Category Archives: Nerd

Aside

I’m making plans for a little adventure, and surprising even myself with how suddenly and easily it’s coming together:  On Monday, I’m taking the day off work, driving out to the ferry with the dog in tow, and riding the … Continue reading

Birthday butch, beer, books, berries, bear

It was a certain butch’s birthday this past week, and to celebrate, we went camping at what turned out to be the raddest spot ever.  It was quiet and remote, on a lake with a dock, lots of trees and a woodland trail, plus the bonus of nearby easy-to-hike logging roads into more mountainous territory!  All within a couple hours drive from our house.  Say what you will about the timber industry (and believe me, I’ve said it myself), but at least it makes for some great campsites.

My handsome companion. And her new gun.

What do dykes do in the woods?  Shoot guns, of course!

I preferred to steady my hand using my dear Audubon field guide... And the table.

Actually, there was only one gun:  An air pistol, which Oats bought with her birthday money.  I was pretty surprised, cuz she’s usually rather focused on things like art supplies and nice clothes, but then I quickly got over it… Because it turns out that I myself have an inner sniper.

Yes, we drank beer and then shot up the cans.  Classy!

I also spent many hours swinging in my hammock and reading… Got through 5 books in 4 days, which felt soooooooooooooooo good.  You’d think I’d read more, given that I’m unemployed and all, but I just don’t make the time.

What else did we do?  Oh yes, hiked.

I love a good view.

Even if it comes with sombre reminders of *why* there’s a good view… Hard to imagine how it would have been to walk up this slope before it was clearcut.  Those stumps are massive.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this land, and how I feel about it, mostly in light of the notion that I’ll be moving to a completely different part of the country this time next year (I hope!).  I read a lot of sci-fi, and it has forever altered my ideas about spatiality and colonization, complicating all my thoughts on “here-ness” in delightfully interesting ways.  I feel like my love for this place is so deep that I can leave and be okay simply knowing that it exists.

A wild larder:  Magic!  Not this fungus, I mean… It’s a lobster mushroom, and very much so edible without causing euphoric insights.  Or at least not yet.  I still haven’t eaten more than a nibble, because I was saving them for tonight’s dinner… I’ll let you know if they get me high.

More magic: Wild fruit!  I picked just over three pounds of thimbleberries (the ones that look like raspberries), tiny native blackberries, salmonberries (the orange ones), red huckleberries (the smooth red ones), and salal berries (the smooth dark purple ones).  Today they are becoming jam, to be sent off to my more eastern relatives as solstice gifts this winter, provided we don’t eat it all first.  I would’ve picked more, but there was much evidence of others wanting the fruit too and sometimes I like to avoid competition.

Yes, that’s shit… Bear shit, to be exact, which is what I’m referring to in my previous sentence, in case it wasn’t obvious.  It wasn’t totally fresh, but new enough to make me give careful consideration of the needs of my wilderness friends.  Three pounds of berries for me seems pretty good.

 

Pocket protectors

My instructor has a habit of dissing engineers. I don’t think it’s a well-articulated dislike, so much as a knee-jerk reactionary position based on his lifetime in a career that is less respected in the tech field: Engineer trumps electrician, therefore electrician is casually resentful.

He refers to them as having pocket protectors, which is an interesting coding for nerd, since I don’t think pocket protectors have been common in over 25 years. As that is the average age of my classmates, do they even know what a pocket protector is, and that they weren’t always just associated with geekery? My instructor uses a lot of funny colloquialisms in his speech, actually, so maybe my classmates just take it all in stride.

I find the anti-engineer stance to be a bit much. The instructor’s rants tend to involve stories of how 3 engineers were paid $130 each per hour to solve a problem, and they couldn’t do it, and finally an electrician was the one to come up with the solution. It’s part of the anti-academic mindset I’ve encountered a lot in the trades, where any university-based education is seen as being a waste of time or for losers without “real” skills.

Obviously, coming from a university background, I’m pretty invested in countering this viewpoint! Because I hate to think that the 7 years I spent doing my degree were a waste of time.

That aside, it’s also an interesting position for an instructor to take, because it contradicts his supposed role as a mentor. I mean, wouldn’t he like to see us make the most of our abilities? I’m good at a lot of the math and problem-solving parts of our trade, so think I’d actually really like to pursue engineering at some point. Shouldn’t a teacher encourage students to seek challenges like this?

