I mentioned earlier that I have a plan to build a Raspberry Pi project, and I’m often haunting sites with articles like What I’ve Learned From Tinkering With the Raspberry Pi for Five Years. I like LifeHacker as a site generally, although I can’t follow it completely — it’s like drinking from a firehose if I subscribe to its RSS feed. Back in March (14th, to be exact i.e. Pi Day — get it? 3.14?), they published the above linked article, and I loved it.
Before hobbyists latched onto the Raspberry Pi, it was a computer for learning how to code targeted mainly at kids. Since then, the appeal has broadened, but it’s still impossible for a project to “just work” out of the box. You will have to tweak something, dig into the command line, or spend a few hours buried in an obscure internet forum to find solutions to problems that only you seem to be having. You will slam your head against the wall, yell a little, and throw your Raspberry Pi at least once for every project you attempt to make.
In just about every other hobby, that would be a buzzkill for me from the word go. I feel that way every time I have to assemble Ikea furniture or build a shelving unit in my garage. It’s not something I have a knack for (home repair), but as a project for a hobby that lets me build my only little computer? I’m willing to give it a go.
I suspect I saved the article mostly because it talks about his experience building a retro game console, which is part of my desire. But it’s a good metaphor for why I want to do a project at all — troubleshooting, a little bit of gaming, and maybe some Linux. Following the path of those who have gone before.
This past weekend, skies were looking promising and so I planned to do two star parties back to back. Friday night was the first one in Carp, the last RASC star party of the year. I’m not only a member, I’m actually serving as the acting star party coordinator. We have marshals though to cover if I’m not actually there, so mainly my job is to send out the notification emails in advance as reminders, and then make the call for the day before or day of the event.
I was a bit later arriving there than I had hoped, not getting there until about 6:30 p.m., so had to set up in the dusk. Long past the sun dropping below the horizon and taking the moon and three or four planets with it. I was wondering if I would be able to see Mars, Jupiter or Venus if I was using my solar filter as they are really close to the sun, but I wasn’t overly hopeful. I never got to try though.
Saturn was still up, so that was good. Turnout was about average, maybe 20+ scopes with the big 25″ from one of the members down at the end. I wandered down around 9:00 p.m. and the line-up was about 25 people long, and apparently was even longer at times.
I had this great idea to use a special list I organized on my tablet as my viewing targets, and it went out the window pretty fast as I didn’t have it set up early enough to avoid blinding people with white light while I got it going. So I did my basic alignment and some star tour stuff, before heading for seeing Saturn. Shortly after I got going, someone wandered over to say they had a new 8SE, same scope as mine, and would I mind coming over and helping him get going as he was having trouble with the red dot finder. Don’t we all?
I felt like it was time to repay some of the help I’ve received from others. Lots of people are reading my blog entries about my alignment problems, often looking for tips and tricks to see what might help them. But within RASC, I’m more often the one asking for help than giving it. It was nice to be able to explain some of the setup steps, how to make it work well the first time, etc. And more importantly, to get the dang red dot finder to align on a red light above the Diefenbunker. One alignment on Mizar and one alignment on Altair later, and he was aligned. First target was Saturn, and it was awesome to hear his excitement in seeing it in HIS scope and to then immediately call over his son who had passed the initial patience point several minutes before (I’ve been there, I recognize it!). They looked at a bunch of stuff for the rest of the night and it sounds like it went well.
Then I lost my scope. Not really. It was just that I wandered back, and of course it’s VERY dark, and I couldn’t even FIND where I had set up. I had to wander back the opposite way twice to just to figure out where I was. Mostly as there were people looking through it at Saturn still. 🙂
I looked at a few things, and then I heard someone say in passing that the only planet available was Saturn. And I thought, “Wait a minute. I know I looked at Uranus and Neptune a week or two ago, they should still be up now.” So I went looking. Until I found Uranus. So then some visitors wandered over, and we all agreed yes it was disc like and yes we thought it was Uranus. Hard to see it in a simple 25mm eyepiece or even my 17.3mm. But one of the other RASC members came over and confirmed it was indeed Uranus. So we tried for Neptune. That one we were far less certain of, but we did find something disc-like, just without the tell-tale blue. But again, the member confirmed it was indeed Neptune, which made one of our guests quite happy — he had now see all 7 visible planets in a scope. Beats me — I haven’t seen Mercury yet.
Two more guys wandered by and we started looking at nebulae. The nearby member also lent me an Oxygen III filter to pull out some details from the Veil Nebula which was cool, albeit quite dark with the filter on. We looked at a bunch of objects for about 90 minutes. Mostly as the one guy is thinking of buying a scope like mine, and wanted to experience it. Around 11:00, I think, I happened to notice that Orion was up, and someone mentioned the Orion Nebula. I hadn’t seen it in almost two years, so I was in. But the guy loaned me a UltraBlock filter. Which made the nebula just “pop”. Eloquent as always, I think my official comment was “Holy crap!”.
After the two guys left, a couple came along where it was obvious the guy was super interested and his girlfriend was playing supportive partner. She was interested, but she clearly had passed her interest point. Nevertheless, she was game to keep going, so we split some stars, looked at Uranus, etc. Just before the end of the night, I wandered down to the 25″ scope to see M15 and then looked at it afterwards on my own much more pitiful 8″ scope. It was almost laughable the difference. On the other hand, mine fits in the back of my car; the 25″ travels in a horse trailer. I love to see through it, but man, it’s HUGE.
And that was it for the night. And for the season. Sad to see it go, particularly as I have everything working now!
On Saturday, I ran by the telescope store to talk about filters and a specific EP that I have, checked a few things out for their “used” items, and then I headed out to Luskville for the AstroPontiac evening. I’m on the Board, although that mainly means I try to go to their star parties, I do the website, and I sign some docs from time to time. My friend is the main driving force, and he has some good results to show for it.
My son had asked to go on Friday night to the Star Party in Carp, but with my marshal duties, I wasn’t planning on leaving until after midnight, too late for him. So I planned around him coming to Luskville, along with my wife, and we got there just between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. Not that there was any rush. The skies were REALLY overcast.
Fortunately, it’s right next to the Luskville Falls hiking trail, so we went and looked at the waterfalls and then had a little picnic dinner while watching leaves fall in the dusk light and listened to the falls themselves crashing in the distance.
Just after 7:00, I said, “Why not?” and I tried setting up out of sure force of will. The skies weren’t cooperating, but perhaps if I set up, they’d open up. They were supposed to clear at 8:00 p.m., but it wasn’t certain. We crossed our fingers.
I did manage to catch Saturn not long after 7:00 through a small opening in the clouds. I wasn’t aligned, but I could manually spot it. The clarity / seeing was pretty low quality, but we saw it. Then the hole closed and we waited. Just after 8:00, it did look like it was going to clear…some of the clouds started to drift away, I managed to do an alignment, and then they clouded back in again.
My friend managed to keep a bunch of people engaged for about 45 minutes explaining the sky, even if he couldn’t show it to them. And I passed the time giving an interview to the local press about the Initiative. That was a first for me.
Not too long after 9:00, we called it a night and started packing up. Most of the night, Jacob was in the car playing on his tablet, which is the reason I brought it. Sitting around in the dark talking about skies we’ve seen in the past isn’t that exciting for him. I managed to show off some of my old photos of what is possible to see even with a basic scope, but that’s a pale imitation of the real thing.
However, although it wasn’t the BEST NIGHT EVER or anything, it was still fun. We can’t always have great nights, but we can make whatever night we have as great as possible. And any night I can see Saturn, I call a win.
Here are my “four” options, although the first two are obviously tongue-in-cheek:
A. Give up — either get a different scope or take up knitting…I actually thought about both.
B. Do it wrong for five years until two people help you figure out why it’s not working (see above two posts).
C. Regular Auto Two-Star alignment – Short version…I’ll give the full write-up below with all the bells and whistles, but this will just be the short process steps.
Add wedge plate underneath;
Set vibration suppression pads under the legs;
Attach Optical Tube Assembly (OTA);
Plug in power source;.
