Computer Grading

We have lots of software programs that we use at work, and it seems like new ones are rolled out every day. Recently, I’ve noticed that some of the newer programs that have been have a very annoying feature: they presume to grade you on how well you use the program.

Gone are the days when the computer world was fresh and friendly and new computer programs always featured a little paper clip guy with a squeaky voice or some other anthropomorphic icon that was supposed to help you master the new software. Sure, they quickly became incredibly irritating and were promptly disabled after their “helpful” badgering and unwanted “tips” got on your last nerve, but at least they were trying to help us. They’ve now been replaced by some hectoring schoolmarm who gives you grades because she can’t rap you on the knuckles with a ruler.

The other day I checked my dashboard on one of the programs and found that I had been given a C-. I have no earthly idea why I got a C-. Seriously — I swear that I did what the program requires me to do, in timely fashion. And yet, there it was, for all the world to see: a C-. I’ve never been given a C- grade on anything in my life (that I know about, at least). Now my record has been shattered by some soulless computer that assigned me an embarrassing grade based on wholly arbitrary and unknowable metrics lodged somewhere in the semiconductors and chips and RAM. And what’s most annoying about it all is that I actually care that I got a C-. I don’t think anyone logs or pays any attention to these grades, but still . . . it bugs me. Decades after my last formal schooling ended, I still care about grades, even if they are totally meaningless. Of course, that’s why the computer does it. The American educational system has trained me to be like Pavlov’s dog, except instead of salivating at the sound of a metronome I’ve been conditioned to respond to arbitrary grades.

Thank goodness that I’m not assigned grades in other areas of life — by family, or friends, or colleagues, or neighbors. The fact that I respond to grading, even now, is an Achilles heel of sorts. Don’t tell anyone, will you?

The Wrath Of Mr. Pappano

Yesterday I saw a short man with black glasses and thick, Coke bottle-type lenses walking down the street.  A chill ran up my spine, because he looked like Mr. Pappano.

I’m not sure that is how his name was spelled, but Mr. Pappano was the first gym teacher I remember having.  There wasn’t gym in kindergarten, or first grade — just class, lunch, and recess.  But by fourth grade the school authorities decided we needed some kind of organized, healthy physical activity, supervised by an interested adult teacher.

Mr. Pappano fit the bill.  He was a small, swarthy guy who always wore a gray t-shirt and whistle and apparently felt that tumbling was a crucial part of child development.  It was as if the kids in our class were being groomed for slots in a circus act . . . or maybe the school had spent a lot on tumbling mats and decided they had to get their money’s worth.  In any case, we’d troop into the gym, see the dirty gray mats on the hardwood floor — and I would groan, because I was the worst tumbler in school.

You started with the “log roll,” where you would lie on your side and then roll forward.  That, I could do.  In fact, I may have been the best log roller in the continental United States.  But once I was asked to move to more advanced forms of tumbling — like the head-over heels forward roll, somersaults, handstands, round-offs — I sucked.  I was a fat, unathletic kid whose center of gravity just seemed to be in the wrong place, and I was perpetually unable to do what other kids seemingly could do with ease.

This made Mr. Pappano mad.  In fact, it infuriated him.  He would blow his shrill whistle, his eyes would bulge behind those magnifying glass lenses, his neck muscles would stand out, and spittle would fly from his red face as he berated me for not even trying.  Then he would proudly do the tumbling maneuver himself, to show me how easy it was.  Of course, I was aware that others could do it, so watching a fully grown adult who may have been genetically bred for tumbling wasn’t exactly the most successful teaching method.  Instead, Mr. Pappano’s deft motivational techniques just made me associate gym class with personal humiliation and hate it all the more.  The first blast of his whistle provoked a Pavlovian retreat to my personal happy place until gym class was blessedly over.

I hadn’t thought of Mr. Pappano in years, and I kind of wish it had stayed that way.  We’ve all got those embarrassing memories looked deep in our subconscious, ready to somersault out, unbidden, at the sight of a stranger.

That Piquant Office Microwave Smell

By law, every American office must have a microwave in a common area that is made available to all employees.  Any office worker will concede that the zone around that microwave is a crucial part of the rich tapestry of their work space.

Educated noses in the office can learn a lot from the smorgasbord of scents in the microwave zone.  Is that the heady aroma of maple that I detect wafting from some mid-morning oatmeal that will linger, cloyingly, for an hour or more?  My God, has Jim reheated that pungent fish and rice dish again?  And how about the subtly nuanced aroma of blended chemical preservatives that floods the area whenever a frozen entree is zapped?  The welcome dinging of the microwave timer acts like the bell Pavlov used with his dog, and summons the office epicures to revel in the sight and smell of whatever appetizing radiated fare is removed from the pristine microwave chamber.

The delightful experience is compounded when reusable microwave dishes are left to soak in the sink below the microwave.  Each has the unmistakable pink smear of sauce residue that has been permanently bonded to the plastic by countless doses of radiation, thereby allowing the diner to enjoy the taste of all previous reheated meals along with whatever he has chosen as today’s sustenance.

Curiously, on our floor the microwave is positioned directly across from the door to the men’s restroom.