Tag: ask the expert

Ask An Expert: Being an Election Judge


polling_placeI have served as an election judge off and on since 1996. What is an election judge? The guy (or gal) in charge of a polling place. The judge runs a team of four to 12 election workers who operate a polling place where you vote. I like to think of the election workers as the first line of defense for representative government. Without election workers, you do not have polling places. Without honest election workers, you do not have honest elections.

There are three types of workers at a polling place: a judge, an assistant judge, and two to ten clerks (typically two to six). The judge runs the place, the assistant judge serves as the deputy, and the clerks actually certify the voters and hand out and collect the ballots (though, in most cases today, they hand out the code to allow the voter to cast a vote at an electronic machine).

What do you have to do to become an election judge? Typically, have served as an election clerk. How do you become a clerk? The first step is to join a political party.

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I hate being the boss, which is weird given how much of my career has been spent that way.  I was in my first management spot by the time I was about 18; out of 37 years of work history, nearly 20 was spent in some sort of management role.  At first I sought it, […]

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Ask the Expert: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bees


You’re afraid of this enterprising little lady? Seriously?

I should start this piece with a disclaimer: As far as beekeeping goes, I am a relative expert. This is only my second year of the hobby, which makes me a solid novice. However, beekeeping is an all-or-nothing commitment in that you either work with thousands of bees, or you don’t work with any. Most people fall into the latter category, so I can comfortably venture that — even as a novice — I’ve had more exposure to bees than most non-beekeepers will have in their lifetimes. On the other hand, I know that there is at least one other beekeeper on Ricochet, and she’s been at it about ten times as long as I. So, rather than focus on truly expert points, I will focus on points that a non-beekeper might find useful, specifically ones that show that honeybees, unlike wasps or hornets, aren’t all that scary.

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For every great spectacle seen on television, there’s another great one that goes unseen – hundreds of unknown people like me toiling long hours to put programming onto your screens. Here’s a few snapshots from the recently concluded 116th U.S. Open Championship in the Pittsburgh suburb of Oakmont, Pennsylvania: Preview Open

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(Re-)Soliciting Your Expertise


On last week’s Flyover Country, guest Kate Braestrup made a fascinating point about how ignorance and a lack of curiosity often lead to truly boneheaded conclusions. As Kate described, many pundits — chief among them, Ta-Nehisi Coates — have cited the fact that the Ferguson, MO police left Michael Brown’s body where he’d fallen for four hours as prima facie evidence of indifference to the dignity of black Americans. As Kate further described, however, this is precisely the wrong conclusion to draw from that grisly fact: Indeed, that Brown’s body was left there for so long is actually evidence of the profound concern the police had to investigate his death without disturbing the evidence. Kate knows this not only from her work as a chaplain for the Maine Warden Service (which often recovers bodies, sometimes from crime scenes), but also because her own husband’s body was left in place for four-and-a-half hours after he was struck and killed by a vehicle while in the line of duty as a Maine State Trooper.

All this brought to mind one of my favorite things to have ever happened on Ricochet: the “Ask the Expert” series, in which members from a variety of professions — personal transportation, emergency room medicine, waste water treatment, IT, academia, janitorial services, nuclear fuel disposalvisitor services, concrete laying, etc. — explained what the public should know about these jobs, but so often do not. It was one of those wonderful, bottom-up things that can only happen on Ricochet because no other site can match our members’ breadth of knowledge and experience.

Six Things Your Uber Driver Wants You to Know


As I’ve alluded to in other comments, I’ve been a driver for Uber since mid-August, with almost 300 trips under my belt. I’m having more fun doing this gig than I thought I would, as the Uber demographic tends to be younger, smarter, and more outgoing than the population in general. Instead of what I expected — passengers sitting stoically, staring at the back of my head — most of my passengers are interesting and fun to talk to.

What Your Wastewater Treatment Specialist Wants You to Know


Wastewater-Treatment-Plant-300x225I’ve seen that there is an unofficial series of sorts on Ricochet, where members write posts explaining what they do in their day jobs. I work for a company that does wastewater treatment (for industries, so my perspective is a little different from your local municipal wastewater treatment plant). This post is my contribution.

The motivation for treating wastewater is to avoid or mitigate negative impacts on the river, lake, ocean, or other area into which it flows. Common negative impacts include filling waterways with debris or sediment, causing fish kills or dead zones by depleting oxygen levels, promoting algae blooms, and spreading pathogens that can harm other people who use that water. In some cases, there may also be concerns related to specific heavy metals or other chemicals. I’ll focus on oxygen depletion, but feel free to ask about other impacts in the comments.

When organic matter (and there is plenty of that in wastewater) gets discharged into the environment, it gets degraded by microorganisms. These decay processes consume oxygen, which dissolves fairly poorly in water. If the amount of organic matter is high enough, the rate of decay can exceed the rate at which more oxygen can dissolve into the water, and the level of oxygen can drop to the point that fish and other things living in the water start to die.

