Archive for the ‘The Student Job Experience’ Category

Crunch Time in the Machine Tool Lab

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s the last week of the semester, projects are due in both the freshman and junior machine shop courses by the end of the week, and things are extra bonus crazy in the MTL as a result.  I’ve had people I’ve never seen before coming in for night lab the last couple of weeks.  This week night lab has been extended from 6-9 to 5-10, which made for a long night Monday and a longer one today, when I already was scheduled to work 2-5.

We were going to close from 5 to 6 so I could go get some dinner, but one of the guys asked what it would take to convince me to stay and keep the shop open through the dinner hour.  I said I’d do it if someone brought me a pizza.

So he had one delivered.

Who am I to argue with that kind of dedication?

Unfortunately, the only thing to drink in this joint is the kinda-iffy-tasting city water from the fountain out in the shop, and half a pizza and some garlicky breadsticks later, I’m gasping for something better.  I won’t be getting anything for another three-and-a-quarter hours, though, alas.  The MTL needs a soda machine.  One of those old-timey ones that do paper cups with ice in them.  Does anyone even make that kind of vending machine any more?  They were absolutely the best.

Elder Days Story Time

December 1, 2011 1 comment

In high school I was a performing arts nerd.  I was in the concert band and the jazz band, and though I wasn’t a member of the chorus or show choir, I did appear in the fall musical a couple of times, because it was the only student theater option available in that half of the academic year.  My junior year, though, I forget what the musical was, but it was something I wasn’t interested in appearing in, so I spent that fall doing lighting instead.

This is by way of background information so you’ll understand – if you have any background in theater tech geekery yourself – why what I am about to relate has stuck in my memory all these years.  You see, in the spring of my junior year, I was picked to attend one of those state music workshop things, wherein people from the various concert bands at schools around the state gather in a neutral location, rehearse for a couple of days, and then perform as a sort of high school concert band supergroup.  Power Station for brass and woodwinds, basically.

That year the workshop was held at what was then called the Maine Center for the Arts, a big concert hall-cum-museum on the University of Maine campus in Orono.  (It’s now called the Collins Center for the Arts, presumably in honor of some generous alumnus or other.)  At the time the MCA was brand shiny new and something of a showpiece, Maine’s state-of-the-art performing arts venue, and so it was quite a big deal for a bunch of high school bandsters to be given the run of the place for a couple of days.

One day I was moseying around backstage during one of the breaks, snooping around and comparing the facility to the auditorium at my high school (which, he said immodestly, was one of the best in the state), when I noticed the door to the tech director’s office.  It had what appeared to be a brightly colored sign taped to it, but when I investigated more closely I found that it was not, in fact, a sign at all, but a lighting gel.  I have reproduced here a basic artist’s impression of what it looked like.


As a recent veteran of lighting the previous November’s fall musical, this killed me dead.

As Bill Cosby once said, I told you that story to tell you this one.  ‘Cause it’s getting on toward the end of the semester now, and the tools here in the machine tool lab are starting to show the wear.  We’ve got a lot of end mills with broken teeth, snapped drill bits, and the usual debris that piles up as students do what students do… but last night I came across a Failure-Enriched Tool that teaches a whole different, much more specialized lesson, and I thought it deserved immortalization.


This used to be a 1/4” high-speed-steel end mill.  It’s now a reasonably ineffectual paperweight, but not because someone used too much feed and snapped it, or had it set at the wrong angle and snapped it, or tried to plunge with it too vigorously and broke off all the teeth.  Those are what you might call the ordinary failure states for an end mill around here.

No, if this end mill were a sign taped to the tool crib door, it would say, WHY DO WE WATCH OUR FREAKING RPMS WHEN MILLING ALUMINUM?

That is much more ambitious failing, since it actually involved molten metal.  I particularly like how whoever did it had the sangfroid to just put it back in its container and return it to the crib as if nothing untoward had happened.  And now I’m in here with a sharpened markup scribe trying to pry that crap out of there.  Thanks, unknown inept student!

