July 25, 2014

July 25, 2014

In the Rear with the Gear

[Note: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any country’s armed forces in any capacity. Mistakes in this piece are my own.]

There’s this thing the military uses called “Military Occupational Specialties” (MOS). Everyone from pilots to chaplains to missile repairers has one of these 3-digit codes to classify their job. (That is, the thing they do in addition to SUPPORTING AND DEFENDING THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, HOOAH.)

I assume the MOS codes are important for paperwork purposes, like a Dewey Decimal System for people. Say what you will about the Department of Defense; they certainly know how to run an operation. After reviewing the many (many) options available to our soldiering men and women, I remain convinced that I would be best utilized as an Automated Logistical Specialist (92A) and/or Unit Supply Specialist (92Y).

(Not that I would ever make it in the military. I’m weak, outdoors-averse, nearsighted, and left-handed. There are people born to survive in the wild, and then there’s me. But let’s pretend.)

The Quartermaster Corps (as I gather the 92As and their ilk are called) actually run in my family. My grandpa* was in the QC during World War II, and my dad during the Vietnam Era. You could say that ordering, transporting, and organizing supplies runs in my blood. The quartermasters apparently are also known for keeping the best supplies to themselves. The technical term for this is “win-win.”

Let’s take a look at some of the duties:

- Review and verify quantities received against bills of contracts, purchase requests and shipping documents. (I manually reconcile all my credit card receipts every month.)
- Unload, unpack, count, segregate, palletize and store incoming supplies and equipment. (I worship at the altar of the Container Store.)
- Construct bins, shelving and other storage aids. (I’ve assembled two apartments’ worth of Ikea furniture.)
- Maintain automated supply system for accounting of organizational and installation supplies and equipment. (Spreadsheets ftw.)
- Operate unit level computers. (I’m basically doing that RIGHT NOW.)

Really, I’m concerned with just one task: Issue and receive small arms. Um. What am I supposed to do with the rest of the Barbie?

Should our future robot overlords reinstate the draft, I think this is the route I would take; it utilizes my skillset while limiting my ability to inflict actual damage. The worst I could do would be to eat the entire battalion’s supply of Nutella.

Peruse the list (Army’s is here) and consider your own plan of action. Whatever you do, don’t click on “Ask Sgt. Star” because that li’l fella is smack dab in the middle of the uncanny valley.

*Paternal. My maternal (Korean) relatives were all too busy fending off the Japanese.

July 24, 2014

July 24, 2014

One Wrong Thing

Much of the dystopian fantasy and science fiction I read—and you know I love me some dystopia—involves a world very different from our own. Verily, authors in the genre have chosen one or all of the following for the settings of their works: 

Nuclear war
Pandemic
Zombies
Vampires
Alien invasion
Existence of magic
Self-aware technology
Collapse of government/civil society

You get the idea. One of the best dystopian books I read last year was Wool, which involves remnants of humanity living in underground silos. Though it was gripping from start to finish, I recommended it neither to you nor to friend-of-blog P (for whose pleasure I read most books) because a lot of belief has to be suspended in order to get from here to there. (Unless you are, in fact, living in an underground silo. If so, carry on.)

Lately, then, I’ve been enjoying a few books that change just one thing and consider how humanity might react. Forget for a moment that I generally cheer against humanity, and allow me to recommend some selections.

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. What if the world literally stopped spinning? Already discussed.

The Returned by Jason Mott. What if dead people suddenly showed back up, looking and acting as they were before they died? Emotional toll notwithstanding, think of the logistics.

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. What if 1% of people were born with savant abilities? If they could understand facial expressions, or recognize patterns, or memorize information without limit? Think X-Men without the laser eyes and weather manipulation. What are the normal people to do?

Enjoyable as the completely mindblowing dystopias are (see: Games, Hunger), it's even more chilling when fantasy is only a step or two removed from reality.

July 23, 2014

July 23, 2014

PDX

Portland, Oregon, strikes me as the sort of town that’s full of hipsters and good intentions. It’s a place with farmers markets and cyclists and more than one store selling bowler hats. Like Madison, Wisconsin or Austin, Texas. Not to say there aren’t good people there—friend-of-blog M lives in Portland and she’s one of the few people I would pull out of a burning building. They’re just…a people less impressed with Hello Kitty and Ikea than your humble blogger is.

