28 November 2009

My Headache

On my way to work this morning, I was involved in a car crash. And when I say this, I mean I was in a parking lot and hit a light pole head on while trying to leave the lot. It was fantastically and epically a "FAIL" moment if ever I've heard of one.

Basically, I was cutting across a row of empty parking spaces, glanced over at a silver car to make sure it wasn't going to hit me, and missed a light pole in the car's big blind spot between the driver's side window and the windshield. I hit the concrete base of the pole going about 16 miles per hour, and crumpled the front end of the car, damaged the radiator, and caused the airbag to deploy. The airbag whacked me really good in the face, and the exploding gas burned my arm pretty good - like a rug burn, only with the airbag fabric instead of carpet.

I wasn't out for more than a split second, and my only injuries are a nasty headache from the airbag and a stiff neck from the whiplash effect. I got out of the car on my own accord, and a couple nice ladies shopping in the area came to see if I was okay, and waited with me until a fire truck showed up (they weren't called to the scene, just doing some grocery shopping) and they stayed with me until Dad arrived. We made the decision not to go to the hospital (I don't have health insurance and couldn't possibly afford the medical expenses) and instead came home and took some Advil.

My neck's still stiff, and my head still hurts, but I think I'll probably live. What a nice way to celebrate my birthday tomorrow....

Turkey Day to Black Friday

Thanksgiving was nice around my place this year. I got to relax, watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, catch the Packers-Lions football game, and eat a bunch of great food Mom prepared. We had turkey (of course), stuffing, mashed potatoes, au gratin potatoes, banana bread, pumpkin bread, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole with French fried onions, jello and marshmallows, and pumpkin pie and apple pie. Delicious!

Hopefully, my readers all had a nice Thanksgiving with their families too.

Yesterday was Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. And after all that relaxing and turkey-eating I did, I had to work. I was scheduled to work the calendar kiosk from 8am to 5pm with a one hour break for lunch in between. I was also scheduled to have a partner to help me out during that time from 1pm-5pm. Both aspects didn't really materialize nicely though. My break was only scheduled from 2-3pm, after 6 hours of work, and since my partner didn't come down to the kiosk to help me and instead stayed on the book floor, 2:30-3:30pm was the ONLY relief I got all day. No water breaks, no bathroom breaks, no get-away-from-the-annoying-shoppers-and-clear-your-head-for-five-minutes breaks. It was frustrating to say the least.

But, on the whole, besides being completely drained and exhausted when I got home, I got through it okay. I am really glad that only comes once a year, and truth be told, it went better than I expected. The Black Friday shoppers really were not bad at all to deal with, save for one or two. One older gentleman came in to look at the Maxim and Playboy calendars we sell and I asked him if I could help him find anything. His reply: "Yeah, how 'bout $50 million so I can pay off my mortgage and shit?" My immediate reply without missing a beat: "Sure, sir. It's in center court right next to Santa's Workshop." I still don't know what that means, but that guy gave me a grunt and left - quickly. (This was at the very end of my nine-hour shift, and I was kind of done dealing with morons at that point.)

My fabulous schedule now allows me to work today for seven hours, tomorrow on my birthday for 4 1/2, Monday, and Tuesday before I get a day off. I'm getting almost 30 hours a week the last two weeks though, so I am hesitant to complain about hours and days off at this point. It would have been nice not to have to work on my birthday, though.

If you're by the mall, come feel free to stop by my calendar kiosk and say hello!

25 November 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know I've been neglecting to post as often as I usually do on here, but getting settled into the work routine is taking some time. I went from about 16 hours of work per month as a substitute teacher to about 25-30 hours per week at Borders starting just two short weeks ago.

At least work is improving for me. As I mentioned in my last post, the employees and managers are all very nice people, if a bit disorganized in the run up to the holidays. I am slowly but surely getting my training in on the various aspects of the store, though to be honest, I still spend most of my time out at the calendar kiosk, so I don't need to utilize that training much yet.