Turn on scope, lower tube to horizontal position, turn off scope;
Level the scope;
Turn on scope, press enter to start alignment;
Change to AUTO TWO-STAR;
Hit UNDO to go back to CUSTOM SITE, enter GPS COORDINATES;
Enter time, date, DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME or not, and timezone;
Align spotter scope or TelRad or red-dot finder;
Choose a star from the list, centre it roughly in the eyepiece, press ENTER, fine-tune your centering (Up and Right as last movements) by eyeball, reticule or doughnut methods;
If you used the doughnut method, refocus to a tight star point view;
Choose Star 2, let it slew to near that spot, centre star roughly in eyepiece, press ENTER, fine-tune alignment (Up and Right again) by eyeball, reticule, doughnut methods, press align;
Wait for “Alignment Success” message;
Test your alignment on your two alignment stars;
Start looking for new objects;
D. Regular Auto Two-Star alignment – Long version
Setup tripod, extend legs;
Add wedge plate underneath to ensure legs are at full extension and locked;
If using vibration suppression pads under the legs, add them underneath now;
Add top of mount/arm if not already attached (I leave mine attached all the time);
Attach Optical Tube Assembly (OTA)…some people attach it with the tube horizontal, Celestron name plate facing you and readable, tightening knob underneath. I find it FAR easier to have the knob facing left so that I am attaching the OTA vertically with the opening facing up and my star diagonal / back plate facing down. This allows me to rest the star diagonal in my right hand while standing “behind” the arm, and guiding it with my left hand into the mounting rail slot. Then I tighten. By doing this, I also make sure that my star diagonal has clearance underneath i.e. the thickness of my hand, so just in case when I’m viewing I go to zenith, it will clear my base. This works awesome for me;
Plug in power source, as the AA batteries drain quickly (which will then make the alignment and mount start to go wonky fast);
Turn on scope, lower tube to horizontal position, turn off scope;
Level the scope…now that the weight is on it, you need to level it, mostly by adjusting the legs on the tripod. I have both a simple bubble level (allows you to see all directions, not just the one direction that a typical hand level shows you) and an app on my phone called Cliniometer;
Turn on scope, wait for the screen to clear (about 3-5 seconds), press enter to start alignment;
Change from STAR ALIGN (i.e. default 3-star) to AUTO TWO-STAR;
It will then ask you for some basic data, but if you have changed locations from the last time you viewed, you should hit UNDO to go back to where it says something like CITY DATABASE or CUSTOM SITE, and if possible, use CUSTOM SITE. It will then ask you for your GPS coordinates in longitude and latitude by HOURS:MINUTES:SECONDS. Google Maps will give you the coordinates if you go to the exact spot, and then right click on the spot, choose What’s Here, and when it shows you decimal coordinates, click on them and it will show them in HOURS:MINUTES:SECONDS. Or skip GOOGLE MAPS and download an app like GPS COORDINATES for Android which will tell you direct, or within Sky Safari or Sky Portal by clicking on settings, current location. It will give you the exact coordinates you need. Enter both longitude and latitude. Ignore the negative part of the number, it will ask you if it is north/south or east/west. (* Note that you can use the city database, but cities are large, and the larger the city, the greater margin of error you are adding to the process.);
Enter your time, date, whether it is DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME or not, and the timezone you’re in. Best if you can be as accurate as possible on your time;
Align your spotter scope or TelRad or red-dot finder. This is what helps you find things without looking through the eyepiece. Generally, I find TelRads are the quickest and fastest options, but some people like having a separate spotter scope mounted. Nobody likes the red-dot finder. However, regardless of the three options, the process is generally the same — point your scope towards something on the horizon that you can see;
Now you’re ready to choose your first star. The scope will give you an obvious list of good stars to choose from. If you are like me and aren’t always sure which one is Polaris (don’t ask), or Vega, choose one that you can learn and that you can’t miss. For me, that’s Mizar, and it’s almost always on the list (if it isn’t there, I can do MANUAL TWO-STAR and select it). I can almost always see the Big Dipper when I’m viewing, and it is pretty clear which one in the handle is Mizar. Plus it’s a double star so if I look through the scope and see it, I know if it is Mizar or I’m off. It’s pretty easy to tell if it is the right one or not. Alignment of your first star takes TWO steps. First, you get it in your FoV generally using your red dot finder (blech) or a TelRad or spotting scope — you just need to get it close enough so you can see it in the eyepiece, don’t worry how close to centre it is. Then, you press ENTER. Now you’re ready for fine-tuning…the important part to know though is that the drive for the scope has slippage in it. To keep it tight, and give yourself the best alignment, you want to be pressing UP and RIGHT as the last two movements on your scope before pressing align. For me, with a star diagonal on my scope, it means I need to be in the upper left quadrant of my eyepiece. Then, when I press UP it will take me down towards the middle, and right will take me the right to get to the middle. If I overshoot either one, I can’t just back up a little, because that would mean going down or left on the hand controller i.e. within the “play” of the scope, and the alignment won’t be tight. Instead, I have to go past the middle points again, and then go UP and RIGHT on the hand controller to get to where I think the middle is. How do you know if you’re in the “middle”? Three ways:
Eyeball it. Of course, the less precise you are, the greater the margin of error when you’re done;
Use a lighted reticule — this is basically an eyepiece you can buy that has a little red light in it and a grid. It looks like a target screen. You can use your general eyepiece to get in close to centre, and then this lighted one to get exactly dead centre;
Use the doughnut method — this one is completely counter-intuitive. Instead of a “tight” focus, turn your focus knob to make it extremely UNFOCUSED. Your tiny little star will star to look like a small doughnut, then a medium sized doughnut, then a large doughnut. Which will let you gauge the distance from the edge of the doughnut to the edges of your eyepiece. In other words, instead of guessing if your little marble is close to the centre of a basketball hoop, you’re guessing if your large beachball is centred in the hoop. Much easier to tell how far from the “four” sides (up / down / left / right). But again, you still want to be going UP and RIGHT as your last movements;
If you used the doughnut method, refocus to a tight star point view;
Choose Star 2 from the list (see some notes below about stars to choose). You ideally want a star that is in a different part of the sky, at least 15 degrees above the horizon, and preferably, at a different height than your first star (so that it is working with different angles, not just rotation along the same altitude). The great part is you don’t really need to know which is which. Once you press ENTER to choose the star, the mount is going to rotate to that star with its best guess as to where it is. So it might say let’s go to Skat. Except you don’t know Skat at all. Doesn’t matter. Because when it slews to Skat, you’re going to see likely only one really bright star within a Field of View (FoV) of where it stopped. In other words, you’ll just go to the nearest bright star to where it stops, centre it in the same way as you did for the first star, get it close to centre in your eyepiece, press ENTER. Then do your UP and RIGHT to do final alignment to centre (with eyeballing it, using a lighted reticule, or making it look like a doughnut again). Press align;
You should get a message after a few seconds that says “Alignment Success”;
Test your alignment. Most people will pick a third target and say, “Okay, let’s look at Saturn.” Which makes sense, right? You did alignment on two stars, let’s see how it finds a third. Instead, though, you should tell it to go back to the first star (Mizar in my example above). Because you should be DEAD ON for that star, it’s one of your alignment stars. And then you can tell it to go back to Star 2. If either are not dead centre, something’s wrong with your alignment. And if I had to guess, I would bet it was the UP and RIGHT play for your final alignment. It could be leveling or your stars, or whatever, but I’m betting you’re off with the final alignment step, it’s the most common. Which part of the alignment was the problem? If you’re generally above or below the star, it was your vertical (your final UP motion) aka your altitude. If you’re generally left or right of the target, it is the horizontal (your final RIGHT motion) aka your azimuth. Note that on my default settings, the UP/DOWN settings were initially set to INVERTED in the menu, so I spent two years doing DOWN and RIGHT, thus throwing off my altitude every time. Grrr…;
If your two alignment stars came back solid, you’re good to go. Start looking for new objects! Note that objects close to your alignment stars will be the most precise, including those in between. Those objects farther away from those points of alignment will be less precise, but likely still within the FoV of a 25mm eyepiece. That was the default EP sold with the 8SE in most cases, and apparently the accuracy of the scope was kind of geared to it;
Choosing good stars
What are the best two stars to choose? There are some basic tips online ranging from types of two-stars (generally at different altitudes, not complete polar opposites, both more than 15 degrees above the horizon, etc.) to specific suggestions. On CloudyNights, a guy named Curt B posted back in 2015 and suggested the following stars:
January: Capella & Aldebaran
February / March: Sirius & Rigel
April: Regulus & Procyon
May: Regulus & Arcturus
June/July: Vega & Arcturus
August: Altair & Deneb
September: Altair & Rasalhague/Vega
October: Altair & Vega
November: Altair & Caph/Vega
December: Enif & Hamal
As I mentioned above, I choose Mizar whenever I can because it is so CLEARLY Mizar and not something else. Most people start with Polaris as they are confident they can find it. Depending on my light polluted skies, I’m not always 100% sure. Mizar has no doubts. Some people like software combos on their desktop to make a list and http://www.ilanga.com/bestpair/ has some free software. It has been superceded by a program called AstroPlanner, but you have to pay for that one (although it has lots of great functions). If I run Best Pair II, and enter the 15th of the month for 2017 and 8:00 p.m., here is what I get as the best pair in my rough area (Ottawa):
Jan 15: Deneb and Arcturus
Feb 15: Vega and Hamal
Mar 15: Vega and Hamal
Apr 15: Vega and Hamal
May 15: Polaris and Mira
June 15: Bogardus and Markab
July 15: Capella and Denebola
Aug 15: Capella and Denebola
Sept 15: Alkaid and Procyon
Oct 15: Alkaid and Procyon
Nov 15: Vega and Denebola
Dec 15: Alkaid and Altair
None of which are Mizar. Vega, Altair, Arcturus, Polaris and Capella are great choices, eminently “findable” with the naked eye, and would give you one star out of the two to start with for 9 of the 12 months. Not bad.
Alternatively, there is a program by Jean Piquette, and available from the NexStar resource site that Michael Swanson runs. http://www.nexstarsite.com/Downloads.htm#SAS will take you to the program for download. This is a bit more technical than most people are likely going to be comfortable with in terms of setup…you have to edit a couple of text files to put in your info, then run the program, with it spitting out a few files that will tell you good choices. It is based on the 21 “NexStar” alignment stars that it likes by default.
When I run it today, Oct 22, 2017, it suggests the following for my area:
Six combinations of Altair, Polaris, Mizar and Vega, and almost all of which I could find no problem. Overall, I would say that this estimate is far better for me than the other one, although the first one has more range in choice of possible stars. This one does however give out a MUCH longer list of choices too, almost overwhelming in fact.
I’ll keep both programs and see what they give me from time to time. Something else to remember to do before I leave the house though. I’d prefer an app for that, and there ARE some options for downloading things in Sky Portal and/or Sky Safari Pro, but I’m not entirely clear how to combine the lists properly for prioritization. More like “good sets” in general, regardless if they are actually visible tonight or make good combos for tonight compared to others.
But I’m getting farther afield from the original premise — how to align properly for general process, not which stars are chosen. Hope this helps. Of course, your mileage may vary.
PolyWogg’s (Completely Informal and Totally Unofficial) Guide to Competing for Jobs in the Canadian Federal Government
At the beginning of the chapter, I mentioned there were five types of interviews, and the one that is left is what is called the “best fit” interview. This is the interview where they are seeing, amongst a small pool of fully qualified candidates, who is the best fit for the team.
Let’s go back for a second to an earlier example. Let’s say someone has a bunch of tech support workers working for them, and also say that they have three areas to cover – mainframes, PCs, and Macs. So they have an opening and run a selection process looking at experience in providing tech support, knowledge of various elements of different systems, abilities to be a front-line service worker and the personal suitability factors for dealing with a lot of different types of people all coming to you for help. Now suppose they have an opening, and have found three really good candidates who have been tested, evaluated, all good – any one of them could do the job. But there is only one position available. And you have to choose one that will fit well with your needs.
Suppose for example that you have existing workers who are really good with mainframes and PCs, but you’re a bit weak on Macs. And one of the three candidates is REALLY strong with Macs. Then you might choose them as the best fit for completely legitimate operational – yes, all of them are qualified, but this one brings a little extra experience with Macs to the table, and you’re short in that area. Tomorrow, someone might leave from the mainframe team and suddenly you’ll pull a mainframe person off the pool.
That’s partly what best fit is about – seeing which candidate fits your basic and extra needs the best.
