My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

22 Articles Tagged with “work”

  1. One key fewer

    Hey, look, it’s been ten years since I graduated high school. Look at that. Time flies.

    This post isn’t really about graduation decennials, though. This is about quitting my longest-held job.

    Eleven years ago I dropped off a resume at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery. I was just finishing up Grade 11, and I wanted a summer job that wasn’t going through old files in the creepy storage room beneath the Chapple Building for my dad’s law firm. The Gallery Attendant position being advertised in the Lakehead University job bank seemed like it would work. I got an interview, and for reasons I still don’t fathom, I got the job.

    The full-time, minimum wage job turned into a part-time, minimum wage job during my last year of high school. Then I worked all summer again. This pattern continued for a few years. After about three summers, I took a research job over the summer at the university instead. But I kept coming back during the school year to work at the front desk.

    Last night was my last regular shift as a gallery attendant.

    I’ve left before, of course. I couldn’t very well commute to the gallery when I…

    Read more…
  2. An open response to “Teachers have no right threatening education”

    Dear Mr. Lavallee,

    You wrote a letter to the editor that appeared in The Chronicle Journal on Saturday, April 11: “Teachers have no right threatening education.”

    Your letter communicates a great deal of frustration with teachers, arguing that we suffer from a sense of entitlement, that we strike because we aren’t satisfied with how easy we already have it. You ask us how we “dare” to “hold our kids’ education hostage.”

    The truth is, the decision to strike is never an easy one. Striking is not easy. We don’t do it very often. We teachers are, by and large, passionate about our jobs: we love what we do, and we love being in the classroom with students. It’s true that the weather has recently taken a turn for the better—but I can assure you, we would much rather be inside, teaching, than outside on a picket line.

    It is because we are passionate that we consider strike action. It is precisely because you and I share a concern for our children’s education that we teachers require adequate working conditions.

    You seem to be under the impression that teaching is a cakewalk: we “make great money, have great benefits, two months…

    Read more…
  3. Fighting CryptoWall on Windows XP: caltrops, scorched earth, and triage

    How was your Easter break? I spent a good portion of my four-day weekend fighting a ransomware attack.

    My boss's computer at the art gallery (not at my other job) is still running Windows XP while connected to the Internet. This is, no joke, a terrible idea. But they are a not-for-profit organization with very little money—she is finally getting a modern computer in May.

    Not soon enough. Last week her computer was hit by CryptoWall 3.0, the beefier descendant of CryptoWall 2.0, which was hitting computers last April. Seems like this is going to be an annual event. This ransomware is so pernicious it has been hitting police departments in the United States, with some of them even paying the criminals because they had no other way to retrieve their files.

    Ransomware is exactly what the name describes. It is a pernicious virus that infects your computer, disables as much security as possible, and then it encrypts your files so you can’t access them until you pay its masters for the decryption key. If you refuse to pay, then tough. It’s RSA encryption: you can’t just brute-force your way past it and get your files back. The only…

    Read more…
  4. The infinite majesty of the snow day

    For the last two weeks, I took the bus between Bury and Thetford to get to work, since the teacher who normally gives me a ride was off on paternity leave. The bus ride itself is pleasant and not that long (nor is it ever crowded), although the twenty-minute walk to and from the bus station can be inconvenient when you’re half-awake in the morning or tired at the end of the day! I would leave twenty minutes early, set a brisk pace with my long legs and some energetic music (Florence, Amanda Palmer, and Of Monsters and Men are high on my list these days), and venture forth into the darkness. Then we got snow, which was exciting but didn’t necessarily make those walks easier.

    Last Wednesday, I woke up to find the ground covered in a thin layer of snow. It wasn’t much by my Canadian standards—I brought neither my heavy winter coat nor my snow boots, and I don’t regret that decision so far. I pulled on my running shoes, tossed my dress shoes in my bag, and made my usual trek to the bus station. My bus was on time despite the snowfall, and I got…

    Read more…
  5. Spontaneous snowfall, spontaneous snowballs

    I always forget that November is a busy month. October lulls me into a false sense of security, for despite its containment of midterms, it never really has much work for me. Then November comes around, and suddenly it's whoa. Where did all this homework come from? Oh, and I'm working all weekend for a fundraising event at the gallery? Great.

