Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Little girl!?!

I broke my no swearing at work rule today.

Most people at work are fine, it's just the exceptions that piss me off. A few people asked me if I was a new secretary (what does mechanical engineering intern mean to you?), which made me a little grumpy, especially since they received an e-mail saying who I was and what I would be doing at the company. And an introduction from my boss. One person, Mr. Y, despite repeated corrections, keeps referring to me as "the secretary for the engineering interns". Perhaps somewhat ironically, most of the work I have been doing thus far would be better suited to a secretary, but things are looking up.

Other people insist on holding doors open for me. Why is this a problem, you say? I don't know about you, but I feel awkward when someone sees me coming from far down the road and holds the door open for a good 5 minutes waiting for me to get there, like I should tip them or something. And they get this look on their faces as though they've done something amazing and I should be super thankful. Or maybe I read into it too much. Point is, it's awkward and uncomfortable when taken to such an extreme. Also, if there are 20 people in an elevator,all going to the same meeting on the same floor, and I'm in the back of the elevator, nobody else will get out until I leave first. It feels pointedly awkward, as though I'm being singled out for something. I actually tried waiting for a while to see what would happen, and after the polite coughing and "Ladies first!" proved ineffective, I actually had someone PUSH me out the door first, from the back of the elevator!

A salesperson at a lunch meeting started making jokes about how few girls there are in engineering and kept on bringing it up. Yes, it's true, there aren't a lot of girls in my program, and some of them are butch, so what? Why bring it up? You wouldn't go up to a black employee and ask, "Were you the only black person in your class? Are there other blacks in your classes? You don't seem to be as much of a thug as the others! Boy, I didn't think a lot of black people went into XXX field! Sure weren't a lot when I was there. Man, I bet you're going to get hired right away when you graduate! Y'know, equal employment..." Thanks for discarding the notion that any of my accomplishments are due to merit.

While these things don't always bother me on their own, it's slowly been getting me for the past few weeks. This week was a week full of awkward stares, awkward building entrances, awkward elevators, and awkward conversations about why I chose engineering as a career. I guess everything just adds up until a bunch of small things feel like people don't take me seriously and like I'm being singled out for something. But anyway, back to today's adventure.

Mr. X walks into the office. He asks for Mr. Y, another student, who is clearly not there. I offer to tell Y that he stopped by. X asks what Y's schedule looks like this week, where Mr. Y is, and when he'll be back. Mr. Y is in a different department, so we don't share schedules. I mention this to Mr. X, and suggest that he ask someone in Mr. Y's department because I don't have access since I'm in (unicorn engineering group). Nonetheless, he gets angry when I can't tell him when Mr. Y's next free slot is, and makes some comment about how I really need to learn how to do my job better. I hold my tongue.

Mr X then starts politely coughing while gesturing at a sheet of paper. Unfortunately, I can't see all the way across the room to other student's desk where X is standing. Then, X was so kind as to take the pen and paper from Y's desk, walk across the room, and thrust them in my face to demand that I write down a message from him to Mr. Y. Word for word. I don't say, "Write your own message, you lazy ass." or, "Why don't you just e-mail him or leave a voicemail?" or, "I'm not his secretary, dammit." After I write down the message, he smiles and says, condescendingly, "There, that wasn't so hard, was it? That's a good little girl." And then he gets the pleased with himself look for putting a woman in her place and doing the woman a favour and teaching her how to do her job (which is, incidentally, NOT to be a secretary for the other engineering students).


I'm above the median height for men. I am by no means little. I spent the better part of a decade playing "enforcer" in sports, and when I'm in good shape I can keep up with anyone on the field. My calves can crush diamonds (seriously, they're amazing). And he's lucky that my calves didn't activate my leg muscles to crush his face in.

I'm not even sure what I said, but I think it involved the words "fuck", and "yourself". Oh, that's right, I told him to go fuck himself! Yeah, not my best moment. But the funny thing was, the same part of his brain that won't let women have man jobs, also won't let women swear, so he just got a funny look on his face and walked off. I'm pretty sure he couldn't process what I said properly or I'd be out of a job. Although I'd kind of like a job right now where the other employees had seen a girl before.