Ask The Expert: Spent Nuclear Fuel Handling and Storage


nuclear-basilisk A basilisk is a mythical creature able to kill with a single glance. Used or “spent” nuclear fuel would have a similar effect, if you were to stand close to it without benefit of shielding: Within a matter of minutes, you would receive a lethal radiation dose. Unlike basilisks, however, spent fuel isn’t out to get you, and is handled and stored safely at every nuclear power station in the United States. In contrast, new fuel that has never been loaded into a nuclear reactor has a very low — almost negligible level of radiation — and can be touched and directly handled without incurring any significant radiation dose.

The smallest unit of nuclear reactor fuel is a fuel pellet, a cylinder of compressed uranium dioxide, enriched to about 3 – 4.5% of the U-235 isotope. Each fuel pellet is less than half an inch in diameter and less than an inch long. Fuel pellets are loaded into a slender tube (called cladding) about 12 feet long, usually made of Zircaloy (a metallic alloy); the sealed tube is called a fuel rod, which looks similar to a wooden dowel. Fuel rods are arranged in an array called a fuel assembly. A boiling water reactor (BWR) has a 7 x 7 or 8 x 8 array of fuel rods running parallel to each other, in an assembly about five and a half inches square, about 14 to 15 feet long, weighing about 600 pounds; a typical boiling water reactor core holds between 500 and 600 such assemblies.

In contrast, a pressurized water reactor (PWR) has larger fuel assemblies that contain significantly more fuel rods — between 14 and 17 per side, though hexagonal arrays also exist — and weigh 1300 lbs or more. A typical pressurized water reactor core holds fewer than 200 fuel assemblies. A few spaces in each assembly are fitted with guide tubes instead of fuel rods, to allow control rods or in-core instrumentation to be inserted.

Ten Things Your University Professors Wish You Knew


shutterstock_194874566In keeping with the theme this week, and because I’m an apparent sucker for anything Claire asks, I thought I’d add

1.) Grading is for your benefit, not mine. A six-page essay takes about five minutes to read, at the end of which I could simply slap a grade on the paper and move on; that’s all I’m being paid to do. The other 15 minutes I spend on the paper — correcting your grammar and spelling, pointing out poor word choices, making style suggestions, and fixing your logical argument — is all for your benefit. And also because I have Academic OCD and can’t stand the sight of a poorly reasoned argument. Which leads to:

2.) Length and Quality are not synonyms. I would rather read a single-page essay that was wrong, but competently written and argued, than a three-page essay that was right, but poorly written and argued. While it’s true that academics sometimes make too much of “elegance” as a criteria of evaluation, we do it because we’ve read so many ham-handedly written, excessively padded, and gaping-holed argued papers that we just kinda twitch in the presence of bad writing. And that’s just when we’re reading the peer-reviewed literature.

Seven Things Your ER Doc Wants You to Know


Fussili Jerry

Taking up the challenge from our favorite editor, Claire Berlinski, I herein wish to enlighten all of you about a few things that every Emergency Room physician would appreciate your knowing.

1.  Please, when you come to the ER, have an up-to-date list of your medications with dosages and any medication allergies you have. Please don’t say, “It’s in the computer.” Maybe it is, maybe not. Or, “My doctor knows.” He’s not available, and even if he was, he probably doesn’t know exactly what every one of his patients is taking. Also, “medications” includes your birth control (a major omission that happens all the time), all the over-the-counter meds you’re taking, and can even include any supplements you are taking (some of them have significant interactions with medications).  Having this information on you may save your life. I repeat, having this information on you may save your life.

The Top 10 Things Your Janitor Wishes You Knew


Top Ten Thing Your Janitor Wishes You KnewIn the jobs thread, Claire thought that, because I’m a janitor, I might have some sage advice to give folks. Now, my job is a bit atypical, since I work at a university, but I’ll try to make all of these apply more-or-less universally.

  1. Make sure your toilet flushes completely. I wanted to say “flush the [redacted] toilet,” but that’s not really enough. There are several reasons why a toilet might not get flushed, intentionally or otherwise, but the end result is gross regardless.Sometimes the automatic flusher doesn’t do its job. In that case, there’s almost always a button you can press that will take care of it. Sometimes you pull the handle, but it doesn’t fully work; in these cases you can generally futz with it and get it to work. It might require holding the handle until the job is done, or you might need to pull up instead of down.Some folks are raised with the idea of, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.” That’s all fine and dandy in your house, where it’s just you and maybe a small group, with a toilet with at least a gallon of water. Doesn’t work so well in a building with dozens of folks, nor with urinals. Add several hours of festering, and only the strongest of air fresheners will be able to cover up the smell even slightly.

    Sometimes you think you leave too big of a mess, and are concerned about flooding. Usually this isn’t a problem, as modern commercial toilets are rather powerful for that very reason, even if they don’t use very much water. However, there might still be a problem; most of the time, a toilet won’t overflow on just one flush. Don’t re-flush until the water is back down to its normal level (which might take some time). And if you don’t want to personally tell someone of the problem, at least leave an “out of order” note on the door, and a note to whoever is in charge of that stuff that the toilet is clogged (you don’t have to say it’s you that did it).