Model minority in math immersion

The entry-level trades program I did over a year ago was self-paced. This second level course isn’t. I thought I’d hate it, having to attend classes and do all the same work at the same time as my classmates. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the first couple weeks, because I grasped a lot of the concepts fairly quickly and so had very little homework. Then we hit circuit analysis, and suddenly I became the one student holding everyone back with my questions and confusion.

Fuck, I hate that… I already stick out as the only woman in the room, and having to ask for clarification from the teacher makes me super self-conscious. And yeah, I know I have a right to be here, and to ask questions, and to get frustrated just like any other student… But these are the effects of being constantly reminded that I am fundamentally different from my peers: I am determined to succeed and excel, to prove not just that I can do it, but that women can do it. It’s fucked, but that’s how I feel… Like I have to “represent”. Classic symptoms of a model minority, hmmm?

It doesn’t help that I hear this message over and over from others in the trade. I’d thought it was just me, until another female apprentice at the hydr0 boot camp told me that she gets the same thing: Upon learning that we are electrical apprentices, the immediate reaction of lot of older, male journeymen is to start telling us about the one or two woman electricians they’ve known throughout their careers, and how PERFECTLY BRILLIANT they are/were. I gather these men say these things because they’re trying to show that they support women in the trades. However! The actual way it comes across is a reinforcement of the fact that there’s a higher standard for us: We can’t just be sorta okay at our jobs, like the majority of the schmoes we work with. Instead we have to prove ourselves over and over, by being THE BESTEST-24/7!!!

Which is exhausting, and unfair, cuz really, as much as I like to be good at things, I also have other priorities aside from the trade, and I’m not always going to rock out 100%. I would like to be okay with that, and I would like my coworkers, classmates, and teachers to be okay with that too: I’m human, dammit.

Having said that, I’m working very hard, and so far have achieved a 95% average after four exams. Only 8 more to go!

It’s mostly math, which I really like, when I understand it… It’s getting to that place of understanding that’s the trouble. Going through this schooling as an adult has been an amazing journey in understanding my own learning styles.

For instance, I know now that I need to have all information clearly laid out and labeled, and all equations in sequential order, in order to make sense of it. My current instructor writes partial formulas and calculations all over the whiteboard at the front of our classroom, haphazardly drawing diagrams and graphing results. It drives me completely nuts. In the past, I’d have simply given up, mired in frustration. Now I plow through, rewriting his equations on my own notepaper, taking extra time but arranging everything in a way that’s accessible to my own quirky brain.

I also know that I really benefit from spending loooooooong amounts of time on the same concept: Entire days of math immersion really does wonders to cement it in my understanding. In high school and university, everything was arranged in 1 or 2 hour blocks. I never questioned this, because it never occurred to me that it may be related to why I struggled so much. Concentrated bursts of difficult topics, I’ve learned, are exactly the sort of thing that send my mind into panic mode. I get worried that I won’t have enough time to comprehend the lesson, and I’m so distracted that I *really* don’t pick up anything the teacher is showing us! So when I’ve got full days on entire topics, I’m more relaxed, and then I can follow along. My current instructor is forever apologizing for the length of time we focus on topics, but it’s just about perfect for me.

I can’t help but think: If only high school had been 6 consecutive 8-week long courses instead of 6 simultaneous courses over 40 weeks, I might have ended up an engineer by now. Ah, well… If that’d been my path, I would have missed out on all the great scenery on this route, and what a shame that would have been.

Donkey-work

It’s the last couple days at my job, and I’m working harder than I ever did in the past 4 months that I’ve held this position. That’s a particular thing about taking on a coordinating sort of role: The work is never cut and dry, and the projects rarely have a definitive start and end… Or at least none that fits into the relatively short span that I’ve been here. So in leaving, I’ve got to summarize the projects I’ve been working on, and try to convey some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned, and basically do what I can to make it so that someone else can take over.

It’s making me nostalgic for when I’ve left cafe jobs: I’d simple pull one last latte at the espresso bar, look at the clock, shuck my apron, and say goodbye. I’m even looking back with great fondness on the afternoon last June when I was surprised to find myself laid off from the construction site: One minute I was installing nurse call switches, and less than an hour later I was drinking beer in the sunshine on my patio with another (ex)coworker. It sucked in some ways, but it was also pretty relaxing.

Today, I spent 7 hours teaching my boss and my coworker how to use client management database software. My boss kept asking why we’d do it this way, instead of simply using spreadsheets, and kept suggesting that we needn’t bother with documenting *all* of our client communications in the database, just some of them. Look, I told him, you certainly could do it that way, and you might even do well at it… But then why did you invest in this software, and why did I just spend 4 months mastering it?