But I need to warn you of something else. That previous example could have probably been decided just on paper. So why an interview? Often the processes are large and complex undertakings with lots of managers doing the interviews. So it is quite common for a hiring manager not to have seen EVERYONE that was interviewed earlier. They may not have met YOU for example. So if they are good managers, they’ll narrow the pool down to a potential sub-list that looks good and then call 3-4 of them in for a quick conversation.
What are they looking for? They’re making sure you’re not a whack job, for one. I’m not joking. Just because someone passed an interview or wrote a test doesn’t mean necessarily that you want to work with them on a day to day basis. Anyone can clean up nice for a formal process, answer the right questions in the right way, and maybe no alarms go off. But they’re a whack job. Look around your own work unit…chances are there are a couple of people you would rather not work with, but hey, somebody hired them.
The “nicer” way of thinking about this best fit interview is partly just getting to know you and partly to see how you interact on interpersonal skills in an informal setting. Are you shy? Are you aggressive? Are you constantly joking, are you deadly serious? They just want a feel for who you are, what you’re like.
Another area they want to gauge is how interested you are in the job. I know what some of you are probably thinking…what do you mean? We applied for the job, of course we want it, doesn’t every one of us want it the same? The short answer is no.
Some people applied just to be in a competition and hopefully make a pool so their own manager could pull them and appoint them where they are working now. They don’t want the job AT ALL. They’re just playing the game to get promoted.
Some other people are victims of time…they applied nine months ago but since then, their lives have changed. Maybe they have a divorce in the works, or a new baby, or a new boss, and they don’t want to move right now after all. They want to stay put. Or their boss has offered them another opportunity. Or they made another pool somewhere else, or are about to make one. Lots of things could cause them to change their minds since they first applied.
Are managers going to outright ask you if you still want the job? Probably not. They’re instead going to ask you to tell them a bit about why you want the job. Maybe ask you what elements in your past experience make you think you’d be a good fit. Ruh roh. Yeah, that’s right, it is still an INTERVIEW. And you need to be ready.
Your main focus is different though. Instead of knowledge or abilities or personal suitability factors, they’re mainly judging two factors – indirectly your experience (it will be what you use to populate your stories and flesh them out) and more directly your interpersonal skills.
But you have to make a choice at this point in how you choose to respond.
Some people will say, “If you want the job, you have to be the duck.” Just like in the rest of the competition. Don’t deviate from that message. What do you like about the job as a duck? Being able to quack. What did you like in your past jobs? Whenever you got to quack. Quack, quack, quack. You’re still going to answer the questions, but every third sentence should be about quacking. It’s safe, it’s conservative, it’s traditional.
However, what if you’re actually a swan? Then you have three options.
First, if you REALLY want the job no matter what, just quack. Less risk.
Second, if you want the job but you also want to be yourself, quack and also show off your swan features. Let your wings unfurl. Strut a bit. It’s a compromise of being true to yourself while still pursuing the job strongly.
Third, if you are interested in the job, but you aren’t going to be happy if you can’t be a swan, then fully unfurl and strut. You have to. Because you don’t want them thinking you’re a conforming duck and hire you into a job that is a bad fit for you.
But this also leads to some good news.
You get to interview them too. You can ask what it’s like to work in the unit. Chances are they will tell you anyway before you ask. They’ll often describe the job in detail, or the division, or the branch. They’ll give you a bunch of info you didn’t get reliably earlier…and you may or may not like it.
Some people have thought the job was like X and then found out in the best fit interview that it was mostly about Y. Which they had no interest in, and now they’ve wasted a huge amount of time to get that far and they’re not interested in the job anymore. It happens. Mostly to people who applied for anything and everything without finding out what the job was about at least in general terms.
You also get to see the manager and / or director in an informal setting and see if you want to work for THEM. You can see how they describe files, people, the work, etc, and decide whether there is a whack job in the room, and it’s not you.
Those are the basics, and the challenge for giving advice on this section is so many of the questions you might have are “what if…” scenarios. Too many to address in their entirety, but I’ll attempt to address some common general themes.
Option 1: What if I’m invited but I actually don’t want the job?
Remember all those other factors I mentioned above? Life happens. You can politely decline the best fit interview and say you’re not interested in the job at this time, with or without an explanation, no harm, no foul. They might be a little annoyed, but they’ll get over it. If you have something else, just say so and move on.
However, I advise against declining. First of all, they ran a competition, invested a lot of time and resources in it, and you DID apply. The least you can do is here their pitch at the end.
Second, you actually don’t know what they’re considering. Tons of pools get used to fill OTHER jobs than the first one posted. You might think it is about training programs, and you’ve decided it doesn’t interest you in general, but in reality, they have a new initiative looking at training geared towards gender equality that is one of your passions. You don’t know, and you won’t know unless you go and have that little interview. And after you hear from them, if you don’t want it, email them the next day and thank them politely for their consideration but tell them it doesn’t seem like the best fit for you at this time. Even if they offer you the job, you CAN say no.
Option 2: I had the interview, seemed to go well, and I want the job. Now what?
Ideally, they offered you it on the spot and you said, “Quack yeah!”. More likely, they said, “Thanks for coming in, we’ll let you know.”
But you should also give them an extra bit of info – you WANT the job, now that you’ve heard more about it and met your potential bosses. So email them the next day and say thank you for considering me, and that you remain very interested in the position if they think you would be a good fit in the team. Lots of people think this is redundant, but the reality is that it is new info for them. They may THINK you will say yes if offered, but they don’t know for sure – they know you’re interviewing them for best fit too. So telling them you’re interested (or very interested) lets them know that for sure if they offer you the job, you’re going to say yes. You’re a sure thing. All uncertainty is gone. And there is a small psychological element in there too – just like in dating or friendships, it’s nice to be wanted, and you’re telling them you want to work with them.
On both the upside and downside, their response will likely tell you which way they’re leaning. Now they may have to interview lots of others too, you can often tell by their response if it is GREAT, thanks for letting us know, or just okay thanks.
Option 3: I had the interview and I don’t want to even KNOW them, let alone work there
So email them the next day and politely tell them it doesn’t seme like the right fit for you at this time. No harm, no foul.
Option 4: I want the job, but one detail is a dealbreaker for me, when do I tell them?
The short answer is whenever you feel comfortable raising it. Not very helpful, I know. So let’s tease that out a bit more. It depends a bit on what the detail is about.
If it is about the job, you need to at least raise it as a concern in the best fit interview because that is pretty clearly linked to your best fit. For example, if you hate public-speaking and you find out that there is a component of that in the job and you didn’t realize that previously, try and probe a bit to find out how extensive it is. They’ll be able to tell that you don’t like or have a problem with that component and the conversation will address that to some extent.
Or perhaps there is a need to do a lot of outreach during the week, but every Tuesday at lunch, you are doing Toastmasters. You could mention that as something you do, and ask if that would likely be an issue. You aren’t trying to say “no”, because they’re not offering you anything yet to say yes or no to anyway, you’re just working out the ramifications of the job and another commitment you have. You can do all of this in the best fit interview.
However, if the detail is something about YOU, not the job, then you can wait for an actual offer before raising it. They’ll call you to let you know they want to choose you, at which time you can ask to meet to discuss a couple of issues you just want to clarify before you say yes fully. You’re still telling them it’s a likely yes, you just want to mention a couple of things.
Some of these things might be highly personal. For example, suppose you have to pick up your son every Tuesday at 4:00 without fail. It’s not an everyday thing, as that could have been discussed at any time in terms of the workhours for the team, etc. Instead, this is a dealbreaker for you. Will that be a problem? Usually it isn’t. But you want to know before you say yes.
Or perhaps you have a one-week trip planned in six months where you’re taking your great grandmother back to the home country. It’s planned, booked, and you’re going no matter what. If it is that important to you, you may say, “Is this oging to be a problem?”. Usually not, particularly with advanced notice, but this category is about something YOU decided was a dealbreaker for you, so you need to know if it is a problem or not.
After that, there are a huge number of potential really personal issues you might want to raise. Maybe you have a religious ritual that you do at certain times each day, and while they’ll accommodate you, maybe you want to know it isn’t simply accommodations but they are actually supportive and would never ask you to do it after you finish some urgent task. Many of these areas could even get into questions of human rights, but you want them to know before you start.
Which takes me back to the original response. Tell them what you want to tell them when you feel comfortable doing so.
Now, lots of activists out there will tell you that you don’t need to share, and I agree. You don’t HAVE to tell them. But you also don’t want to necessarily be faced with having to fight for something with neanderthal bosses…you want to know their views before you accept.
For me, it is the blog I write. I tell them in my best fit interviews, if not earlier, that I have a blog. And give them the URL if they want to check it out to see the types of things I write. Am I allowed to have a blog? Yep. Does that mean a boss might not give me a hard time about it? No, they could, and if that’s their attitude, I want to know that before I agree to work for them…mostly because I won’t accept the offer. I’m also going to feel them out about HR, training supports for employees, ways to approach certain types of situations. And all of that will be informally during the best fit because that is where I feel comfortable sharing it. Others might wait for an actual offer, but to me, that’s a waste of time. But I’m also not looking for just “any job” or trying to get a promotion. I will only accept jobs that are the right fit for me.
I haven’t started my official evaluation test yet for my using my scope (Attempt #0 of 5 to save my hobby), mostly as I am still struggling to figure out what exactly is causing the alignment problems. After lots of back and forth with a few people online and by email, the list of potential problems is known but not insignificant.
First and foremost, apparently the three-star method I’ve been using is notoriously prone to margins of errors. Nice. I don’t know how I missed that previously, but considering that’s the approach I’ve been using since the beginning, not encouraging. Apparently, I’m just a fucking idiot.