Strange Things Are Afoot

October 25, 2011 3 comments

I was on duty in the tool crib tonight, and nothing was happening.  I didn’t have any customers in the shop, and after some activity elsewhere in the building earlier in the evening, all was quiet.

Until about 7:30, when someone sloped into the shop and walked right past the tool checkout window without comment.  This is not actually all that unusual; you have to go past the window and actually come into the crib to collect one of the student toolboxes, and people often do that first, then claim a machine and get set up before they come to the window for the more specialized tools that are not in the toolboxes.  (The toolboxes contain the most commonly used tools, like digital calipers, Allen wrenches, a Crescent wrench, a deadblow hammer, and suchlike.)

Except the new arrival didn’t come in for a toolbox either.  For a second I thought it must have been the campus police officer who, on making his rounds, often cuts through the MTL and leaves via the outside door at the far end – but the next sound I heard wasn’t the door.  It was the whir of one of the pedestal grinders over on that wall starting up.

There’s another machine shop in the MTL, down in the other wing, where the seniors work on their capstone projects.  I thought maybe my unannounced visitor had come from there, needing one of our grinders to sharpen up the tool he was using or something (it failed to occur to me at the time that surely there’s a grinder in the capstone shop), so I didn’t pay it much mind as the sound of repeated passes on the grinding wheel filled the shop.  This went on for four or five minutes, and then I heard the grinder switch off and start spinning slowly down (they have a lot of inertia, grinder wheels, and keep spinning for quite a while after the power’s off).

A moment later, the person who had been using it walked back past the tool window.  It was a young guy, unremarkable-looking; I didn’t recognize him, but that’s not that unusual, I don’t know everybody in the program by any stretch.  That wasn’t the strange and arresting thing about him.

No, that would have been the fact that he was carrying a fireman’s axe, gleaming and evidently just sharpened.

He noticed me sitting behind the tool counter (having failed to do so on his way in, apparently), looked slightly surprised, then smiled and said, “Have a nice night, man,” and went casually out into the hall and away.

I sat there for a minute trying to absorb what I had just seen, then called the campus police department’s non-emergency dispatch number and told the dispatcher, “Hey, listen, I don’t know if this is anything, but some guy just breezed into the machine tool lab and sharpened an axe on one of our grinders.”

“… What?” came the puzzled reply.

“Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Uh… do you know who it was?”


“Did he appear intoxicated?”

“Nope.  Seemed perfectly normal.  Except that he was carrying around a fire axe for no evident reason.”

“Uh, OK, I’ll send someone to check it out.”

A few minutes later there was a banging at the lab’s outside door, and I went out to let in the most skeptical police officer by whom it’s ever been my privilege to  be considered daft.  He asked me to repeat what I’d told the dispatcher, then spent a couple of minutes trying to get a handle on why I had reported this evidently trivial incident to the campus police.

“So is the problem here that he was using university property for personal use?” he asked.

“No, I’m not concerned about that, not on one of the grinders.  It’s just… mysterious guy roaming around campus with an axe?  I thought you guys should know.  That’s all.  Civic duty and all that.”

“So you think he’s out there choppin’ heads off right now?”

“Well, it seems a bit stupid when you put that fine a point on it.”

“What kind of axe was it?”

“Like the kind firemen use.”

“So not a hatchet, then.”


“Would you know him if you saw him again?”

“Dunno.  He was only in my field of view for a couple seconds.”

“Well, OK,” said the officer in that I’m-humoring-you-son tone of voice.  “Let’s go look for him.”

We went down to the other end of the building, where there were a few people hanging out in the CAD lab.  I didn’t see the axe guy there.  They looked slightly startled at having the fuzz suddenly show up and eye them for no good reason; one of them asked if they could help us with anything and the officer replied, “Nah, we’re just lookin’ for a guy.”

So we went back to the machine tool lab and the officer said, “OK, well, just one of those things, I guess.”  Then he tapped his radio and added with a laugh, “I mean, if he’d of axed somebody I’d have heard about it by now!”