Earlier in the week, I also got my first "free" book from the store. Like I would imagine many large booksellers do, some publishers send out advance "press" manuscripts which are unedited or uncorrected for people to read and prepare themselves to sell or to write reviews on. Borders allows employees to read these advance copies, and once the book has been released and upon approval from management, we can take the copies to keep. Well, I got a manuscript of Anthony Zuiker's (the creator of the "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" TV phenomenon) new novel Level 26: Dark Origins. I finished it earlier this evening, and found it to be pretty good. There were some things I wish had been explained further, and some parts of the storyline were left as dramatic cliffhangers that I didn't feel were adequately resolved in further chapters, but all-in-all, it was a satisfying read.

The novel follows protagonists Steve Dark and FBI Agent Riggins in their search to catch the serial killer known as "Sqweegel." This sadist is an entirely new breed of serial killer, off the charts of the FBI's scale of "evil" which runs from 1 (justifiable homicide) to 25. Ted Bundy and Charles Manson didn't even crack the 20th level, whereas a new level had to be created for Sqweegel, a brutal homicidal maniac with a narcisistic complex so deep he actual believes he is a God among men, and has the skills and talents to make it seem almost plausible. That's where the book gets its "Level 26" title. Sqweegel has been maiming, torturing, and killing people for over two decades, and the only member of law enforcement to come even remotely close to catching him is Dark. However, after Dark's near apprehension of Sqweegel, the serial killer brutally murdered Dark's entire foster family, causing Dark to suffer an extreme breakdown and retire from the Special Circs Division of the FBI. The story begins here, with Riggins sent to bring Dark back into the hunt.

I won't give away any more details here, but I will mention that I am looking forward to the next Level 26 book, coming out in 2010. Aside from a good plot and writing, Level 26 is also the world's first "Digi-Book." At the end of every few chapters (about every 40 pages), readers are given a code which they can punch into a website (Level26.com) and watch the "Director's Cut" of what happened in that set of chapters. It's a way for the reader to really envision - quite literally - what the author was thinking without resorting to guessing on some details through one's mind's eye. Sadly, my press copy did not have the codes available to access the site's videos, but I plan on writing them down next time I can take a few minutes to go through a regular copy.

Anyway, enough blathering. If you're in the area, come stop by and say hello at the mall sometime. I'll be there for Uber-exciting Black Friday all-day goodness. I just hope I don't go completely crazy with how busy I'm imagining it will be. Apparently my little calendar kiosk will also be having a special sale: buy three calendars, get one free. Good gifts and all that.

Otherwise, I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving with your families, friends, or absent anyone else, the peace and goodwill of the country for a day. Enjoy the food, the floats, and the football... all the staples of a festive holiday!

18 November 2009

NOT Bookselling

I got home this afternoon from my fifth day working for Borders (notice the operative word "for" and not the word "at") and as promised on Facebook, I am writing a post here about how it's going.

To begin, I am not really working with books as I was told I would be. It's kind of a long story. My second day was Sunday, and I had called in to the store Friday morning asking what my next work day was, since my manager had not been able to post the schedule until Thursday night. I was told I worked 12:30pm-4:30pm. A short shift, to be sure, but I was also told that hours were tight, so I didn't think about it. Well, at 11:30am Sunday, I get a call asking me where the heck I am, since I was supposed to be there at 10:30am-4:30pm. Uh-huh....

I got there as soon as I could, explained my situation, and asked where they wanted me to work (I hadn't been trained on anything yet, so I was waiting for training). I was told to work at the information desk. Um, okay. I did that for an hour, then got moved to work at the kiosk. Ah, the kiosk. If you ever go to the mall during the holidays, you will see the stand set up in the middle of the walkway for the mall stuffed to the gills with calendars, and probably a bored-looking teenage kid sitting there waiting for someone to come by. Well, that's now me. All week. I am now Calendar Kiosk Boy.

Instead of my job involving shelving books, making recommendations of titles for literate academics, and cashiering, I now stand (by myself) in the middle of the mall for my entire shift trying to actively sell multiple calendars to snowbirds (they make a great gift!) who barely need one calendar to remind them of their ever-advancing years. To say nothing of the people who come by and ask, very specifically, if we have calendars of tap dancing polar bears or manhole covers from New York City (not LA or Tulsa, but NYC specifically).