Second, I need to make sure everything is fine for the actual mechanics of it. This includes five things:
Reset everything in the hand controller to factory defaults — done;
Checking to make sure I have adequate power…I used fresh brand new batteries tonight, and it seems to be the same results as when I use my Lithium Ion pack, so I don’t think power is a problem — done;
Checking my basic left-right play (none) and up-down play (went to zenith, returned to horizontal, stops when coming down, no problem) — done;
Checking my slew motion…after I take my finger off the button, it doesn’t “stop” immediately like a brake, but it does stop within half a second or so…I don’t know if that’s a problem or not — pending;
I still need to check backlash for settings — pending;
Third, for the preferred two-star alignment, I confess it sounded less accurate to me originally so I never really considered it. After all, how can two stars for your pinpointing work better than three? Wouldn’t triangulation always be preferable? Apparently not, in part because it isn’t “any” two stars, it’s choosing two of a small set of big well-known stars like Polaris, Vega, Mizar, etc. Which is another reason why I haven’t used it — I’m not very good at identifying stars yet. That was the main reason I wanted the goto option, so I wouldn’t need to do that originally. Tonight I tried Polaris and then hoped to use Scheat as it was one suggested by a very knowledgable guy online. Unfortunately, Scheat wasn’t one of the options it gave me. I started with Polaris, or to be more accurate, with what I hope was Polaris and had to settle for Mizar as my second one. Not particularly great for range. Anyway, it slewed to Mizar, and it was pretty close, not awesome, and I was using a 17.3mm lens instead of my normal 32 or 25 mm ones, so whatever. I adjusted, aligned, all done pretty quick. So I told it to show me Saturn. Which it did. Pretty far edge of the FoV, but it found it. It also found Uranus and the moon. Not sure about Neptune. I tried a bunch of targets, and they were okay — some showed, some didn’t. Same as always.
I eventually reset and went with Mizar and Hamal. Pretty far apart. And with my 32 mm plossl. Much closer to my real world test. Then I told it to show me Saturn and it was off by almost a whole FoV in the 32mm lens. Sigh. I did a whole bunch of other targets just for fun. The Ring Nebula? No problem. Definitely within the FoV. Pinwheel Galaxy, Whirlpool? No idea, nada in the FoV. I would say I was hitting about 60%, which is an improvement. I was also in a slightly darker sky setup.
Where does this leave me? I have no real idea.
I need to verify the backlash settings, but I am not sure that’s the problem.
I will also need to use my Stellarium software to help me figure out which stars I am trying to hop to, and with my tablet repaired, hopefully I can figure that out a little better than on my phone (pretty smushed together). I would have loved to use Arcturus tonight as it was super bright, but that wasn’t one of the 2-star options. The only real positive part to it is that a 2-star alignment is relatively quick.
But I also keep coming back to the same problem. I have no idea if this is as good as it gets, or there’s something really tiny I’m doing wrong. So it’s mostly trial and error to figure out the problem.
And honestly, while I gave myself five more tries once I get the alignment figured out, I almost called it quits tonight. It worked a little better, but well, I don’t really know why or how, or what will make it “right”. Or maybe I’m completely wasting my time as the hobby is beyond me, or the mount is fucked up and I have no way of knowing. I was really tempted tonight to just chuck it until next summer.
I don’t know how much positive energy I can muster for it…
My frustration levels are off the chart with my astronomy hobby. I just can’t seem to raise my capacity high enough to have a consistently positive outing. This is what I was afraid of when I bought the scope, and was the main reason I went with the scope I did — a Celestron NexStar 8SE. Designed as an “easy” entry scope, it comes with a bunch of computerized innards that basically allow you to point it at three bright stars, tell the computer in it where they are, the computer figures out which ones are which, and bob’s your uncle, the scope is fully aligned. On a stock alt-azimuth scope, there’s not much finesse for the user to worry about in the setup. Or so I thought.
However, early on, I was using it and I could find a few things once aligned, but not much that wasn’t already visible to the naked eye. I eventually figured out the problem was not a series of various options it could have been, it was narrowed to one. My alignment sucks (Finally learning with the Celestron NexStar 8SE).
So I came up with a workflow to increase the success factors and eliminate the idiot factors:
Mount — basic setup, using vibration suppression pads and if I’m feeling particularly anal, a bubble level — most people using this scope skip the level as it “close enough” apparently that unless you’re on a hill, it should be irrelevant, but I have it on my list just to weed out a variable;
Alignment control — using either phone/tablet connected to the wifi adapter or manually using the handset; and,
Star selection — using a TelRad to get close to the star, and a 12mm red-illuminated reticle eyepiece for selection.
As I’ve mentioned, I was in a bit of a holding pattern on some things for awhile and I tried this year to get it going again (50by50: Re-start my astronomy hobby (#04)). But it wasn’t the full use yet. Then I went to the cottage and Luskville and both times the viewing sucked, but even with the haze, I couldn’t even get the scope to align anyways. I saw some stuff, but it was still frustrating.
So I’ve reached the knot before the end of my tether. I’m giving myself five more tries to get a solid positive experience using my scope and then I’m bailing. I’m spending too much time and money on a hobby I just get frustrated by. I would still go to star parties and look through other people’s scopes and support RASC + AstroPontiac, I’d just get rid of the scope and use any money likely on something like buying a good lens or two for my camera, switching my obsession time to photography. I might even do occasional astrophotography.
But before I pull that trigger, I’ll give it five tries, and I need a way to evaluate my experience more formally. Last night was a trial run that doesn’t count as one of the five, but I’ll evaluate it as if it did.
My evaluation criteria
I won’t assign any evaluation criteria to the mount setup as it really doesn’t have any variables. I take it out, I set it up, I might take a few extra seconds sometimes, but nothing that affects my enjoyment. That is more about the lugging from wherever I have to park to the spot where I set up!
The alignment control definitely needs to be evaluated. From the time I set up everything and actually start my alignment to the time I’m finished, I’m going to give myself up to five points. This should take less than five minutes in total, and it should relatively work the first time each time. But I’ll be generous to start — I’ll give myself ten minutes, and two tries at alignment. I’ve pretty much eliminated the wifi and the phone/tablet at this point. I don’t want to, as the visual control later of the scope would be ideal, but it can’t be part of my test. Too many wiggle factors in there that are just finicky aspects of the app and wifi link, not really about alignment. If I’m lucky enough to get my first alignment to work, and under five minutes, I’ll give myself a full 5 points. Second alignment OR under ten minutes, I drop to 4 points, and 3 points if it requires both of those. If it takes more than 2 tries, drop to 1 or 2 (depending on time). And if it isn’t done with my third alignment or takes longer than ten minutes, it’s zero. Either one and it’s zero.
Last night would be a clear zero if I was evaluating. I was on at least my third alignment if not fourth, and it took way longer than ten minutes. I was close to 30-45 minutes before I got it all worked out. But it did eventually work. It may not be a completely fair evaluation though as I literally was figuring some of the stuff out as I went, and that probably added 10-15 minutes, but I was still well over the 10 minutes required. I’m more optimistic for the next round, having figured a bunch of those things out and essentially eliminated the tablet and phone from the equation for now. I have way more control using the handset, and although in theory you can run both simultaneously, mine doesn’t seem to do that. A future problem to figure out, if I keep the hobby.
Alignment results would be next on my list. After I was up and running last night, I did a full star tour. A full-sky 90-minute-plus tour. And yes I saw lots of things. But on a regular basis, I said “show me X” and when it got there, there was nothing in the Field of View. Now I’m not looking for perfection, but I am doing this type of tour with a 32 mm Plossl. That’s pretty low power giving me a huge chunk of sky. The moon easily fits within that view, so it’s not like I’m aiming for pinpoint accuracy. But just as I mentioned in an earlier session when I found out that my alignment was way off with the Ring Nebula, I panned around the resulting area a little and found some of the items that should have been within the FoV initially. I am discounting ones where it was low in the horizon or it was a faint galaxy, since I’m viewing in the suburbs and it could be light pollution or haze at the horizon blocking my view. But there were some bright double stars that were nowhere near the centre of my go to option. I did find them, but the go to scope is supposed to eliminate the search and hunt aspect a lot more than it did.
And I’ll digress for a moment. Yes, I’m hoping to get to the stage where I can sky hop at will, and find things without the Go To function. I even have my star charts, good apps, and the book Turn Left at Orion to help me do that. But I also need to be having some early success finding things that will keep my interest going. Most of what I have been finding so far is extremely disappointing, and if that was the only criteria, I’d swap out my big scope and just go with something that lets me look at the moon only for now. At least I can find that easily. So if your advice is to get rid of all that and just star hop, that’s not how I learn, and you missed the point entirely.
So I am going to give myself a very concrete test, and I don’t know if this is the right list or not, but I’ll give it a go. Once my alignment is complete, I’m going to try and find the following things in the sky using just the Go To settings, and see how I do with the result. A total of fifteen initial points, 0 if it doesn’t find it, half a point if it is in the outer 10% of the FoV, and a full point if it is clearly within the FoV with no edging problems. Here’s my list:
The planets of the night (counted as 1 target) — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all vaguely possible, but given my viewing times, it is more likely to be just the outer five (MaJuSaUrNe). The Sky Tour knows what is visible at that time, and to get the full point, the tour has to put all of them within my FoV. I’m being very generous with a 32mm search, if it doesn’t find them, alignment is way off.
Stars (5 targets) — One of the few stars I can usually spot on my own is Arcturus, and often one of the ones I choose in my three-star alignment…if it doesn’t find THIS, the alignment is hopeless. I’ll also go for Almach (double star), Rasalgethi (double), Albireo (bright double), and I’ll try for Antares (although, like Arcturus, it is sometimes in my initial alignment).
Galaxies or nebulae (5 targets) — Andromeda shows up as a faint smudgy, but at least it is there. I’ll throw in Hercules, M92, the Ring Nebula, and the Dumbbell Nebula.
Clusters (4 targets) — The Double Cluster is an obvious if unexciting one, plus M29, M34, and the HorseShoe Cluster. I’d take Pleiades as well, but depends a bit on where I’m viewing from at the moment.
That gives me a possible 15 targets, and on the off-chance a couple of them are unavailable because of angles or time of viewing, I’ll consider adding Mizar and Alcor, Polaris, Gamma Ari or Gamma Cet, Kappa Bo, and Epsilon Bo up until I get to 15 targets.
How did I do last night against that list?