The entire debate was a pretty good indicator of the primary struggles that the company is facing, with few established protocols for doing anything. The other person I was teaching was my coworker who’d driven in from another city up-island, and she was similarly frustrated. In fact, when the boss was out of the room, I learned that she’d also suggested that she no longer work for the company, on the same day that I did. My boss told her that I was already leaving, and she felt bad, so agreed to stay, though with many reservations.

“They just don’t get it,” she said, “How much donkey-work goes into all the stuff they want us to do.”

Poor donkeys.

It wasn’t until the end of our day together that I learned that she didn’t know how to use the software for custom mail-merges, which is one of its primary time-saving functions. I was livid. How could they have had this woman on staff for longer than me, and never even taught her this most important of skills? She’s a great learner, far better than my boss is at understanding the applications of the technology, but has been given little to no support in developing this… Even though it would be infinitely beneficial for the company to have more competent staff.

So we’re getting together again tomorrow, for more teaching. Fuck, I’m so glad I’m getting out of here.

I’m still a little nervous about starting trade school next week, because I’m hardly expecting the atmosphere to have changed much from last time… But at least it’ll be a completely different sort of frustrations.

Math panic.

Okay, I hired a tutor.  After three days of going through the provincial curriculum for Math and Physics 12, I realized that I need help.  Like, professionally.  It’s not just anxiety, it’s that I truly don’t understand how to solve the assigned problems, or even the explanations in the  texts.

So I called a local tutor who has got a spiffy website and a high hourly rate, explained the situation to her, and asked if she’d take me on.  We’re meeting tomorrow for two hours.  If working with her helps me get this job, the money will be more than worth it, because I’ll be making almost double my current wage.  And if I still don’t get the job?  Well, we’re already in debt anyway, so another hundred dollars or so isn’t the end of the world.

Really, though, if I don’t get the job, then I’ve got a bit of a to-do list in order to make myself the best fucking candidate for all future jobs with the utility company:

  1. Take the weekend-long course at the local trucking school to get my air-brake endorsement for my drivers’ license (every other entry-level position at the utility requires this)
  2. Take the BC Grade 12 Math and Physics courses either online or through some continuing ed program
  3. Work really really really hard at my current boring job so that I don’t feel so bloody desperate to get out of here

And I could always go back to construction.  Or start my own urban chicken consulting business.

It’s all trigonometry and calculus and algebra and crazy nerdy shit that I haven’t touched in 11 years.

Earlier this week, I received a couple emails with more details about my interview with the provincial electrical utility: It’s two days of assessments, and they call it “boot camp”. How absolutely terrifying. On the plus side, they’re flying me to the mainland, putting me up in a hotel, and paying for my food and transport while there. I’ve NEVER experienced any job interview like that, and it makes me hopeful, because why would they invest so much money in me if they didn’t really want to hire me? Calming thoughts, calming thoughts.

Unfortunately, I had another fright this morning and it hasn’t dissipated: To prepare for the 1.5 hour quiz on grade 12 mathmatics and physics that I’ll be required to write, I looked up the provincial curriculum for these courses. Fucking hell. It’s all trigonometry and calculus and algebra and crazy nerdy shit that I haven’t touched in 11 years. I’d been thinking the topics would be more like the stuff I did at trade school, which was practical and challenging, though fairly easy… I loved it. Not trig, though! Oh, and graphing functions… I hate graphing functions, and they send me into a mind-numbing spiral of anxiety.

More importantly, as I mentioned: I managed to scrape by in these courses in high school, but that was over a decade ago.

I spent the afternoon at the local library, where I picked up comprehensive books on the BC curriculum. My idea was that I could simply go through their practice quizzes to learn the main concepts, but I rapidly realized that I have no clue how to even start answering any of the test questions. I don’t understand what the questions are even asking me to do. My memory of this level of math and physics is so hazy it’s like starting from the beginning, with the constant pressure of having only 18 days to learn it.

So that’s what I’m doing. A Saturday night, a kitchen table, a pad of graph paper, a stack of “Complete Idiot’s” guides and their ilk, a pencil, a calculator, and a cup of tea. I’m trying not to questions my choices, because it’s getting tiring to constantly wonder what the hell I’m doing, or rather why I’m doing it, so instead I’m trying to pretend this is fun and useful and the sort of thing I’ll look back in another 20 years and really get a kick out of.