At the interview, my manager very straightforwardly mentioned to me that I would be taking turns operating the kiosk around four-ish hours a week while it was open during the holidays. I come in on Sunday to find out that four people quit the store over the two nights I was off work and now I am scheduled to open this kiosk - alone and as a brand new employee - Monday through Thursday this week. Needless to say, I was frustrated with the obvious lack of communication. I kind of felt like I was lied to.

Now, it's not all as horrible as my hyperbole is making it sound. I mean, yeah, I open the kiosk alone, I don't see any other Borders employees all day until my shift ends, and since I work a mere 5 hours a day, I don't get a break (not that any of the other employees are "trained" to work my kiosk register - a 1985 MS DOS computer hooked up to a printer that still uses a ribbon to print on the register tape), and if I need to use the facilities or get a drink, then I have to call the store up and wait for someone to come and relieve me for ten minutes (the only time I tried this, it took 40 minutes). I mean, I do enjoy a level of independence (did I mention that my first day at the kiosk the loss prevention guy stalked me from the upper level of the mall for at least an hour to make sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing?) that I wouldn't get in the main store, and I get a 33% discount on books (but no discount on calendars, strangely enough).

The one true positive out of all this is that the people I work with - the loss prevention guy, my managers, and the few other booksellers I've actually met ARE actually nice people. I just think there are some problems with the infrastructure and the policies set therein. I imagine that working this kiosk won't be too bad either the closer we get to the new year, as it ought to be quite busy after Thanksgiving. Then I will have something to focus on besides how many times I can "straighten" shelves which haven't been touched before the next customer comes along.

I have never liked retail work. I just need a job with a paycheck to last me a little while before I start looking again for something that doesn't involve me trying to push people to buy a product. I always feel dirty trying to make someone shell out money for something they don't need and could probably get way, way, WAY cheaper after January 1st.

10 November 2009


After more than 18 months of resume-sending, odd-job-doing, waiting and waiting, I am now the official owner of a part-time permanent retail job selling books at Borders Bookstore at the store here in Mesa. In the Kids Books Dept. no less.

I am also proud to say that I owned my interview. I wasn't worried about it (I usually don't interview very well), and I think partly because I really was at that point where I didn't want to care too much about it (though I did care a lot if I got the job) or about how I was being perceived. I had quick, detailed answers to all the interview questions, including the tricky "if you had a team member who was slacking, and you had to do groupwork together, how would you handle that person not pulling their weight?" I called upon my experience selling books at University Text and Tools, my customer service experience from Bashas, and my "dealing with problems" experience from being a resident assistant from Mountain View. And I frickin' ACED the interview. If you can't tell, this is me feeling good about it.

Anyway, I was offered a job pretty much on the spot, accepted it, and I get to start tomorrow with paperwork and cashier training. Then it's floor training, Kids Dept. training, and then crosstraining in other departments over the next couple weeks. Then the holidays hit, it'll be crazy... CRAZY... for a bit, and then in January I'll take stock, see where I am, and maintain the job while I continue my search for something more in my field. Mercifully, I will get to do that at a more relaxed clip knowing that I will have a job until I get laid off or fired or decide to leave, which I don't plan on doing until I have something else to leave for. So yay!

Okay, enough elated babbling... I normally don't yammer on like this unless I'm really excited, which I am now. So look for more fun posts about how things are going in the near future. Apparently as an employee at Borders, I get a couple fun perks!

Update on S.A. 2631

I know there were a couple of my longtime dedicated readers who expressed an interest in my quest to have Senate Amendment 2631 by Sen. Tom Coburn fail on the appropriations bill for the Justice, Commerce, and Science. I am pleased to announce that the amendment did indeed fail 36-62 with 2 not voting.