    This weekend was probably my busiest weekend of the year in terms of inverse amount of free time available to me. I spent the week working on an essay for my Medieval and Tudor Drama class, which I love. The prof is great, and I'm learning a lot and reading literature I probably wouldn't otherwise read. The essay was originally due Friday, but the prof extended it to Wednesday, which is a great relief. I'm feeling confident about it, but the extra time has helped.

    So yeah, this weekend was the art gallery's annual Christmas House Tour fundraiser. This consists of a self-guided tour of houses decorated by local businesses. Today was the tour proper, so we had to work 9-5 for that. Friday night was the dinner for the home owners, and I worked that with Brittany.…

    Read more…
  6. No sugar tonight

    Stanley, prior to a paint job

    Last week, I discussed how maths is hard, but I spent plenty of time solving a Rubik's cube anyway. At this rate, you are going to get the idea that I don't do any work at all. Nevertheless, a desire for accuracy and lulz requires me to remain truthful regarding how I spent this week in the office.

    We made a piñata.

    We named him Stanley the Resurrection Pig.

    I don't recall who came up with the initial idea. As with all good, crazy plots, it starts off as an innocuous hypothetical scenario: piñatas equal fun, fun equal good, we could make a piñata! This is the last week all four of us will be in the office together--Aaron, Rachael, and I are going to Waterloo next week for a conference, and Jessica is off to Ireland, returning only after Aaron and Rachael's contracts are finished. So if ever there was a time to set aside the math papers and construct a papier-mâché animal, then savagely beat it to a pulp, this was that time.

    None of us are piñata-making experts, and that was probably for the best. Rachael had some experience with papier-mâché--also for the best--so we made…

    Read more…
  7. Music must change

    I like to joke with my friends about how easy I have it this summer. I'm sitting in a cozy little office with a fan, proximity to a kettle, and a high-speed Internet connection. Unlike a summer research student in, say, chemistry or biology, I don't have to manipulate lab equipment or sex fruit flies (Cassie :P). The extent of my experimentation will involve uploading programs to a high-powered computing network and asking it kindly to compute a few more numbers for me. I Google math papers relevant to my problem, try to understand what they say, and see if I can come up with my own ideas. One thing I love about math research, especially in my area of interest, is how much it's thought. All I really need is a blackboard and chalk, or pencil and paper. (That being said, the high-powered computing network does help when I get to the computation step!)

    Of course, it's not all fun and games (even though I did learn how to solve a Rubik's cube last week). Maths is hard! And right now, even though I've been in university for three years, I feel like an amateur groping around an unsolved…

    Read more…
  8. Guitar and pen

    Yes, yes, I know. At this rate, my weekly recap will become bi-weekly. I didn't do a lot the week before last, owing to Victoria Day making for a shortened week. So rather than two very short blog posts, I decided to forbear and write one short blog post instead.

    The last two weeks have been more reading, more learning, and a little thinking. I hesitate to ascribe a label like "productive," since it's hard to quantify. I think I understand my problem now, but there remains a lot for me to learn in order to start trying solutions.

    I tried running the original algorithm for computing the spreading number, which was written in CoCoA, on my computer. I had hoped that my 2 GB of RAM and 1.83 GHz processor would have enough memory to compute some additional numbers. Alas, CoCoA stubbornly crashed (after several long hours) each time I instructed it to do so.

    So I ported the code to Macaulay2. It's even slower, which makes me suspicious that I'm missing something--after all, I am learning both languages, so I'm sure that in transliterating the code I managed to miss an obvious way to make it…

    Read more…
  9. You ain't seen nothing yet

    Shorter entry this week, as I didn't do much new and exciting in week 2 of my research project. I'm still having fun, but because it's so early in the summer, that fun mostly takes the form of reading.

    As tweeted earlier, the secret to reading (and understanding) math papers is simple. First, always read it twice. Then read it again. But to make sure you really understand, you need to take notes. Write down what's implicit in the paper, the steps the author leaves out because "it is obvious" or "it is clear to the reader" or, even worse, "this has been left has an exercise for the reader." Once you've done that, the final step is to read the paper again.