Productive Snorting

I was at a really long training seminar today. Somewhere along the line, it went from training into life coaching. Wasn't expecting THAT! Basically what I took away from this was that I never ever want to reach the point where I'm one of those people that needs to go to training sessions to learn to schedule time for my personal life using common office applications. It was sad, because I think some of the people there actually needed to be told to plan time for their personal lives.

Anyway, that's not the story I meant to tell. There was one guy there who kept on challenging everything the presenter said with, "That's not how we do it!" "That's not going to work at my company!" "You don't know how I should run my day!", etc, etc. He was pretty old and had been working in construction for a long time. Pretty much your stereotypical set-in-his-ways older guy who isn't familiar with technology, is over-worked, and is thuroughly disenchanted with life. Or so I thought, that is, until he sneezed and said, "Sorry, that must be the cocaine."

I couldn't stop wondering for the rest of the day whether or not he was serious.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

B....lades of Steel!

B is definitely filled with good NES games. Burgertime (a port, but still good), Battletoads (a classic), Bubble Bobble (another port), and many more. There are also some tragically horrible movie games, Blues Brothers and Back to the Future. However, I'm going to step a bit out of my bubble and talk about my favourite sports game, Blades of Steel.

In my opinion, Blades of Steel has a great fun factor. There are some extra touches that make it stand out for me, for example how the players skate in a pattern around the rink before the beginning of the game. I was actually at a hockey game recently watching the players skate around, thinking, "This is just like Blades of Steel!". That's how much of a dork I am. Also, you can sometimes see a zamboni driving by in the background while you pick your teams. Another great touch is the announcer. I always appreciate some good voice clips on a NES cart.

Since way-back-when, I've played several newer hockey games, but I never seem to enjoy them as much. I think that the newer games almost suffer from too much sophistication. I don't want to pick my lines, I don't want to make trades, I don't want to draft players, I don't want to learn the buttons for each kind of physical aggression, I just want to play some hockey with my favourite teams, dammit! Every once and again, I need to punch something. Blades of steel lets me do both of these things. With multiple difficulty levels, I can enjoy creaming Toronto over and over again, or I can try to challenge myself, depending on my mood. Everyone who has ever read "The Hockey Sweater" will probably enjoy destroying the Maple Leafs 20-0 playing as the Canadiens.

This brings me to the last thing I really love about Blades of Steel, the bright 80's teams. It adds so much to the classic, nostalgic feel. And, without having to pick your lineups and choose your players, you can imagine that anyone you want is playing on your team. If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go pit my team of Gretzky clones against the worrrlllddd!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A is for... ?

Shoot, this alphabet thing was a bad idea. I mean, as far as blarbling about some of my favourite NES games. There really isn't a definitive NES game out there for me. Instead, I'll review two games that I got on a multicart.

The thing about most multicart games is that they have a very small filesize, and it's not too hard to make a cartridge with, say, 70 of them on there. So, none of them are going to have a large level of depth, a lot of variety, or a whole lot of replay value. What I picked my A games for this time was.... Adorableness! I guess I am a girl after all.

Game number one, Antartic Adventure, features a penguin travelling Antartica. Why? I don't know, my multicart is in Japanese. The penguin itself looks a lot like Tux, or maybe penguins in general look a lot like each other. Along the way, you can catch fish, and pick up flags. One of the flags gives you a beanie hat which temporarily grants you the power to fly WHICH IS THE CUTEST THING EVER! Also, ebil sea lions pop out of the ice and try to... smile at you.

Other than the incredible cuteness of a flying penguin with a hat, the only thing that stood out to me was the end of the level. Each time you successfully finish your one-person race, a random country's flag pops up out of the South Pole. The first time I got to the end of the race, an Australia flag popped up. Second lap, it was France.... what the heck? I stuck around and played some more races just to see what flag would pop up next.

Game number two : ASCII. I'm guessing this isn't the actual title of the game. The real title is something in Japanese, which I guess couldn't be converted into an ASCII character set? Ahh haa haa. Anyway, this game is all about adorable little animals throwing things at each other. Really. You stand on opposite ends of the court and just whup balls back and forth at each other as fast as you can. A good strategy is to knock the other furry out, then keep on pounding him while he's down, because the recovery time from being hit is a lot longer than how long it takes to get a ball and throw it at someone. It's kind of fun, for like, two minutes.

