Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Four Links

If you like travel and geography, this site will suck all time from your life:

It plops you down on some random place in the world using Google Maps streetview.  You figure out where you are and guess.  I spent an hour playing with it when I had a lot of other stuff to do.

Where in the world is this?

If you watch Arrested Development, you can waste tons of time on this lovely App, from the most unlikely of sources, NPR:

I've often said that Arrested Development is the funniest show ever that constantly flirts with incest. It's a tiny category, to be sure.  This chart shows me all the times when it actually happens.  They even use the exact phrase I do, "...flirt with incest." 


This link isn't so much fun as bizarre.  I was at the Chicago Green Festival this weekend, and this was by far the weirdest thing I encountered:

Flameless Cremation

Instead of that messy fire to turn your body into ash, it uses "a combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity" to turn you back into dust.  I had no idea that traditional cremation techniques were not good enough.  I thought the absence of caskets, embalming, and taking up space in the Earth was already better for the environment.

I checked out their website, and it all seems a bit... sketchy.  And creepy.  It seems like they're trying to solve a problem that isn't a problem.  And certain obvious questions-- like How is this better than fire?  And How long does the process take?-- are conspicuously absent from their website.   There's almost a defensiveness to their website, like they know it's creepy and they're trying to convince us otherwise.  They go out of their way to point out that using alkalis to decompose the body is not the same as boiling a body in acid.  They just use hot water and acids to turn the body into ashes.  They also point out, "These alkalis are also used in common cosmetic products, body washes, shaving creams, and many household products."  Um, yeah.  How is that better for the environment than good old fire?


Michael Pollan, of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food fame, is the subject of another interesting web app from the New York Times.  (Not to be confused with the Michael Palin of Monty Python fame.)

Here you can read some of Pollan's favorite rules about eating well:

They all seem to stem from his one core rule:  "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

Pollan has a new book out, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation, which I plan to read soon.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Oh the Human(ity) Resources!

According to the Excel spreadsheet I started last year, I have applied to 22 positions since February of last year:  11 university positions, 8 public libraries, and three community colleges.  There are 38 institutions on my list of websites that I check for positions.  The URLs to these sites include words like jobs, employment, listings, openings, careers, applicants, joblist, postings, get_involved, and interviewexchange.

So I've become pretty familiar with human resources software over the past year.  My favorite places to apply are the ones that simply give you a name and email address and say, "Send your resume and cover letter to this address."  Easy and straightforward.  But I'm not writing about those.

I've encountered a hellish bureau-scape of forms, disclaimers, and ass-backwards procedures.  I sometimes wonder if they do this on purpose to discourage applicants.  If you can make it through the gauntlet of their HR website nightmare, you're worthy of hire.

One job posting I saw from an online, for-profit college listed their location as "Chicago," but was not any more specific than that.  "Chicago" covers a lot of ground, and I'm not commuting from a northern suburb all the way to south Chicago.  So it's kind of important to have an address.  The most amusing thing about this posting, however, was the button you click when you want to apply.  The button was labeled, "Submit to Job."  Whenever I see the word "Submit" on an online form, I always think of it as a synonym for "knuckle under."  Uh, no thanks!

Submit to your new overlord-- I mean job
Jobs posted at the Chicago Public Library read like tax code. Here's a small sample of one Job Description:

Disclaimer - "Accredited" means any nationally or regionally accredited college, university, or law school where the applicant is enrolled in or has completed an Associates, Bachelors, Masters, or Juris Doctorate degree program.

Education & Employment Verification- Please be advised that if you are selected to be hired you must provide, upon request, adequate information regarding your educational and employment history as it relates to the qualifications of the position for which you are applying. If the City of Chicago cannot verify this information, any offer extended to you will be withdrawn and you will not be hired.

NOTE: To be considered for this position you must provide information about your educational background and your work experience. You must include job titles, dates of employment, and specific job duties. (If you are a current City employee, Acting Up cannot be considered.) If you fail to provide this information at the time you submit your application, it will be incomplete and you will not be considered for this position. There are three ways to provide the information: 1) you may attach a resume; 2) you may paste a resume; or 3) you can complete the online resume fields.

NOTE: You must provide your transcripts or diploma, professional license, or training certificates at time of processing, if applicable.

VETERANS PREFERENCE NOTE: The City of Chicago offers Veterans Preference to both current, active military personnel AND military personnel who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States and have received an honorable or general discharge. Eligible candidates must have at least six months of active duty documented. In order to receive the veterans preference, candidates need to indicate whether or not they are a veteran by answering "yes" or "no" to the question on the online application that asks, "Are you currently serving on active duty for at least six months in the Armed Forces of the United States OR have you served in the Armed Forces of the United States on active duty for at least six months and received an honorable or general discharge?" In addition, you must attach documentation to verify your military service. For veterans, you must attach a copy of your DD214 to your online application which includes character of service status OR a letter from the United States Veterans Administration on official stationary stating dates of service and character of service. For active military personnel, you must attach a letter from your Commanding Officer on official stationary verifying your active duty, length of service, and character of service in the Armed Forces of the United States AND a copy of your military ID to your online application. Failure to answer the question and attach the required documentation will result in you not being considered for the Veterans Preference.
Three notes, a disclaimer, and a verification.  And this is only one section of a very long job description.  Half of the ad is written in bold face.

