Tag Archives: Questions

Enough with the Chit-Chat

I recently read an article about cutting out the small talk at networking events. The author even mentions well-publicised events in which small talk was banned and eventually lead to the foundation of a No Small Talk dinners business in Hong Kong.

The concept is simple: whatever group has gathered for whatever reason can’t speak about the usual mundane topics that tend to float around at such things. Sometimes hosts will provide a list of prompts for people to discuss, sometimes the format is more formalized (such as a Jefferson Dinner) but in every case, the basic rule is the same. Cut the chit-chat. Let’s have an actual conversation.

This article I read ended with thirteen questions that could be asked in place of the usual, “So, where are you from?” and, “What do you do for a living?” These are more geared to networking events where there might be a lot of people comingling who don’t necessarily know each other, but I quite liked them and thought that they might be a good icebreaker for the blog.

With that in mind, since I don’t know who you are (beyond what my Google Analytics tells me) and you only get to see of me what I put out into the world to view, here are the thirteen questions along with the most straightforward answers I can provide. For what it’s worth, I’m resisting the very powerful urge to be a smart-ass.

These are supposed to be conversation starters, so please don’t hesitate to comment if you want to know more. Also, I’d love to read YOUR answers to the above questions. If comments aren’t your thing, shoot me an email: potatochipmath [at] gmail [dot] com

  1. What’s your story?
    • It’s a pretty good one. I was born in Toronto and moved just a city block north of Toronto proper to the suburb of Thornhill. I played hockey growing up and had a bevy of jobs growing up: paperboy, busboy, video store clerk, summer camp counselor, and food guy in between the 9th and 10th holes at a country club. I graduated high school and made it into the University of Waterloo’s Applied Physics cooperative education program where I would meet my future wife. I was not a model student, academically speaking, but I did manage to eek out a General Science degree. Jobs during that portion of my life included a short stint as a plant maintenance guy for a place that painted spoilers for the Chevy Cavalier, night crew at Canadian Tire, statistician at a steering wheel production company (Chrysler, I think), math learning assistant at Mohawk College, Physics Club Treasurer (unpaid), campus safety van driver, and waiter. I graduated and got a gig as a computer programmer and spent a few years doing that before switching companies and getting into software testing. I married my university girlfriend four years after we started dating and six years after we met. We bought a house had a kid and then moved across the province where we had another kid, moved across town, and then eventually back to where we live now (literally 500 meters away from where we were when we left). I started playing around with writing by blogging back in 2005 and even read some screenwriting books and took a screenwriting class. I wrote some content for this home trivia video game system that was a pretty neat gig. After moving back I met a few writers on Twitter and I started taking it more seriously. In 2011 I tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month – write a 50,000+ word novel in 30 days) and failed miserably. I succeeded in four of the following five years and released my first novel, a non-fiction account of my family’s journey with my daughter’s scoliosis diagnosis, surgery and recovery, was released in January of this year. I have been with the same day-job company for almost nine years and in a variation of the job I’m currently doing (program manager) for almost six. My first fiction novel releases later this year and the first in a series of five fiction novels should hit stores late in 2019 or early 2020. I like golf, baseball, and NHL playoffs. I am a firm supporter of science, equality, and the Oxford comma.
  2. What’s the most expensive thing you’ve ever stolen?
    • Heh. I’m not sure I’d be asking this question to anyone ever. Thankfully for me, I don’t have much of a track record of stealing stuff. That said, I am an imperfect human but I’m also not a fan of self-incrimination so I’m taking a pass on this one.  
  3. What is your present state of mind?
    • Tired. That’s pretty much my constant state of mind. I’m also in between novels at the moment. Well, I should be writing the next one but am avoiding it right now, because I can’t seem to find my mojo. It’s probably close to 90% done, 80% at the worst, and I just can’t seem to find the stuff required to finish the damn thing. So that has me frustrated as well as a little depressed. The more I write (or try to) the more I am beginning to understand why Hemingway enjoyed the drink as much as he did. 
  4. What absolutely excites you right now? 
    • Writing. I know I just mentioned how I’m short on mojo and it has me depressed and frustrated, but there are those moments when the muse graces me with her presence and magic happens. Those moments excite me. When the words flow effortlessly everything is better.

