor, then someone else checks it, then a month later another person will call checking making sure I did the interview. A month after that and someone else physically visits the place to do the actual census. I think I’ll be alright.

Which brings us to the scam. Accuracy must be ensured because this is how voting districts are determined for the House of Representatives. Both the number each state has and the where they represent. Two populations we check on are the homeless and the incarcerated.

The homeless we track by the number of people that can attend a food bank, soup kitchen, or regularly scheduled mobile food van. This allows us to get a rough estimate of how many people visit these places and how many homeless are roughly living in the area. Which means that if a soup kitchen isn’t feeding the homeless but rather the working poor these people are getting counted twice. Often times the working poor are visiting these places so it happens more frequently than one would expect. This means that a Representative gets an inflated number of people in their district shrinking down the area that they have to campaign in, which further guarantees their job as most people couldn’t name their Representative if they had to, or how many their state even has.

Even worse are the prison populations which are counted as people living in a given area, but in some cases are not even allowed to vote by virtue of their being convicted felons. So Representative Smith, with a large maximum security prison in his area can count the inmates as part of his voting constituency. Those people cannot vote for or against him, nor will they reap any benefits for the amount of funding he can get from the government. Even better for him is that all crime committed in the prisons does not count against him because those statistics are separated out.

One more day and then I’m in the field. Although I have no idea what they could possibly teach us tomorrow as we have finished all of our manuals and workbooks.

Census: Day 3

September 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Over the hump, finally. Then again I think we might be so over the hump at this training that I have no idea what else they can teach us…aside from how to read a map. Which is pretty stupid considering the amount of technology available to the federal government that should render the paper map irrelevant to any of its future enterprises. If you think about it the first widespread use of the GPS device was against Iraq, back in 1991. 6 years afterward President Clinton issued a directive explaining the importance of GPS which then caused civilians to be allowed to use without signal degradation.* What we have instead of the little device on the dashboard of some of your cars is the old system that dates back thousands of years.

The money is more than likely the deciding issue in this case. It’s not that I just want a gadget to play with, but moreso out of convenience. A small hand held computer with the processing power of a laptop from 8 years ago would be enough. The maps however is what we are stuck with, and given the age of everyone in the room: we should know how to read a map. North=up, the rest is gathering bearings using landmarks and road names. There, I’ve done tomorrow’s training, but there is more to it. The maps have to be corrected by us if they are wrong. Ugh, another task fit for a satellite and the IRS database.

Day 3, went by a lot quicker. I discovered the problem with our trainer. In his words, “I was only trained to do this last week…” so my fear that the problem is not isolated to just my group is now confirmed. I understand that it must be tough to get seasoned veterans from a job that only occurs once every ten years but give the trainers more lead time before they are thrown into the mix.

The Quibblers were at it again too, and this time yours truly had to step up to the plate to calm things down. It really does remind me of teaching my Critical Thinking class just for the quibbling. Today’s reminder was when we were directed to do a few practice exercises which involved mockups of what we are going to be doing on the field. The fault does lie with whoever wrote this crap as well.

The first practice directed us to one location. Ok fine, we do the routine and have the information logged for the actual census takers in the spring. The next exercise took us to a location next to the first one, keep in mind the town is called “nowhere” and it’s all fictional. This caused a problem because one man wanted to know what happened to the first address, the fictional one, and WOULD NOT LET IT GO, that it apparently disappeared off the new form.

The problem he had was that we have a series of notes to make when an address doesn’t exist on one form but does on another. He wanted to know if his answers were correct for the part that didn’t exist in either fact or fiction. This was all based on the previous “address” being 86 Main st. Nowhere Tx and the new “address” being 88 Main st. wherein both addresses had the same business. His complaint compelled three other people to begin to question their answers. The trainer had no idea what was going on, and I did because I was sitting next to him so I pointed out the problem.

When I was teaching Critical Thinking I had this problem as well, until finally I asserted that each question took place in its own reality disconnected to any previous or subsequent realities. This worked for the general population but there were always a couple of smart asses trying to prove the teacher wrong (they always failed). You have to be specific which is kind of ironic for this training because the things they are ultra specific for (no overtime) don’t need a great deal of explanation. When things get complicated there is no explanation aside from a simple practical operation guide and that’s it.

They say that the US Census is one of the most accurate information gathering operations in the world. I can see that only because of the quadruple redundancies, but it also makes a simple operation like counting heads extremely difficult.

*Which was purposefully integrated into the system by the US Government who desired to maintain a monopoly on the system for military use.

Census Day 2

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

Today was the second day of training for the US census. Most of the morons have settled into a groove of shutting-the-hell-up, which makes them much more tolerable for the rest of us. The trainer also decided that he was going to break up the cackle of the older ladies as well this has significantly increased our ability to be heard as he absently reads to us the scripted training manual.

It also has revealed a flaw in the training program that I hope is isolated to our group: the trainer is completely unprepared for this.