After reading all that, and considering whether I want to apply for a position in a location that would be a horrible commute, I read this:

Residency Requirement: An employee must be an actual resident of the City of Chicago. Proof of residency will be required at the time of employment.

Since we're buying a house in Evanston, I guess I'm not eligible.  I was actually relieved to realize I didn't have to apply for this job.  Can you imagine what headaches would await me on the other side of that "Apply Online" button?  


I know what fresh hell can be found at the other end of the "Apply" button, because I've been down that rabbit hole.  One particular university has an HR portal that annoyed me before I ever applied there. They made it really hard just to find listings. Part of me hoped they'd never had a job listing for me and I wouldn't have to deal with them.  Here's an actual example of text I found on a job listing:

Application Deadline: Date below
Deadline:Jun 2, 2013
I can't figure out what the difference between "Application Deadline" and "Deadline" might be, but they're both listed, with the helpful notice to look one line below.

But when this university advertised a job that I was (approximately) qualified for, I felt to compelled to apply.  And I found out that their annoying HR portal would only get worse.

Here's part of an email I sent to someone describing the experience:

"I submitted my application to [Annoying University] this morning, and I hate their institution now. Remember that I didn't like their human resources page because it made it so difficult to look for jobs? It's ten times worse when you actually try to apply for a job. The application forms are confusing and annoying."

Some examples:
  • The first page asked me to download my resume, and then it somehow scanned the document and filled in my information on the form.  Pretty cool!  But then when I moved on to the next page, it didn't transfer that information over, and it asked me to fill out a form asking for all the same information I'd just submitted on my resume.  I had to retype my entire resume into their stupid little boxes, including things like listing my high school (which I haven't listed on a resume in 20 years.)
  • On the initial page there was a tiny text box that said, "Paste your cover letter in here." Uh, there's no way to upload a Word document?  I went ahead and submitted that page without it, hoping I'd be able to do it at a later stage.  
  • When I "submitted" the first page, it took me back to a menu page that was really confusing. Although the previous form said "Step 1 of 5", the menu page didn't give any indication what step I was on, and it wasn't clear where I was supposed to go next.
  • When I finally figured out how to find the next page (2 of 5), it was a full application form, basically asking me to re-type my entire resume into their little boxes.  I was so angry about having to do this that when they required me to put something for "minimum salary," I added $5K to what I would have accepted.  If they were going to make me jump through all these stupid pointless bureaucratic hoops, they were going to pay for it.
  • Some of the text boxes were so tiny I couldn't type anything in.  The box for "city" for each school they made me enter (IT'S ON MY FUCKING RESUME) was 3 spaces.  I'm not exaggerating. It was literally three spaces to type in the name of a city.  (Sorry, we only hire people who were educated in cities with names like airport codes.) 
  • When I finally filled out the whole form, it sent me back to the confusing menu page, which had no option for where to go next. I had to go back to their jobs portal, search for the job, then click "apply for this job" again. 
  • Then it asked again for my cover letter, but only provided a tiny text box. I was supposed to "copy and paste" it in. Seriously? For a professional job I have to copy and paste my cover letter into a tiny text box?  With no formatting or anything?
  • After I submitted my cover letter to the tiny text box, the HR portal gremlins told me I was done.  I had applied.  What the what?  Usually there's some sort of confirmation page that lets you review everything and make sure it's correct.  Not here. I "submitted" before I even knew what was happening. Screw you, we got your materials!                

I was so angry after filling out that application that I didn't even want the job anymore. Don't they have people who test the usability of their online applications?  If their HR department is so inept, how would the rest of the university be?

I don't want to work for him.
Needless to say, I never heard from them.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Two-Minute Connection

Sarah Vowell's latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes, is ostensibly about the history of Hawaii, but the first part of it seems to be more about American cultural imperialism in the 19th century, and how WASPy New England missionaries tried to educate the heathen Hawaiians.  As I read [listened to] accounts of the missionary organization that trained Hawaiians and Cherokee on how to spread the Word among their people, I thought, "Holy shit, this book is totally my ex-wife's dissertation!"


I haven't had any contact whatsoever with my ex in more than four years.  She's so far removed from my life right now that I hardly ever think about her, and when I do it's more of an abstract, "Oh, yeah, I used to be married."  In fact, I'm almost to the point where I'm ready to thank her for leaving me, because it allowed me to find someone much better suited to me.  Almost.

My ex's dissertation (which she wrote, I might add, with my emotional and financial support) was about 19th-century missionaries using manual labor schools to educate and "civilize" African Americans, Native Americans, and Hawaiians.  She even went to Hawaii to do some of her research.

I'm researching my dissertation!

So of course I wondered if my ex had read Unfamiliar Fishes.  She has to know about it, right?  Surely someone in her life has read Vowell's book and told her how much it overlaps with her dissertation.

Part of me wants to call a time out and be friends again for like two minutes.  So I can say, "Hey!  Have you read Sarah Vowell's book on Hawaii?  It totally deals with your dissertation!!"  Then she'd say, "Yeah, I know!" Or, "Not exactly, Vowell focuses more on blah blah blah and my dissertation was more yadda yadda yadda."    

And then we'd resume our non-relationship.