“Well, if you do hear about any unauthorized axe usage, you can probably find bits of it right here on the floor,” I said.  “He didn’t sweep up, they never do.”

“Right,” said the clearly unconvinced officer.  “Well, night now.”

So, OK, yeah, kind of an anticlimactic story.  The cop certainly thought so.  I suspect he thought there was no mysterious axe guy at all, and I was just bored or stupid.  Either that or it was just somebody stealing a little time on one of the University’s tools to sharpen his own personal axe for, I dunno, wood splitting or something.  Which I suppose is conceivable, it’s the right time of year, but a fireman’s axe?  At 7:30 on a Monday night?  On a college campus?  It was just… weird.

So now I’m in some Potential Cranks file over at Public Safety, probably…

Engineers: We Make Stuff Better

September 14, 2011 2 comments

IMG_20110914_152116 In the MTL tool crib, there is a window where the on-duty tool guy sits, and at that window is a stool.  It’s an unremarkable object, as these things go, just a few bits of metal and a wooden disc manufactured, as the logo on the underside of the seat reveals, by Angle Steel, Inc., of Plainwell, Michigan.  There is only one real problem with it:

It’s not very comfortable.

Last week, noting that I didn’t seem to be enjoying it much, Joel (my boss, the machine tool instructor, and the MTL building manager) asked if I’d prefer something a little more substantial and padded.  I said I would, and he said it was OK with him if I got in touch with Disabled Student Services, since they handle special-furniture requests on campus, and made such a request in the department’s name.  So I did.

Monday I came in for my night lab shift and found… a second, identical Angle Steel stool, with a tag on it saying “FOR BEN HUTCHINS, MTL CRIB”.  Apart from the tag and a label with the international accessibility symbol on it (see above), it was exactly the same as the one we already had.

So I sent a note to the grad student in charge of furniture at DSS, apologizing for not being clear enough in my initial email and noting that we had one of those already, what we were hoping for was something a bit more upholstered.  His response was very polite, but basically boiled down to, “That’s what we’ve got.  Talk to your department’s purchasing person if you want something swankier.”

Today I got in for my afternoon shift, when, unlike in the evenings, Joel is here, and we got to talking about the Stool Situation.  I said I’d found a couple of likely candidates online, but then I said, “It’s a little silly for us to pay $200 for a heavy-duty padded stool, I mean, this is a machine shop.  Why don’t we build one?”

He went away to help a couple of the afternoon students cut some threads, I dispensed tools, and we both thought about it for an hour or so, and then he came back and said, “OK, let’s give it a shot.”

IMG_20110914_152054 The first thing we decided was that we didn’t need to start from scratch.  The Angle Steel stool’s metal structure is plenty adequate for our purposes; it just needs a better seating surface.  So we dismantled one of the Angle Steel stools, which was a simple matter of unscrewing the wooden disc from the top of the frame.

Then Joel went and found a donor chair somewhere else in the building (he’s the MTL facility manager, remember, he can do that). IMG_20110914_164054 This was a regular wooden chair, like you would find in a kitchen.  We actually looked at a couple of them and decided that one would come apart more easily, and yield a part more suitable to the purpose, than the other.   So Joel knocked out the stretchers, to make getting the drill in there easier, and we unscrewed the seat base from our donor chair.  Then it was a relatively simple matter of marking out a radius (that’s what’s going on with the big metal ring and the square board in the photo above) and trimming the corners of the seat base a bit.

The result is not much different from the old version, but with a more substantial seating area, and provides a better platform for adding upholstery later, which Joel is rather keen to do once he has a chance to assemble the materials.


(You may notice that it’s turned so that what was the back of the seat when it was part of a chair is now facing toward the tool window workbench, at right.  This is because it’s actually more comfortable that way; we didn’t radius the front corners enough.  But we may not bother, since it works fine backward, the extra corner area provides more rear support, and once it’s padded the slight contour planed into the wood, from when it was a chair, won’t be relevant any more.)