    I spent all week reading two papers, one of which expands on the findings of the other. The first investigates the spreading and covering numbers in relation to the ideal generation conjecture. Much of the paper goes over my head. Nevertheless, there were some very useful figures, and the use of graph theory in one paper and set theory in another helped improve my comprehension of what these numbers are. The second paper, in particular,…

    Read more…
  10. Start me up

    Chalk board in my office

    I am now into the second week of my NSERC summer research project. So far, I'm having a lot of fun. The subject of my research is interesting and exactly the type of mathematics that I want to study. The "daily grind," such as it is, does not grind at all--it helps that there are three other undergraduate students doing research this summer, and we all share the sessional lecturer office. We can distract each other, when needed, and pick each other's brains for help with particularly puzzling proofs.

    So what exactly am I doing? Well, it's esoteric even for those who enjoyed math up until the first years of university. I'm going to drop some math jargon in the next few paragraphs, so don't worry if your eyes start to glaze over. Photos and hilarious video will follow!

    Since my prof was leaving town at the end of the week, we met several times so he could give me some lectures and we could discuss my project. The work I'm doing relates to ring theory, which is a course I took nearly two years ago, so I have a lot of review to do. Most of the week,…

    Read more…
  11. Boldly going forward, because we can't find reverse

    Last night, all four of us who work at the front desk went out for dinner and bowling. I don't go out that much--and in fact, I probably spend more time hanging out with these three at work than I do going places with my other friends. But it was Brittany's last weekend in town, because she's biking back home to Guelph next week. So we had one last hurrah--and a little bit more.

    First we went to Applebee's, which is pretty much the baseline measurement for normality on this outing. I had a steak that was supposed to be medium but was rare and soggy French fries. Thea and Dayna had more luck with their pasta dishes, and Brittany made quick work of her sizzling fajitas. Surprisingly, they appeared as advertised and were actually sizzling. There was also spicy rice, which she saved for another friend, because she didn't like it. More on that later. Many stories were exchanged that cannot, of course, be repeated here. Brittany and I ordered desserts while Thea and Dayna demurred; I got a chocolate chip sundae, and Britany made the better choice of a delectable soft brownie. That was probably the best food…

    Read more…
  12. Summer scoop: I have an NSERC grant!

    This January, I applied for a summer Undergraduate Student Research Award (USRA) from the Natural Sciences & Engineering Research Council (NSERC). Lakehead University has 20 such awards to give to applicants this year, and on Monday, I learned that I am the recipient of one!

    I was (still am) a mixture of elation and trepidation. Part of me is still in a state of shock and can't quite believe that this is real. I spend a good half hour after learning I got the grant just trying to calm down so I would not run up to everyone I encountered and yell, "I GOT A GRANT!" Another part of me is saying, "What do you think you're doing, Ben? You don't even understand what it is you're going to be researching!" As anyone who has ever looked at a higher math textbook knows, the language is just scary sometimes.

    I applied for the NSERC grant for two reasons. Firstly, it's a different summer employment opportunity than my default, which is the art gallery. Don't get me wrong: I love working at the gallery. You can't beat the hours, and I have an awesome boss--she took the news that I wouldn't be…

    Read more…
  13. Math hermit

    With the first term nearing its end, here's a little review of my second year so far.

    That is the best way to describe how I spend most of my time now. With three math classes, I spend nine hours a week listening to math lectures. I have three assignments due each week, so I work on those in my time between school and work. Every second week until the middle of November, I went to a practice sessions for math competitions for an hour on Fridays. Even when I'm not doing my own math, I like to help other people with their math. I am living and breathing math.

    AND IT'S FRELLING AWESOME.

    For those who don't understand how someone can be so excited about math, the best way I can describe it is like being closer to God. I don't necessarily believe in God, but I imagine that what I feel when I'm exploring mathematical concepts is the same feeling pious people get when they do whatever it is pious people do to feel closer to God. And math truly is the language of the universe. If God does exist, in one form or another, then understanding math…

    Read more…
  14. More enthusiasm kplzthx?

    I don't usually rant about work, mostly because it isn't that bad as jobs go. It has its moments, of course, but what job doesn't? It is weird, however. I know, I know--every job is weird. But if there were a contest, I'm pretty sure my workplace would be, if not first, top three.