If this article is to be believed, though, they are just as enamored with carbohydrates. Perhaps more so. For Portland is currently home to a donut* vandal. Egad! To wit:

For more than a month, mysterious vandals have been smearing pastries on cars, depositing donuts in lawns and leaving cakes strewn about the streets.

According to Hillsboro police, the baked-goods bandits first struck on June 1, smearing a maple bar across a car windshield.

In the weeks since, the pastry perpetrators have occasionally turned to healthier fare, leaving yogurt, bread and potato salad on vehicles and in driveways, although most of the incidents have involved sweets.

Great crime, or GREATEST crime? Though I don’t have a lawn, I’ve owned a car for years and not once—NOT ONE TIME—has anyone put even the smallest of baked goods on it. Gypped.

(Also, someone get me on the diet plan wherein potato salad is considered a healthy food.)

Leaving free food in public places? Dare I say it, this seems almost Canadian. Where will the bandit(s) strike next?

Sorting single-stream recyclables. Sure, the sign says you can mix your plastic, metal, and paper. But it looks so much nicer when you put like with like.

Organizing restaurant table sweeteners. No more rifling through a pile of Equals looking for a Splenda.

Leaving a penny. Only a penny taker and not a penny leaver? How dare you.

Portland, in this one area, I like the cut of your jib. (You’re still on notice about the other stuff.)

* Let's not start on "donut" versus "doughnut." Language evolves. Deal with it, and be thankful I didn't just use a donut emoji.

July 18, 2014

July 18, 2014

Service for a Smile

There I was, minding my own business enjoying some delicious reheated Trader Joe’s pizza, when I felt it.

A crunch. Right about where my chipped-in-two-places cavity filling was. Immediately, I spit out my pizza*, grabbed the mirror I use for flossing, and checked out the situation.

Missing: One cavity filling.

Now, keep in mind that I have a severe—A SEVERE—aversion to saliva. Blood? Fine. Poop? Fine. Spit? Pardon me while I lose the entire contents of my stomach and then pass out.

So we were already on pretty shaking ground here, but I had to determine whether I had already eaten the filling and thus was about to die of heavy metal poisoning (assumption). Hence my spitting out the pizza I was eating as soon as I realized what was happening. The part of my brain that fears eating metal works faster than the part of my brain that’s afraid of spit.

Without getting into too much detail, let’s just say that I located the filling. I felt about it how I assume people feel about kidney stones, babies, etc. “This used to be a part of my body. I want to keep it.” I popped it in a teeny plastic bag that at some point must have held a spare button or something. Why did I have it in my desk drawer? Because my office desk drawers are like Mary Poppin’s carpet bag. I have one of everything in there.

Coincidentally, I’d already scheduled an appointment with my dentist for an exam and cleaning. I love (LOVE) going to the dentist, so I was looking forward to it. This filling incident, though, put a new spin on things. Some brief Googling convinced me to call and set up a second appointment to get the filling replaced. (Also according to Google: I either could or SHOULD NOT UNDER ANY MEANS use gum as a temporary replacement.) I realized it would probably have to be done on a different day, but so long as it could be taken care of by the time the Wisconsin State Fair starts on July 31, I’m cool.

Here follows a transcript of my conversation with the dentist’s office:

Receptionist: “Dr. Silverman’s office.”
Me: “Hi. My name is Heather, and I have an appointment on Monday for an exam and cleaning. But I just had a filling fall out, and I’d like to go ahead and schedule another appointment to have that replaced.”
Receptionist: “I’m sorry, who are you?”
[Small warning light starts flashing in my brain]
Me: “My name is Heather and I have an appointment Monday at 8:45.”
Receptionist: “And what do you want to do?”
Me: “I had a filling fall out. I need to schedule another appointment to get it replaced.”
Receptionist: “Well, I’ll ask him if he can fit it in on Monday but he’s all booked that day.”
Me: “I understand that. Can you see what his schedule is for the rest of that week?”
Receptionist: “He’s all full. I mean, I’ll ask him if he can do it when he comes in on Monday.”

