16 December 2005

Job Adventure update

As I mentioned yesterday, I'll be starting at a "real job" in January, when I get back from my holiday trip to Denmark.

Since 2001, I've been a freelancer, working for myself at home, making my own hours and wearing whatever is comfortable while I do my editing/writing work for clients. It's a fun/free lifestyle, but it's not easy to stay busy, e.g., earn a living.

My specialty is translating high-tech engineer-speak into English. The specialty stems from my abiding interest in science, despite my inability to actually be a scientist. I was a physics major for one semester of college. Having barely passed physics and calculus, I decided to pursue other options.

My first return to science was when I was a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, listening to an argument floating around the sports department. A Houston Astros pitcher was accused of scuffing the ball to alter its aerodynamic characteristics. The miffed sports staff was divided on how much a small scuff could affect the air flow around a baseball. Enter the curious young ex-physics major, who became an 'award-winning sports reporter' by explaining how scuffing makes a difference, especially for the split-fingered fastball.

Lately, my specialty has been photonics, because of my last full-time work as an editor at a company whose magazines cover that subject. Photonics comprises lasers, optics, fiber optics, detectors... a wide range of things that involve making, changing and collecting light.

When I started in that field, I didn't know a photon from a baseball, so I had to learn a lot, quickly. I think it's easy for someone who is trained in reporting because we journalists are (generally) not afraid to ask stupid questions.

Having accepted this new job, I'm back in the 'learn a lot, quickly' mode. It's an editing/writing job, and it involves translating engineering-speak into English. But this being Houston, the job is -- of course -- in the oil & gas industry.

Light readingI went to the office today to pick up some reading materials for my three weeks of pre-work vacation in Denmark. Exciting reading, full of sex & violence (think 'drill pipe grinding through bedrock', ow baby that's hot hot hot!)

The new commute will be 40 miles each way (owch) until February or March, when everything moves to a new building closer to home. I could cut the mileage in half by taking a more direct route that avoids the interstate and the tollway, but it takes twice as long because of all the lights and stop signs. Go figure.

The 40-mile trip took almost exactly 40 minutes today. The drive includes some 20 or so miles on the Sam Houston Tollway, on which the posted speed limit is 65 mph. Anyone actually driving 65 mph on that road would be quickly squished; the traffic in all lanes at 8:30 a.m. was doing 85-ish mph, with occasional 'crazy driver' passing everyone as if we were standing still. [I missed one question on my very first driver's license test, back in Illinois when I was 16. The question was, "What is the safest speed to drive?" There were four possible answers, none of which seemed right to me. I picked "the speed limit," as the lesser of four evils. The correct response was, "The speed of traffic." Go figure. Permission to drive 85 mph: granted!]

Someday I will write more about traffic and commuting, but this is already getting too long, and I haven't even gotten to the drug test yet. Oh yes, one condition of employment was "successful completion of a pre-employment drug screen."

Some years ago, when such drug tests were still rare but becoming more de rigeur, I expounded loudly about such an invasion of privacy, civil rights, "I would never..." blah blah. I don't use drugs (well, occasionally Advil), so I'm not concerned about my results. However, I think a nation that allows the use of alcohol and tobacco has drawn a rather arbitrary line in the sand about what constitutes 'drugs.' (I also note that my new employer provides free coffee -- my drug of choice -- in the office.)

I understand a company not wanting to hire someone with a "drug problem," but a rigorous interview/reference-checking process should screen that better than a 'take it when you feel like it' urine test. Someone who is committed to drug use probably knows how long a drug stays in the urine/kidneys, and just stays 'clean' for as many (or few) days as required. So I still oppose the concept, but there I was, peeing in a cup.

I was surprised that they asked me no questions about any medications I might be taking (none) or whether I had eaten any poppyseed buns recently (no); I suppose the tests are more specific nowadays than they used to be. They had me leave my purse on a hanger on the back of the door to the bathroom, and there was apparently some chemical in the toilet bowl to detect something because you're not allowed to flush when you're done.

Anyway, it's done. The company will get results next week. Now, it's time to do laundry and start packing for three weeks in Denmark.

1 comment:

V said...

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