I’m sitting on it right now for my night lab shift, and I have to confess it’s not that much better than the old version.  I mean, it’s still hard and there’s still not much of anyplace to put my feet.  Still, it does offer better support, and once it’s upholstered it should be very nice indeed.  And besides – it’s an engineering project!

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, It’s Off to Work Study We Go

September 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Some of you may remember that I had a work study job for a little while last spring.  It didn’t work out, sadly, because what the planetarium really needed was an evenings-and-weekends show presenter, and I couldn’t work at those times, so I ended up just being the IT monkey, and well, no thanks.  There wasn’t even really enough for me to do to justify that, so, with regret, I left.

Toward the end of the semester I noticed a sign on the door to my CAD classroom noting that the MechEng Tech department needed work study students to work in the tool crib of the Machine Tool Lab.  Students in said capacity would be working for Joel Anderson, the machine tool instructor, and the requirement listed (apart from having a work study award in one’s financial aid package) was “must have passed MET 107”.  I was in MET 107 and doing well, so I thought, Hmm, and went on with my day.

At semester’s end, fairly sure I’d passed, I was helping Joel clean up the shop for a little extra credit and to be a Good Academic Citizen (hey, don’t laugh, it was a good class), and I mentioned to him that I might be interested in the job this fall.  He told me to send him an email come mid-August, when the start of fall semester approached, and remind him.

So I did, with the end result that I’m actually blogging this on my netbook in the MTL tool crib in between duties.  These include:

1315442521480 – Manning the Tool Window.  Students needing tools will present themselves at this window  and tell me what they need.  I will find it for them (if I can) and write down what they have against their name on a ledger sheet on my bench.  When they’re finished with it, or in any event by the end of the lab period, they’ll bring it back and I’ll cross it off their list and put it away.  Or possibly tell them to take it away and clean it before they presume to return it, but so far I haven’t needed to do that.

– Locking up the crib and indeed the lab itself after class.

– Taking point for evening lab sessions.  “Night lab” is an optional extra time when the lab is open for students to come in and work on their projects.  This becomes especially popular toward the end of the semester, when it begins to dawn on them that time is getting short and they don’t have all their parts made yet.  I spent a bit of time in night lab myself last semester; it was nice.  Low-pressure.  This semester, Joel doesn’t have a TA willing to do night lab, so on Mondays and Wednesdays it’s just me, in here from 6 to 9, providing tools and rather dauntingly In Charge for purposes of the university’s safety rules.  I’ve got a key that opens the building, the lab, and the crib; I’ve been shown how to turn the lights on and off.  That’s about all the qualifications you need.


At right is a photo of the tool window from the other side, showing my workbench – as close as I get to having an office.  You will note the assortment of drill bits, the cabinet to my left containing various useful items, and the clock, which does not work, such that it is always 6:42 in the tool crib.

The MTL itself is one of the oldest buildings on campus, and is basically a brick barn.  It’s got old-fashioned swingy windows and that classic “inner structures that don’t go all the way to the ceiling” thing going on in places, plus the ceiling really is just the inside of the roof, so when it rains the sound effects can be pretty dramatic.  It has character, as they say, though in some respects it’s a bit primitive.  The fire alarm system, for instance, consists of whomever notices the fire saying, “Hey, a fire!”  (This was actually on the safety test I had to take in order to work here.)


At left is a photo of the machine tool laboratory (MTL Room 101, not to be confused with the Machine Tool Laboratory, which is the building).  Pretty straightforward: Bridgeports on the left, lathes on the right, band saws down back, surface plate and height gages in the foreground.  Not pictured is the CNC mill, which is to the photographer’s right past that bench, and which mere mortal students are not permitted to touch until they get to MET 313.  The tool crib is to the photographer’s left.

This is a pretty swingin’ place to work.  It’s definitely more old-school and industrial than the planetarium, which, apart from the actual planetarium part that I was not allowed to touch, was basically just an office like any other.  This makes me feel more like when I was a kid and my father worked in a similar sort of setting, and I would go into work with him on the weekends.  It smells the same, and scents are very nostalgia-inducing.  I like it a lot.

1315505184987 Part of that is just because I have the key to the toy cupboard.  I mean, we’ve got everything in here.  Here in the cabinet immediately to my left are parallels (for putting things in mill vises so they don’t bottom out in the vise), indicator sets (for ensuring that the mill tables are level), all kinds of gages and micrometers, devices for ensuring that you have your lathe tool set properly for cutting threads, machining squares, combination squares, dial and vernier calipers, gage blocks (for calibrating other gages)… it’s like Christmas for machinists in there.


Behind me are the shelves containing more of the slightly-less-often-used items.  We keep the most commonly used drill bits and end mills (the latter drill-bit-like tools used in vertical mills for… well, for milling the ends of things, hence the name) on the bench by the window, but at left we see the shelves behind me that contain the rest of the smorgasbord of drills and mills, plus the center drills (not sure why we don’t keep those on the bench, actually, they’re pretty frequently needed – must ask Joel).  Not pictured is the lower shelf that has the really freaking big drills.  I’m not even sure what we use those for.  They’re way too big to be used in the Bridgeports we have here.


At right, one of my favorite of the many toy boxes in here: The Cabinet of Cutters!  Here we have saws, saws, some more saws, and the ever-popular face mills (another tool for the Bridgeports, used to surface the top of a bit of stock – and if you’re not careful, the vise jaws – as opposed to the end).  The face mills are kept in those silver cardboard tubes because their carbide teeth are very fragile, and if you chip off a corner it’s pretty much useless until someone indexes the tooth.  At best you’ll get a lousy finish; at worst it won’t work at all, and may actually damage the base of the tool.

I should probably wrap this one up.  It’s getting on toward 4:30 and the guys (and it is all guys, alas – a girl or two in the mech eng tech program would class the place up a little) will be bringing their tools back soon.  Besides, I’m sure the pictures of the tool crib are a lot less interesting than I want to think they are.  My point is, as work study gigs go, this one is pretty sweet.  It has its dull parts, like now, when everyone’s out there working and nobody needs anything, but that just means it’s possible to get the “study” part happening (or blog, like I’m doing now).  All I need is a better chair (and Disability Services is working on that, because they handle all the special furniture requests on campus), and I’ll be set.  It’s a weird feeling.  I haven’t actually liked a job in… jeez, a long time.


Oh, one more photo.  This is an organizer next to the door in the tool crib.  It was labeled by some previous workstudy student who was not entirely sure what some of the things he was tasked with organizing actually were.  As a result, some of the drawer labels are a bit entertaining.  My personal favorite is the one marked ELECTRIC THINGS.

Later, perhaps I’ll talk a bit about some actual classwork that’s going on this semester.  I know, crazy idea, huh?  Blog about college in a college blog?  What will they think of next?

The Compound Irony, or Ministry of Transport

November 16, 2010 2 comments

So.  As you’re probably aware from earlier traffic – ha! See what I did there? – I’m commuting in my school adventures.  I live about 70 miles from the University, once you take into account all the fiddling around on access roads and whatnot that it takes to get from my front door to the parking lot at school.  Once the time spent on those access roads and so on is taken into account as well, it’s about an hour and a half each way.

You might be thinking at this point that I ought to be getting quite tired of that by now.  And I am!  But not entirely because of the driving itself.  No, part of the reason for my fatigue has to do with the equipment I have to work with.

For most of this semester, I’ve had regular access to three cars, which sounds more than adequate given that I have only one ass, be it ever so sizeable, to haul back and forth.  They are:

1) My own 1997 Saab 900S convertible.  This is a fine car which has served me well for the nearly ten years I’ve owned it, and to which I’m quite attached, but it’s getting old and arthritic now and has developed a couple of problems.  One is that the roof leaks, but in a particularly strange and esoteric way that has stumped the service departments of three Saab dealerships.  Another is that the clutch has begun packing up, probably because they were cable-operated in 1997 and the cable is wearing out.  This means it doesn’t reliably disengage with the pedal all the way to the floor, which makes shifting into certain gears e.g. reverse somewhat… noisy.

2) My mother’s 2003 MINI Cooper.  Again, a fine car, and very entertaining to drive.  On the other hand, the ride is a bit rock-hard, it doesn’t have cruise control, and it has recently suffered the single strangest design-flaw-inflicted injury I’ve ever personally known a car to have.  A few weeks ago, as I was driving home in the pouring rain after dark, the electrical system went into complete meltdown, causing the absolute strangest behavior I’ve ever seen an automobile exhibit – for instance, a complete disregard for the position or even presence of the ignition key, and, a bit more immediately worrisome on the Interstate at night in the rain, a disinclination to have the headlights and the windshield wipers engaged at the same time.  This turned out to have been caused by – I’m not making this up – a moon roof drain which was so routed that, if the internal tubing became disconnected, all the water it should’ve been conveying to a port on the underside of the car was instead directed as if by design to the car’s central fuse box.  Repairs have just been completed, in time for the car to be removed from the equation completely in a little while.  More on this in a bit.

3) My father’s 2004 Pontiac Grand Prix.  This car is the most mechanically reliable of the three, but makes up for it by being the least economical and least comfortable.  The ride is better than the MINI’s, but the cabin geometry is woeful.  In an effort to make it sporty and rakish, Pontiac’s designers gave it an extremely low roofline, which makes it difficult to get into and out of and means that, in a side impact, the driver’s head will be smashed against the beam running along the top of his door window, which is padded, but in the same way as the arms of an office chair.  Also, until last Saturday, the rear struts were worn out and leaking, which means that the rear tires are now roughly octagonal.  Now that the struts have been replaced, the noise and vibration they create must be experienced to be believed.  Dad, ever an economy-minded soul when it comes to automobile parts*, assures me that shortly we will take all four of them off and replace them – with two brand new snow tires on the front and two that – and I’m quoting – "probably have one more season in them" on the rear.

So we have one car that appears reliable but is costly to run and uncomfortable (and which Dad would really like back because it still gets better mileage than the other vehicle he’s driving while I have the Pontiac), one that’s entering that end-of-life stage when things start to go wrong in ways that aren’t easily diagnosed, let alone remedied, and one that’s probably fine now that it’s been to rehab for its drinking problem, but is being sold.  Why, you might wonder, would my mother sell what is probably, on its face, the best of my three options for school transport?  Well, she isn’t really.  See, it’s actually in her husband’s name owing to some abstruse technicality of the insurance or something, and just yesterday I learned that he has decided, unilaterally and without consultation, to sell it and buy a pickup truck for himself.  In his plan, Mom can drive the hideous Cadillac station wagon he bought last year and then decided he didn’t want, and which has now depreciated so staggeringly it’d actually be more financially rewarding to burn it for the insurance money, get caught, and do the jail time than try to sell it or trade it in.  And I can, I don’t know, walk, I guess.

I’ve been confronting this conundrum for weeks, considering what would be the best way to handle it, and finally I decided that what I needed to do was track down something well-made, old enough that it wouldn’t be too expensive but still a few years away from senescence, not too thirsty, and – most importantly – equipped with all-wheel-drive to get me through the long, long years of commuting to school that I have ahead of me before I can, allegedly, get a proper job and buy that new Jag I’ve been promising myself.  The only problem there was that I had no income, and it’s difficult to pay for a car – even a cheap old one – without one.  So I shelved that plan a couple of weeks ago and resigned myself to the merry-go-round.

But then, out of the blue early last week, I got an email from the Student Aid office saying, in effect, "Hey, remember how we told you you weren’t eligible for workstudy?  We lied, here, have some.  Good luck getting a job on campus with four weeks to go in the semester, one of which is mostly Thanksgiving break."

Hmm, I thought, and poked around the Student Employment office’s website to see if there were any workstudy reqs still open at this time of the year.  And lo, there were a few, one of which was at the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium.  Now, I like a planetarium.  I like a planetarium quite a lot.  The idea of being a planetarium operator appeals to me the way little kids used to want to be locomotive drivers.  So I fired off an application to that one like a shot.  A quick mental calculation of the pay scale advertised told me that I could easily afford a modest (and I’m talking very modest) car payment on that sort of income, if I got the job.

And I did.  Well, sort of.  I got a job at the planetarium.  Unfortunately – and this is where the compound irony comes into it – the regular shows at the Jordan are on Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons.  When I’m nowhere near campus.  So I didn’t get the job of presenter.  Instead, I started today as the Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium’s student computer tech III.

Yes.  That’s right.  After all these years and all these attempts to get away from anything to do with the field, I’m the PC support monkey.  I spent this afternoon reinstalling device drivers in an effort – successful, I might point out – to help one of the planetarium office’s PCs recover from an ill-advised printer install and regain its ability to write CDs and recognize USB flash drives.

Still, I thought, OK, that’s a disappointment in your life, but on the other hand, you’ll at least be able to get out of this car hole now.  Except that’s not the case either, because it turns out that, even in the eyes of the university’s own credit union, workstudy is not employment enough to constitute eligibility for even a small car loan.  Six grand, say, over 48 months at 12 percent – right around $160 a month?  Easily done according to the pay scale figures (or even, and I’ve worked this out as well, with the overrun on a couple of semesters’ worth of financial aid), but sorry, it’s just not on.

So there we are.  I have a job I don’t particularly want, which I was offered because I don’t qualify for the job I did want because I’m a commuter, but which I took anyway thinking it would at least help me to make the commute more tolerable, only to discover that it won’t.  And that’s why this long-winded whinge is called "Compound Irony".



* and anything else

Back to the Future

September 19, 2010 1 comment

One of the consequences of my extremely late start on this school year is that my financial aid package, though adequate, is extremely rudimentary.  It’s basically a big pile of Stafford loans on top of a decent-sized Pell grant, but there are no bells or whistles at all.  I didn’t even qualify for workstudy, which meant that getting an on-campus job wasn’t a given.  Almost all jobs on campus are workstudy-funded, which means the departments offering them have to leave them unfilled if they can’t get any workstudy students to apply.  They don’t have the money to pay for them any other way.

Compounding the frustration here is the fact that the Office of Student Employment’s online job search system isn’t reliable about its listings.  You can search for "non-workstudy only", but of the six interesting jobs I found by searching that way at the beginning of the semester, all of them were misfiled, such that when I sent off messages to the people in charge expressing my interest, I got back only polite expressions of regret.

As such, when I noticed yesterday that the school newspaper, the Maine Campus, was looking for a columnist, I figured that was probably mislabeled as well – but what the hell, I mean, it’s not like I didn’t have writing samples lying around.  So I fired them off my 2004 Better Newspaper Contest entries and a later piece I wrote about the WPI Fountain of Useless Knowledge, along with a copy of my résumé in all its tattered splendor, thinking the worst that could happen was another no.

Instead, I seem to have been hired to write a biweekly column, and invited to attend the regular news agenda meetings with an eye toward picking up some slack (if there is any) in the news department.  Apparently they don’t get many applicants who’ve worked for several years at "real-world" newspapers.

I would not have predicted that I would find myself working for a newspaper again in this setting.  No word yet on whether the new column will be the return of Off the Top of My Head or something new, but the editor-in-chief did say "on the topic of your choice".  We’ll be meeting tomorrow afternoon.  I’m looking forward to it.

In other news, the weather forecast is good (but cold!) for tomorrow evening, so I should be obliged to visit the observatory.  That’ll be my first visit to the facility; I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing, despite having read over the Observation Project spec sheet a dozen or so times.  Hopefully it’ll become apparent once I’m on the scene.  Either way, I’m looking forward to that, too.  I mean, yes, I’ll be freezing my butt off, but still, I mean – observatory!