duck-shaped pain

31 January 2001
You Can Prove Anything With Statistics

(Hey, if you were referred here from somewhere else and are looking for the "non-brush with fame story," it's that-a-way.)

I've spent the last few days obsessed with this database I have to put together for work. It's an unhealthy obsession one forced on me from outside forces rather than naturally occurring within. I've been sorting through 30 years of mining data, writing summaries of reports and documents I don't really understand (or want to understand, for that matter), finding keywords, listing charts and graphs, yadda yadda yadda.

The thing that saves me during times like these is my ability to find the most amusing statistic or other piece of information in even the dullest screed. My skills here have not been tested too much at this job, but at others, I had to be on Full Amusement Alert in order to just get through the day with my head intact.

Right before I left Oregon, I worked at this one horrible, god-awful job for two weeks or so. It was for a software company that catalogued chemical information, and my job was to take chemical information sheets (technically called Material Safety Data Sheets, or MSDSes), compare them to the ones already in the database, and then type in any information not already there. The task itself was okay, if a little repetitive. But the company itself suck-diddly-ucked. They were incredibly patronizing and overly suspicious to their employees: every action had to be timed down to the second, all breaks had to be taken at prescribed times of the day (plus penalties if you were late/early) and they delighted in humiliating people. Like, one day I was there, they announced, for whatever reason, that there was to be a pizza party at lunch and that everyone was invited. Pizza party, whee. More Enforced Fun. But, in the hours up until lunch, the supervisors went around and loudly disinvited any employees that were not matching up in the productivity department. "So-and-so is not working fast enough! No pizza for you!" I saw the light and scrammed, ASAP.

But the job was rife with interesting useless information, the type you covertly send in email to like-minded friends. I learned what happens when you pour cyanide (and many other substances) into an open wound (Bad Things, pretty much), and was greatly amused by this:

Product Name: Pellet
Technical Name: Pellet
Description: Pellet
Ingredients: Trade Secret Pellet

(It helps if you find the word "pellet" innately humorous, as I do.)

That pellet excerpt probably kept me sane on the job, thereby keeping me from quitting, one more day than usual. So maybe it's actual evil pellet information.

So, anyway. Flashback to now. My job is not evil nor terribly mundane. The mining information is, though. It threatens to take over my precious desk space [1], if not my life. Copies of 25-year-old permit applications, then, 15 years down the pike, documents detailing the closing of the mines that were drilled out of those permit applications. It's like a concise history of local drilling history, sitting right there on my desk. As required by law, many of these documents have environmental studies or impact statements attached.

These are the things that amuse me. Not because of the vegetation studies, or the plans for replanting wild grasses post-drilling. Nor the potential harm to the smallmouth bass habitat. It's the fact that they contain charts and graphs with titles such as:

PREDICTED SQUIRREL FATALITIES, 1976-77

or

DEER PELLET LEVELS, PROJECTED, 1980

The first is particularly Marn-esque in a way. The second not only involves pellets, it lets you know that there was someone once whose job consisted of being in charge of deer pellets. Looking for them. Finding them. Counting them. Deciding how many deer pellets is too many deer pellets? Cramming their brain full of pellet facts and information, in case called upon to present their pellet findings at select meetings, briefings or government hearings. Being known as Pellet Guy. Being made fun of by the statelier aquatic biologists and grassland botanists. But, deep down, Pellet Guy could at least rest a little easier. At least , he thinks, he's not Squirrel Fatality Expert. That guy's an asshole.


[1] For I have an actual desk now, you see.

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