Planets — Found Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, despite low visibility and haze for the last two — 1 point;
Stars — Arcturus, Almach, Rasalgethi and Albireo were all visible, but the last two were on the outer edges of the FoV, and I had to replace Antares with Mizar, so three full points, plus two half points — 4 points;
Galaxies — Andromeda was faint, as was Hercules, M92, and the Dumbbell. However, the first three were within the FoV for full points, Dumbbell was at the edge. I went for the Ring, and it was out of the FoV (I had to pan around to find it) — 3.5 points;
Clusters — Double cluster was in FoV, as was M34, M29. The Horseshoe was almost out of the FoV — 3.5 points
I didn’t have to “substitute” for my evaluation but that’s also observational and design bias. I found these 15 targets last night with a “not great” alignment, so I kind of expect to always find them, and they only made my list because I *did* find them. But I don’t want these ones to overwhelm my score too much, so I’m going to divide by 3 when I’m done — 13-15 = five points, 10-12 = four points, 7-9 = three points; 4-6 = two points, 1-3 = one point;
But I also need a bit of challenge for stuff I didn’t already find. For that, I’m going to rely on Turn Left at Orion. For the current time frame, they recommend searching for:
Any sky: Globular Cluster M13, M21;
Dark sky: Globular Clusters M92, M5, M10, M12, M8 (Lagoon);
With seven targets, I figure I should be able to find three with the go to scope, no problem (well, other than seeing and angles) and I’m going to let it rise up to five points max. With last night’s alignment results, that probably would have been two points only.
So, that leaves me with:
Alignment control – up to 5 points;
Alignment results (normal) – up to 5 points;
Alignment results (challenge) — up to 5 points;
I want to add two other elements here. I realize they are going to be slightly subjective, but I don’t see how I can leave them out.
The first is simple: Did I learn anything? If all I’m doing is hopping and hopping, and not really learning anything, what’s the point? Cute baubles to look at, but that’s it. That’s not necessarily about the scope though, that requires me to use other tools too. Last night, I wasn’t really doing that, just testing alignment, but I need to add it.
The last element is the most subjective of all: Did I enjoy it? If it isn’t fun, why bother? Right now, the frustration level is blocking most of my enjoyment. My sky tour last night was interesting, but with over 100 items searched for, most were not ones that I cared much about or felt really engaged with yet. Some people argue quite convincingly that you don’t feel the engagement if you’re using a Go To mount and letting the computer choose your destination, and I can see that. Eventually, I need to get to the stage where I’m planning an outing with a series of specific targets that I want to find. I kind of like the idea of 20 minutes of big ticket items for the night (planets, etc.), and then an hour of targeted searching for two or three main items to consider. Followed perhaps by another hour of wandering or some “challenge” items.
Last night, I enjoyed seeing Andromeda, Hercules, M92, and the Dumbbell Nebula, although all of them looked mostly like a faint smudgy for the conditions and location. And some of those are the big disappointments I have felt when viewing and searching — I am not seeing the galaxy and nebula formations as anything BUT a smudgy. A dark sky is supposed to fix that, but I have never had a good enough alignment process to make a hour plus drive to a real dark sky setup. I did see the Ring Nebula, although it wasn’t anywhere near as detailed as I was hoping. Viewing and location prevented that. Plus it wasn’t in my alignment when I did it, so was more luck than anything. I just knew what it looked like, and knew the scope’s internal alignment sometimes had problems with it, so decided to pan around a bit until I found it.
I was disappointed with the Double Cluster, M34, and M29. I just wasn’t seeing the star wells I have seen before in other scopes, so they didn’t seem like much from the suburbs. The Horseshoe Cluster was clear though, and I liked it quite alot. I will be memorizing its location for the future.
I enjoyed the regular double stars — Almach, Gamma Ari, Polaris — but I preferred the colours and brightness for Gamma Cet, Kappa Bo, Epsilon Bo, Rasalgethi and Albireo. I didn’t spend a lot of time on Gamma Cet or Epsilon Bo, so didn’t finally resolve them, but they’re on my list for a revisit.
If I was to rate my viewing enjoyment last night, I would give it 2/5. It was okay, not spectacular. But then again, I was also still frustrated, some things weren’t showing up in alignment, there was haze, etc. I hope that number will go up in the future, or as I said, why am I bothering?
Which leaves me with a final point total for my evaluation of 25 points. With five nights to try it, that’s a potential 125 points. What’s my threshold for continuing? Eighty points. That’s about 64%, not that high a threshold, but we’ll see how it goes. A rough estimate for last night would have put me at 0 for alignment control, 4 for normal alignment (normal), 0 for challenge alignment (not rated), 0 for learning (not rated), 2 for enjoyment for a total of 6 out of a possible 15 (40%). Which is why I’m not counting it as a formal test. I was still working out bugs.
On with my real test though, now that I have the criteria mostly mapped out. And I have to reduce my stress and frustration. Ultimately, the worst case scenario is I have more time for photography.
Last weekend, I was beset with lousy viewing due to low lying haze. Despite a fantastic forecast, I had haze going up to around 20-30 degrees above the horizon, so much so that Jupiter was nothing more than a round orange-y blob in the scope. We saw Arcturus and Antares, and a low-quality sight of Saturn, but I couldn’t get the scope to align. No biggie, I was also having power problems, and I thought that was the cause.
Last night though I headed off to the AstroPontiac viewing site. My friend Stephan is spearheading the initiative to bring a dark sky viewing site to the area, and he has been working on it for just over 7 years. I’m on the board and manage the website, but the yeoman duties fall to him for most of it. The site is next to Gatineau Park’s Luskville Waterfall Trail (sentier de les chutes de Luskville), and it is relatively stunning. With the hill behind you to the N and NE, you have a relatively open vista to the SE, S and W. The field was recently cut down to size for the flora, and a bunch of us set up.
Or more accurately, they set up. I have no idea what I was actually doing.
Viewing initially wasn’t promising, as the same haze that plagued me last weekend is still hanging around at dusk and into the evening. Like a low lying fog that just permeates the horizon. Jupiter was well hidden. Some people found Saturn, but I never got that far.
I started off with my basic setup — I put my mount together, set it up taller than I have been lately as I expected to be looking at some items higher in the sky so I knew I would need a bit more height to give me room to get underneath, and I set it up on the vibration suppression pads. I probably don’t need them a lot, but they also serve to help level the mount and stop the legs from sinking into the dirt. Added my scope, all looking good. Plugged in my Celestron tank, had power, connected the handset, all good to go.
My first attempt at an alignment was the standard 3-star approach. Now, by default, it thinks I’m in Ottawa, and since the city lookup isn’t that robust to include somewhere like Luskville, I just left it as is. I was having trouble doing some of the search-and-find for alignment for three good stars as my TelRad was fogging up. But I managed to work my way through it. And it came back and told me “success”. So I told it to show me Saturn.
If Saturn was anywhere near where it told me it was, I couldn’t see it. I panned around a bit in low magnification but it wasn’t anywhere nearby. Tried a couple more automated “go to” destinations, and nada. Not correctly aligned.
Tried alignment again, but it failed this time.
Tried it again, this time using the wifi attached connected to my phone. But for some reason, the phone app wouldn’t let me control the scope.
Tried it again, this time with my tablet. Same problem, no control once connected.
I tried a bunch of different configs, no dice with the wifi.
So I reverted to “custom site” which allows me to put in the actual longitude and latitude before doing the 3-star selection. At this point, I’d probably been at it for about 90 minutes with no joy in Mudville, errr, Luskville. But manually putting in the coordinates should avoid all of that. Entered time, date, updated a few things, chose three stars, told it to align, it whirred.
So I decided to try simple star-hopping. Except my stupid TelRad was still fogging up. I couldn’t move to the next star as I couldn’t SEE the next star to get to it. Heck I could barely get to the first star reliably, and I was starting with the Dipper!
I think if someone had offered me a nickel to not have to pack everything back up, I would have chucked the entire hobby right there. It’s almost adding insult to injury when after failing spectacularly for two hours, you still have to spend fifteen minutes taking everything down and putting it gently into the car. I understand why some golfers throw their clubs into rivers and lakes, that’s what I’m saying.
I’m officially starting a count-down clock. Five more attempts, then I give up completely and take up knitting. I might not be any better at knitting, but at least I can do that in my basement while I watch TV.
I posted awhile ago about restarting my hobby (50by50: Re-start my astronomy hobby (#04)), and some other posts over the last couple of years about trying to figure out proper alignments and use of my Celestron 8SE scope. This past weekend, we were heading to my wife’s family’s cottage near Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon, and I was debating whether or not to take the scope. Their property has a lot of trees so Eastern views are out, but if I put my scope next to the lake, I have a pretty good SW view.
I hemmed, I hawed. Then I pulled up the Clear Sky Chart for Fenelon Falls (who knew there was even one for the area?), and the decision was made — every indicator for Saturday night was off the charts. I’m usually doing viewing in the Ottawa area and lucky to get medium predictions for quality (3/5), while the one for Saturday in Fenelon had 4s and even 5s! I wasn’t organized to take all my stuff with me, but how could I not? It delayed our departure by half an hour as I crammed every thing in after finding it all, and we went.
About 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, I started setting up the scope with my solar filter. It was fun to see the sun spots, and Jacob and Andrea saw them too. I confess, though, that sun spots are not the most exciting thing to see. Andrea’s father and aunt took a peek, as did her uncle.
As night fell, I was a bit excited. I was debating using the built-in settings or the wifi adapter that connects to my phone or tablet, all exciting options.
Right up until my Celestron power source died. Not for any other reason than the fact that I wasn’t planning on going, grabbed it and didn’t grab the charger, and there wasn’t much left to power the scope. I ended up putting the mini tank away, popping open the mount and inserting 8 batteries for the night. Not the best of solutions, but it works. Back in business.
Except my phone wasn’t fully charged either — one of the downsides of being in a remote area with dark skies is your little phone may not connect, and if it’s like mine, and trying to repeatedly connect without success, it eventually dies during the day. Tried running my tablet app, couldn’t connect, and then it said my app wasn’t valid. It is, and I reinstalled it later just fine, but wouldn’t work.
So I tried the hand set alignment, and it failed, but I expected that. On to regular star hopping.
Except I was not very enthusiastic. That amazing clear night that was forecast? Total crap. There was haze EVERYWHERE. Maybe drifting from BC, but looked more like heat hazes. Definitely in the west up almost 20-30 degrees and even Saturn and Jupiter were hazy. I showed off Saturn and Jupiter to Andrea and Jacob, and they were far cries from what we had seen even in June. I showed Andrea’s mom and aunt Saturn, but it wasn’t awesome. I did manage to show Arcturus and Antares, even if I couldn’t remember their names at the time, and they loved them because they actually were twinkling.