  5. What book has influenced you the most?
    • This is a really tough question to answer because it’s different depending on the stage of my life I was in when I read it. As a kid, This Can’t Be Happening at McDonald Hall by Gordon Korman or Boy at the Leafs Camp by Scott Young were two that influenced me heavily. As a teenager, I read Anthem by Ayn Rand and it really made an impression on me. In University I started reading complex calculus and applied physics textbooks and didn’t have the urge to pick up a book for pleasure for quite a while. As a parent, the Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child by Marc Weissbluth was a life saver. Not sure how it influenced me but it was the only book that mattered for quite a number of years. Then I finally read Animal Farm by George Orwell and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Having not read those books growing up I had no idea what I was missing and both of them have shaped my approach to writing – and life in general in the years since. 
  6. If you could do anything you wanted tonight (anywhere, for any amount of money), what would you do and why?
    • Sleep. LOL. Okay, assuming the question means I actually have to leave the house I would want to go to New York City with my wife. I’ve never been to NYC and I’d love to go see a show with her and then stop in at the Upright Citizens Brigade for some improv and then wander around Times Square taking pictures and holding hands before retiring for the night at a swanky hotel and waking up to fantastic room service. 
  7. If you had the opportunity to meet one person you haven’t met who would it be, why and what would you talk about?
    • My answer to this question has been the same since my first year of physics at the University of Waterloo: Dr. Richard Feynman. If you’ve never heard of him, you should definitely look him up. He was a brilliant physicist and one of the most interesting people who has ever lived. He wrote a book about all the amazing stories that made up his life. Surely, You’re Joking Mr. Feynman is the title and it’s an amazing read. He didn’t just have a brilliant mind, he also had an amazing passion for life and an incredible sense of humour.  
  8. What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
    • I am an emotional person, both in terms of what I put into everything as well as what I pick up from others. That doesn’t mean you have to walk on eggshells around me or suppress your emotions, quite the opposite actually. I’m at my best when the emotions are flowing freely in all directions. It should be noted that even though I’m a very outgoing person, I have my limits when larger groups are involved. It can become a lot to process but I’ll let you know well in advance so you know what’s going on.  
  9. What do you value more, intelligence or common sense?
    • Common sense. I have little patience for ignorant people, but that’s not an accurate representation of intelligence. Neither is education. Though university educated myself, I’ve never put a lot of stock in it. At the end of the day, all the intelligence in the world isn’t worth much if there’s no common sense guiding it.
  10. What movie is your favorite guilty pleasure, and why?
    • I don’t like the way this is phrased. It assumes I should feel guilty about something I enjoy. With the exception of some reprehensible or criminal behavior, I don’t think anyone should have a “guilty” pleasure. That’s bullshit thinking. Love what you love and apologize for none of it. That said, I am supposed to limit my chocolate intake but have a hard time doing that. I also sing along to most old-school Madonna songs when they come on my iPod.
  11. You are stuck on a deserted island, and you can only take three things. What would they be?
    • Let’s get something straight right off the bat. I’m going to die, and probably rather quickly. I’m allergic to shellfish and I can’t start a fire without matches. So, with that in mind, it’s a matter of keeping me as comfortable as possible before death come while maximizing my chances for rescue. So, first up are a box of waterproof matches. Life improves with fire and so do rescue chances. This way I won’t have to expend precious energy rubbing twigs together to make fire. Next up is something I can use to build stuff with (Shelter, spears, etc,) so that means a knife. I’m thinking something very Rambo like.

      After the knife, I’m going to need something to fish with. Since I can’t eat crabs or scallops or any other crustacean on I’m going to need to get protein from eating fish. I could catch fish with a spear, but that seems like a high energy activity. Again, we know I’m going to die, so why make things worth by expending energy where it’s not needed? With that in mind, I’m going to need fish hooks. I can use a number of things as a pole, and I can use thread or fashion something worthy of being fishing line, but I can’t DIY a decent fish hook. I’m sure it can be done, it’s just not a skill I happen to have. So there you have it. Waterproof matches, Rambo knife, fish hooks. If I get to bring a fourth item it would have to be my memory foam mattress topper because I’m certain I’ll be taking a lot of naps. 

  12. Where and when were you happiest in your life?
    • Every period has had its ups and downs. That’s how life works, isn’t it? I am curious how other people would answer this question because I think the tendency would be for people to choose a time from their childhood where the responsibilities were non-existent but the memories still persist. Those were pretty good times for me, for sure, but was I truly happiest then? It seems every milestone in my life was the happiest time, at least if I look at the experiences that surround the milestone as part of the whole. How small of a unit of time are we using to define “when”? I’m interpreting this as an average measurement over several years where more aspects of my life were trending upwards than not. I’m also including the caveat that I had to have majority control over my life. My parents did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting for me until well into my teenage years so I’m not including the younger periods when formulating my response. So, what did I come up with? It was easier than I thought: here and now. My wife and I are nicely settled into our 40’s and the finances are good. My day job challenges me and more than pays the bills and is really flexible in terms of the ever-important work/life balance. My kids are healthy and happy and already starting to make their place in the world. I drive a stick shift. I joined a golf league. My parents are both still alive and well. Same for the inlaws. My writing career is taking off in the right direction and I have contracts to keep me busy for several years. I have a small but fantastic group of “in person” friends and a larger and just as fantastic group of “online” friends. Is life perfect? Not a chance. Life doesn’t give out perfect scores. Is it as close to perfect as it’s ever been? It probably is. 