And so on until I realized I should have just opened the phone call with “When is Dr. Silverman’s next available appointment?” without any of the backstory. The more information you give people, the more likely the confusion.

I’m not rude. I’m concise. And isn't the customer always right?

Here's hoping for a bionic tooth that can broadcast radio waves and stuff.

* Why? Stay tuned!

July 17, 2014

July 17, 2014

You're Not Getting Any Younger

(When searching Google for an image to use with this post, most of the results were old people walking on beaches. So, no.)

Every morning, our local news/talk/sports station has a brief segment about federal government issues presented by a guy named Mike Causey. He actually works on Federal News Radio full time (this is an actual DC thing), but spares five-ish minutes a day to broadcast his opinions on government stuff to the DC radio market at large.

More often than not, these opinions are on the subject of retirement. I don’t know about your country and industry, but in American government, we’re told regularly that ALMOST EVERYONE YOU KNOW COULD RETIRE AT ANY MOMENT.

Me myself personally? I’ll believe it when I see it. The first Baby Boomers came of age years ago, and we seem to be no closer to the anticipated retirement tsunami than ever we were. A Baby Boomer’s job is like Charlton Heston’s gun: You get it when you pry it from his cold, dead fingers.

(Am I coming across as a bitter young person whose career advancement is blocked by Baby Boomers at the top, refusing to step down? Good.)

Anyhoo, this got me thinking about retirement in general, and how people in private industry get watches and laudatory dinners and all sorts of celebratory whatnot when they retire. I think in government you get a piece of paper signed by someone important (not President important but, like, Secretary important, which is still pretty phenomenal). Though these things are an after-the-fact reward rather than an enticement, what if we could offer people quid pro quo?

National Institutes of Health: All the smallpox vials you can carry.

Department of Defense: You may fire one small missile into the Nevada desert.

Department of the Interior: You get a national park named after you for one day.

Social Security Administration: You can pick your own new SSN. If someone already has it, they have to trade with you.

Tennessee Valley Authority: You can shut that thing down. Why do we still have an agency whose mission was accomplished by the end of World War 2?


Think of the possibilities.

July 10, 2014

July 10, 2014

The Other Meaning of "Fresh"

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. By which I mean the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. Though modern agriculture and transportation mean we can have, like, bananas in winter and whatnot, it still seems like the produce is better in the summer.

(To be fair, 95% of what I eat comes out of a box or a can. Your mileage may vary when it comes to taste.)

Corn on the cob. Watermelon. Peaches. Plums. Cucumbers. Tomatoes. The only thing missing is the roll of paper towels. (I speak from experience.)

Even better for us city dwellers, farmers markets are a thing now. You can get access to stuff that was in the ground earlier today. (Ish.) When I was a kid, I feel like the closest thing we had to a farmers market was that dude on the side of the road with a truck bed full of watermelons. I didn’t trust that guy for the same reason I didn’t trust the woman handing out apples at Christmas? Obviously everything would be full of razorblades. #Milwaukee

But now? Now you can walk a few blocks from your office at cabinet-agency-that-shall-not-be-named and shop to your heart’s content. Not just for produce, but also for ice cream and baked goods and pickles and all sorts of things. As I did, just the other day.

Correction: As I tried to do. At 2:52 on a recent afternoon. When I was told that they weren’t open for another eight minutes.

See, the market runs from 3 to 7 pm. And it’s actually Freshfarm Markets, a whole network of markets, all over the DC area, with different locations on different days. So perhaps there’s some Farmers Market Code of Ethics that forbids vendors from opening early.

Despite the fact that the produce is all laid out long before 3.

Despite the fact that there are no signs, cones, police tapes, or other barriers to the market area or individual stalls.

Despite the fact that MOTHER LOVING CAPITALISM would advise you to take my money when I try to give it to you.

However, I’m no expert at commerce or labor laws, so I just walked away and started composing this blog post. I’m confident that eight minutes of my time* is more expensive than hers**, and IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING.

What amuses me even more, though, is the reading comprehension fail that followed my Twitter complaint: 


Keep looking.


* $5.96

** $1.48, according to the Bureau of Labor Statstics’ median pay for bakers in 2012. Backing up my rants with robust data is just the sort of extra service I like to provide for you people.

July 4, 2014