These being multicart games, I wouldn't recommend buying either on their own. I would recommend finding a couple of multicarts, you never know what kind of interesting things you'll find on there. Why, I once bought a multicart that had 10 different variations of Contra, and Mario Bros. with a level select option and updated fancier graphics (no it's not the lost levels). I'm not an expert on legal-y stuff, but if people can sell those crappy 200-in-one systems at the mall that look like Nintendo 64s and come with weird controllers and play a bunch of old NES games, then I think it's perfectly fine for me to go and buy a Famicom cart with 70 games on it. You'll need a pin converter to play the game with. There are almost always several of these on Ebay. Basically, these are like the retro version of cellphone games. Now there's an interesting idea.... a Nintendo Virtual Console for cellphones?

Thursday, January 17, 2008

My car has Windows!

We (the rowdy ragged roomies and their slanty shanty crew) were watching TV together in the living room. This is rare, as

A: We only have peasantvision
B: We rarely like the same shows, except the X-Files which we revere.
C: The internet. Seriously, the internet.

What was even rarer was that we stuck on the same channel during a commercial break. And what we saw during this commercial terrified us. There was an ad for a car that for some reason had Microsoft Windows installed. I'm not sure what kind of Windows, and what it does, but all I can say is, "WHHYYYY!?!?". This led to a conversation about what would happen if all cars ran entirely on Windows.

1- Whenever the roads were congested, Death would appear with an hourglass (representing your time left on Earth) and spin it around. If the hourglass froze over, you would die in a horrible traffic accident, or at least end up in a coma with a 50/50 chance of recovering your memory.

2- Your car would come with wheels, axles, an engine, headlights, a fuel tank, and seats. Anything else, such as air conditioners, radio, vents, etc would be a 'peripheral'. Sometimes the car would fail to identify a peripheral properly and insist that an air conditioner was a cigarette holder. You could purchase a car with a factory windshield that did an OK job of keeping most stuff out of your car (and face), but anyone with half a brain would install a third party windshield.

3- The message "Fatal Error" would suddenly be much, much worse. The meaning of "Blue Screen of Death" would become literal.

4- Instead of being locked out of your car, you would merely be "Denied Access". Anyone with a Linux car could just say, "Sudo unlock car" and their car would open for them.

5- Your car would drive itself. There would be an option to drive the car yourself, but it would be hidden behind several buttons and every few minutes the car would ask you if you were really sure that you wanted to be driving.

6- Your car would decide for you what you wanted to put in the trunk. If it thought you were smuggling immigrants, it would eject the contents of the trunk, even if you were just trying to ride in your own trunk for fun.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

7 Degrees to Hitler

While I was back home for the holidays, my brother taught me a new game that you can play on your computer while you should probably be doing work. It's called 7 Degrees to Hitler.

How it Works

1. Head to Wikipedia.
2. Click random article.
3. Count how many clicks it takes you to get to the page about Hitler.

Simple, yet entertaining.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Let's do the time warp again!

Sometimes I work internships so I can afford to go to school. Officially the reason is because I want to develop my technical skills and build a portfolio of diverse .. stuff... and yeah... actually I did build a bit of a nice network in an industry I'm totally not interested in working in. I'm fortunate enough to attend an institution with a pretty decent 5-year plan for students who want to work (ie pay for school). Thus, every once and a while, I apply for a billion jobs and go out on about a million interviews. Or something like that.

Here are questions I'm used to hearing:
"What are your strengths?"
"Can you describe your past work experience?"
"What was your favourite course?"

Here's an interrogation session that threw me right for a loop:

"You're in engineering? I thought girls liked Arts, nursing, you know... maybe teaching? Why would you go into engineering? Don't you get lonely? What was wrong with teaching? It's a very stable career! Do you hate children? Seriously, why would you go into engineering?"

I'm sorry, I thought we were living in the 21st century. I'll study engineering for the same damn reasons as anyone else, or no reason at all, but I don't think that I'm required to justify my motivations to anyone just because of my gender. Obviously, it makes a lot of sense to ask me about why I'm interesting in working for your company or in your industry. But to validate my mere existence? Piss off! Unless you'd like to stay around for the 2 hour saga of my lifelong dream to be a camp counsellor, drifting from summer to endless summer, running around outside, living in cabins, and having my food cooked for me.

