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Day 26: “No Goblin King yet.” Modern Wizard in the Labyrinth

Day 26: “No Goblin King yet.” Modern Wizard in the Labyrinth published on No Comments on Day 26: “No Goblin King yet.” Modern Wizard in the Labyrinth

My current temp assignment places me in the state’s largest office complex, as measured by square footage. Like the hospital where I once worked, the complex started as separate buildings, together forming an integrated plant for the manufacture of computer chips. Over the course of expansion, separate pieces of architecture merged into one convoluted maze. The company that originally filled these buildings now retains only a ghost of a presence; current primary tenants are another chip manufacturer that bought out the local division of the first and a division of the state’s Health Access Department, where I work.

I’m ostensibly here to do UAT testing, which in itself is its own recursion of absurdity, but, after several weeks, I’m now 86.2% certain that I’m in the Labyrinth. Here’s the evidence:

Everything looks the same. The sadistic genius who constructed this place started off with that thoroughly dank industrial style common to so many 1960s and 1970s office buildings: unadorned square forms the color of wet mud, cement walls, long rectangular windows impossible to open, raw metal pillars, endless corridors – all topped off with liberal use of jaundiced fluorescent lighting. After duplicating this style in several cubes, they then linked the cubes together with identical glass catwalks. I have walked around for fifteen minutes, expecting myself to be in one building, only to realize I’ve gone through three replications instead.

The landmarks aren’t landmarks. When I discovered that one of the glass catwalks had bird decals along its sides, I rejoiced, thinking I had found a way to differentiate it from all the other catwalks. But no. All the other catwalks have the exact same decals, in the exact same pattern, at the exact same positions. It’s like the place is working against me.

The arrows point the wrong way. There are signs pointing to two key locations, the cafeteria and the state offices. 95% of them actually show you which way to go, but 5% of them point you in precisely the opposite direction, just for shits and giggles. Of course I followed the 5%.

The maps show you where you aren’t. I came across a route for indoor walking that described a loop through several buildings. It showed a location where the route started, but there was no indication of where I was in relation to that starting point. What is the point of a map if there’s no basis for comparison?

The denizens have a sarcastic and scatological sense of humor. I saw a sign on a door that said, “We provide fast service…no matter how long it takes!” Also someone scribbled out the first word on the “Records Retention Room” label and wrote “Poop” instead.

Time runs differently here. You may have no idea where you are around here, but you’ll always know what time it is. Well, scratch that. You’ll always see a clock, as they hang throughout the halls at junctions both major and minor. You’ll probably never know what time it is, as each clock seems to preside over its own local time zone that varies from all contiguous ones anywhere between zero and ten minutes.

There are dangers untold and hardships unnumbered. To get to my office, for example, I must traverse the Fiery Corridor of Death, a catwalk in which the overcranked HVAC combines with exposure to natural sunlight to yield about 50 feet of heady, smothering heat. Then, of course, there are the Exits of Mockery, which means that the door most convenient to my car would sound a fire alarm if I opened it, so I have to circumvent it with a 10-minute walk in the opposite direction. And then there’s a Failure Analysis Lab, where, I assume, you are taunted with explicit details of all your past mistakes until you cry. Chilling.

I suppose that, if I solve the maze, I will escape and win a permanent job with decent pay and benefits. But what constitutes a solution? Should I be heading for the center? As far as I can tell, this place has no center. Should I be heading for an exit?

And who’s in charge of this thing? The Goblin King appears to be conspicuously absent, which I suppose is good because he’s an immature, petulant little shit. So should I be looking for Daedalus or perhaps Ariadne? Should I be on my guard for a Minotaur? Now that I think about it, I do hear a dull roar, but that could just be the air conditioning….

Passive-aggressive note found in the wild: a job description for PERSON USING KITCHEN

Passive-aggressive note found in the wild: a job description for PERSON USING KITCHEN published on No Comments on Passive-aggressive note found in the wild: a job description for PERSON USING KITCHEN

I found this gem of passive aggression on the shared drive at my current workplace. Apparently the former receptionist disliked the messes people were leaving in the kitchen, so created a job description for PERSON USING KITCHEN, printed it out, and left it on the kitchen counter.

I have copied and pasted the job description barely disguised rant below, changing only the identifying details of the company. Punctuation, boldface, and formatting come straight from the original.





The person using the kitchen has primary responsibility for the day-to-day clean-up of the Acme Corporation’s Building A kitchen, with the goal of increasing both the cleanliness and the general appearance thereof.  The kitchen user also works closely with fellow staff to manage all aspects of the kitchen program, including the sink, surfaces, fridge and floors. The kitchen user reports to everyone else in Building A at the Acme Corporation.



60%        Wash your dishes.  Don’t leave them in the sink.  Put them in the dishwasher or wash them and put them in the rack to dry.  Even dry them yourself.  Put them away after they air-dry.  Don’t put away other people’s dishes. This just encourages them not to put away their own. Proactively load the dishwasher. All employees take equal ownership in a TEAM APPROACH to our COMMUNITY KITCHEN including loading, starting/running the dishwasher as well as unloading it. This is no single person with this responsibility – we should all do this freely. If you do not know how to turn it, on please ask a co-worker!

