Monday, September 28, 2009

All Aboard The Good Train Seaview

Today1 I could not, under an circumstances, be late for work.

I had one of those interminable "Meet the Teacher" nights at the Stevieling's school and had to be there at 7 pm. Why they insist on doing this is beyond me since almost everyone with a kid in that school has at least one parent who works in the city and who probably cannot get there under normal circumstances until 7:30pm without taking time off work.

Not only that, the way they do it means that you only get about ten minutes with each teacher to ask about the whole business of education from their point of view as it applies to your child.

Of course, the whole point is actually so the teacher can harangue parents about getting the kids to do their homework. Naturally, no-one is allowed to point out that most teachers today rarely do more than glance at said homework, let alone do anything so outré as mark the stuff with a grade, so the message is lost on the kids anyway. I often feel like yelling "you treat the homework seriously and so will we!" at these people. I digress.

As I say, I could not be late and so had little of my customary short patience to spare for the particular brand of idiot that infested the roads this morning. Traffic light dawdling was about usual2 with a nice variation when someone in a Ford Behemoth stopped at the green light to converse with the crossing guard. But pride of place has to go with the two dimwits who followed a semi into the hard shoulder just before the turn onto the main route to the station, then realised it wasn't going to turn, causing them to foul the now-moving traffic with their attempts to pull around the truck and make the turn.

Mistaking the hard shoulder for a "turning lane" is a common error in these parts. Almost everyone uses the shoulder as a turning lane, and few realise that it really isn't legal to do that. But what takes le Grand Prix Des Idiot Blithering in this case is that anyone familiar with the turn (the one just after going under the railway bridge) could not possibly have expected the truck to make the turn from the hard shoulder since it would have had trouble making the turn from the outside lane of Deer Park Avenue. American tractor-trailer rigs are long. The bloody thing would have demolished a car park wall if it had tried anything so monumentally stupid and the people in those cars should have been able to figure that out and factor it into their decision to pull in behind it.

I made the turn (around the truck) and in no time at all was sitting at the light where the right-turn immediately crosses the LIRR tracks a few yards west of Wyandanch LIRR station. This light is especially challenging for the L. I. driver because a natural tendency to treat "No turn on red" signs as optional, the crossing route being a major truck route and an innate lack-of-mental-oomph when it comes to who has right-of-way in a train vs. truck situation4. The light turns green, the crossing alarm goes off, the gate comes down and that is the signal for trucks turning right to enter battle with oncoming trucks turning left for the small area in front of the gate with no regard for the poor sods trying to go straight on. Massive traffic jams result if the poor sods don't get a clue and zig-zag between the turning trucks.

I eventually made it to a parking spot in a side street (all the parking spots in the LIRR lot are now taken by rich-git lawyers5 newly returned from their summer vacations) and leapt from my car to begin the sprint for the train. I could not be late.

Which was when, of course, I discovered I had left my wallet at home.

Pausing only to curse everyone and everything in the entire universe across all time while simultaneously doing the Rage Dance, I returned to the Steviemobile and drove home to get the wretched thing. Doing this made me miss the train, lose my parking space and be late. Thus was the day off to a rip-roaring start. One could only hold one's breath in anticipation of what the day might hold in store afterwards.

I lightened my journey by reading a book on Object Oriented Perl, a computer language that is many things to many people but is singularly unsuited to the rather arcane business of being Object Oriented6. That one can do the Object Oriented Programming thing at all in perl is a wonderment to be sure, but a first choice for the job it ain't, and the book reads rather like a primer in tax instructions written in Linear B. Unfortunately I was in a noisy car, liberally salted with cell phone louts and Typhoid Marys7 so I couldn't escape the book in the arms of Lethe8. Well, I might have done so if the bloody train hadn't been imitating that damned submarine from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" and lurching unpredictably from side to side by a couple of feet every few seconds as we crossed yet another section of precision trackwork laid by the experts of the LIRR Permanent Way department. My brains felt like they were in a cocktail shaker. It's a wonder I didn't get a concussion.

I arrived at work, spent several fruitless hours trying to be productive, then made ready to leave early for the parent-teacher froofaraw. I decided to simply record my time in a spreadsheet rather than do battle with the official time collection system. For that I would need a clearer head.