But back to that interview... This was the very first thing the interviwer said to me when I came in the room. Well, actually, the first thing he said, incredulously, was, "You're.... a... GIRL!?!?" No joke. Then he asked if I was the first girl that had gone into engineering. I'm certainly not the only one, although I have been in some smaller classes of 30-40 where I was the only representative of my species... err gender in the room.

So, the interview keeps going. I talk about my last job designing and building equipment. Lots of design, lots of grungy shop work, and lots of mechanical skillz going into action. I also mention something about my old old job hauling dirt bales. After all of this, the interviewer looks up and says to me,
"I'm wondering if you would be able to handle all of this job. Some parts of it involve working in the shop. Sometimes people get dirty in the shop. Have you been in one before? Are you ok with being dirty?". So, at this point, it's pretty clear that this guy isn't listening to a thing I've said. I keep talking about my experience to try and quell any doubts he may have as to my qualifications. Then he apologizes, and says (more or less, I can't recall the exact phrasing), "I'm sorry, I just can't hire you for this. There is lots of dirt and heavy lifting, and it is not a proper environment for a woman. It is too noisy and too dangerous and you don't want to work there."

I should note that the job (apparently) involves carrying about 20 pounds, on occasion, across a shop floor. Which isn't a particularly deadly or evil machine shop floor, it's just a shop floor.

Finally, at the end of the "interview", he turns to his more linguistically gifted counterpart, who asks his big question... "So, uhh, like.. do you think you have any mechanical aptitude at all? Y'know like, uhh... guys like to fix cars and stuff. That's mechanical." Great. And that's coming from someone who apparently is a recent graduate of the university. I know it's not exactly polite to call out your boss for something, but seriously, THROW ME A FREAKING BONE HERE and tell your boss that he might not be reflecting the company's (supposedly friendly) hiring policy. Don't play "Play along with the boss and insult the woman's competence."

Also, no, I have no mechanical aptitude at all, and I hate machines with every fibre of my being. Thank you for reminding me of my one true calling, gold-digging. Say, are you single? How much are you carrying in student loans? Oh, nevermind...

Long story short, I called HR some time after the interview. I basically said, look, whether or not this guy is serious, I definitely didn't come away with a good impression of your company after that interview, and I'd appreciate it if you'd remove me from the list of candidates as I wouldn't feel comfortable working in that kind of environment. The HR person hemmed and hawed and said, "Oh, he's only been here for 8 years, his English isn't very good, I'm sure he didn't mean that." Basically, "You must be overreacting, I don't believe you." Thaaaanks.

Otherwise, the company was fairly nice about it and offered to consider me for a position in a different department. They said they would have a meeting with the interviewer and go over their company's tolerance policies . Wait, this guy has been conducting your hiring interviews for students (3-4 students a term, 2 terms a year) for several years and you've never been over this before? Or nobody has ever said anything? Or noticed?

How did he manage to avoid seeing a girl? Seriously, wtf!?!? Plus, if he hasn't ever interviewed a woman... that suggests that the likelihood that he hires them is fairly low. How has the company not noticed this? This is a fail at every level, if the company even remotely tries to pretend that it's interested in supporting, promoting, hiring, or even interacting with women in technical positions.

My co-ordinator at the school suggested that I push really hard to get the job, then be the female pioneer or something. I don't think that eight months of working in a shitty environment to only, at best, have someone say that I did just as good a job as the male students they've had, is really a worthwhile experience for me. Realistically, a single summer student isn't going to radically change a large company's attitudes or policies about anything. And, there's always the possibility that if I mess up anything on the job, they'll attribute it to me being a woman and not to me being inexperienced or anything, or just generally incompetent.

I'm not a fan of sit-there-and-take-it, but I also don't believe that this particular endeavour is worth it. Once I've graduated I think I'll be in a better position to go and revolutionize the revolution that should have happened 5o or so years ago for these companies. Until then, I'll be satisfied with shooting them dirty looks every time I see their booths at hiring fairs.
I tend to veer off on tangents. Pick your tangent from the menu on the right.