25%        Partner with your colleagues to keep the fridge pretty clean.  Friday is a good day to give it a once-over.  It’s actually kind of fun to find what other life forms have found fuel in neglected lunches.  Finding someone else’s ancient salad will let you feel superior for a few minutes, too.  On the other hand, don’t take someone else’s food, even if it is just a few tablespoons of salad dressing.

10%        Play an active, effective, team-oriented role in developing and implementing your own strategy for cleaning up after yourself.  You know what to do.

5%          Other duties as assigned.


Specific standards of performance will be captured as metrics in an annual kitchen plan.



  • Team-oriented style combined with the ability and desire to achieve a high level of cleanliness.
  • Strong interpersonal skills and experience in exercising discretion in a potentially germ-infested environment.
  • Ability to motivate and manage our team to do the same.
  • Evening and weekend work is required to fulfill job responsibilities, except you don’t have to clean the kitchen on the weekend. Do that at your own house.



  • Higher standards.
  • Experience living closely with other people.
  • A demonstrated ability to clean up after yourself.
  • Comfort with dishrags, kitchen towels, scrub brush and ice maker.
  • Ability to run a dish washer.
  • Willingness to ask if you do not know what the proper community kitchen etiquette is.


This masterpiece contains so many grace notes [?!] that it’s impossible to call them all out, but let me highlight a few favorites.

“Wash your dishes. …Even dry them yourself.” You can just hear the writer muttering, “Novel concept, huh?”

“All employees take equal ownership, in a TEAM APPROACH, etc., etc., etc.” Boldface and caps lock = srs bzns. So basically this entire document could be boiled down to “Use the goddamn dishwasher!!!!!”

“Finding someone else’s ancient salad will let you feel superior for a few minutes, too.” Author invites readers to share sneering contempt.

“5% Other duties as assigned.” I shudder to think.

“…experience in exercising discretion in a potentially germ-infested environment.” Some of these parody lines are actually kinda funny.

“Preferred Skills and Abilities: Higher standards.” Oh burn!

New [to me] business jargon

New [to me] business jargon published on No Comments on New [to me] business jargon

At my job I have encountered some [new-to-me] business jargon: “value-add,” “moving the dial,” and “down in the weeds.”

A “value-add,” as far as I can tell, is either the essential point of something or the usefulness of something. The term most frequently comes up in my workplace in questions such as “What is the value-add for this ask?” Translation: “What’s the point of this request?” [Implied answer: “This is a worthless request, so we are going to ignore it.” :p ]

To “move the dial” means to cause significant change. For example, in a performance improvement project, the participants dig around to determine what changes have the greatest effect. These changes “move the dial” on the project, driving the improvements.

“Down in the weeds” just means in amongst the fine-grained details of something. People around here refer to getting “down in the weeds” to find out what will “move the dial” on something they’re working on. I find this an odd term because, to me, weeds connote unwanted distractions, so I think of “down in the weeds” as an undesirable place. However, in business jargon, it just appears to be a value-neutral term in contrast to, say, a bird’s-eye view.

The moral of the story: If you have to go down in the weeds to find the value-add of an ask, it’s probably not going to move the dial.

The Rule of 5 and the mystery painting

The Rule of 5 and the mystery painting published on No Comments on The Rule of 5 and the mystery painting

Sometime when I was back in college, I found a nifty painting of the number 5, surrounded by red and gold and strong diagonals that drew the eye. I didn’t know the name or artist, but put the picture in the scrapbook, as 5 is my favorite number.

Recently, I just started a job where the person I am working for has an ideal schedule of ≤5 hours of meetings a day. Assuming an eight-hour work day, ≤5 hours gives her time to  move between meeting locations, accomplish assignments from the meetings, reduce the amount of work she takes home, leave the office at a reasonable time, etc., etc. In other words, she stands a chance of having a work/life balance. She impressed upon me that this was not some pie-in-the sky goal, but a serious necessity for her overall happiness, health and efficacy. I decided that this guiding principle should be called the Rule of 5.

I thought I should hang in my office a reminder to adhere to the Rule of 5 in all my scheduling endeavors, so I immediately recalled the dramatic 5 painting from my scrapbook. Tragically, since my scrapbook had been lost, I couldn’t just pull the poster and bring to work. I had to find the mystery painting on the Internet.

I tried “no. five” as search terms on Google, since I remembered those words in the painting, but that mostly brought up Jackson Pollock’s work. Nope.

I then tried an image search for “no. five,” and the sixth result showed the painting I remembered. It’s called “The Figure 5 in Gold” by Charles Demuth, and it’s a portrait of his friend, William Carlos Williams, through a visual interpretation of Williams’ poem “The Great Figure.” Judith Dobrzynski writes a lucid overview of the painting’s context and significance in the Wall Street Journal.

Anyway, now I have a print-out of the painting on my bulletin board at work, for professional and aesthetic reasons.

Adventures in scientific publishing, part 2

Adventures in scientific publishing, part 2 published on No Comments on Adventures in scientific publishing, part 2

Me: Your references are out of order. [explains where the problems are and how to fix them]

Corresponding Author: I fixed them. [provides updated document with lingering errors]

Me: Your references are still out of order. [explains where the problems are and how to fix them]

Corresponding Author: Now I fixed them. [provides updated document with lingering errors]

Me: >_<

My Supervisor: Let the manuscript editors deal with it.

Manuscript Editors: >:(

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