    First, the bare essential backstory. We currently have an exhibit up from the Canadian Museum of Nature called "The Gee! in Genomics". As the name implies, it is a genomics exhibition. The exhibition itself is reminiscient of a science centre; there are lots of buttons to press, videos to watch, matching games--it's pretty cool. And I'm quite excited about it. Genetics is a science of increasing importance in society. We've mapped the human genome. We're developing genes that allow us to prevent congenital defects or cure hereditary diseases--but that's another blog post.

    Today, orders came down from on high that we (the front desk staff) were not "enthusiastic" enough. To be fair, this is probably true--at least in my case; in my coworkers' defence, they are pretty enthusiastic, or at least amiable. It's likely that the level of expected "enthusiasm" is higher than even…

    Read more…
  15. An incredibly bad idea

    Light bulb fixture

    I wish I knew who did this so I could nominate him or her for a Darwin award. This is what I found when I had to change a light bulb in one of the pot lights above the front desk at work. The light bulbs are standard; the fixture is recessed. So someone came up with this brilliant idea to avoid having a recessed bulb. Take a look at the design! It's actually two pieces screwed together. And it's discoloured at the bottom--that can't be good.

    What's with all the outlets on it? One of my coworkers jokingly suggested it was for plugging in disco balls (the building dates to the seventies). I'm not an electrician (I shudder to think what an electrician would do upon seeing something like this), but that can't be to code. I wonder what will happen if a building inspector ever discovers this.

    The label is a barcode with 7 digits (phone number?) and "Mexico" on it....

    Read more…
  16. Contents may catch fire

    We've got this bottle of whiteout in the drawer at the front desk of the art gallery. Regular whiteout or whatnot. I was bored one day and read the tiny printing on the back of the label. After resting my eyes from the strain of trying to read the subatomic type, I considered the implications of this warning: "Contents may catch fire." :huh:

    It's very ambiguous. What do they mean, "contents may catch fire?" So this liquid might just decide to spontaneously combust while it's sitting in the drawer? o_O Or does it mean that if I expose it to a heat source then the contents might catch fire, but on the other hand, they might not. I half-expected the brand name to be Schrodinger's Whiteout.

    I could expand my reading of the label to create even more interpretations. For instance, prior to the warning about quantum flammability, it says, "Keep out of reach of children". Let's concatenate that. "Keep out of reach of children; contents may catch fire." Let me get this straight: the whiteout company is implying that today's average child is some sort of pyromaniac who will light whiteout on fire at any chance he or…

    Read more…
  17. Bear necessities

    Working full-time has finally taken its toll on me. On Friday, my co-worker Danielle and I agreed that we've finally snapped. It started with bears....

    We get the occasional bear wandering around the campus on which the gallery's located. Somehow we got on the subject of bears, and Danielle suggested that we trap a bear using stale doughnuts from Robin's Donuts and then train him to work at the front desk. We'd dress him in a hat, shades, a vest with tassels, and Lycra pants. :ph34r: Then we'd sic him on people who touched the artwork. If someone touches the artwork, we would press the button to drop the bear, who would proceed to rampage around the gallery. Sure, all of the art would be destroyed, but that person would never touch the art again! (Probably because they've been teared limb from limb...).

    Oh, and we're going to name him Kingsley Shacklebolt. :)

    And if the above hasn't yet convinced you I've snapped, listen to this: on Sunday I sold a man $100 worth of rocks. :yes: Yes indeedy. A dude from Toronto, his wife, and his teenage daughter came to see the gallery. Then he selected a $70 rock…

    Read more…
  18. Mmm, DVD entertainment

    Hot Fuzz came out on DVD Tuesday. I didn't see it in theatres, but I enjoyed Shaun of the Dead a lot, so I bought it. Like Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz parodies a genre of movies--in this case, cop-themed action movies. It is nonstop hilarious in the way that it's virtually impossible to discuss specific parts of the movie--it's all funny. Yet the humour isn't cheap. There is a compelling plot buried beneath the parody too. Overall, I'd readily rank it one of the best movies I've ever seen.

    Last night Laura came online and started bragging about this awesome purchase she made at Zellers. When she revealed it was the complete Dilbert television series, I nearly went ballistic. Dilbert!! I used to watch it all the time when Teletoon aired it, but then they stopped, and that was sad. :( So I went to Zellers today and snagged a copy--$20 for the entire series. Can't go wrong at that price.