It quieted down, I was left to my own devices. So I pulled up a planetarium app, found the names for Antares and Arcturus. Looked at them again. And then I started looking for Messier objects, which I almost never have much luck with on my own. Just not organized enough to figure it out, and although I have a Go To scope, that’s kind of cheating.
But I surprised myself. I found M3. While it may be a nice globular cluster that seems super bright when you look at it on pages on the internet, it always looks like a light faint smudgy to me. Still, I found it, on my own, didn’t use my go to function, just star hopped to it. I was a bit “lucky” more than skilled, but hey, it counts. 🙂
I have never got into podcasts, partly perhaps as I don’t have a good setup for it. I don’t listen to a lot of music on a daily basis, either, other than the radio, for the same reason. Yeah, sure, I have a smart phone, an MP3 player, and a tablet, all of it which I can theoretically set up with music and regular podcasts for listening in the car, etc. But I’ve never set all my pieces up to do that easily, which just presents friction to the transaction. I don’t do audiobooks, I rarely watch TED talks, I didn’t put french lessons on my various gadgets to use in for the car. I’ve had plans to get all the music going for some time now, and it is at least organized. But I haven’t decided between Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, etc. let alone podcast options.
I do have Media Monkey Gold running pretty well on my desktop now, and it will likely be my media manager for the future. Some quirks to work out still, and one of them was podcasts. MMG has some ones already linked by default, and today I figured out how to go into iTunes, find the link, copy it into MMG, and bob’s your uncle, I seem to be able to do this with any iTunes podcast easily. If it isn’t in iTunes, I’ll figure it out later.
Because, from time to time, I do see reviews of new podcasts that people are super excited by, and I think, “Hmm, sounds interesting.” I particularly like the idea of small size snippets of experts sharing info. Or a small insight into a world that I don’t inhabit myself — a scientist, a doctor, a rapper, an actor, etc.
When I saw the latest review of a new podcast called Sincerely, X, I was a bit skeptical. Oooh, how exciting, people talking about things too difficult to share, and so they are sharing their stories anonymously. Not. More likely to be people sharing made-up stories that they heard from a friend of a friend who knew someone who once talked to someone who was a roadie for a small band, and sharing it all for the titillation factor. Which would normally mean that I would just skip it entirely, just as I skip the chat groups that do the same thing or the various websites with a high Kardashian-factor of TMI and ego.
Except for one thing. This one was by TED Talks. And TED Talks have street cred. Most of their stuff, albeit not all, is pretty damn good. A free, open form of the The Learning Company / Great Courses approach of getting really knowledgeable and engaging people to talk about something important to them. So perhaps, just maybe, the TED talks might have a format that would work. And I love their intro. A safe space to talk about things that you can’t discuss publicly. Substance over style. Intimate inspirations. Ideas over identity. Pretty compelling description.
Episode 1 is, in my view, a poor start. It is called Dr. Burnout, and the idea behind her anonymous talk is that doctors get burned out, they stop seeing patients as people, they go on autopilot, and they stop engaging. Don’t get me wrong, I think the topic could be awesome, and if she put a panel together of five or six doctors talking about their experiences where they “check out” themselves, how they feel about it, what they do about it, how they reengage or not, all of that could be good. But the speaker’s example of this is a man who was very sick, in her hospital, he wanted to leave, and she didn’t try to talk him out of it. Two days later he was dead of an internal bleed after being readmitted to the ICU. This person is showing so many signs in her presentation of post-facto-over-rationalization that it is amazing that she apparently got help from someone (therapist perhaps?) and they didn’t call her on her BS. She says, quite bluntly, that the person died of internal bleeding and if only he had stayed at the hospital, she would have caught it, no problem, he’d still be alive. Really? Would she be able to say that in front of a group of other doctors? Probably not, because everyone would tell her she doesn’t know that, and guess what, lots of things don’t present with irascible patients because the patient’s personality gets in the way of helping them. Sometimes they’re just asshats, sometimes they’re asshats because of fear, and sometimes they’re asshats because of internal pain they can’t artculate around the asshattery. There were at least five times in her talk where my BS meter went on overload, often for her sweeping generalizations. Things she WANTS to believe are true, because they make her talk more impactful if you ASSUME they are universally true.
Here’s my take. She was burned out, sure. She was looking for a change. And she saw a jerk of a patient, felt guilty she didn’t try harder after he died, and now wants to use that guilt to rationalize a large-scale change in her life. She could read Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” and see a lot of similarities in her reaction, not to the event which is hardly uncommon but in her way of interpreting what it meant. And as with a lot of large-scale change that you aren’t quite secure about, or where the change leads the person to become a large-scale advocate, there is an internal need to make it bigger than she is, a start of a movement to talk about burnout. Selling it to herself as much as selling it to others. If that’s her catalyst, it’s pretty weak.
I feel like the TED Talks people who helped her think about it really didn’t narrow the focus, and there are likely more people out there with REAL burnout impacts that would be more helpful to hear about than this one. A swing and a miss for me. (1/5)
Episode 2 is called Pepper Spray and is about a woman having a horrible, no good, very bad day, at least in her own perception. She is clearly having the symptoms of a panic attack, which escalates when people treat her poorly in a retail environment. Up until the end of the “snapping event”, including a description of a person who helped de-escalate the situation, the podcast is awesome. When she gets to a part explaining the causes and triggers, and what it means beyond that, the podcast starts to slip. She tries to argue that she is not excusing the behaviour, but yet she tosses out four or five reasons why she isn’t responsible. The “insight” into the experience is great, her “solutions” for others are not (3/5).
Episode 3 is called Ex-Con and is about a prisoner’s experience with other prisoners. The fact that he was a hedge-fund manager, who ended up slipping up with a small change that spiraled into a “deep hole of deception” yet received a sentence of seven years, indicates that there is a lot of context missing. But it doesn’t matter, as it is not his message. His premise is that there are lots of people in jail who represent wasted capital because he saw some people in jail who were brilliant, resourceful, and ingenuous. They all wanted an opportunity, with the view that if they got a shot, they’d make the most of it. Of course, his big theory is muted a bit — without the conscious awareness — because he had a bonding moment with a young black man who asked him how he ended up there, an educated white man with resources, i.e. if the white guy had all the opportunities ended up there, then how accurate is the view that the big “solution” is to give the others an opportunity? Nevertheless he notes that there is an opportunity for “nano-degrees” while in jail and that they should be planning for the day of release from the date of incarceration. It’s not revolutionary, but it is well-articulated. However, there is very little reason for it to be anonymous. If he is the “poster child” for rehab, then why is he anonymous? That isn’t clear, but it’s still a decent interview. (3/5)
Episode 4 is called Sad in Silicon Valley and is about a serial entrepreneur who went to sleep a successful CEO and woke up three days later a mental health patient. Severe depression and anxiety. Separate from his individual challenge, his talk is mostly about the experience of finding and accessing mental health services — psychiatrist vs. pscyhologist, individual or group therapy, etc. $300K and ten years worth of mental health services later, and he still didn’t know what was wrong with himself. He was looking for a cure, and mostly he just saw self-reported symptoms and non-evidence based methods of treatments. For the speaker, better services in mental health face three big barriers — cost, access and privacy — and he thinks Silicon Valley could help provide disruption to the industry using big data and evidence. While he talks about some new ideas with social media, online video chats, apps like Headspace, and e-monitoring of brain states, there is little in the way of concrete proposals to disrupt the industry. Mostly it is just him saying tech should be able to help. A great idea, but with a lot of padding at the end, mostly around pop psych interpretations of addiction to technology and avoiding over-reliance (4/5).
Episode 5 is called Equality Executive and is about how the need for gender equality in industry has been recognized for over 25 years yet without any change in numbers in the actual boardrooms. For the speaker, productivity and profit as a business imperative is clearly represented by the evidence — lots of studies have shown that having women in C-suites leads to more profit. For her, the reasons why it hasn’t happened is three-fold — no metrics or framework to fix it, just good intentions…real change requires real commitment with real consequences for failure to deliver; it’s not HR who will provide the solution, as they want the current culture to remain stable, not create disruption; and failing to address unconscious or invisible bias and assumptions. I’m less confident when it comes to the situation of Millenials, as she argues that they aren’t prepared to fight productively for what they want (like Baby Boomer women supposedly were), so they just leave instead. From an interesting angle, I really like the reason why she doesn’t want to do it publicly but only anonymously — if she does it publicly, she thinks people will think she wants to sell people a solution, i.e. she’s marketing her business, so she de-coupled it in order to keep it pure and not tainted by the idea of commercial self-interest. It’s the only one to date that really needs to be anonymous, or at least has a reason that seems plausible and justifiable. It’s not perfect, a little too much “problem”, not enough clarity around the “how” of the solutions, but it’s pretty well done. (5/5)
Episode 6 is called Rescued by Ritual, and is the one that caught my interest, and justified the investment in figuring out how to access podcasts now rather than later. It is nominally about a woman leaving a violent relationship, the path to healing that she followed, and her doctor now advocating it as a best practice to be followed by others. I am a great believer in rituals to cement change, kind of as described in different terms in Jeffrey Kottler’s book “Change”, so I was interested in the premise of this episode. Unfortunately, the first 12 minutes are not about the ritual but rather about her back story, none of which is particularly different from traditional abuse stories. I confess I was looking for the actual ritual part to be a little more “external” instead of simple internal mindfulness. Essentially she focuses on someone she “loves”, and with that person in mind, focuses on the love she feels for them, directing as much energy as possible into that feeling. This is a bit different, but not terribly so, from the ritual of being mindful of gratitude each day — the old “count your blessings” adage on steroids — except it makes it all encompassing as a thought. Meditating on love, so to speak. Positive, sure, but it didn’t strike me as revolutionary. (2/5)
So I tried the podcast, and I’m glad it was enough of a draw to figure out a good approach to podcasts. I liked the rationale of the Equality Executive, the initial premise of the ex-con rehab story, and the opening story of the pepper spray story. But I don’t feel like I got much from the six podcasts, and it isn’t compelling enough to continue. I’m out.
I’ve written a lot about my experiences learning French, and there are days where I wanted to rip my hair out with some of the aspects.