When I was teaching, not counting the first two days of my very first classes ever; I winged precisely one class and then I never did it again. I winged the lecture because I was out of town and thought that I had my lecture with me. I wasn’t planning on going home before class as it was completely out of the way (before I lived in Allentown, obviously). Before class started the decision had to be made: cancel or wing. Canceling was obviously the easier decision it meant not having to suffer through the stammering and disjointed lecture that I knew it was going to be but it also meant that my perfect attendance record would be broken and also a loss of money as this was before they put the part timers on contract.

I thought about it and decided to wing the class. It was, after all the introduction to the chapter on Machiavelli a subject I can recite from memory…how bad could it be?

Well it was bad. I knew the information but I didn’t have the order of information readily accessible. For instance it might be helpful to mention things in a logical order, that doesn’t necessarily mean chronological but still in order. I had none of that. I jumped around confusing things I meant to say in the introduction with things a few classes out. It was a mess and it only lasted an hour.

The trainer “John” (not his real name), has been doing this for 16 hours after today. He, nor the other person in the room whom I suppose is his supervisor, can answer any questions that we have without going to the book. Have had to repeatedly call the Buffalo office to get questions from us, and have thus far asked us twice to write down whatever questions we have, turn them in at the end of the day, and they can be answered tomorrow.

I’m not saying that I was the best teacher in the world, but I was at least competent in the source material.

Then again the stupid questions don’t help. John was asked what we fill in on a specific line and he answered “D’ ‘space’ ‘G’ ‘space’ ‘Something'” and the person asking the question followed up with “do we write ‘space’ in the line?” I should remind the reader that these people are at least 50.

The only bright side of the whole day was that a few people, including myself, just started getting it. Which isn’t a feat since this job is going to consist of driving, interviewing, and writing answers; all of which is completely written down on the question sheets. The questions are largely reduced to yes/no, or a/b/c so there isn’t much wiggle room for mistakes. Yet at least half the class cannot understand how to circle an item on a sheet of paper.

I feel better about today than I did yesterday but that isn’t saying that much. Here is to tomorrow.

Census: Day 1

September 22, 2009 Leave a comment

So it was that a decree went out about all the land, the Constitution declared that every ten years a census be taken of all the people living within the United States, but whom could they call on to actually do the counting? Past Censuses (or Censii, since it is a latin word), have always had a lack of volunteers but this census with the current state of the economy has seen a glut of people wanting to get on that federal government gravy train. I took the test around last year and heard nothing about it.

Then last February I received a call which stated that I would need an appointment for an interview which I would make on a subsequent call. That call never came until two weeks ago when they notified me that I would be working for them today. Well, it’s been one day of training and for the most part the feeling is that I would rather carry cactii to the bottom of the great salt lake shirtless than go to another day of training.

First off, the whole training is scripted. Someone sat down and wrote out exactly what the trainer has to say, so all the little anecdotes and asides are preordained. I know this because the trainer’s voice never changes inflection as he reads them off. Also it’s obviously his first time training because he has no idea what he’s talking about, not that I know any better but I would think that if he asks us to pull a form from our packet that he should know what the form looks like or at the very least where we should be able to find it.

However that’s just an indication that he’s new at this. The worst part of the experience are the people that I am training with. I’m the youngest, by about 20 years, this led me to believe upon taking my seat that training would be a droll affair with these people taking notes and nodding. In general being quiet and disciplined, but they aren’t. In fact they are like a combination of all of the worst students I have ever had.

Actually they are just like the first two weeks of the only critical thinking class I taught because all these oldsters do is quibble. It’s either about the most mundane detail possible or one that we have gone over many many many times. For the former we have the guy that wants to know why he should take his hat off when conducting interviews. His hat. During interviews. The guideline in the manual was about professionalism and how we represent the federal government and all that jazz, and the one detail that he focused on was the line where they mention removal of headware. He became somewhat indignant making mention of how in the Spring when they were canvassing houses, outside, he could leave it on but now the gall they have to ask them to take it off. This went on for ten minutes.

The latter was about the overtime. Normally, this is a good question. In fact, it’s almost always a good question to ask about overtime in any job…except when it has already been covered twice. The policy of the Census is that we foot soldiers are not going to get overtime. If it comes close then we are to stop working or get permission from our supervisor for the overtime. If we go over without permission we are fired.

Upon getting hired for this job we were informed that it would be 3-5 weeks at 20-30 hours a week. The possibility of overtime is remote to the point of being impossible. Yet, one of the dipshits I am training with felt the need to ask question after question regarding the types of permission needed. The same thing happened when they went over purchase orders and turning in receipts, two events that are not relevant to our position but again the same person asked a whole bunch of pointless questions.

The bright side is that I have only four days left of training and then I never have to see these people again. I will work alone, on my own time, with my own hours. It could be a good experience, and it seems like this job actually makes a difference. If only the government could enforce some sort of ‘no idiot’ clause in their hiring process.