    Last night at work I got an odd phone call. There was an old lady who said she was calling from Vancouver. Apparently she had worked here in Thunder Bay as a kindergarten teacher…

    Read more…
  19. Why I have no common sense

    This story is an example of why I lack any common sense whatsoever.

    Yesterday at work a guy came in and said he was delivering phone books. Okay, no problem, bring them in. Oh wait--they are heavy. Okay, no problem, I'll help you. Oh wait--there's a lot of them. Okay, I'll open up receiving.

    Now at this point I'll admit I thought something was unusual. But I didn't question anything and proceeded to help these two guys unload 650 telephone books into our receiving area. With a staff of about 12, we really don't need those many books. It was only after they had left and I went back to the front desk that I realized the order was probably meant to go to the college nearby and we got it by mistake.

    After a quick call to the phone company we sorted out the problem, and the books will be picked up today. I feel sorry for those two guys though, because after I help them load up the phone books, they're going to have to unload them a third time at the college.

    This is just another example of how very intelligent people often lack basic common sense…

    Read more…
  20. Fall back (and laugh)

    For those who observe Daylight Saving Time, we changed back to standard time this morning. I was there when it happened (no secrets of the universe were revealed to me, however, so I want my money back).

    This morning at about 11:15 I was getting ready for work when the phone rings. Who is it? It's my coworker, Danielle, calling from work.

    Danielle: Ben ... you do know you're supposed to be working, right? Me: Yes... Danielle: Well, you're late. It's after 12. Me: Um ... no it's not. Danielle: All the clocks around here say 12:15. Me: You didn't set your clocks back? Danielle: (Calling off to our curator) Glenn did we set our clocks back? (To me) Oh my god... Me: I'll see you in about half an hour.

    Yes, suffice it to say, we aren't going to let her live that one down. :lol: She spent the rest of the time looking for the manual to reprogram the front desk phone's clock, though, which is good because it was always ten minutes slow and annoyed us to no end.

    Other than that work was pretty slow.

    Oh, last night the American Movie Classics channel was playing

    Read more…
  21. Employed am I!

    I got some training today as I started my job. First I had to bike to the Art Gallery, which is located on the college campus. The ride was okay, although I hate crossing the busier streets because I'm paranoid about being hit by a car. :D After I got to the gallery, I changed from my shorts into dress pants and a dress shirt (and some dress shoes) to start off at work. I filled out the form and then it was off to the races.

    Lots of stuff goes on, and I have varied responsibilities. It was a lot to take in the first day, but I think I'll like the job. My co-workers are nice and friendly.

    There's a lot of security concerns, it being an art gallery, and particularly this summer because the Norval Morrisseau exhibition is part of the National Collection, in Ottawa, so there is pressure on us from them to make thing everything is secure. Whenever there are visitors inside the galleries, an attendant needs to be in the gallery just to observe and make sure that no one touches the artwork or such. So there's a lot of standing involved.

    At the…

    Read more…
  22. Six hours

    There's such a thing as "too much of the CBC". That is what I learned today. :D

    I went into work for six hours (because the pay is lucrative but I find it difficult to work for any large amount of time due to the fact I have "school" ). From noon until six today, I mostly sat down in the basement of the Chapples Building and carefully sorted paper from paperclips, the former going into a container to be shredded. This humdrum existence was periodically punctuated by brief trips upstairs to return a full bin and downstairs with an empty bin. :yawn:

    By 5:30 I sort of ran out of steam. I had been listening to CBC Radio One for nearly six full hours by that time. A number of revelations flashed through my mind!

    You start to notice how often the host cuts off the guest by interrupting them. I started counting how many times the hosts would say "Okay," or some other acknowledgement until they had to actually step in and blatantly talk over the guest in order to end the segment. It's just like listening for people's intakes of breath before they talk, it's this…

    Read more…

About Me

I’m a 27-year-old math and English teacher back in Canada after two years teaching in England. In my free time, I read books! When I’m not reading, I’m writing, coding, or knitting.

More about me…

About this site

I started coding websites, in bad HTML on Geocities, in 2004 in a fit of whimsy. Since then I’ve learned PHP/MySQL, coded my own blog software, and rebuilt this site several times. With the exception of the blog, it’s currently running on the exquisite Symphony CMS. This website is hosted by HawkHost

More about this site…