As you can see, both my Arizona Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl voted to pass the amendment, so I'm not exactly pleased with them right now - and with McCain up for re-election this next year, I'll be seeing what other candidates there are running against him more closely now. 31 Republicans voted for the bill along with 5 Democrats, and 9 Republicans, one Independent, and 52 Democrats helped vote it down. The two who did not vote were Sens. Byrd and Landrieu, both Democrats.

Congrats and thank you to those who helped my "crusade" out by calling your Senators!

09 November 2009


I have a job interview tomorrow! It's with Border's Bookstore at the mall, and I'll probably only get minimum wage, but I have a JOB INTERVIEW TOMORROW! For the first time since forever ago...! Hallelujah! I'll let my readership know how it goes tomorrow evening! For now, just enjoy a little bit of Handel's "Messiah."

[Edit: After I wrote this, posted it, and viewed it on the blog, I couldn't help but think how sad it is that I have to get this excited just for a retail job interview... not even a job offer yet, mind you, just the interview. Recession = yuck!]

05 November 2009

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, 'twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catched
With a dark lantern and burning match.

Holla boys, holla boys, let the bells ring.
Holla boys, holla boys, God save the King!
And what should we do with him? Burn him!

Guy Fawkes Day, commemorated on - appropriately - November 5th, celebrates the downfall of the Gunpowder Plot, led by Fawkes and members of a Catholic conspiracy to bring down the Houses of Parliament in London on 11/05/1605.

I learned the poem above when I was much younger, before it was given a storyline for my generation in the movie "V for Vendetta." And even though I don't celebrate with festivities like in England and many of the former British commonwealths, I still like to remember the story of the Plot and this poem.

For most of the rest of the world, Guy Fawkes Day slips by unnoticed as what is now called Bonfire Day in Labrador, British Columbia, and Newfoundland in Canada. New Zealand and South Africa commemorate the day with fireworks shows, while Australia stopped its celebrations of Nov. 5th due to the banning of the public use of fireworks. In Britain, where the largest celebrations occur, people burn effigies of Fawkes and build bonfires which they cook in, not dissimilar to the American Fourth of July and our traditions of fireworks and backyard barbeques.

So my friends, if even for just a moment, remember, remember the Fifth of November - if nothing else, it marks one of the first times a major terrorist plot was thwarted by a government... 404 years ago today.

04 November 2009

The Quarter-Term Elections

For those of you who don't follow politics, as I'm sure many of you do not, yesterday was Election Day for the mid-midterm elections and special elections from around the country. There were a few interesting races, made even more interesting after the votes were tallied.

In Virginia, Bob McDonnell (R) beat R. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat, by a margin of 18% to become the first Republican governor of that state in eight years. In New Jersey, Republican Chris Christie defeated incumbent Governor Jon Corzine by 5% to take that state's top job.

These two races matter mostly because they seem to be indicative of not only the political sentiments in the New England area, but also because they are a sort of referendum of the job President Obama is doing. Of course, it's very difficult to say one way or another whether this is a microcosm of the way the whole country feels, given that it's a political off-year, and the sample size represents only two out of 100 states, but the very fact that two Republicans defeated two Democrats - one an incumbent governor - in typically-blue New England in races for which the President made robo-calls and campaigned in both states on behalf of the Democrats shows just how weakened the President's power has become in recent days. Given that Obama decisively won both states and split Independent voters in 2008, the dramatic switch to right-leaning Independent voting patterns is telling. It will be very interesting to see how the President responds in the next year leading up to the 2010 midterm elections, and whether that provides a clearer picture of the political spectrum of the American voter.