I knew, from the get-go, that learning a new language is hard as an adult. That much is clear, as is the fact that the process of learning anything is often quite different for an adult learner. And I’ve blogged about my initial diagnostic test that said I would be fine for reading and writing but struggle with oral. I just didn’t have the ear for languages, it was clearly indicated on my test results.
And then I started at Asticou, at a very difficult time in my life emotionally, and with a horrible teacher. Where I struggled. A lot. I felt like the stupidest person on the planet, although it is hard to tell if that was because of the school, my emotional state, the teacher, or just the process of learning as an adult where I went from being competent at my job and getting praise to spending all day, every day, hearing nothing but corrections for my errors. Others were excited, I was demoralized. After 8 months, I was struggling with grief-induced depression, and work beckoned just in time to prevent a complete meltdown. I’ve also blogged about finally getting my B, and feeling relieved. Because I didn’t know if I could even pass the B level test at that point.
Yet seven years later, I found out that I actually had really good retention, was easily a B and that the previous test was hard because I was tested for C! In fact, I was ready to formally prepare for a C. How is that I didn’t know that coming out of Asticou? How could I have been so wrong about my “current ability” or even my “potential capacity”? How could the system have led me, or let me descend, so far into doubt?
I don’t know. But I got my C finally, doing just about everything against the rules for the actual test except one big thing — I managed my stress during the exam so that I only gave short answers to the questions asked. Fast forward another 10 years, and I did some refresher training. Then jump another two years to some internal placement testing, paving the way for some refresher training this past March. Which went horribly, in many ways.
Quatre semaines de réchauffement
I went to one of the popular schools downtown for four weeks of refresher, all that there was room for in the divisional calendar before other needs would pull me back. I figured I needed between 3 and 5 weeks, so the 4 week attempt was a good compromise. I needed to renew my written level B and my oral level C, but I wasn’t that worried about the written. I’d had it before twice, once with little preparation, but I tried really hard to bump it up to a C. Not quite hard enough, still got a B. I’m very consistent on that one. Not so consistent on the oral practice, hence the training.
Week 1 was a bit tough after not using my french much in the last 20 years, honestly. Particularly in the last 9 years working on corporate planning work, all of which happens in English except for occasional bilingual meetings. But I survived the week, even if one of my teachers did not.
I suspect she was quite good, actually, very knowledgeable, and had a very firm view of what was necessary to prepare for the test. Except I don’t respond well to “my way or the highway” approaches, and I jettisoned her from my team after a week. If I was there for 12 weeks, or even 8, I might have struggled through to find our groove, but I only had 3 more weeks to go and I couldn’t waste time finding a good way to work with her. The replacement was good, and I passed the next three weeks okay. I didn’t feel as strong as I had previously when I got my C, but I was also really worried about the format of the new test. The new test has a much greater emphasis on comprehension than previous models, and I was worried that I could and would miss some nuances. My speaking is fine, as I don’t have the three most common challenges — flow, willingness to elaborate, or vocabulary. I’m usually okay for structures and adequate for pronunciation (I’ll always sound like an anglo speaker, but that’s not pertinent to the test). But my comprehension is my weakest area, particularly if it is informal conversation or off-work topics or, gasp, fast talkers. And with a bunch of past practice and preparation, recordings were killing me.
I had one near-hysterical experience with one tutor. I listened to a recording in which a woman was leaving for vacation, she was responsible for “complaints” and couldn’t find anyone to look after it while she was gone. Her boss was “volunteering”, sort of willing to do it. It made little sense for protocol, but well, the vocabulary was fine. Except that wasn’t what it was about. She didn’t have plaintes (complaints) that needed managing, she had plantes. Like plants. I didn’t even know the word plante existed in french. But I knew plaintes for complaints. My tutor was much amused; 2 years later, I can see the humour, even if I don’t feel it.
And that continued with a lot of the sample recordings. I would listen, it would go well, and then there would be one where I missed a nuance, or an entire substructure, and I would be completely lost. Hard to build up momentum. I was terrified that with the new structure of listening to recordings, I would be dead in the water. So I wanted to practice that a lot.
Ideally, I would have done my training and did my test immediately afterwards. Nope. My training ended the third week of March, and my test was set for early May and then bumped to July! The current scheduling approach for french exams is HORRIBLE, and lots of people are really stressed just because of the process, not knowing if they’ll get bumped at the last minute for higher priorities, never mind the stress of the test itself for many. I think it is ridiculous and haven’t figured out yet why one of the many unions hasn’t hit them with a series of grievances. When they tried to bump me from May 10 to July 10th (yep, almost four months after my training ended), I said, “Sure, no problem. Just put a litigation hold on all files related to scheduling for the last 18 months.” For those of you not in government, that is code wording that says “I’m about to crawl up your butt with a grievance or lawsuit.” Surprisingly, my test date was moved to May 30th instead, along with a polite question, “Is that okay?”. And no, I wasn’t bluffing.
Bilingual capacity is a mandatory part of my job, I’m a priority for reclassification testing and a separate priority for talent management, plus in the midst at the time of job arrangements that required me to have my test done. Giving me the run around on scheduling violates the collective agreement as well as three separate internal rules for HR that I as a manager have to follow for my own staff, and yes, management has to follow for me too. This is happening to people across government, and the stories are mind-numbingly bad. It almost makes Phoenix look like a well-run pay system. It also seems to be happening more to anglophones seeking french tests, and almost not at all to francophones seeking english tests, something that would of been my first step in a discovery motion to scare the complete crap out of them. I’m sure the reality is that they can meet the lower demand more easily, but the appearance of two different treatments is bad for employers winning grievances. But I digress.
My first attempt
I practiced before the test with my friend Andrew, just an evening out for dinner, as we had a few times previously with a couple of other guys as Andrew was preparing. I enjoyed those evenings, although I don’t know if it was helping me much. I just wasn’t relaxing into fluency enough.
Anyway, I did the test, and it was a good news / bad news situation.
The good news was the recorded part. I had no trouble with the recordings at all…they were professionally clear, surprisingly so for internal government services that often cut corners on IT tools. I was suitably impressed with the clarity. Bopped through it, and the dialogues were way easier than I had been practicing with at the school and on my own (for those of you not aware, there are 2 voicemails to listen to, 2 short dialogues between 2 people, and then later a longer dialogue between 2 people if you make it that far).
The bad news is that my stress was bad. I did not feel confident at all with ten weeks between my training and my test. I felt like I was going in cold. I couldn’t remember any good structures, I got messed up with my mots liens (linking words), and then I had a small near out of body experience.
There is one type of question I struggle with…inversions. So instead of asking “Est-ce que vous pensez…” (what do you think), the form is “Que pensez-vous…”. The problem for me is not every inversion, it’s that the inversion often separates out a beginning condition from a larger hypothesis, and thus the verb is in the conditional form (penseriez-vous). Just an extra roll of the R in the middle, and separated from the clause at the end, and together it is just enough to confuse me as to the intent of the question. And if they make it a harder verb like conseiller instead of penser (what would you advise instead of think), I often get lost in the subordinate clauses later in the question.
Which I did. I think the question was something like “what advice would I give someone managing a project like a corporate planning project”. Except I wasn’t fully certain that was the question. Plus I had a problem of a mental break. I had told her I was a planner, and that I did corporate planning (at the start of the test). Then for a presentation component, I described the steps of a project. So as follow up she was now asking me about a corporate planning project (merging the two). In my answer, I decided, for no apparent reason other than I would do so in a real conversation in English, that I would explain that there was a difference between corporate planning and planning a project. After going down that rabbit hole a few sentences, she even tried to throw me a rope to get back out, to which I basically said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get there, keep your shorts on” (not really, I just mean I acknowledged her attempt — and kept going another two sentences). It wasn’t necessarily fatal, but by the time I got to the end, I’d forgotten the question. I tried to go back to it, but didn’t hit it solidly. If I had been totally clean for the rest, I could have saved it, but of course I wasn’t.
Why did I go down that rabbit hole? The inverted question form. I wasn’t quite sure I understood it, and so I stalled with this other context. Not surprisingly, I only got my B.
Returning to training
The stakes got higher after that. I found a new job (50by50: Start a new job (#03)), and like all management positions, it requires a CBC-level profile for reading-writing-oral. I have exemption for reading, and renewed my B for writing, so I just needed the C in oral. In the interim, they let me start on secondment of four months less a day. Basically up to just past Hallowe’en, at which time, I would turn into a slowly decomposing pumpkin. The ironic part is that the organization box isn’t actually CBC, it is only BBB, which I could already meet. But they are in the process of reclassifying it, and they can’t put me in it at BBB knowing I don’t meet the CBC yet.
So I need a C to keep the job permanently. In March, I was confident after my training. By May 30th, not so confident. And I got a B. I knew I could get the C again, just a question of when.
My new boss agreed to schedule another week of training, and we did it in conjunction with the test. We scheduled the test, it came back as August 25th, and the training was adjusted to start August 18th. The perfect model — practice until the day before and go in hot.
I had five days to prepare. I rightly expected that Day 1 and Day 2 would be warm up for me. I avoided full simulations in those days, I just wanted to practice speaking to get my rhythm going. Day 2 in the afternoon was the day of the eclipse and we even went outside for awhile. It was great.
Day 3 started off well, but my simulation wasn’t great. The afternoon came, and I don’t know if it was the air in the building (terrible circulation there) or something I had for lunch, but I didn’t feel at all well. We knocked off early and I came home and slept.
Day 4, a Wednesday, was PERFECT. I was flying in the morning. I joke, but only partially, that if my test was that morning, I could have had a shot at the exemption. I was bopping back and forth in time, I was nailing the indirect voice, I remembered some of my mots liens, it was heaven. Not as strong in the afternoon, but still good. Progress.
Day 5, the Thursday, started off okay. I wasn’t hot but I wasn’t bad. Then the afternoon started. And I hit a brick wall. I was struggling with EVERYTHING. I listened to a recording, and I missed 60% of it. We shifted into a small presentation of some topic I’ve done a 100 times in my life, and I couldn’t even conjugate present tense well. I completely locked up.
And then it happened. I started to say something conditional, and instead of “Je pourrais…”, I actually said, “Je could…”. JE COULD? What the f*** was that? I haven’t made an error like that in 19 years. Wow.