  13. What do you think is the driving force in your life?
    • The desire to contribute something positive. Whether it’s imparting wisdom to my children and preparing them to be positive additions, or sitting down at my laptop and creating something to put out into the world for people to enjoy, I approach every day with the goal of putting more in than I take out. For me, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about being better. Ending the day with more good karma in the bank than I started with keeps me going. 

So there you have it. No small talk. Hope you enjoyed my responses.

~ Andrew

Recipe for Disaster

It starts with the idea that anyone with an internet connection can go and find instructions on how to make a bomb with a common kitchen appliance. Sadly, this idea isn’t new. The information has existed for decades, but the technological age in which we live makes this information all too easy to obtain. You would be right to think that there must be violent motivations behind the desire to create such a device and put it to use, but that’s not always the case. 

There’s a company in the U.S. currently publishing blueprints that you can simply plug into a 3D printer and then print yourself restricted parts for firearms, like the lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle. When asked about what his thoughts were on the fact that this was one step closer to anyone being able to manufacture a gun that could pass freely thought a metal detector the co-owner of the company, Cody Wilson, replied:

I think there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing in a moral sense. We’re pursuing what we think is a step toward liberty…”

The first time I was exposed to the question of social responsibility when it came to published material was in high school. There was a rumour floating around that someone in the school had acquired a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook and people were freaking out! Well the adults were, but the students, they just wanted to see something blow up. Several years after publication the author of the book had a change of heart and wrote the publisher requesting it be taken out of print. Due to the manner in which the copyright was assigned (to the publisher, not the author) the author was told that that wasn’t going to happen. William Powell, says of his infamous book:

The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this.”

While I applaud William Powell’s change of heart, the content is still readily available and it continues to promote violence. You can’t un-ring a bell. But this isn’t a post about gun control or anti-terrorism (though I happen to feel that both of those things are generally a good idea). All of the above are examples of content that’s driven by an agenda (terrorism, civil liberties, political protest). But what about when the agenda is simply to entertain? What happens when a work of fiction becomes the Anarchist Cookbook for the sociopath living next door? 

This is a question that recently popped into my head when I was driving to work and listening to Metallica’s Nothing else Matters. For whatever reason, a spectacularly disturbing scene popped in my head as the song played. I imagined it as a soundtrack playing over the events as they unfolded, the main character singing along as he committed heinous acts of evil and atrocity. If I think about it, there’s nothing unique about what I envisioned – I’m sure several movies, televisions shows, or books have captured the essence of this scene several hundred times over – but when the song ended I paused my music and drove the rest of the way in silence thinking to myself, What is this crazy serial killer’s motivation? What would drive this individual to commit such unspeakable acts of violence?


Before long, I had established a back story for my antagonist, the motivations behind his actions, and a suitable ending that, depending on which way I want the story to go, could either please readers or make them scream in frustration (i.e. getting caught or getting away with it). Once I had these ideas in place, and after a day’s worth of work of thinking about something else, I was left to ponder, What if any of this were to be used by someone in real life? 

Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous to worry that a work of fiction would end up driving someone to act on it, but it happens all the time. It’s not in the same as distributing bomb making instructions or blueprints for restricted gun parts but is the fact that the book is labelled as fiction enough? I would like to think so, but at the same time I still feel somewhat responsible of making sure that it’s crystal clear I’m talking bullshit for your enjoyment and that it’s not a how-to manual or some demented personal wish list. I suspect a lot of artists struggle with this, but I’m not really sure.

Anyway, at the end of the day I can always get Bono to step in and make things right.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUZf-_adUTo?rel=0]

~ Andrew

The Big Reveal

Well the guesses are in and we have a winner!
 
Thanks to everyone who stopped by to have a read and congratulations to Stephanie Fuller for correctly picking out which one of these was a complete and total lie. Stephanie, just send me an email with the pictures you want (up to 10) from Andrew’s Alphabet and I’ll get them to you right away.
 
Of course, because I’m sneaky (or just a jerk – you decide) I’ve decided not to directly reveal which answer is bunk. Instead, I’ve made all the choices clickable and upon doing so, the choice will expand to reveal a brief story about the item. The false one will be appropriately labelled (and in red text).
 