Other important races around the country did get shunted to the side in the media reporting of the two gubernatorial races. Here's a breakdown:

NY-23 Congressional Race: This one was particularly interesting because the Republican candidate in the race (Dierdre Scozzafava) dropped out just a few days ago due to wilting support, and supported the DEMOCRATIC candidate over the Conservative Party candidate, Doug Hoffman. If I'm correct, this represents the first true showing of the schism between the libertarian-leaning GOP and the "moderate" GOP. The Tea Party-type conservative members, who are really much closer to anarchists than conservatives, have been stirring the political pot lately in response to the socialist tendencies of the current Congress and White House. This makes sense: when one party goes to an extreme, the other must become more extremist to balance it out. The GOP started it with the neoconservative ideology of President George W. Bush in 2000, and the country as a whole after 2004 pushed back so hard that it made it possible for an ultra-liberal extremist like Barack Obama (or even Hillary Clinton, had she won the nomination) to beat out another neoconservative like John McCain. In response, ultra-conservative groups and candidates have been springing up to counteract that shift in ideology. Strangely, perhaps even ironically, it's probably going to take a revolution, as the ultra-conservatives like the Ron Paul Revolutionists and the Tea Party activists suggest, to bring the country back to the middle.

NYC Mayor: No big surprise, Michael Bloomberg won another term as Mayor, easily defeating William Thompson by 50,000 votes.

CA-10 Congressional: Another big surprise - Democrat John Garamendi won the seat 53%-42% over Republican David Harmer.

Maine Gay Marriage Repeal: Voters in Maine agreed to reject the existing law that allows same-sex couples to marry in the state, and allows religious groups and individuals to refuse to marry same-sex couples if they choose. It's a setback for gay-rights activists, but with the trend of the country to be more accepting of gay issues, I would imagine this repeal will eventually be repealed itself in the near future.

Maine Medical Marijuana: Voters approved a measure to expand medical marijuana usage and coverage to more treatment plans, and to create a regulatory system to oversee distribution.

Washington Domestic Partnerships: With 51% of precincts reporting as of this writing, the vote stands at 51%-49% in favor of allowing domestic partnerships with all the rights and responsbilities of marriage, without calling their living arrangement a marriage.

Here in Arizona, I cast my ballot on exactly one question: extending an already-existing tax of $0.79 per $100.00 on property to continue to fund the Mesa Unified School District #4. I parked, drew my line, got my sticker, and went home. Seriously, voting isn't supposed to be that simple! How did I vote on the tax extension? I'm not telling, but whether I voted for it or against it, it did pass by a considerable margin, so property owners, be prepared to pay the same amount in MUSD taxes as you have been for the last decade.

01 November 2009

Sudoku Math

I enjoy puzzles. I always have. Crosswords, logic puzzles, cryptograms, and number puzzles. That said, the Japanese "sudoku" puzzle is actually a fairly recent source of enjoyment for me. I never learned about them when growing up, and only did my first one while I was still in college.

So today, while I was working on a sudoku puzzle, I started to wonder how many different combinations of those 81 digits there could possibly be. Now, I'm no mathematician, but others are, and a quick Google search gave me my answer: there are 6,670,903,752,021,072,936,960 possible LEGAL sudoku number puzzle combinations.

Or in word form: six sextillion, six hundred seventy quintillion, nine hundred three quadrillion, seven hundred fifty-two trillion, twenty-one billion, seventy-two million, nine hundred thirty-six thousand, nine hundred sixty. That is (really roughly) 6.67 x 10^21 puzzles. That's about three times more puzzle combinations than there are atoms in a standard U.S. penny. It's also about 300 times more puzzles than there are red blood cells in the adult human body. And it's about 8,130,000,000 times the amount of U.S. dollars in circulation around the world as of 2007.

A guy by the name of Bertram Felgenhauer and his partner Frazer Jarvis came up with the calculation for this number back in 2005: (2^15)(3^8)(5^7)(27,204,267,971) = (9!)(72^2)(2^7)(27,204,267,971) = 6.67*10^21 puzzles.

However, the number of essentially different puzzles, meaning puzzles which aren't so close to being alike that all you'd have to do is swap a couple numbers and it's pretty much the same for everything else was calculated to be a mere 5,472,730,538 puzzles by Mr. Jarvis and his partner Ed Russell.

Why am I posting this information? Didn't I know it would make most people have a headache by the time they finished reading? Yes. Absolutely. I just found it interesting and wanted to write. So there. Point of the post: go do a sudoku puzzle with this new perspective on just how many combinations there could possibly be to fit those numbers into there. It'll blow your mind (again)!