My teacher wanted to continue, but I knew better. If I fought through that, by the time I was done, my confidence would be zero. I quit right then and went home. Not the most promising omens before the test the next morning. I hoped a good nights sleep like Tuesday would put me in the realm of Wednesday’s performance, but I was restless that night.
The big day
Friday dawned, and off I went. I parked at work, checked the time of the appointment on my computer (there was some doubt as to whether it was at 10:00 as I told Andrea or 11:00 as I was expecting, but it was indeed 11:00, whew), and walked over to the building. Relaxed in the basement seating area with my hematite stone in my hand. I don’t know why but it relaxes me, as it did for my first successful attempt at the C back in 2005. Went upstairs, registered, waited, and then, the examiner arrived. It was on!
We went in, got set up, and my nerves about the format of the test were gone, since I’d been through it before. I knew what she was going to say before she said it. We tested the volume, everything good to go.
We started with Part 1, which is general questions about where I work, how I got there that morning, my typical day, etc. I confess that I’ve had a small niggling doubt about something, and I decided there was nothing to be lost by hedging my bets. When it came to my title, I said I was an analyst. Not a manager. Sure, I mentioned that I manage a small team from time to time, but nothing that would indicate that I was a full manager, acting director, or even head of an entire division. In government philosophy, the bar is pretty high for management to be fully fluent yet lower for non-management. Does that translate into the rigour of the test? There’s no evidence either way, nor could there be, but nothing to be lost by diminishing my job a bit. And it’s not a lie, I do a lot of analyst duties. I just happen to have a full manager title. In the end, the questions are your basic A and B levels, nothing challenging there, but I didn’t want it to turn into a deep philosophical discussion in Part 4. For this test, Part 1 was easy peasy lemon squeezy.
Part 2 starts with the first two recordings, i.e. voicemails, and I used a mix of indirect style to describe in simple terms what they were about, how they ended, etc. My goal for each piece was to respond directly to the question, and generally forget the rules, structures, everything I memorized. Just talk and have a conversation. Nothing challenging in the voicemails.
The next two recordings were the dialogues, and again, nothing challenging. I understood every single word. No missed nuances.
With Part 3, the presentation, we were into solid B territory, and all three of my options were describing past situations. One of them allowed me to talk about my decision to quit law school. I haven’t practiced that a lot in French, but I have in English, including on this blog, so I wouldn’t search for something to say, just how to say it. I wasn’t as good as Wednesday, but I was flying pretty well. I was natural, I was at ease, I described the steps in the decision, and ended. I was a bit weak on the finale, but the opening and middle were solid.
We moved into the follow-up questions, and I went on hyper alert. Here it comes, the inversion format. “Que conseilleriez-vous…”.
An inverted hypothesis with an option to give advice and express an opinion? I’m on it!
I used the conditional form to start (imparfait of avoir l’occasion, followed by conditional form of proposer) and we were off to the races. I followed up with the switch to present tense, and then, I just talked naturally. I relied on my flow, my (reduced) elaboration and my vocabulary to outshine my pronunciation and grammar structures. Two more follow up questions, a bit repetitive, and then it was time for the tough part.
Part 4, which is well into high B and C territory, started with a dialogue. And I just about lost focus. First of all, I was expecting a recorded intro…nope, she spoke, asked if I was ready, and then the dialogue started direct. Except it wasn’t a dialogue. It was a man speaking very slowly, formally, announcing a change. I thought at first it WAS an intro before I realized it was the so-called dialogue. But he spoke for almost 90 seconds to 2 minutes with nobody else talking. It was a formal speech for a meeting, and then he asked if there were any questions or feedback. So a woman started talking and disagreeing with the change. The normal process for Part 4, and that part was fine.
I listened to the second part again, and I was a bit nervous with one word if I understood everything correctly. They kept saying “unités”. Which I had never heard used before. I assumed it meant units, but didn’t know it had an accent at the end. I just went with it. I used it the way they had. I did the indirect style, wasn’t perfect this time, but the dialogue was quite long. I summarized it like I’m supposed to, not provide a transcript, and we were into the follow-up questions.
The first was the standard “what’s my opinion of that”, easy enough. And again, I threw away my concern with the perfect structure, responded naturally to the direct question, and kept my answer a bit shorter than I would in practice. I got another follow-up, another chance to provide advice or opinion, same deal. And a third which was a weak softball question.
And that was it. We chatted naturally as we exited about our kids being sick, we said goodbye, and the test was over.
After the test, my reaction was immediate. “That was TOO easy!” The easiest test I’ve ever had in my career. I understood everything, I was relaxed, no games, just talking, biding my time until the tough questions came and they never did. The woman doing the test was awesome. She helped me relax, her diction was perfect, pace was good. She asked for a clarification of something I said in Part 4 and it was easy to respond to it and explain what I had meant. It was almost fun.
I panicked about the “unité” word, then started to second-guess my use until co-workers told me it did indeed mean unit. I realized too that I had blanked on another vocabulary word when I was talking about my law school days. I tried to say the people in the cases had been dead for 70 years, and “morte” was not coming to me. I knew there was a word like “deceased” (décédé) and I think I said something close to that (décés) but I know one wrong vocabulary isn’t terminal (no pun intended).
What was interesting to me though is that while I was calm during the test, surprisingly so, when I got back to the office, my energy left my body at an alarming rate of fast talking. I talked to my boss, my team, my old coworkers, random people in the hallway, and over two hours, I had verbal diarrhea to tell them about my experience. But mostly I was asking a question.
“It was easy…what does that mean? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”
I posted the same on FB. Then the waiting began.
In the past, you could have your results sometimes the same day. Usually the second day at the latest. Unless you were on the line between A and B or B and C, in which case they wanted someone else to listen to the tape too to verify the result. And back then, it was an actual tape cassette. So it took time to physically set someone up to hear it. Now it’s all electronic. And it took five days for my result to come in. A full five days.
I don’t know why, although maybe I was on the line again. I don’t know. I just know that during the week, I went from a high of “Yay me” to a low of “oh, I must have failed”. Most people go through it, I know, but the post-action self-criticism is a brutal experience. I’ve been checking my BB religiously all week.
Any results? Any RESULTS? ANY RESULTS?????
Today, I took Jacob to Appletree, long wait. And just before we left, I checked once again. SLE Results. Gulp.
I opened the PDF on my BB (which is a really tiny screen), zoomed to the result, and watched as the fuzzy little letter resolved to a C.
So I closed it and did it again to be sure. 🙂
Yep, I renewed my level. I can now deploy and not for nothing, keep the job I’m in. The level of pending complications if I didn’t get it this time is averted, and I’ve been trying not to think about it. Now I don’t have to do so.
My overall reaction to the renewal experience
I had a very strange experience on Tuesday during my practice/training. My tutor asked me if I had seen a video on Youtube called, “Who’s afraid of the big bad C?” Not cancer, it’s the C on the learning exam, and it’s done by the same company that has prepared the tools that the learning school uses internally, MyLearningMyWay.com.
So we watched the video, which is open to anyone to watch.
The video provoked two completely different reactions in me, hence the weird experience.
On the one hand, I saw a whole bunch of things I disagreed with for the advice. Basically things like saying focusing on grammar or mots liens or structures was an indication you were still only a B. That those weren’t things to worry about. Except of course those are things people DO often need to worry about, because they both aid in communication if used right and hinder communication if used wrong. If I had watched that video around the time of my first test in 2005, I would have disagreed with almost EVERYTHING. Even back in March, I would have dismissed it as philosophy over real preparation.
But now I had the other reaction too. The emphasis she argues is on communications of ideas, not the structures etc. And I had some evidence of this. My wife got her B a number of years ago, and has been clearly capable of higher levels with training and practice. She has a great ear for comprehension, something I am very jealous of her having. She had to renew this year too, and a B was guaranteed, no problem. Easy peasy. But she prepared a bit more for this one. She looked at some of my materials from my training, she looked at some of the online stuff, she practiced some of the areas and she learned what the structural elements were in the test. And she went in, responded directly to the questions, badda bing badda bang, she got a C! A full letter upgrade with no additional training. She just communicated with the tools she had already learned. Freaking awesome, she is.
And that’s what was on my mind going into the test. Making sure I played to my strengths (flow, elaboration but not too much, vocabulary) and not fussing as much about my weaknesses (linking words, comprehension). Not because I totally agreed with the video, but that I realized that I could communicate my ideas, and if the structure wasn’t perfect, worrying about it wouldn’t help. If I had something in my toolbox that I knew well enough to use, I would use it; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t. I was as ready as I could be with what I had in my toolbox.
I also had a small hidden weapon in my confidence. During the week of practice, one of my tutors and I had a conversation about HR processes, how the government works, and basically everything related to my HR guide for the upfront part of finding a job. I did it all from memory, an almost 2 hour conversation where we just discussed how it worked. In short, the exact same conversation that I have had with lots of people over the years in English. But I was doing it in detail in French. And she understood me just fine.
I am exaggerating slightly, but this was the most “real” demonstration of my ability in my career. A real conversation, 2 hours, unstructured, questions, answers, clarifications, explanations, examples. All of it. Exactly as I would do and have done in English. All in French. Was I perfect? Hell no.
But I communicated. And that’s what I tried to harness for the exam. And I did.
It’s almost like getting the C was just a bonus.
(Oh, who am I kidding? I GOT MY FREAKING C AGAIN. Booyah! If that isn’t worth an entry on my 50 by 50 list, nothing is! Besides telling my wife and my boss the results, I also sent a message to a friend at work who had a funny story of her nephew getting a hole-in-one in mini-golf and I used his mixed French/English phrase as my subject line — “J’ai got it!”).
I’m curious in part by what comes next. Sure, the obvious, I get to deploy from my old job and accept the new one completely. Plus I get my bilingual bonus back. All good.
Yet there is something else in my need for the renewal that has been blocking me on other things. I want to do some new astronomy stuff. I want to learn to fly a drone. I have some learning courses I’m interested in. Maybe some photography work. But ALL of them were ones that I felt needed to wait until my french was renewed. Not that I was spending 24/7 doing french, but just that I couldn’t afford to divert any of my mental energy into a large new project until that one was done. Now that it’s done, I’m curious to see where my desire to grow takes me. On with the journey!