The timesheet system is a piece of unadulterated crap which was designed around the central idea that the workforce was stealing time by not allowing an (unpaid) hour for lunch when doing the sums. Consequently, the bloody thing wants to deduct an hour from the recorded time once a given number of hours have been worked. I won't get into the arguments that have arisen as a result of someone working exactly that number of hours, but let's just say the process is ill-understood by the administrative assistants charged with collecting consultant timesheets. I am no longer a consultant so I just have to do battle with the machine.

And what a work of genius it is.

The interface provides no short cuts like an "I will be out all day" checkbox or an "I will be out all week" option. It is easy to enter the times absolutely honestly and find out two weeks later that you've been docked an hour's leave without pay because you factored in the lunch hour when you entered the times, then the machine factored it in again because it assumed you were trying to cheat the system. It also wants you to slide your start time to the end of your one hour "flex-time" window. This means if you book a week's vacation and start it at the earlier time, you'll get docked an hour because the software can't work out that you just took a bloody week off and slides the start times of the second and subsequent days but not the end time of the last day because you put that in when you booked the vacation under the assumption, like the dolt you are, the stupid thing was an actual, real timekeeping system, and your return from a week's well-earned rest (or a hospital: it does it for sick time too) is marked by the arrival in the mail of an LWOP notification. Getting that first LWOP notification in the mail is a Rite of Passage in this place. Everyone has fallen for it at least once, and we all keep an ear open for the anguished howls of the consultant-turned-salaried-employee figuring out that his/her first LWOP is not the result of mistaken timekeeping on their part, but lack of familiarity with the idiot logic it uses to "verify" the figures.

I long ago wrote a spreadsheet to figure it all out, and use it to record my time, transferring the figures to the official system when I'm properly alert.

Once I got home and then to the school I was forced to wait half an hour in the foyer, then I had to listen to administration staff lecture me for almost half an hour, leaving approximately eight minutes allocated for each teacher to talk to us and invite questions once we had actually located them in their classrooms. This meant a detailed examination of curriculum issues - such as why the Chemistry class, already three years late in the scheme of things, is dwelling on Physics rather than Acid + Base = Salt + Water, what valency means and how it works, and when are they going to get down to brass tacks and do some chemistry - is out of the question. I started doing this stuff at eleven. My kid hasn't so much as done a litmus test and she's sixteen. She did spend three school years studying plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanism though. No wonder the Americans compare so badly with the rest of the educating world9 when it comes to the after effects of their schooling.

We decided to decamp to Five Guys burgers afterwards for some much-needed comfort food while each of us pondered the meat-grinding education system and what it meant to us. The food was good, the conclusions weren't.

I can't fault The Stevieling on this one: School most decidedly Sucks.

  1. Thursday last. I'm a little backed up on these posts. Actually, that's like saying the economy is a little out of sorts right now. I might explain the why of the blog thing if I decide that I have reached the absolute nadir of my humiliation. I couldn't tell you the why of the economy, and neither, apparently, can anyone else.
  2. I sometimes lighten the3 mood by pretending to be the driver at the head of the line when the light changes by screaming in a falsetto voice" It's changed colour! What do I do? Why doesn't someone tell us what to do?". It wiles away the delay while the moron in question finally Gets A Clue and their vehicle starts rolling forward. The Stevieling thinks this is hilarious. Mrs Stevie, not so much
  3. i.e. my
  4. And what idiot puts a boom-gate right where a truck would need to stop when it illegally turns just when a train hoves into view only to find another red light? Who could predict that this would end with a busted gate, a dinged-up truck and a massive traffic jam, armed only with the knowledge of several years driving the same route?
  5. Please don't contest this on the grounds that you are a lawyer and you aren't rich: I share trains with these dolts and have to listen to their loud conversations and phone calls. If you are a lawyer who isn't rich, you’re doing it wrong
  6. Computer programs can be written in many ways. Doing so in a structured manner that provides clarity to the maintenance team, simplicity to the designer and efficient use of low-level resources when running has been a nirvana in the business since the advent of high-level computer languages. Object Oriented Programming is the latest and arguably most successful idea along these lines to come down the pike since Babbage started drawing axles and cogs. Like all the other stylistic fads that came before it, it is controversial and widely misunderstood. Funnily enough, most of the arguments about it center on how unobject oriented this or that language is, while failing to grasp the essential detail that if the bloody software doesn't work it doesn't matter how itis written
  7. Nothing says "sick day" like a ride on public transport in NY
  8. Couldn't get to sleep either
  9. Everyone looks good when comparing themselves to places that base their education system on extremist religious doctrine of course

No comments: