What A Load Of Bull

, , , , , | Working | May 6, 2021

I’m a biologist at a small startup biotech company, small enough that we don’t have a human resources department, only an HR consultant who shows up once a week. As such, in addition to our regular jobs, the scientists are in charge of reading resumes, interviewing candidates, etc. Frankly, it’s kind of a fun break from our lab work, and it’s helpful for us to have a hand in identifying the candidates who would be easiest to work with.

My lab work involves the cryopreservation of an experimental vaccine, which means finding ways to keep it stable at extremely cold temperatures. (No, it’s not one of the vaccines for the current health crisis.)

One of my colleagues has just finished interviewing a candidate for a Research Associate — entry-level — position. It’s my turn to interview him next, even though the candidate wouldn’t be working in my department. My colleague smiles at me in the hall and hands me his information.

Colleague: “This will be interesting.”

Me: “What do you mean?”

Colleague: “You’ll see.”

I enter the interview room. The candidate is a typical guy just out of college, wearing a nice suit, and he has the most smug look on his face I’ve ever seen. I introduce myself, tell him a little about my department’s goal of cryopreserving a particular vaccine, and start to ask questions about his experience. After a while, he interrupts himself.

Candidate: “By the way, I know how to solve your problem.”

Me: “What problem?”

Candidate: “Cryopreservation.”

This is essentially the primary research goal of my whole department, so I’m curious to hear what someone who just walked in our doors might think is the way to “solve our problem.”

Candidate: “Bull semen.”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Candidate: “Bull semen. It helps with cryopreservation.”

Me: “Are you saying… we should add bull semen to our vaccine?”

Candidate: “Yup!”

He sits back, smiles, and crosses his hands behind his head, and then he says something I’ll never forget.

Candidate: “But I’m not going to give you all my good ideas today. First, you have to hire me.”

I was somehow able to keep a straight face through the rest of the interview. Discussing it with colleagues later, we concluded that he must have Googled “cryopreservation” before arriving and read that cryopreservation is often used in the cattle industry with bull semen. He then decided that this tangentially related thing he just learned must be the solution to our problems and that he could use this as a bargaining chip to get hired.

We did not hire him. And we did not add bull semen to our vaccine. But “I’m not going to give you all my good ideas today” became an inside joke around the lab for a while.

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Open Source And Closed Mind

, , , , | Working | May 3, 2021

I’m a programmer who has the unfortunate luck of being assigned to work with a notoriously awful manager. For the non-geeks, a library is a collection of prewritten code provided by someone else. If many people are likely to have the same issue, then odds are there is already a library written to help with that issue, and a smart programmer will look for one before trying to reinvent the wheel. Not only does this save time, but a popular library will be far better tested and significantly less prone to errors than something you wrote by hand.

Manager: “I don’t want you to use any external libraries.”

Me: “Why not?”

Manager: “I had a project where we were using a library that changed their licensing terms. We had to spend a lot of time and money removing it because it was too expensive to pay for a new license, and I don’t want to do that again.”

Me: “Oh, so it’s only licensed libraries you don’t want to use?”

Manager: “No, I don’t want to use any libraries at all.”

Me: “But most libraries are open source. They’re completely free; there’s no way we would have to worry about paying for licenses.”

Manager: “They could always change it to charge money later.”

Me: “I’m pretty sure they can’t. They’re published with licenses that explicitly say they can’t charge money for it! Charging money is anathema to the very concept of the open-source community!”

Manager: “I’m still not going to take the chance.”

Me: *Taking a deep breath* “Okay, but I want to use Boost. It’s practically synonymous with C++. Half the stuff that ends up in C++ first spends time as a Boost library before being adopted. I don’t think any programmers do C without Boost. You might as well worry that they will start charging for C++ itself!”

Manager: “I said no.”

And so, I ended up spending at least 60% of my time on that contract writing networking logic that is freely provided by Boost. It was oddly nostalgic, working on the sort of challenges I was assigned to do in college, but it was hardly the most efficient use of my time.

Shockingly, that project ended up behind schedule and stayed that way long after I left. The fact that the manager’s personality tended to drive programmers away within months of starting the job likely also played a role in his falling behind. Either way, I’m happy to be working on a new contract where I can use any library I d*** well please.

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Getting The Clerk That Talks Back Really Blows

, , , , | Right | April 28, 2021

I work at a major hardware store, specifically dealing with lawn equipment. I approach a young couple looking at some leaf blowers and ask if they have any questions. The ones they are examining double as vacuums.

Me: “Good afternoon, folks! Do you have any questions about any of these leaf blowers?” 

The woman says nothing, but the guy…

Guy: “So these things suck and blow? Blow and suck?”

He chuckles at his own jokes. I don’t really have a problem with these jokes if they’re done well enough, but I find most of them to just be low-hanging fruit.

Me: “Yes, yes, very mature. But yes, they do indeed double as a vacuum to save you the trouble of picking up leaves yourself.”

Guy: “So they do suck and blow! Kinda like that old joke.”

At this point, his girlfriend rolls her eyes. He prods me with his elbow and chuckles.

Guy: “She doesn’t get it.” 

Me: *Unable to help myself* “Does that mean you don’t, either?” 

He shut up and grabbed the one he was looking at off the shelf. His girlfriend was laughing at him the whole way down the aisle.

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Self-Love Is Tops

, , , , , | Related | April 28, 2021

My niece is around three.

Me: “I love you, [Niece].”

Niece: “I know. Everyone loves me.”

Me: “Oh? Everyone does?”

Niece: “Uh-huh. Mommy is always telling me she love me, and [Grandmother] does, and my teachers all love me.”

Me: “I understand why they would all love you. You’re smart, kind, and one of the best-behaved kids I’ve ever known. What’s not to love?”

I still smile when I remember her confidence in declaring everyone loved her. I hope she can keep up that self-esteem as she gets older!

This story is part of our Feel Good roundup for April 2021!

Read the next Feel Good roundup for April 2021 story!

Read the Feel Good roundup for April 2021!

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The Vampires Have Come To Call Your Bluff

, , , , , , | Working | April 22, 2021

Not long after graduating college, I am inspired to donate my kidney as a non-directed donation. I originally choose to keep the donation a secret from all my immediate family, due to some foolish notion that I want to make sure I am doing it for the right reasons and not just so I can brag about it. That means that none of my coworkers know anything about my donation plans yet.

Not long after starting that job, I tried and failed to talk my coworkers into joining me at a blood drive. Ever since then, it has been a slight running gag that I have to donate enough blood to make up for the rest of my colleagues who won’t donate.

One day, some coworkers are visiting my cubical mate and they are talking. I’m not paying attention to the conversation at all until this happens.

Coworker: “Hey, [My Name], you’re donating blood all the time; you should donate your kidney.”

I still don’t know how kidney donation came up in their conversation. Since I’ve resolved to keep the donation private, I try to redirect the statement.

Me: “You won’t even donate blood and you expect me to donate a kidney? That hardly seems fair.”

Coworker: “I’d totally donate blood if you donated a kidney.”

Me: “Really? You’re going to promise to donate if I give a kidney?”

Coworker: “Yeah, sure.”

I struggle to keep a straight face.

Me: “You know if you make that promise, I’m going to show up here in a few weeks and tell you I’m donating a kidney just to make you donate blood, right?”

Coworker: “Pssh, sure you would.”

Me: “You two heard him say it, right? I need witnesses for when I demand he donate blood!”

Coworker: “You wouldn’t donate a kidney just to make me give blood.”

I eventually get a second coworker to make the exact same wager. Getting two pints of donated blood seems more important than sticking to my rather silly intent to keep the donation a secret, but I want to wait until everything is finalized to tell anyone.

The next week, I come into work with a can of kidney beans and explain to the coworker that I am “donating” them to him, so now he has to donate blood. He laughs at me and says that doesn’t count, but that’s fine; the point is just to make sure he doesn’t forget his ill-fated wager.

The subsequent week, I have Monday off to do a day-long process at the hospital, learning more about the donation process, being put through a few tests to ensure I am healthy enough to donate, meeting with the surgeon who will do the surgery, etc.

That Tuesday, I come into work with a folder filled with paperwork they gave me about kidney donation. I print out a list of all the local blood drives and put it in the left flap of the folder, while making sure the top page on the right flap is one with a giant picture of a kidney on it that can’t be mistaken for anything else. I then surprise my coworker by holding the open folder in front of him without explanation.

Me: “So, here are all the places you can donate blood. The one on Friday is the soonest, but there is one next week that is closer to work if you prefer.”

It takes a minute for his eyes to wander to the rest of the folder and for him to put together the implication, but it is worth it to watch him as he slowly realizes I have every intention of holding him to his commitment. He is rather incredulous at first, believing this is all a prank and insisting that I tell him if I am making it all up, but I remember my favorite question.

Coworker: “Why didn’t you tell me you were already planning to donate your kidney?!”

Me: “I did warn you I was planning to do this — multiple times, in fact. It’s not my fault you didn’t believe me!”

Of course, word got out after that, and soon, my whole office knew of my plans. They even had a surprise party for me before I took off which included a cake made out of kidney beans and a hoodie they bought me with the phrase “Living Donor, see inside for details” written on it that I loved.

In the end, the surgery went fine and the kidney went to a two-year-old boy. I got to meet him for the first time a month after the surgery was over and he was doing well.

I used some of my recovery time to interview with other companies, so I ended up coming back to work only to give my two-week notice not long afterward. That means I never got to hang around to confirm that either coworker donated blood as they had promised, but I definitely kept up with my side of the bargain, so hopefully, they did theirs.

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