  2. If there is something that could be read on or near your desk, it very well might be. Notes, books, emails, memos, documents, whatever — if it’s out, it’s free game. Custodial work can be pretty boring. Even an office memo could stave off the boredom for a time. If there’s anything that you don’t want read, make sure it’s secured.
  3. Bobby pins are Satan’s tools. Anything that has a low surface-area-to-mass ratio is difficult for vacuums to pick up. Also, anything that can get hooked in a carpet will. This makes staples, metal shavings and chips, and small sticks (like pine needles) hard to deal with, and will interrupt your janitor’s vacuuming. However, bobby pins are the worst. They are not only hard to deal with in the first place, but they are also hard to see. However, they are light enough to eventually get sucked up, where they will almost always get stuck in the piping somewhere and clog the vacuum. Smaller sewing needles have a similar problem, though they are meant to be easy to see, unlike most bobby pins.
  4. Put waste in the proper place. Trash goes in trash cans. Recycle stuff goes in the proper recycle can. Feminine hygiene products go in the little bags. Toilet paper goes in the toilet. Not around them. Not behind them. IN them (especially that last one).
  5. Don’t put trash in cans without bags. Trash cans are a pain to clean, and can smell even after. Trash bags, on the other hand, are easy to take care of. Same goes with broken bags, or bags not properly placed.
  6. Secure your valuables. Not just talking about theft, though janitors can come from … less honorable populations. It’s just that janitors can become complacent, as people do. And it’s been my observation that they can be less observant or thoughtful than you might like. In the routine, they might not catch that the important document you need to scan in before tomorrow’s meeting — but you just weren’t able to do today — isn’t just another piece of garbage, especially if it fell off your desk. You don’t want to be this guy.
  7. Report anything unusual. Like I said, custodians can get into a complacent routine. They might not catch something that falls outside that. If you notice something that isn’t right — might be something minor, like your trash not being taken out like it should, or something more major, like a leak or a big clog — you should report it to whoever takes care of that stuff. Makes it much more likely that the problem will be fixed.
  8. If you have a nice chair, it will be sat in. If you have an unusually nice chair, the janitor will probably want to check it out. They might bring their crew to also try it. They might even take a break in that chair.
  9. Be courteous. A worker doesn’t become your servant just because they are picking up your messes. They are free people, and they are free to do things you might not like. And many janitors didn’t get the job by making the best decisions in life. Just sayin’.
  10. Don’t puke in trash cans and not take care of it yourself. It’s just gross. Add in that it will probably be a while before anyone comes to take care of the trash, and it’s even more gross. There are some things that come with the territory of cleaning up people’s messes — but that shouldn’t be one of them.

Ask the Expert Series: A Conversation on Poetry


Ricochetti Concretevol came up with the idea to start a conversation where he would share his expertise: Concrete Questions Conversation. His real purpose was to attempt to claim the prize for worst poster when the contest rolls around next year, but he wound up starting a fascinating thread. It’s also a fascinating idea for a conversation. We have so much expertise gathered on Ricochet from a wide variety of fields of endeavor. So, I thought it would be fun for those who can to share their expertise.

Like many Ricochetti, I have several areas of expertise. But most of them are shared by several other people on Ricochet. For instance, we have many published authors here, so questions on the general topic of writing could be answered by many here as Aaron proved in his Fictional Advice for Fictional Authors conversation. Corporate governance might be another expertise that is easy to find on Ricochet. Many lawyers deal with the topic. Many of our members have surely also been on boards of commercial, non-profit, or governmental corporations. While they may not have abstracted the experiences in quite the way I have, if a question were put out on the subject, there might be a dozen or more answers available immediately. Some of my other areas of consulting expertise might be scarcer on the ground at Ricochet, but how many people are likely to have questions involving process management or data modeling? Of the things I know that there is a remote chance that people may have some curiosity about, the only thing left would be poetry. This includes poetic structures, meter, rhyme, rhythm, the prosody of many nations, and all those things we are supposed to believe disappeared in a free verse post-modernist world. If you have questions about how to write a better poem, how to approach a form, how to do anything regarding poetry, share the questions here and I shall try to answer them comprehensibly.

Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Concrete* (But Were Afraid To Ask)


In the comments on another post, I mentioned it would be nice if someone talked about concrete — that noble material of the Pax Romana — so I might sound at least slightly knowledgeable on a topic here for once. Sure, it’s not as fun a topic as Same-Sex Marriage or drug legalization, but it may also help me in Dime’s contest this year for worst poster!

A little background: I am one of the owners of a commercial and industrial concrete construction company that does work all across the southeast and as far west as Oklahoma. Yes, it’s exactly as glamorous as it sounds! Concrete is a basically a mixture of cement, aggregate, and water. Yes, cement is an ingredient of concrete, so now you know if someone refers to concrete as “cement” it is appropriate to point and laugh.