Of course, if you want to just go back to the original post and check to see which one Stephanie picked you can do that too 🙂
 
Without further delay. Here are the facts (and one lie):
  1. I have scored a game winning goal at Maple Leaf Gardens
  2. I have assisted Penn & Teller on stage with one of their tricks (Mofo the Psychic Gorilla)
  3. I have been paid as a freelance writer to provide original content to a video game
  4. I have had a 1 minute conversation and spoken five scripted words on a nationally broadcasted television show (US and Canada) 
    1. The episode aired more than once and I have been recognized by at least one complete stranger for this appearance
    2. It was 20 years before I saw it
  5. I have played, and won, hockey games on both the 1932 and 1980 Olympic hockey rinks in Lake Placid New York 
  6. I have had a 500 word anecdote selected for inclusion in a Darwin Awards book
    1. In the first printing (hard cover) they incorrectly spelled my name
  7. I have stood in the room where Winston Churchill was born
  8. One summer in Europe was spent working as a groundskeeper for a Canadian embassy
  9. I have had a 5000 word short story selected for inclusion (and soon to be published) in an anthology
  10. I have appeared as a street fighting bum in a rap music video
  11. I have eaten snake soup
  12. I was once qualified to instruct both flat water canoeing and small vessel sailing
  13. I once stayed awake for over 100 consecutive hours
  14. I have appeared in a TV commercial for a financial institution (singing & texting – but no talking)
  15. I have been a teacher’s assistant for English as a Second Language children (ages 6-10) with behavioural problems
    1. This job was a block away from the most crime riddled area of Canada’s largest city
  16. I have broken or cracked the following bones: toe beside the big one on the left foot, left foot, left ankle, left tibia, left arm (radius AND ulna), left pinky and middle fingers (separate breaks), several ribs, right ankle, right wrist, right pinky finger, nose, head (stiches), and brain (more than 4 concussions)
  17. I have driven my car to the publicized geographic longitudinal centre of Canada
  18. Last year of high school I did not take notes or use anything but a pencil to write assignments/tests in calculus.  I got 94%.  Last year of university I studied more for my Calculus 3 course than any other subject.  I got 51%
    1. In school, we covered in 3 lectures (9 hours) what took Isaac Newton over 20 years to uncover and write down (granted, he had other things going on).
~ Andrew
 

What’s Your Biggest Weakness?

With the big contest reveal coming tomorrow I thought a departure from the usual theme would be a good idea. A friend of mine recently interviewed for a job, and while it went really well, there was one interviewer who was hell bent on asking some really off-the-wall stuff. Well, if you’ve heard the expression “There are no stupid questions” before I’m here to politely inform you that there are, and if you’re a certain type of interviewer you’re probably asking them.

When conducting an interview, hiring managers always want to make sure they are getting the right person for the job. Candidates often come so well prepared and polished that it can be very difficult to get a good read on someone just from a couple hours of talking through the standard set of questions. Many companies will try to put candidates through a veritable gauntlet of interviews, with 4, 5, 6, or more people each getting 30-60 minutes to lob question after question, scenario after scenario at them; looking for hidden faults, but more often looking for a spark of genius.

No doubt you’ve all read stories about some of the fabulous questions that the likes of Microsoft and Google have asked their potential employees. Many of these are extremely well thought out, but are also remarkably unconventional and designed to help ferret out specific nuggets of information that would be otherwise hard to extract if they were to keep to the same sort of predictable script.

I was a co-op student at the University of Waterloo, so I’m no stranger to job interviews and some of the crazy questions that one can encounter. I was also a hiring manager for software development and testing for over a decade in a variety of industries. I’ve tried to come up with a list of generic questions relevant to each position with limited success, but one thing is certain: I outright refuse to ask certain questions, simply because they are stupid. That may come off as a bit flippant, and I don’t necessarily mean stupid in the strict dictionary definition of the word, but nevertheless there are just some questions that aught not to be asked in a job interview.

For starters, don’t ask people riddles. At least, don’t ask riddle-type questions for which you already have an answer in mind. A friend interviewed for a job as a statistician and was asked, “How many piano tuners are there in New York City?” Initially, this would seem like a really stupid question, but it wasn’t because the interviewer didn’t want a precise answer. Answering 1328 versus answering 472 was inconsequential when compared with how the question was answered.

I’ve been asked how I would build a clock for a blind person. After several minutes of me trying to understand the requirements (example: plug in vs. battery operated vs. wind up) I was told, “Just take the glass off a regular alarm clock.” The person’s tone was incredulous as well, as if I had deeply offended them by not knowing the answer. This was a stupid question, with an even stupider expected answer (every time you check the time you’ll change what time it is!).

Questions like this remind me of those Mensa questions or silly things you see on Facebook. “What’s the next symbol in the sequence?”, “Which number comes next?” These are little more than party tricks that, once you’ve seen a couple, you can figure out the answer without having to even think at all, let alone showcase practical life skills.

How about this? Interviewers of the world listen up! Instead of asking seemingly open ended questions that are just riddles in disguise, how about you take a minute and put on your thinking caps for a change and ask your candidates questions that allow them to use their knowledge and experience to provide a solution to a relevant problem.

Remember, that with so many highly skilled and talented people out there, the likelihood is that they are interviewing you just as much as you are interviewing them and we wouldn’t want you to look stupid, now would we?

~ Andrew